Losing Brave - Bonus Chapter

 

 

September 20, 2014

 

“I cannot believe I’ve let you talk me into this.”

Dylan stood in front of the full-length mirror with a huge scowl on her face, but it wasn’t nearly as massive as the blue, ruffled dress that Mama had corralled her into less than ten minutes before.

Payton hid a laugh behind her hands and tried to force herself to find some compassion for her sister. It was a difficult job.

“A hoop skirt? Seriously?” Dylan groaned and rolled her eyes into her lids, which were covered in more shadow than she’d worn all year. Combined.

Mama ran her hand over the gargantuan skirt to loosen some of the wrinkles that hadn’t yet released since she pulled it out of the back of her extra closet. “It’s a Gone With the Wind-themed party, Dylan. Everyone will be wearing something similar.”

“Not if they have any sense they won’t,” Payton said.

Nana sat back in the desk chair and fanned herself with one of the index cards Payton used to quiz herself on Spanish terms. “Hoop skirts made a comeback and were popular formal attire in the South in the early 80s.”

Dylan removed her focus from the dress and looked at Nana through the mirror. “So were big hair-do’s but that didn’t make them palatable.”

Nana sucked in a bit of air as if she were going back in time to a more pleasant era. “The bigger the hair-“

“The closer to God,” Dylan and Payton completed the sentence.

Any time the humid, Mississippi air caused the girl’s hair to frizz, Nana tried to make it more tolerable by repeating the saying. She’d said it so much that Payton almost started to buy it. But given the way so many women in town with the most prominent hair-do’s behaved, she didn’t figure they were actually that close to God at all.

She looked over at the alarm clock and felt her body cringe. “He’s almost an hour late.”

“Maybe he came to his senses and decided to stay home.” Dylan’s voice held far too much sincerity than made Payton comfortable. She knew her sister well. If Dylan had her way, she’d cancel and leave Joshua high and dry. Unless of course, he’d done it to her first.

Mama stood back and inspected the mass of satin. “You know what would make this even better?”

            Dylan thrust her hands onto her hips. “A bonfire, with this hideous thing as the kindling?”

“No. A parasol.“

“Don’t you dare,” Dylan warned.

Mama turned to walk toward the hallway. “I think I’ve got one in the-“

“Mama, don’t you dare.”

“No,” Payton laughed. “Please. Dare. It would be amazing.”

Mama stopped her trek towards the stairs, pivoted back to Dylan and started giggling. “You do look pitiful.”

In a huff, Dylan sat onto the bed, causing the front of the dress to rise into the air like a hot air balloon, revealing the gym shorts she was wearing underneath and hiding her face, which Payton had no doubt was beet red.

    Payton, on the other hand, relished the moment. It couldn’t be happening to a more appropriate person. With as much grief as Dylan gave her for the more stylish clothes she’d started wearing over the previous year, Dylan deserved all the misery she could get. And while Payton wasn’t opposed to doling out the torment, the dress was doing it enough on its own.

“It’s all about the attitude,” Nana purred. “The proper disposition can make anything grand. Even an awful hoop skirt.”

Dylan fell onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. “So we’re finally all agreeing that this is a nightmare.”

“Yes,” the ladies agreed.

The doorbell rang.

“Payton, will you get that?” Mama asked. “We want Dylan to make a grand entrance.”

Payton looked over to the bed at a sprawled out, and most un-ladylike, Dylan, and sprung to her feet.

“Have Joshua wait in the living room. We’ll bring her down when she’s presentable.”

“Then he’ll be waiting a while.” Payton rushed out of the room and practically sprinted down the two flights of stairs and onto the landing. Greeting Joshua at the door would give her a little bit of time to chat with him, and maybe get some insight as to why he invited Dylan to the dance.

Although she kept it to herself, she’d had a bit of a crush on Joshua since the eighth grade, so when Dylan announced that he’d asked her to the freshman formal, Payton got a little jealous. Not that she wanted to go to the ridiculous dance, but she would’ve. If he’d asked.

