"Hello?" The ringing telephone pulled Laura from her sleep Saturday morning.

"What are you doing?"

"Sleeping, Matthew Skinner. What are you doing? Besides calling people up and asking them stupid questions?" Matthew was Bubba's nephew who used to live in Atlanta, Goergia, but got mixed up in drugs and alcohol, and nearly killed himself when he overdosed one night. Then he came to Mississippi to try get his life cleaned up and straight again. Now, he studies art at Ole Miss, and comes back to Sparta most weekend and holidays.

"Sleeping? You do know that it's almost noon, right?"

"No, I was sleeping. I wasn't watching the clock," she replied with a yawn. "Besides, it is not. It's only 11:30."

"I said almost. It's too late to be sleeping anyway. Don't you have a job or something to go to?"

"Nope. Do you?"

"Yeah, I have a job, but I'm off."

"Where are you?"

"Where I am."

"Idoit," she mumbled.

"Sparta," he laughed. "Uncle Bubba's house."

"Why aren't you in Oxford?"

"Semester break. I'm off until the first of October."

"Long break. Are you sure ain't been expelled?"

"Yes, I'm sure I haven't been exspelled," he replied sarcastically. "I'm on the Dean's list. Pretty good for a crackhead, huh?"

"Well, I guess you do still have a few brain cells left, floating around in that big old head of yours. But, Crackhead, you have to do good. If you screw up again, your Uncle will kick yo' butt back to Georgia."

"Tell me about it. So, what are you doing today? Other than sleeping half of it away?"

"Bite me, Georgia-boy," she snapped.

"I'll pass, darling, but offer again later," he laughed. "Come on, Hickhoney, get up. Let's go get some lunch."

"Why ya' asking a hick?" She shot back.

"Becuase you are just about the only person under thirty I know in this backwoods, bumpkin town."

"Boy, if you don't quit being so insulting, I'm going to hang up on you."

"Better not," he warned. "I'm not one of your stupid little boyfriends. I won't call you back. I don't play that game. Now, are you going to get your lazy rear-end in gear? Or am I going to have to come over there and drag you out of that bed?"

"Keep on being mean, Skinner, and I will hang up on you," she warned this time.

"No, you won't," he argued.

"Yes, I will."

"No, you won't, or you'd have done so, already."

She hung up, then counted, "5,4,3,2,1." On one the phone rang again.

"Okay, so you will," he said, as soon as she answered.

"Thought you wouldn't call back."

"I lied. Come on, girl. Get up. Lunch. My treat."

"You ain't going to let up until I go, are you?" she asked.

"Probably not."

"Okay, okay, I'm up," she sighed. "Where do you want to meet up at?"

"Magnolia cafe, in thirty minutes, okay?"

"All right." She hung up. She thought about going back to sleep, but standing anyone up, even Matt, was too mean. She got out of bed and got dressed.

Thirty minutes later, she pulled up in front of the cafe. Matthew was leaning against his truck, waiting on her.

"What took you so long?" he playfully demanded.

"Watch it, Georgia-boy," she replied. She took the cigarette from his hand, dropped it, then stepped on it. "And put that out."

"Litterbug."

"Dopehead. Let's eat. I ain't got all day to mess with you. I got other things to do."

"What do you have to do that's so important?" he asked, after they had went inside and found a table.

"A date. Tonight."

"With that Thomas Kay boy?"

"Thomas Jay, you moron." She wondered just what pleasure he got out of annoying her, and why she put up with it.

"Jay, Kay, whatever," he shrugged. The waitress came over and they ordered thier food.



"Can I ask you a question?" Laura turned serious.

"That is a question." he smirked. "But, since our whole relationship is based on one continuos series of questions and answers, I don't see where one more would hurt."

"Why do you come here so often?"

"You mean, why don't I ever go home to Atlanta? There's nothing for me in Altalnta, anymore. It's just a place I used to live."

"No, I mean, why don't you ever stay on campus at Ole Miss? I mean, there's probably ballgames, and parties, and things a lot more interesting than hanging out here, with no one to really talk to but a sixteen-year-old high school kid."

"First of all," he replied. "I like talking to you. You are one the few girls I have met around here who can hold an intellegent conversation, even when you don't know what in world you are talking about. Second, it's way too easy to get drugs or alcohol at those games and parties than I care to think about. It's too tempting to slip and I've worked too hard to clean myself up to go and screw up now. So, the best way to beat the temptation is to remove my self from the situation where I'll be tempted. This is the only place I have to go."

