The Drifter Ch. 04

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Before leaving the ranch I cleaned up my messy truck which meant clearing the littered passenger seat and floor of several paper coffee cups, candy wrappers, a crumpled potato chip bag, crumbs and the classified section of the newspaper with the circled ad I answered—also, a few old cassette tapes which I put back in the glove compartment. I parked next to the barn and hosed the truck down to wash away the grime. I had a cab on the back of the truck where I slept and crawled into it to clean that out. I had a shaggy gray rug and placed my sleeping bag and backpack on it. I moved my tool box out of the way and put my books in a pile then glanced at the porno magazine I used for my fantasy wanks and wondered if I should hide it. “Nah! She knows I’m a guy on road… I have nothing to hide.”

It was still early and I had a few hours to kill before meeting Carla at Betty’s diner which was just five miles away. I remembered her telling me about Peter’s Pond where she used to ride her horse, Daisy and decided to see if I could find it. I knew it was in the North Pasture so I drove up the hill where her grandfather worked the day before and found it at the far end. I imagined Carla riding there and swimming while Daisy was tied to the big shade tree nearby.

I sat in the truck and looked out at the still water, then looked around at the expanse of land and wondered what it would be like to work for her grandfather, but quickly dismissed that idea. Oklahoma was just a place I was passing through as I explored Route Sixty-six and doubted I’d ever come back this way. I thought about Carla growing up here before moving to Jay when her mother remarried and wondered if she would ever want to come back to her roots.

I got out of the truck and leaned against the front and looked up at the sun getting higher and how the pink clouds cast a pink glow on the dark water. I thought about Carla running away with me. Would our relationship evolve into something deeper, or would I be a stepping stone to someone else, someplace else? “One day at a time I muttered half to myself, half out loud.”

Forty-five minutes later, I arrived at Betty’s Diner which opened at seven. I glanced up at the clock over the front door and saw it was eight-fifteen. It was half empty, but quickly filled up as more people came in, mostly men wearing flannel shirts, jeans and cowboy hats. They sat at the counter on the round red leather stools and leaned over their coffee mugs and talked to one another in loud, boisterous voices. A few older women dressed in skirts and frilly blouses came in and sat at the front booth and chatted. I noticed they all wore red lipstick. I guessed they were secretaries, bank tellers or salesgirls. I’m a people watcher and try to imagine what their lives are like.

I sat at a booth at the rear of the diner and ordered a coffee from a tall, young woman with red hair and freckles, wearing a pink waitress uniform with the name Renee stitched on it.

“Coffee. Is that it?” she asked, ready to write my order.

“For now. I’m waiting for someone… then I’ll order some breakfast.”

Sipping my coffee, I looked out the window at cars and pickup trucks pulling in and pulling out, big tractor trucks rushing by in both directions. Several trucks were loaded with bales of hay and I realized other ranchers were doing what I had just done. I half listened to the twangy music playing from a radio. I glanced up at the clock on the wall over the front door. It was almost nine and wondered if Carla would show up, but then I saw her truck pull in and park next to mine.

She was wearing tight jeans with her cowboy boots, a pale blue T-shirt and the unbuttoned flannel shirt she wore in the barn. Her dusty brown hair was in a ponytail that fell just below her shoulders. When she looked up and saw me through the window, I could tell she was excited by her smile and remembered her tense, shy smile when we first met. Damn she’s pretty, I thought and watched her walk to the entrance, carrying a small green backpack.

“Well, here I am.” She sat down and placed her backpack next to her.

“So, you’re really going to do this.”

“Yes. I bet you thought I’d back out, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged.

“I’m all set. I have a suitcase I took from Granny and took some of the clothes I kept there. She won’t even know it’s gone and I already stopped at Dustin’s garage and he said I could keep my truck there, so I’ll take it there when we leave and we’ll be on our way.”

“Does he know why?”

“No and he didn’t ask, but I think he wanted to. He looked at me kind of funny. Betty will figure it out if she sees us. You can’t fool Betty. I hope I can tell her.”

“Really. You want to tell her. Maybe we should leave so she doesn’t see us.” I looked around to see if she was there, even though I didn’t know what she looked like.

“Don’t be worried. I want to tell her. She’s cool and I’m famished. When she hears what I’m doing, she’ll say great. She won’t güvenilir bahis tell a soul. I know her and she’s got a wild streak. She told me lots of stories when I babysat. She’ll say, ‘Go for it.'”

