“Can I buy you a drink?
New voice, same slick southern drawl. Charlie looked up from her soda, finding herself staring into a pair of pretty blue eyes. The rest of the man was just as good looking, although not in a pretty way. But regardless, Charlie couldn’t ignore that he was the fifth man with this same line. And just like the others he neglected to pay much attention.
Raising the full glass of soda, Charlie smiled. “Cute cowboy, but you forgot to call me darlin.”
“Damn, does that mean you’re not impressed?” Rather then being dejected, the man returned her smile, even taking the seat next to her. “Or maybe it just means I’m not feeding you a line.”
“And yet it’s so similar to the lines your buddies gave me.”
The man turned to look at the group Charlie pointed to. Far from being ashamed at being caught staring, the group of men waved with big smiles on their faces. Three of the men had been guilty of approaching Charlie with the line. But they had been and still seemed friendly, so Charlie waved back at them. With a laugh the man next to her waved as well before turning back to her.
“Aw, the boys don’t mean no harm darlin.” The man said, “And neither do I.”
“How do I know that? You’re a total stranger to me.”
Extending his hand, the man smiled again, revealing a dimple. “Where are my manners? Flint Montgomery ma’am.”
Charlie paused, looking down at the hand outstretched toward her. She felt torn. It was nice to talk to a good looking man, and in any normal situation she would enjoy a bit of flirting. But her sister’s constant nagging rang in her head. They were supposed to keep a low profile while staying with their mother. They needed to set a good example for Teresa and Tara. Even coming to the small town’s bar had sent Violet into an angry tantrum.
Yet Charlie was finally free. For once since she was sixteen years old, she didn’t have to look over her shoulder to see who was watching. And it had been Tara and Teresa that had convince her to get away for awhile. She was always taking care of everyone, they said, that she should spend the night out. Enjoy herself.
Looking back up to those blue eyes, Charlie put a hand on her stomach. The small bump, like so many parts of her life, reminded her of why she was in the small town to begin with. She wanted her life back. She was going to take her life back. No more listening to everyone else tell her how to live. Starting now.
“I’m Charlie.” She replied shaking his hand.
“Charlie huh? Odd name for a pretty lady.”
“Just means my mom knew I was gonna be a tough tomboy.”
Flint laughed. “ I bet you are darlin. You new in town?”
“What makes you think that?” Charlie asked, then took a sip of her coke.
“Darlin, I was born and raised in this town. It’d be pretty impossible for me to not know your pretty self unless you’re new.”
“Still trying out those smooth lines Flint?” Charlie snorted, still sipping on her coke as Flint watched her. While she enjoyed his company, it was time to stop teasing him. Likely he was looking to take her to bed, and that wasn’t happening. “You really can stop. They don’t work.”
“Yeah, I’m tired of smooth talkin’ men.”
Flint clicked his tongue, taking a drink from his beer. “That’s a damn shame darlin. I’m a smooth talker by nature, but I’ll try to tone it down for you.”
Charlie blinked a few times and took a long sip of her soda, stopping only when there was nothing left. She didn’t expect him to stay around when she squashed his flirting. “You still want to talk with me?”
“Well yeah.” Flint said with a shrug. “As long as you don’t mind the company.”
Who was this guy? Charlie couldn’t recall ever meeting a man so laid back after being shot down. Was this how men acted outside the Community? At least in this little town it seemed like it. Which made her sad. This was what she’d been missing for so long. This was the kind of thing she’d been robbed of, among so many other parts.
Shaking her head to clear those thoughts, Charlie gave Flint a small smile “You know, I’d really like the company.”
Returning her smile, Flint pointed to her glass which was now empty. “Why don’t you let me get ya new one?”
“Ok, whatcha want?” Flint asked as he picked up her glass, his gaze dropping to the small bump in her stomach.
Charlie rested her hand again on her stomach. “Just a coke, please.”
