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       Home, p.9

           J.W. Phillips
 

  “Crap, do you have a retainer or something?” she asked as she examined the blood from her tongue on her fingers. “I didn’t even feel it.”

  “Something,” he said as he started kissing her again. He flicked his tongue over the bite until he could no longer taste the blood. He pulled back, afraid to go further. Reaching for her tongue, she noticed the sore had ceased bleeding. “Mouth wounds heal quickly,” Trucker explained.

  He had to clear his mind. The taste of her coated his mouth and throat. For her safety, he had to get as far from her as rapidly as he could manage.

  Chapter 7

  Julie heard Tiffany and Tori chattering away, but she didn’t hear what they were saying. She was too busy putting one foot in front of another and trying to remember why she even cared. She was sure Trucker would be waiting for her in the parking lot. His car was there, but he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe he was bored and she was the weekend’s amusement. He did leave rather abruptly the day before.

  As Julie, Tiffany, and Tori turned the corner headed to class, her eyes met his. Trucker’s arms were folded tightly against his chest, accentuating the firm curves of his biceps. An orange button up shirt clung to him. He had on a University of Tennessee baseball hat, orange and black plaid tennis shoes, and a smile that would light up heaven. Her heart fell in her stomach when she realized he was leaning against her wall waiting for her. He held up his finger and motioned for her to come to him.

  “Good morning, my Angel.” He reached for her hand, locking his pinky around hers. He nodded over to Tori and Tiffany. “Good morning, ladies.” His voice was irresistible. He turned his eyes on them and suddenly they were tongue-tied.

  “Uh, hey, um good morning.” Tori tried to gather her words but no words would come, so just turned and left.

  “Bye, Julie, see you around.” Tiffany waved as she stumbled off, eyeing Trucker from head to toe.

  People passed by Julie and Trucker on their way to class; they stared, pointed, and gossiped, but neither Julie nor Trucker seemed to care. Shifting his body, Trucker tapped a box lying at his feet.

  “Open it. I have a surprise for you.”

  “What?” she asked, both confused and curious.

  “Just open it.” His face lit up, and he pointed his head toward the box.

  Kneeling, she lifted up the lid to find a daylily with a beautiful blue ribbon tied to it and his first edition book of Walt Whitman poems.

  “What’s this for?” she asked, stunned. She picked up the flower with one hand and the book with the other.

  He knelt down beside her. “I wanted to give you something to thank you for an amazing weekend. If I remember correctly, your favorite flower is a daylily, and your favorite color is blue.” He stroked the blue ribbon, but all she noticed was the blue of his eyes. “The book is because . . . well . . . because I can.”

  “I can’t accept this,” she said. Holding her head down, she traced the corners of the book.

  He cupped his hand around her chin and lifted her head until their eyes met. “Why not?” he asked.

  She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s too much. I’m just another girl. You’ll want it back.”

  “You’re not just another girl . . . you’re my girl.” An electrical current seemed to be emanating from somewhere deep in his body and shooting right through her. All at once, her doubts vanished; she threw her arms around his neck. He flinched and jumped to his feet.

  “I’m sorry.” She blushed and looked around, unsure of herself and them.

  He scooped her up in a crushing hug, smashing the book between them. “I’m not. It’s just hard to believe you’re finally mine.”

  Every eye in the school was on them. He snatched the textbooks out of her arms and took her hand in his. Walking in the crowded hallway hand in hand with Trucker, she felt like she was standing center stage. Everyone stared and a few even gasped. She scanned his body from the top of his head to the tip of his toes and couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact he was this happy to be with her. He looked perfect from his amazing hair to his plaid shoes. “Plaid shoes?”

  “Of course.” He had a mischievous grin on his face. “I love plaid. They take two colors that don’t belong together and turn it into a beautiful pattern.” He brushed her arms. She knew they didn’t belong together, but they did make an unusual pattern.

