It had been a long weird day. No one talked to him except two customers and Mr. Halston. Woody had dropped his suit case off, but had not said a word to him. His eyes had spoken though and what Cutter had read in them chilled him. He could not remember clearly what he had said or done the night before. Whatever Mama had said to him was lost. All he knew was that he was not welcome back home and it hurt.
When his shift was over he headed for Jake’s. He needed a fix and a place to stay. When he was almost there a car slowed down beside him and stopped He looked up. It was Grandma Maxine. Under his breath he said, “Aw shit.” The one person he never wanted to see was now upon him. She rolled down the window. After a long silent assessment of his appearance and the suitcase in his hand, she said, “Well you are either runnin’ away from home, or your mama kicked you out. Which is it?”
He would not blame Mama. It was not her fault. "I left."
"Sure you did." He tried to protest but before he could say a word, Grandma Maxine told him, "I never kicked none of my kids out. Fact is when your pop brought your mama home, I took ‘um both in. That is what a mother is supposed to do. Regardless.” Her words brought the night of the wreck vividly to Cutter’s mind. Pop had talked about this, only he had thought it had been the thing that ruined his marriage. Cutter didn’t want to think or talk about the past, near of far.
“You can come stay with me.”
In stunned silence Cutter stared at his Grandmother. Every hair on her head was in place. Her powder blue suit perfectly matched the little blue glass earrings that swung in her ears. Her make up was flawless, her eyes…her eyes held evangelical light. Of this much he was sure, he did not want to be evangelized 24/7. “Uh, I ‘preciate that Grandma Maxine, but I already have a place to stay.”
The light in her eyes changed to anger. “Jake I bet. That good for nothin’ Jake. I swear if you don’t come home with me, you are gonna end up dead and in hell like your pop and his pop before him. Is that what you want?”
At the moment, the desire to have this conversation, and this old biddy permanently out of his face was what he wanted. Mixed in was a hatred for her that he would not have been able to name or recognize. He said, “I don’t believe in hell or God or any of that shit.”
She raised her eyes to heaven and said, “Lo, another true Trinity fool. I won’t argue with you. One day you will find out that what you believe and what is are not always the same.” As she rolled up her window she said, “Call me if you need me.”
Cutter only nodded. There was no way hell he would ever need that old bitch.
Friday night before he and Jake could head out for a party in Dublin, the powder blue Nova pulled into Jake's drive. The instant Belinda swung her car door open, hope and lust stirred inside of Cutter. God how he missed her. As she came toward them she did not even look at Cutter. She grabbed Jake's Metallica T-shirt and jerked him to her face. In a low menacing voice she said, "If you EVER give my Mama booze again, I will kill you."
Jake, the fool stuttered, "W-whhat are you talkin' about?"
"You know what I am talking' about. My mom almost died because of you. She's been in the hospital all week due to alcohol poisoning." Her voice grew shrill, "How many people are you poisoning beside the shit head standing beside you?" She pushed him away from her. Spun around, climbed in her car and slammed the door.
Cutter watched her back up the car and roar away. The image of the whiskey bottles came to mind. He could smell whiskey and blood. The horn started sounding in his head.
Oblivious to his mood, Jake turned to him and grinned. "Man, has she got tits."
Desperate to quell the dark that was starting to envelope him, Cutter said, "Let's go."
In the weeks that followed time took on an peculiar curve. Jake’s mother wasn’t all tangled up with God, so Cutter could smoke a joint whenever he wanted, because she smoked them too. She was a hard looking woman with cigarette wrinkles and perpetual beer breath. Her hair was died a cheap piss yellow, and her boyfriends were around at all hours of the night and day. Jake was like her stray puppy, she kept him fed and alive but, that was where her responsibility ended. Cutter was just another man in the house and one night she curled up on the sofa with him to offer him her services. That had been an ugly night. For the first time he understood how fortunate he was to have Mama. For the first time, he wanted to go home. He had faked being sick, and Jake’s mother hadn’t tried it again, but it was a terrible strain to live under.
The only light in his world was work. It was a natural high for him. Figuring out what was wrong with a truck or tractor was almost as good as coke, but not quite. He made sure he and Jake where not at house when he snorted coke. One, of the many last things that he wanted to happen, was to end up in bed with Jake’s mom.
Christmas came and went, Cutter really expected to at least be asked home for Christmas dinner, but he wasn’t. It didn’t occur to him that his mother might have spent the day, jumping every time the phone rang hoping it was him, calling her to tell him he would come home and do right. He wanted to be home, but not bad enough to change. Rumer had sent him a Christmas card. The baby Jesus on it reminded him of the baby he and Belinda might have had.. New Year’s dawned with him waking up with a strange girl he couldn’t remember. A cold sweat had broken over him, then he had puked on the floor.
