The outliers, p.13
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       The Outliers, p.13

         Part #2 of The Outskirts Duet series by T. M. Frazier
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  library so I had to come check it out for myself.” He looked around from shelf to shelf, running his hands across the spines of the once dusty books that between Finn and myself were nearly all clean and restored into lendable condition once more. “Bravo, my dear. Well done. This place doesn’t look nearly as condemned as it used to."

  “Are you from here?” I setting down the book of poetry on the table.

  Wilfredo nodded. “Born and raised in the mud, but I moved out to California a few years back after meeting the man of my dreams online.” He blinked rapidly and looked wistfully into the fluorescent lights overhead.

  “Sounds romantic,” I commented, finishing wiping off the book and setting it on its usual spot on the shelf.

  “Yeah,” he sighed dramatically. “It was. Until I got out there and alas, my Justin Bieber look-a-like was a lot less Biebs and a lot more…Lyle Lovett.” He scrunched up his nose so I took it as a bad thing.

  “That’s a shame.”

  “Not really. I may not have found my dream man, but I fell in love with Cali. Been out there ever since. What about you? Josh says you haven’t been here too long. How are you liking our little backwards town in the middle of nowhere USA?”

  “Actually, I love it here,” I said, but the feelings that normally came with that statement were nowhere to be found. "It's home."

  “Yeah, I get it. I want to hate this place, I really do. But it really is a great town.” Wilfredo pulled out a chair and sat down, fanning himself with a yellow pamphlet. He chuckled. “I mean, if the homo population ever increased from say…one, and by one I do mean THE one, being me, then I’d move back here in a heartbeat. Living with my beautiful ripped swamp-boy in overalls. Watching him de muck things or pick up heavy things, or whatever it is they do around here that could be sexy if I think about it hard enough.” He smiled. “I’d be living my own little gay redneck fantasy. Ah, that would be the life.”

  I laughed and sat down across from him. “I think I like you, Wilfredo.”

  “I like you too, Sawyer. So, what’s your story? How did you end up in Outskirts?”

  “It’s a very long story,” I said with a sigh.

  “Give me the short version of your long story. I’ve got time. My sister is still at the Dr. Maloy’s down the road getting her last check up before the baby is born. That’s why I’m back in town. To spoil my new niece and nephew. The newest members of my sister’s ever-growing litter of human cubs.”

  “Congratulations.”

  “Thank you. Now, back to your story. Short-version. Go.” He snapped his fingers and closed his eyes.

  “Well,” I thought for a moment on how to shorten my story and not drag my new friend into the heaviness of my life. I liked having someone new ask me about my relationship with Finn it reminded me that we were still new. It was like having a secret that only I got to decide how much or how little of us I would share with others.

  “I needed a change so when I found out that my mother owned land here I decided that I wanted to come check it out for myself. I took her old camper and truck and I’ve been here ever since.”

  “I have a feeling your short version is like the CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes of your story.” Wilfredo wiped the sweat beading up on his forehead with a handkerchief from his pocket.

  I leaned forward and whispered. “I would say you’re right.”

  “You got yourself a man, Red?” Wilfredo asked. “I know the pickings are slim around here but…” he paused when he saw my hand drop to my burgeoning baby belly.

  He gasped. “Spill girl. Who is he?”

  “If you’re from here then you probably know him," I said, biting my lip. "Finn Hollis?”

  Wilfredo’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened. He squealed so loud I had to cover my ears. He then hurriedly made a backward sign of the cross. “Sweet baby Jesus, you bagged the lord of the swamp?”

  “Uh, he’s. Well, We…”

  “He knocked you up. OMG I would KILL for that man to knock me up." He held out his hand, palm side facing me. "No, my sweet red one, not another word. I just need to sit here and let all this sexiness sink in for a moment.” He closed his eyes continuing to fan himself with the paper turned fan in his hand until his phone rang. “That’s my sister I’ve got to help her back into the car before she tips over." He removed his legs from the table and stood up. "It was nice to meet you Sawyer, I hope to see you again before I go back to Cali.”

  “I’d like that very much.” I said, and I meant it. Wilfredo brought with him a bright light I wouldn't mind having around more often.

  “Are you still working at Critter’s?” he asked. “Josh said you guys were helping him out a bit.

  “Yeah, sure am. Dinner shift tomorrow if you want to come by.”

