Once she dreamed 1, p.3
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       Once She Dreamed - 1, p.3

         Part #1 of Once She Dreamed series by Abbi Glines
 
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  He grinned. “Yes, did you enjoy yours? I hope you ate them both.”

  I nodded. “It was delicious. I gave the other to Henry, he’s my little brother. Now he asks me for his daily cupcake.”

  The man’s smile was really something else. I wanted him to smile some more. “We have chocolate covered strawberries today. They’re a really big hit and oh, we have chocolate raspberry cupcakes. You’d enjoy either or both.” I assured him and he seemed convinced.

  He tilted his head. “Have you tried those?”

  My face flushed and I wanted to lie. But I wasn’t a liar so I shook my head. “No, but I smell them and I can promise you this, they are flat yummy and scrumptious.”

  “Can I help you?” Momma’s voice interrupted and I inwardly winced, saying “I gotta go get some strawberries, cream cheese and something else…” Quickly I brushed right past him, hurrying through the door. I wasn’t about to face momma.

  She would take his order and send him on his way. I’d pay for flirting later. She didn’t trust men like that. Though Henry’s daddy hadn’t been anything similar, I really think she’s suspicious of men. And I completely understand why.

  I headed down the sidewalk towards the grocery to get the cream cheese first. It was the farthest away. I was almost there when I saw Jamie step from the cross-street cleaners to my side. She stopped when she saw me, ducked her had, and hurried down the street. Jamie was obviously avoiding me and we’d never avoided each other. We’d argued before, but never this, Jamie walking in the opposite direction.

  I got the cream cheese while worrying about Jamie, wishing I had time to find her, to talk and see what was wrong. It would have to wait until after work because Momma expected me back. I was hoping Mr. Expensive hadn’t been asking questions. If he had momma was sure to lecture until I dropped.

  George had me several cartons of strawberries already picked and sorted. He must have known it was a strawberry day. We’d sold several dozen already. I figured we’d sell at least eight more before the day was over.

  As I paid George I saw Mr. Expensive patiently walking my way. He held two containers in his hand. It appeared he’d bought my suggestions. Smiling I took the strawberries from George and walked toward this stranger, who was apparently searching for me.

  “What did you decide?” I asked him.

  He took the grocery bag from my hands and placed a box inside it. He reached for the strawberries, tucked them under his arm and I tell you, that was a load. “I’ll help you carry these back.”

  That was nice but a terrible idea. Momma wasn’t going to like that. “You don’t have to. I can carry it. I’m sure you have somewhere to be.”

  He chuckled. “No place as important as helping a lady with her cartons and bag of groceries.”

  A lady. He called me a lady. I felt very important then. It’s silly, but I did.

  “I’m used to carrying them. Momma sends me often.”

  I really needed him to leave. To go on before momma saw us. Even though I wished he could stay. This might be his last time through. Who came to Moulton for a cupcake?

  “I’m sure you are. But a man should stop and help. Besides your hands were full and I couldn’t very well make you carry one more thing.”

  Frowning, I glanced up to him. I guessed about six foot three. Much taller than my five foot six. “What else did I need to carry?”

  He showed the bag where he had placed his boxes. “Your chocolate strawberries and chocolate raspberry cupcakes. There they are needing consumption.”

  The man had bought me something again. My mouth watered, even though, I knew I shouldn’t take them. Momma would have a fit. Though Henry would love it I bet.

  “You bought me something else?” I asked, sounding breathless, highly dramatic and appreciative.

  “Yes. Hearing you talk about them with so much passion made my mouth then water. Figured you should at least get to try them. Shame your mother doesn’t allow you a taste test now and then.”

  “Thank you. Speaking of my momma, she’s not going to be happy, that you bought me something again. She thinks I’m flirting and you’re buying me treats, because of the flirting I’m doing. Momma has this strange idea about my looks and what they create.”

  He appeared to be holding back laughter. “And what might they create?”

  I sighed and shrugged my shoulders. “She thinks I’m pretty. Over-pretty. But that’s not even a word.”

  When he laughed my face grew hot. I know I turned three shades of red.

