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I need to get out of this house. When I was at work, things were still on my mind, but being in this house everything seems to pile up on my shoulders. The burden is heavy. Ryan is everywhere. His betrayal is everywhere.
I decide to go for a walk. I can walk and think. Strapping on my under-used sneakers, I think about which way I’ll walk. I don’t have a destination. I don’t know how far or long I plan to walk. I just feel like moving.
Starting at a leisurely pace, I head south on our little road. In just a short distance, I’m power walking. That’s right, power walking like the little old ladies at the mall. Before I can get through a mental repeat of my conversation with Melody, I reach the massive oak tree at the intersection. I guess that’s about one mile from the house. Estimating distance has never been a strong suit for me. I usually overestimate and I haven’t gone as far as I think. If this becomes some kind of habit, I’ll need to get one of those fancy fitness apps on my phone. You know, the ones that track distance, calories, blood pressure, farts, gas levels… whatever they track. Looking around, I decide one mile isn’t enough.
Definitely not enough, yet. I decide to keep going.
It must be the chemicals in my brain doing their thing because I decide to start running. My legs stretch to their full length for the first time in ages. It occurs to me that I shouldn’t run too hard — I’m not wearing a sports bra. I can’t shake the feeling of how good it feels to run. Running away from Ryan and Melody. Running toward the unknown.
Just running. Exhausting my body physically. Maybe this will help the emotional fatigue I’m drowning in.
I run about a mile and a half. The burn in my legs is crazy. My lungs hurt and my throat is raw from taking in huge gulps of air. I stop abruptly and bend over putting my hands on my knees to catch my breath. I have sweat running down my face and I’m nauseated. Still bent over, I start taking even larger gulps of air. In through my mouth, out through my nose.
“Hey.” I hear a distinctly masculine voice interrupt my recovery. Being that it is after dark now and being alone, I am not too enthused to hear it. Great, this is where it ends.
“Hello,” I say coldly between gasps. Squinting into the dark in the direction of the voice, trying to see a face or something. My vision picks up a body stepping away from the cover of a porch. A tall body.
“It’s a little late to go for a run don’t you think.” Seriously? This guy is probably a rapist or murderer.
Still unable to recover normal breathing, I stand up and put my hands on my hips, “I guess,” gasp. “Sorry, I disturbed you,” gasp. “Think you might step into the light a little bit, creeper?” Gasp.
He lets out a hearty laugh, “Sure thing.” He slowly steps into the light. I guess being told he was acting creepy made him more cautious as not to scare me. Jesus, he is easy on the eyes. I must be about to die. The exertion and lack of oxygen is taking a toll on my mental and visual acuity. He must be a mirage.
I can’t tell if he has dark brown hair or black hair, but I can tell it is clean cut. He is just so tall. I suddenly feel a chill run over my body. I can tell he is wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. Sleeveless t-shirt. A wife beater? Lord help. Definitely a pre-death mirage.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen you before,” I state dumbly.
“I’m visiting some family,” he turns and points to the house. I start to recognize where I am. Ah, I know this house. Just an elderly couple Ryan used to help out lives here.
“Nice of you, I suppose.”
“As I was saying, little late for a run. You aren’t running away from something are you? Someone, maybe?” he starts looking around as if he expects my pursuer to come into view at any moment.
“No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.” I am an idiot. I can’t even talk to a guy anymore.
He laughs again, “Ok. How about we start with names? I’m Cade, Cade Miles. And you are?”
“Rhae Wells, er, Peters.”
“I’m sorry, Wells or Peters?”
“Don’t be. I recently went back to my maiden name, Peters. My married name was Wells. I haven’t settled back into my own name yet.”
“So you’re divorced?”
I sigh. I really shouldn’t be talking to a complete stranger in the middle of the road in the dark. He could be a freaking serial killer. Here I am giving him enough information to hunt me down. Still, it is refreshing to talk to someone who has no idea what I’ve been going through.
“No offense, but you could be a serial killer,” I blurt out. I roll my eyes to myself. He can’t see them anyway. “Not that I think you are, I just don’t know. So I’m pretty sure I’m messing up by telling you so much about me.”
He laughs again a little harder. It is a great laugh, too. “No, I understand. You really don’t have a reason to talk to me. I just saw a young woman running down a country road, by herself, at night, and thought I should be chivalrous and see if she needs help. I can see that you don’t. You seem pretty tough. Would you like a drink of water? You must be thirsty running in this heat.”
I start to go near him and then stop myself. What am I doing?
HELLO!? Serial killer potential. “That’s probably not a…”
“You’re right. Serial killer.” He indicates himself and nods. “How about you come into the yard and wait here? I’ll go get you a glass. I’ll try to remember to leave out the date rape drugs so you know I’m not a rapist too.”
Now it’s my turn to laugh. “Smart ass.” I grumble and he laughs again.
I slowly walk into the yard and lean against the tree. When I’m good and settled, he turns to go in the house. A moment later, the front porch lights come on. Definitely a home for elderly people. They have enough lights to signal airplanes. Shielding my eyes, I try to keep a watch for his return. Soon enough, he nearly runs down the stairs, a glass in each hand.
“Thought it might be less creepy if I turned on the lights.” He flashes the brightest smile I have seen in a long time. No sympathy behind those pearly whites. “You are thirsty, right?” What? Of course… oh. I had zoned in on his devilish good looks and didn’t notice him holding the glass of water out to me. I mean those huge dark brown eyes. I didn’t get to see them before in the darkness by the tree. My breath hitches.
