Marigold's Undoing: Chapter 3

*Author's note: This is a work of fiction. All publishing rights belong to the author Piper320. This isn't a wham bam thank you ma'am kind of story. Thanks to all who have read so far. I hope you continue to enjoy their journey.

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“I want to take you Christmas shopping.”
Marigold put her fork down and gave him an icy look. “No.”
“No?”
“No.”

Her voice left no doubt she didn’t like the idea. It was cold, the tone harsher than one she’d used with him in a while.

“Okay. Well, we always put up a Christmas tree. Would you like to go with me to buy one, or is that going to be a no too?”

His tone matched hers, making her eyes flash fire at him. She didn’t say a word as she got up and washed the dishes. If she did, they’d really have one hell of a fight. They’d managed to go a few days without one, she’d like to keep the streak going if she could.

Marigold hated Christmas. She always had. One time in school, the teacher and kids told this story about a man who came down the chimney and left presents for the good kids. She had spent a sleepless night waiting to hear Santa on the roof. He never came. That year or ever. Her Daddy was always behind on the bills; they were lucky to have something to eat on Christmas day.

When the kids at school asked, Marigold always lied about what she got. She came up with a name of a toy or just said clothes. She knew she was trash though, knew that’s what the other kids thought. She thought it vastly unfair the rich kids went to the same school as the poor ones. Each class needed their own school, so no kid was picked on, or let down.

She knew as an adult she shouldn’t feel sorry for herself. She’d gone eighteen years without a Christmas. Still, she could feel the crushing disappointment she’d felt as a child. A child who had no gifts under a non-existent tree, and it remind her she’d never been good enough.

“Marigold?” She heard him but her mind was in a different place; being haunted by a very different time. “Hey?”

His hand barely touched her arm, but she jerked back so fiercely the plate flew out of her grip; shattering against the floor, pieces of broken china flying over the entire kitchen. She looked at the destruction of the plate in shock, before glancing up at him. His face was set in a mixture of surprise and anger. His deep, brown eyes a combination of concern and frustration. She’d been doing so well. They’d been doing so well. She couldn’t believe she’d broken the flow by her actions. She was supposed to be strong. She was strong.

“I’m…I’m so sorry.” Before he could say a word, she walked over to the broom closet. She started sweeping, but saw the broom shaking in her hands. What was he going to do to her? Why did he bring out a gut feeling of both fear and desire? This was the second plate she’d broken. He was going to start getting her back for it.

She saw him walking toward her, her heart starting to race before he gently took the broom from her hands. She watched as he set it to the side, before picking her up in his strong embrace. His eyes remaining closed off as he sat her on the counter. She wondered what he was thinking. She wondered what he was going to do.

His finger trailed a line down her cheek, sending goose bumps along her skin. Making her pussy grow wet at the thought of what those fingers could do inside her. He’d stayed true to his word and hadn’t touched her. Her brain was grateful. Her body pouted over it frequently. His lips grazed the corner of her mouth, before he took the broom and proceeded to sweep the entire kitchen in silence.

She watched his every move like a hawk. Watched the way his strong arms rippled as his muscles flexed. Watched as confusion, anger, annoyance, concern, and finally blankness crossed his face. She’d given him much to think about. She knew he found her both frustrating and fascinating. She wasn’t trying to be either.

Once he’d thrown all the broken shards of glass away, he came over to her again. She could look into his eyes and tell she was in trouble. They were a dark brown, a certain gleam sitting in the corners. How was it they could only go a few days without something happening? She held her breath and waited for his reaction.

“Tell me what’s wrong.” His voice was calm but dominant. The tone which raked her nerves, almost as much as the condescending one.

“I’m fine.”
“Marigold.”
“I promise.”

Jackson wiped his hand over his face as he took a step back. She knew he was tired of dealing with her. Could see his control slipping as his body turned rigid. She needed to learn to answer him. He needed to learn to let her be.

“I’m asking you one more time to tell me what’s wrong. If you don’t answer me, the very thin restraint I have on my temper, is going to be gone. Do you understand me?”

Marigold nodded in response. She shouldn’t have nodded. His eyes flared with anger as his large hands wrapped around her waist. She was up, and over his shoulder in a heartbeat. She was too surprised to yell out, even as her body was jostled like a sack of potatoes as he stormed up the stairs. She just hoped he wouldn’t leave her with a black eye. He may not have hit her yet, but she knew he was capable. His eyes always let her know he was capable of anything.

