“Well?” she asked.
“They will complain, but I like it.”
She shot a scowl in their direction now. “Bunch of old geezers. I almost married Billy you know. He and I were high school sweethearts. Jim came to town one summer to work on his grandpa’s farm and that was it. One look and I was sunk. Can’t thank my lucky stars enough because look at that grumpy old goat!” she was whispering too loudly. I had also heard this story more than once.
“Go on, feed it to ‘em,” she said with a look of determination. She turned to the kitchen window. “Serve it up, Netty!” she ordered the cook who was also Jim’s younger cousin by a couple years. Mr. Roy would come in at lunch, but Netty normally handled the breakfast crowd.
“Them bastards are gonna pitch a fit,” Netty replied, but did as she was told. I agreed with Netty on this one. Jim would bitch about it the rest of the day. Telling Ethel to leave the menu alone. She’d curse him. They’d yell at each other, and at the end of the day they’d hold hands as they walked back behind the diner to the house they’d lived in for thirty-five years.
I waited while Netty served up the plates and prepared myself for the drama about to unfold. When she brought them to me she whispered, “I got a batch of the other in the fridge. When they bitch just tell ‘em if they stay until lunch I’ll have the other.”
I nodded, relieved, and headed toward their table. However, I only made it three steps when my eyes landed on table three. The eyes staring back at me caused me to pause. A reminder. A piece of that life had invaded my new one. He was a reminder of all I was trying to forget. He was a reminder of his older brothers, of Moulton, of a town that never accepted me. Dallas Sutton shouldn’t be here. Today he should be at home preparing for a wedding.
He sat alone watching me. He nodded in greeting when our eyes met. I had no response. Seeing him was the last thing I expected. I had potato salad to deal with and had no time for this. I wasn’t coming to the wedding. If that was why he was here, he was wasting his time. And possibly messed with my stability. Emotionally, at least. I’d worked hard to get to a steady place within myself.
“Hurry up girl, you can flirt with the good-looking customer later. Lord knows I would if I was forty years younger.” Ethel nudged me toward the table of men waiting for their food.
I focused on my task and did as I was told.
Not one second later, Billy said, “Good LORD this potato salad is warm! Are you trying to kill us Ethel?” loud enough to carry across the entire building.
I didn’t even cringe. My thoughts were on table five.
“It has over one thousand five stars on Pin-tur-est!” Ethel called out even louder. “Stop being so damn difficult!”
“It’s WARM! When was potato salad ever supposed to be warm! It’s a salad!” Billy replied.
“Fine! I’ll go stick it in the freezer for you!” Ethel said stalking toward us.
I stood there knowing this argument was only a short distraction. Soon, I’d have to face him. I’d have to tell him to leave. But he’d seen me. Seen this. And he could tell them about my job. How I was living. I didn’t want that. I had moved far enough away so this wouldn’t happen, but he had found me. That world was behind a large closed door. One I wanted locked.
“Get the stuff they want from Netty. I’ll deal with Ethel,” Jim said as he walked up to where I stood at the table.
I didn’t look at Dallas while I completed the task, but I felt him there. Reminding me I had to face him and deal with this. The guilt of missing the wedding, the regret I couldn’t be strong enough for Dixie, and the reminder that Bray Sutton was no longer my safe place.
“HAVE YOU SEEN Dallas?” Brent asked me as he walked inside the back door eating an apple.
Momma’s hands stilled for a second. She was fixing my tux jacket, making sure it met her approval. I saw the slight change in her expression. She knew where Dallas was.
“Naw, I ain’t seen him,” I replied still watching our mother as she didn’t reply or look up.
“He didn’t work out this morning and the farm truck is missing. He’s the only one unaccounted for. He came home last night, didn’t he? Last I saw him was at Jack’s.”
I nodded my head. I knew he had come home. I’d driven him home from Jack’s before I left to fuck a new distraction. Momma’s lips were tight as if she was struggling to keep them shut.
“You see him, Momma?” I asked. Because she had.
She glanced up quickly and went right back to straightening my tux that fit just fine. She could move on to the next one of us now. She was fidgeting. Acting as if she was too busy to listen to Brent.
“Sure he’s running errands. Dixie may have him busy. Lots to do today.” Momma patted my arm. “You look like your father in this. Now, go find Asher and wait with him for pictures.”
I studied her a moment. I knew asking her if she was sure she didn’t know where Dallas was would be pointless. The most I’d get out of her was being told to shut up and go.
“All right,” I replied.
“Get your tux on,” Momma told Brent. “And Bray, if you see Steel send him in here. I haven’t checked his tux on him yet. He dressed and left before I got in here.”
She didn’t seem worried that Dallas wasn’t here getting ready. She absolutely knew where he was. Interesting.
“Maybe someone should find our baby brother. There’s his tux. He ain’t dressed yet,” Brent pointed out.
“He’ll get here on time. Now get yours on. I’ll go have a look for him,” Momma said as she left the house and walked toward the large white tent outside that was setup for the reception. People were working everywhere. Flowers, food, and the like moving past and getting arranged. Lots of shit. It had woken me up at five this morning.
“Why ain’t she worried?” Brent asked after she was safely out of hearing.
I shrugged. “‘Cause she’s lying and knows where he is.”
Brent nodded. “I thought so too.”
“He’s fine. Get ready and do what she says. She’s already wound up about it all being perfect for Asher and Dixie. Dallas will show up in a few.”
As the words left my mouth, the farm truck pulled into the drive. Dallas was at the wheel. “And there he is,” I pointed outside the window.
Brent grunted. I knew his mind was working. He wanted to know where Dallas had been and why Momma was bent on keeping it a secret.
“Glad he’s okay,” he finally replied.
“Yeah,” I grunted and headed out the door. Brent was going to grill him. Dallas would get pissy. I wasn’t in the mood to watch.
I went to find Asher. He was waiting to take the photos in front of Dixie’s house where the ceremony would take place. I figured I would drive the truck, making my way toward it now that Dallas was back.
“Where you headed?” he asked as if he had a right to ask me shit when his ass had been gone all fucking day.
“Asher is getting married today. You forget?” The sarcasm in my voice was obvious.
“No,” Dallas shot back. “I had some things to handle. Not that it did any good.” He muttered the last bit. “Is it time to get dressed?”
“Pictures in less than thirty minutes at Dixie’s. I’m headed there now.”