Sophie had no idea what she was doing. Things had gotten so out of hand in the last few hours. Watching her friends through the car window, she tried to think of something to do other than call her grandfather. He was a senile old man who lived alone on a run down farm in the middle of nowhere. After everything her mother had told her, was she really desperate enough to ask him for help?
Emily was standing, head hung low, staring at the ground. Sophie could hear Tasha talking to her in that low, calm voice she used when she was trying keep her temper under control. The last thing they needed right now was to have a fire storm come down on their heads. Emily looked up and Sophie saw a determined expression on Emilys usually timid and fearful countenance. The youngest and the smallest of the three of them, Emily gave new meaning to the word doormat. But from the way she looked now, Sophie thought maybe that was about to change. After all, she had left her husband, something they had been trying to convince her to do for ages. Standing up to and angering Tasha was not the best way to start though. Better get out there and diffuse things.
Normally the level headed and even tempered one, Sophie had to keep her own temper in check as she observed Tasha’s body language. Emily didn’t need to be threatened by anyone else, much less a friend. Skin tight black leather showed Tasha’s well-muscled arms and legs were tight with tension. Sophie stepped between the two women and looked into Tasha’s eyes. What she saw sent a shiver of fear down her spine. Normally ice blue, the irises were now ringed with red, and her pupils were completely dilated. From experience Sophie knew she had only seconds to get the situation under control or all hell would break loose. Literally. The smell of sulphur was already strong, and the heat radiating from Tasha’s body made standing so close uncomfortable. Sophie grabbed Emily’s arm and pulled her away several feet away.
“What did you say to her?”
“I just told her we were going to do things my way, not hers, and if she didn’t like it, that was too damn bad.” Emily said.
“You told her what? Are you crazy?” Sophie looked at Emily with shock. “Look at her eyes Em. You know better than anyone what she’s like. Why would you deliberately provoke her?”
“Things are changing Sophie, can’t you feel it?”
The sound of something hitting the side of the car brought Sophie’s attention back to Tasha. She watched as the redhead worked out her anger on the only thing available. As she pounded the SUV with both fists and boot clad feet, Sophie wondered what else besides Emily’s rather mild defiance had brought on the attack. Finally spent, Tasha slid down the side of the car, sitting on the ground, head in bloody hands. Emily joined her, putting an arm around her shoulders, and the juxtaposition of roles made Sophie’s head swim. Yes, things were definitely changing.
As a pair of headlights slowed and pulled in behind them, Sophie could only hope it was changing for the better.
I don’t believe this.
Claire slowed the truck. Up ahead, on the side of the road, sat a black SUV with hood up and steam pouring out. She could see two figures sitting on the ground, propped against the vehicle, and a third standing.
Should I stop?
She recalled the redhead’s last words. A thinly veiled threat, but one Claire somehow knew was real. But driving by was not really an option, her Good Samaritan streak was too strong. Looking at the GPS, she saw it was only a few miles to the next town. She could at least give them a ride, couldn’t she? Turning on her hazards, she pulled in behind them.
“You must be Sophie” Claire held out her hand to the woman standing. A disheveled brunette, dressed in an oversized sweatshirt and leggings, hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, the woman watched her warily. “My name is Claire. I met your friends back at the gas station.” Glancing at the other two, she took in the dented car and Tasha’s bloody fists, and thought better of offering a ride. “Do you need a phone to call someone?”
“I don’t know. Do we, Sophie?” Tasha said, her tone suggesting this was an old argument between the two.
“I guess we don’t have any other options now.” Sophie’s expression was one of defeat as she went to the car and retrieved her own phone. Walking several feet away, she dialed and turned from the group.
“Thanks for stopping.” Emily stood up.
“Well, I’ve been broken down before. Least I could do, after….” Claire let the words trail off, unsure of what to say. Emily’s face was now void of any evidence of abuse, not even a faded bruise. Maybe she had imagined it all. The migraine had been pretty intense, much worse than any she had experienced before. She didn’t know if hallucinations could be a symptom, but it was the only thing she could think of at the moment. But Emily still had on the torn clothing, and there was definitely a boot print on the front of the dress.
“I owe you an explanation.” Emily said as she self- consciously covered her abdomen.
“You don’t owe her anything.” Tasha was also now standing. “We don’t need your help, so just get back in your truck, and drive on. Remember what I told you in the bathroom?”
