Here's the start. Hopefully, this will shut her up enough to let me finish up the last chapter of Incidental Contact later today, then get back to finding out what Cam does at the auction about to take place at Carmine House.
Honeysuckle and Vellum
(unedited and subject to deletion)
Seated in Gracie's section, I frowned at the woman who wasn't Gracie when she heated my coffee. Gracie Rogers was the only reason I came to this diner-slash-convenience store combo right off the interstate. Lush figure. Long brown hair. Eyes the color of cinnamon, as soft-looking as the rest of her. My father wouldn't dirty his tongue by saying her name. I knew that was a large part of my attraction to her.
People say a man can't outrun his father. I'd spent the last ten years trying, and hadn't yet given up. My old man's a vulture. Oh, he dresses in fine suits and his shirts are always starched, but his puffed-up chest is lined with dark feathers and the heart beating inside is that of a carrion bird's. Not an eagle, as he might have people believe. An eagle will attack live prey. A vulture waits till his prey is disabled or dead. My father is a torts attorney. In layman's terms, he's an ambulance chaser, and he excels at his job.
Me? I graduated law school a few months back. Whenever people ask me when I plan to start practicing law, I tell 'em I'm waiting to hear back from my application to med school. They laugh, but it's the truth.
For the last two weeks, the uppermost thing on my mind had been Gracie. I heard her childish voice in my sleep. Dreamed about settling in between her round thighs for a long, slow fuck. Imagined her full breasts in my hands while I sucked on her nipples. Saw her generous ass turned up and waiting for my cock.
I had it bad for Gracie. Tonight—or rather, in the morning when she got off shift— I planned to go home with her and fuck her right off my mind. My plan wasn't elegant. I was gonna sit here all night, just talking and flirting till she got off, just before sunrise.
I figured there was only one obstacle to the success of my plan, and he was just comin' through the door. The small restaurant section was full. Virgil Tate surveyed each booth. Better to keep your enemies close, my father said. I stood, indicating the unoccupied seat across the table. When he saw me, his white teeth flashed in a sardonic smile and he strolled down the aisle, headed my way.
He moved like a panther, all sinew and muscle. He'd had those muscles before he spent three years in Cross Anchor Correctional. Momentarily forgetting Gracie, I recalled cheering for Virgil when he caught touchdown passes at the university that had recently handed me my law degree.
As soon as I crossed the railroad tracks, I saw that the only working phone booth between my house and the diner was occupied. I couldn't go to work without making the phone call. I knew I'd never be able to focus. When I didn't focus, my tips were bad. I needed to make decent money tonight. My power bill was overdue. Downtown had been closed for hours so I had no trouble parking along the street. The air conditioning didn't work in my old Grand Am. Not much on the dash worked, actually, including the clock. I picked up my cell phone, just to check the time. Nine minutes after eight. Time to spare.
To my right, on the other side of the tracks, the elegant steeple of the First Baptist church pierced the setting sun. Sweat dampened the band of my bra, making it bite into my flesh. Reaching into the low neckline of my uniform, I eased my finger beneath one strap, caressing the permanent and tender ditch on one shoulder. The gesture only made the strap seem to dig in more. Sweat trickled between my breasts. My pantyhose felt like medieval armor.
It wasn't a whole phone booth with folding glass doors, but rather one of those half-booths that hung from a post. The kid on the phone reminded me of one of my favorite customers at the diner. It must've been the color of his skin, because when he glanced over his shoulder, the boy looked nothing like Virgil Tate. For one thing, Virgil had stunning light green eyes. They looked like jade, though I’d only seen jade in magazines.
The brown-eyed kid flashed me the peace sign, then turned his back. Lifting a glass Dr. Pepper bottle off the ledge beneath the drug store window, he took a long swallow. The machine inside the drug store still sold soft drinks in glass bottles. They were a real treat on a hot day and they were only fifty cents.
Maybe sixteen, I decided. He had the arrogant stance of a grown man, the smooth, hairless skin of a child, and his pants threatened to fall down any minute. He turned around again, moving his feet this time so I saw more of him. Heavy gold chains dangled over his sleeveless white T-shirt. The charms proclaimed his interests. A Mercedes symbol. A handgun. A bulldog. The car he wanted to drive, the life he pretended to lead, and his high school mascot, I guessed. He didn't look like a thug. He just looked like a kid wanting to fit in.
I wasn't afraid of him. I'd learned it was the men I knew that I needed to fear. Not strangers. He wasn't talking. Over the ticking motor of the Grand Am, I heard nothing. He kept glancing around, as though I bothered him. Thumping bass made him turn in the opposite direction. I looked up, too.
Coming over the hill beside the railroad tracks, the front end of a small pickup truck caught the setting sun, momentarily blinding me. A grinding sound worthy of my old junker rent the peaceful dusk. I recognized the sound made by bad brakes. The driver was slowing, I guessed, for the lower speed limit through downtown. This was prime time for getting a speeding ticket. One of the town's two patrol cars was sure to be close by. My vision cleared. The truck lurched. I saw an elbow sticking out of the window. I wasn't the only one without air conditioning, looked like. The metallic paint on the truck matched Virgil's eyes.
That notion made my heart speed up.
Heads popped up above the cab of the truck. Four, I thought I counted. Something arced through the air. I physically flinched.
