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       Home, p.5

           J.W. Phillips
 

  “It’s not the normal car for Promise Land,” she replied. Julie let her head fall back to rest against the seat and took a deep breath.

  “I know,” he said as he shrugged his shoulder. That statement seemed to bother him. “But we’re not the normal family either.”

  “I can’t argue with that.”

  “You look good in it,” he added.

  She couldn’t answer him. She didn't feel like she really belonged anywhere, let alone with him. But then again his car didn't fit into this town, so maybe she did.

  “What kind of car is this?” she asked, still pondering his expression.

  “A Jag XKR,” he stated almost nonchalant. “That’s a cute habit.” He eyed her nail biting.

  She didn’t even realize she was doing it. “My mom hates it.” Julie answered, slapping her hands in her lap.

  “I think it’s adorable, but if mom hates it . . . we could always put some fake nails on you. That cured my mom.” He shook his head. “Naw, I like you the way you are.”

  She could feel the heat in her cheeks and knew the redness was soon to follow. He reached over and stroked the back of his finger down her cheekbone.

  Julie started digging around in her purse for some change. Nerves had left her mouth dry and her throat parched.

  “What are you doing?” Trucker asked as she dropped some quarters in her lap.

  “Oh, I’m thirsty. I was seeing if I had any money for a drink.”

  Trucker reached over and lightly pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Do you really think so little of me?”

  “What?” Her face twisted in confusion. She was startled that he would ask such a question.

  “Angel, there is no way I would let you buy your own drink.” He leaned across the car, bringing his face close to hers. His breath washed over her, flooding her mind with his particular smell. “The least I would do is buy you a drink. I want to give you the world.”

  A lump formed suddenly in her throat. Her heart pounded in her chest. I don’t want the world. Just a good guy to treat me right would mean the world to me.

  Trucker drove in silence for the longest time. Julie wasn’t sure what was going on in his head. His hand never let up his grip on hers, but he never acknowledged her either. He suddenly flipped the car around and headed to Robert’s Service Station, the local mom and pop convenience store.

  “Come on, beautiful. You’re thirsty.”

  Oh, how he switched from one mood to the next so quickly. Mr. Mercurial and his moods could give a good person whiplash

  Trucker was at her side of the car, opening the door for her. His movements at times were so fast and swift that they dumbfounded her.

  Julie halted when she enter the store and saw Courtney working the counter. It was her grandparent’s store, and she managed the cash register occasionally. Julie couldn’t help but wonder if Trucker was bringing her there to tease Courtney.

  Courtney seemed to not even notice Julie was even there as her face lit up when her eyes met Trucker’s. She leaned across the counter, rubbed the edge, and gave Trucker a soft little giggle accented with a wink.

  “Hello, gorgeous, what did I do to deserve this privilege?” Courtney asked. She raised an eyebrow and licked her lips, leaving no doubt that she wanted him.

  Trucker grunted. With their backs to the counter, he played with Julie’s ear, letting his fingers trail down her neck and land on her shoulder. He pulled her close to his side as Courtney let out an audible gasp.

  Smiling a little too big, Julie grabbed an orange juice out of the cooler. Trucker stood there and examined the drinks. He acted as if he had no idea what to get. He finally reached for a soft drink and tossed it in the air, easily catching it.

  “That’s going to spew.” She said.

  “Huh?” he asked, and gave his head a quick shake.

  “Go everywhere when you open it,” she answered with a slight wave of her hands.

  “Oh, yeah,” he said and gave her one of his heart-stopping smirks.

  “Look who the cat dragged in, if it isn’t Julie Emison. How are you doing?” Ms. Tona, the owner, asked. She was sitting in the center of the store in her recliner, surveying the customers.

  “Hey, Ms. Tona, I’m doing great. How are things going? I see your hip is doing better.” Julie reluctantly walked over to Tona, pulling Trucker with her.

  “Yeah, I should’ve listen to your grandma and had this hip replaced five years ago.”

