13 years ago...
There was a knock at the door then just the small shuffle of feet. My chest already ached. Mom had called me on their way home to tell me what she'd done and that now she needed to go out to have some cocktails with friends. I'd be the one that would need to soothe Nan. My mom couldn't handle the stress it involved. Or so she'd said when she called me.
"Rush?" Nan's voice called out with a hiccup. She'd been crying.
"I'm here, Nan," I said as I stood up from the beanbag I'd been sitting on in the corner. It was my hiding spot. In this house you needed a hiding spot. If you didn't have one then bad things happened.
Strands of Nan's red curls stuck to her wet face. Her bottom lip quivered as she stared up at me with those sad eyes of hers. I hardly ever saw them happy. My mother only gave her attention when she needed to dress her up and show her off. The rest of the time she was ignored. Exceptby me. I did my best to make her feel wanted.
"I didn't see him. He wasn't there," she whispered as a small sob escaped. I didn't have to ask who "he" was. I knew. Mom had gotten tired of hearing Nan ask about her father. So she'd decided to take her to see him. I wish she'd told me. I wish I could have gone. The stricken look on Nan's face had my hands balling into fist. If I ever saw that man I was gonna punch him in the nose. I wanted to see him bleed.
"Come here," I said, reaching out a hand and pulling my little sister into my arms. She wrapped hers around my waist and squeezed me tightly. Times like this it was hard to breathe. I hated the life she'd been given. At least I knew my dad wanted me. He spent time with me.
"He has other daughters. Two of them. And they're... beautiful. Their hair is like an angel's hair. And they have a momma that lets them play outside in the dirt. They were wearing tennis shoes. Dirty ones." Nan was envious of dirty tennis shoes. Our mother didn't allow her to be less than perfect at all times. She'd never even owned a pair of tennis shoes.
"They can't be more beautiful than you," I assured her because I firmly believed that.
Nan sniffed and then pulled back from me. Her head tilted up and those big green eyes looked up at me. "They are. I saw them. I could see pictures on the wall with both girls and a man. He loves them.... He doesn't love me."
I couldn't lie to her. She was right. He didn't love her.
"He's a stupid asshat. You have me, Nan. You'll always have me."
Fifteen miles out of town was far enough. No one ever came this far out of Sumit to visit a pharmacy. Unless of course they were nineteen and in need of something they didn't want the town to know they had purchased. Everything bought at the local pharmacy would be spread throughout the small town of Sumit, Alabama within the hour. Especially if you were unmarried and purchasing condoms... or a pregnancy test.
I put the pregnancy tests up on the counter and didn't make eye contact with the clerk. I couldn't. The fear and guilt in my eyes was something I didn't want to share with a random stranger. This was something I hadn't even told Cain. Since I forced Rush out of my life three weeks ago I'd slowly fallen back into the routine of spending all my time with Cain. It was easy. He didn't press me to talk but when I did want to talk about it he listened.
"Sixteen dollars and fifteen cents," the lady on the other side of the counter said. I could hear the concern in her voice. Not surprising. This was the purchase of shame all teenage girls feared. I handed her a twenty dollar bill without lifting my eyes from the small bag she'd placed in front of me. It held the one answer I needed and that terrified me. Ignoring the fact my period was two weeks late and pretending like this wasn't happening was easier. But I had to know.
"Three dollars and eighty-five cents is your change," she said as I reached out and took the money in her outstretched hand.
"Thanks," I mumbled and took the bag.
"I hope it all turns out okay," the lady said in a gentle tone. I lifted my eyes and met a pair of sympathetic brown eyes. She was a stranger that I'd never see again but in that moment it helped having someone else know. I didn't feel so alone.
"Me too," I replied before turning from her and walking toward the door. Back into the hot summer sun.
I'd taken two steps out into the parking lot when my eyes fell on the driver's side of my truck. Cain leaned against it with his arms crossed over his chest. The gray baseball cap he was wearing had a University of Alabama A on it and was pulled down low shading his eyes from me.
I stopped and stared at him. There was no lying about this. He knew I hadn't come here to buy condoms. There was only one other option. Even without the ability to see the expression in his eyes I knew... that he knew.
I swallowed the lump in my throat that I'd been fighting since I got in my truck this morning and headed out of town. Now it wasn't just me and the stranger behind the counter that knew. My bestfriend knew too.
I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. He'd ask questions and I would have to answer. After the past few weeks he deserved an explanation. He deserved the truth. But how did I explain this?
I stopped just a few feet in front of him. I was glad the hat shaded his face. It would be easier to explain if I couldn't see the thoughts flashing in his eyes.
We stood in silence. I wanted him to speak first but after what felt like several minutes of him not saying anything I knew he wanted me to say something first.
"How did you know where I was?" I finally asked.
"You're staying at my grandmother's. The moment you left acting strangely, she called me. I was worried about you," he replied.