When the waitress came over, she said, “Hi Carla. Ain’t seen you for awhile.”

“I know. I came for the haying at my Grandpa’s.”

Renee nodded and glanced at me then back at Carla and knew she was sizing me up and wondering what was going on.

“Are you ready to order?” She looked at me like I was a specimen in a microscope.

Carla didn’t even look at the menu.”The hotcakes are great here… that’s what I’m having.”

“Then I’ll have that with eggs up and sausage.” I looked up at Renee while she wrote it down and noticed her red lipstick and that she was chewing gum.

“Me, too,” Carla said. “I just want the hot cakes and no sausage. And I’m dying for a cup of coffee.”

When Renee left, Carla leaned back. Her unbuttoned flannel shirt opened and I glanced at her t-shirt straining against her breasts and could see she wasn’t wearing a bra.

Carla knew where I was looking but didn’t say a word.

“You look pretty sexy. Do you ever wear a bra?”

“I hate bras… only wear them when I’m at school or church. Does that bother you?” She smiled. “Oh, and the youth center,” she added and chuckled.

“No, it doesn’t bother me. I like that you don’t. Is it your way of rebelling?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Sometimes they jiggle too much, but I told you I like when guys look at me..even though I don’t know what to do. I get tense. I hate being so shy.” She smiled at me. “I like that I’m not shy with you.”

“I’m curious about something. Do you think women dress to attract men or dress to please themselves?”

“I don’t know for sure. I think some women do and some women don’t know if they do or not. It’s hard being a women in our culture. Sex is all over the place… in advertisements, in the movies, in the music and most men gawk even if they try to hide it.”

“It’s confusing for men, too, but I always look at a sexy woman.” I took a sip of coffee and looked at her over the rim of my mug.

Carla smiled and gazed into my eyes, then leaned forward and whispered. “I like how you look at me.”

“Good.” I nodded and returned her smile..

“I read something in some magazine. Maybe it was People. Not sure. Anyway some famous female philosopher from France said, ‘Men like watching women and women like being watched.’ I think that’s true.”

Listening to Carla and learning more about how she thought fascinated me. I wanted to find out what made her so shy and frightened and what she wanted for her life. I remembered the conversation we had at dinner about security, how she really didn’t want to be an accountant but was convinced to go for a degree so that she could work for her Uncle Charley. I remembered how she knew she needed an adventure in order to release her hidden self, and here she was sitting in Betty’s Diner with me. I could feel her intelligence, her need, her yearning and passion to feel alive and saw me as her way to escape. Looking at her I wondered,”Is it possible to escape, or do you always bring who you are with you?”

Just then, I looked up and saw a tall, plump woman with bleached blonde hair walking towards our table. She wore black slacks and a green T-shirt with the word Betty’s Diner written across the front. A small white apron folded in half was wrapped around her waist. Behind her was Renee bringing us our breakfast.

Betty stopped a few tables away, smiled and said something to the customers, then came to us and sat down next to Carla.

“Thought that was you,” she said, hugging her then glanced at me.

Renee put our plates down in front of us. “Here we go,”she said and placed the Log Cabin syrup in the center of the table. “Let me know if you want anything else.” She glanced at me again and smiled.

“How’s it going, Carla?” Betty asked. “Been awhile since I seen you.”

“I’m good. By the way this is Josh, my new friend.” She looked at me then back at Betty. “He worked at the ranch yesterday.”

“Pleased to meet you,” she said and reached across the table to shake my hand. She had a real Oklahoma twang which was much stronger than Carla’s.

“Nice place, you have here,” I said, looking at her and could see she was sizing me up but pretending not to.

“Thanks… keeps me busy. So, what are doing in our neck of the woods?”

“Passing through. Did some haying yesterday for Carla’s grandfather and now I’m moving on.”

“Where you heading?” She glanced at Carla then back at me.

“Not sure. Wherever I can find a little work.”

I sliced up my hot cakes and took a bite. I knew she was trying to figure out why we were together.

“Sounds exciting. Not being tied down. Never thought I’d have a diner, but here I am.”

“Well, I never thought I’d be on the road like this, but here I am. I needed to get away, so I packed up my truck a month or türkçe bahis so ago and took off.”