  Julie turned back to Trucker and gripped his elbow. She wanted to soothe the deep crease that has formed between his eyebrows with the pad of her thumbs but something in his eyes made her feel uneasy. “Truck, this is Ms. Tona, Courtney’s grandmother and my grandma’s best friend. She owns the place.”

  “Oh yeah, you’re the new boy Courtney keeps carrying on about.”

  Trucker groaned and rolled his eyes. Between the look he was giving Tona and the feeling of restlessness Trucker was exuding, Julie wanted to make a quick exit. “Ms. Tona, it’s great seeing you, but I really need to get home.” Julie bent down and kissed her cheek.

  “Bye, sweetie, tell your mom and dad hello for me.”

  “I will.” Julie turned on her heel and didn’t even look to see if Trucker was following.

  “So have you known Courtney like forever?” Trucker whispered in her ear.

  “Yeah, she has been torturing me since they placed us in the same playpen. You know the popular cheerleader versus the geeky want-to-be scenario,” Julie joked. She was smiling but noticed a flash of aggravation cross Trucker’s face.

  “You’re no geeky, want-to-be,” he whispered as he slammed his drink on the counter.

  Courtney smiled and ‘accidentally’ scraped her knee up against Trucker’s legs, but to Julie’s relief Courtney appeared invisible to him. Even more, Courtney’s touches seemed to pain him instead of gain her any attention. Nevertheless, Courtney had her hands on her hips and a look of determination on her face.

  “That would be three twenty-five, babe.” Courtney said with a wink.

  Trucker tossed a five at her. “I’m not your babe,” Trucker stated.

  Julie could see his temper flair at her unwelcome advances. Courtney handed him his change and with a small snort, she jerked her shoulder, turning to walk away.

  Climbing into his car, he sat his cola in a cup holder and shifted his body in her direction.

  “I’m sorry, Angel. I had no idea that she would be in there.” His brooding eyes burnt through her.

  “It’s okay. You couldn't have known she'd be there. Plus, you’re pretty impressive.” Julie clasped her hands together and started twisting and untwisting her fingers.

  “You think I’m impressive?”

  “Very,” she answered, biting down on her nail bed, bringing a drop of blood to the surface. Trucker tapped his finger across her nail, capturing the blood droplet. She swore she saw him taste it, but his movement was so fast she couldn’t be sure.

  “Do I impress you?”

  “Yes,” she barely managed to say. He let out a soft chuckle when her voice cracked.

  “That’s all that matters.” He stretched his arm out and placed his hand around hers. The warmth coming off his skin was shocking. Although a sinister look was still alive and well in his eyes, she'd never felt safer.

  They rode down every back road in the county. He quoted poetry and questioned her about every small detail of her boring and predictable life.

  “Why do you do it? Why are you so pure?” he asked, cutting his eyes over toward her. His voice was smooth but rough at the same time.

  Taking in a deep breath, she answered. “It's just how I am. I don't want to hurt my parents.”

  He nodded and considered her a moment before asking, “But why do you care?”

  “Huh?”

  “Why do you care if you hurt your parents?”

  “Hurting them would hurt me.”

  He paused as if sensing her discomfort. “I’m
glad you’re made that way. I think you’re very special,” he said quietly, fidgeting with the air conditioner. He grinned and ran his hand absent-mindedly through his dark hair.

  “Tell me more about you. What do you do for fun? Tell me what makes Julie tick?”

  As if he put her in a trance, she started spurting off endless facts about herself. “My favorite color is blue. I love daylilies and how they grow wild on the side of the road. I’ve watched Arsenic and Old Lace hundreds of times with my granny. I like to eat potato chips with ice cream.”

  Julie went on for the longest time telling him about herself. She couldn’t ever remember talking about herself so much. She was certain she was boring him, and then she would get a glance at his face to see absolute absorption in what she was saying, so she continued. She told him all about her family, about her parents, about her grandmother that passed away the year before. They talked about school and their favorite subjects. The more she talked the happier he seemed to get.

