I watch our small town fly by at a speed I didn’t even know was possible for my sad truck. I didn’t know if it was legal for that matter. Pressing myself closer to my door I look over to Jordan tapping the wheel and bobbing his head.
“Can-can you please slow down,” I whimper, “I can’t come home with a speeding ticket,” just the thought of my father finding out I got a ticket makes me sick to my stomach.
He eases up, giving me a gentle smile. I’m certain he could hear my panicked heartbeat; I’m not going to easily show I am scared even though it was probably obvious.
“I’m sorry about Trevor this morning, he is such an ass.”
I shrug my shoulders and shift in my seat, “I’m used to it, he could have done worse.”
He furrows his brow and looks me up and down, “He shouldn’t get away with that.”
“Welcome to the unjust world of high school. Nobody gives a damn.”
Out of nowhere the car moves to the side and is on the shoulder of the road. I know how this kind of thing goes, when a guy who you know can be violent pulls over that fast something is going to happen.
When the car has stopped I jump out and run, I have no clue where I’m going, there were no other cars, nowhere to hide on the dirt back road.
Not even ten feet away from the truck I feel arms wrap around my arms and waist.
“Let go of me you son of a bitch! Help!” I screech, and I don’t stop, not until he’s squeezing me so tight I can barely breathe and my throat feels rough and dry.
“Rhea! Calm down!” I fight against his hold but don’t scream, “I’m not going to do anything, stop fighting. I promise I won’t hurt you, I just want to talk.”
My chest heaves and my body remains tense as he rests his head on my shoulder, he begs under his breath and I nod gently before he loosens his grip and I pull away.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he takes a step back, “I swear, I’m just trying to help.”
“Yeah right, just take me home,” I stomp past him, heading back to my truck.
“He treats you like crap and you want to go back?”
I grab his bag and throw it at him, “It’s not like I have a choice, and I can take care of myself.”
“Seriously? You come to school almost every day with another crap cover up, you never stand up for yourself at school when guys like Trevor pick on you, you isolate yourself and hide! How is that taking care of yourself? This is the most emotion I’ve ever seen from you and I’ve been in eight of your classes over the past three years.”
I scoff at him and walk over to the drivers seat, he blocks the door from opening with his hand.
“Let me in,” I pull as hard as I can to no avail, “This is my car!”
“Please, just give me a chance here,” He closes his eyes for a second, “I really just want to help, I’m not trying to hurt you, if you’re really this uncomfortable I’ll take you back home.”
I bite my tongue and step back, letting him get in the drivers seat. I get in on the other side but keep my distance.
“Can we go back? I have homework, and I’m going to be late for work.”
He nods, turning the truck back towards town, “Where do you work?”
“The little hardware store near the church, I’ve worked there for over a year.”
“Do you want to just go straight there?” He taps his fingers on the wheel again, slower than before.
“Yeah I guess, I don’t want to make you walk home or anything, if you want to drive yourself home first I do know the way to my work.”
He shakes his head, giving a crooked grin, “Eh, I might just wander around town at that point, I don’t want to go home. I don’t need another lecture about fighting in school.”
“Maybe that’s a sign you should stop,” I grumble under my breath as we make our way back into town.
“Probably will never happen, but whatever.”
He’s so calm and resolved. It unnerves me, the calmer they are the more anger they’re capable of.
Fifteen minutes of silence press on before we approach the street I work on. I can’t wait to have him out of my car, away from me. No words, no exchanged glances, nothing but silent distance. Pulling into the lot by the employee entrance, Jordan pulls out the keys and hands them to me, but he doesn’t move.
“Alright, well, thanks I guess, for making today interesting to say the least,” I go to open my car door. I’m met with his hand wrapping around my upper arm.
“Hey, um, what day is your day off? If that’s ok to ask, I mean...” He starts stuttering.
“Saturday, why?” I pull my arm away from his grip as slowly as I can.
“Would you maybe want to go out for the afternoon? I can pick you up, we could do whatever you want.”
“Why?” I sound like a broken record.
“What do you mean ‘why’? Can’t I just want to hang out, I think you’re cool and, you know, I feel bad for what you have to go through. I want to be able to offer you a friend, an escape.”
He seems genuine, he maintains eye contact, a shy grin plays at his lips. It’s almost cute.
“Maybe, depends on how much homework I have this weekend. I need to go clock in.”
I open the door and hop out before he can stop me. I watch him do the same, we stand there awkwardly with our backpacks as I wait for my boss to open the door.
“So should I call you later?” He tries to give a charming smile.
“My dad doesn’t like when I talk on the phone, he freaks out about me racking up a bill even though I stay in my limits.”
He nods solemnly, before his head shoots up and his eyes get bright with an idea. He yanks out a pen and writes some numbers on my arm.
