The outliers, p.17
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       The Outliers, p.17

         Part #2 of The Outskirts Duet series by T. M. Frazier
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  I still have no idea how Sawyer and her mother managed to free themselves from a man who would stop at nothing until he got what he wanted. What he wanted was their lives. By way of either submission or death.

  My stomach rolls at the reminder of how close he came to getting what he wanted, of the despair I felt while thinking the absolute worst had already happened.

  We were lucky

  Just because I don’t know how they managed to free themselves doesn’t mean I was surprised. There were never two more-determined people on the planet. No one with stronger wills. No one braver.

  They might not think so, but they were well equipped to handle the likes of Richard Dixon.

  “I’ve never been so goddamn scared in my entire life,” I told Sawyer as she woke up from a twenty-hour nap. She rolled over took one look at me as smiled like I meant everything in the world to her. “I can’t help but think of what could happened to you if…”

  “Don’t. Come here,” Sawyer said, stretching out her arm. She rolled over so that we were lying facing one another with our arms and legs intertwined, a lot like we did the first night she spent in my bed. Except this time one of my hands rested on top of our growing baby.

  I hadn’t gotten much sleep at all. I found my rest in watching my girl sleep, her chest and belly rising and falling with each intake of breath.

  “I missed you,” Sawyer said sleepily. And although her words were simple the look in her eyes said so much more.

  “Me too,” I whispered.

  Her eyed widened and met mine. “Richard,” she said, suddenly looking panicked.

  “He won’t Hurt you again.”

  She relaxed into me once more. “What happen to him?”

  I shrugged. “Critter said he was taking Richard back to jail but not the one he escaped from.”

  “Do you think that’s what he did?” She asked, knowing Critter just as well as I did.

  I shrugged. “I think it’s best if we don’t know.”

  “That sounds like something he would say,” Sawyer said, placing a hand on my face. I leaned in and kissed her, needing to feel her against me, needing to remind myself that although she was in my arms that she was really here. She was really okay.

  “I’m here,” she reassured me, knowing exactly what I needed to hear.

  “Yes, you are.”

  She glanced over my head to the nightstand. I turned and noticed she was staring at her dirty clothes in a pile as well as the rock that her mother had been clutching to her chest when we’d found them.

  “It was real,” she whispered.

  “What was real?” I asked, turning back around to face her.

  “You see that scarf?” she asked, pointing to the muddied purple piece of cloth on top of the pile. “I had a vision that this blonde woman saved me and she was wearing it. I know it sounds silly but it helped pull me through.”

  I sucked in a breath, not wanting to think about how scared she must have been but glad she had found comfort in some sense, even if it was in a vision or a dream.

  “What’s with the rock?” she asked.

  I couldn’t help the smile that grew on my face. “That’s what your mother was holding. That’s what she hit Richard over the head with.”

  “Strange looking rock,” she commented.

  I sat up to inspect it closer. “You’re right. I’ve never seen a round rock like that around here. "I picked it up and turned it over. I almost dropped it when I saw what was on the other side.

  “What?” Sawyer asked, scrambling to a sitting position on the bed.

  The rock wasn’t a rock at all.

  It was a skull.

  Suddenly something clicked. The purple scarf. The skull.

  I envisioned a certain picture hanging over Critter’s bar. One where I had my arm draped around Jackie. She was wearing the purple scarf I’d bought her from the craft fair. I even had her initials embroidered in the lining. JC. The exact initials that were peeking through the splotches of filth.

  I dropped my head in my hands. At first, I felt my stomach roll like I was going to get sick. I took a deep breath through my nose but it didn’t help. This was her. This was Jackie. Suddenly it was two years ago and it was like I’d just lost her all over again. Her death was like a knife to my throat.

  “What! What is it?” Sawyer asked again. It was her voice that brought me back to the present. Her voice that reminded me that it wasn’t two years ago anymore. I’d almost lost Sawyer. The love of my life. The mother of my child. But I didn’t. And something told me the blonde woman in Sawyer’s vision was someone familiar to me.

  There had been a reason we hadn’t found her despite countless searches over the years. And although it sounded ridiculous to even think it, I think she stayed out there for Sawyer...for me.

  I felt a warmth grow within me. A sense of completion. Finality. Love. We’d found Jackie...or just maybe, she’d found us.

  “Finn?” Sawyer asked again.

