An hour later, and the wake was buzzing. I didn’t think too many would show their faces, especially since Jessica Fabian’s wake was at the same time. But they came. I made my way back to the urn because people were lining up as they would if they were passing by a coffin. After the steady line of well wishers dwindled down, I escaped for a break.
I went down to the family refreshment area and turned on the sink in the kitchenette. I soaped up my hands and splashed some cold water on my face. I leaned over the sink and let the droplets slip down my face and into the sink.
“Princess, are you crying?”
I spun around and felt a twinge of guilt mixed with a grossed out feeling. Dillon placed his hands on my shoulders. Pity haunted his eyes.
“You can cry,” Dillon said. “No need to sneak away.”
“I know,” I said, setting my palms on his chest. “I’m so sorry for snapping at you.”
Dillon nodded. “It’s okay. I’m the one who peeled you off of the restaurant pavement, remember? I know you are sad. A little sass is nothing.”
“Yes. But your friend shouldn’t have witnessed that.”
“You’re right. But I need to be honest. I was really pissed. I don’t like showing off expensive things or talking about custom this and that. It sounds pretentious.” I felt my cheeks warm just thinking about it.
Dillon ran his hand over his face. “I was showing your friend what kind of lifestyle I could provide. He knows your dad neglected you, so I thought he’d like to know I spoil you.”
“For a moment I forgot he was dead,” I said with a sudden chill. Death is an oddity.
“ Sorry, I don’t mean to speak ill of the deceased.”
“Dying doesn’t erase what my father has done.” I wrapped my arms around Dillon’s neck and my body relaxed in his warmth. The gross feeling subsided. “So…you weren’t trying to make Nash envious?”
Dillon rubbed his nose. “No. Why would I do that?”
Because Nash is so hot, you are probably questioning your sexuality. “That’s how it seemed.”
“Hell no,” Dillon said, as he leaned down and laid his tender lips on mine. He leaned into me and the faux granite counter jabbed my lower back.
As we kissed, I wondered how it would have felt with Nash. I pushed back and got lost in the depths of Dillon’s eyes for a moment. I felt something sparkle inside. As much as he annoyed me, I liked him. Still, the sparkle was no comparison to the inferno that raged when I was in Nash’s arms.
Stop thinking about Nash, Brianne Merritt!
I broke the silence by saying, “Thank you for being so good to me. I’m not sure that I deserve it.”
Dillon placed several small pecks on my neck and whispered in my ear, “You drive me crazy.”
Something inside of me exploded when I saw that Nash had come down the stairs and was staring at us make out. It felt the box closed, after I just found the long lost key. I broke the damn key. Like everything else.
“Um, sorry to interrupt,” Nash said, scratching the back of his neck. “There are some Theta girls here looking for you.”
“Leah? I didn’t know you were coming!” I squealed.
Leah removed her big sunglasses and looked around. “Girl, of course. I met up with Lauren at the airport and we traveled together, she’s around somewhere. I think she got caught talking with this skinny, tall guy who was laying it on really heavy outside.”
Oh God. Emergency. E-fucking-mergency.
“Trina!” I said waving down my friend, who was across the waiting room area. Trina rushed over when she saw me wave. Her face was riddled with concern. “Trina, this is Leah. Leah, Trina.”
“At last we finally meet!” Trina said with a sigh, giving Leah a once over. “You are so pretty girl, look at you.”
Leah’s cheeks glowed. “Thank you, girl. You know, I feel like I know you. Brie talks so much about you.”
“Ugh, don’t listen to her, none of it is true!” Trina said waving her finger.
“Okay, you two talk, I will be back. I need to rescue Lauren.”
Leah and Trina began chattering right away. Trina slid her arm through Leah’s and they looked like they were headed for the refreshment room. They are going to be best friends or sworn enemies, there is literally no in between. It’s one or the other.
I dashed outside and I was right about my prediction. I spotted Lauren from a mile away. She was wearing a lose fitting white sweater, tight dark blue jeans, and white closed toed strappy heels. Her hair was gathered in a thick ponytail, which made her red lips and Raybands stand out.
