Already this is seeming like a bad idea. “No, I’m good.”
He squints, thick lines around eyes that spend way too much time moving up and down my body, before he asks, “You need a ride?”
“She’s with me.”
I glance up to find a thin, fifty-something red-haired woman kicking up dust with her cowboy boots. She stops beside me. “You ready to head out?”
The look she gives me is all motherly authority and my heart squeezes with the memories of my own mother. “Yes,” I say, no hesitation in my reply. “I’m ready.”
She motions me toward a big red rig and I fall into step with her. “I’m Shell, honey. I’d ask what you’re running from but I’ll spare you a lie. I ride with my hubby Frank. You can join us if you like. Where you headed?”
“Away from here,” I say. “That’s all that counts right now.”
Sadness seeps into her eyes and quickly is banked, but I see it. I feel it. Oh how I feel it and once again with a stranger, I feel a connection. But then, all I have in my life are strangers. Who else would I connect with?
“Who do we have here?” A happy looking gray-haired man with a beer belly asks as we approach the shiny red truck.
“This is…” Shell begins, and glances at me, a question in her expression.
“Amy,” I say, clinging to the name that is the only thing I’ve managed to keep for six years.
“I’m Roy, Amy. You know how many truckers it takes to pump gas into a rig?”
“Ah…no. How many?”
“None. We make our wives do it.”
Laughter bubbles from my throat and Shell snorts. “He doesn’t make me do anything, honey.”
Ten minutes later I’m at the window seat of the rig with Shell between me and Roy, and my laughter has taken a nosedive. Roy pauses at the exit to check the road and my chest is suddenly killing me, a crushing sensation pressing against it like the big rig I’m riding in is rolling over me instead of the hot pavement.
We pull onto the access road and while I felt regret leaving New York, I feel none over leaving Denver. But there is plenty over leaving Liam. I still want my Godzilla slayer, which is exactly why distance between him and me is good. I don’t know who I’m running from or if I’m wanted dead or alive. I simply know I have enemies and that it’s time I find out why. I will do that by being my own hero and the hero that honors my family the way they deserve to be honored.
Silver City, New Mexico
“Where the hell is Amy?”
I rush through the back door off the kitchen of ‘The Dive’ just in time to hear the grumpy question asked by our bald, often cranky, cook. “I’m here,” I reply quickly, hanging my black backpack on the rack on the wall just inside the kitchen. “Ready for my shift.”
“You’re late,” George grumbles.
Grabbing the clip on the outside of my bag, I tangle my long blonde hair into a knot at the back of my head and glance at the clock that tells me I’m actually two minutes early despite a flashback that had brought me to my knees. But I don’t argue, just like I haven’t done anything else to bring attention to myself these past eight weeks. “Sorry,” I offer, and Katy, the bottle-blonde waitress whose been here three years to my two weeks, casts me a friendly, sympathetic look.
Somehow, I force a small smile before cutting my gaze and grabbing an apron to tie around the waist of my pink uniform dress that all the waitresses here pair with laced white tennis shoes. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Katy’s concern. I do, and I like her quite a lot considering I’ve only been here such a short time, but I have no idea if we have anything but this place in common. Nor will I find out. I’m here another week, tops, and then I’ll find a trucker who feels safe, and who stops off the highway, and I’m out of here. It’s my only option until I have enough money and a good enough, well-researched plan that allows me to return to Texas without ending up dead like my family.
George flips a burger on the massive grill in the middle of the kitchen. “If you two are ready to work, then go give the dinner crowd some holiday f**king cheer. We have turkey and dressing on the menu until Thanksgiving.”
“It’s Halloween,” I say before I can stop myself, not ready for the holiday. Not this year. Not for the past six years.
“Close enough to a holiday for turkey,” George grumbles. “I got it at a bargain, so go push it to customers. Now get to work. This ain’t no Halloween party time for you.”
“Who needs costumes and parties?” Katy quips. “We have a monster in the kitchen every night.”
“I’ll show you a monster if I have turkey left over.” George adds a glower to what seems to be his typical grumble.
Katy waves him off and rushes toward me. “The drunks in the dining room are nicer than him,” she assures me as we exit the kitchen behind the long counter where customers can choose to sit rather than at one of the red booths or simple diner-style tables.
“I hope you’re right on that one,” I say, stopping just outside the kitchen, the scents of french fries and bacon mixing like sour eggs. Suddenly my stomach clenches, then rolls.
“Me too,” Katy laughs, turning to face me. “But you’ll get used to him, I promise.” Her brows dip and she frowns. “You okay?”
“I took a vitamin on an empty stomach when I know better,” I say, and as much as I hate the lies that are my life, this one comes easily. The two waitresses on duty head toward us to hand off their duties, and I barely register the exchanges that follow. My mind is in another place, back in Liam’s hotel room when we’d had angry, passionate, unprotected sex. You’re not pregnant. Eight weeks, three cities, one period, and one negative test says I’m not. But my period was barely there, spotty at best.