Boys south of the mason.., p.2
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       Boys South of the Mason Dixon, p.2
 

          
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  Brandon Heely was standing just inside the door with a bag of food I knew was ours. “Hey, Brandon,” I said politely. He’d been working here for years even though he should’ve been off at college by now. But he wasn’t and probably never would be because he preferred to flip burgers at Jack’s and riding his motorcycle around Malroy, pretending to be the badass he wanted to be, but never could be.

  “Hey, Dix, here’s your order.”

  “Thank you,” I replied, reaching forward. “Daddy wants to add some extra special sauce,” I added, praying he had to go to the front to get some from the cooler.

  Brandon chuckled. “This is his third time ordering this week. Jack says your momma has him on a diet. Is that true? Because it ain’t working if you ask me.”

  Third time! Jeez! Daddy! I hadn’t realized he was sneaking off for greasy bar food that often.

  “Yeah. She’ll eventually give up or catch him.”

  Brandon sounded amused. “Stay right here. I’ll go get the sauce.”

  This was my chance. “Okay.”

  As he turned to walk away, I slowly followed behind him. I crept closer to the swinging door and just when I thought I wasn’t going to see anything before it closed in my face, I caught a glimpse of Asher, standing at the pool table, with a grin on his beautiful lips. His arm was propped on Andrea James, Emily’s older, college age sister. She was leaning against him, enjoying herself and Asher doing the same. She worked here, had to be at least twenty, and like her sister Emily, she was gorgeous and curvy. Now I officially hated her.

  Andrea was in heels, making her almost as tall as Asher. She was leaning in to whisper in his ear when the door closed and blocked my view of them. I slowly backed away. I’d seen enough. I knew Asher was popular with the older girls. He was popular with all the girls, regardless of their age. They all wanted him because he had it all—looks, charm and mystique. But I wanted him for other reasons altogether. Not that it mattered anyway. I was a kid to Asher, one he was following around to keep safe and protect from bullies at school. I was just a charity case to him and I knew that.

  Brandon stepped back through the door with two containers of their famous sauce. “Here you go. Jack said to tell the old man he better not clog his arteries and have your momma up here giving him the what for.”

  I forced a smile. “I will. Thanks, Brandon. Have a good night,” I said, before turning to rush out with our order. I was glad I hadn’t gone with Scarlet. I’d seen enough through that door to last me for months. I didn’t need to see anymore. My heart couldn’t bear it.

  I opened the door and sat the bag on the seat. Daddy pulled the order to the middle to peek inside, while I climbed back in the truck. “You get the extra sauce?”

  “Yes, sir. But three times this week? Seriously? You need to admit that to Momma. Her healthy eating regimen is making you eat even worse. Greasy bar food isn’t meant to be consumed more than once a week, Daddy. And even that’s a lot for you. Enough to kill you.”

  Daddy sighed. “I’d much rather eat your momma’s greasy food, but she’s quit frying stuff.”

  “That’s because she wants you to live a long time. Jack’s cooking won’t do that.”

  “I ain’t gonna fuss with you about this. Your mother gives me enough grief. My granddaddy ate fried food and raw beef up until his ninety-sixth birthday, when he went on to be with the Lord. I’m just fine. Great genetics.”

  My great-granddad had lived a long life and I couldn’t argue with that. I sighed and leaned my head back in my seat. I wanted to think about Asher, torture myself by going over all I’d seen at Jack’s, but I knew I had to turn my thoughts to something else. Anyone else, just not a Sutton boy. Because they all reminded me of Asher. Even the youngest one who appeared part Native American. Their momma looked like that too. The rest were spitting images of their father. My daddy always said, “Vance Sutton reproduced and made twins of himself.”

  Vance Sutton must have been really handsome because he didn’t have one ugly son. They were all striking. They just weren’t all Asher. I really needed to stop thinking about him. .

  “Tell me what you want for your birthday next week,” Daddy asked, changing the subject.

  I wanted Asher Sutton to notice that I had boobs and curves now and that I wasn’t a little girl anymore. I wanted Asher Sutton to see me as something more than just a helpless kid who needed him to protect her from bad people. But these were all things that Daddy couldn’t give me. No one could.

  “Put whatever you were going to spend on me in my savings account for a car.”

  Daddy sighed. “How much you got saved? You’ve been working and saving for a couple years now and you still got one more year left. I’d think you had plenty by now. I told you I’d meet you half way. Whatever you save, I’ll equal.”

