After a good five hours, Nathan got off the highway and started taking back roads. It was a little creepy since it was pitch-black by then. If Anna had been by herself, she’d have been blaring her favorite mixed CD, singing at the top of her lungs to distract herself from thinking about crazy, chainsaw-carrying nut jobs running out at her from the trees on either side of the road. But again, she felt really safe around Nathan. It was a very comforting feeling, but it bothered her a little too, because she didn’t know from where it was coming. Why should she feel safe with this stranger? She hadn’t felt this close to any man since her dad left. Anna looked out the window while she thought back to those last few weeks she spent with Paul. She remembered snuggling up with him in a nook by the window every time it rained. They both loved to read, and they would lay there for hours on end enjoying good books and each other’s company. She felt so safe and secure in her father’s arms. But when he left, that feeling vanished, and Anna never thought she’d be able to feel it again with any man. So it really confounded her that it could happen with a guy about which she knew nothing. She had no connection to him besides this crazy trip they were on. But it didn’t feel that way to Anna.
Shake it off, girl. You need your wits about you right now, she thought to herself.
“You’re not getting tired or anything, are you?” she asked Nathan as a way to distract herself. He had been driving for several hours straight, and she didn’t want her loco joyride to end with them swerving into a tree.
He looked over at her and grinned again. “No, I’m fine… thanks for asking.” He turned his eyes back to the road, but after a moment a quizzical expression came across his face.
“What is it?” Anna asked him. He shook his head slightly and peeked over at her quickly.
“I just can’t imagine what’s going through your head right now,” he said.
“Mmm,” was all she could say. The truth was that there were so many things going through her mind that it was giving her a headache. Confusion, resentment, worry, excitement, a little fear, attraction (she glanced over at Nathan for half a second and turned back when she felt herself starting to blush). She wondered how she wasn’t going crazy with all the stuff rolling around in her head.
“How much longer ‘til we get there,” she asked.
“Ummm… just another hour or so,” he responded.
Anna looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was close to 1:00 am Alabama time, and she was pretty sure they’d crossed to Eastern time by now.
“Is anyone going to be awake when we get there?” she asked. She was suddenly very nervous about reaching their destination. Who all would be wherever they were going? Would it just be her father? Did he have a whole new family now? That thought made her really angry. She had pondered that before, but the fact that she would actually know the answer in an hour’s time intensified the hurt of it. Nathan gave a little chuckle.
“I’m sure at least a few people will be awake,” he said.
Oh no, he does have a whole new family, she thought. Her shock must have shown on her face because Nathan glanced over and did a double-take.
“Oh, don’t worry, Anna. Everyone’s really nice. It’ll be okay, I promise,” Nathan assured her. She tried to look more at ease so that he wouldn’t keep going. She really didn’t want to think of how nice her Dad’s new family was. That just made her feel worse. Why did Paul even send for her if he was so happy with his new life? She stared out the window quietly for the rest of the trip, trying to envision what her new half-brothers and sisters looked like.
After about fifty minutes, they passed a sign welcoming them to Cope. Anna didn’t know what she was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what she saw. After a few miles of cow pastures and cotton fields, they finally made it to the one and only traffic light in town. There were no shopping malls. No Starbucks. Not even a grocery store.
This is where Dad went when he left us? she thought. They took another turn in a mile or so onto Brandi Lane. There was a light in the distance that Anna felt must be their destination… especially since it was the only thing besides the stars that she could see out here in the boonies. Sure enough, Nathan pulled into a long driveway right beside the light. Fear and nervousness gripped Anna’s stomach as she got ever closer to her father. She was too distracted to notice the light blow out behind her.