"That's cool." She put her feet up on the bench next to him. He started to pushe them down, then stopped examining her right ankle.

"YOU have a tattoo?" He asked, incredously.

"Yeah. A rose."

"I can see that. Does your daddy know have a tattoo?"

She nodded.

"And you're still alive?"

"Yep. I got it when I was ten. I wasn't living with him then, and by the time I was, I already had it. He doesn't like it, but can he say?" She shrugged.

"I don't believe they let a ten-year-old get a tattooo."

"Believe what you want, but it's the truth. You know when most kids say they want a tattoo, thier parents say over thier dead bodies, and the kids silently plot to get one when they're older. Well, my mother said cool, let's go see my friend who does tattoos. Now I'm older and I wish I didn't have it. But, I'd rather keep it than go through the surgery to remove it." She smiled. "Besides, it's so small, I can cover it up."

He traced the rose with his fingers, as if remembering it.



"Hey, man, ain't that your girlfriend?" Micheal Carter said, pointing at a window in the Magnolia Cafe.

When Thomas Jay turned to look, what he saw was Laura, sitting with some guy he'd never seen before, and the guy was rubbing her ankle. His hands clenched with rage, and he swore under his breath. He started towards the cafe.

"Where are you going?" Micheal called after him.

"To meet her new friend," was his answer.

Laura was laughing at Matthew's tale of a not supposed to be, but was, nude model in one of his art classes when Thomas Jay walked in. She didn't even see him until he was standing right beside her.

"Hello, Laura."

She looked up, her smile fading for just a moment before reappearing even brighter. "Hey, Thomas Jay." She stood up and hugged him, then turned to Matthew. "Matthew this is Thomas Jay Sanders. Thomas Jay, this is my friend, Matthew Skinner."

"Nice to meet you," Matthew held out his hand.

"Likewise," Thomas Jay replied, shaking his hand. "Laura, can we talk? Outside?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll be right back, Matthew." She let him lead her outside. "What is it, baby? What's up?"

"What are you doing?" There was anger in his usually sweet voice.

"Having lunch with a very dear friend." She took a step back, trying to distance herself from him, but he followed.

"Just a friend?"

"Yeah. Matt is just a friend."

"God, are you that niave? He is more than just a friend, or at least he wants to be," Thomas Jay practically yelled. "Just a friend wouldn't have been rubbing your leg like he was."

She gave him a confused look, then remembered. "Oh! Baby, he was just looking at my tattoo." She took another step and realized that she had backed herself into the wall. That wasn't good. "Back up, Thomas Jay. I don't like this. You're scaring me."

His ecpression softened, but he didn't back away. Instead, he hugged her to him. "I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean to. You know I don't mean it when I do things like that, don't you?"

She didn't answer him.

"Don't you?"

She nodded against his chest. "Yeah, I know."

"I love you, baby. Don't be upset, okay? Please?"

"Okay," she replied, dispirited.

"You love me?"

She nodded, but couldn't quite look him in the eye.

"Good. Go finish your lunch." He kissed her. "I'll see you later?"

"Yeah."

Just before he let her go, he whispered, "Appartenete a me."

She knew it was italian. He had told her his father's mother had been from Italy and had taught him the language when he was young, but she didn't know what it meant.

"I'll see you tonight," he said before walking back to his friends across the street. She had to compose herself again before she went back in the cafe.

When she came back in, Matthew was watching her with concern.

"Why do you let him talk to you like that?" he asked.

"Like what? He didn't talk to me any strange way."

"I could see him. He backed you into a corner," Matthew replied. "I've never known you to be afraid of anything, but it seemed like you were afraid of him. Why go out with someone you're afriad of?"

"I'm not afraid of him. That's ridiculous," she snapped. "And I'm going out with him becuase he loves me."

"Do you love him?"

"He loves me."

"That wasn't the question, Laura."

"Well, that's your answer, take it or leave it. Let's just eat this before it gets cold." She looked down at her plate, but found that she wasn't so hungry anymore. She more played with her food than ate it.

"You're going to be here until October?" She asked, as they were getting ready to leave.

"Yeah."

"Cool, we'll have to do something." She opened her car door. "I'll see you later."

"Bye, Laura." He kissed her cheek, then shut the car door, after she had sat down in the seat.

"Bye, Matthew." She smiled, then drove away.

Was Thomas right? Did Matthew want to be more than her friend? Nah. He was nineteen, and in college, and georgeous. Why would he be intersted in a skinny little high school kid in a backwoods country town that he would probably never think about again, once he was trough with school?