  I wasn’t sure what I wanted yet. To be safe, I was saving all I could. If I had extra money in the end, I could use it for any problems the car had later on. I didn’t need anything else.

  “I’m saving until I turn sixteen. Right now, the balance on my savings is five thousand even with interest.”

  Daddy released a whistle. “Lord, girl! I’m gonna have to take out a loan to meet you half way at that rate.”

  Of course, he was teasing. I replied, “guess you better start saving too.”

  That brought a deep belly laugh from him. I smiled and inhaled the greasy chicken smell filling the air. I might not have Asher Sutton, but I had a good life, and I was grateful for that.

  Asher Sutton

  MOMMA HADN’T MENTIONED the doctor wanted to put her on blood pressure medication. I remained calm while Frank Harrod told me how happy he was that she had agreed to take it. He’d gone on and on about how dangerous it was at her age not to treat high blood pressure. Why the fucking hell hadn’t Doc John called me before now to let me know?

  I pulled my truck into the gravel driveway outside the farmhouse I’d grown up in and I took a deep breath. I hadn’t been here since Christmas. Even then, my visit had been a short one, I made sure of it. I’d wanted to run away. As far away from here as possible. The memories haunted the hell out of me whenever I got near this place.

  A loud banging startled me and I jerked my head around to see Bray grinning at me like a fool. “You are home, motherfucker!” he said, gripping the frame of the door.

  Bray was only twelve months younger than me and seeing him smile was rare. Brent, his twin, was the happy one. A grin was always on Brent’s face while Bray normally scowled. Not much excited Bray, which only made me feel even guiltier for staying away so long, seeing him smiling at me like that.

  I opened the door and grabbed the bag with the meds I had picked up and intended to force Momma to start taking right away. I couldn’t lose her. There was a lot of fucked up in my life, but my momma was the one person I depended on to be there. I would like to think no one knew I was such a momma’s boy, but the truth was, everyone knew. Then again, it wasn’t just me. All four of my brothers loved our momma. She was our home. We knew as long as she was here in this house, we had a safe place to come back to.

  “Don’t look too excited to see me. I’ll think you missed me,” I teased Bray. He then grinned bigger, no longer trying to hide the fact he was pleased to see me home.

  “Fuck that. I’m just glad you’re here. ‘Bout time you came back.”

  “Holy hell! That can’t be my long-lost brother who thinks he’s too good to come home.” Brent called out from the front porch rail, before swinging his legs above it in one swift move we’d all perfected from our many years of jumping it. When his feet hit the ground, he took several long strides toward me before grabbing and hugging me bearlike.

  As glad as Bray had been to see me, he hadn’t been as excited as Brent. He slapped me on the back. “Momma’s gonna be the happiest woman in Malroy,” Brent said.

  “No,” Bray drawled. “The happiest woman in Malroy is Jenny Wilson. I spent a good thirty minutes with my head between h
er legs last night.”

  “Dude, fuck, you did not just say that,” Brent replied, shaking his head.

  I just chuckled. I missed this. Being away from my family and this place was so damn hard at times. Unable to help myself, I lifted my gaze to scan the yard, looking past it and toward the white picket fence that surrounded the house neighboring ours. I wondered if she was still living at home. If she looked older . . . Fuck, where did that come from? It only happened here, being so close to her. I normally didn’t allow myself these thoughts because they were too dangerous, too destructive, and entirely pointless.

  Brent said with his dimpled grin, “Momma’s inside putting up some jam. She won’t allow them strawberries to waste. She’s been at it for two damn days. We’ll have good ol’ strawberry jam with our biscuits all year long.”

  “Reckon with you being home, we can coax her to use some of those berries to make us fried pies,” Bray said. “Been craving one of them pies.”

  I wanted to talk to Momma alone. This shit with her not taking her medication was serious and I had to fix it. Then, I needed to leave. Run like hell, because at this moment, all I wanted to do was look back toward that white picket fence.

  “Where are Steel and Dallas?” I asked Brent as he fell in step beside me walking toward the front porch of the house.

  “Uh,” he replied and glanced back at Bray before replying. I knew that look. Something was up. Fuck. I’d been gone too long. What other shit did I need to fix before I could leave again?

  “Probably at the feed store,” Brent added. “We were low on some stuff. Steel said he’d go get it. I’m sure Dallas rode with him. The white truck is gone. I don’t see it.” He was lying. His tone always gave him away.

  “Motherfucker, you suck at that,” Bray said, shaking his head and walking past us like it was a race. He took the steps two at a time, barging through the front door as if he were in a hurry to get away from everything behind him.