The truck stop served fresh vegetables that weren't cooked to mush. I never knew how much I liked my vegetables fresh until I had to eat the shitty, overcooked ones they serve in prison. When they bother to serve 'em at all.
Working late to finish and deliver a couch so I could pick up the money, I'd managed to end up here at what appeared to be prime time. Every booth was occupied. Faces looked up at me, all colors of faces. For one painful moment, I recalled a sea of faces in the stands, first on Friday nights back in high school, when I knew I'd have my choice of pussy after the game, win or lose. Then on Saturdays in college, bigger crowds, but not as big as the ones I lusted to see.
Since I'd played in my first pee wee football game at the age of five, I'd dreamed of little else but going pro.
I almost made it.
I took deep breaths and refused to let my sore hands curl into fists, remembering. Agents and recruiters were always in the stands my junior year at the University of South Carolina, watching me. Evaluating me, just as the upturned faces in this place evaluated me. One by one, these faces looked away, same as them recruiters turned away.
Now, instead of running passing routes, I ran a sewing machine. I forced covered buttons through stiff leather instead of forcing my way through linesmen. People didn’t stand in line to see me play nowadays. Folks didn’t move over in their booths, waving for me to come sit beside 'em, competing for the contact celebrity being seen with me brought. No one used my name as a hashtag on Twitter any more, unless the post made liberal use of the word 'loser'. The unkind ones used the word 'rapist', though I'd never forced a woman in my life. Looking for their own kind of celebrity, I reckon. Didn't make it any easier to take.
After the three hard years I served at Cross Anchor for a rape I never committed, I came out lookin' at men with the same interest as women. Hell, maybe I'd looked at men all along. Considering how much time I'd spent in the gym and bathing in locker rooms equipped with group showers, I'd seen more'n my share of cock. There was one guy lookin' at me still, a white dude. He didn’t look either friendly or unfriendly. He just looked. Maybe I'd get laid tonight after all. No self-respecting white guy would cry rape. Not in this state. Not that I planned to rape the guy. I just wanted a place to sit down and eat. I could suppress my other hungers, same as I suppressed my rage. For now.
For now, I couldn’t afford to think about the way that lyin' bitch posted her apology on my social profile page, like the attention-whore she was. Couldn't think about the hole I'd punched through the wall after I read it, since that damn apology was why I was free now. Couldn't let myself feel the rage building up in me over the way people kept posting about what a great guy I was to accept her fuckin' apology.
Those people didn’t know about havin' no choice. I knew too damn much about it. That's why, most nights, when I woke from fitful sleep 'round three every morning, I came back here to chat with Gracie, because from listening to her talk and lookin' into her eyes, I knew she knew all about havin' no choice.
The lanky white guy stood up, gesturing to the empty seat on the opposite side of his booth. His blue eyes looked friendly enough. Pasting on a smile I didn't feel, I strolled down the aisle toward the booth.
I was hungry.
I was hungry.
The plastic bottle was full. It skidded across my hood, spraying tan foam. The bottle rolled off and struck the sidewalk, spewing onto the jeans and stark tennis shoes worn by the kid on the phone.
"Motherfuckers!" He raised a single, defiant finger at the flashing tail lights I saw in my rear view. Through the laughing boys in the bed of the truck, I could see the rebel flag covering the back glass of the cab. I saw the patrol car coming up behind me, too. It passed the truck, cruising real slow. The officer behind the wheel never turned his head when he drove past us.
Twisting to reach into the basket of clean laundry in my back seat, I grabbed a folded bath towel. It was still warm. My dryer was as broke as I was. Throwing my weight into the driver's door that hadn't opened right since someone at the gas station had backed into it and left without a note, I tried to force the door open, waving the towel out the window. "How mean," I said, my outrage making me sweat more. "Here. Use this."
He snatched the towel from my grasp, using it to swipe at the brown splotches covering his white shirt. "Did you see that motherfucker just drive right on by?" Assuming he meant the cop, I nodded, managing to get the door to open. He sprang back before it clipped him in the knees. "Thanks, lady," he muttered, reinforcing my guess that he was no thug, just some mother's child, trying to look like all the rest, because being different cost more than that gold he wore. He propped a shoe on the top of my front tire, rubbing briskly at the stains. I fished into my uniform pocket for the quarter and dime.
"Is it okay if I use the phone now?"
He glanced at me, dark brows rising over darker eyes. I winced. I had to learn to stop asking a man for permission to do a damn thing. I hurried to the phone booth. My hand trembled when I dropped the money into the slot. Punching the number I'd called every night for one hundred and sixty-five days, I fought to control my body's quaking.
The kid tossed the towel into my front seat and turned to walk down the sidewalk, just as the call was answered. "County Detention Center. Officer Jacobs speakin'."
My voice shook as much as my hand. "Can you tell me, please, Officer, if Crowder Watson's still an inmate?"
The sound of pages flipping filled the line. "Yes, he's still here, ma'am. Do you need instructions on how to post bail?"
I slammed down the phone, listening to the sound of my money dropping into the box and the roaring sound of my blood pounding in my head. I pictured the church steeple behind me, and yet again,I prayed no one would see fit to cough up bail money for the bastard that had killed my child.
By the time my vision cleared of Crowder's hated face, the kid was nowhere in sight and I was late for work.
Yup. 2,238 words I can't count. Happy nano'ing. Opal, my darling muse, I hope you're satisfied now.