My feet moved me forward. I had no control over my body. It was as if it knew what needed to happen. I had come here without thinking about it. The fact I was in a tee shirt and nothing else proved that. I had needed to be here with this book facing this demon. This hell had been all I’d known until Dixie. Until her parents let me come to their house. Not once having a clue they were giving me the only joy I had ever experienced. The family dinners I was a part of with them taught me that life wasn’t a twisted place. That drug addict mothers and sexual abuse wasn’t the norm. There were real families.

I stood on the porch. It was in need of a new paint job. The white cheery outside was peeling and things seemed worn. Forgotten. My father had given up appearances it seemed. My mother had never truly cared. She just needed her next fix. If she had a supply of narcotics she was good.

I held the pink diary in my hands. It was slightly damp where I’d gripped it tight as I walked from the car to the house. This tiny book held the secrets of this house. The memories I wanted to erase. The past I wished hadn’t been mine. Or anyone’s. Not even my worst enemy would I wish this life on.

My fingertip pressed the doorbell. The familiar chime played loudly. She was here. Her car was parked out front. I didn’t even know what time it was. I left my phone back at the trailer. I had nothing but my strength. I wasn’t that little girl anymore.

The door opened after several minutes. Before I pressed the bell again. Hungover, aged and worn out, my mother opened the door. She squinted as if I had woken her up at six in the morning. It had to be after twelve.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” she slurred her words. The woman who had birthed me had never wanted me. She wanted a life she would never lead.

“This,” I said holding up the pink diary in my left hand. “I am here because of the words in this diary. A child’s diary, Mother. Words written by a little girl who had no one. Not one goddamn soul on this planet to care for her. Protect her. Not one!” My voice had grown hysterical. I could hear the hysteria. I didn’t care if I was yelling. I didn’t care if neighbors heard me. Where had they been? When men were coming and going from this house with a child inside. Where were they?

“What are you talking about?” she snapped at me, still squinting against the afternoon sun. Her wrinkles were showing her age too soon. The tone of her skin was closer to yellow than tan. The drugs were aging her faster than fate would.

“The secrets of my childhood. The fear. The terror that my world consisted of. That’s what I am talking about. The moments you used me for your addiction. When I should have been playing with my dolls without tears in my eyes.” I stopped and inhaled deeply. My throat felt tight.

“Are you here to bitch to me about that? Jesus fucking Christ, Scarlet. You lived. You liked it,” she spat. “Just look at the whore you turned into. Chasing boys like Bray Sutton. You’re no better than me. Go ahead and judge me, girl. But you weren’t planned. I didn’t need or want a child. You came anyway. I had to find a way to deal with this shit life.”

Her words should have hurt me. They should have damaged me. But those times were long past. I had survived this woman. I wasn’t lost. I wasn’t dead. I wasn’t unlovable.

Saying more seemed pointless. I hadn’t come here to listen to her talk. I had started to hate the sound of her voice years ago. Instead, I slid the book under my arm and pulled a match out of the pack in my hand. Then I struck it. The flame burned orange and I took the diary of my past and held the flame to it until the pages caught fire. The orange glow grew and I was mesmerized by the way it felt. Seeing those horror stories slowly burn bright.

“What the hell are you doing?” my mother screamed.

I lit another match and dropped it on the dry rotting rug under my feet then stepped back as the flame took hold of the aged straw. I could hear my mother screaming at me but I ignored it. Much the way she ignored my cries as a child. When men I didn’t know touched me in places that hurt. In places no adult should touch a child.

Match after match I lit then dropped at my feet, then moved back waiting for it to catch fire to the wooden porch. Finally, it did. The rugs flame was strong enough to catch the wooden porch in its heat. Stepping off the porch, I began to light the bushes on fire. Thankful for my good fortune they had very little rain this spring.

In the distance, I heard sirens. I heard my mother screaming at me to stop as she ran out to the road for safety. I heard it all. I just didn’t give a fuck.

Seeing this part of my life burning like the hell it was, cleansed me. Was it revenge? I don’t know. But it felt freeing. With each flame, each flicker, every crackle from the wood that had housed my nightmares, I was freed.


“YOU HEAR FROM Scarlet’s boss?” Brent asked me.

I shook my head as I stood with my hands buried in the front pockets of my jeans. Dallas had been in surgery for over six hours now. All we knew was there had been no internal bleeding. Ethel hadn’t responded about Scarlet and when I called again, the woman that answered hung up on me before I could get a complete sentence out. She’d simply said “We’re busy.”

“Lunch hour just ended. She was probably busy. Must not have been an emergency. Give it a few. I’m sure she’ll call.” Brent’s attempt at trying to comfort me would have been nice if I wasn’t a fucking ball of nerves.

Scarlet wasn’t answering her phone. My brother was in surgery fighting for his life because of a fucking wild mustang I told him to stay off of and I couldn’t be at two places at once. How did I leave here until I knew how Dallas was? I didn’t know if anything was wrong with Scarlet. She hadn’t replied or called. Hell, she could be angry I ran off. None of those things warranted me leaving the hospital when my family stood waiting for word on Dallas.

“Yeah,” I finally muttered. I didn’t believe that. Ethel should have called by now. There was something going on. Something no one was fucking telling me.

We stood in silence. I watched as Steel paced over by the window I had stood at earlier. Momma sat in her seat with her head down and lips moving in silent prayer. Asher stood off in a corner talking to Dixie in a whisper. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying, but in front of us she tried to appear strong.

I took my phone out to check it one more time. Nothing. Not a text. Not a call. Nothing.

I bit back the curse I wanted to yell in frustration. I needed to know Scarlet was safe. I should have fucking calmed down and thought things through this morning. That note wasn’t enough. I’d been so damn worked up and terrified that I had ran. My one thought being I had to see him. I didn’t want to lose my brother and I sure didn’t want to lose him without seeing him one more time. To say the shit, I should have said to him when I had the chance.

The doctor walked into the waiting room as I fought to control my train wreck of emotions and nothing else mattered at the moment. We all stilled. No one spoke. Afraid to say anything, we waited. Prayed. Stopped breathing. Anything to save Dallas. The next words spoken we knew would be the most powerful we had heard since our father was killed.

“He came through,” the doctor said. But that wasn’t enough. We all remained in our spots. Waiting for more. Did that mean he was going to live? Did that mean he was still in critical condition? We needed more details.

“Dallas has suffered a fractured skull. It’s not the worst I’ve seen but it’s not anything to brush off either. He is in a medically-induced coma and will be for a few hours up to a couple of days. The brain is adjusting. Healing. He won’t, however, stay like this.”

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance