Boys South of the Mason Dixon ~ Abbi Glines, Page 3Abbi Glines
I stood, let the numbness wash over me. It was the only way I’d get through this. My own little brother would now pay for my mistake. The gaping hole in my chest grew bigger and bigger. Forcing myself to stop thinking about it for the moment, I picked up the bag of Momma’s meds from the ground and moved toward the house, walking slowly onto the porch and into my momma’s open arms. As her five-foot-seven frame held me tight, tears stung my eyes. I hadn’t cried since the night I realized that I’d lost it all, or more accurately, the night I realized it had never been mine to have. Having Momma hold me made me want to break down like a little kid. But I held it together like the man they all expected me to be.
I liked girls. Better yet, I loved girls. I loved everything about them. The way they smelled, their soft skin, the curve of their bodies, the sound of their laughter. God put girls on this earth to make it a brighter place. I truly believed that.
The problem with that was that I loved all girls. I wasn’t picky, couldn’t choose just one when there were so many of them to choose from. When they touched my arm, whispered in my ear, promised with their mouths what their bodies would do, I didn’t know how to turn them down.
Now and then, I got some loving from a girl who thought she’d change me for good. Make me just want her and her alone. But as soon as she realized I wasn’t a one-woman man, all her sugar turned sour, the ugly came out, and I quickly moved on to another. I tried to avoid that kind of girl, but sometimes they snuck through my defenses.
Andrea James had a hint of sour lurking right under the surface. It was there. I sensed it immediately. She had curves in all the right places and she smelled like a wet dream, but I’d seen that gleam in her eyes before, and I wasn’t willing to chance it. I made my excuses, blamed my momma, said that she needed me home. Not even Andrea James was brave enough to make my momma angry. After that, I headed out the door. Jack’s place was all we had in town. For a good time, that’s where we went. I looked forward to college when a pool hall bar wasn’t the only thing to entertain me.
“You sure your momma wouldn’t let you stay out a little longer?” Andrea called from the steps in front of Jack’s as I was climbing into my truck.
I wanted to answer back, “I’m sure she would, but you’ve got that crazy in your eyes I ain’t willing to tangle with.” Being a nice guy and all, I replied, “yeah, I’m sure. Promised I’d help her hang some shelves.” Now that was a lie, but sometimes a lie was needed to save yourself from imminent disaster.
Shame Andrea James was the crazy sort. Guess I should have figured that out before I let her rub up on me. Her younger sister was a real mean bitch. That I knew for a fact. Once I was told she had been the one harassing Dixie, I made sure that didn’t happen anymore. Dixie was the sweetest kind of girl there was. The kind you looked at, wanted to get closer to, but knew you shouldn’t. She was not the kind of girl you took to your truck. She’d never be that girl.
I knew I spent too much time watching Dixie. I liked to be near her as much as I could. Dixie smelled sweeter, laughed brighter, talked softer, and her eyes saw deeper than any other girl I knew. It was hard to ignore Dixie Monroe. And if I was younger, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep her at an arm’s length. But I wasn’t younger, I was three years older than her, and had no business looking her way. Instead, I let myself enjoy little innocent tastes of her. Small moments spent in Dixie’s company. That was enough for me. And like always, just before I turned down the dirt road, the one that led to my house, I glanced over toward Dixie’s home. This was one of my little tastes of her. Because sometimes I saw nothing, but sometimes I saw glimpses of her life, glimpses of her, and I couldn’t look away.
Tonight, I was lucky. The full moon and the front porch light illuminated her house and yard. And Dixie sat there on the bottom step of her porch, her feet bare and her knees tucked beneath her chin, her head turning in my direction as I drove past her. Although it was too far to see the reaction on her face, I knew she recognized my truck. And she didn’t look away.
Bray swore Dixie had a crush on me. He’d been saying that for years. I didn’t know why as Steel was her age and he was popular in their grade. I knew that if she showed any interest in him, he’d jump at the opportunity to make her his.
