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I blinked my eyes, uncertain how to reply because she had obviously seen us, otherwise, she wouldn’t have asked.

“Yeah, we just crossed paths.”

“Oh, I see.” She gave me a wicked grin and bit her bottom lip while the other ladies giggled, whispering things to one another. “Well, you know what they say about that man—he’s all rock, even down below, if you know what I mean…and I’m sure you do.” She giggled.

I gave her my fakest smile. “No, I don’t know what you mean, Charlotte.” Sweat was dripping from parts of my body I didn’t even know could sweat even though I tried my best to play it cool.

“I’m just saying, I get it. Sometimes a girl just needs a break, and I can’t even shame you for breaking with him. He’s an awful human, but you can’t deny how hard it is to breathe when he takes off his shirt to work down at his shop.”

“His abs have abs,” one of the girls noted.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I stated, trying not to lose my composure.

“No, sweetie, it’s fine. Your secret is safe with us.” She winked as she and her gaggle of women walked off in their high heels and fake personalities.

A knot formed in my stomach, and I tried my best to swallow it down.

Rumors of me and Jackson Paul Emery were beginning to float around, and I knew those rumors could lead nowhere good, especially with them starting from Charlotte’s lips.

I could already hear Mama’s voice, ringing in my ear, saying, I told you so.

* * *

“I told you so,” Mama hissed beside me as we sat in the church pew Sunday morning. The whispering voices were still speaking about me, but now their narrative included Jackson’s name.

I felt like vomiting, but I didn’t. I sat tall with no slump in my shoulders. Fake it till you make it, Grace. I wasn’t fully confident in the realm of being myself, but I knew those people who sat behind me whispering would’ve judged me whether I was hooking up with Jackson or not, because that was what small-minded individuals do: talk about others.

“Are you happy?” Mama asked me. “Are you proud of yourself for what these people are saying?”

I took a deep breath. “I don’t care.”

“Excuse me?” she barked, somewhat stunned.

I stared forward at Dad preaching and shrugged. “I said I just don’t care. I don’t care what people think of me.”

“Then you are a fool,” she whisper-shouted.

“Quiet, Mama, you might miss an important message Dad’s preaching your way.”

She sat up straight, the veins in her neck popping out, but she didn’t say another word.

For the first time in forever, I had stood up to Mama, and I’d have been lying if I said it didn’t feel good and terrifying all at once.

My foot tapped against the floor rapidly as I tried to keep my conflicting emotions in check. Just in time, Judy placed a comforting hand upon my knee.

“You okay?” she asked, leaning in slightly.

“No.” I placed my hand on top of hers and squeezed. “But I’m working on it.”

Sometimes to find yourself, you have to let others down—parents included.



“You need to stay away from my daughter!” Loretta Harris hissed, storming into the auto shop late one Tuesday afternoon. “She is not one of those women you use for your sick sex-capades!”

I looked up at her as a heavy sigh rolled across my lips, then went back to working on the car in front of me.

Did she just say sex-capades?

I had a new favorite word.

“Unless you got a car with you, I reckon you should leave,” I muttered, grabbing a wrench from my toolbox.

She click-clacked over in her high heels and placed her hands on her hips. “I mean it, you-you-you animal. Keep your hands off Grace or else!”

“Or else?” I cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t take well to threats,” I warned her.

“Well, I don’t take well to people coming for my family,” she countered.

“No one’s coming for your family, your highness,” I mocked. “So, if you would please leave...”

“What’s your deal with her anyway, huh? Are you just trying to get back at me for something?”

I pressed my hands against the car, rising to meet her stare. Her eyes matched her daughter’s, yet hers were filled with hate. “What in the hell would I have to get back at you for?”

“When you came to me as a kid, asking for my help.”

I snapped my band. Deep breaths. “I ain’t got time for this.” I rubbed my palms against my jeans and turned to walk away. “Let yourself out.”

“You need to stay away from my daughter, or you’ll regret it,” she ordered once more, making me tense up.

“Once again,” I growled, snapping my band, “I don’t do well with threats.”

“It’s not a threat; it’s a promise. If you keep crossing paths with Grace, I’ll make you suffer.”