Then there was Billy in a grubby tshirt and pants that were too big.
“Billy!” I said scurrying out in the parking lot.
“Hey, Merritt,” Billy said as he put his two twiggy arms around me. A line appeared between his brows. “You look nice.”
“Shutup, be real. Dad dying doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be nice.”
Billy’s face relaxed and he made a sideways smile. “Okay, you look like shit.”
“Um, watch your mouth, young man. You are in the presence of a lady.” I nodded at Lauren.
“Oh. Sorry, sweetheart.”
Lauren held up her hand. “Oh, please. I know boys. Vulgarity doesn’t scare me, I’m completely desensitized. Although I see where your sailors’ language derives from, Miss Merritt.”
“Yep! Oh my God, I can’t believe you are really here. I see you’ve met Billy.”
“Yes,” Lauren said putting her hands on mine. “And I’m so sorry, Brie. I can’t imagine what you must feel. I didn’t know all those things about your life, Billy was just telling me.”
“I just don’t talk about it.”
“I wish you would have opened up more,” Lauren squeezed my hands. “I know I was harsh on you sometimes. But I really do care about you.”
“I know,” I said peering into Lauren’s two hazel eyes.
“Big turn out,” Billy said nodding at the parking lot.
“Yeah. For a killer.” My eyes fell.
“Everyone is here for you, Brie. It doesn’t matter how your dad passed. I feel like I can still talk on behalf of Theta since I was their spokeswoman for four years. Theta feels your pain. We love you.”
After the wake was over, my best friends from Baylor University and my childhood best friends decided to go to Stella’s for a few drinks. I wasn’t too keen on the idea; my father lost his life to alcohol. A young woman was dead. Yet, there we go, prancing to the bar. I wasn’t in the mood. But everyone felt it would cheer me up. So there I went in Dillon’s rental car with Lauren and Leah in tow.
We arrived at the bar as the orange sun slipped away, and the darkness slithered across the sky. Before that, I went back to my hotel, and changed into a white elbow length blouse with black stripes. I went bold with red, skin tight, pants with white flats. I topped it all off with a denim jacket. I took my time getting ready because I was enjoying the space. Dillon had gotten us separate rooms, sighting that it wasn’t appropriate to get a room together unwed. It didn’t stop him from sneaking into my room at night.
When we walked in to Stella’s, there were empty tables and hushed country music. It was early. We pushed some tables together. Dillon was velcroed to my side, and made it clear he was sitting by me when the tables were being put together. When everyone was seated I gazed around at my two worlds. Leah, Dillon, and Lauren. Nash, Trina, and Billy. The universe must have had a good laugh when Nash sat down on the other side of me.
Dillon glanced and Nash, and gave him a single nod. Then, he slid his hand on thigh. I couldn’t even look at Nash. I couldn’t believe I tried to kiss him. How many times I swore to myself that that would never happen.
I want to go home. Wait. Where the fuck is home, now? I wondered. I’m going to have to sell that house.
We wasted no time getting drinks. People bought me so many so fast that I had a line of them in front of me. Everyone seemed to think the alcoholic’s child deserved a lot of alcohol. I begged to differ. I didn’t mind having a drink or two, but I refused to get drunk.
Dillon left me to go to sit at the bar with Billy. They bonded over scotch and took turns buying each other drinks. I could tell by the volume of their voices, that someone would puke or black out before the clock turned twelve. I didn’t mind. As long as it wasn’t me. And as long as they didn’t drive.
Lauren, Leah, and Trina were in deep conversation. Their chairs were pushed together and they each had ten dollar pink panty dropper martini’s in their hands. I heard snit bits of their discussions about fashion, all the evidence proving Justin Timberlake is a God, and what is the kind of bread is perfect for toasting.
They attempted to include me and I tried. I really tried. I just couldn’t concentrate on these “intellectually stimulating topics”. The place reminded me so much of Jessica.
