Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Light - Chapter 2

“So tell me how you know my father,” Anna directed at Nathan as he got in the turning lane to get onto the interstate. She had just realized that she had no clothes packed, no toiletries, and no idea of how long she would be wherever they were going. But she did have her Visa, so she pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind for now.

“Um… I’ve actually known your dad for quite a while now. He’s a really great man. You should be very proud of him.”

Anna didn’t know which feeling was worse… the anger she felt towards her dad for fooling someone else into thinking he was a “great man” or the jealousy she felt towards Nathan for having been in her dad’s life more than she had.

“I wouldn’t exactly say that. The man did abandon my mother and me for all these years. Or did you not know that?”

She looked over at Nathan as he lowered his head and took a deep breath. She really hoped he wasn’t about to start defending the man who ripped her world apart. She clinched her fists and turned back towards the window, just in time to see another street lamp blow out. There was no grin this time.

They were silent for what seemed like hours; Anna staring out the window, her mind replaying that dreadful day sixteen years ago over and over again; Nathan concentrating on driving and sneaking looks over at Anna every few minutes. She noticed that his right hand kept making spastic jerking movements, like he wanted to reach out to hold hers but kept deciding against it. But that was silly… he didn’t even know her.

Anna finally broke the silence when he got off on the exit towards South Carolina.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

She looked over at him. He had such a soft expression on his face, almost painful… like it was hurting him to look at her.

“We’re going to meet Paul. He’s in a little town in South Carolina called Cope.”

Cope… that’s ironic since that’s exactly what he couldn’t do with the life he had with Mom and me.

“Why is he in South Carolina? And why didn’t he come and get me himself? Tell me what’s going on!” she demanded.

Again, Nathan looked pained, like he couldn’t stand for her to be mad at him. It didn’t make any sense to her, but she figured maybe she could use it to her advantage.

She tried to put a pitiful look on her face. She had been in a few small productions in high school… this shouldn’t be too hard.

“Please,” she said, proud of how pathetic she sounded. “Please, just tell me what’s going on.”

He looked over at her, and she was shocked to see his eyes beginning to glisten with tears. Wow, she was better than she thought.

“Look… I’m really sorry to be putting you through all of this. You have no idea how sorry I am. But Paul asked me to come and get you and bring you to him. That’s all I’m allowed to tell you. But I promise, there’s nothing for you to worry about. You’re safe with me.”

She could tell that he truly meant every word of it. It was oddly endearing, and she felt that strong attraction to him again. But that wasn’t going to get her anywhere.

“Can you at least tell me how much longer it will be until we get there? I’m…” she was cut off by the loud growl of her stomach. That was a trait she was always embarrassed of as a child. She was normally very good at keeping something in her stomach to keep the beast at bay, but food hadn’t really crossed her mind in the past several hours.

“Do you want to stop and get something to eat?” Nathan asked, looking a little more relaxed. His cute little grin was back on his face now.

“We don’t really have time to stop anywhere, but I’ll go through a drive-thru if you’re hungry.”

Well… she was hungry. She was about to say so when her stomach answered for her. She blushed a little and looked down. Why did she have to be such a baby?

Nathan pointed to a sign addressing the available restaurants at the next exit.

“Is Chick-fil-A okay?”

It happened to be her favorite. They had the best milkshakes, and she was a milkshake-aholic.

“Yeah, that’ll be fine I guess.”

They pulled off the exit and found the Chick-fil-A half a mile on the right. It looked pretty deserted. Nathan pulled up to the speaker and ordered two of what Anna had asked for: a chicken sandwich and a cookies and cream milkshake with chocolate syrup added.

Is he just trying to get on my good side, she wondered, or does he normally order that?

She didn’t have much time to ponder that though. As they rounded the corner, two police officers stepped out of their parked cruiser and made their way towards the side door of the restaurant, which happened to be right beside the drive-thru window. Anna could hear Nathan’s breath catch in his throat. She thought for a moment that he was about to gun it and potentially run over one or both of the officers. But instead he just looked over at her… his eyes pleading… his breath still stuck in his throat.