“Well here’s my number, call me or text me when you know about Saturday. I promise I won’t blow up your phone and if you go over your minutes or texting limit because of me, I’ll pay the difference.”
I start shaking my head, “You don’t have to do that,” His smile doesn’t fade.
“Please, my dad keeps giving me money, hoping I’ll use it going out instead of fighting, might as well put it to good use.”
I can’t help but smile a little, his ease is soothing. Like its no big deal that I could go over my limit and he’d hand me $100, like it’s just another Tuesday.
I jump as the door swings open and my boss calls out to me, “Rhea, you ready?” He eyes Jordan suspiciously, “Everything alright out here?”
“Yeah, all’s good Mr. Marsh,” I pull back my arm and give a shy smile to Jordan, “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
I bolt for the door, ducking my head to avoid eye contact with Mr. Marsh.
“See you later,” Jordan’s voice fades behind me as the door closes.
“So who was that fool?” Mr. Marsh keeps his arms crossed as I dart past to the register.
“Just a guy from school, trying to be friendly I guess. I don’t really know him.”
“Looks like a Mars,” Mr. Marsh shuffles past me, “Now you stay away from the Mars’! Those snobs think they can do whatever they want and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
I smile as he shakes his finger at me, ever since he offered me a job he’s been very protective. Almost like... A father.
I pull my apron strings behind me and back around to tie over my stomach. I work until seven, but I know it won’t really be busy, so I start on my homework.
I’m nose-deep in my history textbook when the bell over the front entrance jingles. I look up and see a guy from my class, Dominic I think is his name. I watch him look around and find what he’s looking for. He drops a couple boxes of nails and a hammer on the counter in front of me.
“Hey,” he says, a smile across his face, ” Rhea, right?”
I nod, stunned. No one knows my name.
“I’m Dominic, Dominic Stom, I think I’m in your English class.”
I don’t know what to do, should I say something back? I just nod and smile as I scan his items.
“You don’t say much do you? You’re so quiet in class,” He chuckles as he pulls out his wallet.
“I don’t really know what to say, today has been weird enough and now random classmates are talking to me.”
I put his stuff in a bag and hand it to him, “Thanks, building a doghouse for my sister. Mom and dad are getting her a puppy for her birthday next week,” he takes the bag and his change, “It’s dumb, I know, but she’s wanted a dog for years.”
“It’s not stupid, I think it’s sweet,” I manage a smile.
“I hope this isn’t too forward or anything but, I’ve read some of your stuff in class, and I think you have a lot of really great things to say. Would you maybe want to go out sometime?”
He stands there at the counter, I can’t look away from his eyes, they’re such an intense grey-blue that stands out against his black hair. It takes me way too long to realize he’s talking to me.
“Oh, um, I don’t,” I chuckle, wanting to kick myself, “I can’t, I’m busy with homework and work and stuff. Sorry.”
“It’s cool, maybe during spring break we can find some time,” He smiles at me with almost perfect teeth.
“Maybe I don’t know, we’ll see,” I keep my head down. I don’t see Mr. Marsh come up behind me.
“Rhea, are you giving this nice young man a hard time?” He tries to laugh at his own joke, getting caught in a rough wheeze. I reach out to support him but he waves me away as he straightens out.
“No, sir, just trying to make conversation, I’m Dominic Stom, I apologize if I’m keeping her from her work. It’s my fault for distracting her,” He reaches his hand out to shake Mr. Marsh’s.
“Hm, a man with manners,” Mr. Marsh gladly accepts the introduction, “It’s no problem son, as you can see we aren’t that busy. Stom you say, is your father Richard Stom?”
“Yes sir, same one on the city council,” He stands proud, obviously he’s not embarrassed by who his father is.
“Very nice man your father,” My boss looks down at me, I hope my cheeks aren’t as red as they feel, “Rhea this is the kind of boy you should be spending time with, not that Mars boy.”
“Mr. Marsh, I--”
“Mars? Jordan Mars, why would you be hanging out with him?” Dominic looks stunned, the pride and confidence gone, “He’s trouble, I wouldn’t want you tangled in his messes!”
“I’m not, I barely know him, he was just being friendly today,” I clear my throat and stare at the floor, “Anyway, I hope your sister likes the dog house you’re making. It’s really sweet of you. Have a nice day, Dominic.”
He takes the hint that I’m uncomfortable and nods his head slightly, “You too, maybe I’ll see you around school.”
And with that, he’s gone. I look up to Mr. Marsh, who shakes his head at me, “You should give the boy a chance, he seems nice.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready for dating right now, especially with a city council member’s son! I don’t know, him and Jordan all in one day, I think I’ll pass on boys for now.”
He relaxes, “I guess that makes sense, but don’t let your life pass you by. You’re 17, you should have fun.”
I try to smile as I go back to my homework. Fun, unfortunately, is not in my vocabulary. Slowly I focus back on my textbook and let the evening fly by.