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Authors: Stephanie Weiford

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BOOK: Runaway
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Chapter Eight

The rest of my weekend was spent in bed. I binged on Chinese takeout and trash television courtesy of Netflix. I kept up on just enough text conversation to keep Carolyn from coming over, but I didn’t answer any calls. No matter how hard I had wished for it not to happen, Monday morning was upon me. The reflection in the mirror told me I was a mess. My hair was a rat’s nest, there were soy sauce stains on the t-shirt I had worn since my last shower, and I was probably developing a fortune cookie cavity.

It took the better part of the hour to get my hair in a presentable, if still messy, bun. I skipped the makeup, but brushed my teeth and left the t-shirt in its place on the bathroom floor. I didn’t care what I looked like today, and I dreaded listening to the old ladies cue over their stupid cats, but I had rent to pay. I picked the closest clothes in my closet, a black tank top with a dark green cover shirt, and jeans. I slipped on a pair of silver flats, grabbed my grubby purse and headed out the door.

I had saved enough time skipping the normal morning primping to walk to work and stop for a coffee. I picked one up for Carolyn as an ‘I’m sorry for pushing you away I needed alone time’ gift. The elevator doors opened and I was back in my own personal version of hell. People were still wondering about in a morning daze, getting ready to settle at the tedious task of offering customer service to the feline fandom. Carolyn was at her desk in front of mine, I headed over with the coffee.

My perfectly posh friend was somewhat lacking today. There were dark circles peeking out from behind her makeup, which was also a bit thicker than her norm. She had also chosen to go with a bun, but had kept her trademark high heels.

“Hey, you look like shit,” I offered with a smile. Only between best friends could you spend a day or two sulking, just to reunite and insult one another like it was no big deal.

“No, you look like shit, I’m just tired.” I handed her the coffee and she looked like she wanted to kiss me.

“What do you have to be so tired about,” I laughed.

“That will have to wait. First, you’re gonna need this today,” she reached into her purse and handed me a square of paper. Once unfolded I saw it was a flawlessly forged Doctors note, excusing me for a fake appointment last week.

“Oh! Thanks lady! I totally forgot about it!” I slipped the paper into my own bag to pass on to Mr. Kelly when I saw him.

“I figured you would. What did you do all weekend Morticia? Watch bad TV and order even worst Chinese?” She asked, but there was a playful gleam in her eye. She knew me too well.

“Yeah, well, I deserved it,” I sounded a bit harder then I meant to and she turned that all-knowing-best-friend-stink-eye in my direction. I just rolled my eyes and sat down.

 

The day seemed
to drag on forever. It was a never ending barrage of catnip infused mouse toys and crystal cream dishes. At lunch I dropped my note off to Mr. Kelly, or Peter as he kept asking me to call him. He had kept me in his office for nearly my entire break, I was finally able to excuse myself from the one sided conversation when his phone rang. Even then, I had only enough time remaining for a quick potty trip and then it was back to the phones. Carolyn had a splotchy red place on her forehead from falling asleep at her desk.

The day was nearly over now and I couldn’t help but notice the nervous energy Carolyn seemed to be building up. She kept looking at her phone and looking out the window. This was only really odd because instead of a day dream like stare at the clouds, she was trying to inspect the sidewalk below. Cell phones aren’t allowed when you work in a call center, but I pulled mine from my pocket and kept it under my desk.

What’s up energizer bunny?
I shot the text off to her and she nearly jumped from her skin when her phone vibrated.

A moment later my phone buzzed.
You may not like it.

What have you done Care Bear?
It took her a while to respond, which should have told me that I really wouldn’t like what was coming. I had Mrs. Justine on the line however, and until I could track down yellow fin tuna kitty fritters, whatever the hell those were, I wasn’t getting off this call any time soon to look at the message.

