I decided to continue sharing as I work and tweak.
Here is Chapter 2, so I’d love your feedback!
All text ©Silver Rain, 2015.
Elaine Bryant ran through the house, searching for Rachel’s missing dance shoes, then skidded to a stop in the middle of the living room, when she saw Cassie sitting on the couch in her pajamas. “Cassie Anne Bryant, get dressed.”
“I d-d-don’t want t-to go.”
“Well, Dad had to work, and there aren’t two of me. You can either go to the dance competition with me and Rachel, or go next door. I already talked with Chuck and Beth and they’re fine with you staying over there for the evening.”
Cassie pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them tightly. The new neighbors didn’t seem that bad, but there were so many of them. Four kids, two adults. To Cassie that was a crowd. And then, there was Ben—even after four months, she wasn’t sure what she thought about Ben. She was drawn toward him, and yet, he set her nerves on high alert, leaving her completely terrified of turning into a stuttering fool in front of him.
The doorbell rang, and Elaine sighed, pulling open the door to welcome in her neighbor. “Hi, Beth. I’m trying to find Rachel’s dance shoes and this one”—she waved to Cassie—”refuses to change out of her pajamas.”
“She’ll fit right in with my crew then. Sunday night is for pajama pants and jerseys. You like football, Cassie?” Beth asked.
Cassie shrugged and stared down at her hands, nervously picking at her nails. Beyond her family, she didn’t really talk to anyone—and even with her family she resorted to impromptu signing. They let her get away with it because they wanted her to feel more comfortable, and pushing only seemed to make her stuttering worse. She dropped her feet to the floor.
“Come on, Sweetie,” Beth said. “Slip on your shoes and grab your coat. It’s freezing.”
Cassie slid on her boots and coat, then gave her mother a reluctant hug and followed Beth across their driveways and up to the front door. From the front porch, she could already hear the family inside.
Beth pushed open the door, and Ben ran by then stopped in his tracks. “Hey, Cas.”
“What are you guys up to?” Beth sighed and looked around, wondering where the three other missing children had run off to.
“Nuttin,” Ben said.
“Right. Why don’t you take Cassie into the living room and get her something to drink?” Beth pulled off the young girl’s coat and hung it by the door. Then, Cassie kicked off her boots and followed Ben to the living room.
“What do you want to drink?” Ben asked.
Cassie shrugged and glanced around. The only other person in the living room was Ben’s older brother Mark. Eight years separated the oldest of the Murray brothers from the youngest. Mark was already working a part-time job at a local pizza place and reluctantly looking at colleges. Between the two boys, were also two sisters, Jenny and Misty. Neither of whom were very interested in family football nights since they started high school.
“We have root beer, cherry cola, water—of course—orange pop….”
Cassie perked up, but Ben just raised his eyebrows. Cassie huffed and bit the inside of her lip.
“Water?” Ben asked.
Cassie shook her head.
“All you have to do is tell me,” he shrugged. He’d noticed that she looked up when he mentioned orange pop, but he was determined to get her to say something. Anything.
Cassie huffed and sat down on the couch with her arms crossed.
“Come on, Cassie. It’s not that bad. Just tell me what you want.”
“She’s not going to talk to you,” Mark said, throwing a small rubber ball at his brother. “Stop harassing her.”
“Please,” Ben whispered.
Mark shook his head, stood up, and wandered into the kitchen.
People only begged Cassie to talk so they could make fun of her when she did. And she didn’t trust her mouth not to let her down for even one syllable.
Ben sighed. “Okay then, Orange pop it is.”
He returned a few minutes later and handed her a can, and kept one for himself.
Cassie took a deep breath, and chomped down on her bottom lip. “T-t-thank you.” She kept her eyes lowered for a second, then looked up to see Ben grinning.
“You’re welcome,” he said, and settled back next to her, still wearing a satisfied smile.
I yawned and pushed my blanket to the floor of the car. The middle seatbelt of the backseat gouged my side, and I shoved it under the back of the seat. Three weeks. I had been wandering aimlessly for three weeks. And I still didn’t have a clue where I was going, but I had dragged myself out of another bad dream just in time to stop my alarm from going off. I stared at the time—four am on a Monday morning—and rubbed my exhausted eyes. I rarely slept more than a few hours at a time, even on occasions when I had a comfy bed and quiet room. It just didn’t happen. In fact, most of the time, those things made it harder to sleep.
