Bonus Scene: Payback and Pals, a Rachel bonus scene for Songs and Sweethearts
Congratulations on hitting 500 reviews on Songs and Sweethearts. The funny thing is after a while it does become a challenge coming up with bonus scenes for these guys cause we’ve covered so much. So I did a little sidestep over to Rachel, cause who doesn’t love our girl? Christmas, a trip home, a blast from the past—good times, right? Also, this might be a little spoilery if you haven’t read S&S. But only a little.
Christmas in Texas was an experience. One not everyone appreciated. A part of me enjoyed getting away from the bitter cold in New York. You got on the plane wearing layers, stripped most of them away after you landed. Texas was not New York.
I had to cover up some other layers while I was here. Visits home on the holidays could mean a lot of things. Fights. Tears. Tears and fights. Drinking. Cold, unforgiving silence. Laughter, music, and boozy fun. You just never knew what it was going to be. So for a few days, I could pack away my personality and just make peace.
At least I had an exit strategy these days. A timetable. The light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t four years and a graduation away. Uncle Basil greeted me in baggage claim. His bloodshot eyes were a concern, but he didn’t smell like a distillery. So—improvement?
“Hey,” I greeted him with a hug. “Where’s Mom?” Yeah that was a loaded grenade of a question but Basil just gave me a kind of careless shrug after he kissed my temple.
“Your cousin is pregnant,” he warned me and the disdain beneath the words feathered out.
My cousin? “Basil, I have fourteen different cousins. Can you be more specific?” I shouldered my camera bag more tightly. My wallet, cash, phone, and more were also stored in my purse which was in my carry-on. Since I got two, I made sure my camera bag was with me.
He gave me one of those looks that had me grimacing.
“Fifteen on her last birthday,” he said with a sigh. “Old enough to be messing around, too young to understand the consequences. She’s so damn proud of herself. Gonna marry her pimply-faced baby daddy and raise kids. That’s now her goal in life.”
Kill me. I could hear it coming…
“Your mother has gone to try and talk some sense into her sister—” Dorothy Ann was also his sister, but I didn’t correct him. Dorothy Ann and Basil didn’t speak. As far as I knew, they hadn’t exchanged a single word in my hearing for most of my life. They didn’t even mention each other by name.
“Besides being a grandmother, what sense does she need?” I spotted my bag and went for it. Basil followed along amiably, taking a hold of my carry-on bag by the handle so it bumped along with us.
“Oh the usual melodrama,” he said, his tone so filled with disgust it was hard to ignore. “Her life is over, she’s failed her, and she disowned the girl already.”
Fuck. My. Life.
“She threw her out?”
He just gave me a tired look. “She had sex out of wedlock and is now pregnant. She’s stained the whole family with her heathen behavior.”
“Where is Rain now?” Why was I even asking? His bushy eyebrows went up. She was at home. “Fuck, she’s staying in my room, isn’t she?”
He gave me a sorrowful sigh. “We’ve got some of Ohio down…”
“Thank you for the warning. They opened a new hotel, right?”
“Already booked your room. Making your mother pay for half of it, I got the other half.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“No, we did. I’d have booked my own room if she’d let me get away with it. No need for both of us to drown in the madness.”
The temptation to see if I could just fly back to New York was strong, but—it was the holidays. Frankie deserved some time with the guys by herself and I had to visit family to shut them up for a few months.
This was what I did. I’d just rent a car while I was here. And honestly, Christmas in a hotel sounded way preferable to all the family drama. I’d probably rescue Rain for part of it though. Make sure she actually had time to think with everyone shouting at her about what she had to do.
Three days later, I was sitting in a booth at Mason’s, drinking a shake and reading on my digital tablet. I’d spent the morning finishing my Christmas shopping for the family in between taking Rain to a doctor’s appointment. Afterward, she’d asked me to take her to her boyfriend’s place.
Yep. My house had become ground zero and she just wanted to see the pimply-faced kid she was dating. I got a good look at him too. Granted, not my type, but his genuine happiness at seeing her hadn’t been faked. But they looked so young it just made me want to bang my head against the table.
Her words of this is what I want circled endlessly in the back of my head, so I went for the dirty, dirty smut of gang bangs and enemies to lovers to just get away from it. Just because it would not be my choice, didn’t mean I could disrespect hers even if I wanted to shout but you’re a baby too!
The door jingled and I spared it a brief glance like I did whenever anyone wandered in on the quiet afternoon. Mason’s wouldn’t be hopping with the after school crowd when school was out. The glance up and then down again had been automatic, but I blinked as I tried to refocus on the screen in front of me before glancing up again.
Fuck. I hadn’t imagined it.
