Sugar on the Edge(5)

By: Sawyer Bennett

“Fine,” she grumbles. “But it was just a small bowl of pasta I was offering.”

Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly. Gentling my voice, I say, “I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer… I really do. But I’m one of those people that just have to do it on my own. You should know that about me by now.”

Casey nods her head grudgingly, because she does know that. In the four months that we’ve been roommates, she’s come to know me well enough to know that I have a streak of stubborn pride about a mile long and just as wide. It’s why I haven’t told the douche bag photographer to piss off, because yeah… while I need the money, I more importantly need him to know that he can’t rattle me. My days of being rattled are over.

My phone chimes from inside my purse and I sit the apple down on the counter, wiping my fingers on my jeans. Pulling it out, I see it’s a text from Brody.

My heart instantly lightens.

Brody and his fiancée, Alyssa, run The Haven, a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter where I volunteer. I love animals—dogs in particular—so much that I spend all of my free time there helping out. With three jobs though, that time has been less and less, and I feel my soul starting to starve. My love of dogs has been long standing, stemming from one, single event that happened when I was just six years old.

I was out playing in the woods that surrounded our house in Clearview. We lived out in the country, so Mom usually pushed me out the door in the morning while on summer break from school and told me not to come home until dark. I was with our family’s dog, Petey, who was a Lab. I had gotten lost and couldn’t find my way back home, and Petey kept me safe and warm throughout the night. I don’t know if it was my child’s imagination, but as I sat huddled at the base of a tree, I thought I heard coyotes, bears, and lions coming at me from all directions. Petey would growl periodically, his eyes searching the darkness around us. He would lick me every so often, assuring me that everything would be okay. I snuggled into his warm fur, clutching my arms around him tight, and I knew that I was safe.

The search party found me around dawn the next morning, and Petey was hailed as the town’s local hero. He even won a medal.

Since then, I’ve found myself happiest when I can be around dogs. While I can’t afford one on my own, if I can ever get out of this butt load of debt, I’m going to have five at least.

Brody’s text is to the point.

Got any time tomorrow to help? Alyssa has to go to Raleigh to pick up a horse.

I shoot a quick text back.

Not sure. I may have new job to start. Text you later.

I stare at my phone for a moment, slightly depressed I can’t give him a simple “yes.” I’d much rather be up to my elbows in dog slobber than cleaning some rich asshole’s house, but that can’t be my priority right now.

You could just accept the job we offered you, Brody responds.

Yes, that would be the simple solution, but I can’t do that either. There’s no way I can let Brody and Alyssa put me on the payroll for The Haven. It’s a perfectly permissible thing for a nonprofit to have paid employees, but I also happen to know that adding me to the overhead will cause even harder work for Alyssa and Brody to have to raise money to support said expenditure.

No, my time at The Haven will always be as a volunteer and while their offer meant the world to me, I had to sadly decline. Just as I do once more.

I love you two for it, but my answer is still no, I text.

His response is immediate. Stubborn.

I laugh, because Brody has no cause to be lecturing me about stubbornness. After spending five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he returned to the Outer Banks a broken shell of a man, that stubbornly refused to let people into his life and refused to believe that he was worth anything. But for the help and love of a good woman—that would be Alyssa—Brody would still be mired in darkness.

I’ve become especially close to Brody and Alyssa over the last several months, Brody in particular. Ever since he fell in love with Alyssa, and told his family and closest friends his secret about doing time for someone else’s wrong, he’s become a completely different person. He’s warm, humorous, and fiercely protective of those he cares about. I’m just lucky that I happen to be in that circle, and the long hours we spend together caring for the animals has created a closely bonded friendship between the two of us. He once told me that he recognizes inside of me the same pride that he once held before he went to prison, and it was drained out of him. That made me sad and happy at the same time. Sad that Brody suffered, but happy that he compared me to himself, because as every one of his family and friends can attest, there’s no one more respected than Brody Markham.

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