She placed her hand on the door, took a deep breath and opened it, but instead of finding Joshua in all of his Rhett Butler glory, it was Cole, and Payton’s mood immediately tanked.

“I’ve got the flowers for the Rider funeral.”

“Come on in.” She left him at the open door and walked to the bottom step. “Dylan, it’s for you!”

“I’m not here for Dylan. I’m here to deliver the flowers.”

            “Sure you are.” Payton spun around on the tips of her toes and sat down a few steps from the landing so that she could peer down at him. “Be glad you two aren’t dating anymore. You’d be stuck going to this stupid dance.”

            His eyebrows arched. “Stupid? Isn’t this thing right up your alley?”

            “Cole, alleys and I don’t mix. From what I hear, that’s more you and Dylan’s style.”

For almost a year she’d heard Dylan talk endlessly about how she liked to hang out in the alley behind his mama’s flower shop and wait for him to get off work so that they could sit out there in the back of his truck to talk and make-out. Payton always assumed they did more making out than talking, but Dylan denied it.

            “I figured they’d be gone by now.”

            “He’s an hour late. I think he stood her up.”

            “Think or hope?” he asked, apparently aware of her not-as-secret-as-she-thought, crush.

            “Shut up.”

            The rustle of satin scraping against the white, wainscot walls brought Cole several steps closer. Payton’s first instinct was to follow his gaze, but she fought the impulse and kept her eyes on him. She wanted to see his reaction when he got a glimpse of Dylan’s get-up.

            And she wasn’t disappointed. He slapped his hands over his gaping mouth, threw his head back and laughed so hard that Payton thought he might fall over.

            “What in God’s name is that?” he wailed, once he finally gained some composure.

            Payton looked up the stairs in time to see Dylan scrunch the plastic, hoop frame against her legs so she could walk down the stairs. “It’s the worst thing in the world.”

            “Yes,” he nodded. “It is. And speaking of the world, the bottom of that thing does look sort of like a globe. Or at least half of it.”

            She made it to the bottom step and sat down, again causing the dress to rise and slap her in the face.

            Cole eyed the gym short, high-heel combination and briefly laid his hand on his heart as he chuckled. “Wow. You are something.”

            “You could say that,” Payton agreed, although they meant it in different ways. He obviously adored Dylan’s ridiculousness. Payton was embarrassed by it.

            Dylan corralled the dress enough to press the frame onto her knees with her elbows to keep it from springing back into her face. “You don’t happen to have an old suit do you?”

            “No. Why?” he asked.

            “I think I’ve been stood up. I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.”

            Cole’s eyes brightened. “You- you want me to take you?”

            Dylan looked down at the dress and sighed. The distress on her face pierced Payton’s heart with a tinge of pain. The show was over and Dylan was officially mortified. The combination of Joshua Toobin and the ridiculous dress had brought her to a low point.

            “I mean, I would,” he added quickly. “If you needed me to.”

            Payton’s protective and loving instincts kicked in. She reached over and swept her hand across the hairstyle, that she’d so perfectly styled for her sister. “Don’t fret, Dyl. Maybe he’ll still show up.”

            “I don’t want to go anymore anyway. I never did.” She looked up at Cole with a shy smile. “Wanna go get some ice cream or something?”

            “Sure. Are you going to wear that dress?”

            She shrugged and then grinned. “People would stare, that’s for sure.”

            His smile brightened and matched his near sparkling eyes. “Could be fun.”

            Their gaze stayed fixed on each other. Their affection for one another still apparent.

            Payton was glad that she couldn’t see Mama. Due to the size of the dress, she couldn’t fit down the stairs and was left to stand a few rows back with her worst nightmare coming true. The date with Joshua, which was meant to break the connection between Dylan and Cole, only seemed to be making it stronger.

            Dylan sucked in a deep breath, seemed to muster up all the fortitude she could, and stood, causing the dress to expand exponentially and whack Payton across the side of the head. “I’ll go change clothes.”

