Twilight, Texas 1994
“A quilt is a quilt is a quilt” — Trixie Lynn Parks, fourteen-year-old ragamuffin.
It was turning out to be the second worse day of Trixie Lynn Parks’ fourteen-year-old life.
Her father’s hateful words pounded through her head like a migraine. The sound of her running feet slapping against the pavement echoed in her ears, compounded the pain.
For the most part, the streets of Twilight, Texas stretched empty. Families were inside taking their evening meal. The stores on the town square had already closed. A few cars sat parked outside the diner, the smell of cooking oil slathered the air. A lone merchant swept the sidewalk in front of his mercantile. He raised a hand in greeting, but Trixie Lynn lowered her head and just kept running.
She’d come home from school to find her father packing up their things just as he had so many times before. They’d never stayed in one town longer than a year. It was May and school was almost out. Two more days left. Everyone was looking forward to the last-day-of-school party on Friday and her father was packing.
The sight of him, with a roll of duct tape in his hand and cardboard boxes strewn around the living room stoked something fierce inside her—anger, disappointment, hurt, betrayal. He’d promised her this time he’d stick with a job. The nuke plant in Glen Rose paid goof. She loved Twilight and for once, she was doing well in school. Why was he uprooting her again? She saw destruction in that flash of silver tape, felt it tear through her insides as effectively as a jagged-toothed saw.
He’d glanced up at her, a hard, determined expression sitting on his mouth and his graying dark hair sticking out in tufts from the side of his head. For as far back as she could remember, she’d never felt close to him. Not the way a girl should feel close to her father. He kept her at distance with his tense, slope-shouldered posture and his faded, faraway brown eyes. There had always been a missing synapse, a gap between them, and no matter how hard Emma tried, she had never been able to close it. When her mother ran off things only got worse. The mosaic of her fractured childhood pelted her.
“Dad, push me on the swings.”
“You’re a big girl, Trixie Lynn, push yourself.”
“Can you help me with my homework, Dad?”
“Not now, I gotta mow the lawn.”
“The boys at school are making fun of me ’cause I don’t wear a bra. I need a bra.”
“Here’s twenty dollars, go buy one.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“Stop talking with your mouth full.”
She thought of how he’d failed to celebrate her birthdays ninety percent of the time. How he gave her the brush off any time she’d tried to hug him. She’d thought it was because he blamed her for her mother leaving. If she’d been a good girl, if she’d just picked up her toys off the floor and eaten her vegetables and brushed her teeth like she was told, then her mother wouldn’t have left and her father wouldn’t hold her responsible.
All those years of feeling ignored and disregarded by her father converged into one big defiantly lump in the pit of her stomach. Why not take a stand? He already hated her. What else did she have to lose?
“I’m not going,” she’d said flatly before he ever said a word and slung her school books onto the sofa.
Her father had said nothing, just kept throwing things into the cardboard box—a lamp made from a cowboy boot, a red lap blanket, a fistful of cassette tapes by George Jones, Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard. “You’re fourteen, you have no say in the matter.”
She sank her hands on her hips. “You can’t make me.”
He’d rocked back on his heels, looked at her with the empty expression he so often threw her way. “I can and I will,” he intoned.
“I’ll run away,” she threatened.
He blew out his breath. “Don’t push me Trixie Lynn.”
She stalked across the room and pushed against his shoulder. “There, I’m pushing you. What are you going to do about it?”
He drew back a hand and she thought he was going to hit her. And for a bright second she felt a strange spark of joy. She’d caused a reaction in him. Even if he hit her, it meant he felt something. That he wasn’t totally apathetic.
“Go to your room and start packing.”
“No. I’m going to go find my mother and live with her.”
He laughed harsh and angry. “Good luck with that.”
“I’ll do it. Just watch me.”
Slowly, he’d got to his feet, but he hadn’t looked at her. He turned his head, jammed his hands in his pockets. “Go find your worthless mother. See if I care. I’ve tried to do by right by you, Trixie Lynn. Take care of you after your mother left us. I’ve fed you and put a roof over your head. I bought you those purple sneakers you have on that cost sixty dollars, but none of it is good enough. You’re always wanting more, expecting more.”
