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Authors: Mellie George

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            The ride back
was much shorter and more comfortable than before.  I was at ease knowing that
we could be friends, and that it was like nothing had happened between us.  I
was happy knowing that this trip home was going to just what I wanted; to be
able to spend time with family and friends and be here for my sister’s
wedding.  Rekindling my friendship with Luke was a bonus that I was thankful
for. Getting to know him again was going to be fun.  As soon as we pulled up in
front of my house, we stopped the engine. “Thanks for lunch Luke, it was
delicious.”

            “You’re
welcome. I’m glad you liked it.”

            “Listen, this
is going to sound weird, but I have a favor to ask you.”

            “Okay, sure.”

            “Well, I know
we are friends and everything, and that we will be hanging out a lot with the
wedding and everything, but is there any way you would mind if when he hang out
we can keep it to ourselves?”

            Luke looked
confused. “What do you mean?”

            “Well, I know
my family would
love
it if I moved back home, and I am afraid that if
they know we are spending time together they might get the wrong idea.  I don’t
want to give them any kind of false hope.”

            He looked at
me and said, “S-sure, Lil. Anything you want.”

            I smiled at
him. “Okay, cool. Thanks. Well, I should probably get inside and check on
Daisy. Hopefully she feels better.”

            “Yeah, I hope
so. What a bad time to get sick, what with the wedding coming up.”

            “Well, I don’t
think it’s the wedding. She told me she’s been really,
really
stressed
lately. She told me she threw up at work the other day.”

            He looked like
he was thinking hard about something, and then said, “Hmm. Well, tell her I
said I hope she feels better.”

            “Okay, I will.
Thanks again,” I said, and got out of the car. I waved at him as he drove
away.  As soon as I walked inside, I took my coat off and hung it by the door. 
“Anyone here?”

            Daisy called
from the kitchen. “In here, Lil. I just made a sandwich, do you want one?”

            I laughed and
said, “Dais, I just got back from lunch. I am completely stuffed.  And how in
the world can you be hungry?” I walked into the kitchen just as she was sitting
down at the table.  I started to put the condiments back into the refrigerator.

            “Well, I threw
up again once I got back home.  Now I feel better, and I want to eat.”

            “Daisy, in all
seriousness, have you thought about going to the doctor? I know you are
stressed out, but it can’t be good for you to be throwing up as much as you say
you have been.”

            “Lil, I’m
fine, don’t worry.”

            Then,
something crossed my mind that hadn’t before. “Daisy, can I ask you a
question?”

“Um,
sure, I guess.”

“Is
there any way at all you could be pregnant?”

            Daisy laughed
so hard she almost spit out her food. “Um, there is no way in hell I could be pregnant. 
Jack and I use protection. And besides, I already ruled that out. I took a test
a few days ago. Negative,” she said.

            “Well, I know
sometimes the tests don’t pick up the pregnancy hormone if you take it too
early.” I noticed her eyes widen slightly, and I answered, “Not me. A
coworker.”

            “Look, I know
that I am not pregnant, but will it make you feel better if I take another
one?”

            “Actually, it
would. Thank you,” I said, and placed the jar of mustard in the refrigerator. 
I placed my tiramisu on the top shelf, and then shut the door.

            “Okay, I will
buy a test tonight and take it in the morning. That’s the best time to take
one.”

            I sat down at
the table next to her. “So, what are your plans for the night?”

            “Well, I was
thinking about hitting Brody’s Bar. You want to come?”

            “Yeah, why
not? It will be my first time there. Last time I was home I wasn’t old enough
to get in.”

            “Awesome!
Saturday night is karaoke night, it will be fun.” She took another bite of her
sandwich, and asked me, “So, how was your lunch with Luke? Did you two talk
about things?”

            “Well, in a
roundabout way, yes. He knows that I’m only here for a few weeks, and that I
want nothing more than to be friends.”

            “Great. And he
was on the same page?”

            “Yeah. He even
agreed to keep it quiet if we hang out. Don’t want people getting the wrong
idea about us.”

            “Wait a
second. You told him not to tell anyone if you two meet up to hang out?  Lil,
that’s kind of weird.”

            “Why is that
weird?  I want to spend time with him as a friend, but I don’t want people in
town talking and taking the focus off of Vi’s wedding.”

            “Well, that
may be, but did you think about how Luke may have taken that?”

            “How?”

            “Like I did. 
It’s weird.”

