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       Home, p.30

           J.W. Phillips

  “Want some help?” Her dad’s eyes were almost swollen shut from the tears, but he still gave Julie the sneaky grin he always flashed when he got something by Ellen.

  “Yeah, I do. This isn’t easy, being one armed and all.” She held up her cast arm and smiled.

  He started removing each bandage, amazed by how they seemed to be healing. “So, I guess it’s me and you now. All that coaching your mom has gave us over the years will come in handy.” He was trying to be lighthearted, but the enormity of it all hit them both.

  “Daddy, I know it’s too soon, but she wants you to be happy.”

  He rubbed the ointment over each of her incision. “I know. I just don’t know how it’s possible.”

  “Me either.” Round three of the tears came again, moistening each freshly placed bandage.

  Dan worked on her face in a comfortable silence as Julie envisioned what their life should’ve been.

  “You’re officially mummified.” He slapped the last piece of paper tape on. “It’s not as good as mom would’ve done but it looks . . .”

  “Perfect,” Trucker mumbled as he walked in the small bathroom.

  Julie’s eyes caught his and she felt resentment that he was there. It was a moment between her dad and her, he suddenly felt like an intruder in her life. No humanity, left her more wishy-washy than Trucker was at any point. She didn’t belong in his world. He couldn’t handle pain, well, neither could Julie anymore. She gripped Dan’s hand.

  “Dad, I need to talk to Truck. Can I meet you at the church?”

  “Mom’s downstairs. You can ride with her.” Trucker’s eyes never wavered from Julie. This was it.

  Dan slapped Trucker’s shoulder. “I knew you would be here. Take care of her.”

  “Yes, sir,” Trucker said, his eyes still lingered on Julie.

  Julie took the three steps separating them. Trucker ran the pad of his thumb over the biggest bandage, then pushed her hair away from her neck and caressed the bite. His eyes closed as his teeth scraped over his upper lip. He bent over and placed fast, soft licks over the bite. Julie regretted him healing it. Something told her that was the last thing he would ever give her.

  It was all too much for her. Julie walked off and headed to the living room, sure he would follow. She took a seat on the couch. As he walked passed her, his body brushed against hers giving them both the same chills they experience the first time he walked in her home. He took a seat beside her. She moved to the far end of the couch, careful not to touch him again. She didn’t need to mess with the few feelings she had. He never appeared more dashing to her than he did at that moment. She noticed, under his sports jacket, he had on a T-shirt for the first time ever. She braced herself knowing it was a trick to fool her into staying with him.

  “Angel, talk to me.” He tried to smile, but she could read his moods as easily as he read hers.

  “You left me last night. I needed you and you left me,” Julie stated.

  He closed his eyes. “That wasn’t me, but . . .” He opened his eyes, theirs met. “My demon side was in complete control. Even that side wanted you safe.” He reached out to touch her face. She pulled back. “That was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Thinking anybody especially my father could do this to you. I lost it. The horrible evil in me took over and I couldn’t find myself. I was totally lost in the evil. I was wrong.”

  He pulled her legs over onto his lap and started lightly trailing his fingertips down the length of them. She yanked her legs out of his lap, still trying to keep her distance. He reached for her again. She instinctively jumped back.

  “Are you ever going to touch me again?” he asked.

  “I want too.” One single teardrop fell from her eye.

  He carefully laced his fingers through hers. “What’s stopping you?”

  “My heart.” She knew it would burn, but it was the truth. “Will you take a walk with me?” Julie wanted out of that house and into the fresh air, his aroma was thick and clouding her mind. She stood up, never letting go of his hand.

  “You’re leaving me.” His head dropped and shoulders slumped. “No, you can’t. Please, I love you.”

  “Walk me to church. It’s not but a half of a mile.” Julie calmly said, pulling at his hand.

  He stood up and his eyes widen in fear. “Angel, first I want you to feel something.”

  Confused, her eyes tightened, a shiver ran along her spine.

  “Have you ever heard the saying if looks could kill?”

  “A few times.”

  “The look I saw in your eyes, it tore a hole so deep in my chest my heart expanded to fill it.” He placed her hand over his heart. She felt the soft flutter of a heartbeat. “Mom always said one day a great love would melt my heart.” He twirled one of her curls around his finger. “She was partially right, love did, but it was the fear of losing that love.”

  Julie could stand there forever in that moment, but she had already lost too much in his world. What more could she stand? She motion for him to go with her outside.

  “Angel, if you ever want to, all you have to do is tell me to leave and I’m not welcome here anymore. Then I couldn’t come back without an invite.” The pain in his eyes cut through her.

  “I would never tell you that.”

  Chapter 24

  They walked hand in hand down the back road leading to the church holding Ellen’s service. It took them back to walking together in the woods at his house the day she found out his family’s secret.

  “Angel, my dad had nothing to do with that wreck. Jake has investigated every lead. He deemed it an accident.”

  The fact Jake confirmed it was an accident helped ease some of the guilt, but Trucker’s world was still full of danger. Even he has killed.