  “So we’re going to the movies?” he said, suddenly.

  Oh crap, I forgot I told my mom that. I hope he knows I don’t expect him to tag along. I doubt he truly wants to spend time with my friends and me. Heck, I find it hard to believe he still wants to spend time with just me. Furthermore, the closest theater is in Franklin and that is a good thirty minutes away. Though I wouldn’t mind being locked in a car with him for that long.

  “Julie.” He snapped his fingers.

  “Oh, yeah,” she said. “You don’t have to. I promised them I would early in the week. It’s in Franklin. I know that is too far to drive, it’s okay.”

  “I’m going wherever you are. It’s that simple” He took her hand in his. Her heart fluttered at that simple gesture.

  “Do you know how to get there?” she wondered. After all, he was new to town.

  “Yeah, that’s where I’m staying while my house is being built. My dad has an apartment there.”

  “Tori told me about your new house. She said it was something.”

  Actually, everyone had talked about it. Julie had even driven by it on numerous occasions. It was being built right outside of town. In her opinion, it wasn’t just a home, but more a mission statement. It was running a close race at being the biggest building in town, including the high school and courthouse.

  “Don’t let the surface fool you. I would rather have a home like yours.” His confidence was gone, and his body language broke her heart. His normal proud demure was weighted in defeat, his shoulders slumped, and his head tucked into his chest. It was the first time that Julie got a glimpse at his lost little boy look. It was that look that had fully stolen her heart. She sat there watching him, and at that moment she was his to control. Oh sweetie, what are you hiding behind that perfect facade?

  “I have something for you.” He was obviously trying to change the subject. Julie would change anything to erase the hopelessness on his face.

  He reached in the backseat, snagged an old, tattered book, and placed it in her lap. It was an original copy of the works of Walt Whitman.

  “I thought you might like to see that. My mom gave it to me a few Christmas ago.”

  She thumbed through the pages, scared of ripping them. Her granny use to read old poems to her, and Whitman was always her favorite poet.

  “Passing stranger! You do not know how longingly I look upon you. You must be she I was seeking. I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you. All is recalled as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured. You grew up with me, were a girl with me. I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only. You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands; in return, I am not to speak to you. I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone. I am to wait. I do not doubt I am to meet you again, I am to see to it that I do not lose you.” His voice was eerily cool and collected. He glared out the windshield, his face hard. However, each beat of his soul was heard in every word as he spoke.

  “Wow, that’s Walt Whitman’s ‘To a stranger!’ That’s one of my favorites,” Julie stated. “Keep quoting poetry like that, and you will have Ms. Wirwa, our English professor, wrapped around your little finger.”

  “Maybe. But the difference is I mean it when I quote it to you.” He slightly turned his head. He didn’t smile, but every emotion she heard in his voice now flowed from his face. She squeezed his hand, rubbing her thumb down the base of it. She wanted to show him what she didn’t know how to say. A smile lit up his eyes till the sinister look in them was almost gone. She couldn’t help but feel safe and desired when he looked at her like that. She was ready to share her whole life with him, not caring what she sensed in him. She prayed he truly wanted her to be a part of his world.

  Chapter 5

  They drew closer to town; Julie noticed he was driving directly to the building site that was soon to be his new home. He switched on the sound system. The car was suddenly filled with a beautiful, haunting tune. It was ethereal, tranquil, sad, and uplifting all at the same time. She sat back and let the enchanting melody wash over her. She felt her tension descending, and noticed Trucker’s tight grip around the steering wheel relaxing.

  “What’s that song? It’s beautiful,” she asked, seeing it brought Trucker some measure of peace.

  “Sarah Brightman’s Music of the Night.” He cocked his head and gave her an enchanting half grin. “Not what you expected? My music taste is not the oddest thing about me.”

  As he drove, Trucker drummed his finger over the steering wheel in time with the music. All the sudden, he switched the sound system off and stared out into space.

  “Can I show you something?”

