Jack Broad Miniseries: Part 6
Shannon chased the setting sun down the freeway. Tears sparkled in thin paths down her cheeks and wet her neck. It had taken only two days for her to find a time to slip away. Those two days stretched out like eternity behind her. All she had to show for it was a broken heart and the note she left behind on the bathroom counter where she was sure Jack wouldn't find it until he went to bed hours later.
She had told him she was going to talk with her in-laws to let them know where she was. It was partially true. She did call them. Bill had answered and pleaded with her to come home but she had refused. What she wanted and felt she needed was to be as far away from humanity and civilization as she could manage. She was headed for Big Bend in the southwest part of the state. She'd hiked there with Collin many times when they were dating and remembered its vivid beauty and remoteness.
The note she left Jack was two pages long but it still left so much unsaid. She desperately hoped he would let someone else take her place and that he would learn to forgive himself for whatever blame he inappropriately placed on himself. Mostly she explained how she could not, would not, sit around waiting for someone else to disappear from her life and leave her broken. She needed control over that fear, and this was the only way she could secure it. By leaving them all by choice instead of by circumstance.
When Collin and her were dating they would often take off for the weekend to camp in the Big Bend Park in the southwest of the state. She enjoyed the slow hazy heat and mystery of the people and area. She'd drive until she was tired and get a motel in some small town out that way. Motels were just as cheap out there as movies always made them out to be.
It was after eleven when she pulled into a rather empty, pothole-ridden, motel parking lot in a dusty TexMex town. She couldn't bear staying in any place she'd been to with Collin, so she picked a town further away than they'd ever traveled. Shannon realized Collin had likely picked the other towns for a reason. The area and motels were significantly nicer. It didn't matter. She was too depressed and crushed to fear anything rational like gang thugs or drug-crazed lunatics.
An unexpectedly tall and thick Mexican man stood behind the fake wood-paneled counter in the closet-sized space that served as the lobby. Shannon bit her lip and stared at him, her foot still behind her holding the door open. His dark hair was pulled into a short ponytail behind him and impossibly big shoulders protruded from the cut-off sleeves of his red t-shirt. He glanced at her casually, his skin smooth and without a single flaw beyond the marks beside his eyes from squinting. He glanced. her over before looking back at the television on the far end of the counter.
“Shut the door.” He said, not looking at her. “You let the bugs in.”
She obeyed and stepped lightly to the counter, her booted foot masking her intimidated slow progress, “What's your weekly rates?”
He muted the television and looked at her quizzically, “Why'd you stay here for a week?”
She shrugged, “I'm looking for a place to settle.”
He stuck out his chin and rubbed it a little. “Two hundred.”
“I'd do a month for three-fifty.” She said pointing at the empty parking lot, “And I'll pay cash.”
“I don't barter.” He said, un-muting the television.
She turned to leave, but stopped herself and turned back around, “Are you expecting other customers?”
He turned the volume off on the television again and looked at her, then at the parking lot. Finally, her scrunched up his lips and made a popping sound with them. “Come get your own towels and leave your garbage outside the door. Clean the room yourself.”
She nodded silently and pulled her wallet out. She had only been able to withdraw six hundred from the bank ATM before she left. This left her with a quartet fifties and spare change until she could find another. But she wasn't concerned. She never carried cash anyway. She laid the wad on the counter and the man handed her a key.
“Is there a fridge?” She asked, pocketing the wallet and key.
“Yes. Plug it in.”
Shannon left him to his television and hobbled slowly to her vehicle and then her room. He'd given her the one directly in front of her truck, room 3. She unlocked the door and felt along the wall for the light switch. It turned on a single lamp near the bed farther inside the room. The double window was cracked to let air circulate but she turned on the air conditioner under it instead. She doubled back to the door and locked it with the three fasteners mounted along its edge. The room was clean, but in the same 1970's theme as the woodgrain lobby. The mattress looked like it might be just as old and the pillows were as flat as tortillas. Everything in the space smelled like heat and dead bugs and like the musty things that grew in the air conditioner when it wasn't in use. Certainly this was not a pretty place and in the dark, alone, it felt terrible. But she told herself she would enjoy it. She had no other course that she could come up with. This region of the world was distant, yet still familiar. So this night would be faced alone, she'd not left her cell phone number with Jack, or her inlaws.