“Sorry. Distracted. Thank you.” It’s true. I take the glass, and then a small sip. Lemon. He put lemon in my water. Just right, too.
“Thanks. That’s tasty. I don’t know many people who like lemon in their water. I appreciate the thought.”
“No problem. So do you frequently walk or run after dark? It is awfully hot out here.”
“I, uh, no, I don’t. I just didn’t want to sit in my house, alone, anymore.” I exaggerate the alone part.
“Well do you want to sit on the swing or do you still think I might kill you?”
“We can sit on the swing. Just keep your rapey hands to yourself.” The corners of my mouth turned into a sly smile as I look sideways at him.
He throws his hands up in mock offense and follows me up the porch steps. We sit on the swing and start a nice, patient rhythm of swinging. Not enough to disrupt my glass, but just enough to get a small breeze going around us. He’s doing a good job with the swing so I pull my legs up and under my rear-end cradling the glass between my legs.
“So, divorced, huh?” Oh, we’re going to have a conversation. I hoped he would skip over it. No one is giving into my childish desires to skip topics today.
“No. I’m, uh, widowed.” That’s the first time I had said it out loud to someone who didn’t know. It hurts, but not as bad as it did at first. I always thought that was the worst title for someone to have. Now it’s who I am.
“Wow. I didn’t mean to assume divorce. How long?”
Looking up from the glass between my legs to meet his eyes, I take a deep, shaky breath, “Recent. A couple months ago.” I keep staring into his eyes expecting the pity or sympathy so many have given me lately. There isn’t any there.
“How long were you married?”
“Five years this past January.”
“HOW OLD ARE YOU?” His tone is incredulous. I laugh, “I know I got married young. I’m only 25.”
He smiles at me like a devil, “So shotgun, huh.” Did he just waggle his eyebrows at me?
“What? No. We started dating when I was 17. We dated for a few years and got married because, well, because that’s what you do. And don’t waggle your eyebrows at me like that.”
“Sorry.”, devil grin, “I don’t know about that. What was his name?” “Don’t know about what?”
“Getting married because the timeline says so.” “We were in love.” Weren’t we?
He nods like he’s going to leave it alone. I take another drink of my water. He keeps the swing going; almost hypnotically. We sit in silence for a while.
“His name. You never answered that question,” he reminds me. “His name was Ryan.”
“You miss him?”
“Honestly, I think I’m supposed to. For some reason, I have a greater peace about it now than I did originally.” Maybe because if he was still alive I would have removed his balls with an ice cream scooper for that affair bullshit. I am not about to reveal everything.
“Cade, was it?” I ask. “Yes, Rhae, Cade Miles.”
“Why am I answering all the questions here?”
“Good point. You still can’t be sure I’m not a serial killer, rapist can you? What is your question, Ms. Rhae Peters?”
“Who are you visiting here?”
“My grandparents.” “For how long?”
“As long as necessary.” He looks down, not meeting my eyes.
“What kind of answer is that? You don’t have a home or something?” I grin to encourage his good-natured mood to return.
“No,” he smiles, “I’m not some homeless man come to call on his grandparents. My grandfather is sick. Hospice thinks that he could pass any day now. We are on ‘wait and see’ status.” He looks down at his feet moving the swing.
“Oh.” It’s the only thing I can think of to say. As torturous as it was to lose Ryan instantly, waiting around has to be worse. It is worse. I remember when my mama passed.
“That’s it? Oh?”
“I hate it when people tell me they’re sorry. I am, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say what I wouldn’t want to hear. I just remember what it was like when we went through a similar scenario when my mama passed a few years ago.” Things have gotten a little too intense, “I think it’s time for me to get home. I’ll see you around Cade Miles.” Standing, I walk towards the steps.
“Let me give you a ride.” He offers sincerely. “I did start out talking to you to be chivalrous. I mean that is unless you would like to run home, in which case, I can run with you.” That was a mouthful.
“I guess if I turn you down, you’ll follow me anyway. So I’ll take a ride home.” I smile genuinely. I don’t know what I was thinking earlier. I don’t work out enough to be over two miles from home on foot.
Cade hops up and takes the glass from me. He sets it down on the porch railing and then grabs my hand. His skin is soft and warm, and his hand is large enough to swallow mine whole. He escorts me off the porch and around to the carport. I’m a little surprised.
“A 4-wheeler?” I ask.
He grins that devil of a grin, “What? Mississippi girls don’t ride 4- wheelers?”
I feign offense, “Of course we do, but would you let me drive?”
It’s his turn to look shocked. “I’m not one to turn down a pretty lady. After you”, he says as he gestures to our ride.
“I think this works better when you get on first. Slide all the way back.” I instruct.
He smiles incredulously and does as he’s told. Good boy.
I have to climb on in front of him. First, I step on the running board and throw my right leg over the seat. I realize, too late, that when I get on, I’ll have to shove my ass right in his face before I sit down. I try to appear confident. As I finish my climb onto the 4-wheeler, Cade clears his throat.
“Feeling ok back there?” I ask.
“Yeah. Great. Let’s see if you can drive this thing.”
He has the same model as my dad, so I know exactly how to operate it. I crank it and look over my shoulder to see him leaning against the rear basket balancing himself by putting his hands behind him.
“You sure that’s enough support?” I ask and he nods. “Ok, hold on.” I squeeze the accelerator and the 4-wheeler jumps forward. Thrown off balance, Cade grabs my waist to keep from falling off. I grin to myself. It feels great to have him wrapped around me. Geez! I don’t even know him! I can’t think things like that about him right now. Still, the feel of him against my back sends chills all over me.