Something made me stop the truck in the middle of the road, put it in park, and look back at Dixie Monroe. I knew that pulling into her drive and walking to her wasn’t a good idea. I wanted to join her, to hear her laugh and watch her smile, to simply be near her for a little while, but I knew better.
Instead, I chose to sit here in my truck. Let my presence communicate all I couldn’t say. That I saw her. That I wished things were different. But for both our sakes, it was best that I stayed in my truck. I was too old for her. And nothing could change that.
I figured one day, once we were both adults, the three years between us wouldn’t matter anymore. But would she be in love by then? Maybe planning on marrying someone from around here. Or would she go off to college and meet a guy there? Would we ever get a chance? I didn’t like thinking I’d never get one.
Dixie’s gaze was locked on my truck. I remained parked on that dirt road, opening my door and stepping out of the truck to lean against it. With nothing between us but darkness and only moonlight making me visible to her, I crossed my arms over my chest, and just watched her back.
For once, I let my thoughts drift to all the “what ifs” I never allowed my mind to entertain. I wondered what Dixie was thinking in that moment. She didn’t move and she didn’t look away. Many girls had tried to change me, but I knew that only Dixie was the girl I’d change for. The only girl I’d ever need.
When she stood, her sudden movement jerked me from my thoughts. Our watching game was over. I’d wanted her to stay there longer. Make this moment between us last for as long as it could. But I knew it shouldn’t, as innocent as it had been.
For a second, I thought she was going to walk to me. Part of me wished she would, although I had no idea what I would say if she did. Words weren’t necessary during this perfect moment between us. But she didn’t come to me. She just raised her hand, gave me a little wave, and walked inside her house without looking back at me. I waited until her bedroom light came on, and only then got back in my truck and drove off. Something happened between us that night, something shifted, and even though no words were exchanged, we both knew things would never be the same.
I STOOD ON the porch looking out. I could only see the roof of the Sutton house as it was on the other side of the hill. But I knew it was there because I often stood here and let my gaze settle on that tin roof. Memories still haunted me, breaking my heart over and over again as I let myself remember.
When I’d bumped into Steel last August outside the grocery store, I dropped my bag and the contents rolled free, causing both of us to scramble to catch them. When Steel grabbed a can of soup and handed it to me, the smile on his face was so similar to Asher’s that it caught me by surprise and took my breath away.
Steel had been in my grade during school. He was the Sutton boy I should’ve been drawn to, but he hadn’t been. Asher was all I could see. From the time I turned thirteen and he had given me a ride home from school in his wonderful old pickup truck, I’d been completely consumed by him.
He didn’t feel the same way, of course. I was too young for him then. But we’d still grown up running through the same fields and swimming in the same swift creek. He was my friend, even though he was older and the most popular boy in town.
That entire year I’d worshipped him from afar. When he asked if I needed a ride, I always said yes. Then that summer before the ninth grade, my body had decided to change.
My first day of high school, Asher became my shadow. If any guy even looked my way, his mere presence had them scurrying the other way. I loved it. Although I hadn’t understood why he was doing it.
It wasn’t until October of the year I turned fifteen that he made a move. A
sher Sutton backed me up against his truck and placed his hands on both sides of my body. I knew it was all about to change. When his lips touched mine, my body lit like a firecracker, and we were inseparable after that. He took a football scholarship at the local junior college instead of going to a larger school just so he could be near me. He said he’d wait and that he could always transfer to somewhere else when I graduated.
But that didn’t happen. None of that happened.
One night he was loving me, telling me he wanted me forever. The next day he couldn’t even look me in the eyes. And he never told me why.
The crunch of gravel under the tires snapped me out of my trance. I’d let myself be carried away by the memories, as I always tended to do. I squinted against the glare of the sun. Steel’s white truck was coming down the drive. He was here to tell me Asher was home. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. When Asher came home for Christmas, I was in Oklahoma at my grandmother’s. I didn’t have to face him then. But now, if Asher was home, I’d have to face him with Steel. I wasn’t ready for that, and I doubted I would ever be ready.