Shannon laid her things on the tiny round table beside the bathroom door and fell onto the rock-hard bed. She curled into a ball and cried herself to sleep. All the while she hoped tomorrow would look better and she'd stop hurting for Collin. Or just stop hurting in general. She woke at five in the morning keenly aware that she'd missed her early morning conversation with Jack. The sun wasn't even up yet, it was just the faintest glow on the horizon far beyond the hills. It was going to be a hot day, she realized, as she stepped out onto the hot concrete walk outside her room. The building, truck, and driveway all radiated heat still. Night had done little to cool them off. It was the dawn of a new life for her. Yet mostly it felt like a dying. She put on her boot and her flip flop and climbed into the truck to find a grocery store. There was nothing else to do with the day.
The first three weeks passed with little accomplished, since there was nothing to be done. She learned the names of the people who owned the motel. They had no employees. Frederico was the man she met when she checked in. He was apparently the only family member who ran the office. The only time she'd seem him leave it was to fix a dead light bulb in the sign by the roadway. Otherwise, he answered the phone, checked people in, and intently watched soccer games. Though he was old enough to be her father he lived with his grandmother. The old gray-haired woman was called Grandmother by all in the family and she did little more than yell from the door of their apartment at the far end of the parking lot, clad in a worn teal housecoat. There was his sister who they called Madre and a teenage daughter, Carla, who did everything else around the place. The grandmother and the teenage daughter seemed to fight bitterly, something Shannon learned almost immediately. It was late one night in her second month of staying there when she was roused from her sleep. For the briefest of moments, she wondered if Jack was having another nightmare and almost called out to him to wake up. Instead, she heard the angry screams of a young woman. She walked to the window and looked out. Carla was banging on the apartment door across the way. The crickets that usually sang were silenced by her. She wore a pair of jean shorts that might have been mistaken for underwear and a hot pink top of a string bikini. The argument seemed to stem from this ensemble, which Grandmother was too offended by to allow access to the house.
Shannon pulled her shirt and pants on and shuffled down to the office. Frederico didn't flinch from his station in front of the television. His big arm leaned on the counter and he tapped a finger noisily as he watched an unfolding soccer game- his only acknowledgment of the ruckus outside. Shannon leaned on the far end of the counter.
“Busy night.” Shannon said, her head bobbing as she rested her chin on her fist.
“Mm.” He replied. “When are you leaving?” He added, still not taking his eyes from the game.
She shrugged, “ I don't know.”
“If Carla doesn't have to clean the rooms she can go get a job some where else. She thinks her life is terrible working with the family.”
“You should hire someone.” She said, “Just long enough for her to learn its not such a nice world. I'd give anything to work with my family. I don't even know my dad.”
“Where is he?”
“No where. Some where. I've never met him. I don't even know his name.”
“You have no family?”
“Nope. My mom is dead. My husband came home from the military in a box.” Her voice growled. It made her angry when she thought about the misfortune of it all.
Frederico switched off the television slowly and turned to her. He squinted a little before grimacing. He turned to an unseen desk behind the counter and slid a small white picture frame across the counter. He pointed at it.
“This is Angel.” He said, this own voice angry, a tone she recognized in her own. Shannon took the picture and looked at it. It was obvious he was Frederico's son. They had the same roman nose and wide eyes. He was wearing Marine dress blues.
“How long?” Shannon asked, knowing.
“Seven years. Iraq.”
“I'm so sorry, Frederico.”
“It was his second tour.”
“Collin only did one. He was in Bahrain, where there isn't even a war.”
The older man shook his head. Shannon and him shared a quiet moment staring into space as they each thought about all they'd loss. Frederico snapped out of it first.
“There's a bike tour coming to the park next month. Your room is booked for the first week.”
“I don't have anything until after the eighth.” He pointed out the window, down the street, “There's a place in the next town over. About ten miles. My ex-wife's cousin runs it.”
“Thanks, Frederico.” She logged it away but wondered if she even wanted to come back at all. There was a lot of country to see. Maybe she'd like the plains up north.
Shannon shuffled back to her room and pulled her clothes off. She turned out the lights and crawled back into her miserable bed. She wondered how many other people functioned with the losses she had. It seemed that there must be too many to count. No one could be happy, it seemed.