  “What am I missing? ‘Cause I’m definitely missing something,” I asked, stopping on the steps, and turning from Brent’s deer in the headlights expression to Bray’s stiff back at my front.

  “Just tell ‘im,” Bray said without looking back at us.

  Brent didn’t say a word. We all stood there for a moment. The silence was deafening, filling the air with growing tension. I shouted, “if something is wrong with one of them, I need to fucking know.”

  Bray dropped his hand from the door and turned to look at me. The hesitation I’d seen on Brent’s face wasn’t on his twin’s. There was an annoyed glare instead. “They’re fine. Everyone is just fucking fantastic. Calm your shit down,” he replied, shifting his gaze from me to the yard at my rear as he sighed. I could see him trying to control his temper, another thing that set the twins apart. Brent didn’t lose his very easily. Hell, you were lucky if you could piss him off. But Bray was a loaded gun. He’d blow the hell up fairly easily and I’d had to bail his ass out of trouble more times than I’d care to admit.

  “Where are they?” I asked, looking at Bray.

  Bray didn’t look back at me. The muscle in his jaw ticked as he kept his gaze on the yard. He was thinking this through, whatever it was, and though I didn’t like to be kept waiting, I also didn’t want to come home and end up in a brawl in the yard before even giving my momma a hug.

  “Steel has been dating Dixie for almost a year,” Bray said. He spoke calmly, but the warning couldn’t be missed. He was protecting our younger brother, without any idea whatsoever what he was protecting him from.

  Everything around me started spinning. I grabbed the railing beside me, steadying myself, because this wasn’t happening. I’d left to protect a secret, to protect Dixie . . . but this . . . holy fuck . . . what had I done?

  This couldn’t be fucking happening. I’d lost it all, walked through hell for three long years, and I still walked through it daily. Every dream she appeared in reminded me that no one else would ever be enough. Lies had ruined my life. I wouldn’t let them ruin hers too. And I sure as hell wouldn’t let them ruin Steel’s.

  “Don’t fuck this up for him. He worships you. Would do anything to please you. But he loves her,” Bray warned me through his glare.

  He didn’t know what he was saying. None of them did. No one knew but me. I wasn’t about to lose my shit because I was jealous. I’d learned to live with the jealousy that consumed me anytime I thought of someone touching her.

  “Have they . . .” I couldn’t even say it. My throat shut. I wanted to yell at the world, at how cruel it could be. The tightness in my chest and the rage pounding in my veins were emotions I knew all too well. Emotions I shouldn’t be feeling. The mere idea of Dixie with someone else ripped me apart. I’d been living that nightmare for three fucking years, knowing I had no right to be jealous. I felt sick to my stomach that keeping my mouth shut had now led to this. But as horrified as I felt, all I could think about was Steel touching Dixie . . . my own fucking brother.

  “Fuck!” I roared, stalking back through the yard, needing distance from everyone present. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would leap from my chest. The range of emotions churning through me spread like a lightning bolt through my skull. “Motherfucking hell!” I yelled, throwing the bag of my momma’s medication to the ground and grabbing my head with my hands. I felt dizzy, my eyes bugging from the pulse of the pain.

  My knees went weak and I let them give way, squatting, resting my elbows on my thighs and holding my head through the pain. I’d run from Malroy to save us both. But while trying to save Dixie from what would haunt me for the rest of my life, I’d left my baby brother unprotected and free to walk into a horrible sin. Holy hell, how could I do this to him now? How could I let him turn into this same shell of a person I’d become?

  “Asher?” Momma’s voice rang out loud and clear from the porch. I let my hands fall as I looked up at her. She was standing tall with her apron on and her hands on her hips, staring at me. The pinched look on her face meant she was upset. The stained red spots all over her apron reminded me of happier times. Days when sneaking a strawberry without momma knowing was the only problem I had.

  “You two had to go and tell him before he even got in the door? You little shits. I haven’t seen my boy since Christmas and you upset him off the bat!” Momma scolded Bray and Brent before shaking her head and pointing at me. “Get up from there, for God’s sake. You’re too big to act like a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. Come see your momma and then tell me why the hell you went and got a prescription that I didn’t ask for in the first place. I’ll make you a fried pie while you explain.” Her tone meant business and we knew that. “And you two,” she added, waving the towel in her hand between the two of them. “Y’all should be ashamed. Ain’t the way to do things!”

  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 an
d 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.

 
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