Chapter 13 - Someone like me
An hour into the movie and I had to excuse myself to go to the restroom. River bought two huge blue icees and insisted that I drank one. She was right, it was good but now I was missing the best part of the movie with my luck.
As I walked out of the bathroom door a couple of guys that worked for me passed by.
"Holmes at a movie theater? No way."
One of them joked.
I was capable of going to the movies. I didn't make a habit of coming to places like this but still, it wasn't such a wild concept.
"Let me guess, a hot date?"
The other one wiggled his brows and the urge or punch him struck me hard.
"No. It's River Stafford's birthday, she wanted to see a movie."
I knew that would shut them up. After the incident at the high school, Jackson had made it well known at our unit (especially with the younger guys) exactly who his little sister was, and that no one was to mess with her. And I inadvertently became the enforcer.
Their eyes grew wide and just as I suspected, they let it go and said goodbye before walking away.
It made my brain hurt to think of one of them assuming that I was here for any other reason.
I walked back into the dark room and sunk back into my seat. I was beyond tired, I had lost count of how many hours I'd been awake.
"Did I miss anything good?"
I leaned over and whispered as I inhaled. River smelled like strawberries. It didn't matter if she had just woke up or had been outside staring at the sky for hours. It was just a given.
"The entire movie is good."
She rolled her eyes.
She had her legs tucked underneath her body in the seat and I knew she was cold but she would never admit to it. I pulled my flannel shirt off and handed it to her. She smiled and draped it over her body. She was small so it basically covered her entirely, just her head was exposed.
The movie ended and she tried to give it back but I made her keep it. She pulled her arms through and I laughed.
"I think three of you could fit in there."
"You're probably right."
She held her arms out half of the sleeve was empty.
I opened the passenger side of my bronco and she hopped in, there was no way she was driving tonight.
"Thanks for taking me. I know I've already seen it but it was better with you there."
She fidgeted with her fingers in her lap.
River had been saying little things like that here and there and it made me nauseous.
We were close and she was young. It would be incredibly easy for her to get attached to me in that way. And the fact that she was becoming bolder every day made me want to pull away from here. From wherever sort of relationship we had.
But the part that made me want to be physically ill was that almost any outsider looking in could get the wrong idea. They would see me with a seventeen-year-old and that did not look good.
I would never cross that line.
The problem was there was something about River, something that I needed to protect, and the only way I could do that was to do what I was doing now.
What I'd been doing since the first day that I met her.
Put her before me.
Yes, she had a perfectly good brother. Who was over the moon about her and would no doubt protect her with everything that he had but still, not better than I would.
I understood her.
"Beau? The light is green."
River's voice cut through my thoughts.
I let my foot off the brake and sighed.
I had to back off, I couldn't let her continue doing what she was doing.
I couldn't continue doing what I was doing.
"My work schedule is going to change soon. I'll be there a lot more and at the house less often."
I waited for her to say something but she was still picking at her nails, chewing on them.
She had naturally long fingernails that she religiously filed uniformly so I knew she wasn't biting them. She was stalling.
"Is it because of what I just said?"
She sounded hurt and I hated it.
I shook my head.
"No, of course not. We just rotate schedules from time to time. It's my turn to take this one over."
It was only half of the truth. We did rotate schedules but this particular one didn't require more time from me, it actually required less. But she didn't need to know that.
"Oh okay. Hey did you know Taylor's family have decided to stay here after his dad retires this year?"
He was a nice kid. He came from a good family and he would more than likely grow into the type of man that River deserved. If he could just try and not suck her face off every time they were in the same space, I could probably even convince myself that all of those things were true.
I tried to clear the bile from my throat.
"Are you mad?"
She asked a few minutes later when I parked my Bronco in front of her house.
What a complex question.
It wasn't that I considered myself an unhappy person. I was just aware of how unfair life could sometimes be. And of how often it liked to remind me.
"I'm not mad, just a little tired."
"I forgot you worked all night. I'm sorry Beau we could've done this another night."
She slid her arms out of my flannel shirt and folded it before placing it on my dashboard.
It was when she did random things like that. That's when something inside of me shifted to a mode I had never been set on before.
"I have another gift for you but you have to go inside."
"Are you coming too?"
I shook my head no and watched her smile faded.
I hated that she would let something like that
take her smile.
Someone like me.
"I have a busy week."
I told her.
"Okay well, thanks again for the movie. And for whatever's inside."
"Happy Birthday, River."
She nodded back and shut the door.
I knew she wasn't happy with me but that didn't matter. All this time I thought it was my job to protect her from the world. From the moment I saw her after I drove to Virginia to pick her up from the airport and she suggested the idea that she could've just got a cab, I felt a deep, embedded need to look after her.
And this was no different. I knew that I had to pull back. I needed to put something in place so I could ensure she would have the proper shot at all the opportunities that would soon be at her fingertips.
With all the innocent brushing of her hand against mine or her being more comfortable putting her arms around me, something had to give.
It dawned on me that maybe I wasn't protecting her from the world anymore.
Maybe I was protecting her from myself.