“Hello,” I said, then promptly yawned again.

“Thank the Lord you’re alive!” Ethel’s voice rang loudly in my ear.

Ethel? Why was Ethel calling me so early? Why wouldn’t I be alive?

“What?” I asked then began looking around and found I had to squint from the sunlight in here. Why was it so freaking bright?

“I’ve called you since six thirty this morning when it was clear you weren’t gonna be here in time for opening. You weren’t answering and I was about to get in my car and come see if something terrible had happened.”

My head jerked up and I looked at the tiny clock that was on the built-in stove.

It was 8:25. Oh my God!

“Ethel, I am so sorry. I forgot to set my alarm last night and—” I began to scan the small trailer for any sign of Bray. Walking over to the window I saw his truck was gone. But his duffel was open on the couch. He’d left it here. That small token of a promise he wasn’t gone for good gave me enough relief that I could think straight enough to talk to Ethel.

“And you were busy loving on that young man last night. I’m a woman. I know these things. You’ve never been late before. Ain’t like you’re a slacker.”

“But Ethel, I let you down! I will be there in ten I swear. Let me get dressed and—”

“You come walking in these doors today and I’ll fire you. Stay home. Rest. Lord knows you need it after your day and night. We got things handled here. Just needed to know it was all-night lovemaking that had you not showing up.”

I covered my face with my free hand. This was so embarrassing. They could all hear her. Knowing Ethel, she was talking loudly right there in the dining room. She’d announce to them all I am alive but exhausted from sex. I groaned

Ethel chuckled. “See you in the morning, girl,” she said, then the call ended and I was alone, confused, and naked standing in my trailer.

It wasn’t like Bray to run off without a reason. Or to let me sleep when I had a job to get to. I walked over to his bag and peeked inside. It looked like he had taken out an outfit from the way things were tossed around. His clothes from last night were beside the bag.

I ran my fingers over one of his tee shirts. It was soft and black. I’d seen him wear this one before. We had been at Jack’s and I’d run my hand over his back secretly. He’d smelled like a cigar that Jack had given him and told him he better hide to smoke it. I liked the scent on him. Many nights, I had laid awake thinking about how it would feel to have one of his shirts to wear. I could cuddle with it and pretend he was with me. I wondered if it would have made me feel safer.

Reaching into the bag I pulled the shirt out, then smiled as I tugged it over my head. The fabric hit me mid-thigh and hung off one of my shoulders. It smelled of fabric softener and Bray. Wrapping my arms around my stomach I smiled content. No, it was more than that. I was happy. Bray made me happy. He always had. But last night, he hadn’t used sex as a tool to control me. To take from me. He’d been giving and slow. I had felt special and wanted. Cherished. Important. All things that were foreign to me.

He wanted me to trust him. He loved me. Hearing him say all that had been too good to be true. Things like this didn’t happen to me. I was cursed. I had to be. It made me fear how long this would last . . .

What happens when I have my first night of uncontrollable screaming then weeping stuck in a dream from the past? A memory that won’t let me go. Would it scare him away? Or when I went inside myself because something triggered a memory and I couldn’t make it stop. I’d have to fight to keep it from making me look like a psycho. Dixie called them my “zoning out spells” and thought it was just me being ditsy. I let her think that. But would Bray believe that excuse?

Shaking all those thoughts aside I went to straighten his clothes when my hands touched the corner of a pink book. Why would Bray be carrying a pink book hidden in his clothing? How odd. He wasn’t a pink kind of guy. Slipping my fingers between the shirts and jeans I pulled the book out.

Before I even turned it over in my hands, I knew. I recognized it. Maybe my fingers had touched it so many times the diary was like a memory for them. One they couldn’t forget. My hands began to tremble. My throat closed-up tightly. It was as if the diary had a hand and it was wrapped around my throat squeezing it. My saliva thickened making it even more difficult to swallow.

Why did he have this? I’d hidden it long ago. Thinking if I could get these memories away from me I could forget. Yet the idea of throwing it away or burning it had seemed impossible. Because it had happened. As much as I wanted to forget. The things that happened couldn’t be wiped away from destroying the entries in a diary. It was proof. That I hadn’t lied. That I wasn’t crazy. In the end, I’d decided to hide it. Bray had no business with this. My grip tightened on the diary and I battled with betrayal. It felt as if he’d forced himself into my darkest memories uninvited. Bile burned as it climbed my throat. These were mine. No one should have seen this. Especially Bray.

It took every ounce of strength I had to turn the familiar pink diary over in my hand and read the cover. It was silver although time had dulled the shine some. Most of the glitter had worn off leaving only the shiny material the cover was made from. It was some kind of plastic. Without opening it I knew the pages were all 5x7 and had pink lines with a silver star at the top of each one. The color of the paper was a pale purple. It had been wrapped in a small box that Christmas with red wrapping paper from Macy’s and a green bow. The man I called father had bought it there and had them wrap it. As he did all my gifts that year.

They were all supposed to have been from Santa, but they said “Macy’s” on the gold sticker that also held the gift card. “To: Scarlet” was all it said. Written in a stranger’s handwriting. Probably some college girl wrapping gifts during the holidays. Or a retired grandmother taking on an extra job to buy her grandkid’s presents.

Whoever it was, it hadn’t been Santa. Or my parents. My mother had barely stayed awake while I opened my three gifts. The next year she’d left before I finished opening my gifts. Then the next year he didn’t come home, but had my gifts shipped to me. They came in the mail a week before Christmas. A Gucci purse, a silver charm bracelet, and teddy bear with a tee shirt on that said “Boston.”

Every Christmas and birthday from then on was the same. I would take the presents and place them under the tree that I always had Dixie help me put up. Then on Christmas morning I’d open them. Alone. I’d make cinnamon toast and watch a Christmas movie and pray she never came out of her bedroom. And that she was alone.

March 28, 2006

Sparkle Rose,

There is a new one now. He comes in my room when he gets here. I don’t want him to. But Momma tells me to shut up and hits me in the face if I cry or run from him. She said it’s the least I can do for ruining her life. I don’t want to cry but I don’t like when he touches me. It feels bad and I get sick at my stomach. So I cry.

Scarlet North

Nine Years Old

* * *

November 23, 2006

Sparkle Rose,

It’s Thanksgiving today. I made spaghetti and grill cheese sandwiches. Mom wasn’t here. She went to visit friends in Colorado she said. I called Dad. He didn’t answer. But the house is quiet and I like it this way. No one is here to make me unlock the doors. I watched the Thanksgiving Day parade on the television. Then I made popcorn and watched Miracle on 34th Street. I wish she stayed gone all the time. Maybe she will be gone on Christmas too.

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance
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