The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 23

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I secretly await Sebastian’s arrival.

About how I secretly think he’s going to walk up to me, apologize, and hopefully say more honeyed words that will sequentially stir my judgment and make me forgive him. And how I secretly think that this will all be over then; by the time he apologizes, someone will rescue us and take us home, where we can finally rest and forget this ever happened.

But that isn’t the case. Because when I turn my head to the right of the road, pass the blinding rays of the sun, I see Sebastian walking.

Away from me.

His legs move at a slower pace on the gravel. His hands are in his front pockets, and his head is facing the sun in the sky. But he’s walking, and he isn’t looking back. My heart weighs down on my lung for a moment until I force myself to remember this is what I wanted. I told him to leave, and I told him to come back when he finds help if he wanted. So I guess it’s my fault for believing in the art of reverse psychology to prevail in a situation like this, with a man like him, whose mind is something no one has successfully unlocked and understood the depths of.

I bring my thighs up to my chest and rest my forearms on my knees. He left me, I and I’m alone now. Which is what I wanted, I remind myself again. However, I sit here in the middle of nowhere with no clue of where to go. And my pride disallows me from getting up with my things and running back to his side. So truthfully, for once, I honestly have no clue what to do next. With that thought, I stare at the sky again quietly.

“I should have never said yes,” I mumble into my arm before resting my cheek on it. “I should have never said yes to this. I could have been home, with my dog, and my sorrow over Hudson and Alejandra being the sorry pieces of shit they are. Those would have been the worst of my woes. Not being stuck out here.”

And then suddenly, I’m crying. Again. This is the most I’ve cried in a week in my whole life, and I hate it; I’ve always hated crying, and refrain from doing so at all costs. But the tears pool in my eyes and flow gently down my cheek on their own, and I do nothing to stop them. I’m not sobbing, thankfully, but it’s a modest cry—the type of cry that’s silent and easily dismissible. The frustrated cry, perhaps. The cry that accumulates after going through a lot. Two tears, then three, then four fall down on my arm, then they all silently make a moist trail on my face. It’s all beyond frustrating, and it makes me even more angry the only productive thing I can do in a situation like this is cry. Silently.

And it’s also frustrating two out of the three times I’ve cried this week have been because of Sebastian. And I’ve only known him for exactly one week.

Mad at myself for being so vulnerable, I remove every trace of tears until my face burns from my hands wiping continuously across it. I sniffle a few times and pat my cheeks to awaken my senses.

“Goddammit, get it together, Leslie King,” I tell myself in my nasally glory.

I force my eyes not to look down the road again. Sebastian is already gone, by educated guess, and reminding myself of it will only make this situation even more shitty than it already is.

So instead, I look down at my feet, but then look at the meadow across the road when I can’t bear the sight of cuts and bruises. The grass moves gracefully in the breeze, and for a moment, I zone out at just watch the grass and weeds move together in harmony.

My eyes feel heavier than before. I’m tired, and I’m close to dozing off into slumber against the wooden fence, accompanied by the wind against my ears and the soft greenery underneath my soles. But right when I close my eyes, I hear scrapping nearby, and before I know it, Sebastian is next to me, sitting down by my side at the edge of the road and sighing in relief.

I can’t bring myself to look at him, even though he actually came back.

From the corner of my eye, I see him wipe the sweat off of his face with the top of his shirt. He looks at me, and I look away; he keeps staring.

His eyes then avert to my feet, “How are your feet?”

“Fine.”

“Oh. Alright.”

It’s quiet again. He looks across the road, like I did, and stares deeply in thought, narrowing his eyes. I notice that that is a habit he has—whenever he’s in deep thought or trying to think, he narrows his eyes. I tend to space off and stare doe eyed at whatever or whomever is unlucky enough to catch my invading gaze.

The silence is almost unbearable, but I refuse to speak first. I play with my fingers nervously and refrain from looking at him, and he does the same with me. Until finally, after five minutes of the silent treatment, Sebastian looks at me and says the words I thought I’d never hear him say:

“I’m sorry.”

I immediately stop messing with my hands and move my eyes up to meet his. He’s serious, regretful, clouded, the many things I couldn’t find in him before while he was yelling at me.

“I’m sorry for what I said in the library. That was...shit, I feel horrible.”

I don’t say anything, but this time I feel the vulnerability in his voice.

He looks at the meadow again and clenches his fists unknowingly, “Sometimes I just...I don’t know. I say things and I don’t think about what they mean to other people. I didn’t realize how stupid my words were until you told me.”