            “Okay, I will
clarify what I meant the next time I see him. I am not ashamed to be his
friend, but I just know how people in this town talk. I want to be his friend
without everyone’s eyes on me.”

            “Okay then.
So, change of subject. How was lunch? Where did y’all go?” she asked, and I sat
down at the table, recounting my lunch with Luke.  Oh man, what if Daisy was
right? I didn’t mean to make Luke feel bad or anything. I wasn’t ashamed to be
hanging out with him, but thinking back on how I had asked him my favor, it
really did sound that way. Who was I to ask him something like that?  ‘Hey
Luke, nice to see you, let me be all blushy and flirty and complimentary to
you, but then ask to be friends with you on the sly so no one will think we are
doing it?’ When I played it back in my mind like that, I was sounding like a bitch.
I was going to call him later and straighten this out.  I didn’t want to lose a
friend over my paranoia. Daisy suddenly pulled me out of my wandering thoughts.
“Hey, what do you think?”

            “Oh, sorry, my
mind was somewhere else.”

            “Yeah, I’m
pretty sure where.  I asked if you wanted to actually go shopping.  Ya know,
put some truth to the lie.”

            “Um, sure.  I
really do need to do my holiday and wedding gift shopping, that much is true. 
When do you want to go?”

            “Well, how
‘bout now?  Brody’s won’t be busy until later tonight. What do you say?”

            I sighed and
smiled. “I say, let’s go put a dent in my credit card.” She squealed, and we
both got out coats on and made our way to the closest mall.

Chapter 9
 
Brody’s Bar

 

 

After
a busy, and expensive, day of shopping, Daisy and I finally made it back home. 
I loved shopping, especially when it was for other people.  I had gotten
everything I needed for everyone from Mama and Daddy all the way to Evan and
Jack. I also bought a gift for Luke. Before we knew it, it was time to head out
for our ladies night at Brody’s. I hadn’t really packed anything to wear to a
bar, so I bought a few new outfits while I was out. After trying everything on
at least once, I ended up settling on a pair of skinny jeans, calf high black
stiletto boots, and a black sparkly tank top.  I twisted my hair into a messy
updo, put on a pair of silver hoop earrings, threw on a little lipstick, and
walked downstairs to meet Daisy.  At that moment, Mama and Daddy walked through
the front door. “Hey darling,” said Daddy.

            I walked to
him and kissed him on the cheek. “Hey. Did you two have a good time?”

            “Oh yes, the
movie was great. How was your day? Your Mama told me you went Christmas
shopping with Daisy.”

            “Yes, and I
think I might have spent three months pay on everything we bought.” When I
noticed him raise a speculative eyebrow at me, I said, “Don’t look at me like
that. I hadn’t shopped at all yet, and I had a lot to get.”

            “Okay then.
It’s your money, I guess.  Spend it how you want,” Daddy said, smiling warmly. 
Even though we grew up comfortably, Daddy was never one to take it for granted,
and donated to different charities often.

            “Don’t worry,
Daddy. I am going to give back, I just haven’t decided which charity to donate
to this year yet.  I’m still deciding.”

            “Good.  So,
you heading out again?  You look all dressed up.”

            “Oh, yeah.
Daisy and I were going to head to Brody’s in a bit.”

            “That sounds
like fun.  Just behave yourselves,” he said, with a wink. Just then, his pager
beeped.  He took it out of his pocket, and looked down.  “That’s the hospital,
I need to take this.  You and Daisy have fun tonight, and remember what I told
you,” he said, and hugged me around the shoulders.

            With a quick
kiss on the cheek, I said, “I will Daddy, I promise.”

            “Make sure to
say goodbye to your Mama before you go,” he added, dialing a number on the
telephone.

            Just then,
Mama walked into the foyer. “You leaving me again?” she said, smiling warmly.

            “Oh, Daisy and
I were going to go to Brody’s tonight…is that okay?” I asked, suddenly feeling
guilty.

            She smiled
wider and said, “Lilly, honey, you are almost thirty years old. You don’t need
my permission to go to a bar.”

            “I know that,
but I just got back yesterday and I feel like I haven’t spent much time with
you.”

            “Oh
sweetheart…you are on vacation, go have fun with your sister. You will be here
for three weeks.  I’m sure we will have a chance to spend some time together.”

            I took her
hands in mine and said, “Are you sure?”

            Giving them a
squeeze, she said, “I’m sure.  Go.”  She hugged me, and walked in to the
kitchen.