“I don’t care about all that stuff,” she yelled. “All I’ve ever wanted was for you to love me. Why can’t you love me?”
He spun around to face her, a balding, bland-face, dullard of a man who drank too much beer on the weekends and spent the majority of his spare time watching sports on television. “You want to know why?”
Mutely, she nodded. At last, to have the question answered. It wasn’t her imagination. He didn’t love her. He never had. Misery constricted her throat.
“You sure you really want to know why?”
“Because,” he said flatly. “You’re not my daughter.”
The words, once spoken, hung in the air between them, tight as hangman’s noose. She was not his daughter? How could that be? But some small part of her had always known. He was black hair and brown-eyed. Her mother had been a brunette with hazel eyes. And here, she’d turned up with copper-colored hair and Irish green eyes.
“I’ve tried to love you,” he said, “but I can’t. I don’t know how. You want too much. You suck the life right out of me.”
His words hit her sharper than a physical blow, the pain in her heart crippling. Her knees buckled, but she stiffened her spine, resolved not to show him how much he’d hurt her. “Whose daughter am I?”
“How the hell do I know? You’re Mama was a whore, and you’re shaping up to be just like her.”
She’d run away from him then, hurling herself out the front door, running as fast as her purple sneakers would carry her. She’d ran until she couldn’t breathe and a sharp pain cut a swathe in her side. She sank down on the curb, not even knowing where she was, sank her head into her hands and sobbed her heart out.
It was only when a comforting hand touched her shoulder, did she realize she had probably made a spectacle of herself.
“Are you okay?”
She’d turned her head and there he’d been, looking down at her with a worried expression on his face.
Sam. Her best friend in the whole world. Just when she needed him most.
“It’s…I…” she hiccoughed, then started crying fresh tears.
“Something’s tearing you up inside.”
“You need to talk?”
“Uh-huh.” It was all she could manage.
“Let’s find some place quiet, out of the way of rubber-neckers.”
She looked up to see the curtain in the window across the street move and on the porch next door an old woman sat in a rocking chair eyeing them speculatively. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Mowing lawns for spending money.”
That was when she noticed the grass clinging to his jeans and the sweat stain ringing the neck of his T-shirt. “Oh.”
“How about you? Why are you on this side of town?”
“I ran away from home.”
He held out his head. “Come on, let’s go talk about it. I know the perfect place.”
They’d walked down the street hand-in-hand and it wasn’t until they turned the corner that she realized they were on the block behind the town square. With his fingers linked through hers, he guided her to the side entrance of the Twilight Playhouse. He tried the handle. It was unlocked and the door sprang open. Sam raised an index finger to his lips and drew her closer to his side.
They tiptoed into the darkened theatre. The ghostly silence amplified the sound of their footsteps against the old wooden flooring. He guided her down the aisle of the auditorium and onto the stage. Simply stepping up on the stage immediately made her feel better as she imagined herself acting before a live audience. One day, she was going to be an actress. One way or the other she was going to make it happen. Then everyone would love her and Rex Parks would deeply regret having treated her so badly and her mother would regret running off and leaving her.
“Where are we going?” she whispered.
“You’ll see.” He guided her around the velvet curtain.
It was dark as midnight back there and her heart jerked with fear and excitement. As if sensing her mood, Sam wrapped a hand around her waist and from his pants’ pocket produced a tiny penlight. He shone it over the wall. The slender beam of light picked up the wooden ladder leading to the catwalk area that the stage crew used.
“Up you go,” he whispered.
“I’m scared,” she confessed.
“It’s okay. I’m right here with you all the way.”
In that moment she completely forgot about Rex Parks and what he’d revealed. She forgot that he was taking her away from Twilight, the only placed she’d ever wanted to call home. She forgot everything except the fact that Sam Cheek was scaling the ladder behind her, his breath hot against the nape of her neck. In that moment all her teenage longing converged into one throbbing mass of desire lodged deep in her lower abdomen. She felt all shivery and breathless as she crawled out onto the platform and Sam came up beside her.
