Here I am again with a few weeks behind me since my last post. Between work, birthdays, the winding up of the Christmas season, and some cherished time with my love while he was home from camp, the time has flown once more. Drifting, my nose in my book, I can’t find the energy to write tonight, but I decided I should share at least something. Then I realised I had not shared even a line or two from my book!
It is growing close to a year since I held the first printed copy of my novel in my hands, but I will never forget the feeling. The solid, ink smelling epitome of my hard work and dreams. I am sharing now the first chapter from my book, Once Upon a Classic, and hey, if you like it and feel like heading over and supporting an Indie author at Christmas, well…who am I to argue?
“Not now you… you rat bastard!” I pushed up the deck lid of my 87 Volkswagen Beetle and glared at the mysterious world beneath. The mound of baffling mechanics choked a couple of times then sputtered into silence.
“Oh, no, please. I’m sorry!” I wiggled a few wires in futility. Why hadn’t I paid more attention when my father tried to teach me about cars?
Pressing my damp brow against the sharp metal, I closed my eyes. In through the nose, out through the mouth. What now? With a slam that reverberated off the wooded hills around me, I forced the lid closed and stepped away from the car.
“Shoot.” I turned in a circle on the road, taking in the forested rise and fall of land around me, and shoved my hair from my face. Zero houses in sight and no amount of neck craning brought any into view. The sun hung fat and low in the sky, steadily losing its interest in the day. How long since I passed anything resembling civilisation? Lost in my rampaging thoughts, I’d been content to just drive, knowing I was at headed in the right direction.
I retrieved my cell from my back pocket and scowled down at the screen. The thing struggled to open its search engine, growing hot in my palm before prompting me to switch on my GPS. I did so, then typed in tow trucks/garages/mechanics and closed my eyes with a silent plea to the gods of cell phone service and technology to stay with me.
Stevenson and Sons Garage
The name and number topped the list in bright blue. With a breath of relief, I pressed my finger to the link. A call option came up.
“Hello?” A man’s voice answered abruptly on the first ring.
“He—” My voice shook. I cleared my throat and tried again, “Hello, is this the garage?”
A pause, “This is.”
“I could use some help. I don’t know exactly where I am and my car quit. Your place came up as closest to my location.”
Another pause. The man on the line must have heard the restrained panic in my voice for his softened somewhat, “How long since you went through town?”
“ I’m sorry, I’ve never driven this way before. I’m not sure.”
A long-suffering sigh sounded on the other end. “Alright, what direction were you headed?”
I thought for a moment. I knew this. I’d mapped out the route to my brother’s before I left Vancouver.
“North, on the highway.”
“I’ll leave now. Hope it doesn’t take me too long to find you. It’s almost dinner time.” The line went dead.
“Top notch customer service.” I clicked off the screen and threw the phone into my purse.
An hour later a plume of dust announced the arrival of the tow truck moments before it came into view. The driver, eyes intent on his rearview mirror reversed towards me. I stood back as the arm swung low over my car with an ominous rattling of chains.
A middle-aged man unfolded himself from the truck and extended a broad palm to me, “Dan Stevenson. We spoke on the phone.” His eyes went to my cheek, and one dark brow rose a fraction, but he made no comment.
I nodded and shook the offered hand, ignoring his look as I had the others received over the last couple of days. “Carmen Maclean. Thanks so much for coming. You’re my hero.”
As big in stature, as he was short on small talk, Dan grunted and with a nod, walked away. He circled my car once, stopped to stroke his close-trimmed salt and pepper beard with two fingers, then, with another grunt, set to work connecting the automobiles for transport.
After he had finished, Dan went to the passenger side door and held it open. “Climb in.”
I inclined my head to him and slid into the seat, “Thank you, sir.”
As he shut the door behind me, I was sure a smile twitched in the cover of his facial hair.
Dan had a calm, paternal presence. His gruff, comforting silence soothed me as we drove, reminding me of my childhood. The well-worked smell of male and truck with underlying notes of coffee and beer. The familiarity of it made my throat ache with longing for my father. As we bumped along the empty road, memories bubbled to the surface.
The grinding of gears as we ventured around in my dad’s old Chevy pickup on a Saturday morning. Going for ice cream with the four of us all packed in the cab. Space had grown tighter with each year as the three of us kids grew, and when my brother hit six feet tall, we’d made him ride in the bed of the truck. Evenings we had often escaped to the beach when my mother had gotten too far into her bottle. How many hours had my father and I sat in shared silence, buoyed by the rush of waves and the grey expanse of ocean?
I wanted to call him now with all the desperation of those moments where a person would give anything to know the same comfort from their parent’s arms they had as children.