  I quickly turned the skull backed around. “Nothing, I thought a saw a worm on it. It was just a leaf.”

  “That was an awfully big reaction for worm.” Sawyer said, skeptically. “For someone who grew up in a swamp.”

  I laid back down on the bed and pulled Sawyer down with me. “Worms are gross,” I said, pressing her body against mine. Relishing the feel of her lips as a brush my jaw and chuckled.

  “No, tell me. Please.”

  I sighed. “Okay, but it’s going to sound a little crazy.” I warned her, tracing the freckles around her right eye.

  “Lucky for you, I’m used to crazy.”

  I told her everything and she remained expressionless until the end. “That’s not crazy, Finn. That’s beautiful.”

  We remained silent for a while after that. Content with breathing each other in. “Did you are the bravest person I’ve ever met in my entire life?” I asked, not being able to hold inside how I felt any longer.

  “Why do you say that?” She asked, running her hands all over my body like she too cannot believe that I was there. “You are the one who crawled out of a burning building.”

  “Not so much,” I explained. “A rain squall came in at the right time and doused the flames before they could spread.”

  “I thought you were crushed under the roof,” she said, resting her chin on my chest and looking up at me with glassy eyes. I needed to protect her from those kinds of feelings, from the pain.

  “No, it was just the part over the storage unit.” I reassured her. “I am here. I’m fine.” Repeating her same reassurances, she just used to comfort me.

  I chuckled to myself.

  “What’s so funny?” she asked, her bright smile lighting up the entire room as well as my heart.

  “Here I thought you were the damsel in distress. I was wrong.” I cupped her jaw. “As it turns out, you were both the damsel and the knight.”

  I kissed her deeply and we spent the rest of the night and the following day not more than a few inches from one another. If I had it my way we’d spend the rest of our lives in bed, but if we did that I wouldn’t get a chance to show Sawyer a surprise I had for her. And as much as I come to learn that she hates surprises, this was one I could not wait to give her.

  Chapter 27

  Sawyer

  My mother and I started seeing a therapist together. Eugenia Collins specialized in something she called Religious Trauma Syndrome. She was also a specialist in those who have experienced domestic mental and physical abuse.

  And although Finn would probably benefit from talking to someone like Eugenia as well, he insisted he was fine. And because of the way he’d been whistling and skipping around while preparing for the baby to arrive, I was inclined to believe him.

  Two days a week we’d make the hour-long drive to her office and we’d each do a session alone and then one together. It was enlightening to learn about how and why we react to things and how blame is so easily placed when it was no one's fault but the person
who made us feel this way.

  And I know my mom was benefiting from it because I could see it in her smile. The softening of her features. The way she squeezed my hand every time the therapist said something she could relate to.

  To be perfectly honest it wasn’t so much the therapy that did it for me, but the time with my mother that I benefited from the most. Most trips I’d drive and while listening to the stories she’d tell and each time I’d learn more about the woman who’d given me life. And each week the life would return more and more to her eyes until I began to know my mother as the rebellious, funny, spunky, stubborn, and loving person that she really was.

  She started working with Critter at the bar. Running it I should say. And between the two of them they took on the jobs of four people, just like Critter had done, although now he didn’t have to do it alone. She looked at home there. At peace. And if you saw the two of them interact you wouldn’t think that two decades passed between them being together. You’d think that they’d been together their entire lives. That’s probably because in a way they had never left each other, at least not in their hearts.

  Mom was also looking forward to being a grandparent. There were many nights when I heard her bragging about her future grand baby to customers at the bar.

  Finn and I had finally finished the library although he didn’t have a ton of time considering he’d found his passion. He’d started buying the half-built housing communities around Outskirts and finishing the construction. What had started as a bright promise of a future-turned into a ghost town nightmare-Finn had managed to produce an affordable, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient home in its place. The first one was already completed and sold and he was in the process of working on several more.

  He had also managed to convince a very large car rental company to build their new plant just outside of Outskirts by donating the land for the building. Which meant those homes he was building wouldn’t go unused.

  The town would never be a big one but Finn was working on making it a great one. And though some would say his passion was construction. They’d be wrong.

  Finn’s true passion was people.

  Me, his daughter, and the people of Outskirts.

  With one snip of the giant scissors Finn and I both held, we officially reopened The Outskirts Public Library to the applause and shouts of our family and friends. Except now it had a new name. “Are you ready?” I asked, pulling on the rope connected to the tarp covering the new sign above the door. We stepped aside to avoid it falling on our heads. Finn laughed until he looked up and read the sign.

