Contemporary fiction. Women’s fiction. Contemporary romance. Photo by Lawrence Walters.
I stand next to his truck but make no move to get in. “I’d like to take my car if that’s okay. Then I wont’ have to give directions every two minutes.” It wasn’t that I was testing Jake. But I was curious to know if he were the type of guy to be annoyed when he wasn’t the one in charge.
When he opens the door to his truck, I think I have my answer, but he reaches in, grabs a camera bag off the seat and a pair of Tom Fords from the visor. “Why not?” he says, giving me a grin as if to say, I know exactly what you’re up to, lady.
But what he says is, “thank you. That’ll make it easier for me to take photos and notes.” He squints his eyes at me before he slides his shades onto his face. “You promise you won’t ditch me in the middle of a field somewhere?”
“I don’t think you’d have any trouble finding your way out if I did?”
“True,” Jake says, chuckling. We’ve stopped in front of the garage, and he surveys the options. “I’d guess that you’re more a ‘wind in my hair’ kind of girl than ‘air con full force, so…Jeep?”
I stare at the Wrangler, the olive-green paint and khaki canvas top wrapped up in memories of my grandfather, tan and broad-shouldered, grinning at me as he took off from every stop sign and stoplight as if he were a Formula One driver. I swallow the lump in my throat. The thought of taking it hadn’t occurred to me. When I came in here to empty the trash or take Therese’s car, I never looked directly at the Wrangler; its presence crackling like static on the edges of my consciousness as though my grandfather would materialize, bloody and dead at the wheel if I looked at it head-on.
“Uh… would you mind taking the lid off and setting it over there?” I point toward a space near the wall. “I forgot to grab my keys.”
“Sure,” he says, but I don’t miss the flash of curiosity in Jake’s eyes.
Instead of walking into the house from the garage to snag the keys I knew would be hanging just inside, I go toward the front door, giving myself more time to think. I’m rounding Jake’s truck when Therese startles me, walking down from the porch. The keys to the Jeep jingle from her hand.
“I couldn’t imagine the two of you driving off in my Lexus,” she says by way of explanation.
I suddenly feel uneasy. “Grandma…first grandfather’s boots, now, his Jeep…”
Her eyes mist over, and I could kick myself. “Just because he reminds me of your grandfather, doesn’t mean I’ve misplaced my feelings or that I’ve grown too attached.”
She gives me a reproachful look that makes me smile. “Okay,” I say softly.
“But I am rooting for him.”
I shake my head with dismay but hug her. “Oh, I know.”
The drive down the bluff is a quiet one. It doesn’t feel as weird as I thought it would, sitting behind the wheel, but I’m thankful that driving a stick shift takes so much of my concentration. It’s been at least nine months since I’d driven one, but then, I’d never been a very smooth operator anyway.
It must be evident to Jake just how focused I need to be because he doesn’t even attempt conversation with me. I feel slightly annoyed about this because as much as I don’t feel like talking to Jake, I dislike even more the sense that he might be laughing at me behind his sunglasses.
As we jerk to a stop at the bottom of the bluff, prepare to turn onto Main Street, Jake lets out a dramatic breath as though he’s been holding it since he got in the car. “I would never have agreed to you driving if I’d known that you barely passed driver’s ed.”
I turn away from the road to narrow my eyes at him and then look through the windshield, deliberately jamming my foot against the accelerator as I do, causing Jake’s head to hit the back of his seat. I grin with satisfaction as I hear his sharp intake of breath this time.
“Apologies,” he says, but the chuckle lurking beneath the surface is unmistakeable, which makes me less annoyed with him somehow. It’s kind of hard not laughing, and a little snort escapes. I stop with a jolt in front of the Vermeer Public Library and park us under a shady tree with roots that have been slowly pushing up and against the sidewalk in front of the building for years. I dab at my forehead. It already feels like the temperature has reached the expected high of eighty-five degrees with a thousand percent humidity.
Jake takes off his sunglasses, and we look at each other. His toffee colored eyes (weren’t they more greenish last night?), contain amusement and I feel self-conscious.
“What?” I say.
He raises his hands in self-defense. “I just find you extremely entertaining.”
And I find you extremely condescending! I want to shoot back.
