“Which drink do you want?” she asked.
“Doesn’t matter to me, you pick.”
She kept the Mango Tango, took a drink, opened the Superfood for him, and put it in one of the holders. As she picked at the sandwich, she reached over and turned up the music, GeoM’s remix of ‘Dancer in The Dark’ surrounded them, and she looked up and smiled. “I love this song!” immediately, putting her hand over her mouth because she had talked with her mouth full. She smirked. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
He chuckled at her. “Yeah, I pulled this soundtrack off of a House Mix video and put it on my phone. This mix is my favorite; you will probably get tired of it.” He wound their way through traffic and onto 84 eastbound. The car accelerated smoothly, and they settled back into their seats for the ride.
She was looking around and studying Gary. She looked at the car, enjoying the music. “If this is the worst of it, I’ll just suffer through,” she said between bites of tomato and turkey.
He glanced over at her, and their eyes met briefly. There it was again, that indescribable chemistry which happens so rarely, an unspoken but completely communicated connection between two people.
She averted her eyes with a blush. It was natural and enchanting. “Thanks again,” she said, just more than a whisper. “If it had not been for John and now you, well, I was in that room imagining what was going to happen to me. I’ve heard stories about that kind of thing, but you never think it will happen to you. I was so terrified. I’m still trying to get my head around it. Everything happened so fast. It was horrible, and now I’m here with you. I don’t even know you, but I feel safe. It makes no sense, and I’m trying to take it all in.”
Her softness, the curve of her cheek, was attractive, even with the bruises. The way her eyes met his in that second of connection, her vulnerability, and, at the same time, strength. Gary felt his emotions responding on their own, out of his control. This girl could hurt him or save him. The thought was unbidden and a bit shocking. Not being the kind of guy who gets out of control, he was surprised he was giving up a piece of his to this girl. It surprised him even more that he was ok with it. They rode in silence for a couple of miles and when he finally got settled into the drive; she handed him part of the sub, and he took a bite.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked between bites. “I’m so grateful, but you don’t even know me!”
The answer did not come quickly. It was not simple, and for some reason, it was important to him she understood. She waited, knowing he was considering her question.
He started slowly. “I’ve been blessed with a lot. I have more than enough, no matter how you measure it. I feel the need to make a difference, to balance out my wealth. For me, life can’t be about accumulation. It has to DO something. Beyond that, I hate what people do to other people.” He paused and looked at her. “I’ve seen some things. Horrible things.”
She could see it in his eyes, and all she could do is nod her head, knowing he’d shared something that had impacted him deeply. Again he paused and looked back to the road ahead. “I hate bullies and abusers. Let’s just say it’s my mission to balance them out. John and I can do that for people.”
He smiled at her again, seemingly wanting to lighten the mood again. “Sorry, I know that is kind of heavy. Maybe you just wanted an upbeat answer?” He looked at her again with a slightly sad smile; their eyes met, and the connection was there. He took another bite from his sandwich as she thought about what he had said.
After a moment she shook her head. “No, I think I get it. I’ve never had anything like that in my life, well, before this. I think if I had, I would feel the same.” She smiled at him, thinking maybe she understood a little. He was doing this because he wanted her, someone he’d never met, to have the life she dreamt of. If he could help make that happen for her, it made his life meaningful and might help him to conquer his demons.
“How old are you?” she asked cautiously, curious but not wanting to betray the fact she was interested.
“Thirty-four, and you’re almost nineteen?” Almost half, he thought. The age gap seemed huge when he put it into words. They had known each other for an hour, in the most bizarre of circumstances, yet there was no denying what had started to happen; they both felt it and were curious, and at the same time, wary. Strange and stressful circumstances create bonding. Shared trauma, or at least drama, builds a common experience, creating a framework for a deeper connection: the victim and the hero.
As he pondered the situation, the fact she was gorgeous was not exactly a deterrent either. Certainly, it was why she was targeted to begin with. The thought pissed him off, and he could feel the rage again. It was there, for him to dial up or down as needed; right then, she needed it dialed down. Also, as his emotions connected to her, his body responded, and he knew she did not need to deal with THAT.
“I’ll be nineteen in September,” she said. “The 29th.”
“Oh,” he smiled, “Mine is the 24th. We will have to do something special.” He had offered a commitment. She heard it, but it might be one of those things people say like ‘I’ll call you.’ She smiled and nodded. “Both Libras,” she said, smiling thoughtfully; her eyebrows raised.
“Is that significant?”
“Yes, very,” she replied. “We’re compatible, and it tells me a lot about you.”
She blushed; she was not implying what he was teasing her about.
“I just mean we will get along ok; we see things the same way.”
“Like, what do you know about me?”
“Well,” she began. “I know you are very sensual. You love music and nice things. You are very charming and persuasive. You like speaking, and you are very flirtatious, although you mean no harm from it. You work very hard, and yet can be lazy about some things. You have limits, and you draw a hard line when they are reached. You love everybody, except those who wrong you; you will give another chance, but once your limit is reached, they can never get it back.”