“It’s alright,” Anna told him in a reassuring voice. She had made up her mind the second he mentioned her father’s name. Sure, part of her was yearning to start screaming at the top of her lungs and waving hysterically to get the cops’ attentions. But that part was largely outweighed by her need to see her father and find out what was going on. And despite everything, she really did trust Nathan.

He started to breathe again but didn’t take his eyes off of her until the policemen were both inside the building, he had paid for their food, and they were back on the interstate.

“Thank you,” he finally said to her as she was spreading the low-fat mayo onto her sandwich.

“No problem,” Anna responded, grinning over at him as she took a big bite.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Light - Chapter 1

     As Anna was riding along in the stranger’s car, not exactly sure where she was going, she looked up just in time to see the street lamp they were passing suddenly go out. She grinned.

     “What’s so amusing?” the driver asked. She could hear a slight smirk in his deep, silky voice as well.

     “Nothing,” she responded.

     Why is he smirking? she wondered.

     She always knew she was special. Of course, she would never tell anyone that, since she didn’t want anyone to think she was weird or conceited. But things would happen sometimes that she couldn’t explain. Of course, they could all be coincidences, but in the back of her mind, she always thought of them as signs. Signs that she was special. Signs that big things were going to happen in her life.

     Secretly, Anna believed that the street lamp went out, like so many before it, because she had such a strong aura. She knew it was silly, and street lamps probably went out frequently just to cool down, or some other logical explanation. But whenever she saw one, she couldn’t help but imagine an invisible lightning bolt shoot out from her supersonic aura and zap the light out. Hence the grin…

     But he couldn’t have known this. Anna looked over at him while she pondered the meaning behind his reaction. He was extremely good-looking. Tall, thin but slightly muscular. His hair was dark with a slight auburn tint, and he had gorgeous bluish green eyes. She was instantly attracted to him because of his eyes, much to her dismay.

     She looked away from him, angry at herself.

     Shake it off, she thought to herself. He has basically kidnapped you after all.

     This wasn’t too far from the truth. Anna really had no idea who this guy was or where in the world he was taking her. But she had agreed to go with him, so technically it wouldn’t be considered kidnapping. She made a mental note of that just in case.

     Earlier that day, Anna was taking her afternoon jog in the park, just like every other Monday. She took pride in staying fit. She was tall herself at 6’ even. She had long brown hair and brown eyes that looked dark from far away, but were a lighter chestnut color if you got close enough to her. She didn’t let many people that close though.

     Anna loved jogging in the park in the cool autumn afternoons. Her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama was always beautiful in the fall. She loved all the bright colors of the changing leaves, so when she was searching for a new place to run, she instantly chose the park on the corner of Vaughn and Perry Hill. The track wasn’t very impressive, but it was surrounded by hundreds of tall, colorful trees. She also liked that there was a fairly large playground in the center of the track. Anna always liked children, so she enjoyed hearing the sounds of their laughter while she was doing her laps.

     She usually changed jogging locations with each new season. In the spring she would find one with lots of fragrant flowers. In the summer she would search for one with extra water fountains available and plenty of shade. This also helped her to keep from getting bored with jogging.

     There was nothing boring about this particular jog though. Anna had also picked this park because it was never really crowded with other joggers. Most of the other people that used it were mothers whose children were playing on the playground. So Anna instantly noticed the handsome young man when she was stretching, getting ready for her run. He was wearing dark gray cotton jogging pants and a bright white t-shirt that was just tight enough to make out his nice pecs. He was at the other end of the park when she first arrived, so all Anna could really make out was the tuft of unkempt hair bouncing as he ran. His skin was slightly pale, and his cheeks were pink from what Anna guessed was the run.

     He’s probably been here a while then, she thought as she was stretching.

     Anna didn’t have a very good track record with guys. She was pretty, but she was shy. So whenever a guy would show any interest, he would always end up giving up after a week or so. Anna wasn’t very worried about it though. She believed that when the right guy came along, everything would just fall into place.

     He’ll probably leave in a little while.

     She timed her stretching to end when the guy had made it all the way back to the other end of the track so that her chances of lapping him would be smaller. She didn’t know why she got so shy around guys, but she had been looking forward to this jog all day, so she didn’t want any distractions.