The truck stopped and I watched as Steel jumped down from his jacked-up raised vehicle. He looked good in his worn jeans, but no one compared in my eyes to his older brother. And I hated myself for it. Steel didn’t deserve this. Not when he had been so good to me.
“Hey,” I said, forcing a smile I didn’t feel as Steel walked up the steps. His serious expression was fixed on me and it made me fearful of what he had come to say.
He ducked his head a moment and sighed, before looking back at me. “You already know, don’t ya?” But he already knew the answer from the look on my face.
Steel released another deep sigh and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I ain’t seen him yet. Bray called to warn me he was here. Asher knows about us. Bray told him, Dixie.”
He knew about us? I had a million questions to ask at that moment: why Bray had told him, what he had said exactly, how Asher had reacted, whether he was upset. But I didn’t ask any of them.
“Okay,” was all I could say without betraying all I was feeling.
Steel took one more step toward me, standing now only a few inches from me. His light blue eyes were the same as Asher’s, but the golden hue of his hair was fittingly different, matching his boyish optimism, even though he wasn’t looking all that optimistic at that very moment. “Both of us are gonna have to face him. Bray don’t think he’s leaving soon and I don’t want him to. I miss him, you know. I want him around. I know Momma wants him around too. And I think he needs us, Dixie. So, this thing between you and me,” he said, with a grin tugging on his lips, “is something he’ll have to deal with. I think he’s gonna be okay. We just need to get it over with. You both need some closure.”
Closure. For the past three years, Scarlet had been saying the same thing to me. But I didn’t even know what closure was. If Asher suddenly told me why he stopped loving me, would that actually make it better? Would I then be able to move on? Or would it make it even worse? That wound might never heal, but at least now I knew how to pretend.
“Come on, baby,” he said, reaching out to take my hand and tug me gently to him. “He’s my big brother, I want this to be okay with us . . . and also him. Because I love the both of you.”
“You go spend time with your brother. We will deal with bringing me into things after you’ve caught up. I don’t want to cause anyone to be uncomfortable,” I replied, hoping to buy myself more time to prepare for the inevitable.
Steel pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “He’ll be okay with this. Once he sees how we feel, it’ll all be good, I promise.”
I knew that Steel completely believed this. And I let him. Maybe he was right? Really, what did I know? It wasn’t that Asher verbally ever said that he hated me. He just never acknowledged me again. When I went to his house, after calling several times and him never answering the phone, he’d looked right through me, and then he left town. He went to stay at his uncle’s in Texas for a month and no one had an explanation to give me. They all looked at me with pity in their eyes.
When Asher returned, it was as if the man didn’t know who I was. The Asher who had loved me so fiercely was gone and in his place stood an emotionless, cold stranger. He then accepted a scholarship to the University of Florida and I never saw him again.
I was left to claw my way out of despair all on my own, never knowing what I had done to lose him. Then just when I thought I had my heartbreak finally under control, Asher came back.
I was now fifteen years old and I had one more year until I got my car. My body had finally started developing, giving me curves where I never had them, and even boobs I was no longer ashamed of when I looked at myself in the mirror.
I knew all this wasn’t enough to get Asher Sutton’s attention, not in the way I so desperately wanted it. But it made me feel less like a child in front of him, less like a little girl he was protecting from bullies at school. That year, Steel Sutton had also begun talking to me in class, even more so since my body had started changing, and even though my infatuation with his brother was still consuming my every thought, I knew that at some point, I had to let myself date somebody else.
