Chapter Twelve -
“What do you mean someone’s following us?” Brooke asks, glancing in the side mirror through her window.
I lick my lips, glancing back in the rearview mirror for a moment. She’ll never see the car directly. The man driving is smart, has to be for his line of work. If it hadn’t been for my past employment, I probably would never have noticed the dark sedan following us. He allows other cars to pass between us, but I notice his weak points because I was meant to notice them.
“There was a guy in the restaurant, he’s following us, three cars down. I know he’s following us because he’s kept the same speed since we left and when I act as if I’m going to turn, he does the same. I can’t take you home.”
Her eyes wide as she looks at me. I can see her fear and skepticism all over her face. “He’d know where I live if you took me home. What are we going to do?”
I sigh, my fingers tightening on the wheel as I change lanes. As I do, my eyes are following the car in the mirror. He does the same thing just a couple seconds slower. “We’ll have to lose him, but in order to do that I might have to break a few traffic laws. I have an idea, but I don’t think you’re going to like it. Do you trust me?”
When she looks at me, I can see the trust that I’ve earned over the night wain. It’s as I expected, she sees me differently now. She knows I’m not the same kid I was when I left, but she’s seeing the full extent of what the past four years have done.
“What do you have to do?” she asks instead of answering my question.
“I know of an old motel on a bad side of town. Since I know the area so well, it never changes, I can lose him, but we’ll have to stay in the motel until it’s safe.” I wince at the look on her face. She probably thinks this is some kind of set up. I tear my eyes away from her. “You might not believe me, but in truth, I never planned this. I’ll tell you the truth, the whole truth, as soon as you’re safe. Nothing will happen, that’s not my intention. I just need you to trust me for this to work out.”
I hear her sigh which pulls my attention from the road back to her. She twists her fingers, looking down at the tight seat-belt. “I don’t see what other choice I have.” When looks up at me, her brown eyes narrow on my face. “When we’re good, safe in the motel, you’re telling me everything. You’re going to tell me what you’ve suddenly got me involved in.”
“Deal.” I sigh leaning back in the seat. The sedan has gained a bit of speed since the area is becoming more deserted. He knows that I’m going to notice him eventually. Probably been informed by my ex employers that I won’t go down without a fight. If I catch him following me, there will be a chase. My ex employers know from experience that I can give chase, and when given the chance I can lose them.
“This might get a little dicey.” My only hope is that his following was meant as recon, meaning he may not have a gun. It’s the only hope I have because my truck can take corners, ride with the best of them, but it’s not a powerful vehicle. I hit the blinker at the light, moving to the turning lane. Brooke stares in the side mirror I watch her gulp as she notices the sedan moving after the car behind us. When the light turns green, I gently turn but as soon as the other car makes the turn, he swerves out of the lane.
“Roll that window up,” I tell her quickly. Brooke immediately begins the slow process of rolling up the window by hand. The a/c doesn’t work in the truck, but the fan does. The windows open a crack or two keep air flowing in the truck. I’m suddenly torn between wanting Brooke to duck in the floorboard or keeping her buckled in. “Can you lay across the seat? With the belt still on?”
She looks at me. At first she’s confused, but she notices the speeding car moving down her side of the truck. She nods immediately moving the belt to give her a bit of slack as she turns on her side. Her brown eyes look up at me but I look in the mirror on her side along with the back window. He’s gain more speed.
I hit the gas instantly, using the momentum of other cars to zip past them. “Just keep your head down.” I know Brooke is scared, hell I am too, but my only thought is to keep her safe. The sedan to moves back into our lane and the car in front of him turns off. Damn, there’s no cars between us now. “Hold on, Brooke.”
This time, I don’t turn on the blinker. Instead, I nearly stomp on the brake noticing the other cars. My lips curve into a smirk as the man swerves to avoid slamming into the ass of my truck. I notice the glare through the window. Though I know something else, even though I can’t place his face in the plethora of people in my past, I know he’s dangerous. I quickly turn down another side road through a neighborhood knowing it will come out just where I need it. Unfortunately, the sedan meets me as I come out, a smirk on the driver’s face.
“Can I sit up? The buckle is digging into my side.” I look down at Brooke, debating her pain and her safety.
“Go ahead,” I sigh. As she sits up, I turn slamming on the gas which pushes Brooke into the door. She groans which barely registers to my mind. My stomach is in chaos as I look in the mirror to see the driver struggling to catch up. With the amount of cars for a summer night, I can use their momentum to zip past them.
“He’s still following us. Maybe we should find an off road. The truck can handle it, his car probably can’t.” She surprises me with her strong input. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single dirt road in this area.