  “Your mom told me, but would you tell me about her, the girl who died?”

  Trucker shook, his fist got painfully tight around her hand, informing Julie he was aware of which girl she was talking about.

  “Her name was Cassie. She was beautiful and full of life. Her hair was full of curls too. She was the girl on the missing poster at the Drug Store. Do you remember?” He reached to touch her curls, but she hit his hand away with her cast. He tenderly stopped her and stroked her fingers hanging out the tip of the cast.

  “Yeah.” She barely nodded her head. “Did you love her?”

  “No, I meant it when I told you that you are the only girl I’ve ever cared about. I didn’t hate her and that’s saying a lot for me then. You have changed me in ways that you can’t even imagine.”

  “You told me you never touched a human, but me, since you changed. Did you lie about that too?”

  “Angel, I’ve never lied to you and you’re the only person I can say that to, too. Cassie wasn’t a human. Only she didn’t know it. So many of my kind breeds with humans. The children are unaware of what they are, so they never fully change. However, they are unpredictable, a true wild child. I thought she was perfect. It gave me a taste of the human world without the drawbacks of humans. She was a distraction that’s all.”

  They arrived at the parking lot of the church. He stopped, gripped her hand, holding it in place over his heart. She felt the soft cotton of a new T-shirt and the thump of his heartbeat.

  “Is that why you don’t want me, to bond to me, because you’re scared you’ll hurt me?”

  He placed his hand on her cheek. The feel of his skin brought waves of pleasure to her.

  “I’ve never wanted anything more than to bond with you, but I love you and you’re not ready. I’ve already taken so much from you. Your first kiss. Your virginity. I made you turn your back on humanity. I’ll never push that on you. I’ll wait as long as you need because that is what love does. But yes, I’m horrified of losing control with you. I could hurt you, even kill you with a simple touch. I still haven’t got over her death. If I were to hurt you, I would never get over it.”

  “Don’t say that.”

  “I love you.” He stroked
a bandage on her face.

  “I love you and will always love you. Nothing will ever change that. It’s just too much. I’ve already lost too much.”

  “Angel, please don’t lose us too.”

  She saw the tears form in his beautiful blue eyes and finally there was not a trace of evil in them.

  “That’s the hardest part because you were never fully mine anyway.” The words hurt her as they were coming out, but not near as much as they hurt him.

  “No, please don’t think that. I’ve been yours since the day I first laid eyes on you.”

  “I can’t take it anymore.”

  “Baby, my soul is not only yours, but you own my heart now too.” He pressed her hand hard against his chest. “I’m not evil anymore.”

  “Maybe not on the surface or even in your heart, but somewhere inside of you it’s there and always will be. I can’t change that and neither can you.”

  She fell in his arms, his massive hands stroking her, grabbing at her. She wanted to commit his smell to memory. She laid her ear on his chest to hear the faint echo of a melting heart. A heart full of great love for her, but also a vessel for pure unadulterated evil. She stood on her tiptoes for one last kiss.

  “I have to go in now. I know you can’t.” She paused. “Bye Truck, I don’t regret loving you. I just can’t anymore.”

  She turned her back on him. He hesitated, and then followed each step she made. At the church door, he pulled her flush against his body. After one swift kiss on the top of her head, he left before Julie had time to take a breath. She stood there long after he disappeared.

  Julie finally walked into a church full of caring, well-meaning people. It was a tidal wave of chaos. Julie was pressed against soft stomachs, hard stomachs, and engulfed by the smell of cheap perfume. Everyone chattering, ‘it is such a shame, it’s hard to make sense of such a tragedy, the good Lord works in mysterious ways.’ Julie’s mind was in a whirlwind. She was trying to feel, speak to everyone, and appear human herself. Her mind was a mix of so many things she couldn’t make sense of any of it. She darted her eyes around trying to curb the most recent rush of emotions. It seemed every person in their small community was there. The sanctuary overflowed. Julie had to laugh to herself. After all, her mother always loved being center of attention.

  Catherine had worked hard to get the memorial service together while Julie was in the hospital. She had the florist wrap the alter and baptistery in a thousand twinkle lights. The front of the church was covered in bouquets of pink and white roses. It was more like a garden wedding or even an elegant tea party than a memorial service. Julie made a mental note to thank Catherine for doing so much for them, and wondered if Catherine would ever speak to her again now that Trucker and she had both gone their separate ways.

  Julie spotted Dan standing in front of a picture of Ellen. Catherine had enlarged and scattered about a dozen of them around the church. Dan was crying loudly. Julie walked up to him, placed her arms around his back, and put her head on his shoulder.

  “Daddy, I’m so sorry.”

  He slid his arm around her. “Baby girl, how can I live without her?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Their pastor, Brother Terry, informed them it was time to start. Julie took her dad’s hand. They walked hand and hand, and took their seat. Julie glanced around. Tori and her mom were sitting three rows behind her. Tiffany was standing in the back with Gene. Gene had on a suit. He looked quite different, than his normal jeans and t-shirts. All of Ellen’s co-workers took up at least the last ten rows. Catherine was waiting for them on the front row holding Sea.