Leaning my head against the warm glass of the window I swallowed. Unfamiliar pine-choked landscape passed in an eye-numbing blur. The dying sun painted the serpentine curves of asphalt in bright oranges and pinks. The beauty of the scene at complete odds with my anxious mood. The long days of stress chose that moment to strike full force. My hands started to shake. I squeezed my lids shut and pushed back against the nerves. Focused on the hum of the engine, the whir of the AC I blocked all thoughts of Billy and the last few days from my mind. Took long focused breaths as I sought to still the clamour of all I needed to do before my skull could begin to throb. Dan glanced sideways when one of those breaths caught and emerged suspiciously close to a sob. He remained silent, and so did
Sawyer Stevenson sank down on his couch, pulled back the tab of his beer and breathed a sigh at the hiss of released pressure. The sweetest time of the day. The time when he could shower, scrub the grease from his nails and settle into the spot where his butt had made the perfect groove.
He raised the can to his lips as a loud bang from the bay doors echoed up the stairwell. Sawyer looked up at the clock. Six twenty p.m. He groaned. Throwing back a long swallow to fortify himself he stood and headed back downstairs.
Sawyer pushed into the garage in time to watch his father manoeuvre the tow truck inside; a ratty old VW bug hooked to the arm. The motor cut and Dan stepped out before he noticed his son.
“I didn’t realise you were still here.” Sawyer raised a brow. “You went out late.”
His dad shrugged. “She needed a hand.”
Sawyer chuckled, “Ya big softy. I could have gone with you.” He grabbed his coveralls from the hook by the office door and pulled them on. “What can I do?”
“Help me get this heap off here for now.” Dan jerked his chin towards the cab. “She fell asleep. Looks like she’s had a rough go. May as well let her be.”
With an efficiency born of long practice, they unhooked the car and settled it near the jacks. Once they’d finished, Dan beckoned Sawyer over to him. “Hey, before she wakes up I wanted to warn you. She’s got a bruise on her face.”
“Really?” Sawyer glanced over. “Did she hit it when her car quit?”
Dan frowned, his lips tight. “No.” He looked over his shoulder at the window. “No, it’s at least a few days old.” His brown eyes found Sawyer’s. “Probably none of our business and could well be nothing but still doesn’t sit right.”
A sharp creak of rusty hinges echoed around the garage. Both men looked over at the girl who hopped down from the truck. She glanced around and scrubbed a hand over her face. Sawyer froze.
The glare of the fluorescent overhead lights glinted in the mess of thick cinnamon waves falling in disarray around her shoulders. With one hand she gathered the long strands and pulled them away from her face.
“I can’t believe I slept.” She yawned as she came towards them her long, pale legs displayed by a pair of cut off denim shorts.
The bruise branded the freckle-dusted arc of her left cheekbone. A mottled patch of bright green and blue like an oil spill across her fair skin. Sawyer’s fists clenched at his side. Dan was the first to speak.
“Carmen, this is my son Sawyer.” He smiled at the girl. “I’m too old for grunt work, he’ll be doing the labour on your car.”
Carmen turned to Sawyer and extended her hand, the corners of her generous mouth lifting. “Nice to meet you.”
Her eyes held his, and a sensation akin to a gut punch seized him. Forest. They were the colour of the forest. A mix of earthy greens and browns far too intriguing for the word hazel to encompass.
Swallowing, Sawyer relaxed his hand from his side and took hers. The bones of her fingers were long and narrow, her grip firm. Heat crept up his arm towards his chest and his tongue thickened in his mouth. Suddenly self-conscious of his calloused palms he broke the contact and rubbed his hand against his thigh.
“Hey, uh, nice to meet you too.” He stopped his gaze from inching to the bruise. “So, beautiful summer so far, eh?” Nodding in answer to his own question Sawyer picked up a wrench from the tool chest. Fiddled at the metal while awkward silence suffused the room. “Should we have a look at it?”
Carmen shook her head. “No, no, you’re closed. Please, don’t worry about it now.” She cast her smile to Dan who stood with his hands tucked into the pockets of his tattered overalls. “I truly appreciate your coming to get me.”
“Wasn’t a problem.”
Sawyer could swear colour darkened the skin just above his father’s whiskers.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what to do now?” Carmen glanced between them, cheeks flushing.
“I’ll get your bags,” Sawyer blurted, thankful for the chance to assist her. “We can run you to a hotel and get you settled for the night.” He moved towards the car, but a noise from Carmen stopped him.
“Doesn’t work.” She scrunched her nose, compressing her freckles. “The latch is broken. Everything is in the back seat.”
“We can look at that as well,” Dan assured her.