I never trusted anything that offered a false sense of security.
I’d been sleeping in the car for most of the last twenty-one days. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have the money saved to make other arrangements. I just didn’t want to deal with people.
I wanted to be a hermit living in a cabin in the middle of the woods where I never had to think about or deal with people.
I sat up and leaned against the back of the driver’s seat. Closing my eyes again, I let my mind drift back to when life wasn’t so bad. When I had my parents, my sister, my best friend.
Ben. I dug my fingers into my thighs trying to let the anxiety wash away.
This could be your chance, I told myself.
I felt sick to my stomach.
Too much. Too much to hope for. He didn’t even know me anymore. I didn’t know him. It had been six years since he’d been the center of my universe. I didn’t have anything left.
I pulled the covers up over me like a tent to replace my yoga pants with a pair of shorts and exchange my t-shirt for a clean one. Every day, I continued my journey without a plan, and yet every day I got closer to where I’d left him.
I stepped out into the quiet parking lot of the rest area and adjusted my clothes before sliding into the driver’s seat and continuing on my way. Within twenty minutes, I was in the center of town. My hometown hadn’t really changed much in six years. Heck, it hadn’t really changed that much since the seventies.
Yet, I wondered if it still remembered me. Me and the irrevocable scar I’d left on the city—how could it forget? How could anyone possibly forget? On the far edge of town, I pulled up to a familiar building. The dispatch station for Remington Trucking.
He’s probably already on the road, I told myself.
The chances of you randomly showing up while he’s here….
My stomach was in knots. Turning in on itself and twisting around until I felt like I’d crawl out of my own skin to get away from it.
I climbed out of the car and took a deep breath of the early summer air. The morning was cool and sweet with the smell of wildflowers that bloomed in the field just beyond the truck yard. I wanted to stand by my car and take it in. I wanted to avoid where my feet ached to take me. Could I take another heartbreak?
Or, was I so dead inside that it wouldn’t matter?
I needed to feel something.
I needed him.
What if he didn’t want me anymore?
Ben had never let me down. Never in my life. Not since the very day I saw him through the fence.
I swallowed, but my throat still felt dry. My hands shook so I tucked them in my pocket, my car key fisted in one hand.
Just a glance, I promised myself. A peek at the person who used to give me the strength to hold my life together.
I snuck around to the back of the building, where all of the trucks and trailers were lined up. That’s when I finally saw him again. Coming out of the back door of the dispatch office for his father’s company. My breath caught in my throat. He was wearing a sleeveless black shirt that showed off his still muscular arms and clung to his tight torso with a pair of dark jeans. It was like stepping through time and seeing him nearly identically to how I remembered him.
It couldn’t be possible.
I felt like a stalker. A crazy person infringing on lives where I no longer belonged. For a moment, I considered sneaking back out the way I’d come. Before it got too bad. Before I jumped off the cliff and could never go back.
I took a deep breath and marched past the stares of the other drivers and workers in the lot. Fifty feet from the bumper of his truck, and all I could see was his back. He reached for the door and turned slightly in my direction. And then he froze, staring at me for a moment before he stepped away from the door.
Eyes wide, he moved in my direction, but I didn’t dare speak. I had no idea what would come out.
“Cassie.” His jaw hung open for a second. “Oh my God, Cassie.”
He didn’t stop coming toward me. I told my feet not to move but I mentally willed him not to touch me.
It had been so long since someone’s touch didn’t feel like sandpaper gritting just below my skin. But I held my ground and clenched my teeth as his arms came around me and lifted me off of the ground.
My arms found his neck, clamping on without a second thought. I forgot all about my fear of being touched, and suddenly my protesting thoughts turned to pleas for him to never let go.
He sat me gently on my feet, his eyes raking over every inch of me while his hands held tight at my forearms. That simple touch now seemed like the only thing holding me together—a dam keeping the past at bay.
“I-I was af-raid you w-wouldn’t want to s-see me.” I tried to calm down and regain my ability to speak, but my “good days” were long gone.
He kissed my forehead. “Never happen, Cas. How have you been?”
