“Where are we going?” Anticipation is poking at me. Driving down a road out in the middle of nowhere, I look over to the man driving the truck.
“You’ll see,” Mike grins, showing that dimple again. He is a mystery. The little rant he gave in Sullivan’s class has me looking at him in a whole new light. There is more to him than meets the eye. He believes that people are born with evil in their hearts...
What happened to him to make him believe that? He is clearly very smart, is that why he doesn’t need books? What was it like for him as a child?
I have so many questions for him - starting with that tattoo on his hand. I can’t believe I traced it with my finger moments ago. The ink was calling out my name, asking for me to touch it. I can still feel his skin under my finger as I traced the word ‘Psalms.’ I didn’t have a chance to trace the ‘11:6’ on his fingers—the feeling of his skin beneath mine... the heat from his hand. The hills and the valleys from the veins were enough to fog my ability to think properly.
Everything about him is enticing. I’m not sure what has happened to Mike during the past eight days, but he seems like a different person now. I really like this playful and fun Mike.
I sneak a peek at him under my lashes. In the past week, he made me feel like anything and everything I did was wrong. Apparently, I wrote my notes wrong, opened my locker wrong, looked at him the wrong way - no matter what I did, even the word ‘hi’ made it seem like an insult to him. This Mike is much more of a joy to be around. The way he still treats Declan bothers me a little, but at least Mike doesn’t look like he will hurt Declan anymore when he sees him.
We turn off the paved road, and trees line up on both sides of the rough dirt terrain; I am forced to dig my hand into the seat beneath me. My other has a strong grip on the Oh Shit handle – which is what my dad calls it. I try to keep myself from thrashing everywhere in the cab of this truck - I can’t help but laugh from the experience. His laugh is contagious, too, though I do believe he is laughing at me bouncing around like a bouncy ball.
The truck stops abruptly, forcing us both to jerk forward a little. All I see is a large mud hole. I don’t get it.
“What is this place?” I ask, not sure what’s going to happen.
His eyes meet mine. “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna kill ya. It’s a mud hole. Have you ever been mud bogging?” he asks, raising a brow.
“Mud, what?” I gasp. He can’t be serious.
I watch him as he rolls our windows down, allowing the smell of pine and mud to fill our noses. The click of the childproof lock sounds; I can’t roll mine up. Looking at him with wide eyes, even though I feel a smile on my face, I beg him not to do it. He gives me a mischievous grin while slamming on the gas; an excited scream escapes me.
He spins the steering wheel around while playing with the break and the gas pedal like it’s a game. The truck is sent fishtailing right and left; mud is flying everywhere – thankfully, none has gotten inside the truck... yet. He whips us around in circles. The engine whines trying to keep up with Mike’s decisions. We are both laughing so hard. I’m sure I’ll have stomach cramps for days.
Every turn he makes, I let out a screech, it always feels like the truck will flip over, but each time it doesn’t. I have never been mud bogging before; it is such a thrill. Bringing the truck to a stop outside of the mud pit, our laughter starts to fade as we look at each other. I point a finger at him and laugh– he has speckles of mud all over his face and hair.
“What?” he asks as if he doesn’t know; he probably doesn’t.
“You have mud all over your face,” I cackle.
Mike takes his hand, and he wipes it over himself. Admiring the evidence, he says, “I guess I do. But you know what? You are far too clean to have been mud bogging.” He scans my body, and I know where this is leading.
“Oh, no!” I shout as his hand reaches for my hair. His bright green eyes are practically dancing at me, matching that evil grin.
To get away from him, I jump out of the truck. Rolling the sleeves of his baggy sweatshirt up to my elbows, I grab a handful of the cold mud for ammunition. When he comes after me, I can throw the red clay clump at him. Standing back up to look inside the truck, I see his door is open, but he’s not there. Where is he? I look around but don’t see him. He could be anywhere. I hunch down and creep my way alongside the truck towards the back. Slowly, I turn the corner of the bumper, ready to throw the mud at him, expecting to see him - he’s not there.
Out of nowhere, I feel a little sting on my butt with a deep howling in suit. He struck me in the butt with a ball of clay. Gasping with my mouth open, I turn around and see him. He’s holding his stomach with his head thrown back, laughing at my expression. I narrow my eyes and throw my mud ball at him, hitting him just above his crotch. He stops laughing with an “Oh,” his hands cover the red-stained spot, which is hard to see on his black clothing. He falls to his knees then doubles over. Instantly, I cover my mouth with my hands, letting out a scared gasp.
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to hit you there!” I yell as I try to rush after his crumpled body on the earth’s slippery, sticky red floor. “I have terrible aim.” I kneel to see if he’s okay. Without warning, he grabs me by the arms and pulls me on top of him, causing me to squeak as he laughs. Before I know it, we’re wrestling in the mud, and he’s on top of me. His tickles make me squirm under his touch, causing me to push myself deeper into the sticky earth in an effort to move away.
“Oh! You are terrible! I thought I hurt you,” I half laugh half squeal as I start to take fistfuls of dirt and rapidly toss them on the side of his face and in his hair.
He laughs. “Kitten, you can’t hurt me.” Taking a break from tickling me to wipe his face with the back of his un-muddied forearm, I decide to get him back. I reach forward, placing my open hands on his hard chest to try and push him over, to be on top of him. I want to see if he’s ticklish, but he’s too strong – my tactic isn’t working the way I hoped it would.
“What are you doing?” he asks playfully.