I unbuckle my seatbelt then reach for the bag I’ve stashed in the back. Last night, my only plan had been to give Jake precisely what he asked for—nothing more, and nothing less. I’d highly doubted Jake would take his nine-hour tour request literally and I was fairly sure we’d be driving back up the bluff by lunchtime.
But after the revelations of the morning, I wasn’t so sure how I wanted to proceed. My grandfather’s last gift had taken me back to a time when I wasn’t cynical and hurt--when all I could see were possibilities--when I’d felt free to dream and to create. I thought starting the day at the library, showing Jake some of the town history, might put things into sharper focus for me.
I place my hand on the driver’s side door, already looking forward to cooling off in the AC when I realize Jake hasn’t moved. I lean back in my seat, flinching from where the sun has already been in touch. “What?”
He shakes his head, runs his hand through the front of his hair straight to the back of his neck, rubbing it as though he has a crick in it. “I’d like to be your friend, Olivia, even if it’s just for the day. You don’t have to be defensive around me.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Friends don’t manipulate friends into giving information they don’t want to give, nor do they use sweet little grandmothers like emotional chattel to get what they want.”
Jake leans his head back against the seat and looks at me sideways. “Hey, you’re the one that’s making this whole thing personal, not me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He faces me head on, and in the sunlight, I see the smallest smattering of freckles across his nose. “You’re not selling any of your property because of some grudge you hold against the town, isn’t that right? They didn’t know what was good for them when your grandfather was alive, and they squandered their opportunities. Now he’s gone, and you secretly hope this entire town rots and goes to hell.”
I feel my face going hot. “I never said I wanted anyone to go to hell.”
“But I got everything else right, didn’t I?” And he says this so gently, a lump rises in my throat. If he made me cry, I’d be even more pissed than I already was.
I throw my head back and look up through the canopy of branches and lush green leaves to the sky. If he wanted to sweat to death out here rather than cool-off inside, what did I care? “My grandfather didn’t ‘just die,’ he had a fatal car accident not a mile from his house because the town didn’t want to spend the money on a guardrail that mostly benefited the tiny percentage of people who live up on the bluff. Even after my grandfather offered to pay for it, they refused to have it done.”
I drag my eyes back to Jake. “Look, you’re right. I do have a grudge. This town used to mean everything to me, but now I don’t know what it means or how it fits into my life. Therese gives me this letter from my grandfather I didn’t know even existed until yesterday, tells me I own everything, and then….” I bite my lip. “He asks me to move here. Can you believe that? Move here and ‘rehabilitate’ this town. Follow my dreams. What dreams? I want to be a writer. What is there to write about in this town? And on top of all that…there’s you.” I have to stop my blabbering at this point because I feel an irrational desire to cry and I will not cry in front of Jake Hurst. I have to look away because he hasn’t turned away once. His gaze is so steady, so sure. “That look!” I say, accusation flying out of my mouth. “That look you have! As though you know what you want and how you’re going to get it. It’s irritating, you know that? So of course I had to tell you ‘no’ yesterday. I don’t even know what I want but I knew I didn’t want to give you what you wanted.”
The silence is heavy now and regret soaks me from head to toe. Why did I say so much? Why isn’t he saying anything?
When Jake reaches over and covers my hand with his, I freeze. My hand had been resting lightly on the steering wheel, but his touch grounds me in place like an electric current. I stare down at where our hands meet, not sure how to feel or what to do.
Jake’s voice is low, and rumbling when he speaks.. “Hey, thank you, for being honest. I’m sure that was hard for you to share. You have a lot to think about and I’m sorry you feel so much pressure.”
His hand slips off of mine and I can breathe again and lift my eyes.
“I’m a good guy, I am. Despite my family money and my…” he cringes, “sense of entitlement. I have dreams too. There are things I’d like to do on my own, away from my name. And believe it or not, there is something about this town that calls to me. So…can we give each other the benefit of the doubt? You won’t assume I’m out to turn this town into some cookie-cutter resort town that in no way resembles Tomahawk Hill and I won’t assume you’re making emotional choices that have no basis in fact or reason?”
I blink. The man was absolutely the most irritatingly charming person I had ever met.
“You know, I was liking you there for a second.”
Jake chuckles, finally unbuckling his seatbelt. “Yeah well, I know you’re not ready to fully accept me yet so, thought I might as well say what was on my mind.”