As much as she missed her husband she found herself thinking of Jack. Those two nights curled up together in his bed left her body feeling thin and deprived like the scraggly juniper trees that bent under the heat of the desert sun beyond the motel. She wanted to be touched and held. She longed for hot kisses and the strong weight of him on her, holding her in place with hot breath and heavy hands. Most of all she missed being heard. It had amazed her how thoughtful he was. The thought of him pulling his stitches out just a day after surgery for the sake of her entertainment, worried about her pain and comfort... it sent courses of excited fever through her. Surely she could not have been so lucky.
She wrapped her arms around herself and pretended they were his. With her eyes closed she imagined he was looking into them, doleful, meaningful. His whispered voice echoed through her mind. “Why can't you just stay, little bird? Please stay...” “You've found someone else by now.” She answered her imagination, “You moved on. We're better this way.”
Bill stood at the front window by the door looking out at the street. A blue car had been parked there for over twenty minutes, but the male driver had not gotten out. He stared at the cookie-cutter houses around the cul de sac in turn. A minute or two at his house, and then at the neighbors.
“What's the matter, Bill?” Heather asked, smoothing her graying blond hair as she looked up from a book she was reading.
“There's some guy in a car parked outside.” He said, pushing the curtain a little further from the window to see again.
“Probably a visitor for the neighbors. Come sit.”
“He's not moving. He didn't even get out of the car. He's just sitting there.” Bill shut the curtain on the sunny mid-afternoon outside and sat by the door pulling his boots on.
“Bill...” Heather fussed, trying to reign him in. He'd been so temperamental and on edge since the loss of his son, but even more so since Shannon's disappearance.
“It's alright. I'll just be a minute.”
“Bill, don't. Just sit down here. Look, there's a chapter in this book I think you'd like.”
“I don't want to read your self-help books, Heather.”
“It's about praying for your children...”
Bill hung his head in his hands a brief moment before exhaling and smoothing his hair. He looked up at her pleadingly, “I don't have any left, we don't have any left.”
“We have Shannon.” Heather insisted.
“Where?!” He exclaimed bitterly.
A forceful knock came at the door beside him and they both jumped at its unexpected volume. The aging man stood tall and opened it. He matched the young man in height but not in build. The stranger's blond hair poked in different directions from where the wind had tussled it before he set his ball cap on it and the t-shirt he wore barely contained the muscles underneath.
“Mister Zwicker?” The man asked, his brown eyes narrow and set.
“You the kid sitting in the car on my street?” The older man bristled back.
“What do you want.” He eyed him cautiously.
“I'm trying to find your daughter in law.”
“Who the hell are you?” Bill asked gruffly.
“And what do you want with our Shannon?” Heather rose from the sitting chair near the fireplace at the far end of the room and walked towards them.
“Ma'am” He nodded at her and touched the tip of his ball cap like a rancher might tip his cowboy hat, “You don't know me, but I've seen you before.” He handed her a dogeared pair of papers filled with delicate loopy handwriting.
Heather tucked her book under her arm and read the letter. She instantly recognized Shannon's careful hand. As she read she could hear her daughter in law's voice, and it pained her to hear how much she felt unable to bear the burden of responsibility for her and Bill's needs and happiness. And as much as she coveted her relationship with her daughter in law and wanted nothing more than to preserve it in her son's place it hurt her deeply to know she had cast off a man she appeared to have developed feelings for. She wanted nothing more than Shannon's happiness.
“I don't understand.” She said, wiping tears from her eyes and handing the letter to her husband.
“I'm Jack. Shannon and I were in the hospital together. She left me this note over a month ago. Said she was coming here to talk to you folks and I assumed she stayed here.” He said hopeful, glancing around the place.
Heather shook her head, “She called us one evening, but that was weeks ago. We've not heard anything since. She told us she was not coming home and would be in touch when she was settled in a new place. But she hasn't called!” Heather cried as Bill handed the letter back to her after reading.
“Why are you looking for her now?” Bill asked, skeptical.
“Sir, I've been looking. I gave her a week, figured she was scared and that she'd come back eventually. She hasn't called. Hasn't come back. She left no contact information and I had to go through the phone book looking for anyone with her last name just to find you. This is the only lead I have so far. I've been knocking on doors after work every day...”
“How am I supposed to know you're not the one she'd running from? Huh? What did you do to scare her off?” Bill stepped a little closer to him.
