“She left. She made her choice. That’s all,” I would not get mad at my little brother today. My temper was an issue. Always had been, but I would control it. For Asher, I would manage. Dallas’s stupid, immature comments were pushing me though.

“She was scared, I reckon. She’d come between the two Sutton boys that were the closest of us all. I would guess she thought in the end she’d lose you both. She’d be the one blamed.”

Walk away. That’s all I could do here. “You want the rest of this? I’m heading in to get something to eat.”

Dallas took the cigar from me but he still had that concerned crease in his brow. That face reminded me of our father and the few images I still held of him in my memories. The crease was inherited from him. One day I’d tell Dallas that. Not today. I needed to get some of Momma’s breakfast and stop listening to him blab on about Scarlet.

“I know where she is,” Dallas blurted out as I was walking back to the house. I almost paused. Almost looked back at him and questioned him, but I didn’t. She’d made her choice. When the time had come to fight, she’d left me here. I had been fucking broken, lost, and unsure. My chest had felt crushed. That shit was over.

It had taken time, but I was back to living. She was gone. She hadn’t contacted me once. But apparently, she’d been in touch with Dallas. That was another twist of the sword she’d jabbed in my heart. Didn’t matter. This week I had other things to focus on. Like helping Asher move out and into the apartment in town he and Dixie were renting. The wedding was soon, so I’d have bridesmaids to distract me. Scarlet’s absence would soon be forgotten as I found the easiest kind of relationship. The kind that ended with a slap on some female’s naked ass before I told her thanks and sent her on home.

“I invited her!” Dallas called out again.

I let the kitchen door slam on his words and went straight to the coffee pot.

“Slam my door again and you’ll be building and hanging me a new one,” Momma barked from her spot at the stove.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“Get it together, boy. We got stuff needs doing and a wedding to prepare for. Asher needs you this week. You remember that.”

I sipped my black coffee. Anyone else talked to me that way while I was wound tight from Dallas’s information overload, I’d have shut them down quickly with a few words. But there was one person on this earth I would not talk back to. My momma.

“Yes, ma’am.” I looked her way so she could see in my eyes I meant it.

Scarlet

TODAY WAS THE date that had loomed over me like an albatross.

I filled coffee cups, smiled at the customers, and pretended to laugh as the retired men from the Lions Club ate their Saturday morning breakfast and told me jokes when I brought things to their table, all while my head was elsewhere.

For the first time since I left, my thoughts were in Moulton. It was Dixie’s wedding day. Intentionally not going to her wedding made guilt eat at me. She didn’t know how bad it had been to make me not go to her wedding. Or to go back for anything. No one did.

I had filled out the invitation RSVP card last week while eating a piece of apple pie Ethel had sent home with me after work. Writing the number “1” by attending guests had eased some of my guilt. The next morning, I couldn’t mail the card because I knew I couldn’t go. I left it there to remind me why I couldn’t be there.

Dixie’s phone calls still came every week. I continued to ignore them.

The night she got engaged to Asher I’d stopped talking to her. Not because I wasn’t happy for her, but because she was going to be okay. She didn’t need me anymore. She had Asher. I could leave that life behind knowing she was okay and happy. Listening to her beg me to return was too hard. Many times, over the years I came close to telling her. Something small. Not everything, but something that would shed some light for her. Hoping that maybe she could keep me from my horrible thoughts—like how easy closing my eyes and never waking up again would be.

Dixie had never known my dirty world or the things I’d suffered through. Every time I’d tried, I could never tell her. Not even a little. I’d to learned to live with my secrets.

The calls had become painful so I had stopped answering. After a day working until every muscle in my body ached, I couldn’t listen to the begging and reasons I should return. Not having Dixie was just as painful, but I no longer had anything to say when she called. The girl talk we once shared was gone. What would I to talk to her about? “Mr. Roy wore deodorant today and I didn’t have to smell his body odor when I picked up the orders from the kitchen. And Ethel made a new potato salad recipe she found online that caused a riot by the Lions Club members.” Rolling my eyes at the idea of my life, I filled water cups for the tourists at table five.

The smell of sunblock, sunglasses perched on their head, and beach sundresses gave them away. They were always easy to spot. They tipped a lot better than the Lions Club and the locals. The old men wore me out with requests and thought leaving me two dollar tips was generous. But they were kind. Jolly. And what I thought a grandfather would be like. The normal kind. The kind I never had. The normal I never knew.

“Scarlet!” Ethel called loudly across the diner. Ethel and her husband Jim owned the place and if she wanted to yell out across the dining room she could. Although her daughter Mae Grace always corrected her mother for doing so when she was here. I didn’t like Mae Grace much. She was uppity and her kids made a mess when they came in. She’d married a banker in town and the way she carried on one would think she’d married Prince Harry.

I turned to Ethel and walked toward her before replying, “Yes, ma’am?”

She held out a spoonful of what looked like potato salad. “Try this one before I send it out to those old codgers. They’ll bitch if it ain’t to their liking.”

I did not want to taste more potato salad. I didn’t like potato salad. “It’s breakfast. They didn’t order potato salad,” I reminded her confused.

“I don’t care! They are gonna like this one.” She had a fierce look on her face.

“Is it the kind you made before? The recipe they want?” I stalled.

She leaned close and whispered. “No but it’s better. We need to upgrade the menu. If I can find a new and improved potato salad, I will have made a step in the direction of getting that done.”

I looked at the spoonful. I already knew by looking at the nasty stuff it wasn’t going to work. There wasn’t enough mayo and I saw no pickle relish. They’d complained about the last one because she had left out bacon and added ranch seasoning.

“Just leave it the hell alone woman! Jesus,” Jim grumbled as he walked by us.

She scowled at him. “Don’t listen to him. He knows nothing about bettering himself. Look at him. Forty years of marriage and he’s not changed a damn thing.” It sounded harsh. To hear them talk one would assume they had a bad marriage. I knew better. I had worked with them long enough to see the smiles they gave each other at the end of the day, I’d seen Jim slap Ethel on the bottom and wink when passing by. They had what most didn’t. They had the normal I craved.

“Taste it,” she urged.

I did. And it was warm. It wasn’t so bad warm. Cold potatoes I was not a fan of but this was decent.

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