To catch up on the last few episodes:
Fiction Relay — Part 23 (by me)
Fiction Relay — Part 24 (by Hasty Words)
Fiction Relay — Part 25 (by The Reclining Gentleman)
Fiction Relay — Part 26 (by Ted)
Fiction Relay — Part 27 (by KC)
To catch up on the entire story:
The rumble against her back changed. The semi slowed, and then Suzi was jolted side-to-side in the sleeper-bed as they took a sharp turn and rolled to a stop. Never having fallen asleep, she sat up and swung her legs to the floor of the cab. “Where are we?”
“Nashville. Time to break for dinner before we keep on keepin’ on. I gotta make Mobile before I shut it down for the night. There’s a place around the corner here — walking distance — makes the best ribs this side of Texas. Sound good?” Wrinkles in the driver’s weathered face deepened as he gave an amicable grin. His name was Cal, and she felt calm around him. She smiled back. Despite the still-blue sky of late-May, the dashboard clock read six p.m. The thought of food did sound good. But….
“Yup. That’s where I’m headed.”
An odd sensation came over her, and her smile faded. She didn’t have a particular destination in mind, but something about “Alabama” didn’t feel right.
“I don’t think I can go that way,” Suzi said. She knew it must sound strange — especially after she’d said she’d go wherever he was headed — but she didn’t have any way to explain herself to Cal, who’d been kind enough to drive her for the past three and a half hours. She frowned. “I’m sorry.”
Misunderstanding her, though, Cal chuckled and nodded. “That’s okay, I feel you. There’re three states I can’t show my face in, and a fourth I don’t try, either. Just in case.” He winked. “Guess this is the end of the line then, huh?” He climbed out of the cab and helped her down.
“Thanks. Here, how much do I owe you?” She reached into her bag, the durable, now-unlined bag that used to hold the map, but he waved her off.
“Nah, save it. You might need it.” He locked his truck and gave her a nod. “Good luck wherever you wind up.”
Suzi stared after him as he strode off. Wherever she wound up…? Uncertainty settled, sending tremors of hyper-awareness along her skin. She was running, but she had no idea where she was going. She was alone. And clueless.
Panic simmered beneath her sudden sense of isolation, and she began to wander. Through the truck-stop’s parking lot, past the gas station, and into a nearby burger joint. She stood in line, but when her order came there was nowhere to sit. She picked her way between tables, searching, and feeling more and more uncomfortable. The place was packed with over-the-road truckers and bikers, a tough-looking, mostly-male crowd.
“Hey, girrrlie,” a large man with a long, grizzled, red beard slurred near her. “You need a sssseat? I got one riiii’ here!” He scooted his chair out and patted his lap. Suzi shied away, but the man grabbed her arm and pulled her over. He smelled like beer. Her stomach churned.
“That’s okay,” Suzi said, wrenching her arm out of his grasp. “I’ve decided to sit outside.”
The man’s two, equally-burly companions laughed. This seemed to spur him on, as though he had something to prove.
“No, rrrreally, sweetnessss!”
He grabbed her again, with surprising speed for as drunk as he was, and pulled her down to his lap. The tray she’d been holding, with her burger and Diet Coke, went flying. But Suzi barely noticed. Instead, memories of Raj from earlier that evening surfaced: his leering face…, knowing he was going to take what she didn’t want to give…, his thoughts creeping over her skin, removing her clothes…, his hands beginning to paw her body…!
“No!” Suzi shouted. Heat pulsed through her, crackling like lightning from her core to her extremities. And he was gone. They were all gone. It was dark. The man was gone, the people were gone… no, wait!
A low, familiar rumble shook her. Suzi blinked. She was the one who was gone.
She was in the sleeper-bed of a semi again, but the curtain was closed. She sat up and peeked through a crack in the fabric. The truck was just pulling out of the rest-stop and onto the highway. A sign said I-40 West. That wasn’t the way to Alabama. In fact, it felt like she was supposed to be going this way, headed west.
But then she shifted and looked left, at the driver. It wasn’t Cal. Suzi gasped.
Suddenly the driver pulled out his iPhone and punched a few buttons. Suzi froze. He heard me! He’s calling the police!
She didn’t know how she’d managed to port from the restaurant to here — somewhere she’d never been, with someone she didn’t know — but she did know that she couldn’t afford to get caught. She had to keep going. Being detained by the police would slow her down, and there was no one she could call for help. Ephraim’s connections with law enforcement would make him the logical choice, but she didn’t want anyone else involved. Too dangerous. She had to keep them all away from this, especially Sammy, though she ached to see her baby girl, with her pretty blonde hair. Sammy would be fifteen now.
And Daniel — Sam — who she’d named their child after. She’d missed him so much all these years! And with the memories coming back, her heart yearned for him even more, as though she could close the gap to him with her desire. She could almost sense the warmth of his body, almost feel the crush of his lips pressed to hers, almost melt into his moss-green gaze, almost hear his voice… I love you…!
She shut down her mind. I love you, I love you! She loved him too much. She wouldn’t involve him. Even if it meant she had to lose him.
Because Melissa was still out there.
Ephraim and Sam might have her contained, but Suzi knew all too well how clever Melissa was. And bitter. And now she knew how dangerous. If Suzi was detained by the police, for any length of time, she was as good as dead. And that couldn’t happen. Not yet.
All of these thoughts raced through Suzi’s mind in a fraction of a second, followed by the imminent need to escape. She braced herself to try to port out of the moving vehicle.
But then the driver set the phone down on his console, and Brad Paisley started crooning from the truck’s speakers. The driver warbled right along with Brad. The driver, she realized, had only been fiddling with his playlist. He didn’t know she was there.
Quietly, carefully, she shifted into a dark corner and lay on her side, hugging her knees. She tried to stay awake, but this time exhaustion and the rumble of the engine won out. Suzi drifted into a fitful sleep as the semi cruised westbound on I-40, and into the night.
Okay, Hasty, on to you…! 🙂