Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen-

When I return to the hotel, I sit in the truck for five minutes trying to cool off. I know I can’t tell Brooke the whole truth, she’ll never let me hand myself over. This is the only way to keep her safe, to protect her. I don’t see any other way of us both making it out of this alive. I almost hit the steering wheel out of frustration but then I look up toward the room. The curtain shakes for a moment before I see Brooke peek between the opening. Looking down at my hands after she’s gone, I blow out a breath. This is it, now or never. Hoping out of the truck, the rain has made it almost muggy outside, the temperature suddenly rising as the sun rises through the clouds.

Shoving my hands in my pockets, I head toward the door. As I grow closer, the door pops open, revealing Brooke. She stands in my shirt and her underwear, legs bare to the air as she shivers at the contrast of temperature. There’s a soft smile on her lips, but I can see the worry in her eyes.

“Hope you haven’t been up long,” I say as I peck her lips, my arms wrapping around her body. She instantly moves into my embrace making my heart swell with love.

“Don’t think so. Probably just a few minutes.” She leans back to catch a yawn. Her brown eyes well with tears for a moment before she gives me a sleepy grin. “Anyway, where did you go?” She’s trying to keep that tough expression her face, but I can tell she’s more worried than she wants to admit.

I grab the door and close it, twisting the locks before pulling her toward the bed. I drag her into my lap, breathing her in so that I can rest assured that she’s safe. As well as enjoy her scent for as long as possible. If I give myself over to them, I know what’s going to happen. I could still run, but I’m not exactly sure what that would do to Julio.

“Julio wanted to meet. Sent me an address.”

She freezes, grabbing my chin to look at me. “You went? They could have hurt you!” She’s outraged and nervous. Her arms are around me quickly. “I can’t believe you. Just leave like that. What if you didn’t come back to me? I would have been devastated, Ashford.”

She’s calling me Ashford again. “I guess it’s safe to assume when you call me Ashford, I’m in trouble. Ford, when I’m being a good boy?” I give her a smirk at the end hoping to melt her.

She almost cracks but then glares at me. “Very clever, Ashford. You’re not changing the subject. You have gotten hurt and I never would have known.”

I sigh shaking my head, cupping her face. “I knew it was a risk, but I was willing to take it for you. I’m always going to risk everything I have, including my life, for you, Brooke. Julio owes me, but it’s more than that, I knew if he was contacting me, it would be fair.”

Brooke shakes her head, staring down at me. “I could have lost you. I can’t lose you, Ashford. I’m not strong enough to lose you again.”

I immediately pull her lips to mine. Kissing the very breath from her mouth, I try to reassure her. It’s in this moment that I know I can’t keep anything from her anymore. I can’t not tell her about Julio’s offer, I can’t just leave her behind anymore.

“Julio gave me an offer. Twelve hours to turn myself in or they come after me and anyone I care about. Including you.” I keep my eyes closed, afraid to see the look on her face. I feel her freeze in my arms, her breath stalling in her throat. The silence drags on when I finally feel her release a breath and shake her head.

Suddenly her hands grasp my face and I know without looking she’s staring at my face. “Ford, look at me.” Hesitantly, my eyes open and I nearly gasp. There are tears in her brown eyes almost spilling over her face. “You can’t do this, Ford. I’m not going to let you just hand yourself over to them. They’ll kill you and I’ll never see you again. I-I,” she gasps, the tears falling over her eyelids, pouring over her face. “I can’t bare to lose you, Ashford. Please, don’t do this.” She collapses against my chest, her arms wrapping tightly around my body. Her entire body shakes in my arms as I wrap my arms around her, running my fingers down her back hoping to calm her.

“It’s the only way to keep you safe.” My words are low, a whisper on my breath. She immediately shakes her head, pulling back so our eyes connect.

“Don’t you understand, I’m only safe when I’m with you. Maybe physically I would be safe, but emotionally and mentally, I’d been ruined without you, Ashford. I know what it’s like to be without you and I’m not going through that again. Do you hear me?” She stares at me, her eyes pointed, but what I see there surprises me. I’m sure I’m wrong at what I see, but when they soften, it blooms.

