Rose! Rose, wait! You’re goin too fast…” the words trail off. She can’t hear me, or isn’t listening anyway. My feet pound the toast-tan dirt until I can slow to a stop. The ground is packed in with sand and pebbles that create a road formed only by tires, critters, and people like Rose, and me.
My filthy hands tightly clutch to my knees as I double over, chest rising and falling from my burning lungs as I try desperately to catch my breath. My heart is pounding so hard, I feel like it will pop out of my throat, and land on the dirt at my feet. “Damn it, Rose. You’re stupid as hell sometimes,” I mutter in Alabama twang under my breath as I stare after her dust trail.
Rose never runs out of breath. She never gets tired. Her feet never hurt, and her sides never cramp. Then again, Rose has been running from life since she was about six years old. Today’s no different. If anything, she just runs faster as the countdown to her high school graduation grows closer.
It’s been this way since we were kids. I’m Leila, Rose’s cousin. We’ve lived next door to each other since before we were even born. Our mommas before that did, too, just on the other side of town.
We live in Bon Secour, Alabama. Our entire family does. Any family that’s ever lived here still does for the most part. A few get out, but not many. Usually, if they do, it’s ones who’ve gone military. Most of the time even they come back, eventually. As long as they’re alive and able to that is.
Mostly, our little place in the world is pretty woodsy. We’d been walking through the woods near Brights Creek. The forest is our favorite place to go out to, aside from the coastline at the edge of the bay. Rose had taken off running after I stupidly started talking about my dreams again. She isn’t rude about it. She thought she was being sly at the change of subject when she suggested we go for a run. However, without waiting for a reply, she’d taken off almost instantly. For a few hundred yards I managed to keep up, but that was my limit.
Rose runs track, and she is without a doubt the fastest girl in school. Our school leaves town for sports to compete with other teams in other schools. That’s the reason most kids participate in sports around here. It’s an escape from the small town world of Bon Secour. Course Bon Secour doesn’t have its own high school. We have to go to Foley.
Because Rose is so fast, she’s skinny as a rail. The reason she’s so fast is because her legs are twice as long as the rest of her. Of course she makes it look pretty. Everything about Rose is pretty. Her hair is sun-bleach perfect, and her skin is a beautiful tan. She can’t burn if she tries to. Her momma doesn’t know that it’s an allover tan. She likes to come over to climb up on top of my house’s rooftop to sunbathe. Our house is the biggest and oldest on the block. It has a flat widow’s walk at the highest point. It’s perfect to sunbathe naked as a jay bird where no one can see you. Sometimes I climb up there just to be alone.
Though she’s pretty thin all over, she still manages to have a few curves. Her hips stick out and her middle is thin so it gives her an hour glass figure. Her eyes are as blue as the sky in summer.
My skin is dark naturally, but that’s because my daddy was a real dark man with beautiful deep chocolate skin. It gives me a complexion like chocolate milk in the winter and a deep mocha cappuccino in the summer. My eyes are like the sky, too, but the purple right at sunset rather than blue. Momma used to say my eyes were special, and could see things that aren’t meant to be seen by anyone else. Unfortunately, she’d turned out to be right about that.
My daddy is dead now. Although I wasn’t there, I saw it happen. I was five years old, and woke up from my nap screaming, and crying like a mad cat. Momma came running to see what was wrong. She told me it was just a dream, and held me real tight until the doorbell rang. Sheriff Dickson was at the door to tell momma that daddy had been in a real bad accident at work. It was the last time she ever hugged me.
Daddy was a cop. People said he was a real damned good one, too. He died trying to help a lady and her baby. He died just the way I saw it- hit by a drunk driver while he was changing a flat tire in the rain. Momma was so scared of me afterwards that she couldn’t talk to me for a month. I had to go next door to stay with Aunt Cherice, Uncle Bobby, Rose, and her baby brother, little Matty. Now he’s big Matty though, real big actually. Momma never told them why. She just said she was sad, and needed to be by herself.
Momma hasn’t quite been the same since. She sure as hell hasn’t been the same with me since then. The way I figure it, I’m lucky we even talk. Aunt Cherice had to take charge of most of my mothering needs. Momma takes care of me in the physical sense. Keeps me fed, clothed, and keeps a roof over my head. She gives me money for the stuff I need. In trade I give her the space she wants, and do the chores around the house because she’s always busy at the church.
While I was staying with Rose, I told her that I’d seen daddy die. She was confused and asked if I had been there with him. When I explained, she thought it was amazing. A little scary, sure, but still amazing. She ain’t never been real normal herself. She thought it was amazing up until the day I told her I’d had a dream about her. She made me tell her. I was real young back then. I hadn’t known to keep my damned mouth shut, so I told her. She’s never forgotten, and she’s been counting the days ever since. Every day is marked on her calendar with a number in the bottom right corner. A count down to the day she is scheduled to die.
It’s hard to believe that day’s sneaking up on us so fast now. How did twelve years go by in such a hurry in a town that never moves at all?