With a nod, Flint walked over to the bar. Along the way he was stopped by several people and spoke for a few moments. Men and women alike called out to him. It made her question why he was putting so much so much time and energy into her. Sure, she was new,someone he didn’t know. But she wasn’t the prettiest woman in here, and she wasn’t the only one who obviously thought he was good looking. They didn’t have the problems she did and would probably be more receptive to his attention. Yet he kept talking to her, and it was baffling.When a glass landed in front of her Charlie nearly jumped.
“Must be some pretty heavy thought to make you frown like that.” Flint said, taking his seat once more.
“Just thinking about the past.” Charlie replied, drinking some of the coke. Smiling to distract him she changed topics. “What were you gonna do if I asked for liquor?”
“Now darlin, it ain’t my place to judge…”
“But you would’ve.” Charlie finished. At least he had the decency to look slightly guilty.
Soon enough, he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Don’t tell my mama, cuz she’d kill me for jumpin’ to conclusions. But you’re a petite thing and that bump is already a bit obvious.”
“Fair enough.” Charlie agreed, pausing for a bit. “I’m pregnant. And I wouldn’t ask for liquor.”
“Good to know darlin.”
Flint stood suddenly, extending his hand to Charlie again as a new song came over the speakers. It was obvious when he pointed to the dance floor what he expected. But Charlie hesitated. Even as other couples moved to the small dance floor, Charlie just kept looking between it and Flint’s hand.
“Calm down darlin, it’s just a dance.”
Just a dance. It was just a dance. It didn’t have to mean anything. But that wasn’t what made her hesitate. Taking a deep breath Charlie again thought about taking back her life, and then took his hand and stood. Together they moved to the dance floor and began a quick two step. It had to become abundantly clear why she hesitated the moment she began to flounder. She couldn’t dance worth a crap. As they fell out of step several times, Charlie felt heat bloom across her cheeks. But when she tried to pull away Flint’s grip tightened.
“Where ya goin darlin?” Flint asked, keeping her with him.
“Isn’t it obvious? Come on Flint I don’t want to make an ass of myself.”
“You ain’t makin’ an ass of yourself.” When Charlie’s face remained scrunched up Flint gave her a reassuring smile. “ Have you ever done a two step?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
When they danced close to an attractive, middle aged couple, Flint called out. “Hey Lou, how’s Charlie doin’ for her first two step?”
The older man with a thick mustache smiled wide at Charlie. “You’re doin’ great kiddo.”
The woman in his arms also smiled. “You’re doin’ better than I did honey. I fell right on my face the first time Lou took me dancin’.”
Charlie gave a small smile and nodded. This town had to be nicest place she’d ever lived. Certainly more welcoming than the Community had ever been. Flint continued to twirl with her around the floor, making no comment the many times she stepped on his foot or fell out of step. After a few more turns Charlie found herself relaxing. She wasn’t improving but that didn’t seem to bother Flint. He even began to sing a little off key along with the song Charlie couldn’t help but laugh.
Honestly, Charlie couldn’t remember the last time she had had such a good time. The previous few months seemed to melt away the more she danced. Instead of the worry and caution that hung over her, Charlie felt freedom. Not long after this all began Charlie started to feel a bit light headed. She pulled away from Flint, returning to the table and sitting down, laughing the entire time.
When Flint followed her Charlie held up her hands. “You’ve gotta give me a minute!”
“Alright, but just a minute.” Flint agreed, taking his seat again and a long sip of his beer. “Admit it you’re havin’ fun darlin’.”
“Yeah Flint, I’m having fun.”
“See? I’m a good friend to have around.”
“You are. And that’s sure something I need.” Charlie said, watching him carefully as she thought about the past, the dance, and the laughter.
“What’s that darlin?” Flint asked, distracted from looking back at the dance floor.
Smiling and feeling her confidence boosted, Charlie leaned her elbows on the table. “Flint, will you be my friend?”
That got Flint’s attention. The man turned to look at her directly, remaining quiet for the first time since they began talking. Charlie waited, the smile still on her face. His blue eyes flicked over her, the silence growing. Finally he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
When he opened his eyes again, another bright smile graced his face. “I’d love to be your friend Charlie.”
“Why thank you Flint.” She replied, putting on an exaggerated twang.
