The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. He received a phone call, they went to the back door, he got another phone call and they hopped on his motorcycle and sped out of town. She hadn’t thought to ask where they were going. It didn’t really matter. She wasn’t going home, and her chest clenched at the thought. But she was with the man she was starting to fall for. That was good for something.
She was riding on the back of his motorcycle, her arms wrapped around his waist with the sun in her face and the wind in her hair. She loved it. He weaved his way out of town and onto the highway. They drove for what must have been an hour before he took an exit. Near sunset they pulled up to a gas station and he filled the tank. He asked if she wanted anything.
No. She was back in “on the run” mode and would not eat for days, even if she had brought any money. “On the run” mode meant too many nerves to even consider eating. “On the run” mode meant get the heck out of here, only stop for gas when needed, and then put as many miles as possible between her and the Monster as quickly as possible. And she definitely wasn’t going to be any more of a burden to Tucker than she already was.
Instead of returning to the highway, he took the back roads. Through the woods, across the prairie, over a few hills, and then he slowed for a driveway. This driveway shot straight up a steep hill, through a bunch of pine trees, and she could not see what was beyond it. He took it a little slower, and when they reached the top, she saw a gorgeous little cabin. Big timbers, a beautiful front porch, and a trail leading down to what she suspected was a little stream.
She hopped off the bike and took in her surroundings. Tall, full, green pines surrounded the property and covered the steep hill down to the road. The grass was cut and green, and the yard was well taken care of. There was a swing on the front porch, facing the west, and there were windows all around the two level home. “Where are we?” she asked.
“This is my cabin.”
Ann felt her eyes widen. Just a cabin? This thing was much larger than his house in the city, and its beauty was beyond anything she ever expected.
He continued, “It’s pretty far off the map, so I don’t think he’ll find us here. However, it’s big enough to house us, Boss and a couple of my buddies.”
Her eye brows shot up in surprise.
“I called a few buddies to help. We are quite the A team, and I know we’ll get this figured out together” he said with a confident, reassuring smile.
Ok. That was a lot to take in. She felt so very out of control, out of sorts, and out of energy. She heard a vehicle come up the drive, and when it parked out front, a big grin stretched across Tucker’s face as he went to meet him. They were happy to see each other, like long lost friends, and she wondered what their connection was.
“Ann, this is Brad. He’s a security genius. He’ll be able to rig up this house, your apartment, my house, and the gym with surveillance in no time.”
He must have read the concern on her face, so he added, “so we can keep track of the Monster’s crimes and movements. I’m sure Brad’ll also be able to figure out a locating device for his SUV so we can keep track of his whereabouts. Right, Brad?”
“Piece of cake. But I don’t come free. Where’s that beer you promised?” he asked with a teasing glint in his eye. Tucker ushered him into the house, and she continued to study the surroundings from the porch. She found herself drawn to the trail near the woods and headed in that direction. She felt so empty inside, yet more emotions than she knew how to deal with welled up within. Fear, anxiety, helplessness and guilt to name a few.
She could hear the stream flowing from the yard, so it must be close. She followed the trail through the woods until it opened up into a clearing in front of the small river. She sat down in front of a large rock and leaned back against it, taking each emotion out singly, studying it, trying to objectively survey it without letting it get away. She was afraid that if she felt too much, that the tears would find a way to start and just never stop.
She must have gotten lost in her thoughts because she was startled back to reality when Tucker seemingly came out of nowhere and sat down next to her.
“This is one of my favorite places in the world,” he said, his voice gentle and kind. “It’s just so peaceful.” She didn’t know how he found her, but she was thankful that he did.
“It’s gorgeous” she agreed. “Reason number three you probably don’t want to get involved with me, is that I’ll never be able to pay you back for all the nice things you’ve done for me. I’ll never be able to return the dinners, boxing lessons, or time that you’ve given me. And now add on Boss and Brad’s time.” She was relieved that he didn’t interrupt. “Someday maybe I’ll be able to hold a steady job and pay back your buddies or the dinners, but you’ll never get your time back. Once that’s gone, it’s gone.”
He let this hang in the air for a bit. A few minutes passed. She forgot about what she had said and was focusing on the whoosh of the water, the birds singing in the meadow, and the occasional splash as a fish would leap up out of the water. He finally said, in a voice all too familiar, all too gentle and kind and graceful, “I meant it when I said I’d take as much of you as I could for as long as I could. I haven’t done anything I didn’t want to with you.”
If she wasn’t already so numb from the events of the day, this might have undone her. She clung to the numbness, willing herself to be strong and not fall apart.
Just then she heard a sharp smack in the water. “What was that?” she asked?
“A beaver,” he said, surprise in his voice. When he looked at her and saw that she truly had never encountered a wild beaver before he continued, “Sometimes when it sees something that doesn’t belong, he’ll slap his tail as a warning. Or if he’s just playing around. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Oh,” this made her giggle. The one thing she would always count on was the laughter that surfaced. It could always drown out the ugly of the day. Just about every single time. And it was the only safe emotion she let out.
He looked at her with a crooked grin, “It’s that funny, huh?”
And her laughter just intensified, for some reason picturing a flat old beaver tail slapping the water hit her funny bone, and the comic relief felt too good to stop so soon. Pretty soon he was laughing right along with her until she was spent. A big yawn came over her, and she stretched a bit. He was still looking at her out of the corner of her eye, and she appreciated how perceptive his eye was. He seemed to read her like an open book, giving her time and space when she needed it, a physical outlet to release the tension, and patience even when she didn’t deserve it. How did she get so lucky?