Abby Jean flipped through the song list on the old jukebox against the wall. The music selection was surprisingly good, especially her favorite ‘girl’ country singers. So, far she had managed to find three appropriate songs but not the one she had in mind. Of course, her brain was a tiny bit clouded. She giggled, and that turned into a cackle.
Tequilla. She lifted her glass and knocked back her third shot. Maybe her fourth? But who’s counting. This was a party. A bachelorette party. Mercy had surrendered her vestal virgin card to a hot guy that loved her to pieces. She would not cry. She would not.
Not that Mercy or Lizzie didn’t deserve love or happiness. But this was supposed to be her. She was the only vestal virgin with a boyfriend. A fiancée even. John William Cummins. Solid old Texas family. And lyin’, cheatin’, good-for-nothin’ bastard.
The whole eighteen months since she had been back here taking care of her dying grandmother and that old worn-out dirt ranch, that man had been in Austin screwing around. And when she walked in on his naked ass making the two-backed monster with some…
He dared to suggest that she was the problem. That if she wanted to remain a virgin until they married, a man had needs. Then the sorry piece of shit suggested an open marriage, so he could keep screwing around after the I-do’s. Except he called it something else, something fancy…poly… Same crap in her mind.
There it was. She punched in the numbers for the perfect song. And gripped the sides of the damned jukebox when the room began to spin.
But she knew it was not just John’s betrayal. She was happy for Mercy, she swore. She did not ‘covet’ her boyfriend, soon-to-be husband. Sure, Will was hot. But only one man had ever got her hot. Hell, she might have even told John that every time he kissed her, she had closed her eyes and thought about…
Why did they have to have this damned party here of all places? But Abby Jean knew that answer. The casino was the only game in town. Unless they wanted to take this into the next county or to Bryan, this was the logical choice.
Hell, she was the only one drinking. Not true; Stacey had been nursing the same bottle of beer for two hours. But Laura was nursing her baby, and now Mercy was pregnant. Pregnant! Not just lose her V-card and get engaged to some guy that looked at her like he could eat her alive. She’d bet he did, too. Mercy had that smug look on her face. Then again, Little Miss Rebel usually did have.
Sure, they were friends. Maybe more like frienemies. Mercy was six years older than she was. In the city, they probably would have never hung out together. But when you lived in a tiny town like Sebida, all the children played together. From the teens right down to the ones whose parents had finally allowed them the run of the town. She was ten, almost eleven, before Miss Myrtle gave her that privilege. Most of the little ones were six or seven.
If her grandmother’s over-protectiveness had not been enough to draw the ire and ridicule of the town’s bad girl, then the name Monroe was. Not that the damned thing got her anything. A mother who ran off with another man and left a five-year-old to a father who abused her. Until social services stepped in and shipped her off to the grandmother, she had never even met.
As for any ‘privilege’ that Mercy assumed they had, her ‘friend’ would have been surprised to know that her clothes came from consignment shops too. Every bit as much second hand as Mercy’s, just the name-brand, designer kind. Of course, that was one of the secrets her grandmother insisted Abby Jean keep. Like the fact that she was on the free lunch program too. Or that the money the state gave Miss Myrtle for fostering her granddaughter topped up her grandmother’s salary from being a teacher enough for them to scrape by, just about. But nobody knew any of that.
Any more than they knew in a couple of weeks, Abby Jean would not only be the jilted bride but unemployed and homeless. Sure, maybe the school board would renew her temporary teaching contract. But with the statewide budget cuts, her degree was just about worth toilet paper.
She had gone to the bank a few weeks ago to try and negotiate new terms for the loan on the ranch that had been in the family for over a hundred and fifty years. But the manager told her that the note had been sold. The man would not even tell her who owned the damned thing now. So, she lived in constant fear of being evicted from what was as close to home as she had. Because there was no way, she could come up with fifty-five thousand dollars. Hell, she could not make the payments on it. Not if she wanted to eat.
Of course, John would say she didn’t need to eat. He’d always complained about her curves. But Abby liked them. Or most of the time, she did. Not that they had gotten her the attention of the one man who ever mattered. She stared around the casino. At least one thing was going her way tonight. There was no way she could handle seeing him…
The first notes of the song blared from the jukebox, “Chocolate is a band-aid. No matter what they say, shoes don’t stretch, and men don’t change.” Abby Jean didn’t give a damn that she could not carry a tune in a tin bucket. She belted that song out as she swayed her round hips. Of course, she had to keep holding tightly to the jukebox to stay on her feet.
Uh-oh, here came trouble. Well, not trouble. She loved Lizzie. Really she did. The girl had been the buffer and glue that held the vestal virgins together. The one who continually smoothed out those disagreements between her and Mercy. And the one that always told the older girl when it was time to back off.