Nash sat beside me in silence. He took turns, looking around, playing with his phone, and staring at the wall. It wasn’t normal Nash. I wondered what he was thinking.
After one pink panty dropper, I turned to Nash. I cleared my throat. “This place will forever remind me of Jessica. It’s where I first met her. The only night we ever hung out.”
“I remember. She gushed about you every time your name came up after that. She admired you.”
“She shouldn’t have.”
“Why? You are older than her, so she looked up to you. That is just how it works.”
“I wish I kept in touch. I wish I talked her into touring Baylor. In normal circumstances, I probably would have. We clicked. But I never reached out to her because. Because…”
“You weren’t ready for me to date anyone other than Tabitha,” Nash said taking a sip of his beer and leaning back. “It’s okay. We both kind of figured that.”
“It’s so selfish, I know. Now I won’t have the chance to tell her I’m sorry.”
“She understood. There wouldn’t have been a need for an apology.”
I rested my face in my hands. “Why her?” I managed. “Why did she have to move down the street from us? I don’t understand how the crash even happened. Why her?”
Nash put his hand on my back. “Dangerous question. Don’t ask it.” Nash removed his hand and rubbed his temples.
“Look! There she is!” A middle aged man said pointing a finger at me. “That son of a bitch’s daughter.”
I looked up and saw three men and a woman with faces twisted in anger, heading my direction. I stood up to meet their eyes.
“Your fucking father is a murder,” The man with a ratty ponytail and a backwards cap hissed.
Nash sprang up and held his hand out in front of me. I glanced over at Dillon and Billy who were still at the bar. They didn’t notice. My sober brain worked fast. I was thankful for that advantage. I need to defuse this. Billy and Dillon can’t see this, or there will be a brawl, and jail and consequences.
I patted Nash’s arm. I shot him a look.
“It’s okay, Nash. Let them get what they need to say off of their chest,” I said out of the side of my mouth.
Nash dropped his arm and grinded his teeth. Trina, Lauren, and Leah were beginning to notice something was up.
“You need to get the fuck out of here, little girl,” The woman wearing a bandana and thick eyeliner said with a sneer.
“Take that fucking body, or pile of soot, whatever that Merritt guy is now with you,” the ponytail man added.
I nodded again. The group of four middle aged people began to exchange curious glances.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a white trash,” the smaller man piped in.
“Oh no he didn’t,” I heard Trina grumble. I shot my three girl friends a look and held my finger to my lips. They looked at me as if a pineapple was growing out of my head.
“Your family is garbage,” bandana woman said. “Your dead, addict mama and your murdering daddy. Do us all a favor and get out of town.”
I saw steam pour out of Nash’s ears next to me. He was chewing on his bottom lip. I gave his back a reassuring caress.
“Well!” The woman said making circles with her hands. “Go on. Say something.”
I looked in each of their eyes and took in a deep breath. I exhaled. I felt zen.
“If that’s what you want,” I nodded.
“What do you have to say for yourself, you inbred lil cunt?” The short man said.
“Who do you-” Nash started to defend me. I put my hand over his lips.
“You have every right to be angry,” I said. “If you need someone to yell at, yell at me. Do your worst. I’m mad as hell, too. And my heart is fucking broken. I know how you feel.”
“Oh ha, ha,” the woman said. “You ain’t no mother Theresa. You’re a little slut. Whoring all around town. Like your trick mother.”
I sucked on my bottom lip.
I saw Nash drop his head. His cheeks were the color of tomatoes. I peeked at my three girlfriends, all outspoken and fearless, their faces matched Nash’s. This is probably tourcher for them.
There was a deafening quietness. Then the woman finally said, “Say something, dammit!”
I looked into each other their angry eyes and said, “I understand.”
The woman was the first to curse under her breath and walk away. The men followed one by one after, leaving ponytail behind. Before ponytail turned around I saw his eyes well up.
So much pain in this town.