  “Yeah, what?” She looked over at him, unsure of his recent shift in mood.

  He held her hand and made soothing strokes over it with his thumb. His eyes had a deep crease between them and his smile was completely gone. She looked at him. An extraordinary man who found favor with her, but held so much sadness.

  “It’s a place I found here, on the backside of our estate.” He hesitated.

  Wanting to reach out to him, her hand betrayed her. The more she craved the touch of his face, the harder she clutched her jeans, until her fingers ached. “This place is special to you?” she asked, trying to sound happy and upbeat. She wasn’t fooling him. He seemed to always sense her true mood.

  “Yeah, it’s almost as beautiful as you.” He looked at her with such longing, but still his eyes had a hint of grief. “It’s where I go when I need to think . . . to get away.”

  “Let’s go then,” she said, and smiled, really smiled. He wanted her to see his safe place.

  They rode in silence all the way there. His hand never eased up on the grip it had over hers. She felt him tense up almost in despair when he caught a glimpse of his new home. He turned down a side gravel road right before they got to the house.

  “I like to walk and clear my head. I found this place and it has become my refuge from all the craziness in my life.”

  “You’re sure you want me to see it?” She caressed his face, the face of a wounded god. “It sounds special to you.”

  “Yes,” he answered as he leaned into her fingers. “Because you’re my safe place now.” His often-brooding eyes pierced through her heart. “I need you now. I should’ve walked away, ignored you.” He shook his head as if that thought was more than he could bear. “But it’s too late, I can’t leave now.”

  “Then don’t,” she replied. She bit her lip to keep from adding more.

  They parked on a road that led to a field. Everywhere that her eyes wandered was cotton. She wondered what was so special about that one place. One look at his sneaky grin and she knew that something about that place was magical.

  “We’re going to have to walk to it. This car was built for speed, not dirt roads.”

  Julie reached for the door to get out as he grabbed her arm.

&n
bsp; “Doors are my job,” he said. “I know you don’t like attention and being spoiled, but get used to it, you’re my girl now.” He smiled as she lowered her head in embarrassment. He kissed her heated cheeks before letting go of her arm, and climbed out of the car. His baffling speed was replaced with deliberate slowness. He crept around the car, his gaze never leaving her.

  “I’m not helpless, you know,” she stated as he helped her from the car.

  “I know, but it’s my job to take care of you, so please let me do it.”

  He pressed his forehead into hers and his aroma hit her. It was his same matchless smell but in a more concentrated form. Breathing in his scent, she knew arguing with him was a moot point. He pulled away and put his hands on either side of her face.

  “Don’t leave,” he whispered.

  “What do you mean leave?”

  “Leave me, please Angel, never leave me,” he pleaded. “Be mine forever,” he breathed in her ear, taking a soft bite of it.

  She nodded with a sudden realization he sensed the same magnetic pull she felt. She swept her fingers through his hair. He gripped her hand, firmly placing it on his cheek, and took a few deep breaths to work through some unseen torment.

  Julie didn’t ask any questions; the look in his eyes told her all she needed to know. He wanted her.

  They walked hand in hand a short piece through the cotton field, when they came upon a rather large fencerow. He guided her through a narrow dirt path toward a dense overgrowth of twigs and vines. Trucker blocked her face from the overhanging branches as they ducked around the trees. Something about this place felt off to her. Julie wanted to check her cell service, just in case. But who would she call? “Hey Tori, hey Tiff, Trucker is carrying me off to the woods. Send help.” She clung tighter to him, knowing her only option was to trust him.

  Finally breaking through the last line of trees, she saw it. A captivating pond tucked closely to the side of a cliff. The wind moved over the water that glistened like a million diamonds dancing in the sunlight. Trees of every kind loomed over the water as if they were trying to protect it. It was inundated with wild flowers. She heard the ‘plopping’ sound of the fish as they broke the surface of the water. A dole of doves circled overhead. It was enchanting; she felt as if she had stepped into a fairy tale. Her own personal Garden of Eden.

 
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