“Bill!” Heather breathed.
“I don't know how to answer that, sir. I have no life outside the Army anymore.” He took his hat off, “I swear to you sir I did nothing but fall in love with her. I don't know how to explain the effect of those weeks in the hospital and those days at my apartment with her had on me. But I swear I can't sleep not knowing she's alright, or where she is. If she's scared, or in trouble...”
Heather broke into tears again, Bill only lunged closer, “Days at your apartment, huh?” he shoved the man towards the door, “Did those days involve nights too?” He shoved him again.
“William!” Heather cried, stepping between them, “Get a grip.”
“Collin's barely dead, Heather, in case you forgot. And this guy's shacking up with her a few weeks later? What sort of brainwashing operation is this?!”
“She's a grown woman, and you need to calm yourself down.”
“Please, she left the hospital promising to leave the state and roam the country. I gave her the key to my apartment hoping she'd take some time to reconsider before she severed ties like she swore she was going to. Shannon was there when I got out a week later, but I swear I never touched her.” He looked at Bill earnestly. “Please.” His eyes misted up, “I can't live knowing something that good is gone, alone. I just want her home. Here in your house, if she wants. I don't care. Just not so...gone.”
The two men looked at each other for a long while. Bill balled his hands into fists and spread his fingers a few times as he weighed out the soldier's pleas. At length Heather interrupted.
“Her computer is here.”
“What good is that? The only person she ever emailed or talked to was Collin.” Bill answered.
“She did her banking online...” Bill rolled his eyes.
But Heather pressed on, “She showed me once how all the information she put on the websites was saved, all she had to do was click the boxes and the numbers and passwords automatically appeared.”
“So we just let this guy into her bank account? Heather!” Bill protested.
“That is not what I'm suggesting. But us looking might tell us where she is. She has to be living on some of that money, surely.”
Bill glowered at her miserably, but she only pleaded with him. Finally, he relented. Heather showed Jack to the upstairs where she opened Shannon's bedroom door. It was obvious the door had not been opened in some time. It smelled stale, but sweet. Like Lavender. Jack breathed it in deeply. Heather turned on the little desktop computer that sat on a desk in the closet. He walked the perimeter of the room taking it all in while Mrs. Zwicker started the computer.
There were large pictures of her and Collin. A testament to their little adventures. All of them were in black and white and set with cream-colored mats in black frames. Jack could almost feel her delicate thin arms around his neck as he looked at the pictures of the young man she draped herself across and around. His heart throbbed wondering if the poor bastard had worried himself sick over her as he toiled away for the machine on the other side of the world. He burned inside knowing that she must think no one noticed her slipping away now that he was gone. But Jack knew. He saw it.
The big bed was made up with a black and white bedspread and big frilly pillows with black velvet flowers and vines on them. He picked up the book on the nightstand, 'Surviving Deployment: While Your Lover is at War'. Inside was a note from Heather, 'He'll be home soon, Honey.' He closed it quietly and laid it back. A picture frame sat under the lamp next to it. A young girl with Shannon's long brown hair and sharp chin sat on the lap of a woman who looked like an older version of the girl he knew. She had Shannon's same hazel eyes and arching brows. The same high cheekbones and wide smiling mouth. Surely her mother.
“Do you have her cell phone number?” Jack asked as he looked around.
“No. She didn't give it to us and we don't have caller ID. We tried to reverse it but it was blocked.”
Jack sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hand across the blanket. Her body had laid there months earlier and his palms could almost feel her outline. He tried not to acknowledge the realization that she'd made love on this bed to another man she loved and fought the curious jealousy that it was not him. He closed his eyes and remembered the feeling of her sleeping against him. The soft rhythm of her breathing and the cool sensation of her hair spread across his arm and chest. He recalled how soft and warm all of her had been. The revel in knowing that although her hand or arm or stomach was, in essence, the same as his own it was somehow perfected in miniature compared to himself.
“Here. This is her account.” Heather stood from the computer chair and offered it to him. Jack snapped from his wandering thoughts. He stood up and left behind the bed and the memory of laying himself against her. He sat where Heather indicated and scrolled through the balances. There was a charge to a cell phone company, a department store, and a few fast-food joints. Multiple gas stations. A grocery. But nothing outside of Dallas or the Fort Hood area. There was one from a local ATM for 600 dollars, and the last three were for two small towns in the far southwest of the state, though a pending transaction that had yet to clear might give a better clue. He scrolled down farther to the last transactions. He opened the internet browser and looked up where they were exactly. His heart sank. They were on the border with Mexico, a highly volatile area. Finally, he stood again and jotted the information down on a piece of printer paper.