Betty nodded. “I know what you mean. I grew up around here and wanted to go someplace. I wanted to go to New York and get a career in something, but married Dustin right out of high school, had two kids and there I was. Then I saw this place was for sale and here I am fourteen goin’ on fifteen years later. Carla babysat for the kids for a few years when she was in high school and we’ve been friends ever since. I love her like she was my own. That’s my story.”

Carla glanced at me and took a deep breath. She looked out the window and then took a gulp of coffee. She looked down at her plate and glanced back at me. She bit her lower lip and it looked like she was wanting to say something but was hesitating.

Betty turned to her and narrowed her eyes. “Okay, out with it. I can see something’s going on with you. I can read you like a book.”

“Promise you won’t tell.” Carla put down her fork.

“Of course. You know you can trust me. What is it? You’re not pregnant are you?”

“I’m going with him.” She took a deep breath and looked at Betty for her reaction.

Betty didn’t respond, but made a low grunt as she absorbed what she heard. She glanced at me then back at Carla.

“I need to do this. I need to get away from here. I know what you’re thinking.” Carla looked at me then looked back at Betty.

“You do, do you?” Betty smiled and shook her head.

“You’re thinking how could I take off with someone I just met yesterday.” Carla’s eyes were fixed on Betty’s eyes as if trying to read her mind.

“Well, yes, that sure crossed my mind.” Betty narrowed her eyes and bit her lower lip as she thought. “It’s pretty crazy. Risky.”

“You always said, ‘trust your intuition.’ Well, that’s what I’m doing. It feels right. He knows me like no one else.”

“That’s not true, Carla. I know you like no one else. I knew you weren’t happy pleasing everyone. You’ve been depressed for years. I could see you were all locked up and wanting to burst free. I saw it in your art work… those drawings and paintings you did when the kids were napping. I saw your passion and we talked a lot. I knew you were an artist. Do you remember what I told you when you were about to marry that guy, Allen, the one who wanted to be a doctor.”

I listened to Betty, eager to hear what she was saying about Carla. I knew she almost married and remember how she said it would have been a mistake. I knew there was a lot we didn’t know about each other, that it was crazy and risky, like Betty said. I didn’t know Carla was an artist, but then so much was hidden and bursting to be free.

“Yes, I remember what you said,” Carla responded. “You said I needed someone as strong and passionate as I was and that Allen would end up boring me to death. I knew you were right, but my mom and my stepfather wanted to send me to a shrink when I broke it off. They said, Allen would take care of me and I’d have security.”

“Right. But you would have ended up cheating on him. You’d have kids and you’d be divorced in five years. I saw it all. You’d end up like a lot of women around here who did what they were supposed to and now they’re miserable and reading romance books and watching porn while their husbands get drunk.”

“How long have you been married?” I asked, interrupting her.

“Going on seventeen years.” She smiled. “We’ve had our ups and downs but he’s a good man. Stubborn, but I really love the guy even when he’s a goof-ball.”

“Cool.”I nodded. “My marriage didn’t last five. We were definitely not on the same page. No kids, though.”

I managed to finish my breakfast during the conversation, but Carla hardly ate. I wanted to get going, but knew she wanted to know what Betty thought, wanted her approval and the certainty she wouldn’t tell anyone.

Betty nodded and I could see by the way she looked at me, she was wondering if I’d be good for Carla. I smiled at her and met her eyes. She turned to Carla and took her hand.

“I won’t tell a soul except Dustin and he won’t tell.”

“I already asked him if I could keep my truck there for awhile but didn’t tell him why. Please don’t tell Dustin what I’m doing. I don’t want him to know. I know he won’t approve. Don’t say a word to him… please.”

Betty didn’t say anything at first, but I could tell by the way she looked at Carla she was bothered, but then she nodded and put her arm around Carla and hugged her. “Okay, I won’t tell him. It’ll be our secret. I won’t say a word.” She smiled. “You got my blessings. Go for it.”

She glanced at me. “You look like a good man. I can see you’re kind and Carla wouldn’t choose to go with you unless she knew it was right for her. It might not last forever, but so what. Life’s about learning.”

She turned around to look back at the counter, then at the door and saw people waiting to be seated. She stood up and smiled,”Finish your breakfast and take one day at a time.”