  Their classes passed in a blur. Too fast in Julie’s opinion. She dreaded lunch. She didn’t know what to expect considering they ran in two totally different circles.

  “Come, my beautiful Angel.” He took her hand and led her to the back of the school.

  “Where are we going?” Julie asked.

  Trucker tapped his pointer finger over his mouth and smiled. She could tell from his excitement he was up to something. He escorted her down a back alleyway. She thought she had seen every nook and cranny of the school, but she had never been in that passageway. She started to question him when they rounded a corner and she saw it. He had a picnic set up under the bleachers on the football field. Bewildered, she stood there and took it in. A pristine white blanket was thrown carefully over the ground and two picnic baskets were placed on top. What really grabbed her attention were two lit candles. He had not left her side once that day. How? Why?

  “Join me,” he said as he gracefully laid back on the blanket.

  “Nobody has ever done anything like this for me,” Julie said as she took a seat beside him.

  “What, get your lunch?”

  “Think of me.”

  Trucker tilted her head up and smoothed the pad of his thumbs over her cheeks. “All I do is think of you.”

  Julie heard a few boys causing trouble on the bleachers above them, but all she cared about was the boy eating beside her. A delicious meal of peanut butter and grape jelly minus the crust sandwiches, artichoke dip and chips from The Chop House, and to top it off, homemade peanut butter cups; Trucker’s all-time favorites from his childhood.

  He told her about Ruby, the lady who helped raise him. How one of his favorite pastimes was playing tricks on her. Her heart sank when his voice cracked. She watched him. He flexed his hand as a wave of tension emanated from him. Julie wanted to touch him, to ease the obvious distress he was in. But she curled her fingers around the tips of her shoes and just listened. She did notice the sparkle in his eyes as he told her about his little sister. It was clear she turned his world upside down. How furious he was about his move to Promise Land and laughed when he said it turned out to be the greatest thing to ever happen to him. Because he found her. He was letting her into his life. It didn’t take a lot to realize that was not a place he let many people go. He played with her hair. It seemed to pacify him. His breathing eased, and the shaking in his hand lessened.

  He started telling her about his favorite sports teams when he abruptly yelled, “No!”

  Julie bounced straight up and heard the hissing at her feet. A snake about six feet long coiled around the tip of her tennis shoe. She froze. She had spent enough time outside to recognize the chestnut-colored cross bands as a copperhead. What caught her attention was not the venomous snake, ready to pounce on her foot, but that it obeyed Trucker. In a lightning-quick movement, Trucker had the snake in his hand. Julie screamed as the snake struck him, and Trucker crushed the snake’s head between his thumb and pointer finger. He swung the limp snake to the side and took a step closer.

  “Your hand,” Julie whispered.

  “What about my hand?” he asked.

  The wicked gleam dimmed the light in his eyes. He licked the corner of his mouth. A move she had already learned meant he was not being entirely truthful.

  “The snake bit it.”

  He held his hand out and twisted it around. “No, it didn’t,” he said, shifting his eyes from hers.

  “Yes, it did. I may not know everything, but I know what I saw.”

  Julie jerked around on one foot. She didn’t wait on an answer. The scene she witnessed went beyond
a normal explanation. The poisonous snake not only bit him but trembled at the sound of his voice. She declared she didn’t care. It was the first lie she had ever told herself. He followed right behind her, matching her step by step. Before she could reach her next class, Trucker had her arm and tenderly shoved her against the wall.

  “Please don’t,” Trucker said in a controlled voice.

  “Don’t what? I’m not stupid. I know what I saw.” Julie tried to wiggle her arm out of the death grip he had on it.

  “You told me you didn’t care,” he said as he closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he released her arm. “Please don’t.”

  “Don’t what? Expect the truth,” she asked.

  “Baby, I want to tell you. I will tell you everything when the timing is right. Just trust me.” He nuzzled his nose against hers, pushing her firmly between the wall and him. “Say you’ll trust me.” He caressed her chin and tipped her head back. Her eyes looked up. “Angel, please,” he pleaded.