“Any clues?” Bill asked, joining them.
“She's not used any money from her account in over a week. I'm going to drive out there and find her.” Jack said, pocketing the piece of paper.
“Where is there?”
“The border.” He pulled another piece of paper from the printer and wrote his name and cell phone number before leaving the room, “Call me if you come across anything more. There's a pending transaction that might give us a town name when it clears.”
“Are you going now?” Heather asked, “Tonight?”
Heather pulled a small frame from the desk and handed it to him, “Take this. It's less than a year old.”
It was a picture of a smiling Shannon. Her hair was done up in braids and she wore a green t-shirt that fell off her silken shoulders and made her eyes shine greener than they were. Collin, dressed in fatigues had his arms wrapped around her and kissed her neck as she laughed. Jack pulled it from the frame and folded it so only Shannon's smiling face was all he could see and placed it carefully in his back pocket.
“Thank you.” He touched the end of his ball cap and let himself out.
Heather slid her arms around Bills waist and they stood at the window across the room and watched the young man jog down the driveway to his car. She laid her head on his shoulder and cried again. Bill only patted her hair and watched as the blue car raced away.
It was late afternoon the first part of the month. Shannon rehomed herself for the week to the motel her new friend had suggested, glad to avoid the ruckus of the motorcycles that were already spilling into her motel parking lot. This other town was a little larger than the one she'd just come from and it had a more sinister feel. She drove around waiting for evening and sleep to come, trying to get her bearings for what was available and where. Warning signs just outside the town shouted that the border was only a few hundred feet away. It was easy to see the low white roof of the crossing from the town limits.
She found a grocery store close by and decided to walk to it the next day for groceries. The woman behind the motel counter was also Mexican. Though she was as silent and distant as Frederico had been on their first meeting this lady was somehow less friendly in appearance. She glared at Shannon as she counted out the money. As though she hoped to find some of the total missing. But she didn't, so she simply handed over the key.
The room was newer, which was nice. The bathtub at the other room was too old and gross to compel her to bathe in it. This one though was clean and the whole bathroom, though outdated, smelled like cleaner. She mulled over the idea of taking a bath as she settled in with her things. Finally she turned on the water in the tub and grabbed through her things for a change of clothes.
Her little cell phone clattered to the floor. She picked it up to be sure it was still working. The lit screen asked her if she wanted to dial Jack. Her finger hovered for a long time over the touch screen. She pressed no and sat on the edge of the bed holding her head. She'd put his number in her phone the night she left but never looked at it again. Shannon selected his number from her contacts again and stared for a while before she finally tossed the phone onto the far bed and crumpling onto her own in a surge of tears. The truth of her situation ached her throat and chest. She missed Collin, but it was a little less with every day. And his parents felt like they were pulling her through the unseen distance between them until she missed them so greatly it chipped away at her resolve. But mostly she was at odds with the part of her that didn't want to roam the country like a tumbleweed. It wanted to plant herself in Jack's arms. But she needed this. She needed to be free and unattached to the reality that had so bitterly betrayed her.
Shannon gave up on her jumbled thoughts, each vying louder than the last for attention. She didn't feel like taking a bath anymore, so she turned the water off and pulled the drain. She didn't want to walk to the grocery. She didn't care to do anything. If she could, if there was a way, she'd stop breathing just to find some silence. Shannon turned off the light, closed the insulated drapes and went to bed.
The morning passed with her sprawled out on the bed in her underwear, having kicked the rest of her clothes off periodically piece by piece throughout the night. The room smelled like stale cigarettes the longer she was in it but she was too depressed to turn on the air conditioner for ventilation. The maid knocked on the door and tried the handle but left after finding the door locked. She didn't care. Didn't move. Shannon just laid and hated the world and herself for being stuck in it.
After a day of drifting in and out of sleep, she finally roused and looked out the window. It was growing dark. Birds were singing as the heat from the sun began to redden and lessen. Soon a chorus of insects would be out. She let the weighted curtain fall noisily back into place and drifted aimlessly to the bathroom.
