"What do you expect to find here in this one horse town?" What she said stung. It wasn't the words, for they had been passing through my head way before she had even spoke. It was the way she emphasized 'here', like she wasn't a part of 'here', like 'here' was this alien place, like 'here' wasn't where she'd spent her entire life, like 'here' wasn't her legacy.
"My inheritance." I replied simply. I saw her face twist in confusion. I saw her eyes grow, eager, questioning. I smiled and walked toward the house.
"Zachariah Nicklebee, git your ass in this house this instant!" I could almost taste the sweet buttery biscuits from the scent wafting along the sidewalk with her voice.
"See you later Nikki." I waved as I made my way home. When I reached the door, I lowered my head, ready to apologize the first chance I got.
"What the hell do you think you're doin out this late young man," She was wagging her finger in my face, the way she usually did when I pissed her off, "the streetlights are almost on!" I waited for her to look up at me with that what-do-you-have-to-say-for-yourself look.
"Sorry Ma'am. Me an Nikki lost track a time." She smiled, then frowned.
"Don't let it happen again." She grabbed me by the neck playfully and kissed my forehead. I wiped it off instantly.
"Eww mama!" I swatted her hand away.
"Go wash up." I ran up the stairs, ducking her second attempt to kiss me again.
"Zack, what do you mean by inheritance? Did the old hag leave you something in the will?" I laughed out loud.
"I meant figuratively." She groaned.
"You writers." I laughed again.
"Yeah. You writers." She smiled at me. I had always loved her smile. Even when we were kids. I could have had the crappiest day ever, but she would give me one of those smiles, and I would feel like I had my own personal angel.
"Do you miss this place any?" We were in my bedroom, and she was cradling this wooden plank she'd made for me in woodshop class about twelve years ago, it had my name in it.
"What's that?" My mother was pointing at the bundle in my arms with curious eyes.
"Oh. Just somethin I made in woodshop." It was lie, but only a little. I was rewarded with a smile.
"Creative. Just like ya daddy." I grimaced.
"Ma." She only laughed and shooed me away. I noticed the bottle of Johnny Walker sitting next to her cup, but I didn't say a word. I just walked up to my room quietly as possible. Once there, I took the plank out of the bundle and laid it on my bed. It was beautiful. My name was burned into it with a careful script, and there was a quill and inkpot etched into the corner. I smiled, thinking of how much time Nikki had put into it.
"I'm hungry." She grinned.
"Thanks for the update." I nudged her playfully.
"Let's go over to Sam's place." She winced.
"I'd rather not." Her tone was serious and there an edge there that wasn't there before.
"Why?" She looked up, eyes glistening. I felt her start to shake. I wrapped my arm around her waist. When she spoke, it was barely a whisper.
"I haven't set foot there since—well since…" She didn't finish her statement.
I walked out of Sam's place so full I could barely breathe. I dangled my keys in my hand. Smiling at the new power I felt by having a car and being able to drive it. I was leaning over to unlock the door when I heard it.
"Leave me alone!" Someone was screaming from the alley alongside the diner. It would have been inaudible, if it hadn't been for my illegal parking at the back corner of the street.
"I only want a kiss, sugar." Another voice crooned. I heard the other whimper, as if trying to pull away. I walked towards the alley slowly.
"Fuck you!" The other voice screamed loudly.
"Now," I heard the sound of hand smacking flesh, "I'm gonna have to git rough." I heard another smack. "I might even smudge your pretty little make-up." I heard a dull thud, which I imagined was a punch. I rounded the corner sharply, to see Mike Cornwall with his arms forcefully around someone's waist. I instantly realized it was Nikki. I must have stepped on something because a second later, his head snapped sharply in my direction. I suddenly found my voice.
"You got five seconds to run Mike or I'll kick your ass so bad, your great-grandchildren will be feelin it!" He sneered.
"Stay out of this Zack!" I felt two fists forming at my sides.
