I changed the subject. “So, tell me what else there is to do in Dodge City besides killing animals.”
“We have a movie theater.”
“Man, that sounds exciting. You’re killing me here. I can’t get there fast enough.”
She laughed. “Honestly, it’s really not the most exciting place to live.”
If Elle weren’t so conservative, I might have flirted with her and told her that I could think of a number of things we could do to pass the time there together. But after three months of feeling her out, I knew better. Maybe once we were formally engaged, I would test the waters a little more. I planned to give her my mother’s engagement ring soon after I got out there. The marquise diamond had two small sapphires on each side. It was one of the pieces of jewelry my father had stashed away in that box. He hadn’t officially given it to me, but I was taking it. Anyway, the ring was just a formality. It was pretty much understood that my moving meant Elle and I were definitely getting married.
Swallowing the urge to say something suggestive, I said, “Well, you’re lucky I like you. It won’t matter what we’re doing.”
“I really can’t wait to start a life with you, Sevin.”
I knew that she meant it, even though I couldn’t quite figure out what exactly it was she saw in me. Our conversations never ran deep enough for her to know the real me. She probably wouldn’t want to marry that guy. So, was it physical attraction? Whatever it was, I knew she was the type of girl who would be loyal. She would worship me. She’d be a good wife. Yet, there was a part of me that wanted to shake her, wishing she’d just tell me a dirty secret, cuss, tell me that she couldn’t wait to fuck me or just tell me to fuck off once in a while.
“We’ll be good together, Ellebell. You have a very calming way about you. You don’t let anything get to you. I need someone like that to balance me out. It’s been a tough year. I’ve had a lot of anger inside of me. But meeting you has been the best thing to happen to me in a really long time.”
She was silent for a while before she said, “I love you, Sevin.”
Elle hadn’t ever used those words before. My heart started to pound because I honestly didn’t know how to respond.
When I didn’t say anything, she continued, “I know it’s maybe too early to say that, and it’s a little strange because we haven’t even spent physical time together. But it’s how I feel. I truly believe becoming your wife is God’s will for me.”
Wow. That was profound, but I just couldn’t tell her I loved her. I wasn’t there yet. But I didn’t want to insult her or lie to her.
“That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I hope I can live up to that.”
I was gonna damn well try.
My last month at home in Oklahoma flew by. The time was spent saying final goodbyes to friends and co-workers at the stables and spending some quality time with my little brothers, which was not typical of me. I also researched the hell out of the meatpacking industry so that I didn’t seem like a total idiot walking into Lance’s company on the first day.
The final day before I had to leave, I made sure to seize the small box my father kept hidden away which contained my mother’s jewelry and the naked sketch I’d found long ago. I was packing up the last of my things when Luke, the oldest of my half-brothers, walked in.
“Don’t forget us, Sevin.”
“I promise. I won’t. You guys have each other, though. Stick together like you always do. Just remember that someday if you figure out that things aren’t exactly the way Lillian taught you, you can always come to me wherever I am. There will always be a safe place for you.”
There was a reason why I chose to say that to him. I had more than a strong inkling that Luke didn’t exactly share my vast appreciation of the female form. His mannerisms and some of the questions he would ask led me to believe that he was gay. And knowing how Lillian was, that scared the living shit out of me. I’d heard the way she spewed hate toward gay people, and I’d study the look of fear and shame on his face whenever he’d hear her talk negatively about them. If there was only one reason to stay behind in this hell hole, it was to protect Luke from her wrath. He’d once asked me why gay people were going to hell if God made them that way. That was when I knew. But Luke was only thirteen now and didn’t seem ready to admit his sexuality to anyone.
I placed my hands firmly on his shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. “You can come to me with anything, alright? Anything.”
“Thank you. I’ll remember that.” He hugged me tightly. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Luke. I’m sorry I’ve always been a shitty brother. Just know my attitude here had nothing to do with you. I love you.”
Those three words had come out very easily, and that shocked me. It was the first time I’d ever used that term toward one of my brothers. It felt right in that moment. When I spotted the tears in Luke’s eyes, it only confirmed I’d made the right decision. Poor kid had probably been starving for my affection all these years, and I’d chosen to give it to him only because I was walking out of his life.
“I love you too, Sevin.”
The next morning, I’d quickly gone to put gas in my father’s old Ford 100 pickup, which I inherited after he died. I prayed hard that it would make it all the way to Kansas without breaking down. As soon as I started earning some real money, the first purchase would be a new car.