13 years ago...
There was a knock at the door then just the small shuffle of feet. My chest already ached. Mom had called me on their way home to tell me what she'd done and that now she needed to go out to have some cocktails with friends. I'd be the one that would need to soothe Nan. My mom couldn't handle the stress it involved. Or so she'd said when she called me.
"Rush?" Nan's voice called out with a hiccup. She'd been crying.
"I'm here, Nan," I said as I stood up from the beanbag I'd been sitting on in the corner. It was my hiding spot. In this house you needed a hiding spot. If you didn't have one then bad things happened.
Strands of Nan's red curls stuck to her wet face. Her bottom lip quivered as she stared up at me with those sad eyes of hers. I hardly ever saw them happy. My mother only gave her attention when she needed to dress her up and show her off. The rest of the time she was ignored. Exceptby me. I did my best to make her feel wanted.
"I didn't see him. He wasn't there," she whispered as a small sob escaped. I didn't have to ask who "he" was. I knew. Mom had gotten tired of hearing Nan ask about her father. So she'd decided to take her to see him. I wish she'd told me. I wish I could have gone. The stricken look on Nan's face had my hands balling into fist. If I ever saw that man I was gonna punch him in the nose. I wanted to see him bleed.
"Come here," I said, reaching out a hand and pulling my little sister into my arms. She wrapped hers around my waist and squeezed me tightly. Times like this it was hard to breathe. I hated the life she'd been given. At least I knew my dad wanted me. He spent time with me.
"He has other daughters. Two of them. And they're... beautiful. Their hair is like an angel's hair. And they have a momma that lets them play outside in the dirt. They were wearing tennis shoes. Dirty ones." Nan was envious of dirty tennis shoes. Our mother didn't allow her to be less than perfect at all times. She'd never even owned a pair of tennis shoes.
"They can't be more beautiful than you," I assured her because I firmly believed that.
Nan sniffed and then pulled back from me. Her head tilted up and those big green eyes looked up at me. "They are. I saw them. I could see pictures on the wall with both girls and a man. He loves them.... He doesn't love me."
I couldn't lie to her. She was right. He didn't love her.
"He's a stupid asshat. You have me, Nan. You'll always have me."
Fifteen miles out of town was far enough. No one ever came this far out of Sumit to visit a pharmacy. Unless of course they were nineteen and in need of something they didn't want the town to know they had purchased. Everything bought at the local pharmacy would be spread throughout the small town of Sumit, Alabama within the hour. Especially if you were unmarried and purchasing condoms... or a pregnancy test.
I put the pregnancy tests up on the counter and didn't make eye contact with the clerk. I couldn't. The fear and guilt in my eyes was something I didn't want to share with a random stranger. This was something I hadn't even told Cain. Since I forced Rush out of my life three weeks ago I'd slowly fallen back into the routine of spending all my time with Cain. It was easy. He didn't press me to talk but when I did want to talk about it he listened.
"Sixteen dollars and fifteen cents," the lady on the other side of the counter said. I could hear the concern in her voice. Not surprising. This was the purchase of shame all teenage girls feared. I handed her a twenty dollar bill without lifting my eyes from the small bag she'd placed in front of me. It held the one answer I needed and that terrified me. Ignoring the fact my period was two weeks late and pretending like this wasn't happening was easier. But I had to know.
"Three dollars and eighty-five cents is your change," she said as I reached out and took the money in her outstretched hand.
"Thanks," I mumbled and took the bag.
"I hope it all turns out okay," the lady said in a gentle tone. I lifted my eyes and met a pair of sympathetic brown eyes. She was a stranger that I'd never see again but in that moment it helped having someone else know. I didn't feel so alone.
"Me too," I replied before turning from her and walking toward the door. Back into the hot summer sun.
I'd taken two steps out into the parking lot when my eyes fell on the driver's side of my truck. Cain leaned against it with his arms crossed over his chest. The gray baseball cap he was wearing had a University of Alabama A on it and was pulled down low shading his eyes from me.
I stopped and stared at him. There was no lying about this. He knew I hadn't come here to buy condoms. There was only one other option. Even without the ability to see the expression in his eyes I knew... that he knew.