“Don’t think there are any roads like that around here. The motel I was thinking about is a bit from here. Hopefully we can still lose him in that process.” I can see fear welling stronger in Brooke’s eyes. She’s scared and nervous, but she’s trying not to show it.
“Thanks,” I whisper, swirling the truck again to another lane. “But you don’t have to be strong, Brooke. I know I had no right to drag you into this. If it makes you feel any better, this is about me, not you.”
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I kinda figured that already.” The light ahead turns red and I swear under my breath. He’s still too close.
“Hang on,” I yell, hitting the gas a bit harder and turning through the red light. Brooke screeches as the wheels squeal, her fingers tightening around the handle on the door. The truck’s tires on my side lift off the ground for half a second. I try to ease the tension in the truck by smirking in Brooke’s direction. Instead, she only glares at me. I know the moment I see that glare, it tells me that I’ve ruined everything. I was gaining her favor, we might have been something. Then again, I know how life works and it’s cruel to me.
My eyes are drifting between other roads, trying to find a place to lose him. There are too many thoughts running through my head to think straight. Unfortunately, at Brooke’s scream, I realize I’m too close on another car. I swerve away from the car but the light is red and I’m forced to stop. As I look around, I recognize exactly where I am and an idea forms in my head. I change lanes, grinning in the mirror at the sedan in the lane beside us separating us.
“Do you have a plan?” Brooke suddenly asks, voice skipping a bit. “I mean, because you haven’t lost him.”
“I’m working on it,” I cut back just as the light changes. I make sure as I turn that the sedan is right on my ass. Just to keep things interesting,I pretend to try to lose him again all the while keeping him within in my sights. “Just hang on, Brooke.” I know the truck will make the turn, hell I did it so many times with friends vehicles down this turn. I know I can make it. Brooke’s eyes are wide when she realizes my plan. There’s a road with a large tree at the front corner. If one isn’t careful you can easily slide into the tree at full force. At this point it’s the best option we have.
Brooke squeezes her eyes close. We both know in order to do this, we have to go into the turn at high speed. It’s to keep our follower going fast as well so that he’ll lose control of his car, running into the tree. I grunt as I speed up and immediately turn, surprising the sedan who immediately follows without thinking. I wince as I the tires squeal and the truck lifts off the ground once again, narrowly missing the large oak tree. Only a minute later, once we’re pass, do we both hear the crunch of metal. I pause at the end of the street, Brooke opening her eyes, and following my gaze out the back window. The dark sedan is totaled against the tree, the front like toilet paper. There’s smoke coming from the hood, but the door pops open.
He’s still alive.
The truck creaks as I pull into the shabby half star motel on the outskirts of town. It’s the kind of place that mostly markets to the occasional hooker or big drug deals. The light on in the front office blinks from my position in the parking lot. I stare down at the steering wheel realizing our situation. I had been waiting for the moment they found me. I half expected it to be sooner than it has. Instead they must have been staking me out longer than I expected. I’ve been on edge just being back home.
They are good, I’ll give them that.
When I look over at Brooke, her head is leaning against the window. She isn’t looking at me but I can see her face in the reflection on the glass. She obviously scared and doesn’t know what to say to me. I sigh, sliding my fingers from the wheel. “I’m going to get a room for a night or two. If it’s safer in the morning, I’ll take you home. If I can’t take you home, I’ll figure out a way to get you home. That I can promise you.” She flinches at the sound of my voice. I makes my heart skip a beat. I’m not sure if she’s scared of me now or just the situation and blames me for it.
“Just stay in the truck. Do not open the door for anyone other than me.” She blinks in her reflection. The only movement she makes is that of her flinches whenever I speak. I nod without saying a word and step out of the truck, checking the locks, and shutting the door behind me. With cover provided by the truck, I count out my money. As long as the rooms cost what they used to for a night or two, we’ll have enough.
I walk along the parking lot out in the open. I learned long ago not to walk in front of the rooms. That’s how most people get kidnapped, mugged, or beaten to a pulp by getting pulled into rooms. The main office looks just as it used to. Though he’s upgraded to a plastic buffer around the counter. Probably got tired of the people trying to rob him. The man behind the counter is a big dark man. His belly fat hangs over his belt, showing the bottom of his hair stomach. His thick fatty arms rest on the top of his head as he watches a familiar static TV on a end table.
I hit the bell next to the opening enjoying as much as I did years ago of his jump. He turns, sheepish at first, but then a crooked grin covers his mouth. “Are my eyes playin’ tricks on me or what?” He rolls his chair closer to the opening, his voice the same as ever. He chews smoking tobacco no matter how many relatives have died from the stuff. I can’t say much, I tried it once, wasn’t for me. Though all his words get mashed together because I know it must be stuck around his back teeth.
“Hey Mick,” I grin, reaching behind me. “You’ve made some changes.”
