Tolly could speak another word, Nathan propelled her in front of him and drove
her through the crowd like she was a trolling motor on a bass boat.
Once on the
front porch, she spoke the first words she’d said to him in over a
decade—thirteen years to be exact, almost to the day.
let me go!”
And for the
first time in as many years, he answered her. “Townshend, you are coming with
Townshend. She’d almost forgotten that he used to call
her by her real name, not the baby name that four-year-old Harris had
christened her with because he couldn’t say Townshend. No one, not even
teachers, had ever called her anything but Tolly—no one but Nathan. He had
called her that because that was how she’d introduced herself that night so
long ago when she’d wanted to be daring and do something unexpected, instead of
being the eternal good girl.
you think you’re taking me?” she demanded.
“I don’t think anything. I know we’re going to sit in my truck and have a little chat.” He
pulled her down the steps, none too slow and none too gently. She stumbled and
he caught her.
Stilettos here,” she said through gritted teeth.
teach you to wear shoes that won’t take you where you need to go.”
“I don’t need to go anywhere with you.”
dead in the middle of the sidewalk. “The day is done when I care what you need.
What you are going to do is march yourself over to my pickup truck and climb
in. I’ve got some things to say to you.” He pointed down the block to where his
big black truck was parked.
finally, after all this time. She had half expected this when he had first
moved back here to replace the recently fired Merritt High head football coach.
But he’d remained silent and she’d relaxed—apparently too soon.
“My car is
closer,” she offered.
“So it is.”
He made to move her toward his truck, but she planted her feet.
refuse. A carload of Methodists had just pulled up and were unloading casserole
dishes. Dr. Carlyle was emerging from the house. They would save her, even
though she was Episcopalian. She was sure of it.
Nathan said. It was only then that she noticed just how far beyond angry he
was—he was shaking livid. “Get your butt down that street and into my truck or
I will make a scene that will get me fired and land us both in jail. I swear I
will do it.”
believed him. And a scene was the last thing she wanted. Airing her dirty linen
in public—especially this dirty linen—would be the worst thing in Bad City. If
the people of Merritt found out what she’d done, what she had cost their
hometown hero, life here would be over.
But why the
confrontation now? Until today, he’d seemed as eager as she to keep their past
a secret. And why was he, all of a sudden, so mad? He’d been mad thirteen years
ago, sure. But since, there had only been cold distance. Maybe it was the ham
she’d brought that set him off. Maybe he thought pot roast was a more
appropriate bereavement food. That made as much sense as anything.
She let him
guide her down the street. He slowed down, though whether it was in deference
to her high heels or because of his bad knee, she couldn’t say.
jerked the truck door open, picked up a playbook and knee brace from the
passenger side, and threw them behind the seat. It was a long way to the
running board and Tolly was not a tall woman. She pulled up her pencil skirt
and started to climb. After she slipped twice, Nathan scowled at her and picked
her up and threw her in. He wasn’t rough about it, but he was resolved.
himself behind the wheel and turned on her all in one furious motion.
hands off my QB-One,” he said.
literally felt her eyes glaze over. She was expecting a rant on her past sins,
but what was this?
have noted her perplexed expression. “Don’t even try that with me, Townshend.
You can pretend to be stupid with everyone else. For reasons I cannot fathom,
even Harris seems to believe you have no knowledge of football terminology. But
just in case you have had a lobotomy that I am unaware of, I will be clear.
Keep your hands off my first string quarterback. Seven. Kirby Lawson. Do not
touch him. Ever again.”
Now she was
really confused. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Nathan.”
touch him. If you still need for somebody to think you’re the cutest little
thing north of a bow on a pig’s tail, go sell yourself somewhere else. I’m sure
you’d have plenty of buyers. But it’s not going to be my quarterback.”
comprehension finally set in, heat and ice formed in her stomach and radiated
outward to her heart, her hands, and finally her tongue. The ice that she
always depended on to keep her emotions in check abandoned her.
“Oh, my God! Kirby is a boy. A child. He works for me. What kind of person do you think I am?”
raised his shaking hands in front of him and closed his eyes. “I think,” he
said between clenched teeth as he gripped the steering wheel. “I think you are
the kind of person who will lie, deceive, and pretend. I think you are the kind
of person who will do whatever it takes to get attention. I think you play with
people. I think they don’t come much lower than you, Townshend Harris Lee, of
the Calhoun County Harrises and Lees.”
She lived by it. “You do know,” she said slowly, giving the ice time to chase
the fire away, “that lie, deceive, and pretend, all mean basically the same thing. You have, therefore, been
redundant in your speech.”
the steering wheel with his fist. “You know plenty about all three.”
“I was not
flirting with that child.”
“I saw you.
I saw you holding his hand, hugging him, and smiling like he was the best thing
on Earth—doing whatever it took to make him think you are the most amazing
thing to ever priss her expensive ass across a courtroom floor.” Nathan’s voice
then turned to a mocking falsetto that might have been funny under different
circumstances. “‘Kirby, honey, call me if you need anything. Or if you just
want to talk. I mean it.’”
anger beneath the frozen calm but Tolly no longer felt it. “What you saw, was
me—an adult woman—offering comfort to a devastated boy who has lost the only
stable person in his life.”
huh? Is that what you are these days?”
very well I was not flirting with Kirby.”
“I am an
authority, maybe even the authority
on what Townshend Lee will and will not do. If there was a journal called Townshend Harris Lee and her Lying Cheating
Scheming Debutante Ways, they would hire me to be the editor. I would be
the keynote speaker at every conference. I would lead panel discussions.”
was sixteen years old.” Tolly’s voice was quiet.
therein was the problem, wasn’t it?”
picked up her bag from the floorboard. “I’m getting out of this truck, Nathan,
and I am going to get in my car and go back to work.” Just to show she was in
control, she removed a lipstick from her purse and took her time reapplying it.
Then she carefully blotted her mouth with a tissue. “You know very well I have
no unsavory intentions toward Kirby. If he thinks well of me, it’s not because
of my scheming ways, as you so eloquently put it. It’s because I’ve been good
to him. It’s because I pay him more than it’s worth to put up my Christmas
decorations and because I invented a dozen odd jobs last spring so he’d have
money for the prom. Your implications are not only insulting but preposterous.
Though I wouldn’t expect you to care about either one. If you ever feel the
need to have a reasonable conversation with me about our past, I will do that.
But I will never again sit still and let you accuse me of something like this.”
from my quarterback. I’ll be watching you.”
acknowledging that Nathan had spoken again, Tolly hiked up her skirt, jumped
down from the monstrous truck, and clicked on her high heels all the way back
to her Mercedes. She never looked back once.