            She leaned over, gripped the bottom of the frame and lifted the entire thing over her waist like an inside out umbrella, covering the upper portion of her body, but making it easier for her to manage the stairway.

            The front door flew up.

“Sorry, I’m late!” Joshua stepped inside and looked up at Dylan, but only her shoes, legs and shorts were visible. “Nice outfit.”

“You’re one to talk,” Nana muttered.

Joshua looked like a gentleman right out of the Civil War era. He wore grey trousers and a black cut-away jacket that draped effortlessly over a black vest and perfectly pressed white shirt, but it was the poofy satin piece of fabric he had wrapped around his neck and stuffed into his shirt that made the loudest statement. The softness of the polka-dotted fabric contrasted with his firm jawline and was sure to make every Scarlett O’Hara in the school gymnasium swoon.

            Dylan released the dress from her grip and let it fall back down. Payton was suddenly sitting underneath its canopy and momentarily lost her view of the Southern lad.

            “My dad’s car wouldn’t start so we ended up having to take the hunting truck and then I set your corsage on the top of the truck and forgot about it. We lost it somewhere on the way here and went back to tried to find it.”

            Payton slipped off the step and onto the floor to free herself from the underbelly of the suffocating skirt. “Why didn’t you just go get her another one?”

            “It’s Saturday night. No place was open.” Joshua grabbed a fistful of his hair, turned to Cole and looked at him with feverish eyes. “Can your mama make us up a new corsage real quick?”

            Cole shook his head. “We’re out of flowers.”

            Joshua’s shoulders drooped. His face turned dead-pan. “Out of flowers? What kind of flower shop runs out of flowers?”

            “Our kind.”

            Mama shoved herself between the girls and bounded onto the landing. She walked to Joshua and laid her hand on his shoulder. “It’s fine.” Her voice was soothing, but her eyes cut to Cole with so much hostility he that the glare could’ve turned him to stone. “I’m certain that Jenny could create something.”

            “Well…” Cole shook his head again and pursed his lips. “I’m certain she couldn’t.”

            It was a standoff. There was no way on earth that Cole was going to be any part of creating a corsage for Dylan if it meant that Joshua was the one giving it. Even if it was to a Gone With the Wind gala that would quickly go down in Cornwell High history books as the worst decision ever made by the Freshman Formal Planning Committee.

            “And she’s out making deliveries. She’s the one who dropped me off,” Cole added.

            Mama’s nostrils flared. She raised her chin and spun to face Joshua fully. “Dylan doesn’t need a corsage, Joshua, so don’t you worry for a second.”

            “Why don’t we just forget it,” Dylan suggested. “I mean, it’s a little late to head out, don’t ya think?”

            Joshua tugged on his earlobe, and looked up at Dylan with mischievous eyes that managed to cause Payton’s heart to flutter. “Oh, come on. Where’s the fun in that.”

            “The fun left as soon as I slipped on this dress.”

            “That dress?” He looked it up and down then wiggled his eyebrows. “That dress is spectacular.”

            Cole rolled his eyes over to Payton. His neck was tight and he was biting his bottom lip so hard that Payton expected to see blood burst from the delicate skin in a matter of seconds.

            She shook her head at him. A silent demand to keep his mouth shut, and his fisted up hands to himself.

            “You really think so?” Dylan softened.

            “No he doesn't really think so,” Cole spat, Payton’s demand, failing.

            Joshua took a step in Dylan’s direction. “Sure I do. I mean, it’s completely appropriate for the theme. Stupid as it is.”

            “That’s exactly what I told her.” Mama slipped her arm through his and led him to the steps. “Now, let’s get some pictures.”

            Dylan’s face turned ghost white. “Mama, please don’t.”

            “We have to. It’s your first date.”

            It was the slap heard ‘round the stairwell and completely meant for Cole’s ears. He and Dylan had been on numerous dates, Mama just wouldn’t classify them as such. If she did, it would mean acknowledging their relationship.