I shrugged, and his face twisted in a gentle admonishment. He never let me get away with silent gestures and signing, even when I dreaded what might come out of my mouth. Over the years, his stubborn pushing forced down my walls and eased my anxiety. But now I dreaded talking more than ever. I dreaded the disappointment I’d see when I could barely stutter through a simple phrase let alone a sentence. My gut was twisted and tied up in knots that tightened every muscle in my body and set my nerves to a furious burn.
“We’re not going back to that, are we?” he asked.
“S-six years,” I stuttered again.
Even for him the flash of disappointment in my regression was evident, but then he smiled gently. “Yeah,” he nodded. “Six years…. I missed you. Spent a lot of time wondering how you were doing.”
“I survived,” I spoke slowly and managed to avoid any horrible stutters. Even the small accomplishments could be a minor boost to my confidence. “N-new truck?”
“Same old.” He smiled looking up at it. “I had some upgrades, and we had a rebranding of the company a few years back, so it was painted to fit the new look.”
“Looks good.” I tried avoiding his stare by looking at all of the shiny bits of chrome on the truck, but I could feel his gaze eating me alive.
The tall white semi towered over us. His home away from home. I envied it almost as much as I envied his ability to speak so easily. He’d started driving for his dad’s company as soon as he graduated, and on breaks from school, I always begged him to take me with him. I loved the feeling of being on the road. Free. Safe. All of his trips were in-state then, and we were always back on the same day. After he turned twenty-one, he upgraded to the sleeper-cab—his father’s old truck. I’d only been inside it a few times, but I could still see it in my memory, and even smell the freshly laundered blankets in the back.
I had been terrified that his job would finally take him away from me, and begged him to take me on his first overnight run. It was only one night, the week before I was due to go back to school. It was supposed to be my final escape from the nightmares that waited for me at home with my sister and her husband, Mitchel. While Ben filled out logs and dealt with loading and unloading, I explored the sleeper compartment. While I waited for him to finish, so we could check into a hotel, I curled up on his bed and wrote all of my biggest secrets into a letter. I couldn’t give it to him, so I hid it in the back, behind a piece of plastic at the foot of the bed. I wondered if it was still there. If he’d ever discovered my hiding place.
Even if he had, my confession was useless, because he’d found out all of my secrets as soon as he’d pulled up to my sister’s house to drop me off the next evening.
Her death and the memory of Mitchel still haunted my every move. Nearly as much as the memory of sitting in the hospital waiting room with them, Ben, and his family, when the doctor came out to tell us that they couldn’t save either my mother or father.
Ben sat against the bumper, then took my hand again, pulling me closer, and freeing me from the stream of memories. Although his torso still bulged with muscle, they were more discreet than the rippling figure he’d maintained through high school and the few years after. He’d been the star running back of our high school football team. The boy who could make almost any girl stop in her tracks. His days of football were long gone, but despite the hours he probably spent sitting behind a steering wheel, he’d stayed in good shape.
“How long are you around for?” he asked.
“D-don’t know.” I didn’t plan on staying around, but I had no idea where I was going either.
He exhaled loudly and his thumb rubbed gently at my palm. “I really don’t want to cut this short, but I have deadlines to hit all over the place. By this time next week I’ll be in Florida. I’ll be out for ten days.”
That sounded lovely. I bit the inside of my cheek so hard I tasted blood.
He touched my chin, but I jerked away. My first thought was to run as fast as I could back to my car.
Instead, I resisted the jolt of panic when I met his gleaming green eyes. Every emotion I’d kept sealed away slammed into me until my chest burned with a hundred unspoken pleas. “Take me.”
I barely kept my voice steady and the tears at bay. Let me run away with you. Avoid the world. Forget the pain. See the palm trees.
Remember what it’s like to feel safe.
His answer came faster than I ever expected—like a lifeguard jumping in without hesitation to pull me to safety. “You’ll have to come inside and sign paperwork.”
I felt like the center of a stretched out spring that had just been released. Could it be that easy?
He gestured toward the back of the building. “I’m sure Dad will be glad to see you.”
I had to swallow, but my stomach felt so hard I wasn’t sure if it could take it. I nodded.
“You know our rules,” he whispered. His hair was shorter now, like he’d recently had a buzz cut—and although I missed the old, messy way he used to wear it, he didn’t really look that different. Staring into his expression, I almost thought the last six years were a nightmare. How was it possible he could still look at me the same way? The same intense and unfurling look in his eyes.