“Lie down on your back,” he said.
“What?” Her pulse spiked through the roof. Was he thinking what she was thinking? But she was too young for this. Even though she wanted him, even though she was in love with him, she wasn’t ready for lovemaking.
“Lie on your back,” he repeated and switched off the penlight.
With trembling limbs, she lay down on her back and the second she saw the ceiling she understood his request. “Oh.” She laughed. “So that’s why you wanted me to lie down.”
“What did you think?” he murmured, laying down beside her and cupping the back of his head in his palms.
“That I’d lured you to steal a kiss?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“I would never do that,” he said, his tone deadly serious. “I would never take advantage of you.”
They stared up at the ceiling dotted with hundreds of luminescent stick-on stars glowing an eerie white-green in the blackness. Amidst the numerous smaller stars was one large one, brighter than the rest and positioned squarely in the middle.
“In my universe that’s you.” Sam pointed. “The biggest star of all, outshining the rest.” He reached down to take her hand.
Her breath hung in her lungs. For the very first time in her life she knew what it felt like to be utterly cherished. She lay there on the hard plywood floor of the stage loft, gazing at the stars, smelling his grassy scent, her hand warm in his and for one sweet second she forgot about her problems and drifted on the bliss.
“So what’s got you so upset,” Sam broached a few minutes later. “Why are you running away from home?”
She told him about Rex. How he wasn’t her father. How he’d admitted he didn’t love her, but he was raising her because he felt a sense of duty. How he had quit his job at the nuke plant and they were moving on again. To a new job, a new town, one far away from Twilight. As she talked, she started to cry again. Softer this time, her tears weighted with inevitability. She knew she was going to have to go with Rex. She had nowhere else to turn. She had no grandparents that she knew of. No relatives to take her in. She was barely fourteen — too young to get a job. And sad as it was that Rex didn’t love her, he had taken good care of her, met her physical needs if not her emotional ones.
When she finished her tale, Sam sat up and looked down at her. The tracks of her tears had dried a salty rut across her temples into her hairline. She could barely make out his features in the dim illumination from the faux stars above.
He gazed at her with an expression that made her stomach flip. “I believe in you, Trixie Lynn. You’re going to do great things, have a great life.”
Joy, pure and sweet and powerful in the way only a fourteen-year-old in love for the first time can feel, poured over her with the rush of Niagara Falls. She sat up, not knowing what to do next, not knowing how to respond to the sensations shooting through her teenaged body.
Then he’d leaned over and brushed his lips against hers.
Lightning. Trixie Lynn felt as if she’d been hammered by a white-hot bolt of lightning.
Sam must have felt it too because his eyes widened and he looked like someone who’d been through their first earthquake.
They’d kissed again, tenderly, slowly, exploring. It had lasted for what seemed like hours. Trixie Lynn dissected every nuance of the moment, every sound, smell, taste, touch. Her best friend Sam was kissing her and it felt glorious.
“We better stop now,” Sam said pulling his lips from hers and threading his fingers through her hair. “My Mom’s gonna be looking for me.”
Trixie Lynn sighed. She didn’t want to go.
He got to his feet and held out his hand. She took it and he pulled her up beside him.
In spite of all the kissing, she felt much worse. Now she knew exactly what she was leaving behind. She wanted to rage against the injustice of it all, but the look in Sam’s calm eyes suddenly quelled her angry.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said. “You’re going to grow up and be strong. You’re going to get everything you want.”
“I want you. I want to stay in Twilight.”
“You can’t stay in Twilight. But that’s okay. You’re destined for bigger things. You’re gonna be a star. I feel it in my bones.”
She peered at him in the darkness and saw the calm, steady light of certainty in his eyes. That look made her believe that anything was possible.
And just like that, second worst day of Trixie Lynn’s fourteen-year-old life became the best.