Steel was probably not going to be that “somebody” because I’d not only have to be around Asher, but hiding my feelings for Asher while dating Steel would be hard. Impossible even. I needed someone else to date, but he would have to be a brave soul. Asher was around me more and more lately and since our little staring game in the dark, he was talking to me even more. I rarely walked to a class that Asher didn’t walk me to these days. He was slowly becoming a permanent fixture around me. Our strange night was never mentioned. I’d sat there on the step wondering if he wanted me to walk to him. If he was waiting on me. Finally, I’d decided he’d have to come to me. He hadn’t, of course. He was Asher Sutton. And I was just an inexperienced young girl with no idea how to handle him, or how he wanted me to react.
Today though, I was older, and I finally looked my age. I had plenty to be happy about and I had decided that I didn’t need Asher to be happy. I was turning over a new leaf.
“Dixie, you have . . . uh, company,” my mother called up the stairs. We were about to leave for school. Who was here and why? Was this another birthday surprise? I’d awakened to my favorite breakfast, chocolate cake on a plate, a tradition they began when I was four. I’d wanted my birthday cake so bad, I’d asked God in my prayers for my parents to let me have cake for breakfast on my birthday. They’d found that funny and not wanting me to think God wasn’t listening to me, they’d given me cake for breakfast.
That wasn’t a surprise, of course, but during breakfast they had also given me a camera, though I’d only asked my dad to make a deposit in my car fund and nothing more. He’d done that, and then he bought the camera too, because he knew it was something I was into lately. Last summer, I’d found an old camera in the attic and ever since then, I’d been taking photos, mostly of people, the kind of action shots I’d seen in magazines.
His voice stopped me as I hit the first step. Asher Sutton was in my house, talking to my parents, on my birthday. I glanced down at the skirt and top I was wearing. Secretly, I’d thought of Asher when I picked them out, hoping he’d see me in them and like the way I looked.
“Yes sir, I’m thinking of the University of Florida . . .”
“Good choice, although Alabama’s my favorite, I’ll give them Gators a cheer, when they aren’t playing Bama, of course.” Daddy’s reply was predictable, I thought. They were talking football. Asher was thinking of going all the way to Florida? That was so far. I’d have three full years left of high school while he was away at Florida, falling in love, maybe getting engaged, which immediately made my stomach feel sick.
I slowly walked the rest of the way down the stairs and put a smile on my face. Asher was in my house and he was here to see me, not to bring Momma something his mother had made for her, or to borr
ow a tool from Daddy. Asher was here for me.
“Hey,” I said, as I entered the living room.
Asher turned, a sexy smile appearing on his face with ease. “Happy birthday, Dixie,” he replied.
“Thank you,” I replied, beaming.
“I figured I’d give you a ride to school on such an important day. Was driving by and thought it would be nice to visit the birthday girl.” He paused and looked back at my parents. “That is, if it’s okay with the both of you?”
My mother’s eyes got that knowing light in them. I knew she was reading the wrong thing into this, but I couldn’t correct her in front of Asher.
“Reckon it is, if I can have your word that you’ll treat my girl like the lady she is. I’ve heard about that truck of yours. Dixie ain’t one of them girls.”
I blushed from embarrassment, wanting to crawl under the coffee table and hide there forever.
“Yes, sir. You have nothing to worry about. Dixie’s my friend, and I respect her. I like spending time with her, as a friend, only as a friend.”
Asher had just said I was his friend three times and that was all the wake up call I needed to stop me from getting silly ideas about him being here, picking me up for school on my birthday. He only saw me as his friend and that was all.
Daddy didn’t look very convinced. But he nodded, indicating he was buying it. “Known you since you were born. You’re a good boy, even if you’ve got a bit of a reputation with girls. I trust you’ll do right by my Dixie.”
Oh, good Lord, this was getting more embarrassing by the second. I hurried to the door saying, “we need to go or we’ll be late,” and opening it quickly. The cool morning breeze helped my heated cheeks, but it would take an ice storm to cool them.
“Have a good day, honey. Wear your seatbelt,” Momma called.
I nodded, and kept hurrying to his waiting truck. I feared that if we didn’t get away soon, dad would be asking Asher about his intentions and whatnot.