“That’ll be one-sixty for the tow and forty for the gas. We take cash or credit.” The man at the register holds his hand out to Lukas, expecting that he’d be the one to fit the bill.
With a frown, he says, “You must be kidding me. You only towed it five miles to here. Even at empty, gas for a car that size shouldn’t be more than thirty max. Is everyone in this town trying to take advantage of us or what? That’s too much!”
“Now you listen here, this is the standard rate for the situation. That’s gonna be true for anywhere you go around this area. You requested an on-demand tow first thing in the morning, before my guys were even on the job, and you needed gas. We’re the only auto shop around here that has their own gas pump, so it’s not like you had another option. Not unless you wanted to pay three hundred to get towed to the next city; over twenty miles from here. Then you could’ve had your thirty-dollar gas. This town is one of the smallest rural towns in all of Utah and we must survive somehow. We can’t be giving handouts to everyone!”
“I understand that!” He slams his hand on the counter. “I know that this was an inconvenient situation for everyone, but can’t you cut us a break? If it were my car I’d just eat it, but it isn’t, and she’s forbidden me from paying it for her. Asking her to pay out that much money unexpectedly might put her in a tough spot, and she really doesn’t need that right now. She’s going through some things, and I don’t want to add to her distress.”
The man looks out to see Nai sitting outside, her gaze focused out towards the mountains. She seems to be in a sort of daze, seeing the sight, but disconnected, like her mind is far away. He sighs and scratches the back of his head, thinking it over. “One-fifty, that’s as low as I’ll go, and you won’t get it for a penny less. I can barely manage to do that, but I couldn’t respect myself if I didn’t try to help a Sister in need. I’m sorry, but that’s all I can do.”
Lukas relaxes and offers the man a genuine smile. “Thank you Sir, I appreciate your willingness to give us a break. I’ll go get her, so we can pay up and get out of your hair.”
He walks over to her, the sound of his approach breaking her daze and she gives him her full attention. “So, what’s the final verdict?” She gives him a soft smile.
“Unfortunately, he could only go as low as one-fifty for the whole thing. I know that’s a bit steep, and so despite your opposition, I’d honestly be willing to help you pay-.”
“No means no Lukas. You’ve already done more than enough for me; I won’t let you pay out any more of your money. The night at the inn was enough, and since you refuse to let me reimburse you for the thirty, I’m going to cover our breakfast. This was my mistake that led us here, so I have the responsibility to own up to it and fix it.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out a gold card. “Besides, I’ve got an emergency fund I can use. Just help me explain the situation to my parents later, ok?” She gives him a playful wink and proceeds to go pay the shopkeeper.
Lukas shakes his head with a smile, hardly able to believe such a woman as her can exist. She’s smart, beautiful inside and out, and she’s got a wonderful sense of responsibility. She’s nothing like what others would expect a young woman of a very wealthy family to be like. She’s not spoiled to the degree that she’s a snob and is truly kind and considerate. He’s sure her parents must have raised her well, but some of it is just her too.
A couple of minutes later, Nai returns to him with a grin. “I wasn’t aware you were so adept in the art of haggling. Mr. Roberts in there was just explaining how valiantly you fought to get him to lower the price for my sake. That was very thoughtful.”
Lukas rubs his head with an awkward laugh. “Oh, well, I just felt it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want you to be in a tough spot. It was the least I could do for you since I couldn’t pay.” He suddenly feels the soft press of her lips against his cheek and just as quickly she pulls away. He stares at her with wide eyes and his cheeks feel like they’re on fire.
Nai gives him a sweet smile before saying, “Take that as your reward for doing such a great job and going above and beyond for my sake. I appreciate that you’ve been working so hard just to ease my burden. I’m hurting, but I’m tougher than I might seem. Adam was my world, but not my everything.”
Lukas touches his cheek with a smile. “Yea, you’re the strongest woman I know. Sorry for doubting you, I won’t again.”
“Also, not to belittle you efforts, but I paid the full two-hundred for his services. I can’t in good conscious take a discount from him knowing this shop is all he has to survive on. Good people need to look out for other good people, right?” She pulls the keys from her purse and begins walking. “Let’s get going already, I’m starving.” She makes her way towards their cars, inviting him to follow.
Lukas looks after her in awe, again needing to marvel in how amazing she is. He looks back at the shopkeeper, who waves at him and shouts, “You’re welcome young’un!”
Lukas can’t help but laugh and give the man a grateful wave in return. He really was a good guy and helped him more than either of them truly know. Lukas turns away and follows behind Nai. They coordinate which diner to meet at and set off.
“Oh my gosh! That was so much food, and so delicious too! Is this the charm of a small town I’ve heard so much about?” Nai leans back with her hands on her stomach. “I’m stuffed.”
“I’m glad you liked it dear, can I get you folks anything else?” A middle-aged woman with her red hair in a bun speaks to them kindly, as she balances their plates on her arm.
“No ma’am, I think we’ve indulged in more than enough of your hospitality,” Lukas answers for them. “We’ll take the check, but if it’s ok with you, we’d like to sit here for a while longer.”
“Oh, not a problem honey, you two take as much time as you need now. I’ll be back with your check in a jiffy.” She struts away and continues to tend to her other tables, dropping their check in front of Lukas in between runs. “You two lovebirds enjoy the rest of your day now. Take care.”