A week later, the nasty wind that had been blowing all day, slacked off. It was almost quitting time and he didn’t want to live with Jake anymore. Where would he go? Where could he go? Grandma Maxine’s apartment was empty. She had gone for an extended visit to Uncle William’s. He could break in and stay there until he figured out where to go next. Yeah, that was what he would do. He turned his attention back to the tractor. It was old and shot. Mr. Teage needed a new one, but for farmers’ “new” meant debt and peanuts hadn’t done well last year. He wiped his forehead with his filthy hand and concentrated on the motor. He removed the fuel pump and carefully examined it. It seemed fine. Something was wrong, but whatever it was, it would have to wait until Monday. He stood and went to the locker room to change. When he came out, Mama was standing in the garage.
A mixture of emotions twisted and spun inside of him. God he had missed her. He took a step toward her, but before he could wrap her in his arms, she handed him an envelope. Her bottom lip quivered. She said, “Read it.”
He tore open the letter. The hearing had been moved up. In less than a week he would appear before the judge. He felt his heart thud, then he shuddered. His head began to churn out images…images from movies he had seen, and TV shows he had watched. He didn’t know anything about prison, except there were bars and stainless steel toilets and barbed wire, and guards…He folded the paper and put it back in the envelope. There was a little bottle waiting for him at Jake’s house. He needed that bottle.
Mama didn’t hug him or touch him. Before she walked out, she said, “Let me know if you need a ride to your hearin’.”
The Tuesday afternoon before his hearing, Mr. Halston’s asked, “How you doin’ Cutter?”
“How’s the tractor?”
Cutter took a long slow look at the latest piece of junk he was working on. “Not so good sir. I think it needs a complete overhaul. Wish I could be here to do it?”
Obvious concern filled Mr. Halston’s eyes. “I wish you could be here too. This whole thing is just damn unfortunate.” He paused, then said, “If things turn out bad and you land in prison, mind yourself and don’t trust anyone. I had a brother-in-law in prison, died there, from hepatitis.” He shook his head, then added, “My wife told me to tell you she’ll be praying for you. I will too.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Mr. Halston patted his shoulder. “Take care.”
Cutter nodded and went to the locker room to change. After he had redressed, he slipped on his jacket and went into the fast falling light to wait.
Five minutes passed, then ten. Where was Jake? He promised he would pick him up tonight. He planned to get completely stoned and laid. Finally a truck pulled up, but it wasn’t Jake’s, it was Grace Bell’s. Fear filled Cutter, what was she doing here? She rolled down her window and said, “Get in, I’m taking you to your mother.” The look she gave him reminded him of Rumer when she was really mad.
The ride to the house was silent. His home appeared in the distance. A mixture of homesickness and fear overwhelmed him, homesickness for Mama and the fear of facing the house where Pop wasn’t.
When they stopped at the gate Grace Bell grabbed his wrist. Her fingers were cold and bony. In a hard and low voice she said, “When we get to the house, you will walk through the door and hug your mother. You will tell her you are sorry. You will behave yourself tonight.” The steel in her voice pierced Cutter. This lady was not someone to mess with. She jerked her head toward the house. "Rumer is up there waiting for you too. She wants to see you and talk to you and try to get you to mend your wicked ways. Though I think letting her anywhere near you is a bad idea, I had to let her because I was afraid she’d make herself real sick if I didn’t. YOU best not touch her or hurt her.”
“Uh, yes Mam.”
She released his arm. “Get out.”
Cutter didn’t waste any time doing so. He opened the gate, the truck drove through it, then he climbed back in.
At the house, Rumer was on the front porch waiting for him. Skip was with her. She was dressed in a pink hoodie and jeans. Her hair was pulled back with a fake daisy. All at once the darkness began to rise inside of him. He could feel a wave of it wash over him. Inside his coat, was the only thing that would make it go away. He wanted Rumer to go away. Her Aunt Grace said, “Get out, tell her bye. You got five minutes. I’m going inside to check on your mother.” Panic seized Cutter. He climbed out of the truck. In a cloud of angry dust, the truck zoomed to the back of the house. He heard the truck door open then it was slammed closed. A screech pierced the air when the back screen door opened, then closed. Grace Belle was inside. Time slowed as he crossed the yard. His boots crushed the dull yellow grass beneath them. He braced himself for Skip to pounce but the dog didn’t. Cutter looked up at him. His brown eyes gleamed with restrained delight. Rumer had him on a leash. She never did that.
Behind him the setting sun cast a fire edged glow upon Rumer’s tense face. Softly she said, "I want you to give me my first kiss."
What? Her Aunt Grace’s words echoed in his head. She was probably watching them right now. “Your aunt won’t like it. She told me not to touch you.” Her lips looked sweet, so sweet and so pure. How could he resist them? To be the first man to ever touch Rumer Bell’s lips? There would be others, many others, she was too damn pretty for that not to happen. She tilted her face up to him. The instant their lips met, her light stabbed through his darkness. Cutter was stunned by the power of her.