Authors: Heather West
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Lucky copyright 2016 by Heather West. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.
With a sigh, I pulled over into the marina and slowed down my rig. Every time I drove in my home town, I felt like I was on autopilot. There was something about living in Dos Palmos that made the year seem like one big, long season. Nothing to break up the monotony. Well, nothing except for semester-long runs.
The breeze from the ocean felt stronger and more refreshing than usual. It had been months since I’d been home, and I was glad to start finishing up. Next week would start one of my last semesters of med school. I was eager to finish and get it over with; it seemed like I’d been in school forever. But that’s what happened when you only attended one semester per year; driving a rig for tuition took up the rest of my time. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done anything purely social. I didn’t have many close friends, and I certainly didn’t have a boyfriend.
I only had to drive for one more year before I could finish school.
Just one more year
, I thought to myself.
One more year. You can do it, Ella.
The thing was, sometimes I wasn’t so sure anymore. Sometimes, it didn’t seem worth it to put my life on hold. But every time I thought about that, I realized that I didn’t exactly have a life to go back to. And I was past the age where girls went out to meet guys. I was thirty-one, plain Ella Riley. I couldn’t giggle and flirt and wait for someone to ask me for my number at a bar. Besides, they probably would have been joking. I could never see myself as pretty; it just seemed too indulgent and unrealistic. Women ruined their lives in pursuit of beauty, and I wasn’t quite ready to do that. Not that I had much to ruin, or anyone to look good for. But so many days, it just seemed kind of pointless.
The sun was glinting off the water and I shoved my hands into the back pockets of my jeans and strolled around the wharf. I was waiting for a delivery, and then I had one day left. Then I’d be done, at least for a semester. It was hard not to feel discouraged but I was trying to keep my spirits up. After all, only one year left to go.
Being outside felt really good. I took off my sunglasses and closed my eyes, tilting my face up towards the sun. I thought about the long run I’d been on—I’d seen the whole country. From coast to coast, it looked incredibly different. America wasn’t a vast stretch the way I’d imagined as a kid. Every nook, every cranny looked different. It was hard to believe that such a patchwork quilt of states could be stitched together to form one, cohesive unit. And the people were so different! I’d missed California, I loved living here, but it had been good to get out.
And now I’m back home, safe and comfortable
Well, maybe a little too safe and comfortable
There was a crowd of bikers on the pier, laughing and throwing their heads back. For a moment, I envied their ability to laugh together. They seemed like they were having so much fun. I thought about how I’d been relieved to get back home. But watching the bikers made me feel empty inside. They made me feel like I was missing out on something in life by being so lonely all the time. Suddenly, I wondered if I’d be happier if I had friends. Or a boyfriend. Anything.
“Stop it, Ella,” I muttered. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I couldn’t let myself fall into a depression now. Not with only one year of trucking and two semesters left. This would be worth it; in the end, I’d be a doctor. A real doctor who could get a job anywhere. I wouldn’t have to drive the rig, I wouldn’t have to take shitty part-time jobs. I could maybe even settle into some kind of social life.
On the water below me, my reflection shimmered and puckered. I peered down at myself. Yep, still the same Ella as ever before. Brown hair, blurred features. I cracked a grin. One benefit of being on the road was that I didn’t really have to worry about what I looked like. Not like I put a ton of effort into that anyway, but there was something nice about being alone with myself and my thoughts all day. On the bad days, it was torture. But on the good days, I enjoyed it. I always taped my lectures from med school and I loved listening to them over and over. It was like studying. And it reminded me that all of this work I was doing was for something.
When I was growing up, I never imagined this kind of life for myself. I always thought that I’d be relatively normal. Meet a guy in college, date for a few years, get married and have a reception at the community recreation center. I could have even imagined using those plastic utensils that look like they have a metal coating on them. I never thought I’d be alone, practically a spinster. The last boyfriend I’d had was in college, before I’d dropped out. I hadn’t dropped out because I was failing, but my parents were sick and I had to take care of them. When they both died, I didn’t feel like going back to school was worth it. That was when Derek and I broke up—I couldn’t find space in my life for a boyfriend when I was grieving my parents. At the time, I didn’t think that he’d given me enough time or space. But now I realize that I’d completely pushed him away. I didn’t pine for him, or miss him the way I used to, but life was different when I was facing an eternity of solitude.
In irritation, I checked my phone. I was waiting for two delivery guys to show up, but they were late. I frowned. The bikers were still down at the end of the pier, laughing and carousing. One of them kept looking in my direction and I shivered. I didn’t think they were dangerous, but I wasn’t used to getting attention from men. Especially not giant, tattooed men with leather vests and tough voices.
“Ella?” I heard a voice and turned around. One of the biker guys had walked over and he was staring me down. “Is that you?”
“Who are you?” I narrowed my eyes. “I mean, yes, my name is Ella. What do you want?”
He laughed shortly. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said. “My buddies and I were waiting to drop off a delivery. We’ve been here for almost an hour, but we didn’t know that we were waiting for a girl.” He smirked.
“I’m not a girl,” I said calmly. “I’m actually in my thirties.”
He whistled. “Sorry, ma’am,” he said with a slight note of jest in his voice.
I glared. Being called ma’am was even worse than being called a girl.