“You’re not just saying that because you’ve got a body stashed in, there are you?”
Carmen stared at him long enough Sawyer was sure she would call him an idiot. Dan rolled his eyes, but Carmen’s lips turned up in one corner. “Not presently. I’ve been saving the space for nosey mechanics.”
Sawyer scratched his chin and then held up his hands as if to measure the width of the trunk. “I don’t think my dad will fit in there. But, maybe if you wrapped him tight enou— oww.”
Dan swatted the back of his head. “Smart ass,” he growled.
Carmen laughed. The sound brought heat flooding back through Sawyer’s veins. Suddenly, it was essential to hear the sound again. Often.
“Mom is going to be worried.” He pointed at the tire clock on the wall. “Should I tell her you’ll be home after you drive a beautiful woman to her hotel room?” He took out his cell and swiped at the screen, humming to himself. Then paused and looked sideways at his father, “Or should I give Carmen a ride?”
Dan narrowed his eyes as he unzipped his overalls and hung them from their peg by the door.
“Behave yourself,” he said under his breath as he walked by Sawyer.
Carmen’s gaze moved over Sawyer’s face and neck as he drove, distracting him.
“Any hotel in particular?” His voice emerged in a husky croak when he spoke. He wanted to make Carmen laugh again, see her smile. Instead, he seemed to have lost the capability of stringing words into coherent sentences.
“The cheapest one, please.”
He caught her wince from the corner of his eye.
“Good,” he grinned, desperate to lighten the air, “Cheap is the only kind we have.”
H wished he’d tied his hair back. Damp clumps stuck to the stubble on his cheeks and made it harder to see her across the dark cab. Would it look vain if he pushed it away? He should have shaved, but he’d never expected to meet her today.
“Did you grow up here?” Carmen asked after a stretching moment of quiet.
“I did. Born and raised.”
“There’s a hospital in this town?”
“Nope. Closest is a half hour.” He shifted so he could glance at her without losing track of the road. “My brother works there actually.”
“How many siblings do you have?”
“There are three of us in total. My Mom had us all at home with a midwife. Over nine pounds each.” Why had he said that?
Carmen whistled under her breath. “Tough lady.”
“The toughest.” He did not try to disguise the pride in his voice.
“So which are you?”
Her eyes moved over him again. His skin tingled wherever they landed. “Sorry?”
“Which kid? Middle? Oldest and wisest? Or are you the baby?”
Sawyer laughed, “The baby. Or, as I tell Sam and Sasha, the one my parents finally got right.”
“Ahhh,” Carmen bobbed her head, “Not because you were the worst and they couldn’t bear the thought of another like you?” Her face was to the window, but a smile coloured her voice.
“Hey now.” Sawyer pulled into the parking lot of the hotel. “I’m an angel. My Mom tells me all the time.”
There was that laugh again, at last. The rich sound fanned the heat in his chest from a smoulder to a blaze that licked at his extremities and burned his face.
“I’m the middle child if that helps.” She glanced at him, her smile glinting in the dark of the truck’s interior, “You know what they say about us.”
The street lights played through the strands of her hair. When she blinked, it sparked in her green eyes.
“Yeah,” Sawyer nodded, pulling the keys out of the ignition. “Trouble, nothing but trouble.”
Sawyer helped bring Carmen’s bags into the lobby. Waited with the small pile of her belongings while she checked in. All she had with her was a battered duffel that looked on the verge of bursting at the seams, a small carry on with a pair of sneakers tied to the strap, and her purse.
Sawyer wasn’t used to women who packed light and wore little makeup. The minimalism suited Carmen. She was earthy and sweet. On the ride over, she had braided her thick red hair. The floral scent suffused the truck, obliterating the smells of oil and coffee.
An image flashed behind his lids, his hand with the rope of hair wrapped around it, pulling her to him. Her full lips lowering to his. What would it feel like to draw the braid apart with his fingers? Set it loose and spread it like a cloud around her. Sawyer shook his head and slid further back on the stained couch.
“Have you eaten?” Sawyer asked when she strode across the lobby to where he sat.
“I enjoyed a delightful granola bar I found at the bottom of my purse. Does that count?”
Sawyer laughed, “If you’re not too full, there’s a bar tacked onto this place that sells abhorrent sandwiches but since they serve a wide variety of alcohol we tend to overlook their sandwich crimes.”
“I’ll be sure to tell them about your rave review while I’m there.”
“Unless you’d like company?”
“I, yes sure. Thanks.” She ran one finger over the faded handle of her bag.
She seemed surprised by his offer.
“I’ll help you take them up first.” Sawyer’s phone beeped, and he took it from his pocket. “Damn it.”