At length, she slipped her toes into her flip flops and, locking the door behind her, headed for the nearby supermarket. The sidewalk was empty along the way. She passed bright halogen sign lights of different businesses flickering to life as the daylight slowly began to fade. The vast parking lot of the grocery was sparse and the tan brick walls with their chipping paint and missing patches of mortar echoed the loud excited voices of a group of young men on small bicycles that had crowded around a pair of rally-styled stock cars. A few of them cat called in her direction as she passed but she refused to even look their way. This only served to make them louder. She ducked through the creaking automatic door that swung in before her and took refuge in a stinking produce department.
Shannon swiped her card and grabbed up the two bags of food half an hour later and stepped back out into the dark. The smell of grilled Mexican food laid heavy in the warm air and distant sounds of faint traffic made it to her ears. She almost considered getting something to eat from one of the restaurants, the swimming smells were tantalizing. But she decided against it since her foot was still sore if she walked too much. The group swarming the two cars had left, but a single red souped-up car remained. It idled noisily in the middle of the broken blacktop and bits of gravel in the parking lot.
She tried to walk quickly but she was still growing accustomed to life without the protective boot on her foot. Sharp pain fired up her legs as her thin flip flops pounded the pavement in quick cadence. The car crept in her direction, its lights off and engine growling. She tried to ignore it as the open passenger window matched her pace a few feet away.
“Hey, you wanna ride?” A thickly accented voice hissed at her.
She ignored him and kept walking. The man behind the wheel revved the engine impossibly loud a few times, trying to get her attention. He followed her out onto the empty street, his brakes squeaking.
“Come on baby, I'll give you a ride you'll never forget.” He crooned sarcastically. Shannon ducked into a stranger's yard and headed for the front porch. Thankfully the car drove off at great speed. She stood near the porch of the low bungalow and watched as the car turned the corner and disappeared before heading back to the hotel.
She shut and locked the door behind her and leaned against it. Her hands let go of the bags and she covered her face, willing the world to disappear. The little dank room with its wood grain paneling and cement block walls was still there. All of it was lit by the single giant globe light over a tiny square table. It looked like a prison to her suddenly. A prison that smelled like dust and charbroiled Mexican food.
What was she doing here? She planned to roam the country, not hole up in some terrifying war zone. But she'd been here with Collin years ago. It was familiar... Right?
She pulled the phone from her back pocket and opened her contacts. She selected Jack's listing and hit “call” before she could make herself stop. It rang into her ear half a dozen times before the voice mail picked up. Jack's deep voice sounded curt and uninterested. As if he never really imagined anyone calling and leaving a message in the first place. The tone sounded, indicating she should speak. It took her a few long seconds, she muttered a little trying to think, but eventually just hung up without saying anything more than a faint “hi”.
Dinner was some cold fried chicken from the grocery and a bag of carrot sticks. There was nothing entertaining on television so she watched the evening news and thought about how much she didn't really like the far southwest after all. The irrational side, or maybe it was still the rational side, of her mind thought she should try farther north. Maybe the Dakotas. The week dragged on at such a slow rate she began to fear she'd never see the end of it.
She tried walking to the store again a few days later, only this time she opted for the safety of daylight. It made no difference. The same group of young men and teenagers were swarmed in the parking lot like vultures around a carcass. Again the red car raced to follow her.
“Hey, Baby. Why you scared? Come'on, Tito will take care of you.” This time she ducked down to look in the window at him.
He was small and thin and wore a white baseball cap askew on his head. Her lip curled as her spine tingled at the sight of a row of cold teeth topped with a pencil-thin line of mustache hair. Dark rap music throbbed through the metal frame of the car and made the inside of her skull vibrate.
“Leave me alone.” She growled at the walking cliche.
“Just a couple hours, huh?” He grinned at her, his gold grill looking like yellowed rotting teeth. She wondered if he knew, or cared, how much he resembled so many stereotypes at once.
Shannon paced even faster. The motel was in sight, not more than a block away. It was impossibly hard not to break into a run. Tito punched the gas in time with the beat of the music and the car roared and lurched along annoyingly.
“You staying at the motel? Eh? Is that where you set up shop? You some kinda whore?” She stopped to glare at him, but looked away quickly when she caught him licking his lip and running his eyes across her backside.