“It’s fine,” I said shortly. “Can you load up the rig?”
“Yeah,” the guy said. He raked a hand through his hair. “I’m really sorry,” he offered again. “My buddies and I aren’t used to seeing women driving rigs. It’s a little bit of a mindfuck, you know?”
I laughed. “Yeah,” I said finally. “I’ve heard that a lot.”
The guy cracked a grin. “You’re pretty,” he said. “Can you blame me?”
Blushing hotly, I turned around. I refused to acknowledge this guy, no matter how much he was complimenting me. I couldn’t believe he really thought I was attractive. I’d been shut up alone in my rig for days and I had barely looked in a mirror. If I was pretty, this guy was Elvis, back from the dead.
“So are you going to load up my rig?” I walked over to the back and flipped the latch. When I climbed up and opened the gate, the biker started laughing again.
“I’m sorry,” he said through chuckles. “Some part of me still thought you were bullshitting until you did that just now.”
I rolled my eyes. “Enough,” I said flatly. “Do you have the cargo?”
The guy straightened up. “My buddy, Mason, is going to be bringing the carton over here. We’ll load up your truck, then you have to drop it off at the freight yard. You good with that?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s easy,” I said truthfully. “Thanks.”
The guy grinned at me and winked before he walked away. When I was sure he was gone, I leaned against the side of my rig and took a deep breath. My first time talking to a guy in weeks, and I’d blown it.
I thought to myself.
There was nothing to blow in the first place
. I giggled at the double entendre of the thought. But deep down, I knew I was right. No guy was going to look twice at me. This one had merely been amused by my gender, that was all.
It took him a good twenty minutes to come back, with a shorter but even burlier biker in tow. They both grinned at me.
“Mason, this is our driver,” the first guy said. “Ain’t she a peach?”
Mason laughed shortly. “Fuckin’ hell,” he said in a mild tone. “This is quite the surprise.” He grinned at me and reached out a hand to shake. After a moment, I accepted. His grip was huge and it dwarfed my hand, making me look slender and small.
“Jimmy’s known for teasing,” Mason said. “I hope he didn’t give you hell.”
I didn’t answer. The guys walked around to the other side of the rig and steered a metal dolly with a giant crate on it towards the truck. I gaped. I’d never even seen a box that size.
“What the hell is in this?” I asked loudly. “A gorilla?”
Mason and Jimmy threw their heads back and laughed loudly. “You could say that,” Jimmy said with a wink. Mason elbowed him in the side and they both cracked up again. I felt a wave of irritation and suspicion wash over me.
“What the fuck, guys?” I asked. “Seriously?”
“No,” Mason assured me. “It’s fine, trust us. Just get this to the freight yard and sign off for it to be unloaded. Then you’re done. Deal?”
I nodded. “Deal,” I said. “Thanks.”
,” Jimmy replied.
He grinned at me again and I felt my stomach do a flip-flop. All of this attention was embarrassing, and I couldn’t see how any of it was meant sincerely. I couldn’t understand why they thought I was worth messing with. Sure, I wasn’t gorgeous. But I knew that I looked a little younger than thirty-one, and I wasn’t exactly a spinster yet. Well, maybe I was. Maybe all this time alone hadn’t been that great for my head after all.
I watched as Jimmy and Mason carefully hauled the giant crate into the back of my rig. They were gentle, almost as it they were afraid of hurting what was inside. My curiosity deepened with every passing moment, but aside from being overly delicate, they gave no hint that anything was suspect. When they were done, Mason waved at me cheerily.
“You need help with anything else?”
I shook my head. “I’m fine,” I said. “Thank you.”
They both winked at me—again!—before walking away. I frowned. I still didn’t know what was so funny, or so irresistible. With a sigh, I pulled open the cab door and hauled myself up into the driver’s seat. Every time I sat behind the wheel of my rig, I was amazed. It was like a whole new view on the world. I’m not exactly tall, and I loved being able to see everything. Even the biggest SUVs on the road looked like specks from where I perched in the cab.
With a sigh, I started the engine and shifted into first. I felt the rig strain with the effort then begin to pick up speed and move out of the marina. The freight yard was only a few miles away It was hard to imagine that I’d lived in this sleepy little town for my whole life.
Sometimes I thought about leaving. Everything had happened here. I’d grown up here, gone to school here, lost my parents here. Derek and I had been high-school sweethearts but we didn’t make it longer than a year after we started college. Later, after we broke up, he transferred to another university out of state.
“You’re holding me back,” Derek had said, in one of the only stinging moments in our relationship. “You’ve always held me back, and you’re not even trying to make us work anymore.”
I blinked back tears. It surprised me that after all this time, I could still get so emotional about everything that had happened. That was all years ago.
But that’s what happens when you make med school your life
Of course you don’t have anyone to share anything with
To clear my head, I turned on the radio and surfed until I found a classic rock station. There was a familiar song playing and I turned up the volume and sang along loudly, until my throat was almost sore. Singing to myself felt good—it was another way I liked to pass the time while driving. I got a kick out of seeing people laugh when they realized the driver of the big rig next to them was a woman and she was singing.
Life on the road wasn’t always safe or easy, but it had been fulfilling in a way that little else in life had been so far. I’d come so far by myself, and despite a few brushes with danger, things had always worked out.