Home > The Serpent King(4)

The Serpent King(4)
Jeff Zentner

And with that pronouncement, Dill realized that the dread in his stomach wouldn’t be going away any time soon. Maybe never. The final indignity? He doubted he’d even get a good song out of it.

The Nashville skyline loomed in the distance. Lydia liked Nashville. Vanderbilt was on her college list. Not high on the list, but there. Thinking about colleges put her in a good mood, as did being in a big city. All in all, she felt a lot happier than she had the day before the start of any school year in her life. She could only imagine what she’d be feeling the day before next school year—freshman year of college.

As they entered the outskirts of Nashville, Dill stared out the window. Lydia had given him her camera and assigned him to be expedition photographer, but he forgot to take pictures. He had his normal faraway affect and distinct air of melancholy. Today seemed different somehow, though. Lydia knew that visits to Nashville were a bittersweet affair for him because of his father, and she’d consciously tried to pick a route that would differ from the one he took to visit the prison. She spent a fair amount of time on Google Maps plotting, but to no avail. There were only so many routes from Forrestville to Nashville.

Maybe Dill was looking at the homes they passed. Houses as cramped and dilapidated as his didn’t seem to exist even in the parts of Nashville with cramped and dilapidated houses, at least along the path they took. Maybe he was thinking about the music that flowed in the city’s veins. Or maybe something else entirely occupied his mind. That was always a possibility with him.

“Hey,” she said gently.

He started and turned. “Hey what?”

“Nothing. Just hey. You’re being so quiet.”

“Don’t have much to say today. Thinking.”

They crossed over the river into East Nashville and drove past coffee shops and restaurants until they pulled up to a restored Craftsman-style bungalow. A hand-painted sign out front said ATTIC. Lydia parked. Travis reached for his staff.

Lydia raised a finger in warning. “Do not.”

They walked in, but not before she had Dill take a picture of her standing next to the sign, and another of her leaning on the wide porch.

The shop smelled of old leather, wool, and denim. An air conditioner purred, pumping out cool air with a whiff of clean mildew. Fleetwood Mac played over hidden speakers. The wood floor creaked under them. A pretty, bohemian-looking strawberry blonde in her twenties sat behind a glass counter display full of handmade jewelry, staring intently at her laptop screen. She looked up as they approached.

“Okay, I love your look. How hot are you, seriously?” she said to Lydia.

Lydia curtsied. “Why thank you, madam shopkeeper. How hot are you, seriously?”

Lydia gave Dill a look that said Try to get this kind of treatment at stupid Opry Mills Mall.

“Are you guys looking for anything in particular today?”

Lydia grabbed Dill by the arm and pushed him in front of her.

“Clothes. Duds. Britches. That will fit this guy and make women swoon across Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau region.”

Dill averted his eyes. “Let’s maybe focus on the fitting part for now, Lydia,” he said through clenched teeth.

The woman gasped. “My parents almost named me Lydia. They went with April.”

“Lead the way, Miss April,” Lydia said. “I see you have an excellent and well-curated selection.”

Dill went in and out of the dressing room while Travis sat on a creaky wooden chair and read, lost to the world. Lydia was in her element, seldom happier than when playing dress-up with Dill, her own little fashion charity project.

Lydia handed Dill another shirt. “We need some clothes-trying-on-montage music—‘Let’s Hear It for the Boy’ or something. And at one point you come out of the dressing room wearing a gorilla costume or something, and I shake my head immediately.”

Dill pulled on the shirt, buttoned it up, and studied himself in the mirror. “You watch way too many movies from the eighties.”

Eventually they had a stack of shirts, jeans, a denim jacket lined with sheepskin, and a pair of boots.

“I love vintage shopping with you, Dill. You have the body of a seventies rock star. Everything looks good on you.” Mental note: in college, any boyfriends should have Dill’s body. It’s a fun body to dress. Actually, it would also probably be a fun body to—well…anyway, it’s a fun body to dress.

“I can’t afford all this,” Dill said under his breath.

Lydia patted his cheek. “Calm down.”

April rang them up. Thirty dollars for three shirts. Thirty dollars for the jacket. Forty dollars for the boots. Twenty dollars for two pairs of jeans. One hundred twenty dollars total.

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