“Your rules,” I shot back. Then, I grinned. So much easier than I thought.
“Come on.” As soon as his arm came around my shoulders, I felt a chunk of my past fall away. I was lighter, freer than I’d felt in years. I thought that if I looked back, I might see something that I’d lost laying on the ground behind us, but I didn’t dare. Ben led me to the door I’d seen him come out of. The room was busy with chatter that hushed when we entered.
“Passenger form, please,” Ben said to the woman behind the counter.
She eyed me, then Ben. “Unless she’s family, you know you need prior—”
“It can’t be,” said a man’s voice behind us.
I turned toward the familiar voice, keeping close to Ben incase my brain was playing tricks on me—it was infamous for that.
“You can’t tell me you actually miss going out on the road with him,” the older man said, with grin so wide it pinched his eyes. Chuck’s thinning hair was greyer than I remembered, but his eyes were still a sparkling green that matched Ben’s.
I nodded. And this time, Ben let me get away with it. Mixed company was not one of the situations I took well to being pushed in, and there were far too many people in the room I didn’t know.
Chuck gave me a quick hug, then looked to the woman at the desk. “She has standing approval. Give them the paperwork.”
After six years, I’d expected everything to be different. I didn’t exactly think I’d be forgotten—far from that—but I didn’t expect to simply be welcomed back in like nothing had happened.
“How long have you been in town?” Chuck asked. He also knew about my problem quite well, but that didn’t stop him from treating me just like he treated his other children. Sometimes that was good, and sometimes not so much.
I ran over a dozen possible ways to answer, looking for the least amount of words that would give me the least trouble. My short ambiguous answers could just as easily led to more questions, but when stuttering through to get out a sentence, it was best to keep it as short as possible. “Few days.”
“You’ll have to come over for dinner when you get back. We’ll throw together a cookout.” He patted the back of my head and left us to do the paperwork. Ben filled out most of it, then slid it over for me to sign.
“Never b-before,” I whispered to him, when I didn’t think anyone else would hear.
“You were under eighteen. Your mom and sister took care of it then.” He handed the paper back to the secretary who looked it over then nodded.
“Now,” Ben whispered. “Are you planning on wearing that outfit for the next week and a half?”
I looked down, this was where an ambiguous answer would just make things weirder, but before I had to speak he led me outside where there were fewer people. “I j-just came to town. All my s-stuff is in the c-car.” As long as I spoke slowly, I could manage to muddle through with just a few blocks and stutters, but it was still an utter mess.
Ben grinned and shook his head, moving past the corner to the parking lot. He stopped as soon as he saw the gleaming silver Toyota in the parking lot.
“I didn’t m-manage to keep m-much, but th-they let me keep the car.” Rachel’s car. It still felt weird, but it was one of the few reminders I kept of my sister. I still used the same air freshener that she had kept in it.
After she died and I suffered through Mitchel’s trial, custody of me went to my grandparents. I had to move out of state, away from everything I knew—good or bad. My grandparents tried to get rid of the car—after all, they didn’t think I should be going anywhere on my own, but after my parents death and the resulting insanity, my sister had decided to make out a will. Which at least gave my grandparents a hard time in trying to get rid of everything.
I popped open the trunk, which was nearly filled to capacity with clothes.
“You weren’t planning on a short visit, then?” Ben said with a clipped laugh.
“I, uh—” Staring at the mess of clothes and belongings—everything I had—I couldn’t give him an answer because I didn’t have one.
“You don’t even have a plan,” a touch of humor lifted his smooth voice as he spoke.
His hand squeezed my shoulder, and I wanted to collapse under his touch—not because it was heavy, but because it felt as if all of the tension drained from my body so quickly that I lost all substance. “I don’t.”
“Well then, grab what you’re taking,” he said, leaning against the fender while I stuffed a variety of clothes into a bag. He grabbed the bag as soon as I closed the trunk and took my hand. “Then, maybe I can convince you to stick around.”
Good luck. Even for him that was going to be a tall order, but my hand felt so warm in his—so right. Maybe for the first time in years, I’d finally be able to let my guard down. Even just a little piece of it—a crack I might be able to breathe through.
But if that happened, I was afraid of what else might slip out as well.