I released a breath and sat back down in front of my line of unsipped drinks. My three girlfriends marveled at myself control and told me they were proud of me. Nash sat silently and watched the carbonation bubbles of his beer rise to the surface.
An hour or so passed and more townies started to fill the place. I resigned to the fact that Dillon would be at the bar for awhile, as he and Billy started chatting up some older broads. I rolled my eyes. I just started to zone out when Nash leaned over, “Come with me. I want to talk to you.”
He slid his hand into mine and our fingers intertwined. No one saw us slip out together. Except Trina. Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets. I sent her a puzzled look.
He directed me towards the back, passed the pool tables, and into a small room. We slipped in, unnoticed, and he closed the door. He pulled the string on the light bulb. I saw mops leaning up against the wall, ladders, and paint buckets.
“What’s up?” I said folding my arms around myself.
Nash took a few loud breaths. “I’m struggling, Merritt.”
“Me, too. My life is a fucking circus.”
“No,” Nash said taking a step forward. “I’m confused about the nature of our friendship.”
“I-um,” I said dropping my eyes. My heart accelerated.
“I’m sorry. I just needed to have a moment of honesty with you. In private. And I didn’t know when I’d see you again without Dilly boy. And I didn’t know when you would be home next. Or answer my phone calls or texts. Now that your dad is gone, I wasn’t sure I would see you again.”
“That makes sense,” was all I could manage.
Nash lifted my chin and my eyes met his. His handsomness in the shadowy closet was blinding. It was like staring at the sun.
“I want you to look at me,” Nash said. I felt his hands hold my hips and my heart thumped. A little fire started to crackle in the pit of my stomach.
I let out an anxious giggle. “You are making me nervous.”
“What?” Nash said, with his Oscar winning smile. “Since when?”
“Well, recently, I guess? You never made me nervous before.”
“Why? It’s only me.”
“Um,” I giggled again. Here goes nothing. I wonder how this is going to come out. “You are mildy attractive.”
Ah, I guess I’m going the sarcastic route. How creative. Damn it, I’m even thinking sarcastically. Shutup Brie. He’s right. This might be your only chance. Lay it all out. I am going to tie up ‘reason’ and throw her in the trunk. Go! May the force be with you.
“What to know what I think?” Nash said, squeezing my hips.
“You are exquisitely beautiful.”
When I heard his words, something changed. It felt as if a warm current flowed through my body and unthawed every frozen place. I couldn’t help but notice Nash’s face mirrored my own.
“Nash, why did you stop me from kissing you?”
“I was pleasantly surprised. I knew how I felt for you, but didn’t think you could ever see me as more than a friend. It took all I had to push you away. I didn’t want you to do something because you weren’t in the right mind. Plus, I didn’t want dill-pickle walking in ruining things for you. If you want him. ”
“Wait, why did you think I’d never want you for more than a friend?”
“Clearly,” Nash said, as his fingers crept into my belt loops. “You are way, way, too good for me.”
“What! Are you fucking serious?” I laughed.
“I am not!”
“I want to kiss you, but–” Nash started.
“Then do it.”
Mischief flashed in Nash’s eyes. He snatched my right hand up and yanked the morganite ring off. It fell to the ground with a clink.
Then, everything in the world slowed. He brought me into his arms and I clasped my hands together above his shoulders. He backed me into the wall. His hand gathered my hair together and he gave it a gentle pull. He brought his lips down upon mine and my eyes snapped shut. I witnessed sparks of light in the darkness of my eyelids as he kissed me. He pinned me to the wall with his weight, and I was grateful. My knees literally shook. Until that moment, I thought that was an expression. Turns out, I didn’t know the first thing about passion.
“You feel incredible in my arms,” Nash said between kisses.
“This is like,” I mumbled, “an out of body experience.”
“I don’t want to let you go,” Nash said, gripping me tight, and kissing my lips.
I leaned back and took a deep, cleansing breath. I blinked a few times, trying to come to terms with reality.
What the hell am I going to do now?