“I think I’ll stick around until help comes.” Not only did Claire have a Good Samaritan streak, she had a stubborn one as well. For some reason, Tasha’s attitude was bringing it out, against her better judgment. Well over six feet tall, the woman could make mincemeat of her with little effort. Claire stood her ground though and after a moment she heard the redhead mutter, “Your funeral.” under her breath as she stalked off.
“Forgive Tasha. She’s been under a lot of stress lately. Unfortunately my situation has only made it worse.” Emily said. “I wish I could say her bark is worse than her bite, but that wouldn’t be true.”
“What happened to her hands?” It wasn’t what she wanted to ask, but Claire felt it a safer subject.
“Lesser of two evils.”
Claire let it drop. Whatever was going on with these women, it was too much for her to deal with on top of her own problems. She would wait until whoever Sophie was calling showed up, then she would be back on her way to Vermont. Hopefully that would be soon. She was acutely aware of time slipping away. Sophie started walking back towards them, the look on her face not very encouraging.
“He’s not answering.” Sophie said, concern in her voice.
“So what do we do now?” Emily looked at Claire as if she expected her to have the answer.
“Um,I could give you a lift to the next town?” Claire said. “The cab of the truck is pretty roomy, I think we could all squeeze in.”
“Is there room in the back for all our stuff?” Tasha asked.
“Stuff?” Claire asked.
“Yeah, we all have luggage, and I’m not leaving mine here.” Tasha walked over to the back of the SUV and opened it. Designer suitcases were wedged in with duffel bags and gym totes. “So, how much room is in the back?”
“Not much. So I guess this wasn’t a spur of the moment thing then.” Claire tried to imagine where she was going to put it all. She had been determined to get as much of the supplies as possible, and the truck was crammed packed.
“What it is, is none of your business. You’re giving us a lift, that’s all.” Tasha narrowed her eyes at Claire.
“Knock it off Tasha. She’s going out of her way to help us, despite her own problems. The least you can do is be civil.” Emily said.
“Are your problems bigger than us running from a crazy man with mob connections, who would gladly kill me and Sophie and make Emily’s life even more of a living hell than it was?” Tasha asked Claire.
Something in Claire snapped. “Put that way, no. But almost everything in that truck is stolen, and in a few hours the police are going to be looking for me. So we can stand here on the side of the road and have a pissing contest, or we can load up your things and find you a motel to stay in. I need to get back on the road. So decide now. Take my help, or I’m out of here.” Surprised at herself, she waited for Tasha’s temper to flare.
Instead, the redhead gave her an appraising look. “Well, you should have told me that to start with.” She grabbed a bag and started to the back of the truck. “You gonna open this or what?”
Claire undid the lock and carefully raised the roll up door. Luckily nothing fell out. She had been rushed at the end, and had just shoved things in. “I think we can stick things up top. Getting them out again might be a problem, though.” She turned to see three faces all with the same incredulous expression.
“Who exactly did you steal from Claire?” Sophie asked.
Tasha stepped up on the back bumper and peered in. “Time to chit chat once we’re on the road. She’s right, there’s room up top. Start bringing things over and I’ll load them.” A wide grin lit her face. “Hey, Claire, I think you were suppose to take everything but the kitchen sink. I bet you have a very interesting story to tell.”
Claire couldn’t help but smile back as the other women began bringing over the luggage. Tasha hoisted them up with no trouble and soon just about everything was loaded. Emily and Sophie brought the next to last together, a large case that was obviously very heavy.
“What the fuck did you pack Em? This thing weighs a ton.” Tasha said as she unzipped it enough to reach in and pull out a shoe. “Shoes? Shoes!!! We’re running for our lives and you fucking pack high heel shoes?”
“Designer shoes. I couldn’t pull very much money out of the bank without alerting my husband. I thought maybe we could sell them. Most of them haven’t even been worn.”
Tasha continued to grumble, but she loaded it anyway. Claire walked back to the SUV for the last case, but Emily grabbed her hand before she could get it.
“That’s Tasha’s. No one touches it but her.”
“Oh,okay. What’s in it?”
“Did you say sword?”
“Yes, she did. A very old and valuable sword. Got a problem with that?’ Tasha carefully picked up the case and Claire watched as she slid it gently into a spot between the side of the truck and one of Emily’s Louis Vuitton suitcases. Satisfied it would ride safely, she closed the door and locked it.
“No, no problem. I guess you have an interesting story to tell as well.” Claire smiled at Tasha, but it was not returned, the scowl already back in place.