Instead of going to the new bedroom they now shared, he went to their old one. She felt her heart freeze as he deposited her on the windowsill. She watched him take a step back, putting distance between them as he took deep, calming breaths. Marigold was glad. She didn’t want him too close to her.

He peered down at her with cold, livid eyes and she felt her body shrink against the window pane. It pissed her off, making her automatically jut out her chin in stubbornness. She saw the fury flare stronger and thought maybe stubbornness wasn’t such a great idea after all.

“I don’t know why it always has to be difficult with you Marigold, I really don’t. I should not have to bring you in this room to get answers from you, but you leave me no choice. You’re going to answer me and tell me what the hell is wrong. Now!”

His voice echoed off the walls and assaulted her. It made her ears ring and her body jolt from both his anger, and her desire. Marigold didn’t know what to say but knew she had to say something. He hadn’t been this annoyed with her in a long time.

“I’d love to go with you and find a Christmas tree.”

Her voice sounded too sweet even to her own ears. She saw Jackson pinch the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. She swore she could hear him counting. She had to remind herself to breathe.

“Marigold…I…you…frustrating…so damn frustrating…this is not about that.”
“But you asked and I’m answering.”
“But you’re not answering what I just asked.”

“Because I’m fine.”
“I swear I…I promised you I’d never hurt and I won’t; but if you don’t tell me what the hell is wrong in the next instant, I’ll revoke every deal we made and leave you in here to rot! So help me God, Marigold!”

She was up and off the window sill in an instant; her eyes flashing as her heart raced. “Well, if the deals are revoked, I guess I don’t have to stay here for five years!”

She stormed past him knowing she wouldn’t get far. Knowing good and damn well he wouldn’t just let her leave. She was going for it anyway. He could kiss her ass. She felt him grab her hand, her body being jerked against his. His eyes flashing with utter exasperation.

“Marigold, you’re not leaving.”
“I’m not staying.”
“Oh, yes you are. Deal or no deals, you’d still be here for a little while.”
“Well, I guess since you own me now, you can just make up whatever rules best suit you!”

Her earsplitting response seemed to jar him. His hands released her, allowing him to step back. She waited for the slap to come. She could see in his eyes she’d pushed him too far. She knew she’d used up every ounce of his patience and then some. She didn’t care. Exception to deal 4 never seemed to count. Just his damn rules. Well…he could get over himself. She’d help him.

“I’m leaving for a little while. When I get back, I expect you to be right here.”

She watched in disbelief as he stormed out the door, before once more taking a seat on the windowsill. She saw him floor it down his driveway, before gazing down at her shaking hands. Five more years. She had to survive this for five more years. What had she gotten herself into? Why was there nowhere safe to run?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jackson had a drink. Then another, then another. He’d thought long and hard about the deals he’d wanted to make with her. He’d thought five years wasn’t long enough but now, maybe it was too long. She sure knew how to press every button he had to piss him off. As he looked down into his fourth glass of scotch, he told himself he’d asked for it.

He could’ve handed Marigold over to his Daddy. He could’ve let her go after he’d almost broken her. He could’ve left her that day at her Mama’s house, and never come back. Instead, he’d chosen five years of this constant back-and-forth bickering. This up-and-down roller coaster ride of emotions. He threw back the last of the scotch, his mind on the beautiful woman waiting at home for him. Under different circumstances, he’d want to rush home to her. Now, he knew he was heading for round two.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jackson walked into the old bedroom where he’d left her and told her to stay. Naturally, she wasn’t there or in their new bedroom. He checked the library and the kitchen, but she wasn’t there either. In fact, no one was home, so no one could tell him where she was. He never thought she’d run. He may have frightened her sometimes, but she was made of steel. She could handle his dominance. He thought she’d fight rather than run.

The sound of carefree laughter caught his attention, and he headed toward the back of the house. Outside the den window, he saw her playing with Toby. He saw the mutt of a dog get on its back legs, placing his paws on Marigold’s shoulders. Her girly giggle rang out as she and the dog danced. An airy smile crossing her face as they played together.

