The Sweetheart Sham

By: Danielle Ellison

Chapter Two


I never thought I’d set foot back in Culler, South Carolina.

After my parents separated and we left, I thought that was it. They’ve barely been in the same room since the divorce. Neither of us wants to deal with Dad; he doesn’t seem to want us, either. Then, Georgia Ann wrote me off. Will and I grew apart. Granddad calls every Thursday night like clockwork. Other than him, no one else even tries to talk to me. My old life is gone, that much has been clear to me since the night we left. All I’ve been able to do is make something new in Atlanta and keep my mouth shut about the rest.

Truth be told, Atlanta is a shithole. Too expensive and too much traffic. The people are hit or miss. Our school has too many kids. The girls are superficial; I learned my lesson there. Basketball keeps me going. That and Ma. She’s happy here, even if I’m not.

What would she do anyway? Uproot the life she’s built and move us somewhere else? We did that once when we came here. After a year of seeing her pretending not to cry, Atlanta brought her a new energy. The smile on her face means more to me than Culler.

At least until Granddad’s call two weeks ago. Ever since then, it’s all I can think about.

When I walk inside, Ma’s laugh drifts toward the front door, and the whole house smells like pizza. Ma doesn’t order pizza; she makes it all from scratch. The best pizza in creation.

“Smells good,” I announce as I walk into the kitchen. Ma is wrapped up in her boyfriend’s arms. I catch the tail end of him kissing her neck. Ma blushes and I look away. That will never not be damn awkward.

“Hi, sweetie,” Ma says, unwrapping herself and placing a kiss on my cheek. “You’re just in time.”

“Evening, Beau,” he says, handing me a paper plate.

She moves to the oven. I give her boyfriend a look. “Hey, Lawrence.”

Ma has been dating Lawrence Davis for more than a year now. They met right after the divorce was final at some networking event for work downtown. He’s a nice enough guy. Good job. Never married and no kids. He’s bald and shorter than me—though most people are. He’s not my dad and he doesn’t try to be. That’s the best part about him. Really, he doesn’t seem interested in me much at all. We talk about college sometimes or basketball, but that’s the extent of it. But he treats Ma like a treasure and she glows around him; at the end of the day that’s what I care about.

“You like it with onions, right?” Lawrence asks.

“Yes, sir,” I say with another nod. Ma is smiling, as if our exchange is worth millions to her. I like that she’s happy. There was a time when she never thought she would be again.

Before it happened, Ma and Dad were the best together. Always laughing or holding hands. They’d been in love, together, destined or whatever you call it, since they were fifteen. They knew each other their whole lives, as most do in Culler. Dad used to say it was as if one day he saw her, really saw her, and all the years before he’d been looking at something else.

But that was before he broke us. Before Dad cheated and Ma found out. I guess at first they tried to make it work anyway, but then she couldn’t handle it anymore. She told me what happened, said she was leaving Culler, and here we are.

We all take a seat at the table with Ma’s pizza. My leg is shaking from nerves. As soon as she says grace I pounce. “Did you decide about Culler?”

Ma gives me a disapproving look. “Now is not really the time, Beau.”

“Ma, please.”

When Ma said we were going back for Drew’s wedding, I was excited. I know she saw it. It was Christmas Day exciting, even though we were only going for a weekend. Then Granddad called, on a Monday.

“Beau needs to get his rear-end home,” he’d said. Granddad doesn’t exactly know how to use FaceTime, so he was yelling in the phone. Loud enough that I could hear him when I sat on the steps, where there’s a hell of an echo. “It’s a family event, and like it or not that boy is a Montgomery.”

“I’ve never questioned that, Orry,” Ma had said in the phone.

“It’s been too damn long since we’ve seen him and this here is Drew’s wedding. You divorced Hank, not the whole damn family. I want him here. You gonna deny an old man his grandson?”

Ma sighed. “You’re going to outlive all of us, Orry.”

Granddad didn’t laugh at the joke, not when he was on a mission. “Hank isn’t going to insist. He’s too worried about hurting you, but the boy needs his dad. This has all gone on long enough now. No more avoiding us.”

“He is coming to the wedding. We both are.”

“I’m talking about more than a weekend, woman. I’m talking about him being home. I’m asking for three weeks. Give the boy a break from all that pollution he’s been breathing in. Let him get some real sunshine.”

Ma said she had to think about it, and today’s the day. Three days was a miracle, so I’m not even sure she will agree to three weeks. Even though Dad’s there too, even though it means seeing him, I hope she says yes. I’ve always belonged in Culler and part of me needs to find out if I still do. I don’t belong here, that much is sure. I have to belong somewhere.