Long Road Home
Green pastures pass in a blur as I make my way down the highway, my heart beating wildly in my chest. I focus on the road ahead, the mountain peaks off to my left, and my plan.
Get in. Get it done. Get out.
I’m sure my mother will leave me little time for anything else. Five days of pure organized chaos. That’s the way things always are when my mother is involved. It still shocks me that she’s turning fifty years old this weekend and moving at the pace she does. She’s going to have to learn to slow down eventually.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
The downside to her slowing down is she’ll have more time to meddle in my life. I’m putting a stop to that this weekend. I’ve been letting her guilt me into decisions my whole life. Her “suggestions” were to be taken into consideration, but when decisions were made, they never really felt like mine. They were always what I thought Mother would support. What Mother wanted. What Mother would agree with.
That ends now.
I’m going to keep telling myself that until I start to believe it.
With only fifteen miles until the edge of town, and thirty miles to my parent’s ranch, I need to find my confidence soon.
Ding, ding, ding.
Reaching for my phone, I flip it over to see who’s messaging me. Reception out here is sketchy. With more than seventy miles between towns, I’m surprised anything even came through.
Nothing. No text. No voicemail.
Ding, ding, ding.
Where the hell is that noise coming from?
Looking down at the dashboard, my question is answered. I’m about to run out of gas. Town is only fifteen miles ahead. I should be able to make it. I’ve only run out of gas once in my life, the only other time I’ve made this drive.
Ten minutes later as my car shudders to a stop on the side of the road, I curse my dumb luck and beat my hand against the steering wheel.
Why? I’m so close. Literally. I’m staring at the “Welcome to Fairview” sign. The gas station is just around the next bend, too far to walk in this heat but close enough that I’m pissed off.
Resting my head against the back of the seat, I close my eyes and try to remember the phone number to the garage. I refuse to call my parents for help. I’m already running two hours late and if I can avoid it, I really don’t want to see anyone else while I’m in town.
Stepping out of the car, I shake my phone and walk around until I have a faint signal. Dialing quickly, I pray he doesn’t answer. It’s been a long time. I doubt he even works there anymore. I’m sure he’s moved on. There’s no reason for me to think he’ll be the one answering my call.
Then again, when you least expect to meet people, that’s when they come into your life.
“Are you seriously going to leave me here?” I scream at Josh as he opens the door to his truck.
“Maybe if you weren’t such a snooty bitch I wouldn’t.” His words, laced with laughter, get under my skin the way he was hoping.
There’s one thing I’m not and that’s snooty. I can be a bitch from time to time, everyone can, but I never act better than the next person. I could care less if you ride your bike to school or drive a twenty-thousand-dollar truck like Josh’s. It’s not about money, it never has been for me. It’s about character, and Josh has none. He’s proving that right now, in front of most of our senior class.
“You know what? Go. I can do this. I don’t need you. I can do anything. I’m stronger than you’re giving me credit for. But let me remind you of one thing. If you think you can call me tomorrow, apologize like you always do, and I’ll come crawling back to you, you have another thing coming. We’re done, Josh. For good this time.”
Straightening my shoulders, I never broke eye contact with him as his smile faded. Once I was done, his frown turned into a mega-watt grin, the same grin I fell for two years ago when he was the new kid in school. His eyes drift from mine and when I follow them, I realize why he’s acting like an asshole.
That’s not her real name, but that’s what I like to call her. Fiery red hair with legs for days. She’s at least four inches taller than me. In the heels she’s rocking tonight, maybe six or seven inches. Her breasts are about to pop out of her shirt, per usual, and her shorts leave little to the imagination.
Two weeks ago, she showed up at the first football game of the season. We all noticed her, it was hard not to. After the game, I caught them talking outside the locker room. When I asked Josh about it, he brushed it off. Tonight, I’m having a hard time believing there wasn’t more going on back then. When she climbs into the cab of his truck, I don’t have to wonder anymore.
“I won’t be calling this time, Chloe,” Josh says, driving the knife in my back a little deeper.
In shock, I stare as he pulls out of the parking lot, a line of trucks behind him. His cavalry. They’re all probably headed to the lake to celebrate the big win tonight.
Well, fuck him. I don’t need him. I’ve never needed him. He was more for show than anything. My father liked him. He comes from a respectable family. If they only knew what their son was really like.
“Garrett’s Auto,” an unfamiliar voice says after only one ring.
“Hi. I’m at Fairview Academy, in the parking lot closest to the football field, and my car won’t start. I think my battery is dead,” I explain quickly, looking behind me when I hear a twig snap.
The lot is empty, my car the only vehicle left. My mind begins to race at the thought of someone sneaking up on me.
“Sure thing, Miss. I’ll head out there right now.”
“Thank you,” I reply as I climb into my car and lock the doors. “I’m the only car in the parking lot so you can’t miss me.”
When the lights of the tow truck finally come into sight, I step out of the car and wave my hands over my head. I probably look like a crazy person, but it’s been twenty minutes of heart-pounding silence, frequently interrupted by freaky sounds that I couldn’t identify. I’m ready to get the hell out of here.
He pulls the truck directly in front of my car, temporarily blinding me. I hear the slam of the door and walk over to meet him, keeping my hand shielded over my eyes.
“Thanks so—” My words escape me as he steps in front of the lights and I get a good look at him.
At least six inches taller than my tiny five-foot-five-inch frame, it seems like he towers over me. If I thought Josh had a fit body, his looks to be made of steel. The way his shirt hugs each muscle has my mind headed into dangerous territory.