  Chapter Seven

  “I’ll save some for Henry. He loved the cupcake,” I said the moment Mr. Expensive walked out the door after helping me carry my bundles.

  Momma was staring at the box he had left for me on the counter.

  “I wasn’t even in here momma. I couldn’t have flirted with him. He bought those on his own.”

  She then raised her eyes to meet mine: “he’s never worked an honest days labor in his entire trust funded life. His hands are too downy and soft. His skin not damaged by the sun. He wears and smells of easy money. No worry or fear in his eyes. His life has been simple and manageable. He expects to get what he wants because he always has till now. Nothing’s ever been a challenge for him. Now, you’re something he desires. He’s buying you treats that cost him little to draw you in for the kill. That, Sammy Jo, is dangerous. A real man knows work and respect.”

  Then she turned and went back to the kitchen. Momma was making judgments on a man she didn’t know because he’d been kind to me, by giving me gifts and attention. I opened the box to find six strawberries and three gigantic cupcakes. Why three? That, I wondered.

  I selected a strawberry and closed my eyes, biting down and allowing the first spray of juice to release inside my mouth. It was as perfect as I’d imagined. And momma’s warning was silly I thought. She got upset over nothing. I’d never see the man again. Mr. Expensive was gone.

  The door chimed and I spun to see who it was, which was Ben walking inside. I swallowed my bite of strawberry. At least he was here. Maybe he could explain Jamie’s behavior that made no sense to me.

  “Hey,” I said, wiping the juice from my mouth with the back of my hand.

  He ducked his head a moment then sighed before looking back at me. “Hey,” he responded. “Hey there.” As if adding two words made it better.

  I knew this was about the lake. It was time we put that behind us. “Are we good?” I asked him, hoping he’d say “yes” and put the thing to rest.

  He shrugged. “I don’t know. Have you talked to Jamie?”

  “Funny you should mention that. I just saw her outside and she all but ran away from me in the street.”

  His skin paled a shade or two. Something was definitely off.

  “Uh…yeah…well, we kinda…just ask her yourself if you want.” And he left as quickly as possible.

  I picked up a cupcake and watched him hurry off down the street. Things were strange but this cupcake was delicious. A cup of coffee would make it better. No it wouldn’t, that’s impossible.

  “Come get the blueberry bread! Display it right in the front!” Momma called from the back and I replied “yes mam!” tucking my cupcake back into the box and dusting off my hands. I hurried to the kitchen with a smile. I didn’t need to remind her about my gifts so I returned to quietly hide them, to make them blend like a regular fixture. Glancing outside I saw Ben pause and look back at the door. Something was strange and though momma would be angry I knew I had to do something about it or it was going to drive me nuts.

  “Ben left his change on the counter! I’ll be back in a minute!”

  “Ben?” she replied. She hadn’t seen Ben come in and I didn’t have time to explain. He rapidly turned to escape. I ran for the door to yell his name before he climbed in his truck. Ben turned and I hurried right to him. “What’s going on?” I asked, sounding breathless and concerned and annoyed. A feat within itself.

  He frowned and looked at his boo
ts. There was definitely something wrong. Ben never acted like this.

  “Is this about what I said? I’m sorry if I hurt or embarrassed you. I was shocked by what you said. How you assumed things I’d react to. You know me and my mouth, I say what I’m thinking too fast sometimes, but that doesn’t affect our friendship.”

  Ben lifted his head and his eyes met mine. “That’s not what’s wrong Sammy Jo.”

  Oh, it isn’t, is it? Well, then I was curious as to what it was because Jamie running off was weird. “Would you please tell me because both my friends are treating me strange as of late. I’d like to know why if you please?”

  Ben closed his eyes tightly as if the words he would say were going to be painful and hurt me. As if he were safe if I couldn’t be seen.

  “Jamie’s pregnant.”

  I stood there. He was safe. Eyes still closed, Ben gritting his teeth, the warm summer breeze tangling the hair breaking free of my ponytail, the strands dancing around my face, sticking to the sweat on my brow. I could see Norma Sanders crossing the road with her poodle Josie in the lead. The wafting smell from the bakery crept ever toward me, but even with all that familiarity I was lost, confused and alone. As if I’d stepped into another world. I was Alice down the rabbit hole. Looking skyward from the bottom frozen.