     Anna started down the track at a nice, steady pace. She liked to start slow so she wouldn’t get winded at all, but she always strived to give it all she had on the last lap. She could see out the corner of her eye that the guy was running slightly faster than she was. Crap, she thought. Should she try to ignore him and stick to her normal pace, or should she pick it up a little?

     Screw it… I’m not changing anything for some random guy I’ve never even seen before.

     She kept at her pace, but she could feel her cheeks getting just a little pinker when she heard his footsteps behind her after a few laps. Anna moved to the far right side of the track and slowed slightly to let him pass and get it over with. But instead of brushing past her, the guy pulled up beside her and stayed there.

     She was determined not to look at him, so she lessened her pace a little more, hoping he would get the hint and go ahead of her. But no… he slowed down as well and stayed side by side with her.

     Curiosity got the better of her, so she turned her head slightly to get a better look at him. His head turned in her direction at the same time, and their gazes met. He had the most beautiful eyes Anna had ever seen. Eyes were her weakness.

     Worried that a full-on blush was coming, she turned her head back and sped up a little. She figured she could quicken her pace just enough to get a good distance between them and slow back down before she got really winded. Besides, he was sure to call it a day any moment now.

     You’ve got to be kidding me, she thought as the guy was right beside her once again. She started jogging a little faster, but he matched her pace. She started to get a little freaked out as she picked up her pace even more. But no matter how fast she got, the guy stayed right beside her. Before long, they were both at a full-on sprint.

     Anna found out something new about herself at that moment… her competitive side outweighed her shy side. She didn’t know why, but outrunning this guy had become her number one priority, even over her desire to remain safe if he was a whacko.

     Anna really had to focus on not laughing at the strange looks the power-walking mothers were giving her and the speed demon beside her as they raced their way around the small oval-shaped track over and over again. She was getting kind of worried though, because her lungs had begun to burn slightly. She looked over at him to see what kind of state he was in, and was surprised to see that he was grinning at her.

     My God, he’s gorgeous, she couldn’t help but think to herself. His dazzling smile actually made her knees wobble a little. Well, that’s definitely not helping.

     Then he actually started laughing. It’s a good thing Anna knew he couldn’t read her mind, because the effort it would have taken to conceal her blushing face would have wiped what little energy she had left. She was about to have to give up her race, and she was not happy about it. The guy didn’t look winded at all. That, along with his mocking little laugh, helped push her to at least make it the rest of the track, back to where she started. It wasn’t her usual twenty laps, but since she had run the last four at top speed, she figured she had made up for it.

     When she reached her destination, she slowed to a halt and started walking in circles in the grass with her hands resting on top of her head to slow her heart rate.

     “Not bad,” the guy said to her as he slowed down to join her. She cut her eyes to him but didn’t say anything. She was still upset about losing their race. He laughed at her once again, totally smashing what was left of her already small ego.

     “My name’s Nathan.”

     Hmm… I like that name… Nathan, Anna thought to herself. She refused to respond to him though. He was, after all, a total stranger. What if he was a whacko after all? She kept circling, willing her heart rate to go back to normal so she could get in her car, drive off, and put this weird adventure behind her.

     “Aren’t you going to tell me your name?”

     “Why do you want to know?” Anna hated the hint of disdain she heard in her voice. She was usually super sweet to people, but there was something about this guy that brought out a darker side in her.

     “Well, I’d like to know who I just outraced.”

     Well that did it. She started towards her car. I’ll just finish stretching when I get home. Oh man, I hope this psycho doesn’t try to follow me.

     “Oh, I’m sorry… Are you a sore loser?”

     Anna picked up her pace, more out of anger at the audacity of this guy than worry that he was going to try something. They were in a public park in the daylight, after all.

     “I’ll just have to guess then,” he told her.

     Are you kidding me? What’s up with this loser?

     “Is it Jessica?”

     She had reached her car and was digging in her pockets for her key, also making sure he didn’t get too close to her.

     “No? How about Leslie?”

     She had finally gotten her key in the door and opened it to stoop inside. She looked up at his face one last time to make sure he didn’t look too crazy and froze. He had a very strange expression as he looked back at her.

     “Is it… Anna?”

