I cocked an eyebrow. “How is that any different than what you and yours have done to me for so many years?”
“No, you listen,” I howled, moving in closer to her. “You don’t come into my shop barking demands at me. You don’t tell me what to do or how to do it, all right? This is my life, and you don’t get to control it. I know you’re used to having your minions do everything you want them to do, but I’m not your show pony, all right, woman? When you tell me to jump, I don’t say how high, so how about you take your empty threats and get the hell out of my sight?”
“I wished you would’ve stayed gone all those years ago when you went to rehab,” she told me.
“You should’ve prayed harder to that god of yours.”
Her bottom lip trembled, which was the biggest sign of weakness Loretta Harris ever let herself show. Then she reached into her purse and pulled out a checkbook. “How much?”
“How much do you want? I’ll pay you any amount to stay away from Gracelyn Mae.”
“Is that how you always get your way? With a check?” I huffed. “I don’t want your money.”
“How much?” she badgered, pulling out an ink pen. “I’ll pay you for all of your land, too, if it means keeping you and your lowlife of your father out of my town.”
“The last thing you want to do is talk about my father,” I hissed. Even though I hated him, a Harris had no right to spit on his name. “Get out.”
“But you have to stay away from her!” she cried, her body starting to shake. I’d never seen her like that. She seemed terrified.
“What are you so afraid of?” I questioned, narrowing my eyes. “Are you afraid you won’t be able to control her like you used to?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about but just stay away. I swear to you, Jackson, if you don’t, I will ruin your life.”
“What life?” I asked her. Nothing about my existence resembled any kind of life. “Now, this is the last time I’m gonna say it. Get the hell outta my shop.”
She began to walk away, and I called after her once more. “It must be killing you, huh? Being unable to control her.” She raised an eyebrow, and I continued. “But maybe instead of attacking me, you should go after the asshole who broke her heart and got her best friend pregnant. Your loyalties are facing the wrong direction.”
With simply perfect timing, Dad walked into the shop to see Loretta standing there. He held a bottle of whiskey in his grasp, and I cringed as he spoke. “What the hell are you doing on my property?” he barked.
“Just leaving,” she snapped back. “I cannot wait until the day you leave this town. You and your son are nothing but trouble.”
“Fuck off,” Dad shouted as he threw the bottle in our direction. It shattered dramatically against the wall.
“Jesus, Dad!” I barked. “Are you fucking crazy?”
“Are you? Letting this woman into our shop,” he grumbled, stumbling left and right.
“It seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Loretta remarked. “When you’re ready to sell this place, give me a call. In the meantime, stay away from my daughter.” She stormed off, leaving me to deal with the mess that was my life.
“Bitch,” Dad muttered, before looking my way. “I need you to get groceries,” he ordered before turning to walk back to his place. “And more whiskey.”
* * *
I hated the grocery store because there were always people inside strolling around like they had no damn better place to be. As I turned down the aisle to go grab some peanut butter, I paused when I saw Grace and felt my chest tighten.
I should’ve looked away, but I didn’t…I couldn’t.
She walked around nervously as people stopped her to speak at almost every turn. It was almost as if they didn’t see her discomfort, or they saw it and just didn’t care about her feelings.
She spoke with complete poise, hugging each person tightly and giving them the biggest smiles known to mankind, but those weren’t the traits I noticed. I took note of her body language and the way her movements told her truths. Her shoulders rounded forward, her fingers tapped rapidly against her shopping cart, and her big smile was more forced than I’d ever known a smile could be.
When she’d hug one person goodbye, another set of nosy townspeople would stop her. The questions they asked her were so insulting and invasive, but Grace handled them very well—better than I would’ve.
She lived up to her name and the royal role she played.
After she left their side, I’d hear the individuals’ nasty remarks, judgments, and lies.
It took everything inside me not to attack each person in that store. Maybe my father and I deserved the rude remarks. Maybe we made ourselves so dark and mean that the ugliness from the town was earned, but Grace?