“Stop teasin me darlin’.” Flint laughed, standing up once more. “And come dance again.”
Taking out her phone, Charlie groaned. It was well past when she’d told her family to expect her home. Knowing her mother she was probably terrified something had happened to Charlie. The seven voicemails between her mother and sister confirmed this. Charlie understood the concern, but she could’ve lived without it as well. God knew Violet was likely going to be angry with Charlie as well.
“I need to go.” Charlie told Flint, feeling bad about the frown on his face. “I told my family I was only going to be out for a few hours.”
Flint nodded, smiling again. “Real shame darlin’, you were gettin’ good at dancin’. But at least let me drop you off.”
“Thanks but I took our only car.” Charlie said, standing up and grabbing her coat.
Flint helped her into it and then grabbed his own. “At least let me walk you to your car.”
It wasn’t a question, so Charlie gave no answer. Instead she merely turned and walked back out of the little bar, waving at the people who called out goodbyes. Charlie didn’t know a single one of them, and it struck her once more how different this town was from her previous home. Rather than the icy stares the Community gave outsiders, Meadowood seemed to only curiously stare. A few made not so subtle glances at her stomach, but that was about it. As she continued on she felt Flint’s hand come to rest on her lower back. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, like she normally did, Charlie just felt…relaxed.
Astonishing. Charlie hadn’t felt relaxed since she became pregnant. A few hours with this man and Charlie already liked his presence. Maybe she had been right to sneak away for a bit. Sadly, her mother’s car parked directly outside the bar signaled the end of her little adventure. When they stood beside the car they both remained silent, letting a few more minutes pass. Finally, Charlie knew she really had to go.
Turning around to face Flint, Charlie gave him a small smile. “Thanks for the drinks, and for the company.”
“Anytime Darlin.” Flint replied and although she couldn’t really see him in the darkness, she knew he was smiling back. “You gonna make it home ok this late at night.”
“Yeah, I’ll be alright.”
Charlie couldn’t hold back her snort. “Yes I’m sure, I’ve only drank coke all night remember?”
“Some of these roads can be dangerous even when you’re sober Charlie.”
“Yeah? Ok, how about I take your number and I’ll call you when I get home?”
Flint took a step closer, close enough for Charlie to see his smile grow. “That would make me feel a lot better. After all I don’t want my new…friend to get hurt.”
“Ok, give me your phone.”
When Flint handed it over Charlie put in her name nad number. Then she made a quick call to her own phone so she had his number as well. She handed the phone back and looked at Flint. He stood there with his arms folded over his chest, his phone tucked back into his pocket. Charlie wished she could stick around, continue dancing and talking with him. But she knew the hell she was already going to face, and prolonging it was only going to make it worse.
“Bye Flint.” Charlie said as she got into the car.
“Bye Charlie, drive safely.”
As Charlie started the car and pulled back from the curb she couldn’t keep the smile off her face. Through the old paved roads that eventually gave way to gravel, the smile never left her face. For the first time since she arrived nearly two weeks ago, it felt like it was worth it. Fleeing, working with the police, and trying to settle her family down had left her doubting every decision she made. But tonight had erased that feeling. At least for a few hours. Hell, she’d even enjoyed dancing, as bad as she’d been at it. Above all, she had enjoyed meeting Flint. Even as she pulled into the driveway to her mother’s house, that smile couldn’t be wiped away.
Walking up to the door after parking the car, Charlie could see a light on in the kitchen. She tried to open the door as quietly as possible. Although she doubted she was going to be lucky enough to only face her mother, Tara, Teresa and Teresa’s son Henry were likely to be asleep. Her mother Laurie would maybe scold her a little, but it was going to be nothing compared to Charlie’s older sister Violet. Should she be up as well, Violet would let that shrill voice ring in Charlie’s ears.
“Where have you been Charlotte?”
Well, so much for hoping Violet was asleep. Continuing into the kitchen Charlie found both her sister and mother gathered around the dining table. Charlie ignored Violet. Instead she walked to their mother and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Laurie took her daughter’s hands in her aged ones.