The scene in front of him made him smile, reminding him of an old fashion painting or postcard. A girl and her raggedy dog. If only she acted that way toward him. She never would. He grinned again as her laugh rang out, before heading outside to join.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Marigold giggled as the dog licked her on the face. Jackson saw a sparkle in her eyes he’d never seen before. As the dog got down on all fours, she turned and he gave her a wave. He walked toward her, noticing she stepped in front of the dog. He didn’t understand what she thought he’d do. She didn’t say a word as he looked her over. Cold eyes and an icy expression, the only expression to greet him. He shook his head before glancing at the dog, and back to her.

“I see you met Toby.”
“Toby? Yes, he’s very sweet.”
“He belongs to Dwight Evans.”
“Doesn’t he live a good ways away?”
“About eleven miles.”

“Then what’s Toby doing all the way over here?”
“I guess he likes to roam.”
“Hmm.”

The dog barked, nudging her hand like he knew they were talking about him. She smiled, petting him in response. Her smile small, a lesser variation of the jubilant one he’d seen moments before.

“I recall telling you to stay in the room.”
Her cold, blank eyes bore into his. No expression crossing her stone like face. “I know.”
“But?”
“But…I saw the dog and came outside.” She gave a nonchalant shrug.
“I see.”

“I don’t want to fight with you. I survived the first three months here and another six shouldn’t kill me. There’s no way I owe you more than six. No way my Daddy owes you more than six, since it’s his sins I’m supposedly paying for. On my last night of freedom and being able to wear clothes; I’d like to play fetch with Toby for a little while longer if you don’t mind…sir.”

He peered into her eyes and saw she was serious. She would willingly go back to the hell she felt she’d left, in order to be done with it all. If she did, he could fuck her again. He could take her in all the ways he dreamed of. All the time if he wanted, but it wouldn’t be the way he fantasized.

He reached out, pulling Marigold to him, and in one fluid motion he kissed her. He heard her surprise intake of breath, but she didn’t tense up. Her muscles didn’t turn rigid in his embrace as they used to do. He knew he was breaking his end of deal 2, but he liked the way her lips felt. He enjoyed the way she tasted. He enjoyed the feel of her muscular, lean body pressed into his. Knowing her nipples were rubbing against his chest, her perfect ass just a hand slide away.

He gave her one final kiss, before leaving butterfly ones on the edges of her mouth. He pulled back but didn’t let her go from his grasp. She looked up at him with huge question filled eyes. Every new day a whirlwind of adventure for them.

“You can stay out here as long as you want.”
He saw a look of hesitation and uncertainty. “Umm…thank you?”
“And tomorrows going to be the same as it has been. The deals are staying, okay?”
“Okay.”

Jackson nodded, before letting her go. He’d leave her be so she could enjoy playing fetch with Toby, and not be worried by his presence. He gave a quick smile before heading back toward the house. He suddenly felt her hand touch his, and he turned to her. In her cobalt eyes, he saw a bleakness he didn’t understand. One he hadn’t seen in a while and hated seeing now.

“I don’t like Christmas. I’ve never received a Christmas present. I’ve never had a Christmas tree. No Christmas lights or any decorations of any kind were ever put up. Christmas was no different at my house then a regular day. Every year, I believed in something and someone, that was never going to come. I used to lie to the kids in school about what I got. I probably couldn’t name five Christmas songs.”

“I don’t care I’m poor. I just wish I hadn’t been dumb enough to believe in Santa. I don’t like gifts; I’ve never given a gift. It’s all I know about the holidays. Everything about them makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to shop for gifts with you or anyone, for that matter. I’ll do anything else but please don’t make me do that.”

Marigold’s tiny grip let go of his hand as she took the stick Toby was offering her. She threw it through the air, the dog giving a happy bark as he ran to fetch it. Jackson took her cold hands back in his, rubbing them to warm them up. His actions made her deep eyes turn to him. He saw a frown on her face, but not anger or disdain.

“I won’t get you anything and I won’t make you go with me.”
“Thank you.”
“I’m going to buy a Christmas tree though, because it was my Mama’s favorite thing about the holiday. If you’d like to go and then help decorate it, you’re welcome too.”

“Okay. Where…where did you go when you stormed out?”
“The bar.”
She smiled, but it seemed somber to him as she quickly pulled her hands from his. “Okay.”
“Why?”
“Just a question.”

She threw the stick for Toby to fetch as Jackson looked her over. She was so tiny out here compared to the huge field. Her petite frame shivered in the crisp air, but she refused to wear a jacket. It’d been an argument he gave up on after the third time.