“Leave me alone, or I'll call the police.” She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and shook it for effect. He laughed low and dirty before growling, “Funny thing about these little towns, Chica. The police? They don't care. Especially when you the son of the sheriff.” His lip curled sinisterly at her as he floored the engine and peeled away. Shannon all but ran to the safety of her motel room as his car disappeared.
“I'm never walking again.” She yelled, locking the door behind her and throwing the bag at the wall.
She slapped the door and kicked it a few times with the ball of her good foot. Stress filled shrieks of frustration and growls of hate scratched her throat. Her hands began to hurt and the door rattled noisily as she kicked and banged against it. She slowly ran out of rage and slid to her butt, banging her back against the door a few times because it felt good to. Her body ached with depression. She was falling so far into the dark pit of misery her muscles ached and burned. She stretched out on the bed, ignoring the food strewn about and tried to imagine what sort of new job or purpose might make her happy. There was nothing, in particular, she wanted to be. Maybe she could work on a ranch? She was quick with numbers, she could do accounting or something, maybe. Maybe she wanted to live somewhere that got snow and experienced fall colors. More reasons to head north. But her mind always reached the same conclusion.
She wanted Jack Broad.
But there was no way to bridge that gap. It had been so long. Surely he'd signed back on for another tour. Or maybe he'd heeded her pleas and found someone else. She could think of no reason why he shouldn't have, if he put his charms to work, anyway. Shannon didn't feel like finding happiness. She felt like wasting away and joining the dead that had left her so miserable and alone. Anger seemed to bleed into the veins of her sorrow until she could barely feel the love she'd had for Collin or even her mother. She even hated her father. Even though he'd been a faceless vapor, just a casual thought, her entire life. The things she needed and loved the most seem to be deprived her at every turn. Most of all she hated the God that seemed to allow these things to happen.
She fought to keep her rationale. To hold onto sanity. The endless screaming in the back of her mind grew so loud it threatened to claw itself free through her own voice at any moment. She wanted to run to the truck, throw it into drive and disappear into the desert. And when the big machine ran out of fuel and died she wanted to walk until her body did the same.
But she clung to the tiny shrinking speck inside her that didn't want to give up. The tiny, itchy hope that maybe, somehow... maybe none of it mattered anyway. Maybe it would all work out. If only she slept a little longer, a little deeper, one more time. Perhaps in her absence, it would all magically fix itself. She closed her eyes and watched as visions of her recent life zipped by at lightning speed until uneasy dreams finally pulled her away from the current ugly reality. She'd escaped again.
In the dark of night, she heard her phone ringing. It'd never rang before and it was a curious sound to her at first. She opened one squinted eye and saw it glowing in the near distance. But she didn't want to answer it. Who could call her anyway? No one knew her number. Sometime after the phone finally grew silent and dark curiosity won the best of her and she padded over and retrieved the device.
There was a new voice mail message. She opened it and listened. Jack's thick voice rang into her ear. Smooth, comforting. “I got a call from this number earlier. Just returning it. If this is Shannon... please call me back on my cell. Tell me where you are and that you're okay.” There was a long pause and she heard him take a deep breath, “Please, Shannon. Just tell me you're okay.” He half whispered before rattling off his cellular number.
It was four in the morning. She didn't dare call him, not just because of the time but because of the weakness she felt over him. But she longed to. It would be so simple to dial the number and tell him where she was, begging him to come to her, to take her back home with him. She replayed the message and wrote down the number and stored it in her phone. It was a moment of second-guessing. For all he knew it could have been a wrong number that called him. He wasn't out anything. And in a couple more weeks, when her foot was truly feeling normal, she'd go north. Someplace rural. Safe. New.
So she couldn't call him. She didn't dare. So she stared at the ceiling. But she called her voice mail and listened to the message over and over, repeating it on an endless loop. Focusing on his voice, trying to find any and all hidden meanings or implications that might exist. “Please,” he said softly into her ear many times over. She closed her eyes and pretended she was in his bed, in his arms. The rasp of his face on the pillow under their heads. “Please” the message begged again.
Her heart ached until she was certain it would implode. She turned off the phone and waited for daylight to save her. Soon she'd be able to go back to the other motel where the people felt familiar now. And hopefully think clearer about what step to take next in her flight.
(TO BE CONTINUED)