As it turned out I wasn’t able to ditch Mrs. Justine until 5 minutes after my clock out time. Most people had already vacated the area by the time I had my time clock pulled up. Only a few unlucky souls like myself and the workaholics remained. Carolyn was nervously waiting for me beside my desk. I took my time; she looked like a scared little animal ready to run off.

“Hey you, why don’t we nip into the break room for a cold drink real quick,” she offered with the fakest attempt at an innocent smile I had ever seen her try.

“What’s going on? You don’t ever wait for me beside my desk, I normally meet you outside, and we damn sure don’t hang out here after work,” This was all rather suspicious. 

“Geez, can’t a girl be thirsty?” she quipped, but she bounced off towards the break room. I snatched up my bag and followed.

“No.” I said matter-of-factly. I stood with my arms crossed as she slumped down into one of the hard plastic chairs.

“Look, you remember Noah?” She asked, but continued without waiting for my response. “Well, I ended up spending pretty much the whole weekend with him… Turns out the circus is pretty awesome from backstage. Well, I mean, the show was really good too, but there’s just something about being…”

“You’re rambling, get to the point,” I cut her off before we spent the whole evening here, listening to her recount her entire weekend.

“Right. So Luke is Noah’s brother, if you remember, and well I heard about what happened… with the kiss, and Priscilla, and the snake, and all that… and well. Luke is a
really
nice guy Daphne, and he sorta convinced me to help him.” She took a deep breath.

“You.Are.Helping.Him.Do.What?” I was ready to strangled her with my purse strap. If it wasn’t for the many, long years of friendship I had with this girl, I might actually try to kill her.

“He’s outside.” Two words, she said two very simple, typically innocent words, but the impact they had on me was like an atomic bomb in my chest.

“I’m going to kill you.” Those words, so much scarier in nature, didn’t carry anywhere near the disruptive power as hers had. I slumped down in the opposite chair.

“Don’t be mad at me please. You weren’t giving me any details about what happened and I was worried, so I confronted Luke the next day when he got back. He didn’t want to tell me what happened either, but well, I have my methods.” She smiled weakly.

“Still Carolyn, I just wanted to put that whole mess behind me. He’s just some random guy from a traveling circus! He will be out of my life in a week!” I didn’t want to be so cross with her, but this was none of her business! Why did she have to push me all the time?

“All I’m saying is you should listen to what he has to say. I think he would like to spend some more time with you, and as your best friend, I think you should at least listen. He’s
really, really
nice… I mean, like, well, he’d be good for you.” She stood up and came around the table to hug me. Part of me wanted to shove her away, the other let her comfort me.

She offered to go down stairs with me but I just waved her on. I wanted to clear my head a moment, plus say a quick prayer for like, a hurricane to swoop in and scoop him out of my life. All I wanted was a nice, heathy one night stand, something to get me back into the dating mood. Why did I have to meet Luke?

Oh well
, I thought. There was nothing to do about it now except get this confrontation over with. I would go downstairs and listen to his bullshit, and then go home.

I could be back to my lefts overs and wine in no time. Wine! I could stop in and see Charles! That would be a good pick me up after all this mess. With a course of action settled on, I stood up and turned to leave. I nearly knocked right into my boss who was standing in the door way.

“Oh! Sorry, Mr. Kelly,” I offered. He smiled brightly like he had just won the lottery.

“Don’t worry! And please call me Peter,” he winked. It was a strange thing for him to do. It made his face look oddly misshapen for a moment. Like part of his face had been soaked in water for a long time and was terribly pruned. It broke through the stress I had bubbled up inside and I actually laughed. I sounded like a maniac; I need to get out of here.

“Have a nice evening Peter,” I offered and ducked past him. 

“Wait Daphne,” he called. I was about a foot from the elevator, but he was my boss so I turned back. He looked so nervous that I thought he was going to be sick for a moment. There was a waste paper basket nearby, maybe I could toss it under him before he up chucked all over the call room floor.