“Marigold?”
She met his eyes once more, seeming to tense as she waited to hear what he’d say. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry about your Christmas’s.”
“Don’t be. They just got me ready for real life.”

She gave him another downcast smile, the reality of Bayou hanging in her every word. He watched her playfully run to Toby, grabbing the stick and teasing the mutt with it. He ran in circles barking until she threw it. They both watched him run after it before he suddenly veered off from where the stick fell. He seemed to stop short, pawing at something on the ground.

“Toby? Toby!”

The dog looked over at her, but paid her no mind. She glanced at him, a look of confusion on her pale, elfin face. He gave a shrug before they both walked over to where Toby was. On the ground, was hunkered a tiny black kitten. It was too scared to move, even though the dog was pawing at it.

“Oh poor baby.” She reached down, gently scooping the kitten up. It fit in the palm of her hand and made tiny mewing sounds. She held the shaking thing to her chest to warm it up, a loving smile he’d never seen playing across her lips. The little kitten started to purr and Marigold’s longing eyes fell on him. He peered at the kitten, back to her eyes, back to the kitten, before letting out a long tired sigh.

“Okay.”
“Really?”
“Yes really.”

Marigold’s smile reached from ear-to-ear, lighting up her whole face and making her look like the angel he’d once imagined her to be. She held the kitten in her hand as she threw her free arm around his neck. Her soft lips found his, a simple kiss but it did so much to his body. He felt his cock come to full attention; making him want to lay her on the ground, diving into her pussy as the fight and tension from earlier faded to nothingness.

She pulled away from him, her eyes still glowing with happiness. It was a look he’d do almost anything to see again, not that he’d tell her so. She nuzzled the kitten under her chin and started for the house.

“Let’s call her Sierra.”
“Okay.”
“She’s so tiny but her purr is so loud. How sweet. I just adore her.”
“She’s going to have to stay outside, you know.”

In his haste to keep up with her, he almost mowed her down as she stopped dead in her tracks.

“But-“
“No buts, not on this.”
“She’s so tiny and young, and it’s cold out here.”
“No.”

“Oh please, just for a couple of weeks until she’s bigger? She won’t be a problem, I promise. I’ll take care of her. You won’t have to do anything.”
“Marigold.”
“Please.”

There was so much emotion behind that one word. Jackson knew it wasn’t just about the cat. There was so much she wanted to ask for but wouldn’t. He was beginning to realize he always gave in to her. Sometimes, he just wanted to give his answer and there be no argument. She always said he had all the power, yet he was the one saying yes to her every demand.

“It’s a cat. It can take care of itself.”
“But-“
“Animals survive without humans all the time. At least she has you to feed her.”
“I know.”

He heard the disappointment in her voice. He thought it was thick with unshed tears but all he saw were deep, dejected eyes. Jackson sighed once more as he shook his head. May God give him strength.

“No matter what I say; you’re just going to worry about the cat all night, aren’t you?”
“Yes…but if you really want her outside, I’ll leave her.”
He let out another long sigh as her eyes bore into his. “Just bring her in.”

“And Toby?”
“Now Marigold-“
“Just for tonight and tomorrow you can take him home.”

“He’s a dog. He’s fine.”
“Just one night.”
“I do not run a boarding house for animals, Marigold. That’s damn final.”

She opened her mouth, then shut it. He figured she was probably going to snap a snide comment. He felt his own temper flare as he readied himself for an argument.

“Okay.” She turned from him, stooping to pet the dog on the head. “Goodnight boy.”

She stood, stiffly walking past him toward the house. They both heard the sad whimpering at the same time. Jackson saw her take a deep breath as she willed herself to keep moving. She politely held the door open for him, the light from the kitchen bouncing off her face; letting him see her forlorn expression. He sighed, shaking his head even as he gave a whistle. Toby flew through the open door.

“One night.” Marigold’s smile lit her face once more as she put her hand in his, and gave it a squeeze. She leaned into him, not against her will; as they walked into the kitchen. Jackson pulled down a small platter, filling it with warm milk. They both stood silently, watching as the kitten drank and drank of the sustenance. Toby ate some scraps he found before they all headed up to the bedroom. For a brief second, he felt like a normal couple.

