Chapter 1 1
Glorious Way Evangelical is the center of my momma’s life. She looks forward to church worship like an alcoholic looks forward to happy hour at Woody’s Watering Hole.
Sundays are the Lord’s day, and I’ve spent most of mine praising God and singing in the Glorious Way choir, listening to Reverend Johnny J. Jackson, and wishing my behind wasn’t getting numb.
If I was any good at figuring sums in my head, I’d add up how much of my life has been spent sitting on hard pews. I mostly rely on the calculator on my phone, but if I had to take a guess at the number… there’s four Sundays in a month, multiplied by twelve months in a year, times twenty-five years… subtract the times I faked a head cold or period cramps, and that equals… a whole heck of a lot.
The phone in my dress pocket lights up and I slide it out far enough to see who’s texting. I glance up at Johnny J. preaching his usual fire and brimstone, then open the text from HotGuyNate. I bite my lower lip to keep from grinning like a cat full of canary. I type Yes and hit send. I’ve never driven more than twenty miles for a hookup or a coffee date, but Nate is the kind of guy worth driving two hundred miles to meet. “Brittany Lynn!” Momma says under her breath. “Jesus is watchin’ you.”
I try not to roll my eyes as I slide the phone back into my pocket. If that’s true, Jesus is interfering in my love life. Don’t get me wrong: I love Jesus—but I’ve spent so much time in devotion, I reckon I’ve earned bonus points that I can use here on earth or in heaven.
“Evil demons whisper temptations into the ears of man. These demons are liars! Do not listen or you will burn in hell when our Lord returns!” Johnny J. is yelling about Satan and scaring the sinners clear in the back row. “Lord, deliver us from wickedness!”
“Lord, deliver us from wickedness,” Momma repeats, clutching a Bible to her big breasts. When it comes to the good book, I don’t know anyone who knows more than Momma. You could say she’s an expert on the rapture, and she dreams of the day that she floats to heaven on a fluffy cloud and gets to wave goodbye to the sinners left behind. In particular, Daddy and his second wife, “Floozy Face.”
I’ve never liked Floozy, and she’s never liked me. She thinks constructive criticism is her way of being helpful. I think constructive criticism is her way of being a bitch. She says I need to grow up. I say, “You need Jesus.” She tells Daddy I’m immature for my age. I tell her she’s vertically challenged. It goes without saying that we’re never in the same place for long.
I was ten when Daddy moved out of our house and in with Floozy Face, aka Mona Lisa Calhoun, and Momma has hardly spoken to him since. At my high school graduation Momma refused to be in the same picture with Daddy and me no matter how much I begged.
After all these years she’s still as bitter as ever. I tell her that good Christians don’t dream of riding off on a big, fluffy cloud, hooting and hollering and acting holier-than-thou. I tell her to get bigger dreams for herself, but Momma never listens to one thing that she doesn’t want to hear. I inherited that from her, I’m told.
I glance at my phone twice more, and by the time Johnny J. is done sermonizing, my behind is so numb that I have a hard time standing up. Momma has a harder time than me, but she walks with me out to our old minivan. Momma is staying for Bible study, and someone in the group will give her a ride home afterward. She has plans to quote scripture, and I have plans of my own.
“Why are you drivin’ all the way to Alpine to see Lida Haynes?”
Lida has been my best friend since second grade at Marfa Elementary, but I quit speaking to her last week when she said some very hurtful things. “Alpine is only twenty-six miles from here,” I tell Momma, even though she knows this. “See you later. I’ll call if I’m spendin’ the night.” I give her a hug, then hop in the van and head out of the church parking lot. I sing along with Jason Aldean on the radio and stick my arm out of the window to wave goodbye. Singing has always played a part in my life. When I was young, I dreamed of being a country-and-western singer. Momma used to drive me to competitions when we could afford it. I even won first place a time or two.
I drive past the turn to Alpine and head in the opposite direction toward El Paso, two hundred miles northwest of Marfa. Momma used to make my outfits. The best was a leopard-print coat made so I could look like Shania Twain at the Texas Shooting Stars singing competition. I was nine and belted out “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Momma still has the video. The next year I became obsessed with Hannah Montana and changed my stage name to Wittany so that when I got famous I could switch back to Brittany and not get mobbed by fans. When I was seventeen I tried out for American Idol in Austin. I thought for sure the panel would love “Wittany,” but Simon said I should come back after I lost weight. Paula agreed—and she was supposed to be the nice one. Wittany died that day, and the only singing I do these days is at church.
Even though I’ve given up on that dream, I do write lyrics. My most creative time is when I’m in bed at night. I have notebooks full of songs and my latest is called “Big Dreams in a Small Town.” I keep the notebooks under my mattress and I’ve never shown them to anyone.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and slide it into the holder next to Momma’s dashboard Jesus. I have a text message from my Visa but nothing from HotGuyNate since he texted me in church.
I met Nate on Tinder this past Thursday. He’s driving from somewhere in New Mexico and we’re meeting at the Kitty Cat Lounge. If we like each other and things are looking good, I plan to pounce on him like he’s a bag of catnip.