“Sebastian, it’s...fine—”

“No it isn’t. It isn’t fine and it isn’t okay and it’s definitely not dismissible. I’ve been wrong this whole time and I keep doing and saying stupid shit and no one can just sit down and tell me what it does to them. They just yell at me and say they hate me and I’m so used to it that it isn’t much of a deal to me. But then you come along and you-you explain to me not only what I’m doing, but why I’m doing it. And the way you say things it...I don’t know. It makes me intimidated,” he laughs to himself. “You’re...unfiltered. And I’m unfiltered. And you’re sassy and I’m sassy and I think that’s why...I think that’s why I feel so challenged. I’m used to people leaving me alone because they don’t want to deal with my shit and it’s an automatic win for me. But now it’s different. With you, I can’t win. And it makes me feel weak.”

He looks at me and chuckles shyly, “And I don’t know if any of that made sense to you.”

It does. It makes perfect sense; like a discovery I’ve been searching for. But I’m in so much shock that Sebastian Harrison is actually opening up to me that I can’t speak.

“No, no, no I get it. I get it completely,” I tell him. “It’s just that, I don’t think it’s fair you pin all the blame on yourself when you know that this is my fault, too.”

“This is an accident, though, so don’t be too hard on yourself. I yelled at you because I was just mad with everything and decided to take my anger out on you.”

“But it is my fault,” I play with a dandelion on the ground and avoid his eyes. “I let my pride get in the way of everything and now we’re stuck out here, I with a bandage around my foot and you with a messed up shirt. I have a problem with—”

“Letting people take control?”

I nod admittedly.

He sighs, “Well, at least we both know we have issues.”

I laugh tiredly, “Yeah, I can’t argue with that conclusion.”

Then the conversation ends; a conversation of confession ends with us both staring at the sun lowering down closer to the horizon behind the Tennessean hills, with no doubt an abundance of old, forbidden and locked away thoughts now occupy our brains. But before, the silence was painful.

Now the silence is just impartial—numbing.

“What do we do now?” I ask Sebastian.

“Honestly? I don’t know,” he picks at the grass and doesn’t bother to move his hair away from his face. “I don’t know.”

I shrug, “So much for heading east, am I right?”

He glares at me pointing at the setting sun, and slowly moves my finger until I’m pointing behind me.

“Oh,” I put my hand down. “Right.”

And suddenly we’re laughing. And it isn’t the half-spirited laughter that someone does when a joke is sort of funny. No, it’s the laughter that brings an ache to your stomach. The type of laughter that makes your cheeks hurt and your eyes form tears. And I think at first we were laughing at my horrible navigation skills yet again, but now it’s laughter about Abraham Collingwood, about taking a wrong turn in the forest, about getting lost in said forest, about hurting my foot and about helping a baby deer become reunited with her mother. It’s laughter about the pure, raw, ridiculousness of the entire day. About the unimaginable odds of the events of today happening to the both of us. Together.

“’scuse me? Do y’all need help?”

My eyes blink away tears and open only to find a rustic red pick-up truck in front of us on the road, exhaust leaving the car out into the air. It’s almost like the car has an angelic glow hovering around it as it parks in front of the sun.

This can’t be true.

“Matthew, are they ’right?” A heavy set woman in the back says, holding the heads of her sleeping children on her chest.

“I dunno know, Bertha. I don’t think so.”

The first thing I do is look towards Sebastian, but even he’s as shocked as I am, staring up at the truck with the widest eyes.

“Are you real? Please tell me this is real and we aren’t hallucinating!” I blurt out.

The man in the car laughs, “Darlin’, how long have you two been out here? Where’s your ride?”

“We don’t have one, sir,” Sebastian answers. “We’ve been walking for hours. We just made it out Lone Mountain forest because we got lost and now we’ve been on the road for...I don’t know how long we’ve been on this road, to be honest.”

Bertha gasps, “My Lord, ya ain’t fibbin’?! Well hop in, y’all!”

“Thank you!” I cry loudly like a mad woman. “Thank you! Oh my God I’m going to pass out!”

Sebastian scrambles up and grabs hold of the old passenger door that Matthew opens from the inside. I rush to grab my things—my shoes and my purse, and stand up. I had briefly forgotten about the pain in my feet until all of my weight is on them again, and I wince.

Sebastian takes the liberty of climbing in first to sit in the middle, and I climb in last in the window seat.

“Where are you guys from?” Matthew asked, interested.