“There’s something important that I need to ask you about,” he started.
Oh no! Maybe he knows the Doctors note was fake!
I panicked and backed up a few steps so I could reach the elevator button. 

“I know it’s perhaps not the proper thing, us being co-workers and all. However, I feel we are both mature adults, and so you can handle the informality with which I ask this…” What was this? He was standing very rigidly, and the stain from trying to seem causal was turning his neck red.

“Would you like to accompany me this weekend to an art opening? It’s semiformal, my sister has a few prints that will be featured Saturday evening and I would enjoy having your company with me.” The words hung in the air between us.

What are you supposed to say when your boss asks you out on a date? I had no interest in going with him, but saying that would be awkward. In fact, anything I said would be graceless. The silence was uncomfortable. The elevator doors slide open behind me and I walked backwards into my escape hatch.

“Ok. Bye.” What were those words I had just said? My voice sounded just as dumbfounded as I felt, but he was absolutely beaming as the doors closed between us. I hadn’t meant OK
I will go with you
, I had just meant OK
I hear you
… Damn it! The look on his face though told me he had taking the first meaning.

Chapter Nine

I had completely forgotten about him. In the overload of awkward that had been my boss asking me out on a date and I somehow agreeing, I had forgotten Luke. So it came as a major shock to my system when I pushed open the front doors to see him standing on the curb outside. I stood frozen to the spot, like his eyes had locked me in place.

He didn’t look like he was a circus performer now. There was no flowing pirate shirt, or skin tight pants. He looked so normal. The black Honda was parked behind him and he was leaning against the driver door. His hair was mussed up in that ‘just woke up but perfect’ way. He was wearing a dark blue polo and jeans with heavy leather boots. He looked
really
good.

“Hey,” he said quickly and stepped away from the car; like he was prepared to run after me if I took off. After a few moments of silence he took a brave step forward. I felt trapped. If I ran back inside I could run into Peter and his absurdly happy face, if I went forward I would be too close to Luke for comfort.

“Did Carolyn tell you anything?” he asked. I just shook my head.

No the she didn’t tell me a damn thing!
I thought angrily.

“Ok well, can we go someplace to talk?” he asked. I could tell he was only being polite. I had the feeling that if I said no he really would just chase me down. I needed to get away from this building before Mr. Kelly left for the day anyway.

“Fine,” I gritted my teeth and he waved his arm towards the car to offer me a ride. I wanted to turn on my heel and storm away, but I could put more distance between me and this damnable office building by car rather than foot. I had no choice but to get in.

 

He drove down
the main boulevard towards the shopping district. We didn’t talk but he had an mp3 player connected to his sound system and I could hear a low rock beat coming from the speakers. I hadn’t noticed the night we’d taken Priscilla to the hospital but his car was meticulously clean. In fact everything about Luke was very clean and orderly. His clothes looked like he ironed them, and there wasn’t a speck of dust on the dashboard. Even his boots, which were obviously well worn work shoes, were spotless.

I didn’t know where he was taking me, or how he knew the way to get anywhere, but I didn’t want to be the one to break the silence, so I tried staring aimlessly out the window. The windows were tinted so dark I knew no one outside was able to see us. There were laws against tinting your windows this dark, but since he moved around with the circus I doubted it mattered much what he did.
Or who he does

“I saw this place when I was trying to find your office building,” he said as he brought the car to a stop outside a little coffee shop. It was one of those kind that looked picture perfect. Complete with cozy little outside tables and happy couples whispering under the bright flower baskets. Normally, my heart would have fluttered at the idea of being here with someone as hot as Luke, but right now I was trying to set it on fire with my eyes.

“Great,” was all I said as I got out and headed to the closest table without waiting for him. I heard the remote beep of his doors locking as he jogged to join to me.

We ordered our coffee, his black; mine iced and waited for the server to come back. When she did he insisted on paying, and tipped the excited teenager with a $10. I jammed the straw into the lid and waited for him to speak. He took his time to study me over his mug before he spoke again.