“Sharon,” I said in as neutral a tone as I could muster. Two plus years past all that shit in high school and I still had no fucks to spare for her. This cunt had made Frankie’s life hell and she was grinning at me like we were long-lost pals?
“Oh my god, look at you!” And of course, she crossed right over to my booth then invaded my side of the booth in a cloud of eye-watering perfume and breath mints. She gave me one of those awkward size-squeezes of a hug. “You don’t mind if I join you? I mean I can’t stay for long. I just slipped in for a drink before I headed to the mall.”
She didn’t wait for me to answer before sliding into the seat opposite me. A waitress who looked as painfully young as my cousin wandered over and took her order for a diet coke and onion rings then wandered away. I took a drink from my shake and Sharon shook her head.
“You aren’t worried about the freshman fifteen?”
I snorted. “Not a freshman.” And with all the walking I did in New York? No, it wasn’t a concern. Besides, I let myself have cheats when I wanted them. Starving yourself just made you hangry and bitchy.
Not that Sharon needed help.
“That’s true,” she said with a sigh, then the waitress was back with her soda. After she left, Sharon stripped the paper off her straw. “How is—where did you end up going?”
“Away,” I said succinctly. “Where you should consider going now.”
She laughed. It was uneven and a little hollow, but she laughed. “You always were a blunt thing. I promised I wouldn’t stay long, but we haven’t caught up in ages. We used to be friends, remember?”
Was she legit scolding me right now? For fucking real?
Thankfully, the waitress brought her the greasy onion rings. Now, if I were a real petty bitch, I’d give her shit about the deep-fried foods.
While I might be a bitch, I wasn’t that petty.
“We were never real friends,” I corrected her after the waitress left. Poor thing would probably curl up and die if someone looked at her cross-eyed. Better to keep her out of the line of fire.
“Now that’s just bullshit.” She actually looked offended. “We were all friends, you, me, Maria, Patty, Cheryl—”
She broke off on the last.
There was a name missing from her list.
Among many others, but a very specific name.
“I just want to be polite and catch up.” Now the note in her voice went more than a little strained.
“Okay, let’s catch up then, but let’s not pretend we were friends, Sharon. You were a social climbing, backstabbing, selfish, overbearing, and mean fucktwat in school. Most of those are fine, I’m definitely a little selfish and more than a little mean. I’ve even been known to be overbearing, but I never tried to deliberately stab a so-called friend in the back or climb over her to get to a guy.”
Nor would I ever.
“And furthermore,” I continued, cutting her off when she would have interrupted and pointed a fry at her. “You tried to terrorize someone you once called a friend. Trust me when I say you don’t have the first fucking clue what it is to be a friend. Fortunately, you were unsuccessful in all your little attempts to character assassinate and drive a wedge between Frankie and her guys.”
All pretense of politeness fell away from Sharon’s face and her lips compressed. “We don’t need to discuss her.”
“Oh, but we do, you see—she is my friend. She has been a better friend to me than I was to her at times. She put up with a lot shit, a lot. And all you did was capitalize on her misery and try to make it worse. Thankfully, you failed. But you did give them a lot of meaty material.”
“What…?” Confusion clouded her gaze.
Like I said, I wasn’t a petty bitch. “Bound Hearts? Surely you’ve heard them. Great album. The group is touring right now. All the rage on TikTok with clips from their debut.”
“Yes,” she said slowly, and I just grinned before I took a bite of my fry. Comprehension took a minute but watching it slowly ripple over her face was really delightful. Totally improved my day.
“Meaty material, and they’re happier than ever. Maybe we should thank you for holding their feet to the fire.” I made a show of thinking about it. “The guys really closed ranks around her the more you tried to tear her down, the more they lifted her up.”
Her smile was sickly thin and quickly fading.
“Nah, scorpion is gonna scorpion. But she’s happy and in love and they adore her and you’re—well—you.”
Without a word, Sharon slid out of the booth and left her onion rings untouched and her soda barely drunk.
“Aww,” I said with mock-concern. “Leaving so soon? I thought you wanted to catch up.”
“You’re such a bitch.”
I grinned. “Yes, I am.” She only scowled in response and stalked toward the door. Guess I was getting stuck with the bill for her food. Excellent investment. At the jingle of the door, I called out, “Merry Christmas!”
With a glare, she all but stomped out to her car and I cackled to myself. Not petty in the slightest. That felt good. Even money said she would listen to every single one of their songs and try to dissect which part was a reference to her. That was gonna live rent-free in her head for a while.
I pulled the onion rings over and took a bite out of one before turning my tablet back on to resume reading. The holiday was already looking better.