“I couldn’t bare it if you got hurt because of me.” I can feel the emotion simmering behind my eyes at just the idea. I want to take her in my arms and never let her go, but I also want to push her far away until she’s safely out of harm’s way.

“I would rather die beside you than to be alone after you die. I couldn’t handle it, Ashford.” I cup her cheeks, at a loss of how I got this lucky to have her here with me. I never truly thought this would happen, might have imagined it, but never thought I’d actually be lucky enough to have her.

“How did I get so lucky?” I wonder out loud which makes her blush.

“I actually think I’m the lucky one.” She presses her hand against mine on her cheek. I can feel the warmth of her hand and it seems to travel straight to my heart.

“What do you suggest we do?” I ask her, dropping my hand from her face with a sigh. “If I can’t hand myself over, than I have to leave. I need to be out of town before the twelve hours are up.”

She suddenly grabs my hand in a tight grip. When I meet her eyes, she has a smirk on her face. “Then we leave together. Since they’ve given you twelve hours, I can grab a few things from home.”

I’m not sure whether I like the idea or not, but just as she, now that we’ve been together intimately, I can’t imagine leaving her behind. I give her a smile before, lifting up with her in my arms causing her to burst into laughter. Her back hits the mattress as I hover over her, our lips connecting for a moment.

When I pull away, I brush her hair from her face, staring into her beautiful brown eyes. “I love you, Brooke Baker.” Her face darkens, but then her leg wraps around my waist before her lips meet mine once again.

~*~

Hours later, Brooke clutches my hand as we pull into her driveway. She freezes at the sight of the white pickup truck. I notice a sticker in the back window, but Brooke’s fearful sigh pulls my attention away.

“Brooke?” I turn to look at her, tightening my grip on her hand.

“It’s my dad. He’s back.” Her voice is low as she stares at her house. I begin to wonder how her relationship with her father. Is it a good one? Do they get along? She suddenly looks at me, giving me a tight smile. Suddenly something flashes in her eyes and she looks nervous. “Do you think before we leave, you could meet my dad? Maybe have dinner tonight before we leave?”

I can tell this is important to her. She wants to do this before something happens. As much as I know it’s a risk, I have to try. Meeting her father is a big step even though we actually have been together long.

“I know this is important to you. We can give it a try.” Immediately, she smiles, jumping to wrap her arms around my neck.

“Thank you so much. This is important to me.” She squeezes me for what seems like a long time before she eventually pulls away. There’s a resigned look on her face. “Guess we’ll meet at the restaurant if my dad agrees? Otherwise you’ll pick me up here tonight or this afternoon?”

I brush her brown locks from the front of her face. The sight of her brown eyes makes my heart pound. What is it about this girl that has been like a schoolboy?

“That sounds good. I already put my number in your cell phone while you were in the shower.” I smirk at her surprised expression, but she merely shakes her head.

“Should have known.” She pecks my cheek before grabbing her clothes from the seat. “I’ll see you later. I’ll text you if my dad agrees.”

I suddenly grab her wrist to stop her from grabbing the door handle. She looks at me surprised, but my cup her face, bringing her lips to my own. I still her breath as she gasps and melts into my embrace. She tastes even better as the minty taste of toothpaste floods my mouth. When we pull away, she gives me a dazed expression, her eyes warm.

“See you later, Brooke.” My words are a breath over her face. Shaking out of her dazed state, she merely nods, cheeks flushing as she grabs the door. I remain in the driveway as she walks around my truck, up the concrete blocks, and into her house. She waves from the front door, her eyes bright now, and the sunlight shining over her blonde hair. Then she’s gone inside the house. I slump in the seat, the smile on my lips almost permanent. I head out of the driveway, heading in the direction of my mother’s. On the way, I realize that leaving my mother again will not be easy and she’s going to ask a million questions.

Shaking my head, I decide at the last minute to head somewhere else instead. Seeing the relationship Brooke has with her own father and the situation concerning her mother, I realize that I need to do something. There’s someone I need to see before I leave down and never look back.

I need to see my father.