  “It’s hard to, but I do trust you. You’ll tell me everything?” She leaned against the wall, trying to regain her equilibrium.

  “Yes, but first I’ve got to go. I need to take care of something. Can I pick you up after class?”

  “Yeah, I’ll meet you behind Lang Hall.”

  After a hurried kiss, he rushed out of there so fast he left her head spinning and heart weeping. Julie wanted to know what he was hiding, but she wanted Trucker more than she did the truth.

  Class passed in a muddled chaos. She took a deep breath relieved it was finally over. Just as he had promised, his car was parked at the curb behind Lang Hall. She climbed in, not knowing what to expect. She felt relieved that Trucker was not distant or brooding. She found the Trucker, who against her better judgment, had slowly stolen her heart. She glanced at his hand. How he took a snake bite like that was beyond her. But she reminded herself she didn’t care if she could have him.

  He took her by the drug store to get ice cream. He stood behind her, his fingers entwined with hers, and laid his chin on the top of her head. His smell consumed her. She would never forget the lunch incident. However, he made it impossible to concentrate on anything but him.

  “I love the smell of your cologne. I’ve never smelled anything like it.”

  He kissed her on top of the head. “I don’t wear cologne.”

  “Can I help you?” Ms. Tammie, the little old lady who had worked in the drugstore all of Julie’s life, asked.

  “Yeah, can I have some Moose Tracks . . . Trucker?” Julie turned her head to find Trucker’s mind elsewhere. He stared intently at a missing person poster. His head cocked to the side, his lip drawn in a discreet line, and his eyes pierced a picture of a missing girl.

  “Her mom brought that in early. Sad lady, her daughter has been missing for a year now,” Ms. Tammie informed them.

  Julie looked at the girl. She had long, curly, red hair and striking green eyes. She was from Nashville, Trucker’s hometown. Surely he didn’t know her. Nashville had a population of over six hundred thousand people. Trucker traced over the picture with his index finger.

  “Did you know her?” Julie asked. Trucker simply nodded, never taking his eyes off the poster.

  “How?” Julie asked, curious about his reaction.

  “We went to the same high school.” There was a marked sadness to his voice.

  “She’s beautiful.”

  “Yeah, she was.” Trucker turned his attention back to Julie. “Come on, Angel, I really need to get you to the pond.

  *******

  Trucker lounged in the soft grass, the wildflowers swaying around him. He unbuttoned his shirt, baring his perfectly sculptured chest. He was enjoying the sun washing over his face. Julie stayed balled up, her chin rested on her knees. She reached out her hand to stroke the contour of his stomach. His skin tingled. He thought he experienced pleasure before her, but he was wrong. She made everything in his past fade and his future worth living. He opened his eyes, sat up, and combed his fingers through her hair that was tangled from the wind.

  “Trucker, the first day of school, it was no accident when you bumped into me.”

  “No, baby, it wasn’t. I don’t have accidents,” he answered.

  Nothing was more planned or deliberated than each encounter with her. Julie Emison was no accident. She was his saving grace, his angel. He smiled as he took in her face, her lips, her little pug nose, and her bright green eyes. He noticed her long eyelashes and how they swept down over her cheeks. He saw the tears pooling in her eyes and was stunned at how they stung him. He felt a prickle from his own tear ducts. He had never cried before, but he never cared either. He cared now.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

  “I’ve never ‘not’ cared before. Now all I care about is this,” she answered, trying to hold back the tears.

  “That’s a good thing, right?” His voice was loving but broken.

  “I’m just scared.”

  She was everything to him. But she had every reason to be scared. That made him hate himself more than he ever had.

  “Oh, babe, please don’t be,” he begged.

  He saw the heartbreak on her face. He leaned in and stroked her ear with his nose.

  “Angel, you’re the safest person in this town,” he whispered in her ears.