            Daddy and Brody rounded the corner from the kitchen and stopped dead in their tracks. Daddy was speechless and Brody couldn’t utter a word due to the fried-chicken leg hanging from his mouth.

            “Well…” Daddy managed. “That’s… something.”

            “You know what you need,” Brody asked with a chunk of chicken still hiding behind his cheek. “One of those fancy umbrellas with the ruffles.”

            “Let’s go.” Dylan grabbed Joshua by the elbow and pulled him to the door bringing the momentary photo op to an end.

            Payton and the others followed Dylan and Joshua out on the lawn and the sudden, yet quiet gasps from the group confirmed that everyone instantly noticed the same predicament.

            There was no way that Joshua’s daddy, Joshua, Dylan and her gargantuan dress were going to fit in the truck cab.

            Nana nodded as if making a realization that had been haunting her for decades. “So this is why they took wagons everywhere.” She looked over at Cole and cocked an eyebrow. “Plenty ‘o room for the dresses.”

            Joshua’s Daddy walked around the truck, eyed the dress and looked back at the truck. Payton could almost see his mind trying to figure out just the right angels necessary to make everyone fit. “Joshua, you go ahead and slide into the middle.”

            Joshua did as told and slipped across the slick, leather seat.

            “Okay, now Dylan, you... why don’t you… um… just sort of… pile in.”

            Dylan gathered up as much dress as possible as backed into the cab. Once inside, everyone let out a sigh of relief.

            The dress exploded. Every gasped. The satin fabric almost completely covered the dashboard and blocked the windshield.

            Mr. Toobin grabbed her by the arm and lightly pulled her back out of the cab.

“Let’s just do this.” He led her around the back of the truck, lowered the tailgate, opened the lofted truck bed cover and waved his arm in an invitation for her to hoist herself into the rusted out truck bed that had probably hosted dozens of slaughtered deer through the years.

            “You want me to climb inside?” Dylan sputtered. “In this dress?”

            “You could always take the hearse,” Brody yelled.

            Payton looked over at him and scowled. “That is literally the only thing that would make this worse.” She looked back at her sister and found her staring back with humiliation etched on her face.

            “You know what,” Payton said, as she walked down the yard. “Let’s just call this whole thing off. It’s a stupid dance.”

            “No. I’m fine.” Dylan sucked in air, possibly trying to breath in every once of pride that had oozed out of her body. She collected her dress around her thighs, straightened her back, set her shoulders and raised her chin.

            “Dyl-“

            “Payton. Just let me get this over with.”

            They shared a long, loving glance and then Dylan climbed into the back of the truck bed and let the dress loose so it could claim its territory.

            Payton backed away from the car and watched Joshua, waiting for him to climb out of the cab and join her in the back, but he didn’t. His butt stayed firmly planted on the comfortable leather seat.

            She felt any adoration or attraction she felt for him roll out of her body like the high tides approached land every night. And when he closed his car door with a slam, her heart clinched up tight.

            “And I’m the one your mother is so afraid of,” Cole said, as he passed Payton and approached the truck bed. “Dylan, let’s get you out of here. Let’s-“

            “Cole. Please.” Dylan lowered her eyes to the dirty floor and shook her head.

            Cole sucked in a breath, turned and walked down the road with his hands jammed into his front jeans pockets and his shoulders hunched forward. He seemed to drag defeat and loss behind.

 Mr. Toobin closed the tailgate but left the cover door hinged open. Dylan didn’t raise her line of site as the truck made it’s way out of the driveway and down the street.

            Nana strolled up and took Payton’s smooth hand, in her aged one. “Even if I live to be a hundred and five, I won’t forget the day that boy brought such humiliation on our Dylan.”

            “Me either, Nana.” She hugged her grandmother but watched over Nana’s shoulder as a broken Cole made his way towards home. “I promise to loathe him for all of eternity.”

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