“Priscilla isn’t my girlfriend, we had thing, it was bad, and ended months ago,” he said it simply. However, it seemed to be taking my brain three or four goes at it to comprehend what he had meant.

“Well… Good for you,” was all that I could muster in response. I didn’t want to forgive him, but the thought that he and Priscilla wasn’t a couple was starting to ease the strain in my chest.

“I like you Daphne.” He said it quietly, like he almost hoped I wouldn’t hear him. I wish I hadn’t heard him because it caused a spark in my chest that made my heart jump wildly.

“A lot of good that does either of us,” I said bitterly. My anger was absurd now that I knew he was single, but it was still there.

“What do you mean?” he asked with big, puppy dog eyes. I wanted to smack him, or kiss him, but I wasn’t about to do either.

“You’re in the
circus
Luke. You won’t be in this town after this weekend. Hell, you might not even be in this
state
!” I had tried to use the level voice he had, but that didn’t last long and by the end I was yelling at him. The woman at a nearby table gave us the once over stink eye, but turned back around after I stared her down a moment.

“Ok. Give me the week,” he was smiling now. I sat my drink down on the table; I could feel my face gawking at him.
This man is insane…

“What the hell are you going on about?” The dumbfounded tone of my voice must be matching my gawking face perfectly because he actually laughed out loud. “Go fuck yourself,” I got to my feet and started down the side walk away him. It was embarrassment that was fueling my anger, but I didn’t care.

“Daphne! Wait!” I was almost to the end of the street when he caught up to me.

“No!” I turned on my heel to confront him, “NO LUKE!” I turned back and stepped into the crosswalk, I wasn’t going to let him effect my life anymore.

I took another step and a car blared its horn at me, the sound of metal squealed and burnt rubber filled my lungs. I felt myself being jerked backwards as a very heavy gust of wind cut across my legs. The back of my head had snapped against something solid and was throbbing slightly. The only thing I could focus on however, was the car that had swerved and narrowly avoided hitting me. I couldn’t actually hear anything, but I could see the driver’s mouth moving and that was enough to guess the words being thrown in my direction. After a moment he drove off and the world came flooding back into life around me.

“Are you alright?” I couldn’t see where the voice came from but knew it was Luke’s. I started to turn my body to look for him, but realized I couldn’t move. Two arms were wrapped around me like a vice grip.

“Yes,” it was faint but he heard me. I felt the rush of air on the top of my head as he exhaled a deep breath and his arms relaxed but didn’t let go.

 

I let him
hold me until he was ready to move. After a while he slid his arms down mine, slipped one of my hands into his, and pulled me back down the street. He opened the car door and coxed me quietly inside. The engine roared to life and we were leaving the coffee shop and crosswalk behind in no time.

Neither of us spoke as he drove. This was a different kind of silence then before, it felt charged as if lightening was chasing us. Luke was breaking all sorts of speed limit laws, as he whisked me away. I wasn’t angry anymore, or embarrassed, or anything at all. The throbbing was even subsiding from the back of my head. What had I hit my head on? His collarbone?

We had left city limits. He swung the Honda into the parking lot. I wasn’t surprised we were here; I guess I had already known where he would take me. He opened the door and helped me out. After a handful of steps it was clear I wasn’t going to make the walk unassisted. Luke didn’t ask, he just scooped me up into his arms. I watched as we moved under the circus gate and then closed my eyes.

 

It was dark
when I opened my eyes again. There was a skylight overhead that showed the stars were already out. The shock of almost being struck by a car had really taken a toll on my already frazzled nerves. I sat up slowly. I had been tucked under a heavy throw blanket, which took some effort to push away in my sleepy haze. The only light was coming from a dim lamp on the side table. A bottle of water had been left beside it, which I took. After drinking down half I felt more awake.