Marigold began fixing a little nest on the floor for Sierra and a pallet of blankets for Toby. Jackson looked at all of them but didn’t say a word. She cooed at both of their new guest, smiling and laughing at them as they played. He tried to read while she entertained the kitten with a piece of thread; the mutt patiently laying his head on her knee, watching the kitten too.

Jackson finally gave up the pretense of reading, smiling as he watched all three of them. They both laughed as the kitten rolled and batted at the string. Its tiny paws trying so hard to attack the wily thread. Soon, it was time to go to bed and Marigold reluctantly crawled under the covers. He gave her a smile before rolling over to turn off the light.

“Jackson?”
He looked over his shoulder at her. “Yes?”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”

She lightly touched his cheek with her fingertips, her tiny body leaning in to kiss him. She tasted like Heaven, her lips a soft cloud to get lost in. She let his tongue barge in, hers dancing against his demands. His hands gripped her hair as his longing for more ran through his every nerve. He wanted to roll on top of her, pounding into her with his need. Hearing her quiet moans and erotic gasp. He wanted too, but didn’t.

He held onto the kiss for as long as he could before breaking away. In her eyes, he saw true gratitude. It made them the brightest blue, almost aquamarine in their beauty. He kissed her softly again as the kitten preceded to jump on the comforter, clawing her way up onto the bed. He shook his head with a sigh once more, but gave her a sweet smile.

Somehow, Sierra ended up curled on the comforter between them. Her tiny body rising and falling as the sounds of her loud purring serenaded them. He reached to turn off the light with a smile on his face. It wasn’t how he’d seen the day going, but it had. The lights went out and he gave thanks that this was what he’d come home to now.

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“Which one do you want?”
“How tall can it be?”
“Fourteen feet.”
“Really?”
“Yes.”
“Wow.”

Marigold looked at all the trees surrounding her at the Christmas tree lot. There were so many kinds to choose from and she’d never had to worry about such a thing before. She shrugged, breathing in the wonderful scent of the pine and spruce. She had her arm linked in Jackson’s and she saw him giving her a smile.

She was still surprised about Toby and still shocked Jackson was a good enough person not to leave the dog to suffer with Dwight Evans. She still felt the burning rage that had consumed her when she’s learned the cowardly man had kicked Toby and yelled at him for running off. Who could blame the mutt? Now, he belonged to them and she respected Jackson a shade of a fraction more for letting it happen.

“I kind of like this one?”
“Kind of?”
“How many ornaments do you have? Does it need to be thin or wide?”
“Tall and wide is fine.”

“Then yes, I like this one.”
“This one it is. I’ll go get Harold to pack it for us.”
“Okay.”

Marigold gazed around her and she was surprised at all the people who were here. Apparently, many celebrated Christmas in the town of Bayou. Mr. and Mrs. Howard waved at her and she saw Herb Johnson as well. She smiled, waving back as Jackson and Harold walked over.

“This one?”
“Yes sir.” Harold picked up the tree, starting to walk off toward the netting machine.
“Mari?” She turned to see Calvin Pugh strutting toward her.

“Hey, how are you?”
“Good. You?”
“Good.”
“I didn’t see you at the lake much this summer.”
“Oh yeah. I…I had a lot going on.”

“Well, you look real nice. That blue sweater is real pretty on you.”
She glanced down at her shirt and blushed. “Umm… thank you.”
“Come by the house later and let my Mama feed you. She’ll have a cow when she sees how tiny you got.”
“I’ll make sure to do that. See you later, Calvin.”
“See you, Mari.”

He gave her a kind smile before strolling off to look at the trees. She watched him walk off, turning to face Jackson, whose eyes she’d felt on her the entire time. She slowly made her way toward him, noticing he didn’t say a word as Harold put the tree in the back of his truck.

He opened the door for her, before closing it soundly. Jackson said nothing as they drove down the road, causing her to sigh as she looked over at him. How in the world would they make it five years without driving each other insane? She sighed again as she shook her head.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Just tell me.”
“What?”
“How mad are you?”
“Why would I be mad?”

“Because you’re you.”
“Well I’m not.”
“Good.”

He glanced at her, noticing she sat with her arms crossed, all while gazing out the window. He hadn’t liked Calvin talking to her. In truth though, he didn’t really know her, so he didn’t know what Calvin was, or wasn’t, to her.

“So…how long have you known him?” She shot him a glare and he saw her take a deep breath.
“Awhile.”
“What did you guys talk about?”
“The lake and his Mama cooking for me.”
“Does she do it often?”
“Did.”