  “I’ll be there!” Wilfredo looked down at the paper in his hands like he was just remembering something. He set it down on the table. “Here, I almost forgot, this was in your door when I got here, but I’ve been using it to fan myself. It’s as hot as the bowels of hell in this town. I guess some things never change. See ya, Sexy, Sawyer! Take care of that baybay! See you tomorrow. Save me a place under the Sandy Bennett.”

  Did he just say what I think he just said?

  The bells above the door chimed again. Wilfredo was gone just as quickly as he appeared. Blowing through like a multicolored tumbleweed of fun.

  I was rolling around his words in my head when I went to toss the flyer Wilfredo had handed me. I’d just released it into the trash when my heart seized.

  It wasn't just a fan or a flyer. It was thee flyer. The one for God's Light.

  A shiver of dread rippled through me. The sharp spike of dread pinched my spine, the one I’d always felt when my father was near.

  I covered my mouth in a silent scream as my blood ran cold. My head spun. It wasn’t the flyer itself that had me holding onto the table for support. It was the note on the inside, handwritten over the print in thick bright red ink.

  Like mother like daughter. -Ezekiel 16:44

  Chapter 20

  Sawyer

  In the animal kingdom, when a mother feels like her young is in danger, she does whatever it takes to keep them out of harm’s way. Even if that something seems ridiculous or illogical to anyone on the outside looking in.

  Even if that means sacrificing her own life for theirs.

  A giraffe will try to ward off a hungry pack of lions by kicking and attacking.

  The usually docile elephant will suddenly and aggressively charge at a human for getting too close to her baby while it drinks from a stream.

  An alligator will carry its young in its mouth for up to a year to keep them safe and make sure they will survive to adulthood at all costs.

  A brown bear will raise her cubs near populations of humans, their biggest enemy, to ward off adult male bears who are known to kill cubs who aren’t theirs.

  Human mothers are very much the same. We are animals after all. Our very nature screams at us to protect at all cost.

  Call it hormones.

  Call it instinct.

  It’s nature— written in our very DNA, it surfaces once we become mothers. We will do impossible, sometimes crazy things to keep our children safe.

  But what those on the outside don’t understand is sometimes that kind of protection comes with a whole lot of crazy. Because if crazy is what it takes to protect my child.

  Then so be it.

  If it came down to it I’d be the giraffe charging at the lion.

  Which was why I felt an eerie sense of calm washed over me as I made my way over to Critter’s Bar and scanned the thousands of picture frames covering the walls. When I didn’t find what I was looking for I dragged out a ladder from the store room and began to read every single ting hanging from the ceiling. It took me an hour before I found what I was looking for. Two tings, with strings a little lower than all the others, hanging directly above the big corner table in the back corner by the window.

/>   I had a date with Sandy tonight. I think she’s the one.

  -Bennett

  This might go down as the worst date in history.

  -Sandy

  Not knowing what I was searching for I stood on my tip toes and poked my fingers around on the rafters. Sure enough, sitting on the top of the rafter between the two tings was a cell phone. I turned it on and almost fell off the chair at what popped up on the screen.

  “What are you doing up there?” Finn asked, as he came in the door. He grabbed me by the legs and lifted me off the chair. Gently setting me on my feet. “You could hurt yourself.”

  I held up the phone.

  “What is that?” he asked.

  Knowing that what I just saw could change everything when it came to Richard, I handed it over to Finn carefully like it was a precious stone although in my eyes it was much more valuable. “I think I just found Sandy Bennett.”

  Chapter 21

  Finn

  I was going to be a father. I was already so in love with a child that I'd never even met yet because it was mine.

  Even better, it was ours.

  Which was why I had to have patience and standing there on the Brillhart County fairgrounds under the tent was proving to take every ounce of patience I had and more.

  There I was. Standing beside an open tent flap, looking right at the man we'd all spent way too much time fearing. Hating. I couldn’t say that I was nervous. It was more like I was nervous for him. He was only a few feet away. All I had to do was close the flap, reach across the desk and wrap my bare hands around his…

  "Can I help you?" Richard asked, finally acknowledging my presence.

  This man had laid hands on Sawyer.

  He’d hurt her.

  He… I had to stop thinking about it before my plan crumbled before my eyes and I wound up the one in jail for murder.

