When the Devil Wants In(2)

By: Cate Ashwood

As John stepped off the front porch, he had to pull at his T-shirt, feeling it cling in the hot, heavy air. March in South Georgia was always a strange month with plenty of rain and plenty of heat, but this year felt even more oppressive than usual. He put their picnic into the back of the truck before getting the passenger door for Chloe. She didn’t really like it when he did things like that, felt like he was—what was it she said? Infantilizing her? Denying her equality? He couldn’t remember, but he did it anyway, at least when his mother might be watching out the back window.

“You are such a momma’s boy, John Turner,” Chloe said as she climbed into the truck. She glanced over his shoulder and probably caught his mother watching. “If you were my son, I’d tell you to make your own damn lunch.”

John leaned in and pecked her on the cheek, mostly for show, and they both knew it. “If I were your son, this would be awkward.”

He closed the door and went around to his side. As he got behind the wheel, Chloe said, “If you were my son, this wouldn’t be necessary.”

“True.” John loved his family dearly, and they loved him; he really believed that with all his heart. At the same time, though, he had no desire to be one more thing for his mother to weep and pray over. It was bad enough when his sister, Melonie, had come home knocked up, not wanting to tell them who the father was. They’d nearly disowned her. But a gay son? He’d be kicked out of the family for sure. Or at least be on every prayer list in the county, whispered about behind his back. Hell, half of those good ol’ boys who sat beside his mother at church would just as soon beat the shit out of him as look at him if they knew. And he called a few of them his friends, worked with them on the road crew. Just, no. Not happening.

“How’s your sister doing?” Chloe asked from beside him, changing the subject.

The road narrowed down to one lane as he drove farther from home. “Still married to the shitbag.” John wasn’t a fan of his brother-in-law. Not only was the guy a total alcoholic, he was a total asshole. John was fairly sure he’d started beating his sister, but he had no way of proving it. “I was thinking I might tie him to my tailgate and take him for a jog next time Mel tells me she tripped and hit her face on a door.”

Chloe made an annoyed sound and reached into her purse for a smoke. “I’m still not clear on why she married him to begin with. Or, hell, why she ever even looked at him, for that matter.”

John wasn’t so sure himself. Yeah, she’d been pregnant, and yes, their parents were pretty insistent about not wanting her to be a single mother. Still, though. There were worse things than raising a kid on your own. Much worse. “I think maybe she was just hoping to find someone to love her, make her think she could be something… more than whatever she thought she was before.” That was his best guess, anyway.

“Someone should’ve told her she’d find the more inside herself. Probably sometime after high school.”

“We should all be told that,” John said as he turned onto the dirt road out of town. He steered around the potholes as best he could, but it was damn near impossible in a few spots. “At least she graduated.” She’d been eight months pregnant and married to a pile of shit, but she’d done it. That alone said something about her. “And I did get the prettiest niece in the world out of the deal, so there’s that.”

Chloe laughed and gave him a nudge, passing him her cigarette. “You’re such a sucker for that kid. You’re never gonna save up enough to move to… wherever the hell you plan to move, if you keep spoiling her.”

John took a long drag. He didn’t smoke very often, but he thoroughly enjoyed it when he did. “Someone’s got to. Mel can’t afford it since Shitbag drinks his paycheck away.”

“Maybe your parents should since—” Chloe seemed to rethink whatever she was about to say. “Since they’re the grandparents and all.”

“Did you draw blood when you bit your tongue just now?”

“Only a little.” She shifted in the seat, took her seat belt off, and started to wiggle out of her jeans.

John wasn’t too surprised, but she usually waited until they got where they were going before she changed her clothes. “I’m sorry, did you want to share the same space as my windshield this afternoon?”

“Don’t be such a baby,” she said, grunting as she tried to get her skinny jeans down off her ankles. “It’s too damn hot for these pants, but your mother would start holy rollin’ or somethin’ if I showed up in these.” She held up a tiny pair of shorts that looked more like a belt than anything else.