I swallowed the lump in my throat that I'd been fighting since I got in my truck this morning and headed out of town. Now it wasn't just me and the stranger behind the counter that knew. My bestfriend knew too.
I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. He'd ask questions and I would have to answer. After the past few weeks he deserved an explanation. He deserved the truth. But how did I explain this?
I stopped just a few feet in front of him. I was glad the hat shaded his face. It would be easier to explain if I couldn't see the thoughts flashing in his eyes.
We stood in silence. I wanted him to speak first but after what felt like several minutes of him not saying anything I knew he wanted me to say something first.
"How did you know where I was?" I finally asked.
"You're staying at my grandmother's. The moment you left acting strangely, she called me. I was worried about you," he replied.
Tears stung my eyes. I would not cry about this. I'd cried all I was going to cry. Clenching the bag holding the pregnancy test closer I straightened my shoulders. "You followed me," I said. It wasn't a question.
"Of course I did," he replied, then shook his head and turned his gaze away from me to focus on something else. "Were you gonna tell me, Blaire?"
Was I going to tell him? I didn't know. I hadn't thought that far. "I'm not sure there is anything to tell just yet," I replied honestly.
Cain shook his head and let out a hard low chuckle that held no humor. "Not sure, huh? You came all the way out here because you weren't sure?"
He was angry. Or was he hurt? He had no reason to be either. "Until I take this test I'm not sure. I'm late. That's all. There's no reason I should tell you about this. It isn't your concern."
Slowly, Cain turned his head back to level his gaze on me. He lifted his hand and tilted his hat back. The shade was gone from his eyes. There was disbelief and pain there. I hadn't wanted to see that. It was almost worse than seeing judgment in his eyes. In a way judgment was better.
"Really? That's how you feel? After all we've been through that's how you honestly feel?"
What we had been through was in the past. He was my past. I'd been through a lot without him. While he'd enjoyed his high school years I had struggled to hold my life together. What exactly did he think he'd suffered? Anger slowly boiled in my blood and I lifted my eyes to glare at him.
"Yes, Cain. That's how I feel. I'm not sure what exactly you think we've been through. We were best friends, then we were a couple, then my momma got sick and you needed your dick sucked so you cheated on me. I took care of my sick momma alone. No one to lean on. Then she died and I moved. I got my heart and world shattered and came home. You've been here for me. I didn't ask you to but you have. I'm thankful for that but it doesn't make all that other stuff go away. It doesn't make up for the fact you deserted me when I needed you the most. So excuse me if when my world is once again about to be jerked out from under me that you aren't the first person I run to. You haven't earned that yet."
I was breathing hard and the tears I hadn't wanted to shed were running down my face. I hadn't wanted to cry dammit. I closed the distance between us and used all my strength to shove him out of my way so I could grab the door handle and jerk it open. I needed out of here.Away from him.
"Move," I yelled as I tried hard to open the door with his weight still against it.
I expected him to argue with me. I expected something other than him doing as I asked. I climbed inside the driver's seat and threw the little plastic bag in the seat beside me before cranking the truck and backing out of the parking spot. I could see Cain still standing there. He hadn't moved that much. Just enough so that I could get inside my truck. He wasn't looking at me. He was staring at the ground as if it had all the answers. I couldn't worry about him right now. I needed to get away.
Maybe I shouldn't have said those things to him. Maybe I should have kept them inside where I'd buried them all these years. But it was too late now. He'd pushed me at the wrong moment. I would not feel bad about this.
I also couldn't go back to his grandmother's. She was on to me. He'd probably call her and tell her. If not the truth, then something close to it. I didn't have any other options. I was going to have to take a pregnancy test in the restroom at a service station. Could this get any worse?
The waves crashing against the shore used to soothe me. I'd been sitting out here on this deck watching the water since I was kid. It had always helped me find a better perspective on things. That wasn't working for me anymore.
The house was empty. My mother and ... the man who I wanted to burn in Hell for all fu**ing eternity had left as soon as I got back from Alabama three weeks ago. I'd been angry, broken, and wild. After threatening the life of the man my mother was married to, I'd demanded they leave. I didn't want to see either of them. I needed to call my mom and talk to her but I couldn't bring myself to do that just yet.