“Oh, we’re not together, we’re just-.” She scurries away before he can clear up the misunderstanding. He hears Nai start to giggle and he responds with an amused grin. “What’s so funny? Isn’t it weird how everyone seems to think we’re a couple?”
“No, I wouldn’t say it’s weird. When two young people are together in these situations, especially a man and a woman, it’s natural for people to think there’s something between them. What I find funny, is how you feel the need to clear up the misconception every time. Does it bother you?”
“No, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just...well, I thought it might make you uncomfortable. I mean, you just broke up with your boyfriend, and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to make a move or something while you’re down. If I have any chance at all, I’d like it to be a mutual pursuit and happen naturally.” He can’t look her in the eyes as he says this.
Nai’s cheeks fill with a little color as the gravity of his words sink in. She’d have to have been incredibly dense to not have noticed his feelings after all this time, but she had no choice but to dance around them before, as she was already committed to Adam. However, now that she’s officially a free woman, she’s free to do whatever and whoever she wants. That said, she also doesn’t want to rush anything, as she did just experience a breakup.
“You have a chance.” Lukas looks up at her with hope in his eyes. “In fact, I’d say the odds are very much in your favor.” She sips her orange juice and looks out the window as she says this. She doesn’t look directly at him either, but he can see the soft blush in her cheeks. He won’t get ahead of himself and take that as a confirmation that she shares the same feelings for him as he has for her, but he can smile, feeling relieved he’s got a shot.
“So... are you going to tell me by what magic you were able to find my precise location last night? Because I didn’t know where I was and so couldn’t have told you, besides the fact that I was a total mess.” She finally meets his eyes, but her gaze is serious.
His mouth falls open slightly, and his eyes widen as his brain enters panic mode. He hadn’t thought to come up with an answer to this obvious question. Should he lie and say he just drove until he found her? No, that’s unrealistic. He looks at her, and her eyes seem to be pleading, “don’t you dare lie to me”. The truth is, he doesn’t want to lie to her. He’s hated having to lie to her since the start. She’s too smart to believe them anyway, and he’s frankly sick of hiding. As much as he’s been dreading this day, he understands the time has come to tell her everything.
With a heavy sigh, he joins his hands together and replies, “There’s a lot I haven’t told you about myself and my reasons for enrolling at the university. I just want to start out by saying that I didn’t intentionally keep them from you for the sake of deceiving you for some selfish aim. Rather, I was lawfully bound by the secrets until the time was right to reveal them. I know that the time is now, and what I’m about to tell you might come as a shock to you. However, whatever you do, and whatever you might come to think of me, I must ask you just one thing; please don’t resent me for what I’m about to say.”
Nai is surprised by the sudden shift in his tone and the abrupt change to such a serious atmosphere. She’d expected that he was hiding something, but the way he’s leading in makes her feel a bit anxious. Is she about to learn something that will further destroy her world? She doesn’t know if she can handle another betrayal. However, looking at his face, and seeing the anguish and fear in his eyes, she can see that he’s genuinely nervous as well. She decides that it’s only fair to hear him out completely, and then make her judgement.
“I’ll hear what you have to say, but please don’t resent me either if I can’t look at you the same depending on what I hear.”
He laughs lightly. “Fair enough.” He clears his throat and allows the biggest reveal to fall from his lips. “Your boyfriend, well your Ex I suppose now. We have reason to believe that he’s a serial kidnapper and murderer; responsible for the brutal assault and deaths of at least twenty girls in the last six years.
Nai feels as though the biggest bombshell was just dropped on her head, and she must grip the table. “What?!” She looks at him with a slight smile, certain he’s messing with her again, but his face is a serious as she’s ever seen it. “You’re serious?”
“I’m afraid I am Nai. The truth about myself is that I’m a detective with the Colorado Police Department. I was put on this case six months ago and was asked to go undercover. This case is supposed to serve as my big break if I can crack it, but it may also serve as my ruin should I fail. My superior has been on this case since the start and chose me to undertake this portion of the investigation because he felt I was the most suited for it. Considering my age, I could easily pass for a university student, but that’s not the only reason he chose me specifically.”
“A detective?” Nai looks at him in complete disbelief. “Is that why you befriended me? To get close to me in the hopes I’d give you insider info to bring him down with? Was this all just-?”
“No! I swear to you this wasn’t just a job. I swear Nai, everything I’ve said and done this entire time has been genuine. My feelings for you are genuine, and they go back much further than just a couple months ago. I’ve looked forward to seeing you again for years Nai, but I couldn’t face you until I became someone you could respect. My superior knew of our history, and it’s why he placed me in this position. I accepted it only because I knew that this would be my chance. I didn’t save you back then, but I wasn’t going to let the chance slip away again. That’s why I....”
“Our history? See me again?” She stares at him with suspicious eyes and a scowl. “Exactly who are you Lukas?”
He sighs as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wallet. He flips it open and reveals it to be a badge instead. “My name is Detective Lukas Miguel Arias, but you might better remember me as Senor Migas. That’s what you called me in our school days.”
Nai feels like a freight train of emotions and memories just hit her in the face. She clutches her head as everything comes rushing back to her. The memories of peaceful days where it was just she and him, passing time happily in the back of her Spanish class.