            Just then,
Daisy came into the room talking on her cell phone.  “Okay, that sounds good.
We’ll meet you there, bye,” she said, hanging up the phone.  She put her phone
in her back pocket, and looked up at me. Her eyes widened, and she smiled.
“Wow, girl, you look so sexy!”

            “Thank you,
you too!  I knew that top would look great on you,” I said, referring to the
red top with the see through lace back she had picked out this afternoon.  She
had matched it with a pair of jeans, black heels, and had scrunched her hair
into soft waves.  She looked great.

            “Well, thanks
for the suggestion.  You ready?”

            “Yeah, all
set. By the way, who were you talking to just now?  Are we meeting someone?” I
asked, sliding on my coat.

            “Uh, yeah, Vi
is meeting us there, if that’s okay.”

            I laughed and
said, “Of course it’s okay!  I want to see her too.  Her wedding is the reason
why I’m here.”

            “All right
then, let’s go,” she said, and we headed out the front door as we called out
our goodbyes to Mama and Daddy.  We walked out together and got into Daisy’s
car.  She started the engine and we began the drive to Brody’s.  It didn’t take
long to get there, and soon we were pulling into the parking lot and she shut
off the engine.

            As I got out,
I said, “You know, I am really going to have to get a rental car while I’m
here. I’m not used to being driven everywhere.”

            “Yeah, that’s
probably a good idea, cause I’m tired of hauling your ass around,” she said,
with a smile.  I rolled my eyes, and we linked arms and walked inside the bar.
Loud country music instantly filled my ears.  The place was already packed for
being so early in the evening.  As my eyes scanned the room I saw a lot of
faces I hadn’t seen since high school.  It seemed like I was one of the few
that left for college and didn’t come back home.  After we took our coats off
and hung them by the door, Daisy immediately led me toward the bar to order
drinks.  “Hey, Brooke, can we get two Bud Lights please?” she yelled over the
loud music coming from the jukebox.  The bartender looked up and when her eyes
met mine, she smiled widely.  “Hey!  Lilly!”

            “Oh my god,
Brooke Bailey?  Hi!” I exclaimed, and she came from back behind the bar and
pulled me into a warm hug.  Brooke Bailey was from my graduating class, and she
had played volleyball for all four years. She was definitely one of the nicer
popular girls. She looked sensational. She was tall, tan, and her hair was
bleach-blonde with dark lowlights, and it was hair sprayed so it was big and
didn’t move.  “Oh wow, it’s so great to see you!”

            “Oh, it’s
great to see you too, girl!” she said, and released me from her arms.  “Good
god, Lilly, you look absolutely beautiful!”

            “Oh thanks so much,
so do you!  Look at you! You are, like, a sexy bartender!” I said, laughing. 

“Bartender?
Hell, I own this place now.”

“Really?
How did that happen?”

“I
inherited it from my grandpa when he passed a few years back.”

“Aw,
I’m sorry to hear that. He was a nice man.”

“Yeah,
but he left me something great. Plus, it pays the bills, so that’s never a bad
thing,” she said with a bright smile.

“So,
is this what you’ve been up to since college?”

“Just
the past six years. I didn’t finish college.”

“Wow,
really? How did that happen?”

            “Oh you know,
the usual. Went to college, got pregnant in my sophomore year by my bastard ex,
dropped out to be a single mom, and moved back home,” she said, winking at me. 

            “You’re a
mom?  Aw, that’s great!”

            “Yeah, my
Cassidy is almost nine years old now.”

            “Oh my…well I
bet she’s just beautiful.”

            “Thanks, I’m
kind of in love with her,” she said, smiling.  “Well, hey, let me get you two
your drinks.”

            “Oh, right,
you are working. Sorry!”

            “Hey, it’s
okay. I was happy for the distraction. It’s great to see you again,” she said,
and I notice her eyes move to the left, and for a second she looked irritated.
She looked back at me and smiled.

            “You too.  Listen,
can we catch up this week?  Maybe have lunch?”

            Brooke smiled.
“That sounds great.   Listen, Daisy’s got my number, so call me anytime,” she
said, and walked back behind the bar.

            “I will do
that.”

            Her eyes
flicked to the front door, and she said, “Hey, looks like your other sister
just walked in, so I’ll catch up with you later,” she said, setting three Bud
Lights down on the counter. “One for Vi, too. On the house,” she said, winking.

