Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 32

Elena


“How was your date last night?” He asks as though he didn’t stay up waiting for me last night. When I came home, he was supposedly asleep in his chair. However, knowing my dad, he was completely awake behind those eyelids when I came inside.

With my back to my father, I pour a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch while touching my lips with my free hand, trying to savor the kiss Mike gave me. It was gentle at first, but then the kiss grew more intense, and I could feel myself literally dissolve into him.

I now know what people mean when they say they’ve experienced fireworks. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mike. I can’t wait until I see him again.

“It was nice,” I share.

“Did anything happen between you two?” my father digs.

“Nothing happened.” Just my first kiss, and it was more than I could have ever dreamed of. Sitting at the table, I continue, “Nothing at all. Just hung out and talked, then he brought me back. He was a true gentleman.” I stuff my mouth with a spoonful of cinnamon goodness.

Dad eyes me. “Mhm.” Hopefully, he bought it. If I’m going to hide things from him, I have to really work on my lying. So far, I seem to be doing okay.

A part of me wants to see if he’ll lie to me. “What rules did you give him?”

He shuffles the dishes before him. “I just gave a few rules for dating my daughter - like how I don’t want him crossing certain lines...”

I roll my eyes and take another bite of cereal. My sights zero in on her picture on our entertainment center. I can’t help but wonder what Mom would’ve thought of Mike. Would she be on my side? “Hey, Dad?”

“Yeah.”

Swirling the spoon around in the bowl, I watch as the cinnamon swirls in the milk along with the cereal. “Do you think Mom would’ve liked him?”

He is quiet for a moment. I look up from my bowl to see that he’s staring at me with pursed lips - thinking about what to say.

“I don’t think she would like where your friendship with him has turned,” he says carefully.

“Why do you say that?” I think she would have really liked him.

Dad folds his hands under his chin, resting his elbows on the table. “She’s been with boys like him. She knows what they are like: they break hearts, they hurt people, they get into trouble, they hold you back. I don’t think she’d be too thrilled.”

She’s dated boys like him? He’s different, though. I round back, “Mike would never hurt me or hold me back.”

Now he sits against the chair and sighs. “Well, he can’t be that different from his old man. She dated him in college.”

My mouth gapes. It really is a small world. “What?” My mother dated Mike's father. I’m not sure what to think of this.

“Yup.” He seems to be enjoying this too much. “They dated for about a year and a half, he broke her heart, then she dated me.” I gulp at his words. This is the most I have ever gotten from their past.

“You’ve mentioned before that you knew his family growing up...Were you still friends with his dad after what he did to Mom?” I ask, hoping I’m not stepping on a landmine.

He runs his thumb and forefinger down his mustache and speaks, “Our friendship grew complicated.”

Guess that’s the best I’ll get...“How did he break her heart?” I ask. If it’s true that he can be anything like his father, I need to watch out for some signs. Maybe there would be similar ones?

He takes a moment to make eye contact with me. “He lied to her, Elena. He wasn’t who she thought he was.”
I want to ask what Mike's dad lied about... “That’s why I don’t like this, kiddo. I’m just trying to protect you,” his words are thick and serious. “I know that you are an adult now, and you can make your own decisions. I just don’t want that boy clouding your judgment. I can tell you two have a great friendship, and I’m okay with that. He’s really been there for you. I’m just not happy about you two dating, but I also see how you two look at each other... which is why I set the rules that I did. I just don’t want you getting hurt.”

I refuse to believe that Mike would hurt me. I know I’m more to him than another possible notch in his bedpost... aren’t I? He has a good heart...I’ve witnessed it...

“I know.” It comes out almost inaudible as I scoot away from the table to drop the contents of my bowl down the sink. I’ve lost my appetite.

Mom has always said to 'live life to the fullest; have no regrets.’ That’s just what I’m trying to do.

“I’ll be in my room.” I speed to my bedroom then shut the door. As I lean against the door, my mind is trying to pull all my jumbled thoughts together. What did Mike’s dad lie about? How bad of a lie was it that it cost them a breakup? Does Mike know what it was? Was his dad a part of a ‘brotherhood’ too? If they ended up together, Mike nor I would be here...

An object on my nightstand lights up. Collecting the phone in my hand, I see a text from Mike; I quickly open it: Had a great time with you last night, I’ll see you soon with a ‘shh’ face emoji.

I smile. After everything we’ve gone through together and the way we kissed last night...I can’t see him ever hurting me...

Sending him a Me, too text with a wink face, I tuck all the newfound information from breakfast in a blanket in the back of my mind. I scroll my contacts; Rachel must be dying to know everything that had happened last night.

“We kissed,” I whisper into the speaker, “twice.” I know Dad is probably still in the kitchen, and I don’t want to test how thin these walls are. I told her all about the blindfold, the picnic, the wildflowers, and the stargazing. I even told her about what my dad told him regarding his stupid rules – all of which I plan on breaking.

“Ahhh!” she screams. “Your first kiss, though! How was it?”

