I OFTEN WONDERED if it was a common thing for a girl to fall in love at thirteen. And if it was, does that love last? Or is it just a crush? Can you even truly love that young? These thoughts kept me up at night. Why did I stay up thinking about love? Because Asher Sutton had given me a ride home and, in that moment, stolen my heart for good.
“Dixie Monroe, what are you doing walking out here by yourself? Ain’t safe for a girl. You know better!” That thick, deep voice was Asher Sutton’s. I’d know it anywhere. My cheeks heated and I felt silly. I didn’t want to admit I had missed the bus because Emily James hid my clothes while I was changing after P.E. and I’d been left in the locker room naked. Until Coach Jones came in and found me. She had given me an extra P.E. uniform to wear home. It was too big and smelled funny, but it was something to wear, at least. I didn’t want Asher to see me or smell me like this.
“I, uh, just wanted to walk,” I stammered, hoping he wouldn’t realize I was barefoot. There had been no extra shoes for me to wear. Walking in the grass felt fine on my feet. Luckily, it wasn’t cold or wet outside, or I would’ve been in a fix.
“Well, that was a bad idea. Your daddy would have a fit and will if he catches wind you walked home. It’s too damn long a walk. Get in this truck.”
Asher Sutton’s truck. It was famous. Well, at least the stories about that truck were. All girls in town wanted to experience Asher’s truck. He was known as the best kisser in town and he was by far the most handsome boy I’d ever seen. I knew he’d had sex in that truck with a college girl just last week. And Asher was only sixteen.
I looked down at my shirt that was at least three sizes too big and the shorts that hung past my knees. I had wrapped the drawstring around me then tied it to keep the shorts from falling off. My bare feet were dirty and the pretty pink nail polish on my toes was now chipped. It no longer reminded me of cotton candy.
“It’s okay. He won’t mind. He knows I like to walk for exercise,” I lied. It was the first thing I could think of. Because Asher was right. My daddy was not going to be happy about any of this. Not about the clothes, shoes, or my walking home. I was already preparing myself for him to go up to the school tomorrow and pitch a fit over this. But seeing as I had lost my shoes and clothes, I didn’t see how I was going to hide this from him.
Unfortunately, Asher wasn’t buying this story at all. “Not moving from here until you get in this truck, Dixie. Can’t leave you out here to walk,” he paused and I glanced up at him. His gaze had dropped to my feet. “Shit, girl, are you barefoot?”
I sighed. This had been humiliating to begin with. Now it was becoming a nightmare. Wasn’t the first time Emily James had gone out of her way to make my life hell. I never could figure out why she hated me so much. I was a nice person. I tried really hard to get people to like me. But nothing I did or said could make Emily like me. Instead, she found ways to embarrass and humiliate me. Regularly. At least once a week. Never had it been this bad before. Because never had Asher Sutton witnessed it.
I knew he wasn’t going to leave me out here now. Might as well get this over with. “Yeah, I, uh, lost those,” I sounded like an idiot.
Asher frowned. He didn’t seem amused. “Come on, Dix, get in the truck.”
I did as I was told this time. It was another three miles to my house and my daddy was going to start worrying about me soon enough. I would never forgive Emily for this one though. I was done trying to be nice to her. She had taken it too far. I was in Asher Sutton’s truck looking like an idiot and smelling worse.
“Thank you,” I said not looking his way again once I was inside.
“Buckle up,” he said, “then explain to me why you’re wearing gym clothes that could fit me, don’t have shoes on your feet and are walking home like that.”
Lying was less embarrassing. But I was a terrible liar. Daddy said I stammered and turned red the moment I even tried to fib a little.
“Someone stole my clothes while I was changing after P.E. class.” Just saying it made me sound like a loser. I had always been the little girl next door that Asher Sutton liked to tease. I wanted to look grown up and have boobs like Emily or my best friend Scarlet. Something to make me look older than thirteen.
“What the hell?” His tone was incredulous. As if he couldn’t fathom that. I bet he couldn’t. I doubt anyone had ever done anything like that to him. “How’d they take your clothes?”
This was just getting worse. I wished he’d drive faster. Admitting I didn’t change in front of the other girls because my body wasn’t developing like theirs yet was too much. But he wasn’t going to stop asking unless I told him. “I change in one of the bathroom stalls. I had my clothes hanging over the door so they wouldn’t touch the floor. When I took off my gym clothes, I hung them over the door and then—” I stopped. Telling Asher I had then taken that moment to use the toilet stuck in my throat. “I . . .” What did I say here?
“You had to pee?” he offered and I felt my face become an inferno.
I simply nodded.
“Then someone grabbed all your clothes and shoes?”
I nodded again.
“Fuck, wish I knew who did it.”
I knew but I didn’t say. Emily had slept with several of Asher’s friends. She was tall and curvy and the older guys loved her. My house was finally in view and I wanted to leap out of the moving truck and start getting homeschooled tomorrow. Never leave my house again. Never have to look at Asher again.
“Your daddy is heading out to his truck with a concerned scowl on his face. Reckon he’s coming to find you. Knew he’d be worried.”
He had probably already talked to Coach Jones. He wasn’t happy with the harassment I’d been dealing with this year. It had escalated. Today was the worst yet though.
“I need to stop him,” I said, hoping Asher would speed up.
He honked his horn and Daddy stopped and looked our way. The relief on his face when he saw me made me feel bad. He had been worried. I should have called him from the school instead of trying to hide this. I just hated upsetting him.
“He ain’t gonna be happy about this,” Asher said.
“No, he ain’t. Thanks for the ride,” I told him and reached for the door.