            “Thanks,
Brooke,” I said, taking the bottles in my hands and walking toward Violet, who
was hanging her coat up on the hook by the door. As soon as we reached her, I
handed her a beer. “Hey, Violet. I’m glad you came.”

            “Thanks, me
too. You girls been here long?”

            “No, not at
all,” I said, taking a drink. “So, you gonna be singing karaoke tonight?”

            Violet smiled,
and shook her head. “Um, that would be a no. I don’t sing at all.”

            “And the world
thanks you for that,” Daisy said, taking a drink of her beer. “Believe me, Lil,
she’s awful.”

            As I laughed,
I looked around the bar, and I noticed several men staring at us, including a
man sitting on a stool in the back corner of the bar. He looked familiar, but I
couldn’t place him. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable, I said, “Well, why
don’t we shoot some pool then?”

            “That sounds
fun!” Violet exclaimed, and she immediately started walking toward the pool
table at the back of the bar. About ten heads turned in her direction as we
followed behind her. Daisy rolled her eyes, and I just shook my head.

 

 

            I don’t think
I had been hugged and complimented so much in my life than I had in the past
forty eight hours. It felt like almost our entire graduating class was at
Brody’s, and they all wanted to say hello to me. After about an hour of
catching up with almost everyone I went to high school with and playing pool
with my sisters, we (or rather Daisy) decided that we were going go out on the
dance floor. One of Daisy’s favorite songs came on, and she insisted that we
all dance to it together. It wasn’t my kind of music at all, but I had to admit
that even though I was a terrible dancer, I was having fun being with my
sisters and having a good time. We weren’t even halfway through the second song
before I felt a pair of hands on my hips, moving along with me. Instinctively I
froze up and when I felt the large, unwelcome hands slide down and grab my ass,
I spun around. “Hey Lilly, you’re lookin’ good baby,” I heard a husky voice
say. After focusing my eyes, I recognized my harasser. It was the man that was
staring from the corner of the bar. Jared Moony. Suddenly I felt my skin start
to crawl. Jared was another of Glenbrook High’s star football players, and he
was the school bully. He looked…awful. I guess if I hadn’t known him I would
have thought he was okay looking, but knowing how he looked in high school it
seemed life had hit him hard. His face was worn and leathery, like he’d been in
the sun too long. His voice was rough and cold and his eyes were unfriendly and
intimidating. I was instantly uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to offend him
because he looked like he was the type that had a short fuse, and was probably
already drunk.

            “Um, h-hi,
Jared. How are you?” I asked nervously. I glanced around for Daisy or Violet,
but they were looking the other way and couldn’t see me.

            “Oh, I’m good,
babe. I’d be even better if we could get outta here and
talk,
” he said,
and I could smell the whiskey on his breath as he leaned close to my face.

            “Um, well, as
tempting as that sounds, I’m here with my sisters, so I’m going to have to take
a pass, but it was good seeing you again,” I said, as friendly as I possibly
could, and tried to turn back to find Daisy and Violet.

            Suddenly, I
felt his hand grip my arm, and he spun me around hard, taking both of my arms
into his large hands and squeezing. He was hurting me. “Still high and mighty,
ain’t ya, Princess?” he spat angrily at me, shaking me. He was gripping my arms
so tightly that I couldn’t move.

“I
don’t know what you mean,” I said, my eyes wildly looking around for anyone to
help me.

“Oh,
please. You always walked around that school and this town like you were so
much fucking better than everyone. I think you need to be knocked down a few
pegs,” he said, and my arms were stinging from his iron grip. He leaned in to
my face and was about to plant a nasty, whiskey-soaked kiss on me, when
suddenly I felt his hands release me and I saw a tall figure slid in between me
and Jared and had pushed me behind their back. Luke was standing defensively in
front of me with one arm out to shield me. At that moment Daisy and Violet came
running over with Jack.

“Lilly,
what’s going on?” Violet asked nervously. Daisy looked like she was going to
attack Jared herself, and Jack put a protective arm around her, probably
holding her back.

            “Leave her
alone, Jared,” Luke said, his tone threatening. I immediately felt the strength
of Jared’s grip on me as stinging pain shot through my arms. I winced.

            Jared
snickered. “Or what? What you gonna do, pretty boy?” he said, shoving Luke back
slightly. “Get outta my way,” he said, and he was trying to reach for me again
when Luke grabbed Jared’s arm, and threw him back. By this time the whole dance
floor had parted to make room.

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