Only Rose and my momma know what I can see. I see other stuff, too, but now I keep my mouth shut. It only took twice for me to learn, ya see. Fortunately, I only see things in my dreams. Once I turned thirteen, I started trying things to make them go away so I could sleep in peace. Rose has never done drugs, but she doesn’t blame me one bit for my desperation. She’s even helped me get them a few times, at least until she introduced me to someone who could help a whole lot better than she could.
Jaden Elijah Louviere. Everyone knows what he likes to do after school when he ain’t at work. Momma was none too happy when she caught me riding around with him out in town. It wasn’t the first time she’d hit me or the last. Everyone calls Jaden a devil child. Small town just means small minds, I say.
Momma’s mouth, nor her hand, stopped me though. I don’t much care what people think about me anymore. I’m a good looking girl, but nothing like Rose. She’s what people call Hollywood pretty. I know I’m never getting out of this place, not that I have much reason to try. Why, so I can meet more people and see more death? No thanks.
Speaking of devils…
Tires bounce over the pot holes in the road up behind me. I can barely hear them over Little Big Town’s ‘Boondocks’ blaring out the open window of Jaden’s old red Dodge. He slows to a stop right next to me as I stand up. By now Rose is long gone.
Jaden sings off-key as he turns the radio down to a comfortable background level. “Hey there, cheri.” He winks as he straightens his hat with a grease covered hand. My eyes narrow appraisingly as I walk over and lean an elbow on the door of the truck. “I saw Rose. Everything all right?”
My brow arches with annoyance as I look over my shoulder off in the direction Rose had been running. She’s been doing it more and more lately. One shoulder comes up in a shrug as I look back to Jaden. “You know how she is. Don’t matter. What’re you doin today, trouble?” It takes some effort but I fight the shit eating grin Jaden’s face brings to my lips, and turn it into a sly smirk.
Jaden has light brown hair cut real messy like he does it in the dark by himself. Somehow it falls just right, even though it is usually under some kind of a hat. Today is his straw cowboy hat, hay colored and the rim a deep brown. Only today he isn’t wearing a shirt. I know my pupils are probably as big as my eyeballs, other than that I try not to react to him.
Jaden’s gorgeous so it’s hard not to. It’s not just me that thinks so, most girls agree. They’ll date him once or twice, but then soon as someone notices or they’re out in public they brush him off like they’re too good for him. It really pisses me off. Jaden just shrugs it off though. He’s like that. Nothing ever gets under his skin.
A cigarette hangs between his sunburnt lips. He works outside as a boat repairman when he’s not in school. Damn near everyone in the town owns some kinda boat. Bon Secour is a fish town. So he’s always tan, and he’s ripped from top to bottom. He even has that V curve from his hips that dips low into his jeans. He doesn’t have a six pack. It’s a small, tight eight. He’s thin, so each muscle is hard as a rock and well pronounced. I like to steal hugs when the opportunity arises, but that’s about as far as it goes.
“Just drivin. Got off work early today. I figured you’d be here or down at the creek. Good thing y’all keep to the roads, I’d never have found ya.” Jaden grins wide in his usual way.
The school year started a few weeks ago. It’s Saturday, and since I don’t have a job that means I have freedom on my weekends when I’m not stuck studying that is. I work my butt off through the week to keep my weekends free as I can.
Bon Secour is pretty small, and a lot of the area is filled with wildlife. The population sign reads 742. I like to walk around the woodlands where there isn’t much of anything around manmade. That or I’m usually down at the creek. I love the water.
Jaden’s one of the few people I know who always looks you in the eye when he’s talking to you. Sometimes it stuns me. His eyes are a strange mix of honeycomb gold and palm leaf green. The corners of his eyes crease when he grins. Though he smokes, his teeth are nice and white. He eyes me real hard, narrowing his gaze to try and look serious. “You wanna go for a ride, cheri?”
I can’t fight it any longer. My grin breaks out and stretches from ear to ear at the invitation. “You know it.” Reaching into the open window of the truck, taking a loose hold of the brim of his hat, I pull it low on his brow playfully before running off around to the passenger door of the rust red Dodge that’s older than Jaden.
Next to Rose, Jaden is my best friend. My only other friend actually. It’s real hard to be friends with someone when you see how they’re gonna die. Jaden’s different though… For some reason, I’ve never dreamed about Jaden. He’s safe.
Literally, I jump into the truck and slam the door. As he takes off I bounce, sliding to the center as he pulls a sharp U turn that throws me against him. He laughs at my squeal as he peels out, spitting sand around his tires.
Like always, we end up at the creek. Since school is back in session the creek isn’t usually crowded but it’s a Saturday night so there’s kids hanging around down by the water. We sit up higher off the coast. Because it’s September, and it’s Alabama. It’s more than warm enough even at night though he does get a real small campfire going just for the hell of it. He usually does. He sits on the sandy dirt with his knees up, feet spread wide as he watches the flames dance. “I’ve got tomorrow off.”