  OUTSKIRTS PUBLIC LIBRARY

  In Loving Memory of Jackie Callahan

  “You did this?” he asked, looking over at me.

  “Yes. I didn’t want anyone to forget about her. Including you,” I said. “Plus, I might have put two and two together when I saw you talking to the skull on the porch,” I added, nudging him with my elbow.

  Finn smiled down at me and held my face in his hands, planting a kiss on my lips.

  “Thank you,” he said, pulling back slowly. “And I sent her home. To her parents. So, they can bury her properly.”

  “Always the gentleman,” I sang.

  Critter cleared his throat nearby. “You two need to cut that shit out.”

  “I’ve already knocked her up,” Finn argued. Critter marched toward him and Finn bolted into the library.

  “I guess we’re going inside,” I said, linking arms with my mother.

  In addition to a ton of new romance novels I reserved an entire wall dedicated solely to the history of Outskirts, complete with pictures and maps of the town from inception to how it lies currently. In the center of the display is a book with plastic pages safeguarded both old and new letters and stories from current and past residents about life in Outskirts.

  “This is incredible,” Finn said, looking at the display in wonderment, smiling and beaming with pride.

  “I have a surprise for you too,” Finn said, pulling me into his arms.

  “There are other people here,” I warned between my teeth, knowing how Finn operated.

  And liking it.

  Finn chuckled. “Like I would let any of them stop me,” he said. “Come on. I’ll show it to you.”

  “Oh, it’s like a real surprise,” I said, following him along. We left the library and much to my surprise we past his Bronco in the street and kept on walking.

  “Where are we going?” I asked.

  “You’ll see, it’s not far. Are you okay to walk?” Finn asked.

  “Yes,” I said. The baby had gotten bigger, but I was feeling great.

  We walked hand-in-hand in enjoyable silence. The warmth from his skin pressed firmly against mine as it should be. Although I was much heavier with a big round belly full of baby my steps were still lighter than they’d ever been.

  Finn broke the silence. “Did you know that Critter threatened me again?”

  “He did not,” I said, clapping my hand over my mouth and trying not to laugh.

  Finn nodded. “He sure did. He told me that now that I’m dating his daughter, and because I’d knocked her up without marrying her first, that we aren’t to be friends anymore.”

  “What? But he wasn’t serious…was he?”

  Finn smiled and the dimple made an appearance. “He said he’s moved me up the list and has made me ‘enemy number one’ in his eyes. If I wasn’t the father of his grandchild he’d have disposed of me properly a long time ago.” Finn quoted the air on the word ‘enemy’. “And if I hurt you, he’s going to, and I’m quoting him directly now, ‘rip out all my vital organs and leave a trail of them on the highway from here to Tuscan’.”

  “Points for being creative,” I remarked. “What else did he say?”

  Finn swayed his head from side to side. “Well, after making me promise to never hurt you he told me he was going to hold me to that promise.”

  “That’s not so bad.”

  “At gunpoint.”

  I laughed. “That sounds more like him.” Easily picturing Critter saying those exact words. I loved all his threats. They made me feel special and in a way, I don’t think Finn really minded them either.

  “So, have you given any more thought into changing your last name?” Finn asked as we turned down a street I’d never been on before.

  “Critter and my mom suggested it since she’s legally changed her last name that I should think about doing it too. I think it’s a good idea. A fresh start.” I admired the large oak trees lining the street. There was also what appeared to be a newly poured sidewalk, the first I’d seen in Outskirts. “I never felt like a Dixon anyway.”

  Finn bumped my shoulder with his. “That’s because you were never a true Dixon, you were a…Critter.” Finn said, making a face by pushing out his bottom lip to show his teeth and tucking in his chin.

  I bumped him back with my hip. “Ha. Ha. I know it’s a ridiculous name, but it’s my dad’s ridiculous name. Which makes it pretty great.”

  We walked along in comfortable silence again until we stopped at a house at the end of the street. A brand-new house from what I could tell. It was white with black shutters and a red front door. “Wow, it’s like a two-story version of my little house.”

  “I know it’s not like the three-story Victorian you liked so much but I decided to turn that into a home for women and children.”

  My shock almost outweighed the extreme happiness that just
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