  “He would be here if he could,” Catherine whispered.

  Julie didn’t acknowledge Catherine. She took a seat and reached for her dad’s hand. Sea crawled up in Julie’s lap and nudged her tiny head in Julie’s neck. Julie heard the choir singing. It was beautiful, but she couldn’t concern herself with any of it. She was there to say good-bye to her mom.

  Julie got up to speak. Tiffany and Tori told her it would be too hard on her. But that was the last thing she could do for her mom. She wanted to let the world know what an amazing lady she was. Plus with bottled up emotions, a girl could do just about anything. So, she started.

  “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, I should be home getting ready to suffer through momma’s usual Christmas dinner of soggy potatoes and crunchy green beans. Yes, my mom was no gourmet cook. She was, however, this ray of sunshine that brighten everything or anybody she was around. She built a home for my dad and me that overflowed with love.”

  Dan had his head tucked in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Julie took a deep breath and continued.

  “I didn’t worry about the future because I believed she would always be here to guide me through this crazy ride called life. I feel like I have finally fallen off the slippery, precarious cliff I’ve been balancing on. I don’t know how I will get through the next twenty years without her, much less the next twenty days. I will never be as beautiful as she was, as elegant, or even as carefree as she was. But I will spend every day of the rest of my life trying to make the right decisions, trying to do what is right. I pray I’m half the woman she was. Because if I am? I will be great, because she was the best.”

  Julie caught a glimpse of the front door. Trucker stood on the outside looking in, his stare penetrated through her heart. He was too still. A statue of Erebus in the flesh. She counted to twenty, trying to retain her composure. He might have appeared human, but his chilling eyes told her which side was alive and well.

  “Yes, today I am supposed to be home rattling and guessing at my presents that are already neatly wrapped under the tree. Instead, I am here with you, unable to say goodbye.”

  Her eyes never left Trucker’s as she ending by reciting I will wait for you by Stephen O’Brien.

  “I will wait for you... Though we never had a chance to say goodbye, remember me... When winter snows are falling through a quiet sky, I'll remember you, When, in our darkest hour, You held my hand and prayed I wouldn't go, But a silent voice called out to me; My time had come, and I had to travel Home... Since then, I know your life has never been the same, For I visit you each day: So many times I've felt your pain: I've watched you cry: And I've heard you call my name... But now, further along life's road I stand, In a timeless world, just beyond your sight, Waiting for the day when I can take your hand and bring you across to this land of Golden Light... Till then, remember me, you understand and try not to cry. But if you do: Let your tears fall, for the happiness and joy we knew, And for the special love we shared, for love can never die.”

  That was all she could say. The tears were there and the crack in her heart grew bigger. She stepped down, walked straight toward her dad, kissing him on the forehead. She glanced one more time at the front door before taking her seat; Trucker was gone.

  Catherine had arranged for Ellen’s friends and co-workers to tell stories about Ellen’s life. Julie never heard a word.

  When the service ended, the whole town emptied out in Julie’s living room. After nibbling on a few bites of food and exchanging some small talk, she went upstairs and slammed her door. She collapsed on her bed when she saw the familiar flash of her cell phone.

  You told me I will never be good.

  You are right.

  All I want is a life with you.

  I live to see you smile and

  know I was the one who put

  that smile on your face.

  My body craves your touch.

  My soul leaps when you return that touch.

  My soul blackens to have you flinch at my touch.

  As you did all day.

  My life is a living hell without you.

  I guess that’s the price I pay for being me.

  After all, how can you rain down hell on earth

  when you hold an angel?

  I’ll leave you alone.

  But I will always be around.

  I will keep you safe and love

  always and from a distance.

  Yours, Truck

  The few emotions that had managed to escape the cage that Trucker had put her feelings in were dried up. Julie was empty again. She wanted to cry, but none were there. She flipped off her light and went to sleep.

  Chapter 25

  Julie had laid in bed for hours listening to Dan cry. In all her life she had never seen him shed a tear. She didn’t realize he was saving them up for such a tragedy. It was Christmas Eve morning, and Julie was no fool. She wasn’t getting her Christmas wish that year. Her wishes and happiness died in that wreck. Not only did her mom perish that day, but she was finally able to take off her rose-colored glasses and see Trucker for the monster he was. She sat up in bed, not knowing how to comfort her dad. She couldn’t even drum up the appropriate state of mind. She waited on a breakthrough in the wall blocking her emotions, but it never came.

  She picked up her phone to text Trucker to get his opinion. He wasn’t there for her anymore. He had told her his good-bye. She chucked her phone across the room out of aggravation. He told her good-bye, but he still had her feelings. The phone shattered into a million pieces. She heard her dad outside her room. Everything in her life was broken. It was broken because she loved him.

  “Baby girl,” Dan whispered and pulled her into his arms. “I don’t know what to do anymore.”

  The tears slowly came. Dan’s voice cracking from the strain of crying, the quivering of his arms was her undoing.

  “Daddy, I wish I could turn back time.”

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