“Rachel, it was amazing! Better than anything I could have ever imagined. I want to do it again so badly.” I quietly squeal like a little girl who finally got the pony she always wanted.

“I am so happy for you! It’s about time you get some,” Rachel laughs. “Is it still okay if I come to see you over Christmas break? I would love to meet this hunky man of yours...maybe even have a little fling of my own – does he have any brothers?” she asks shamelessly.

“Rachel!” I gasp as she laughs into the receiver. “I don’t know if he has any brothers, but he does have friends,” I smile.

“Oh?” she asks ambitiously.

I shake my head. “I miss you so much. I would be more than happy if you come to visit – what day were you thinking?”

“How about Christmas night? The flights will be cheapest then because hardly anyone travels on Christmas.”

“Sounds perfect! I’ll ask my dad.” The wait will be torture; I miss my best friend so much. I wonder what she and Mike will think of each other...


After getting off the phone with Rachel, I ask Dad about Christmas Day and if she could come to visit. He didn’t oppose it and thought it would be a great idea. He offers to pay for her plane ticket like he said he would in the drive down here; I text Rachel the details.

Before he walks out the door for work, he orders me to lock it behind him and keep it locked. Having a detective for a father raises your stress level easily, no matter how safe a little town may feel. I believe he’s just paranoid, but I do what he says.

Peering out to my neighbor’s house, I see there hasn’t been any movement there today; maybe he’s working...

How is a high schooler able to pay for a cute little ranch house like that? I’m sure he’s making around minimum wage at the auto shop...Would it be rude to ask him how he has afforded to live independently since he was sixteen?

I look out into the sky, then to the clock above our door - I seem to have a few hours of daylight left. A walk around town might be good for me. I don’t want to be cooped up in this small house all day. It will only drive me mad with unanswered questions.

Walking down Ashley lane, I take a left towards town. For a sunny Sunday late afternoon, it doesn’t seem to be very busy. There’s a light cool breeze in the air that carries the smell of nature along with it. It’s refreshing and nothing at all like the smog in the city.

In a clothing store, I find myself thinking about New Year's and if Mike would like to spend it with Rachel and me. Maybe he knows someone that would like to be Rachel’s date?

I find this cute champagne color cocktail dress. It would be perfect to wear it for going out on New Year’s, but I quickly put it back after holding it against myself. I’m putting the cart before the horse. With heavy feet, I leave the store without the dress then walk into a bookstore.

The Christmas music floods my ears as soon as I open the door. As I take in the bookstore’s décor, it reminds me that I should get some Christmas shopping done while I’m out.

Rachel likes to write in diaries, so I find a black journal with neon swirls on the cover; she’d like it.

My feet carry me to the ‘Books for Dummies’ section. I contemplate on, ”How to parent my 18-year-old Daughter for Dummies" for my father. Ultimately, I decide against it, then stroll over to the game section.

What game would Mike like? Scrolling through all the games, I choose the ‘Walking Dead.’ We’ve been watching the series lately on Netflix, and he’s mentioned that there was a game out there.

Is it too soon to be getting a gift for him? If he doesn’t give me a gift, then I’ll just give this to him at another time. I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable since I’m not even sure what we are yet. Are we in a relationship or...? I’ll have to ask him about that...

I grab my bags from the checkout before opening the door to walk out into the light breeze. I see a black van parked across the street, along with a few other vehicles.

Taking another left out of the store, I pad my way to a small clothing shop in hopes of finding a shirt my dad may like. He loves sports; maybe I can find him a baseball-style shirt.

A ding from the bells chimes as soon as I walk through the door. There’s a girl with long brown hair and wide brown eyes behind the counter who welcomes me with a smile.

Just as I find the perfect shirt for my father through a series of various racks - the doorbell chimes again - forcing me to look up towards the sound. A man walks in, and the atmosphere shifts; in the back of my mind, I’m sure I’ve seen him before. He’s tall, has brown shaggy hair with hazel eyes. I nearly drop the shirt I’m holding from his intense stare lasering its way across the room at me.

Thankfully, his attention turns to the brunette behind the counter, who seems more than willing to give him her undivided devotion. Letting out a breath from my paranoia that my father undoubtedly pushed on me, I divert my path a bit by going to another rack. Something deep inside is telling me to stall.

Now and then, I glance up to find the brunette twirling her hair and giggling at whatever the hazel-eyed boy is saying. So far, the situation seems harmless.

Minutes later, he turns around to locate me. As he approaches the door, he winks in my direction as he steps outside.

A chill runs down my spine. The whole episode freaks me out. The feeling makes me queasy; I make my way to the counter to pay for my dad’s shirt. I can’t help the shaking of my hands. The counter lady watches me carefully while she gives me my change; I force a smile.

“Everything okay?” she asks, a little unsure.

Making brief eye contact with her, I nod.

I want to ask her who that man was, but then I remember that this is a small town, and they seemed awfully chummy. Not wanting word to circle around that someone has been asking about him, I let it go.

Rushing out the door, I see that the black van is still parked across the street along with other vehicles. Already on edge, the lessons of being a cop’s daughter take over my senses, and I begin to soak in as much of my surroundings as possible - just in case.