Forgiving my mom was easier said than done. Nan, my sister, had stopped by several times and begged me to talk to her. This wasn't Nan's fault but I couldn't talk to her about this either. She reminded me of what I'd lost. What I'd barely had. What I'd never expected to find.
A loud banging came from inside the house and broke into my thoughts. Turning, I looked back and realized that someone was at the door as the doorbellrang followed by knocking again. Who the hell was that? No one had stopped by except my sister and Grant since Blaire had left.
I put my beer down on the table beside me and stood up. Whoever it was they needed a real good reason for coming over here uninvited. I walked through a house that had stayed clean since Henrietta, the house cleaner's, last visit. With no parties or social life it was easy to keep things from getting destroyed. I was finding I liked this much better.
The knocking started up again as I reached the door and I jerked it open ready to tell whoever it was to f*ck off when words failed me. This wasn't someone I'd ever expected to see again. I'd only met the guy once and I instantly hated him. Now he was here, I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he told me how she was. If she was okay. Where she was living? God I hoped she wasn't living with him. What if he'd... no, no, no, that hadn't happened. She wouldn't. Not my Blaire.
My hands clenched tightly into fists at my sides.
"I need to know one thing," Cain, the boy from Blaire's past, said as I stared at him in confused disbelief. "Did you," he stopped and swallowed. "Do you... f*ck - " He took off his baseball cap and ran a hand through his hair. I noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the tired, weary expression on his face.
My heart stopped. I grabbed his upper arm and shook him. "Where's Blaire? Is she okay?"
"She's fine... I mean, she's okay. Let go of me before you break my damn arm," Cain snapped, jerking his arm away from me. "Blaire is alive and well in Sumit. That isn't why I'm here."
Then why was he here? We had one connection. Blaire.
"When she left Sumit she was innocent. Very innocent. I had been her only boyfriend. I know how innocent she was. We've been best friends since we were kids. The Blaire that came back wasn't the same one that left. She doesn't talk about it. She won't talk about it. I just need to know if you and her... if y'all... I'm just gonna say this, did you f*ck her?"
My vision blurred as I moved without any thought other than to murder him. He'd crossed a line. He wasn't allowed to talk about Blaire like that. He wasn't allowed to ask those kinds of questions or doubt her innocence. Blaire was innocent, damn him. He had no right.
"Holy shit! Rush, bro, put him down!" Grant's voice called out to me. I heard him but it was far away and in a tunnel. I was focused on the guy in front of me as my fist connected with his face and blood spewed from his nose. He was bleeding. I needed him to bleed. I needed someone to fu**ing bleed.
Two arms wrapped around mine from behind and pulled me away as Cain stumbled backwards holding his hands up to his nose with a panicked look in his eyes. Well, one of his eyes. The other one was already swelling shut.
"What the hell did you say to him?" Grant asked from behind me. It was Grant who had me in a vise grip.
"Don't you fu**ing say it!" I roared when Cain opened his mouth to reply. I couldn't hear him talk about her like that. What we had done was more than something dirty or wrong. He acted like I'd ruined her. Blaire was innocent. So incredibly innocent.What he had done didn't change that.
Grant's arms tightened on me as he pulled me back against his chest. "You need to go now. I can only hold him for so long. He's got about twenty more pounds of muscle on him than I do and this ain't as easy as it looks. You need to run, dude. Don't come back. You're one lucky shit I showed up."
Cain nodded and then stumbled back to his truck. The anger had simmered in my veins but I still felt it. I wanted to hurt him more. To wash away any thought he may have in his head that Blaire wasn't as perfect as she had been when she had left Alabama. He didn't know what all she'd been through. The hell my family had put her through. How could he take care of her? She needed me.
"If I let you go are you gonna chase his truck down or are we good?" Grant asked loosening his hold on me.
"I'm good," I assured him as I shrugged free of his arms and walked over to the railing to grip it and take several deep breaths. The pain was back full force. I'd managed to bury it until it only throbbed a little but seeing that chickenshit reminded me of everything. That night. The one I would never recover from. The one that would mark me forever.