As Cody sat on the cracked seat at the back of the bus, jostled by the jerky movement of the nearly worn-out vehicle, he couldn’t get her off his mind. He kept seeing her smile, hearing her throaty laugh at his flimsy excuse for jokes. He could still feel the softness of her fragrant hair and feel the warmth of her in his arms.
But mostly he could see the hurt in her eyes – the confusion and – yes – he was sure it had been fear. He shook his head now at those memories. He shouldn’t have taken off like that. He shouldn’t have given up so easily – shouldn’t have left her in the clutches of that family of vipers!
He’d known what their attitude would be towards him. He’d grown up in the gypsy caravans – no confirmed lineage as far as a father was concerned – and the best he’d been able to do for work was traveling tool salesman for the local company. He knew as well as her relatives that he didn’t deserve someone like her. Of course he didn’t. But then who did deserve someone as wonderful as Tess?
Besides, deserving didn’t have anything to do with it. It was love that mattered, and there wasn’t another man alive who could love Tess Montague better than he did!
But she had to make the choice. He couldn’t choose for her. And she had lived almost 30 years doing exactly what Mom and Daddy – and Granddad – told her to do. They held the purse strings, but that wasn’t what put the pressure on Tess. He knew that. No – it was the emotional stranglehold they had on her. That guilt trip they always laid on her any time she wanted to be independent in any way at all. He shook his head again. He knew she wasn’t strong enough to get free from them by herself. Why had he given up?
Well, for one thing, she had held back when he asked her point blank if she loved him. He’d confessed his love for her repeatedly for weeks, but she’d never say it back to him. She looked at him with love in her eyes. And goodness knows, the woman kissed him like she couldn’t get enough of him! But she wouldn’t say the words. And it would take words to make her his wife. It would take words to tell that lordly Brewster Harrison, Jr. that she wasn’t going to have him as her husband, regardless of Granddad’s threat to disinherit her if she didn’t marry Brewster.
But if he had stayed a little longer …. He couldn’t help but wonder if it would have made any difference.
He shifted his position sideways and stretched out his legs since the other half of the seat was empty. He sighed and leaned back thinking that his staying wouldn’t have helped. Tess just didn’t have the strength to choose him over all the rest. As the last thought weighed him down in spirit, he glanced to his left to look outside the rear window of the bus.
What the …! What was he seeing? He blinked … rubbed his eyes … strained to look again.
Was it …? Could it be possible …? Running after this bus for all she was worth …?
By golly … the woman did have the guts to do it!
He jumped up and stalked down the narrow aisle of the bus to the drivers seat. “Hey, buddy, I gotta get off!” The driver glanced in the rear-view mirror to get a look at him. “I gotta git off NOW!”
“I can’t make a stop out here in the middle of the road, mister!”
“You got to. The woman I love is runnin’ down the road after us, and I gotta go to her!” As he spoke the last words, he was already standing on the steps with his hand on the automatic door. “If you won’t stop, I’ll force these doors open and jump!”
The driver spared him a disgusted glance and saw more determination than he could fight against, so he put on his flashers and pulled over to the shoulder, shocking the other passengers into voicing their irritation. “You better get off quick, ’cause I can’t sit here!” he ordered.
Cody punched the air with a “thumbs-up” sign, and the second the door opened he and his suitcase were on the ground. A quick salute to the driver was all he managed before the bulky vehicle lumbered away, with all gears grinding and a thick cloud of exhaust fumes burning Cody’s nostrils.
But he didn’t really notice. Because as soon as the cloud of exhaust cleared enough for him to see through the haze, Tess was all that filled his mind. She had run until she had collapsed to her knees, and she obviously had no breath left to speak. But she was beautiful. And her eyes told him everything he needed to know.
If you enjoyed this story, you might like the companion story — Tess’ side of the story — which I wrote for the Friday Fictioneers challenge this week. Here’s the link to the story from Tess perspective: “Racing for a Second Chance”
Lungs burning, gulping breath, she could hardly see.
Keep running: her mantra.
The bus was gaining speed rapidly.
Keep running. Have to catch it! Have to stop him!
Best thing in whole life … How could I …?
But submission to her family’s pride was a life-long habit – nearly impossible to break.
You’re making a fool of yourself.
I AM a fool: I let him go!
The bus suddenly screeched to a stop … pulled away again.
Too spent to chase it further, she dropped to her knees, squinting through the exhaust fumes.
He stood there, suitcase in hand.
She had no breath for words, but her eyes said it all.
I wrote this story for this week’s Friday Fictioneers, hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. But I also wrote the other side of the story — from the guy’s point of view — for the new writing challenge — AS I SAT ON THE BUS — over at Bumba’s blog.