My dad has taught me that a lot of the victims are the ones that keep their heads down and not pay attention to what is around them: I immerse myself in the black van, the red impala, and the blue pickup truck. I notice a mother and child walking down the street along with a teenager skateboarding with spiky green hair.

I grip my purchases with all my strength as if clutching onto them is literally my lifeline. As fast as my feet will let me - I speed walk down the street towards Mike’s auto shop. I don’t feel safe walking home by myself - frequently, I look around to absorb my surroundings. My paranoia is right on target when I see the van creep along behind me. Unlike in a big city, there aren’t any alleyways to hide in or take shortcuts through.

Here? There is only one road to the auto shop and my house: The van and I share it.

I’m steps away from the doors to the shop when I hear a car door close behind me. Whipping around, I see the same man from the clothing store with a shorter blond man stalking in my direction. I spin back to hurry my feet a few more steps to reach and open the door to the shop - then run into the lobby.

My adrenaline is causing my bones to shake in fear; turning around, I walk backward further into the lobby - I see the men inch closer to the doors when my body collides with another. With a scream, I drop my bags and swat at the body behind me out of instinct.

“Whoa! Easy. Are you okay?” Opening my eyes, I see Paul, one of Mike’s friends that I’ve met the first time I was here. I didn’t have an opportunity to tell him my name, but I remember his.

“T-there’s men following me,” I blurt out, then point towards the door. He peers around my frame to look.

“If there was anyone following you, they’re gone now.” A hand stretches out to touch mine; I flinch a little, but he doesn’t let go.

Paul scans my face. “Hey, you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”

I can’t help but start to hyperventilate; they were probably ghosts...ghosts from a place buried deep in my subconscious.

Maybe my mind is just playing tricks on me. Did I meet them before? Were they even there? Something is off about this whole situation... the eeriest part of it all is that I feel like I knew them.

Before I know it, tears are streaming down my cheeks. Paul crouches down to grab the bags that I dropped then guides me to an office to help me find a chair so I can sit down. A paper bag is placed in my hands as he squats in front of me - holding my knees while I hyperventilate into the paper bag.

“Hey,” Paul says gently. “You gotta slow your breathing before you pass out, honey.”

I hear his words, but they are not registering. Was I about to be kidnapped? Do they have ties with Isaac? Is Isaac trying to get to me? Did I meet them at the party? Or did I meet someone similar to them at the party? Were they the same guys?

My head is spinning. I try to concentrate on the face in front of me, the man’s deep brown eyes are like a pool of milk chocolate, his dark hair sweeps just above his eyes.

“Take a deep breath, do what I do,” Paul tells me. He breathes in deep and lets it out slowly; I focus on mimicking him.

“That’s it darlin’. Again.” Slowly, I can feel myself calm down. Knowing I’m in Mike’s territory - an overwhelming comfort covers me like a warm blanket.

“Good.” He asks with concern, “Do you want me to call Mike for you?”

“Is he here?” If he’s here, then I don’t mind telling him. I could use his comfort right now, but if he’s not here, I don’t want him worrying about me... nothing really happened.

“No, he’s out visiting his mom today...” He watches me carefully. I shake my head. This whole thing is probably just jitters, a sign that I watch too many movies. All of this is probably nothing, and I don’t need Mike to worry about me. I’m fine, I keep telling myself.

“No, that’s okay,” I tell him in a wobbly voice.

“You sure?” he double-checks.

I take a hard swallow and say, “Yeah, I’m sure. Do you mind taking me home, though?” I don’t know Paul at all, but he is a close friend of Mike’s, that’s good enough for me.

He takes a moment to weigh his options. Probably deciding between either calling Mike or not and giving me a ride home.

Staring up at him, I notice how attractive he is. He’s tall and lean but could take care of himself – like Mike. I don’t think there’s an ounce of fat on him. He has a mosaic sleeve tattoo on his right arm. Those black earbobs give him a bit of a mean look, but so far, he’s anything but mean.

“Alright,” he finally says. “Just give me a minute to clock out.” He leaves the office and closes the door behind him.

I take the time to pull myself together, wiping under my eyes to dry them. I then rub my hands on my thighs, trying to rid the feeling of anxiety. I retake a deep breath and exhale slowly. As I gather up my bags placed around my chair, I take in the office settings. There is a calendar of half-naked women – doesn’t surprise me, given that all men work here. I doubt any of the customers made it to the office.

There’s a coffee pot, a nice oak desk with stacks of papers – probably invoices, an Apple computer, a printer, and the gift basket I had given Mike a few weeks ago stashed in the corner of the office. I wonder what that’s still doing here...

The door to the office opens; Paul leans in wearing a leather jacket. He gives me a warm smile and asks, “You ready?” I nod then get up to follow him out to the parking lot.

After he drives up my driveway, he asks if he could use the bathroom and get a glass of water. I allow it, and he follows me into the house.

****************
Thank you so much for reading!

Whew! Thank goodness the shop was nearby and Paul was able to help! Who do you think was after her?

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