“Really? Wow, you’ve been asking for a weekend day off for months now. What changed Ben’s mind?” Ben is Jaden’s boss. Beer belly, balding, tee shirt tan, and his ears are flat against his head. His nose and cheeks are red like Santa Claus, not because he’s jolly but because he drinks a little too much.
“He’s closing the marina tomorrow for Violet’s wedding.” I cringe at the reminder, making him laugh. Violet Dorsey, Ben Dorsey’s daughter as of tomorrow will become Mrs. Violet Larson. I’m expected to go because my momma is the pastor of our town’s Episcopal church, which happens to be Ben and Violet’s church. “You forgot eh?”
“Yeah…” I sigh heavily while hanging my head. I hate going to weddings. It’s not that I have to dress up, that part I like. It’s that I always end up by myself, bored out of my skull. Weddings can be fun if you’re a part of the party. I never am.
Jaden frowns deeply, which puts a crease in his brow even though he’s only eighteen. It’s from too much sun, but it doesn’t mar his looks by any standards. “What’s wrong, cheri?”
“You know I can’t hang out. I gotta go. Momma’ll have a fit if I don’t.” There’s no way in hell she’ll let me go out on a Sunday during the day. Even if she doesn’t talk to me much, she still makes sure I’m at church so she doesn’t have to look bad. Neither of us says anything for a minute as he settles in for me to prattle on. He knows it’s coming. “I just hate going to these things. They’re so boring sitting there by myself. Because of course momma doesn’t just stay for the ceremony, she stays for the whole damn party. I always end up at some table at the back, bored as all hell with nothing to do, and no one to talk to. It sucks.”
“But hey, there’s cake!” he teases, shoving at me with a knee.
Though I laugh, I shrug, unenthused. “Yeah, there is cake. And always that funny red punch with ice cream in it.” We nod together, agreeing it’s good stuff. He mostly watches the fire as he pokes it around with a stick no longer than his arm.
“Be still my heart! Cake and punch!” His laugh is deep and open, ringing out into the night. The only sounds are the waves, his laugh and the small radio playing at his feet, turned on low. The people are too far away to hear more than a laugh now and then. “Well you want some company then? I got nothin else to do and crashin a party for some cake and punch sounds as good as anything else there is to do ‘round here.” Laying the stick down in the sand beside him, he picks up his pipe off his small lunch cooler and pulls a lighter from his pocket. Taking a slow pull from the burning grass, he lights it. Without bothering to ask, he hands the pipe over to me while still holding his breath and keeping the smoke in his lungs.
Taking them both, I occupy myself by taking a hit. It’s still red, I don’t need the lighter yet. He knows I hate lighting them. It makes me cough too much. This gives me a few seconds before I have to respond at least. I’m still pretty shocked he offered to go. “You really wanna go? You’d have to dress right or they’ll kick you out.”
“Eh, why not? Ben said I could stop by if I wanted, and have a beer with him.” Jaden’s probably the only teenager anyone would ever offer a beer to openly around here. Yeah he’s under age. He just doesn’t act like it. Plus, he’s one of those guys that’s going to do what he wants despite what anyone has to say about it.
The night is perfect. The air is warm and calm while the ocean rolls back and forth along the shore in a slow lulling rhythm, peacefully. There’s country music playing in the background. Plus, I have at least one of my friends, and an assurance that I can sleep in peace tonight thanks to him. It’s the only thing I have found that usually keeps the nightmares away. In my experimenting before I got to know Jaden, I learned some things make them worse. I don’t like to smoke much, and I only do so a while before bed because it makes me so tired.
It doesn’t take much before Jaden has me giggling at almost everything he says. Though I know he does it on purpose. We talk for another hour before I’m so sleepy I can barely keep my eyes open. After throwing a bucket of sand over the fire, Jaden helps me into his truck since it’s a little lifted. He likes to go up to the mainland and off road whenever he can. Once, he let me go with him. It was awesome. The drive is short but I fall asleep before he makes it to my house. It might have been on purpose.
Momma is sound asleep because it’s after midnight. She stopped lecturing me about staying out late last year when she realized controlling me made us fight more and in turn made her have to talk to me more. We get along better now than we had for it actually, but that doesn’t mean much. We each know our limits with the other, and we each respect them for the most part. But to be honest, I don’t feel like her daughter. I feel like a distant relative that happens to live in her house. As rent I have to clean the house, go to church, and be reminded how much I’m not a part of this town.
Jaden carries me inside to my room since I don’t cooperate with being woken. It’s not the first time, and I hope it’s not the last. I wake up just enough to enjoy the stolen moment of closeness. They don’t come often. We’re friends, and he refuses to cross that line with me no matter what so I have to take every stolen moment I can. My arms loop around his neck as my cheek rests on his shoulder.
It saddens me as he makes it into my room, and lays me down on top of my small twin size bed. Without a word or touching me again, he leaves, softly closing my bedroom door behind him. From a year and a half of habit, he locks the front door behind him on his way out. I don’t have to hear it. I just know it because that’s what he always does. I fall back asleep to the sound of his pickup starting and pulling away.