My father is currently serving his prison sentence in the prison outside of town. It’s about an hour’s drive, but I convince myself that I can make the time. Turning up the music, I take all the necessary twists and turns heading out of town. The last time I actually saw my father, I was almost fifteen and it happened to be my mother’s birthday. They had both agreed that I was older, no longer truly impressionable, I guess. My father was different in the seven years I had last seen him. I can only imagine what he looks like now. I haven’t seen him since because the meeting didn’t exactly go well. I blamed my father for almost everything that had gone wrong in our family.

Truth is, our family was crumbling even before my father was sent to prison. Hell, he wouldn’t have been trying to a rob a place if things had been great back then. They were struggling to make ends meet even way back then. Though in some ways I blame my father for burden that fell over my mother once he was gone. I was too young to understand at the time and all I understood was that I lost both parents. My mother was gone all the time with work and my father, my best friend, was just gone.

I shake my head. That’s the past. Nothing I can do about it now but move forward. My fingers grip the wheel as I turn down the road leading to the prison. It looks massive and sends a nawing feel of fear to the pit of my stomach. The place scares me every bit as much as it did when I was younger. The process to get is even more complicated, but thankfully they don’t make any arguments. I’m not on a usual schedule for visits with my father so that causes most of the complications. Though there’s a guard who’s always been on duty when my mother visits.

She had stopped for a long time before I was fifteen and stopped again when I was seventeen. I’m not even sure if she’s been visiting the last few years since I’ve been gone or not. I park in the visitor’s section before hopping out. If I sit in the truck any longer I know I won’t go inside. The walk up to the grayish building feels as if my heart echoes my footsteps or the other way around. The moment I step inside is like being transported to another time. I have to sign in, go through a body search, hand over my cell phone, and given a vistior badge before taking into the visiting room. They lead me into a room with chairs sitting before plastic paned windows. There are phones on each side to be able to talk and an almost grid like pattern on the plastic glass.

The chair reminds me of those blue chairs from high school as I take a seat. My leg is shaking up and down. It was an impulsive decision to come here, but I don’t regret it. Seeing my father makes things more real and plus, I need his advice. My father has gotten mixed in with bad people his entire life. They might not be up to the standard of Mexican cartels, but he understands the life. He’ll know what to say, how to ease my concerns and worries.

Suddenly the door on the other side opens. A guard enters holding a large man’s wrist. My father and I used to look similar, straight from our hair to our eyes. Some people said I got my father’s looks and my mother’s brains. She used to be incredible smart, people used to joke about what she saw in my father if she was so smart. Now, my father looks even different from when I was fifteen. His hair has obviously been shaved in the past few years but is growing out. I notice a couple tattoos decorating his arms that weren’t there before. He’s also been working out, his arms are huge.

His matching gray eyes are a bit darker than mine. Thing about him though, he’s never smoked a day in his life. Never wanted me to either, but guess he should have been around to stop me. Mom certainly couldn’t working three jobs before her accident. The guard pushes my father down into the chair, ignoring his grunt as his ass connects with the seat.

“Just yell if ya need me.” The guard looks at me as he says it. His fingers pull on his belt dragging his pants back up. Unfortunately, his stomach protrudes over his pants, making it a hopeless feat. The guard walks away after giving my father a stern glare. When I meet my father’s eyes, he looks solemn before grabbing the phone. I follow his actions holding it to my ear.

“Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.” I almost wince at his words. His voice is deeper than when I was a kid. There’s just a hint at the man who used to rough house with me on the floor of the living room. Or let me listen to music from the backseat of his cars while he worked on them in the front yard. My father, Guy Rocks, could have been a successful mechanic if only he didn’t have his hopes on bigger dreams.

The last time we saw each other, when I was fifteen, I said some cruel things. Blaming him for my hardships, and moms, I told him he would never see me again, I’d never come to this prison.

“I’m sorry about that. It was the words a selfish brat. While some of it might have been your fault, not all of it was. I made my own choices, mom too. That wasn’t your fault.” I’m sure dad knows all about mom’s addiction.

“What are you doing here, Ashford? Your mom told me you were in town during her last visit. Though she didn’t say anything about you coming to see me.” His free arm is folded across the table on his side. The phone appears almost tiny in his grip.

“She doesn’t know I’m here,” I say quickly, but then sigh, running my hands over my face.