He rolls his eyes. “Damn kids thought I was an atm. Plus when I started getting more regulars during the weekend, couldn’t let that go to waste.” It’s a shame I still know what he means about regulars, aka prostitutes.
“Tried to tell you long ago.” Mick starts pulling out keys from under the counter. “Still the same price?”
“Yeah. For you.” His lips curve up. Growing up I saw more of Mick than I did my own father. Sometimes I just got tired of waiting around at the house for mom to come back for a dealer. Other times I just got tired period. I’d come to this crappy motel with a little bit of money for a decent night’s sleep. I could get studying, sleep, and tv all in one. There were even a couple times I brought Alisha here. Not once did that girl ever step foot into my actual house.
“Thanks, man,” I say handing over the hundred dollar bill. For his regulars, the prostitutes, Mick can get away with charging them fifty an hour. If they stay for six hours, he easily makes a profit.
“No problem, man. I can only imagine how much an uproar you’ve caused. Here’s your keys. I’ll give you the updated room. Better TV, better shower. The bed might be a bit lumpy, but it was recently cleaned an hour ago.” I almost breathe a sigh of relief. If it were cleaned an hour ago, that means it hasn’t been rented out in that time. I grab the key which hangs from a blue key card with the number five glossed over. There’s a bit of tape around the bottom portion to keep the ring together.
Mick turns back to his TV, completely focused on his show. I shake my head. At least some things never change. I shrug my shoulders, shoving the key into my pants pocket as I make my way to the truck. Brooke looks up at me, and my heart just about falls into my stomach. She’s wiping away tears from her eyes. All I want to do is wrap her in my arms and never let her go. I look down, avoiding her gaze as I kick at the ground. I was so close to having her for just a little while and just like before I find some way to ruin it.
Shaking my head, I change my expression hoping to guard my inner nerves. Brooke pulls up the lock allowing me to open the door. I look around the parking lot thankful that none of the cars or doors have opened since we arrived.
“Got a room?” Brooke asks quietly as she slides out of the truck. I gently place my hand on her back. I just nod and she looks down. She almost trips on her feet as she stands, but I quickly grab her around the waist keeping her from falling. She gasps, her eyes wide as she stares into my eyes. I watch the sparkle in her eyes return as we are suspended in time. She subconsciously licks her lips as my eyes flicker between her mouth and her eyes.
Suddenly a car backfires down the street. We both flinch and she immediately pulls way. I sigh, loosening my grip, releasing her. She straightens her shirt and skirt stepping next to me as I lock and shut the door. I grab her hand and she looks down, but the look I give her keeps her quiet. We move across the parking lot toward room number five as I pull the key from my pocket. Brooke stands next to me as I quickly open the door gently pushing her inside first. I look around before stepping inside and flipping on the lights.
The moment the lights fill the room, I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s not half as bad as I feared. For one the lights aren’t flickering, the bulbs have been replaced. The TV has been updated to a flat screen. Unfortunately, something I must have forgotten, there’s only one bed. Probably a queen size judging by the size. Thankfully there’s an air freshener hanging from the ceiling fan giving the room a pine scent. The room is a mixture of gray and brown colors. The carpet is an ashy brown while the walls are a silver leafy gray. Brooke looks over the room with a solemn expression on her face as she removes her bag from her shoulder.
“I know it’s not the Ritz.” I move past her pushing open the bathroom door. “But it will do for our purposes.” The bathroom is simple, but has been updated. The shower is a bit bigger with white tile and nicer sink. The curtain could have been changed but, not a big deal.
“It’s not that,” Brooke says softly, rubbing her fingers over her arm. I look down, leaning against the wall. “I just don’t understand what’s going on.”
The room evolves into silence as I try to figure out the words to say. During that time, Brooke shakes her head, rolling her eyes as she turns away from me. “That’s fine. I’m used to the silent treatment. I’m used to that from you. You act all interested in me one minute and the next...” Her voice cuts off as she shakes her head. “Nevermind. I don’t really care anymore. As soon as it’s safe, you can take me home.” She reaches down toward her ankle, removing her shoes. When she looks back at me, there’s sadness in her eyes, it overtakes her entire face. “I never want to see you again afterward. Now, I just need a bath and I’ll go to bed. You can have the chair.”
She walks past me, straight into the bathroom, and shut the door behind her. I stay rooted to my place until the water starts in the bathroom. Once the water begins, it releases me from my place against the corner. My entire body is buzzing and I ache to pace the floor, to do something. I hate that I put Brooke in danger. Then, like a light bulb in my head, I remember something, something I left back at the house in my duffle bag. I’ll need more money anyway and Brooke is perfectly safe here if I leave anyway. I won’t be gone long and hopefully when I return, I might able to tell her the truth.