But damn, who shoved the pickle up that girl’s ass? Abby giggled again at the picture as Lizzie approached. Even the prissy way the girl walked looked like she had something up there. It was a damned good thing that no one could read her mind. What would the ‘good people’ of Sebida think if they knew the truth about Miss Myrtle’s granddaughter?
Hell, what would they think if they knew that her grandmother had carried on an affair with Injun Joe for five decades? Not that she had anything against the man. Abby Jean wasn’t sure what she would have done those few months without the man’s help. He brought food from the casino’s restaurant almost every day. Sometimes the diner too. He sat with her grandmother so Abby could sleep or shower. Hell, what would this town say if they knew Miss Myrtle had died in the man’s arm? Or the way he had cried and held her grandmother’s dead body for two hours?
Their love story tore her heart out. The forlorn way that her grandmother whispered, ‘those were different times, Abby Jean,’ when she had accidentally came into the room that afternoon to discover the frail, old woman wrapped in her ‘friend’s’ arms. That was no friendly kiss, that was for sure.
Her grandmother had rebuked her for not knocking, even though she had before entering. Miss Myrtle had dismissed her lover, promising to see Joe the next day. Then they talked…for hours. Abby got it. As sad as their story was, she understood that the late sixties and early seventies were a different time for this town and the country. But what Abby Jean could not understand was why her grandmother never married the love of her life. Miss Myrtle’s explanation that ‘sometimes it is just too late’ did not make sense.
But maybe it did. Perhaps sometimes things just happened, like walking in on cheating fiancees or losing the ranch that had been in your family for generations. Maybe sometimes it really was just too late for your dreams.
She leaned on Lizzie, “It’s just you and me now. The last vestal virgins of Sebida county. Probably the only damned ones over twenty-five in the whole damned state. Well, maybe some of those religious freaks type…”
Lizzie reached for her empty shot glass, “Let’s get you…”
“Another one! That’s what I need. Another drink…”
There it was. That look, like Lizzie had been sucking lemons.
Or pickles. Abby remembered those teen sleepovers when the vestal virgins had watched porn, kissed one another, and practiced blow jobs on Vlasic pickles. If Miss Patsy ever knew what they had done to those poor pickles… Then again, knowing Miss Patsy, she knew just what teenage girls did with extra-large pickles.
Abby Jean broke out in another round of laughter until she was afraid she might pee her panties. Then she remembered that she had not worn any with this outfit. It was another of her silent rebellions. But whenever she needed courage, she always went commando. It gave her this ridiculous sense of power. Like she was pulling some joke on the whole damned world. After all, who would believe that one of Sebida’s vestal virgins was not wearing underwear?
“I think you’ve had more than enough, Abby Jean.”
“Lizzie, leave her alone.” It seemed strange to hear Mercedes Reba Reynolds coming to her defense. Abby looked at the girl. Both of them. Wait, the world was not ready for two Mercies.
The song switched over. Mercy even smiled at her as she wrapped her arm around Abby’s waist. Shit, she was so drunk that smile looked genuine. Abby leaned against her friends, singing along to the song with every step… “Here’s to finding a good man. Here’s to the liars and the cheaters…”
They shoved her into the booth between them. Mercy’s older sister was shaking her head. The girl had left town by the time that Miss Myrtle had, in her opinion, tamed Abby Jean enough not to bring shame to the Monroe name and loosened those apron strings. Some woman might be some hotshot lawyer type, but she ended up pregnant and back in this town. Just like all the rest. What right did Laura Reynolds have to look down her nose at her?
Except… Miss Myrtle was dead. The only real family she had. She had wasted five years of her life on a man that she never really loved. Who lied and cheated on her. Then blamed her for it all. Called her a prude. And any day now, she would be unemployed and homeless. “My give a damn’s busted,” just about summed it all up. Hell, maybe she should lift her skirt, bend over, and tell this whole damned town to kiss her…
Abby shoved Mercy off the bench and grabbed the end of the table as she started to sway to her song. The one she had been waiting for. “Don’t matter how you feel. It only matters how you look. Go and fix your make-up girl, it’s just a breakup. Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady ’cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together even when you fall apart. But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart.”
She did not give a damn anymore what any of these people thought. She had had enough of the lies and the secrets. Of the small minds and prejudices that had destroyed her grandmother’s life. She knew it would hers too. And for what? The only reason she stayed was… But he would never… What did it matter?
A strong arm wrapped about her waist. Her hand tried to push the arm away. Some handsy asshole was the last thing she needed right now. Couldn’t a girl just get drunk and drown her sorrows without some asshole trying to…
Abby turned, and every thought except one fled her mind. Even behind that mask, she’d know this man anywhere. That face starred in her dreams since she was six years old and just a scared little girl. “Andrew Jackson Greywolf. I love you…” And the world went black. Because dreams always came to an end. Especially for ‘mistakes’ like her.