"I'm warning your ass Mike!" He laughed and I saw Nikki flinch.
"What do you care—" He stopped mid-sentence and smiled, "I forgot this is your little girlfriend." He teased.
I wasn't aware that I had even moved until I saw him lying on the pavement. His nose was bleeding profusely. Nikki was still leaning against the wall in tears. I felt my own face grow hot, but I didn't dare let one tear fall until I had safely drove Nikki back to my house to clean up.
My mom was at work so we walked into the house undisturbed. I led Nikki to my bathroom and walked away. Once inmy room, I shut the door softly and sat on my bed, legs dangling over then end. That's when the tears began to pour. I wasn't crying for myself, I was crying for Nikki and what would have happened if I walked over a minute or two later. Or worse, if I wasn't there at all.
"Could you help me move this, babe?" She sighed.
"When are we going home?" We'd been staying in my old house for three days now and she was getting restless. I didn't speak at first; mostly because I didn't have an answer. I had come back to pack up everything and possibly sell it. My mother's will was read the day we got there so that wasn't the hold up. But there was some reason I couldn't leave. Some unseen force was holding me back.
"Are you tryin to tell me you're gay?" I shook my head.
"No ma'am." Her face was red and bloated from the liquor. Her breathing was heavy. I was looking for some way to get out of the situation, at least until the liquor was out of her system.
"Then what the hell is going on?" Her voice was much too loud, even for screaming. I breathed in deep; half hoping it would make me pass out.
"Its complicated ma." she laughed with no humor.
"Since when is fornication complicated?" I winced at the word 'fornication', it sounded so dirty.
"It's nothin like that ma." My face was red and my voice was strained. I didn't know where to begin. My mother didn't comprehend words like 'transgender' and bisexual. To her, there were the sexual deviants and the normal church going folk.
"Answer me Zachariah!" She stamped her foot and wagged her finger in my face. I bowed my head dejectedly.
"I'm in love with Nikki." I spoke in little more than a sigh.
"Speak up boy! I can't hear you!" She heard me very well, but she was just making sure her ears didn't deceive her.
"I'm in love with Nikki!" I shouted. Her face blanched. She leaned on the stove for support.
"You stay right there, I'm gonna call Reverend Solomon!" I stood up.
"No the hell you aren't." She moved to smack me, but I was quicker, I grabbed her wrist an inch away from my face. "It's none of his business!" She yanked her arm back.
"If your father was alive to see this—" I cut her off.
"He would beat the crap out of me, then smack you around a little once I was out cold." She gasped, but she knew I was dead on. I saw a singular tear roll down her left cheek.
"But he's a boy, Zack, a boy." I knew she was talking about Nikki.
"Yeah, and so am I. It's complicated." She shook her head and wrapped her arms around my waist.
"You can't live here anymore." She whispered into my chest, the strong scent of Johnny Walker on her breath.
"I know." I whispered back.
I was out before she even woke up the next morning.
"I'm not going to live here, Zack. I hate this place." She was pacing back and forth in the kitchen.
"It's not going to be permanent." I walked towards her, careful of the scalding hot cup of coffee in her hand. She set it down.
"I don't care. I won't live here." Her voice faltered. I saw tears weld up in her eyes. "I won't…" I wrapped my arms around her waist and she collapsed into my embrace.
"I need to do this, Nikki," She didn't answer, but I felt her nod into my chest, "I have too many skeletons to leave in these closets." She looked up at me.
"And I have too many, I would rather keep buried." I felt the pain in her voice.
"You can't keep them buried forever." She sniffed.
"I can try." I laughed then. Genuinely laughed.
"Like it or not, this place is a part of you." She laughed now too.
"What? This one horse town?" I scooped her up into my arms and carried her to the bedroom, passing the plank now proudly displayed on the door, 'I love you Zack.' I kissed her softly.
"Yup, this one horse town."