     Holy crap! Was that just a really good guess? But why was he looking at her like that? She looked around to make sure there were plenty of people there.

     “Do I know you?” she asked. She knew she didn’t, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

     “Yeah, I’m Nathan… remember?” He was wearing his beautiful smile again, but it wasn’t the reason her knees were wobbling this time.

     “What do you want, Nathan?” She could hear the slight shake in her voice, so she threw her shoulders back and stood tall and straight. She was determined not to let this guy intimidate her in case he was planning something she wouldn’t like.

     “I know this is going to sound strange, Anna, but I need you to come with me.”

     Uh, yeah right, Captain Crazy.


     “I’ll have to explain in the car,” he said. “We have a long way to go.” He looked down at his watch and looked back at her with a much more sullen expression.

     To her total dismay, Anna had a strong urge to do whatever he wanted. She shook that thought away, blaming his dazzling eyes and sexy stature.

     You’re not that lonely, she thought.

     “Well, thank you for the race and the invite, but I think I’m just going to head home now,” she said, and she started to duck down again to get in her car.

     “It’s about Paul,” he said quickly.

     “What did you say?” she asked as she hastily got back out of her car and shut the door.

     Paul was her father’s name. He had disappeared when she was six, and the only communication between the two of them had been the handful of letters she had received from him and a birthday card with fifty bucks for every single birthday she had had since then. His letters were always vague and always from a different place. Anna’s mother, Nancy, had told her that her daddy wasn’t the type of person to stay in one place too long. Anna had always longed to see her father and have a real relationship with him. From the little she remembered of him, he was a really fun guy. She remembered him laughing a lot and always being full of love and joy. That’s why it hurt so much when he left.

     It had come out of nowhere. Anna remembered having an extremely happy childhood. Her parents always got along really well. She could never remember them arguing or anything. Anna often thought about that day, sixteen years ago, when Paul just disappeared. He had left her mom a note, so that they wouldn’t call the police to start a search party. Anna had been right beside Nancy when she found the note, read it, shook her head in disbelief, and instantly threw the note into the fire they all used to snuggle beside in the winter, reading books or watching movies. Nancy never would tell Anna what the letter said. That made it even worse for Anna. She just couldn’t image any reason to make her father abandon her and her mother. She stayed locked in her room for days, hugging herself and crying. Finally her mother came into Anna’s room and told her that her father was a strong, honorable man, therefore there had to have been a very urgent matter to tear him away from his family. She told Anna that she could see her daddy’s strength in her, so she had to get out of bed and live her life. Anna always mentally debated whether her mother really believed that. But it had worked… Anna got up and helped Nancy with dinner, and the two began their new, man-less lives. Nancy had never remarried. Maybe she was as shy as Anna, but Anna didn’t think so. She knew her father had broken Nancy’s heart. That was probably the main reason that the mention of his name caused an intense burning sensation in Anna’s throat.

     “I need to take you to see your father,” Nathan said.

     Okay, who is this guy really?

     “How do you know my father?”

     “Look, I know this must be really hard for you, but we don’t have time right now. Please just get in the car.”

     Anna had always considered herself a very level-headed person. She hated breaking rules and strived to never put herself in dangerous positions. So it really surprised her when she found herself walking toward Nathan, ready to go wherever he took her.

     I’ve got pepper spray in my purse if I need it, plus that three months worth of defensive martial arts training…

     Deep down though, Anna knew she wouldn’t need to use either of those on Nathan. She knew somehow that she could trust him. And all she could focus on now was seeing her father after all these years.

     “Okay, I’ll come with you. Where are you parked?”

     “Actually,” he said, “we’ll need to take your car.”

     “Oh,” Anna muttered, and turned back towards the driver’s side door of her Chevy Tahoe.

     “Oh, uh… I think it would be better if I drove.”

     Anna gave him an “are you kidding me” look, then walked behind her car to the other side. They both got in and shut the doors. Anna put on her seatbelt and looked over at Nathan.

     “Well, aren’t you going to give me the keys?” he asked.

     “Right after you put on your seatbelt,” she retorted. She smirked as he gave her an annoyed expression and reached down to latch the belt across his lap. At least she had won at something this afternoon.