He heard a mixture of ice and exasperation in her voice. He pulled into the driveway, watching in disbelief as she hopped out of the truck before it was even stopped. He saw her letting the door of the bed down before standing, and patiently waiting. He took a calming breath, before getting out and standing on the other side. He gave her a warning look and saw her shoulders go back as her chin jutted out.

“What?”
“Nothing.”
“Good. Shall we?” Marigold gestured toward the tree. He studied her face in silence a moment before starting to pull it out.

“Will you get the front door please?”
“Of course. Do you need help with the tree?”
“I’m just going to drag it the short distance.”
“Okay.” He saw her run off and wondered how this entire experience was about to go.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
“This glass angel is so pretty.” Marigold held up the ornament with the painted poinsettia’s on it. He smiled, a nostalgic expression on his face, as he touched it lightly.
“My grandmother handed it down to my Mama. She always wanted Shane or I to hand it down to our wives, to give to our kids.”
“That’s a sweet idea. Here, you hang her up.”

She handed the collectible to him and stooped to get another ornament from the box. They’d both finally gotten the eleven-foot tree up and situated in the corner. Marigold had unpacked the boxes from the closet while he put the lights on the tree. Jackson had told her the lights were his favorite and his least favorite part about decorating. Apparently, they were tiny strands of glorious hell on earth.

Claude Broussard had walked by, giving both of them an exasperated look. She hadn’t acknowledged him and Jackson just ginned, both going about with their business. Some of the girls had gone by as well, but none stopped to help. Marigold didn’t mind. She had nothing in common with them now, making it awkward to talk to them. Not that she ever had before.

They’d gotten all the colored ball ornaments up, as well as some glass pinecones and bells. The glass bells were covered in painted pansies and holly berries. She’d never really seen such ornaments before. She’d seen decorated trees in stores of course, but she’d never really had a reason to go to stores at Christmas time. The Cheap Mart in Bayou always had a fake tree decorated in fake flowers. She’d always found it horrendously tacky. These glass ornaments were beautiful.

She handed Jackson a gold piano while she hung up a gold elephant. These were so special, they had their own cushioned boxes and everything. Marigold was flabbergasted by this. Jackson had just smiled, all the while shaking his head. She seemed ignorant to him, not that he’d said so, but she had no reason to be an expert in all things Christmas.

“Did your Mama play piano?”
“She did.”
“Do you?”
“No, I can’t play any musical instrument.”
“Can’t or haven’t tried?”
He smiled, the simple reaction making her heart skip a beat. “Haven’t tried.”

“Hmm.”
“You?”
“Never tried. Does Claude like the Christmas tree?”
“He thinks it’s sentimental and childish.”
“Oh.”

“I’ve come down stairs before though, and caught him just staring at it. I don’t think he’ll ever admit he likes having it up.”
“Sounds like my Daddy. Lord, men are so stubborn.”

Marigold picked up an old wooden nutcracker, admiring all the painted on bright colors and tiny buttons of his jacket. When she turned to hand it to Jackson, he was giving her an incredulous look that brought her up short.

“What?”
“Men are stubborn?”
“Yes.”

“But women aren’t?”
“Oh, I’m sure they are. I just have more experience with men and their stubbornness.”

Jackson took the ornament with a smile and quiet laugh. “You’re a very different girl, Marigold.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She grinned, before hanging up another ornament.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

A knock at the front door caught both their attention. Jackson finished hanging the ornament in his hand, leaving her balancing on the step ladder to go see who it was. Dallas stood there in his freshly pressed sheriff’s uniform, making Jackson smile as he gave his old college friend a handshake.

“Hey, come on in.”
“Hey Jack. Hope it’s not a bad time.”
“Nah man, we’re just decorating the tree we bought. You know about Ole Harold’s tree farm?”
“I don’t.”

“You need to go get you one, man. Best prices, best trees.”
“I’ll make sure to do that. He got small ones that’ll fit in my place?”
“He does.”
“Good deal.”
“Want anything to drink?”
“Nah, I’m fine.”

Marigold came around the corner, giving Dallas a small smile. She’d only seen him a couple of times since the day they’d met. If he came over for dinner and drinks, she’d go upstairs so they could have their “boys” time together. Jackson instinctively knew it was a way to avoid his friend, he just didn’t understand why. A part of him didn’t want to know the reason.