He was impressed. “You know all of that by my birthdate?”
“Yup.” Was her short and confident reply.
He looked at her and smiled. “Flirtatious, huh?”
Her smile was accusing him of flirting right then. “I’m thinking VERY.”
He had been watching the road ahead as she answered, now he returned his gaze to hers. “You too then, huh?”
She gave a soft chuckle. “Mmm hmm!”
More sparks. They were dancing. She was relaxing and enjoying the dialog. The fact she knew something about him gave her some feeling of security. She felt she knew who he was.
No sweetheart, you might think you know who I am, but you don’t.
“Since you know so much about me then, does any of that frighten you?”
She looked at him with a playful glint in her non-swollen eye, then said teasingly, “No, but if something comes up, I’ll let you know.” Her bruised lips formed a wry smile. She was playing with him, taking back a bit of control in the midst of her trauma.
Having finished eating, as they approach the Cascade Locks, the music was setting the scene. Sara Farrell was singing ‘Somebody Else’ from the audio mix, and Paige started to sing along softly, “I don’t want your body, but I hate to think about you with somebody else.”
Gary listened for a minute then joined in. “Our love has gone cold. You’re intertwining your soul with somebody else.” Their eyes met again, and she laughed nervously. They were both flirting, exploring the edges of the conversation and they both enjoyed having the mutual permission to explore. “Come on, baby, this ain’t the last time I’ll see your face.” They sang the very sad, sensual, intimate lyric. Laughing at the shared harmony, they pulled off of the highway, then into the Best Western hotel so they could stretch their legs and dump their garbage from lunch.
“How is your mouth?” he asked.
“It hurts,” she admitted. “I keep forgetting about it, then if I laugh or smile it reminds me.”
“Sorry,” he offered.
She just shrugged her shoulders.
Out of habit, Gary had been checking to make sure they were not being followed. There was nothing to be concerned about, and he was just about to stop checking. He knew it would be impossible to follow them at this point. Besides, if anyone were after her, they would have made their move by now. Being overly cautious was a survival habit.
They both had to pee, so they went into the diner. This time, feeling more relaxed the further they got into their journey, she went into the bathroom alone. He was starting to relax more also, knowing they were not being followed. It was 11:30 when they got back in the car and headed east, through the business district loop. Gary wanted a large iced tea and Paige wanted a diet coke, so he pulled into the East Wind Drive-in before they hit the highway.
“Ok, next stop Yakima, we will have some fun at John’s expense,” he gave her a big grin. “If you like fajitas, I will have Carla get some carne asada made up for when we get home around six?”
“That would be great.” She looked at him apprehensively. “Is she your wife?”
“No,” he chuckled. “She would laugh to hear you ask that. Carla is my house manager. Somebody has to keep the place livable; I have a cleaning crew come in one day a week, but someone needs to manage the house and I’m too busy. Besides, I need to have someone there for Jax when I travel.”
“You have a kid?” She asked. She was curious about his relationship status, but she was trying not to be obvious. She was also wondering how big his house was, if he needed someone to manage it.
He chuckled again, “Yeah, the four-legged kind. Jax is my dog, he’s in charge of security.”
“I love dogs, but I’ve never had one; Grams said they were too expensive. What kind of dog?” She asked with bright eyes.
“Doberman; he’s a good boy. At least to the good guys he is.” He had the car dial Carla and she picked up with, “Hola Senor Gary. Is your trip going well?” Before he left that morning, he had sent her a message he would be gone for the day, returning with a guest that afternoon.
“Yes, thank you, we should be home between 5:00 and 6:00 this evening, can you please make some fajitas for dinner?”
“Si senor, beef or chicken?”
Gary looked at Paige. She shrugged her shoulders. “Chicken?” she mouthed in preference.
“Both, please, Carla. We are going to stop at Target in Yakima on the way through. Do you need anything?”
“Oh yes, Gary, can you pick me up a new bikini?” She laughed out loud.
“Oh, for sure! Something with ruffles, perhaps?”
Carla Ramirez was forty-five years old, with a classic matronly body and a mothering personality. Not at all a bikini candidate in most people’s eyes. Her daughter, Cristal, would rock that look though, at least she would if her momma would let her. Carla kept her daughter under lock and key, which suited Gary fine. She was like a niece to him, and he was not ready to see boys hanging around. As he thought about Cristal, it dawned on him she was about Paige’s age, a little younger actually, but close enough to make made him pause and consider his impulses toward Paige. They suddenly seemed inappropriate.
Carla giggled, “I am fine Senor, just drive safe and bring her home.”
Strange, Gary thought, as he hung up, I didn’t tell Carla I was bringing a woman home. He decided she knew him too well and could read between the lines. Besides, he was sure she had some kind of mom superpower. His mom had it too; as a kid, he could walk into the house, and she would take one look at him and say, “Gary Patrick Booker, what did you do?” The reason moms give you a middle name is so they can use them as a point of emphasis.
He took a breath, looked at Paige, then ventured into the subject she probably wanted to avoid.
More To Come!!
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