  “Wh-what?” I managed to say.

  Ben ran his hand over his face and made an odd high-pitched sound. Was he feeling as lost as me? So completely thrown for a loop? When had Jamie even had sex?

  “She’s pregnant. She told me last night.”

  She told him, Jamie told Ben, that she was pregnant, but didn’t tell me, her best friend on the face of the earth?

  “She told you? You?” I repeated, still looking for that clue that this was a dream and couldn’t be actually happening.

  “Yeah.”

  “Why? How?” Why had she told him? How was she pregnant? Jamie? Last time I had checked she was a virgin, the two of us in a tiny minority.

  I could see the tension in his shoulders. The stress etched on his blood-drained face. His eyes were wide and upward looking. This was as upsetting to him, as it was for me to hear it. Had he asked her these questions? Did he even know the answers? Who was the father of the child?

  “We…we slept together. Just once. It wasn’t planned. We just…we…it happened. When it was over we swore we’d never tell and things would stay the same. But now, now, it’s different. Everything will change because it has to.”

  My legs felt weak. I wasn’t sure I could stand. I was no longer living in reality. “When?” I asked, still not sure, I’d heard him correctly when he said it.

  “Last month. The night we were going to Cullman to see a movie and get something to eat. You had to stay home and keep Henry.”

  I remembered that night. Henry had fever. Momma had to go into the bakery to do a special order for a wedding. Milly was on a date, such a normal night, nothing strange or life changing at the moment.

  But two young lives had been altered. Forever changed, eternally coursed.

  “Sammy Jo!” Momma’s voice called out. I jerked my head around to see something nearer to a reality where I wasn’t uncomfortable. My mother. My angry mother. I had to get back to work.

  “I…I have to go,” I stuttered and instead of trying to figure out the right thing to say at the moment, turned and left him there. “Congratulations” seemed an odd sentiment. Yet they had created a life. One that would blossom in Moulton and know this place as its own. A life that was their responsibility. Something they couldn’t take back.

  Chapter Eight

  Time crawled by the rest of the day and my head was so full of questions and concerns I couldn’t even eat the strawberries or cupcakes that Mr. Expensive had left me. My appetite was gone and in its place something that could only be described as fear for my friends had taken over.

  I stepped into the evening summer sunshine after work. Momma had agreed I could go visit Jamie. I told her something was wrong and she needed a friend. Momma said to be home by dinnertime. Not much got by her so I figured she knew I was bothered by the interaction she’d interrupted earlier today with Ben. She didn’t question me or pause when she agreed.

  I took my box of cupcakes and strawberries with me. Maybe Jamie would need a treat. Not that strawberries and cupcakes could fix this. She was eighteen and pregnant with a guy’s baby she was just friends with. Dear God, how had I not known they’d been intimate? Had she tried to tell me over the past month and I’d been so wrapped up in my life and dreams that I hadn’t been listening? If so, I was a terrible friend. I should have known this. Been there with her when she took the pregnancy test. She’d done that alone and where was I? Not there. That was where.

  I hurried to her house hoping I wouldn’t need to track her down. Getting through the past few hours after talking to Ben had been hard. All I’d wanted to do was run to Jamie. Check on her. Talk to her. Make a thing okay that had already happened and would have to be lovingly dealt with.

  And also, not to be selfish, but I wanted to stop feeling as if I was going to vomit.

  I walked up the front steps of her light blue house that reminded me of a photograph. It wasn’t big, but it was cute, the shutters and doors perfectly matching and the woodwork and flowers were immaculate. It was so perfect you knew it wasn’t. Something had to be wrong inside. Stopping at the door I stared at the peephole. What was I going to say? Would my words comfort my friend? Was she going to be happy about this? Should I pretend that I didn’t know?

  I didn’t have any answers or suggestions. I reached up and rang the doorbell. Jamie’s my best friend, that’s always been so. Like family, even closer. She needed me and I was here.