This was obviously the inside of Luke’s camper, but it was nothing like the ones I had seen before. Granted, my RV knowledge was limited; it still looked as if this on belonged to a celebrity. Everything looked like it was new off the show room floor. I stood up and looked around slowly. The carpet was spotless, there was a huge flat screen TV that pulled down the from ceiling so it could be watched from the couch, which sat across from the door, and the counters were all bare of personal items. Turning around however, there was a shelf built into the wall just above the couch. It was full to bursting with a wide arrangement of movies. To the right was the front cab with two seats that looked more like recliners, and to the left was the kitchen area, complete with a table that looked like it sat six people. Past that I saw a closed door which must be the bedroom.

I didn’t know what time it was but it felt late. Luke had likely gone to sleep, expecting us to talk in the morning.
The morning!
I had to work! I sat the bottle back on the table. My purse was on the floor beside the couch, taking it I made my move for the front door. I laid a hand on the knob to turn it quietly in case in creaked, I didn’t want to risk waking him up. The knob, however, turned on its own and I jumped backwards, colliding with the couch.

“How are you feeling?” Luke asked, framed in the doorway.

“Better,” I breathed. My heart was hammering wildly in my chest.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he smiled warmly and came inside, closing the door silently behind him.

“You didn’t,” I lied, but the smile on his face told me he already knew otherwise. He moved to the kitchen and opened the fridge, pulling out another bottle of water for himself.

“Thank you, for earlier,” it was a weak compliment. I should feel like I owed him more, but waking up in Luke’s, well, home, seemed to be unnerving me.

“I’m just glad you’re alright. I hope its ok I bought you here, I mean we really didn’t talk about it, but… it just seemed like you could use the lay down,” he smiled and walked back across the space. He turned the passenger chair around and sat down in it facing me.

“Yes, thank you,” I fiddled with the strap of my purse.

“So... are you hungry?” he asked.

“No, thank you.” My traitorous stomach growled, but when his did the same, it caused us both to smile sheepishly at one another. 

“It seems you and I aren’t getting much of a say in the matter,” this time when he smiled it reached his eyes and reminded me again of how normal he seemed.

“Apparently,” I replied, against my better judgment I was starting to relax and dropped my purse back to the floor.

“I think I have some leftover pizza if you don’t mind it reheated,” he offered. When I nodded he stood up and went to work in the kitchen.

“There are some movies behind you if you would like to pick one out,” he called over his shoulder. I felt myself flush, I was sitting in his home, and he was offering me food and a movie in the middle of the night…

“What do you think this is? A date?” I said sarcastically, but he only laughed.

“I don’t think almost getting killed and left over pizza make for a very good date. When I do take you out, I promise to make it a much more enjoyable experience.”

“Oh, so you think I’m going to
let
you take me out on a date?” I sounded playful, I already knew I would let him without thinking about it, but it still made me question my sanity.

“I do hope so,” he said and waved me over to the table. He handed me a paper plate and I tore into a slice. It was melted cheese heaven and I devoured it and half of another before I stopped to breathe again.

“This is amazing, where did you order it?” I asked.

“I’m not sure where it came from, my brother ordered it. He probably couldn’t tell you were it came from either,” he laughed. That’s right, I had forgotten all about Luke’s brother, who was also Carolyn’s weekend fling. I sat my latest slice down. My train of thought had turned back to that evening in the woods.

“I never asked, how is Priscilla?” I didn’t really want to bring her up, but now that I had remembered it seemed somehow rude not to ask.

“She’s fine. She won’t be able to perform for a while, which has her all kinds of pissed off, but that’s not a new emotion for her, so yeah, she’s fine.” He had stopped eating as well. I realized other than telling me they weren’t an item; he hadn’t brought her up either. Maybe it was stupid, but I felt myself smiling.

“Hey, if you’re done can I show you something?” he asked, perked back up. I stuffed the last of the cheesy mess into my mouth and nodded.

BOOK: Runaway
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