“Not really. Let’s get this show on the road already. Sophie, why don’t you try to call again? His place will be a lot safer than a motel. No way the old coot will turn us away.”
“I’ve tried three times. Still no answer. Tash,I’m worried. He never leaves the farm. Why wouldn’t he be there at 3 AM?” Sophie looked imploringly at Claire. “His place is closer than going into town. Could you take us there instead?”
“I guess so, if that’s what you want.” Claire said. Anything to get moving again.
All four women managed to get into the cab, but it was a tight fit. Emily was next to Claire, and Sophie was almost sitting in Tasha’s lap, but it wasn’t too uncomfortable. They rode in silence for a few miles, before someone asked the inevitable question.
“So, what’s the deal with you? You know our story, only fair we know yours.” Tasha said.
“That’s not really true. I only know a little bit of Emily’s story, and not that many details.”
“You first. You’re the one running from the law.” Tasha said.
“Okay. Short version. My boyfriend stole all my money and used it to buy his mistress a café. They were going to have the grand opening tomorrow, but I broke in and stole everything I could load by myself, and here I am. I have no clue what I am doing or where I’m going.”
“GPS says you’re going to Vermont. Who or what’s in Vermont?” Tasha looked at her with raised eyebrows.
Claire sighed with resignation. She had hoped to drop them off and leave without them knowing where she was heading. The less they knew, the less they could tell the police. She should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. “A cousin I haven’t seen in years. As far as I know she’s my only living relative. I’m hoping she will let me stay there without turning me in.”
“Think she might let four people stay there?” Tasha grinned. “Crazy grandpa is not really a long term solution to our problems. We all need a new start, and I bet Vermont is lovely this time of year.”
“Turn here.” Sophie said before Claire could think of an answer. Taking them all the way to Vermont didn’t seem like the best thing to do, but she would bet convincing Tasha of that wouldn’t be easy. They were now traveling down twisty country roads, and everyone became quiet, allowing her to concentrate on driving. After several more turns, Claire saw an open gate with a cattle guard and an ornate sign that said “Blissful Acres”. A gravel drive lined with apple trees lead to a two story farmhouse in the distance.
“This is it.” Sophie had a worried look on her face.
“What’s wrong?” Claire asked.
“I don’t know. Something just feels wrong. Em, are you picking up on anything?”
“It doesn’t work from this distance Sophie, you know that. Let’s just wait and see okay?” Emily’s voice was doing the weird calming thing again. Claire knew it was directed towards Sophie, but because she was so close, it was affecting her too. She felt warmth spreading from the woman, whose leg was pressed tight against hers. Making her way to the house, she tried to ignore it.
“You should pull around to the back, so the truck can’t be seen from the road.” Tasha said.
“Good idea.” The head lights showed a paved drive going around the side of the house and she followed it. An older model truck was parked to the side, leaving enough room for her to pull in beside it. She didn’t kill the motor, but sat and looked around. To the left was the house, and on the right security lights illuminated a walled garden. Directly ahead another gate, open also, leading to a large barn.
“What’s that?” Claire pointed to a dull glowing coming from the woods behind the pasture.
“Don’t know. Doesn’t look like a fire. Think your grandfather is out there Sophie? Might be why he didn’t answer.” Tasha said.
“Why would he be in the woods this time of night?”
“Let’s drive out there and see. Maybe he’s doing something illegal. We catch him in the act, he’ll have to help us, now won’t he?”
“Shouldn’t we check the house first?” Sophie looked at the darkened windows.
“Nyah, if he was in here, this loud ass truck would have woken him up. Let’s go Claire. Let’s see what Grandpa is up to.” Tasha said.
Claire looked at Emily, who was frowning. A different kind of heat was radiating from her now, and it wasn’t comforting. “Emily, you okay?”
“I think Tasha’s right, you should drive out there.” Emily’s voice was strange, and Claire felt compelled to obey. Putting the truck in gear she went through the gate and across the pasture. As she rounded the barn she could see another open gate and the tail end of a wooden wagon disappearing into the woods.
“Hurry Claire, we need to hurry.” Emily’s voice was tense.
Claire sped up as much as she dared, the uneven ground making it difficult to steer. Once through the gate, the terrain smoothed out, and she followed a dirt trail, barely wide enough for the truck, into the woods. As they came into a clearing, she saw the wagon slip into a large rectangle of light. Without warning, Emily put her foot on top of hers and pressed down, sending the truck speeding after it. As they entered the light, Claire once again heard the words, “Well, this is fucking great.”