“Afternoon ma’am.”
“Sheriff.”
“Enjoy the tree shopping?”
“I did, thank you.” Dallas smiled at her, his eyes raking her over; before turning to him.

“Uh Jack, I’m actually here on business.”
“A week in, and you’re already making house calls huh?”
“The law never sleeps as they say. Is there somewhere we can go?”

He peered at his friend, realizing whatever was going on, was serious. “Just come on in the living room.”
“I’ll go upstairs.”
“No, you can keep working on the tree.”

She shot him a questioning look, but briskly walked back toward the tree as she began decorating. Dallas and Jackson took a seat on the couch. He kept one eye on her, but his attention on his friend.

“What’s going on?”
“I got a call from Beverly Harris. Apparently, her husband Billy is missing.”
“I see. Well, he didn’t show up to work Thursday or Friday, but I didn’t think too much about it. Billy likes the liquor so….” Jackson shrugged. A lot of people fought that particular demon in Bayou.

“That’s what I needed to know. No one said anything about him?”
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know. Kenny Dobbs is my right hand man. He let me know Billy wasn’t at work, but that’s it. You might want to talk to him.”
“Kenny Dobbs?”
“That’s right.”
“If you think of anything, give me a call.”

“I will. Beverly should be used to him not showing up by now. I don’t see why she’s concerned this time around.”
“According to her, they had plans he’d never have skipped out on. Also, she just found out she’s pregnant.”
“I’ll be. Well…maybe Billy was so excited, he went out to celebrate and had a little too much.”

“That’s what I’m thinking, but I had to stop and ask. Figured since he worked for you, you might know something or heard something.”
“Can’t say I have. Wish I could be of more help, man.”
“You did just fine, Jack.” Dallas stood, sticking out his hand with a smile as Jackson shook it.

“Staying for dinner?”
“Nah, I’m going to run by Kenny’s place and then head back to the motel.”
“When will you have the house?”
“Wednesday.”
“Well, come on by whenever you want a home cooked meal.”
“I will. Thanks man. Goodbye ma’am.”

Dallas nodded toward Marigold as she gave a tight smile. Jackson had seen a look on her face. He’d seen her body go completely still at the mention of Billy Harris’s name. He knew when he walked back inside, they’d be having a serious conversation.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Marigold gazed at her hands and realized they were uncontrollably shaking. In fact, her entire body seemed to be rattling. She knew nothing would make it stop until she got answers. She didn’t want answers. She wanted things to remain neutral, as they had been. She just wanted to survive her five year prison sentence and move on.

She glanced up at a movement, to find Jackson standing in the doorway. His very being filling up all the space in the room. A sense of power radiating off him in waves. Neither said a word for a minute, as they stared at one another. Blue eyes on brown eyes. A fight was brewing. The room even seemed to steady itself against what was to come.

“Marigold?” She shook her head in response. Jackson crossed the barrier into the room, moving closer to her. “Hey, it’s okay.”

She shook her head again, slowly moving away from his advancing form. The step ladder suddenly digging into the back of her thighs, stopping her progress.

“Stop shaking your head at me. You know it drives me crazy.” His eyes shot fire at her, she gladly reciprocated.
“Stop shaking my head? Are you outside of your damn mind? What is wrong with you? I mean…you…he…oh my God!”

Her yelling rang loudly in her ears, as he stood gawking at her like she was the crazy one. Her heart was racing and her mouth was so dry, she couldn’t even swallow her spit. This day had just been turned upside down. Why? They’d been doing so well.

“Everything’s fine.”
“Fine? How…I…fine.”

She nodded her head, picking up another ornament with shaking hands. If that’s how he wanted to play it, fine. She could pretend everything was okay. She was great at faking what she was feeling. She’d had plenty of opportunities to learn how over the past few months. She felt his eyes on her as she began digging through another box for more ornaments.

“Marigold?”
“Hmm?”
“Look at me, please.”

She peered up, making her face a mask; allowing just her blank cold eyes to glare at him. He came toward her then, his broad body moving with too calm a manner. She instantly stood up and felt her body go on high alert.

“Don’t.”
“Don’t what?”
“Come near me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Tell me what you did.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I haven’t done anything.”

She studied his face as her eyes became colder. He didn’t even have the decency to try to tell her a good lie. He was an ass. She hated him. “Fine.”