  The door opened and there she stood. As if she’d waited behind it. Her face was paler than normal and her eyes seemed larger, sad and sleepless and teary. She was lost inside herself, down in the rabbit hole. Her expression told the truth.

  “You talked to Ben?”

  I nodded. I wasn’t going to lie. I never have and I wouldn’t start now.

  “And?” she asked.

  And? What did she mean by “and?” How did I feel? How was Ben? What? What was she asking? She was scared and hurting. I knew it. I sat the bag holding the box of treats down and then I stepped forward, wrapping my arms around her. That was all I knew to do. She needed comfort. That I could give.

  Her stiff body didn’t last. Within seconds her shoulders sagged. Jamie embraced me, brought me into her and buried her face in my neck. She twisted her head like a helpless child and we stood like that for a while. Not worried about who saw us.

  “He hasn’t called since I told him,” she said. “Nothing. Not a word.”

  If I’d known that I might have shook him and yelled when I saw him earlier. Jamie was eighteen and pregnant in Moulton, Alabama. Did he not see how terrified and frightened Jamie was?

  “He’ll call. He just needs a little space to adjust. And if he doesn’t I’ll kick his ass.” I said it and pulled her tighter.

  She sniffled and a laugh escaped. “I should have told you first.”

  I agreed. But I wasn’t going to say that. Not when she was like this. “I have cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries. Let’s go eat them while we talk.”

  She nodded, then stepped back, her tear filled eyes meeting mine. “I’m scared. Can’t quit shaking.”

  I was also frightened. And it wasn’t my life that was about to change. It was hers and Ben’s and the child’s. “I know,” I responded. “I’m here.”

  I picked up the bag and walked inside a house I knew so well. That smell of apple cinnamon. I always wondered how her mother managed that. Ours always smelled like what momma cooked that day or the day before.

  The house was decorated with nice things and always very tidy. Jamie’s mom was the expectation of Southern womankind. Married to one man for thirty plus years, come hell or the highest waters. There were decorative pillows on her sofa and fresh flowers on
the kitchen table. I liked this house and the way it felt. A knickknack heaven I tell you.

  Jamie’s dad was the local bank manager and her mother a stay at home mom. Something momma knew nothing about. She had always worked somewhere. Her income was our keeping. As nice as Jamie’s house was I never wanted this life. It wasn’t for me, though it fit well for her, so I guess there’s balance in everything. I was young and wanted adventure, to get out and see the world. I’d wear fancy clothes and expensive shoes and have my own money to buy them. I’d walk Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, or go shopping in Paris or Rome. Maybe that was selfish and wrong of me, but I had to admit my desires. There’s something to be said for my honesty.

  We walked up the stairs and opened the first door on the right. Jamie’s bedroom was as big as the room I shared with my three sisters. The coral and aqua colored quilt on her bed was what drew your eyes into it, the moment you walked through the door. There were paper balls, the same matching colors, hanging above her bed. Like flowers they gave it a fairytale touch, though our discussion wouldn’t be.

  All this was safe for Jamie. Safe, until right about now. The room was going to change. Would she put a crib against the wall? Would her parents allow her to live here? Would she marry Ben, make a life of her own and refuse the help of her parents?

  “Do you love him?” I gently asked, resting the bag on her dresser.

  She sighed and nodded her head. “Yes, I’ve loved him for years, but he’s always just seen you. Until the night that he only saw me.” She then pointed at her chest. “The next day it was like it never happened. His eyes were still on you. I kept wishing that wouldn’t be the case and he’d continue to just see me.”

  My chest ached and I wanted to hug her. I hadn’t realized until recently that she felt something for Ben. I wish she had told me sooner. Maybe I could’ve helped by telling Ben how I would never feel that way. But would that end his strange fascination? Would he ever turn completely to Jamie?

  “I was used to boys liking you. They always have. It didn’t bother me. You’re my best friend and you’re beautiful and guys are drawn to that. That’s something I always understood. Until Ben. He was my first. The boy I wanted for myself. But it’s hard to see me when there’s you.”

  The idea of strawberries and cupcakes no longer appealed to me. I
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