“I figured that. Think Kathy has too, but she hasn’t said anything. She’s smarter than you think. A little gullible yeah, but not an idiot.” He looks at me with a knowing smile. It’s the look that I know I’m actually talking with my father. Not the man molded by over fourteen years in state penitentiary. “Who have you gotten mixed in with, kid?”

His words remind me of someone I met as a kid. He was an old vet in the neighborhood that taught me a few things about fixing up my old motorcycle. He always called me kid before I left and chewed tobacco but never let loosing one hand hurt him much.

“Some pretty bad people.” I twist my lips when he gives me a dead look. “Fine. Mexican Cartel.”

I avoid his gaze as he gasps. “Ashford Hal Rocks!” His voice is low, but he still knows how to yell at me in a whisper tone. His raised voice still sends a fear of dread to my stomach as it did when I was six years old. My face also flushes at the use of my middle name which I recieved from my father’s grandfather. “How the hell do you get mixed in with those kinds of people?! You could get yourself killed!”

I look down. The disappointment in his voice hits hard. Probably one of the reasons I haven’t told my mother, not just to protect her, but myself as well. I’ve hurt my mother my entire life and I can’t bare disappointing her anymore.

“I was desperate. I needed the money and I wasn’t involved in the drug stuff for a while. Just a body guard for this man, he’s tried to keep me safe. Unfortunately, I owe them something and since I don’t have the cash, they want something else.” I look up to his face, my eyes glistening with tears. “I think they want my life so that I don’t snitch. I got caught, first time taking those drugs. I told them I wanted out, guess they didn’t like that idea.”

“Damn, Ash!” His hand smacks the table. It alerts the guard who looks at me but I shake my head. I can take my father’s disappoint and anger more than my mother. I know I deserve this treatment and my father isn’t going to sugarcoat anything. “You ought to know that getting out of the Cartel isn’t as easy as getting in. I’ve met people on the inside that are here for the same reason. What else? There’s gotta be something else.”

“I sort of jumped bail. I hoped the cops would catch me before the cartel.” My fingers scrape across the table which is enough of a clue to the rest of my words.

“I could have told you that wasn’t going to happen.” Dad rolls his eyes, leaning further back in his chair. I can tell the legs lift off the ground. “The cops recieve the papers that you’re wanted from jumping bail, but they aren’t the ones you have to worry about. The bail bondsman is the one that hires the bounty hunter or hunters to come after you. After all you owe them money and they don’t take kindly to jumpers. Though depending on the hunter, they don’t have the best resources, but some do. Really depends on who’s after you. Guess you haven’t seen a hunter yet, just the Cartel.”

I shake my head about the bounty hunter. I haven’t really thought about the jumping, it was an impuslive decision almost like everything I do. “The Cartel have been after me and my girl.”

Suddenly his chair falls back at his raises an eyebrow. “Now we get to the meat of the situation. Got a girl, huh? Did you find here or was she already here?”

I look away from his knowing gaze. He chuckles and it sounds so lifelike it surprises me for a moment. A man like him surrounded by hardened criminals can still laugh with so much life.

“Let me guess, she’s the reason you left in the first place?”

I nod, looking back up into his eyes. “I did something really stupid in high school to her and I couldn’t face the consequences of my actions. Since I’ve been back, however, I’ve done everything I can think of to make it better.”

“Is she the one?” he asks quietly, his eyes suddenly lighter. People can say what they want, but I’m pretty certain my father’s true love is my mother. Obviously the same is for her because she never dated, never even considered the idea. His words earlier tell me she still visits.

“Yeah. I think I knew it back then, probably why I ruined it. She’s more than I deserve.”

He looks at me, his gaze pointed. “Then treasure her, Ashford. Never take her for granted a single day of your life. Do whatever is necessary to keep her safe to make sure she knows how you feel. The moment you fail to treasure her, is the day you lose her. I might be old, but take it from someone with experience. When you lose her, not a damn thing on this planet will make up for it.”

I lift my hand pressing it against the glass. My father does the same and I realize in the years he’s been in here, this is the first time I’ve truly connected with him. Tears pool in my eyes knowing that I’ve corrected another wrong from my past.

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