Nate isn’t my first Tinder date. I’ve been on the site for a few years. I’m also on Match.com, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish. I want to fall in love and get married, but the closest I’ve ever come to it was a six-month relationship with Ricky Nunez when I was twenty-two. Ricky had a snaggletooth and acne and lived in a beat-down double-wide.
He broke my heart.
Nate is a lot better looking than Ricky, and that’s an understatement. He’s the kind of good-looking that I’ve always dreamed of finding. He has dark hair and blue eyes and a flashy white smile, and he swiped right when he saw me. I’ve been walking around for days feeling sassy and filled with glow. Lida is the only person I told about Nate, but she wasn’t supportive at all. Instead she reminded me of Pete Parras, a superhot guy who used to hook up with me until he found a superhot girlfriend. Lida said she could tell by Nate’s bio and photos that he was a user like Pete and she couldn’t be happy for me. I had to remind her that she moved to Alpine for smooth-talking Bubba Crum and lived with him for a year before she found out that he had a wife in Van Horn and a baby momma in Fort Davis. She said she learned from Bubba how to spot a liar but that I didn’t learn anything from Pete. I got aggravated with Lida and said some things I shouldn’t have. She got aggravated with me and said things she shouldn’t have, and we haven’t spoken since. We’ve never gone this long without talking, and I don’t know if we can ever get back to the way things were before we got ugly with each other.
An hour outside El Paso, I pull into a truck stop for gas, grab my suitcase from the back seat, and head for the bathroom. I change out of my church clothes and into a pair of jeans and a “Don’t Mess with a Texas Girl” T-shirt with rhinestone embellishments, of course.
Right after I graduated from beauty school, I took professional online cosmetics courses. Since then, I take refresher classes to keep up on the latest trends and techniques. I might not be the thinnest or best-looking girl around, but I do the best I can with what I’ve got.
I open my cosmetics bag and apply makeup to complement my latest look. Last week I covered my brown hair with a dark blue balayage. I did it all by myself and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I coordinated the color with my nails and had Lorna give me a deluxe pedicure.
Lorna is the owner of the Do or Dye, where Momma and me work five days a week, back-combing hair halfway to heaven and spraying it down with enough extreme hold to survive a cat-five hurricane. It’s okay for now, but I don’t want to work there all my life like Momma.
I find my teasing comb, lift the hair on the crown of my head with one hand, and shake a can of Helmet Head with the other. Most people make the mistake of spraying the hair directly, but the trick is to create a nice fog and let it settle.
I brush my teeth real quick, pay for my gas, then hit the road again.
Blake Shelton is on the radio and I crank it up to sing along with him and Gwen. Out of all the men singing country these days, I’d have to say that Trace Adkins still has the best voice (sorry, Blake), but Sam Hunt is smoking hot. If I ever saw him in person, I don’t know if I could control myself.
My phone dings with a text, but I can’t see it for the sun pouring through the windshield. I pull it from the holder and put it in the shade of my lap. I glance from the highway to the message, then back again.
It’s from HotGuyNate: Are you there?
I push the talk-to-text icon and say, “I’m about sixty miles away,” then tap send. The closer I get to El Paso, the more my nerves tingle and my stomach gets tight.
The text dings. I pull it up. HotGuyNate: I can’t make it.
I blink several times and read it ten more. I can’t believe it and I glance back and forth from the highway to the text. My heart drops and pounds at the same time. “Is this a joke?” I say, and tap send.
He came up with the plan to meet in El Paso and picked out the Kitty Cat Lounge. I jumped at the chance, but it wasn’t my idea.
Sorry? That’s it? I lied to Momma, fought with Lida, and wasted my time, effort, and gas money. Worse than all of that, a man’s let me down—again.
I raise my phone and ask, “Why?” then hit send. I blink back tears of hurt and disappointment. Why can’t anything ever work out for me?
HotGuyNate: My wife found out.
Wife? He has a wife? My phone slips from my hand and disappears between the seats. He’s married? His Tinder profile says he’s single and the only pictures are of him. Lida was right and I told her she wasn’t a good friend.
Now I’m aggravated and shove my hand between the seats. Tears burn my eyes and roll down my cheeks. I feel around and touch a corner of my phone. Momma says I have a quick temper. I say she’s right. She says I need to control it. I say not right now. I’m going to give HotGuyNate a hot piece of my mind first.
I lean toward the passenger side for a better grip on my phone, but I keep my eyes on the highway. I don’t have a lot of rules when it comes to dating. You could say I have low standards, but I do draw the line at married men. I know firsthand what cheating does to a family.
I inch my phone toward me with my fingers and peer between the seats. My daddy cheated and none of our lives were ever the same. I love him, but he was a skirt-chasing liar.
A loud scrape drowns out Blake and Gwen on the radio. The van leans sideways and I sit all the way up. Dirt and scrub hit the windshield and I slam on the brakes. More dirt. More scrub. I can’t see a thing. Everything is happening fast and my brain can’t keep up. The van tips this way and that. I’m upside down and right-side up. I’m rolling. Momma’s dashboard Jesus flies past my head. Everything goes black.