He stalked toward her, reaching out as he gently touched her hand. Marigold didn’t care. She didn’t want to feel him. She didn’t want to pretend or fight. She jerked away, the step ladder falling over in her haste.

“Don’t touch me.” Her voice cold, her tone full of disapproval and loathing. She ran past his hand as it reached out to stop her. She flew like the wind up the stairs, heading toward the bedroom. She knew he would follow. She hoped he’d let her be for a little while. What had he done? She was genuinely scared. It’d been a while since she’d felt the rock settling so deep in the pit of her stomach, but settle it did.

*******************************************************************************************************************************


Marigold was standing at the window, her arms wrapped protectively around her waist. She looked like the picture of innocence but he didn’t give a damn. Jackson stormed in, slamming the door behind him; making her body jump as she whirled around. He tried to keep ahold of his temper as he stared her down from a safe distance.

“I’m not fighting with you again today. Am I clear?”
“Okay.”
“I said everything’s fine. I meant it.”
“I believe you.”

Her voice came out sounding like a robot. The same monotonous tone she’d used when she’d first come here. It took him back to the bad times and he couldn’t stand it. He was in front of her within seconds, but she didn’t back down. Steel all the way. Stubbornness and snobbishness out in full glory.

“Stop it.”
“Stop what?”
“Marigold, so help me God.”
“Yes?”

Jackson put his hands around her face; his grip tight and painful. He saw her flinch, but he didn’t let go. It was the only thing keeping him from taking her over his knee.

“Stop it.”
“Stop what? I told you I’m fine. I swear.”
“You sound like a robot.”
“Well…I wasn’t fine a few minutes ago but now….”

She made a waving motion with her hand, pulling away from him as his grip loosened. He watched in disbelief as she turned back towards the window; dismissing the conversation like it was nothing. Frustrating as all get out. He ran his hand down his face as he reminded himself to breathe.

“I mean, it’s a total coincidence I tell you about Billy Harris and he goes missing, right?”

Her sudden question in the silent room made his heart skip a beat. She turned to stare at him with cold eyes; her voice accusing and yet, somehow tinged with sadness.

“Right.”
“There you go then. Let’s go downstairs and finish the tree.”

She smiled, starting for the door with an air of calm. He stopped her, taking her shaking hands in his. She didn’t flinch or even acknowledge the action, as she met his eyes.

“Hey?”
“Hmm?”
“What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.”
“What I don’t know, I can make up.”

“And your theory is?”
“He drinks too much.”
“And?”
“That’s it.”
“Marigold.”

His voice let her know he was in no mood for games. He knew she was lying, and he wanted her to say what she had to say. Instead, it was fiery blue on brown. The story of their relationship thus far.

“Yes?”
“I’m two seconds away from losing my patience.”
“Okay.”
“So you need to spit out whatever it is you need to say, so we can move on.”
“Did you kill him?”
“No.”

She studied his face, and for a split second, he saw the mask slip. In her expression, a mixture of relief and melancholy.

“Good.”
“Do you believe me?”
“Yes and no. No, because it’s so close to when I told you what happened between us. Yes, because what do you care what happened all those years ago.”

She shrugged, the weight of the world situated on her petite shoulders. Once again, she started for the door. Once again, he stopped her. He couldn’t let her leave, knowing he could make the sadness go away. Knowing he could prove something to her, here and now.

“Has anyone ever told you they cared about you?”
“My Mama the last time I was there. Only because she feels bad I’m paying for what my Daddy did. It was the first time she said something kind.”
“Before that?”
“No.” The melancholy in her voice is what broke him.

“Billy Harris is dead because of what he did to you, but I didn’t kill him myself. I just made sure it happened. His body was dumped somewhere away from here. Dallas shouldn’t find it.”

He saw a mixture of confusion and bewilderment. He understood both. “Why? I don’t understand.”
“Because he hurt you.”
“So?”
“He couldn’t get away with it.”
“What does it matter to you? It was so long ago.”

Marigold was slowly backing away as she stared at him with frightened eyes. The deep cobalt peering at him beneath her furrowed brow. He wished she wasn’t scared, but he was glad her eyes weren’t cold.

“I had to.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. Marigold, I care about you.”

She gawked at him with completely stricken eyes. Her mouth gaping as if she’d seen something horrible. His brain couldn’t comprehend her reaction. While it tried to get a sense of ...


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