  He pulled a package out of his backpack. It was a small box with a small blue card on top. Trucker placed the box in Julie’s hand. She turned the card over and read it.

  No one will ever compare to you in my eyes.

  “It’s hard to believe it’s true.” She glanced up at him through her tearstained eyelashes. There was no doubt in his mind she was worth everything.

  “It is. Believe it. Now open it.”

  It held a small charm bracelet. She held it up and let it fall around her fingers. The chain held two charms.

  Trucker touched the first one. “This is the Japanese symbol for hope.” Trucker rubbed his thumb over it. “Angel, I lay all my hope for the future in your hands.”

  He didn’t look up at her. He struggled with the fact he freely opened himself up to her. He had never laid his fate in anyone’s hands before. The second one was an ornate crest. It matched the crest on his leather bracelet.

  “This is a talisman.” He paused. “It’ll keep the boogie man away.” He finally looked up at her but still didn’t smile. “Please wear it. It’ll mean a lot to me.”

  He took it from her grasp, slid it around her arm, and snapped the clasp. Kissing the back of her wrist, he lingered his nose over it. “Come on, we need to get home and get our homework done.” He hopped up and helped her gently to her feet.

  *******

  Trucker sprawled across her living room floor as they worked on homework. It felt normal and right to have him there. She sat beside him and ran her finger through his hair as he read his history assignment.

  Trucker playfully swatted at her hand. “I’m trying to study, and you’re distracting me,” he said and chuckled.

  Julie suppressed a smile, leaned back on the couch, and pretended to read. Trucker sat up, placed his fingers around her jawline, and gently lifted her chin. Closing her eyes, she gave into him as he caressed her face. There was an extra softness to his touch.

  “You’re the one distracting me,” Julie whispered.

  His lip parted. He ran his tongue across his teeth. A bolt of electricity sizzled through her at the image of another kiss by him.

  “There you are. I wondered why you didn’t come by the office today,” Dan said as he walked through the front door.

  Trucker sat straight up and slid a finger around Julie’s hand. Julie quietly cussed her daddy’s timing and their abandoned kiss. She yearned for Trucker’s touch in a way she never had with anyone else.

  “Your daughter wouldn’t leave me alone, so I decided I’d give in and follow her home,” Trucker answered and gave Julie a wink.

  She loved watching him joke with her dad. She even smiled at his pl
ayful flirting with her mom. She was most relieved the threatening look in his eye almost disappeared.

  “Hey, son, are you staying for supper?” Dan asked.

  “I’m staying till someone tells me to leave.”

  *******

  Trucker gave a fleeting look at his undesirable surroundings and threw his backpack onto a nearby chair. Larry Castleman’s opulent apartment was not a place he wanted to be but where he was propelled. Fate had brought him to that place and to her. His father forced him there that night for an urgent matter. Anything Larry wanted was not a good thing. Trucker smirked thinking about his father’s human facade.

  He was recently appointed as the new State District Attorney General of the Middle Division of Tennessee because of his impeccable record. Trucker wondered who got hurt to make that move happen. He really didn’t want to be anywhere around his father. At one point in time, he tried to have a relationship with him. He wanted a father he could be proud of and share a bond with, but his father was not the type of man who could share a bond with anybody. Trucker learned as a small boy his only value to his dad was what he could do for him.

  “Hey, son, you decided to do as you were told for once?”

  Larry Castleman paraded in the room with an air of confidence that made Trucker’s skin crawl. Trucker made a beeline to the wet bar to make a drink. Larry was in one of his moods. Trucker had an inkling that Larry’s request was not going to be pleasant. He dropped an ice cube in a glass as Larry took a seat at the bar and leaned over until his face was mere inches from Trucker’s. Trucker’s lips formed a tight seam, and his eyes burned with undealt with pain.

  “Tomorrow is a council meeting, and you will be there,” Larry said and tapped the glass sitting on the bar. “I know it will be hard to be away from the angel, but you have duties. I won’t let you ignore them anymore.”

 
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