“We were getting worried. You didn’t answer your phone.”
“I’m sorry mom, I didn’t men to worry you.” Charlie said, guilt eating at her from her mother’s worried expression. “I went to the Tumbleweed.”
“That bar? Are you out of your mind Charlotte?” Violet continued to shrill, her eagle eyes locked on Charlie.
“I just had some soda Violet, relax. I just wanted to enjoy some time outside the house.”
Violet slapped her palm on the table, eliciting a shush motion from their mother. “You are a married, pregnant woman. You shouldn’t go to such places.”
Charlie felt all those relaxed vibes slipping away. “Shut up Violet.”
“How dare yo-…”
“I said shut up!” Charlie yelled, mentalling cursing as she looked over to the hallway. When no noise came from the direction of the girl’s room, Charlie continued in a lower voice. “I am pregnant. But I am NOT married. Not according to the law, which says it’s illegal to do what he did, and not according to me. We left to get away from that.”
“We left because Asher was being cruel and made some bad decisions. We’re here for a break not to leave him.”
“You may be here for a break. You may be his wife. But that is not my reason, that is not Tara’s reason, and that is not Teresa’s reason. We’re here because we are finally free.” Charlie replied, releasing her mother’s hand.
“Charlotte you’re such a dumb bitc-..”
“Stop.” Laurie cut in, holding up her hands. “We’re not about to start saying hateful things. You girls are family and that ain’t what family does. Now it’s late, and those kids are asleep and since we’re home now it’s time to go to bed.”
Regardless of the their age, both girls stopped at their mother’s request. Laurie was a wisp of a woman, but she was a little general. Charlie moved first, kissing her mother’s cheek and bidding them goodnight. Without pausing Charlie walked down the hallway from the kitchen to her room. Briefly, she opened the door to the twins room, finding both girls asleep. In a bassinet close to Teresa’s bed was Henry, sound asleep and oblivious to any of the turmoil. After shutting their door Charlie continued down the hall to her own room.
When the door was shut Charlie collapsed to the ground against it. Damn it, Violet managed to suck every bit of happiness from her. In minutes her sister made Charlie as tense as the night they’d first arrived in town. She smacked her head against the door as her phone began to chime. Pulling it from her pocket, she looked at the name.
Pushing the accept button, Charlie brought the phone against her ear. “Hey Flint.”
“Hey darlin’.” His voice sounded scratchy, yet there were no other sounds in the background. “I wasn’t sure if you’d made it home yet, but I figured I’d check.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I got home a few minutes ago but I started talking to my family.”
“It’s fine darlin’, I’m glad you got home ok.”
Charlie pushed herself off the door to walk over to her dresser and get her night shirt. “Did you make it home ok?”
She heard his laugh through the line. “Yeah, I left shortly after you.”
“I’m surprised Flint.” Charlie said as she pulled out her oversized shirt.
Charlie snorted as she began to undress. “Come on, I figured you’d stay with your buddies, maybe teach another girl how to dance.”
“No one there was as much fun as you Charlie.”
That made a fluttering feeling start in her stomach. Charlie was going to chalk it up as the baby moving since anything else was not an appropriate feeling to have toward a friend. Charlie attempted to wiggle out of her shirt without dislodging the phone. She failed when the phone dropped onto a the floor. Throwing the shirt off and changing into her night shirt Charlie reached down.
When she had the phone back up she could hear Flint calling her name twice. “ Sorry, sorry, the phone fell while I was changing.”
“Gettin’ ready for bed?”
“Yeah, I’m beat and I’ve got work in the morning.” Charlie said climbing into her bed.
“Mmm.” Flint grumbled, followed by what Charlie could only assume was a chuckle. “So, whatcha wearing?”
Charlie let loose a loud laugh, covering her mouth to prevent her family from hearing. “Not even going there friend.”
“Aw come on, it’s a friendly question.”
“Good night Flint.”
“Ugh, spoil sport.” Flint replied with good humor. “Goodnight Charlie, I’m glad we met.”
“Me too.” With that, Charlie hit the end button.