  Richard was shorter than I thought. Smaller than the huge persona that preceded him. I imagined him to be huge. Muscular. Menacing. This guy was five foot nine at best. He wasn’t a large man. I would even go so far as to call him skinny.

  “Yes, I think you can, help me” I finally answered. “I wanted to know more about the church. I saw your flyers.”

  “What would you like to know?” he asked. “Do you currently belong to a church?”

  I shook my head and looked around the bare office space. “No, I don’t. Unless you consider being dragged to Easter and Christmas Mass by my parents every year as a kid as belonging to a church.”

  “I do not,” Richard said sternly, taking off his reading glasses and polishing them on the sleeve of his white button-down shirt.

  Richard looked up and gave me a quick once over with his beady little eyes. I could see my dismissal written all over his face. He put his glasses back on and picked up a pen, dropping his head back down to his work. “Service is three times a day. The times are posted on the board outside my office. There are some flyers as well if you’d like to take one. We are only here for the summer but we have a housing unit in North Carolina where our main church is located if you wanted to come back with us and see what it's all about.”

  That was his pitch? This church was his entire life and THAT was his pitch? Miller could have done a better job.

  “I already have a flyer,” I said, waving around the yellow piece of paper in my hand. “But you see, I need more than just the service. I’ve been feeling a little lost lately. I’m looking for some real-life guidance through God.”

  “How so?” Richard asked, sounding annoyed. He kept checking his watch for the time. He never asked me to take a seat.

  “I recently lost someone close to me. Actually, it wasn’t recently. It was a couple of years ago. But, I can’t seem to move on. When I heard you were coming to town I sought you out. I need to know God’s plan for me.”

  Richard shook his head. “We all need God son. If you’d like, you can sign up for counseling with Pastor Maryn. He's over by the tent setting up for the afternoon. He'll be more than happy to help you.” Richard said, holding his hand out to the flap, furthering my dismissal. “I look forward to seeing you at the service.”

  Shit.

  It wasn’t going how I’d expected it to go. The safety of my entire world was at stake. I needed to keep him in here for as long as possible. At least for another few minutes or so.

  Time for Plan B.

  I was nervous. Damned near desperate when I turned back toward Richard. “I’m sorry I took up your time. It’s just that I have a lot of time of my own on my hands now that my land holdings company has a new management team. I’ve got nothing but time to think and money to spend, but no one to spend it on anymore It all seems cheap. Cars houses things. I'd much rather spend money on things that matter. Like my soul.” I pushed open the door. “Does Pastor Maryn also handle the donations? Never mind. I’ll talk to her myself. I see that you’re busy. Have a good afternoon, sir.”

  “Son, why don’t you come back and sit a while,” Richard called out.

  I stifled a laugh before turning back around.

  “Sorry, I was so distracted before,” Richard said, pushing his papers to the side. “How about you talk and I’ll listen. Then, maybe we will see if God can direct us to his grand plan for you.”

  Richard gestured to the chair in front of the desk the same way he’d gestured to the door only seconds before.

  I took a seat. “Thank you. I really appreciate this,” I said as genuinely as I could although the words Imma kill you, motherfucker was what was really running through my head.

  “Tell me again. Why do you have all this time on your hands?” Richard asked, resting his elbows on the desk, his index fingers pressed together in the shape of a steeple.

  It was almost too easy. Money. He wanted to talk about my money.

  I spent a while spewing bullshit to him. For the most part, he listened and nodded. Occasionally he’d recite something from the bible I knew didn’t mean what he thought it meant. Just because I didn’t choose religion didn’t mean I was ignorant of it. After a while he asked me about my family.

  “My parents moved away a while ago. I don’t see them much anymore. We don’t really get along well.”

  One of many lies I told him that afternoon. It hurt me to lie about them when I don’t think there was a time I’d ever thought bad about my parents. I don’t think they missed a single one of my baseball games or practices. They were there. Physically and emotionally. Parents wise, I hit the lottery.

  I stared at Richard.

  Others weren’t as lucky.

  “Why didn’t you get along with your parent’s son. Next to God, family is what’s most important.”

  Bullshit.

  “I can’t really pinpoint where it all went wrong,” I started, dropping my head into my hands for a bit of dramatic effect and mentally thanking Mrs. Doogan, my high school guidance counselor, for convincing me to take that semester of drama as one of my electives. I lifted my head. “Do you have a family Pastor?”

 
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