If he looks this good with his clothes on… hmmm. Damn. Even sexy isn’t an accurate way to describe him. Sinful, maybe? Delicious, definitely.
His hair is dark, brown or black but I can’t tell with the glow of the headlights. I wish I could see his eyes. I feel them watching me, checking me out the same way I’m checking him out. I hope he likes what he sees as much as I like what I see.
What surprises me most is the fact that he’s my age, maybe a little older.
“Hey,” he replies.
Even his voice is sexy as hell. Smooth as silk, the sound causes a chill to run up my spine despite the warm fall night.
“I, um, I’m Chloe,” I say, taking a step closer to him and extending my hand.
When he takes my hand in his, the warmth of his calloused hands brings a smile to my face and kickstarts my heart. Making eye contact for the first time, I find that I’m having the same effect on him.
“Wyatt,” he finally says, my hand still wrapped in his.
“Wyatt. I don’t think we’ve met before.”
“Probably not. Still new to town. I just moved here over the summer.”
Nodding, I’m at a loss for words. I want to ask him a million questions, but no sound leaves my mouth. This boy, this man, has me speechless and I don’t know anything about him yet, but I want to. I want to know everything.
Where’s he from? Why did he move here? Does he feel what I’m feeling right now?
“I should probably take a look at your car before Willy wonders why I’m not back.” Reluctantly I pull my hand back and nod. “Can you pop the hood for me?”
Doing as he asks, I watch as he fiddles with a few cables and checks things out. After ten minutes, he slams the hood closed and turns to me, the headlights from his truck illuminating the hard lines of his jaw. I want to reach up and run my fingers over them.
“I need to tow you back to the shop and see if Willy can figure out what’s wrong with it. Your battery seems fine, but it could be a bad connection.”
“Okay. Can I get a ride back? My parents are out of town this weekend, so I don’t have anyone else to call.”
“What about a boyfriend?”
Is he fishing? He has to be fishing. Please let him be fishing.
“Nope,” I reply, popping the P for emphasis. “Single at the moment.”
And never happier to be single. Josh and Ginger can have each other.
“Well, why don’t you ride back with me and hopefully we’ll have you fixed up tonight.”
Grabbing my purse, I jump into the cab of the truck. Wyatt hooks my car up and we’re on the way in no time. There’s an uncomfortable silence between us as the ten-minute ride feels like it takes an hour. Every now and then I sneak a peek over at him. When the street lights illuminate his face, I can see how nervous he is.
I’m nervous too. His presence makes me nervous in a good way. I’ve never felt like this being near a guy before. That has to mean something. At least, I hope it does since I’m about to put myself out there and I hate rejection.
“So, before we get there, I was kind of hoping that you might ask me out.”
The truck comes to an abrupt halt. I reach for the dashboard as the sound of the wheels skidding on the dirt echo through the cab.
“What the hell!” I scream, turning to face him.
“Chloe, will you go out with me?”
“Dramatic much?” I laugh.
“Let’s just say I didn’t want to wait another second and I wanted to be able to look in your eyes when I asked you.”
Pointing out the front window, “You realize that the garage is about ten feet from here, right?”
“So, will you?” he asks, ignoring my question.
“On one condition,” I reply, causing him to raise an eyebrow. “I get to drive next time.”
Smiling, he replies, “I have one condition too.”
“What’s that?” I ask as I watch him unhook his seat belt and slide toward me. “I can kiss you right now because I’m not sure I can wait much longer.”
Reaching for his jaw, I run my fingers along the hard lines. When his lips meet mine, my heart explodes in my chest. His kiss is gentle but passionate. It’s the most perfect kiss I’ve ever had.
Until Willy knocks on the window, interrupting the moment.
“Hi, I just ran out of gas near the town limits and I was hoping someone could come help me out.”
“Sure thing, Miss. Name?” His voice is grizzly on the other end of the line. I recognize it and as soon as I say my name, he’s going to recognize me.
“Chloe Warren,” I whisper into the phone. I could scream my name and no one would hear me where I am, yet I whisper, hoping to avoid the spread of knowledge through my tiny hometown.
I can hear them now.
Chloe’s back. I wonder why after all this time? She should have stayed away.
“Well, Miss Chloe, it’s nice to hear your voice. It’s been awhile. Give me ten minutes and I’ll be there. Sound good?”
“Yeah, Willy. Sounds great. Thanks.”
“Hey, Willy,” I say, apprehensively.
“Can we keep me being here between the two of us, please?”
“You know, Wy—”
“Yes, Miss. See you in a few minutes.”
Even the partial mention of his name has my skin tingling. I’ve tried not to think about him, especially today, to no avail. He’s still a part of my world, even if I don’t want to admit it.
My heart is beating wildly in my chest at the memories of that night long after I hang up. It aches for him, to see him again, to feel his arms wrapped around me. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him, or the time we spent together.
He was the one.
The one that got away.
My breathing increases as the ache settles in my chest.
My second panic attack today. The reason I was running behind to begin with.
Closing my eyes, I breathe in deeply and exhale, repeating my mantra over and over again.
I can do this. I can do anything. I am strong.
It takes a few minutes to subside, but once I’m able to breathe, I open my eyes and wipe my face. The tears started to fall long before I was able to stop them. I haven’t even hit the city limits and I’m overwhelmed with memories of Wyatt.
I knew I would be. He had me from the moment I laid eyes on him.