“The Collingwood Acreage,” I answer dishonestly, “We were just heading home when we...erm...it’s a long story.”

“The Collingwood Acreage? Well that area’s...still in Morgan county, I believe.”

We nod, and Sebastian and I share a look that is apprehensive. These people don’t seem to know who Sebastian is, nor do they recognize him the slightest. I don’t want to make the mistake of telling them exactly where we’re from, but then again, what is the point of getting into their car if we don’t have a destination?

“We just need a phone to contact someone to tell them we’re okay and where our location is,” Sebastian explains.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have none,” Bertha says apologetically in the back, stroking her son’s hair. “But I think we can drop ’em off at the nearest town, right Matt?”

Matthew nods, “Mhm. There’s a town about...a couple a hours up from here that we can set ya down at. There’s a bar, a diner, and some residents that can help you out.”

“Oh, that sounds perfect,” I say. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Matthew then puts the gears into drive and starts off down the road. The car roars beneath us, and we both realize how old this vehicle really is.

“Do you have enough room?” Sebastian asks me.

I look down at how close we are; his arm and my arm are pressed together, while my right arm is pressed against the door.

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m fine.”

Matthew asks Sebastian a question about our adventure throughout the day, and Sebastian immediately engages in a hilarious conversation with him about the Collingwood party and beyond. I zone off a bit when I realize any chance to talk with Bertha is gone, considering she is dozing off herself watching her two kids sleep, one boy looking to be eight and the girl on her right stretching from around five to six years old.

So I look out of the window against the strong wind, and I stare at the green fields of grass that I have grown very fond of. But then I start thinking of Sebastian’s words to me. Not the words of contempt before we separated, but the words that were personal to him—the words about me intimidating him, challenging him, and making him weak.

And I replay his voice saying these words to me over and over again in my head.

**

The drive to the town takes about two hours, and it is already nightfall when we arrive at the small community with a semi-busy street most likely filled with cars only passing through.

I didn’t sleep at all the entire ride even though I’m quite tired. I stared at the scenery and listened in on Matthew and Sebastian’s conversation with Matthew’s raucous laughter. Sebastian and I didn’t speak at all the two hours in the car, and I have a feeling I know the reason being that he didn’t want me to force him to open up to me again. And I wouldn’t

But I hope he does on his own initiative.

“Would you like to be dropped off at—”

“The bar over there,” Sebastian interrupts Matthew. “That bar is fine. I’m sure they have a phone in there.”

I widen my eyes at him, but don’t say anything. A bar? And not only a bar, but a southern small-town bar in the wee-hours of the night?

God, now I sound just like my father.

Matthew stops in the middle of the empty street to let us out. I look at the bar, labeled with the illuminated sign, “The Devil’s Minstrel” with a painting of a man with devil horns playing the guitar and singing with a menacing smile. I gulp.

“Hey, thanks for the ride. You really saved us.”

Matthew pats Sebastian’s shoulder, “Don’t mention it, boy. Lucky we came just in time ’cause it’d take you a day’s time to walk all the way down here.”

“Oh! And that reminds me!” I rummage through my purse until I find my wallet. “Let me pay for gas.”

“Ah, you don’t have to do that, sweetheart, we were headin’ through here to get on home anyway.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Now run on out ’for your friends think of you good and dead!” he says with a wink.

I get out of the car, followed by Sebastian, and close the door.

“Thank you so much!”

“My pleasure. Good luck!”

With a few waves, Matthew takes off down the street with a sleeping Bertha and their kids. Sebastian then walks to the sidewalk, and I trail behind him. We inch closer to the bar, and already you can hear the loud blues music seeping through the walls and vibrating the ground. There are a few people outside—two women, three men, both girls sitting on one man’s lap on a bench while the other men smoke and laugh loudly. They all look like the epitome of regular bar goers, with the women’s tight, cut off clothing and the men’s wife beater shirts and worn out jeans.

“Sebastian, I don’t think this is a good idea,” I whisper to him. One of the men stop talking when he sees me and stares at me up and down with a disgusting smile. I shiver and huddle closer to Sebastian.

“Relax, Leslie,” Sebastian assures coolly. “There’s nothing wrong with the bar.”

“It’s not the bar it’s the people!” I object, but Sebastian is already opening the door, and I am given a full on view of Lucifer’s tavern itself when the door is wide open, the music more amplified than before.

“After you,” he says, and I slowly walk inside with my purse and shoes clutched to my chest.

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