There’s a scene in Texas Tangle, where Brett’s finally admitted he is attracted to Nikki but is willing to give her up in order to maintain his friendship that just grabs me every time…
Copyright © 2010 by Leah Braemel
[D]illon eased his truck off the road and parked it behind Brett’s car. “He used to come here when we were kids. Before he came to live with us. He called it his thinking spot.”
He switched off the ignition but stayed in place, his hands clenching the steering wheel.
“You know the weekend his dad beat the crap out of him? Before I checked his house, I’d come out here on my bike. I knew things were tough at home, so I figured maybe he’d run away.” He rubbed his thumbs into his eyes. “After he moved in with us, we used to come here all the time to fool around once our chores were done. We had us some good times here.”
“Let’s go find him.” Nikki opened her door and hopped down to survey the area. It was typical Texas brush, buffalo grass and bluestem fighting for space with prickly pear and yucca. Perfect rattlesnake country. While she’d never been bitten, Rascal had tangled with one the previous summer. After seeing what he’d gone through, she’d been cautious ever since and was glad she’d taken the time to put on her boots instead of her sandals.
Dillon grabbed what he called his whacking stick from the back of the truck and swung through the grasses to scare any snakes into retreat.
He skirted a section of Bull Nettle, making sure she didn’t come in contact with any of the stinging hairs. A few steps later, he reached down and plucked a yellow flower, sticking it behind her ear with a half-hearted smile. “Tickweed. Just to make sure you don’t pick up any fleas.”
Chuckling, she touched the blossom, knowing she’d treasure it anyway. If they ended up staying together. Her smile faded.
“This place is beautiful in the spring.” Dillon tapped the ground as he approached a fallen branch to scare any rattlers. “The whole field is covered in Indian Blankets.”
His love of the land must have sprung from the days he’d spent right here, she realized. She tried to picture him and Brett as youngsters running through the fields, playing tag or, more likely, cops and robbers.
They reached the crest of the hill. A creek, its waters higher than normal from the storm they’d had the day before, wound its way through the harsh terrain, widening out at the far end to a pond that probably dried up in the summer heat. But today, it glimmered bright blue, reflecting the sky above.
“Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?” Dillon wrapped his arm around her waist. A part of her land—and his— looked exactly the same. To her it was harsh land, rock and dirt and weeds. But now, standing here, she tried to see it through his eyes. Not scrub, but mesquite trees laden with grape vines marking the river’s path, lush greenery combined with the water-worn rocks lining the creek’s banks. Thick marsh grasses lined the edges of the pond, the occasional bird swooping down in sudden arcs, catching bugs skimming along the surface. At the far end, a stand of sweetgums and loblolly pines stood as silent sentinels, guarding the pond.
“Come on, Brett’s probably up ahead. There’s this one spot he used to like to sit.”
They scrambled down the bank, following the creek along its meandering path until it widened and became the pond. While Dillon continued, Nikki paused and shielded her eyes from the sun as she scanned the area. It took a few moments, but she finally spied Brett sitting beneath the overhanging branches of a massive old beech tree halfway down, tossing pebbles into the water.
As they approached, he stiffened and turned his head away from them.
Dillon hesitated, the first time she’d ever seen him unsure. “Maybe we should just leave him alone for a while.”
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“No, he needs to know we’re here for him. Both of us.”
Yet he still hesitated. “I don’t know, Nik. Brett’s a private person. Even when he was in the shed, his arm and ribs all busted up, he didn’t want me to see how much he was hurting.”
“Then you stay here. But I’m going to him.” Not taking her eyes off the hunched figure beneath the beech tree, she skirted Dillon and continued along the side of the pond.
As she got closer, she could see Brett’s jaw tighten, the tension in his shoulders and arms, how he looked like he was prepared to jump up and run.
“Brett?” she said softly, slowly her pace. “Are you all right?”
“You here to tell me how you feel sorry for me? Poor little abused kid and all that crap?”
The bitterness, the sarcasm in his voice sliced through her. She did feel sorry for him, but she knew he didn’t want to hear any form of pity. Any more than she’d wanted to hear “you can always try again” or “it wasn’t meant to be” about her miscarriage.
She ducked under the branches and sat beside Brett. Dillon moved behind both of them to hunker down on Brett’s other side.
“We’re here because we were worried about you.” She chanced having him bolt by placing her hand on his upper arm. “You’re my friend, Brett, and friends are there for each other.”
He stared at her for a second, then nodded and stared at the pond again.
No one said anything for another few minutes until Brett swore and threw a handful of pebbles into the water at once. He stood up. “I can’t do this, Nik. I can’t pretend anymore.”
Before he could take a step away, Nikki reached out and caught his hand. “Brett, wait. Please.”
“What do you want of me?” His voice was husky, as if he’d been screaming for hours. Maybe inwardly he had been.
“I want you to talk to me. And to listen. Please.”
Though it took him a moment, Brett finally settled into place beside her.
“At the very beginning of this, I asked you if it was all right to go out with Dillon, and you said you were fine with it.”
If Brett saw Dillon straighten and stare at her, he didn’t give any indication. She shoved away the thread of guilt that arose. They hadn’t been dating then, and she’d been perfectly within her rights to check to see if Brett was interested, she told herself. She turned her attention back to Brett, reaching out to touch his arm with her fingertips, to re-establish the contact she’d had with him.
His eyes closed at her touch. “You deserve to be happy, Nik. You’re happy with Dillon, and he’s happy with you. He loves you.”
“But you do too, don’t you?”
It took a long moment before he nodded.
“Except you decided to be noble and not interfere because you didn’t want to lose your best friend, your family, the way you had before, didn’t you?”
“They’re all I’ve got, Nik. I don’t have anyone else.” He took a deep breath and looked at Dillon. “When I went to Boston? I was miserable. Your mom phoned regularly, and Griffin emailed me every once in a while, but it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t stand being alone like I’d been before. I love your family, Dill. I’m not about to let them be ripped away from me. Not again.”
Dillon tossed the husk of a beechnut into the pond. “You could have come home more often, you know. They’re your family too. Matthew, Lilly, especially Griffin. They missed you. They used to rag on me about you all the time. Shit, Brett, all you had to do was say something, and I would have backed off and let you date her too.”
“Yeah, but see, they were caught in between, and if they talked to me, I’d know they’d feel like they were being disloyal to you. I couldn’t do that to them. I was used to being alone, to not having anyone when it was just my pop and me. But once I’d been part of your family, gotten used to having people care for me, talk to me like I was worth talking to, I couldn’t live without them.” His voice was rough, as if he’d swallowed glass and each word tore his throat apart. He turned back to face Nikki. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should have told you, I don’t know. You’ve always been special to me. You always will be, but I couldn’t lose Dillon or the Barnetts. I just couldn’t.” The bleak look Brett gave her was one filled with need, with love, but no hope. “You deserve better than me, Nik.”
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