I grunt with determination as I try to push him over. Letting out a chuckle, he sighs, “Fine.” He pretends that I make him topple over. Impulsively, without thinking, I leap on top and tickle him under the arms. It’s not working even though he’s chuckling– it isn’t from my hands, but rather my efforts.
His belly is the next target spot – which is nearly rock-solid under my touch. I make the mistake of catching his gaze. The cackling from us both stops. A warning flame is sneaking up my neck when I comprehend what’s going on. I’m straddling him. My legs are on either side of his body in an intimate and close way, with my hands resting on his abs. His warm, open palms are resting on my thighs. I love this feeling and the way he’s looking at me, but it’s inappropriate. He might have a girlfriend...
Feeling embarrassed, I quickly remove myself from him. The weight of my anxiety and the wet mud on my pants and his sweatshirt has made themselves known to me. “I’m s-sorry...I d-didn’t mean...”
Tenderly, he says, “Hey.” He stands up to reach for me. Taking my hands in his, he rests them against his masculine chest. “It’s okay. I’m not upset, please don’t apologize. There’s no need for you to feel embarrassed.” He puts both of my hands into one of his; the other hand removes a strand of reddish-blond crusty hair from my face to tuck it behind my ear.
“Okay?” he checks. I can feel his warm breath fan my face as I look up at him into those searching emerald eyes.
He’s worried about how I’m feeling. “Okay,” I say.
I’m speechless. He has me speechless with the way his eyes pierce into mine, the fact that his perfect lips are just inches from me. His hot breath fanning my cold, wet skin from the cool mud and dried sweat from wrestling with him. His large, strong hand holding both of mine against his hard-muddy chest, his other hand has moved from behind my ear to cup my neck. He’s stroking my hot cheek ever so affectionately with the rough pad of his thumb.
This is all just too much for me. I'm reveling in it, but I don’t think my heart has ever pounded this hard in its life. I hope I don’t go into cardiac arrest. Is he going to kiss me? If this were a movie, this would be the perfect opportune moment for him to kiss me.
He doesn’t. As he pulls away with a soft sigh of his own, my heart drops. The scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl, where Will Turner wanted to kiss Elizabeth in the cave after a big fight against Captain Barbosa’s crew - but didn’t - comes to mind. Jack Sparrow came up to him and said, ”If you were waiting for the most opportune moment, that was it.”
That was it, Mike, I scold him silently. That was it. Clearly, he doesn’t like me like that—the rejection stings like a hornet.
Then, I remember the blond from the other night. He must have a girlfriend. Now I feel even more terrible.
Mike clears his throat. “We should get you home,” he says with a bite, climbing into his truck. My shoulders drop as I pull open the door and climb in. Buckling my seatbelt as the sun is setting, I remember that he still owes me an answer about that tattoo, but perhaps right now isn’t the right time.
As he pulls off the trail onto a smooth paved road, I decide to break the silence. “I’m sorry,” I mumble. I look down at my hands to pull apart my thumb nail.
I see him look away from the road to look at me briefly from the corner of my eye. You could chisel ice off that cold stare. “Why are you sorry?”
I let out a sigh and risk turning to really look at him. “You’re mad at me, aren’t you?” My voice sounds so small.
"What? No! I’m not upset at you. Why do you think that?” He sounds aghast while darting his face from me to the road in front of him. He’s upset with me.
Oh, this is so embarrassing. I bury my face in my hands. “Hey, don’t do that, talk to me,” I hear him beg as his voice softens.
“Nothing.” A groan blurts out as I pull away from my hands and stare out the window. Shadows are growing as darkness looms. If I dare cry, I can’t let him see.
“It’s just... I’m confused.” I internally slap myself as the last word breaks with a crack.
“Confused about what?” He begins to pry with his knuckles tightening over the steering wheel. I don’t want to tell him the real reason why I’m so upset. I’m not even sure if I have the right to be.
If anything, he has the right to be distressed, and it sounds like he is, but in a way, that is making me angrier. I don’t understand this. I am even more confused now than I was five minutes ago. This isn’t healthy. I’m not healthy. I want him; I want him to want me, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t, and I have to be okay with that. This is ridiculous.
“What’s ridiculous?” he asks, pulling into his driveway.
Did I say that out loud? I facepalm myself. “Nothing!” I say with a bite, but I don’t care. I need to get out of this truck and away from him. As soon as I slam the truck door behind me, I see my dad’s car. Great. He’s home early. He’s going to love this look I’m rocking with red crusted clay covering me from head to toe.
“Elena! Wait! Please, let’s talk about this,” I hear Mike plead behind me as I run towards my front door. Before I can reach for the knob, the door swings open, and my dad is standing there with his arms crossed over his chest, demanding an explanation.
“Where have you been, young lady?” He gazes past me to see Mike following the path to my house, rocking the same look I am. He, of course, looks better than I do. How can someone look so good covered in crusty mud? “What happened to you two? Where have you been?” Dad looks down at my troubled face. Tears are beginning to prick, threatening to sprawl down my cheeks. His irate eyes cut to Mike. “Elena, go inside, get cleaned up.”
From the sound of his voice and the feeling in the pit of my stomach, he doesn’t have to tell me twice. Without missing a beat, I run past my dad as he steps outside and closes the door behind him.
In the bathroom, I turn on the shower and strip out of the stiff clothes. Closing the curtain behind me, I stand under the water. I welcome the burn falling on my scalp, shoulders, chest, and back as I pretend that it’s cleansing me from my self-loathing, humiliation, and rejection.
Before I know it, I’m swallowing a sharp lump in my throat while the sound of the shower drowns out my sobs.