“That’s güvenilir bahis siteleri my philosophy,” I said.

“Mine too. Anything else is a guess. My grandpa always said, ‘The only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain.'”

“That’s for sure.” I chuckled.

“I’ll write to you,” Carla said. “I love you… thanks for being a friend.”

“Love you, too.” Betty leaned over and hugged Carla and kissed her on the forehead. She smiled and nodded at me then rushed to the front door.

“Told you she’d say, ‘go for it.'” She took a deep breath as if relieved and smiled.

Before we left, she said, “When he’s not looking, take my suitcase from my truck and put it in yours.”

I followed her to Dustin’s garage next door and parked next to her truck. When she hopped out, she grabbed her green backpack and ran up to Dustin.

He was a big bear of a man with a pot belly, a graying goatee, faded overalls and an old black baseball cap. I sat in my truck for a moment and looked around at his front yard which was littered with car parts, a pile of old tires, a tow truck with Dustin’s Garage painted on the side and a row of cars parked along the edge of his property, waiting to be repaired.

When she stood in front of him so that his back was facing me, I got out of my truck, opened her passenger door, grabbed her suitcase, and put it in the back of my truck. He turned around when he heard my door slam when I got back in. He glanced at me then continued talking to Carla.

When she ran back to my truck, she turned to wave at him and yelled, “The keys are in the truck.”

I looked over at Dustin as he watched Carla climb into my truck and knew he was puzzled by the way he narrowed his eyes. I put my arm out my window and waved, just to be friendly. He nodded back but stood there looking at me. I watched Carla place her small green backpack on the floor then glanced up and saw Dustin watching us.

I didn’t say anything when I turned on the ignition. I backed up and turned around and drove towards the road. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw Dustin still watching us while I waited for the traffic to pass. I saw him take out a pencil from his shirt pocket and a small notebook and write something down. I was sure it was my license number. “That’s interesting,” I thought and pulled out onto the highway.

It felt strange having a passenger after over a month of being alone. I glanced over at her as we turned right onto Route Sixty-six and drove past Betty’s Diner and headed west—where to? I wasn’t certain.

“So, are you ready for an adventure?”

“I think so. It feels weird. I’ve never done anything like this. My mom usually calls me everyday and when I don’t answer after a day or two, she’ll worry, then she’ll call my grandparents and they’ll worry. My mom is such a worrier. I hate making her worry.”

“You said your friend Hannah will cover for you.” I glanced at her and could see by her scrunched eyebrows, she was upset and thinking.

“She will, but I didn’t let my mom know I was going there. I should call, but I hate lying.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“Don’t know. This is really hard. I never rock the boat but keep things to myself.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding it in, then slowly exhaled. “What should I do?”

“I’m not going to tell you what to do. I never tell people what they should do. You said you needed to get away. You needed this… so deal with it.” I glanced at her and knew I was sounding gruff.

“Are you angry at me? You sound upset. Are you sorry you’re taking me?”

“No, I’m not angry and I don’t know if I’m sorry I’m taking you with me. This is weird for me too, but you have to take charge of your life.”

“I’m trying. That’s why I’m in this truck with you, but I told you, I’ve always done what other people think I should do.” She turned away and looked out the side window and sighed—something she did a lot.

I didn’t say a word and let the heavy silence fill the space. I thought about turning on the radio, but kept my eyes straight ahead and drove behind a slow truck filled with hay bales. I noticed a plaque on the side of the road with gold-plated writing that said Historic Scenic Highway and below that the words, “The Mother Road” and remembered when I read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, that the Oakies named it that on their way to California.

We were both quiet. After a few silent minutes, Carla reached into the pocket of her flannel shirt, took out her cell phone, hit a key and listened before speaking then left a message.

“Mom, don’t worry. I’m at Hannah’s for a few days.”

She took a deep breath and stared at the phone then quickly closed it and shook her head. I could see how disturbed she was as she put the phone back in her shirt pocket. “I left a message.”

“You also lied.”

“I know.” She looked at me. “Fuck! Why am I such a wimp?”

“You’re not a wimp. Sometimes you have to tell a lie to be honest to yourself.”

“I hate lying to my mom. I mean it’s not the first time. It’s like when my granny was shocked that I had a beer. I don’t want to be the goody goody they think I am. They don’t know the real me.”

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