The Long Road Home(11)

By: H.D. Thomson

A craving for something more out of life, a need for a family, a lover, a confidante to whom she could tell her most intimate thoughts slithered into her consciousness.

Exhaustion finally forced her back to bed.


She woke to pounding on her door.


“Damn,” she muttered, battling the covers that entangled her limbs. She balled her hands into fists and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“Are you ready?” John asked from the other side of the door. “Meet me at the Ford in ten minutes!”

“Just give me a second!”

Quickly, she brushed her teeth and combed her hair. She pulled on a white sleeveless turtleneck, black jeans and matching army boots. Then she stuffed her old clothes into her carryall and went to the office to pay for her room. Fifteen minutes after John’s wake-up call, she paused at the lobby’s doors, catching sight of the Explorer with Vivian and John waiting by its side. Taking a deep breath, she slung her overnight bag and purse over a shoulder and strode to the Explorer. Sweat trickled down the side of her face, and her leg pounded with every step. She was tempted to say the hell with the pretense. But the image of John looking at her with distaste and pity lifted her chin and stilled her tongue.

“What happened to you? Are you sick?” John helped her thrust the bag through the Explorer’s open hatch. “You look worse than yesterday.”

“I’m fine.”

He stood by the open door of the driver’s side in scuffed boots, low slung jeans, and a faded navy blue t-shirt. His well-worn pants were bleached almost white at the knees and seams. A disreputable hole slashed across one knee. The sun glittered off his blue-black hair, still wet from a morning shower. A healthy flush warmed his cheeks. He looked so damn fit and handsome. Clarisse found it disgusting.

“I’m fine,” Clarisse repeated. Realizing she sounded cross, she made an effort to lighten her voice. “I didn’t get much sleep. I have a hard time adjusting to a strange bed.”

Clarisse scrabbled awkwardly into the back seat. Vivian turned around and wrinkled her nose. “You look absolutely terrible! Maybe you’ve got some type of virus after all. Do you think you should see a doctor?”

Jaw tensing, Clarisse controlled her temper. She told herself Vivian wasn’t trying to be offensive. “I’m fine.”

“Well, if I didn’t run to the store last night with John, I’d look sick, too.” Vivian pursed her lips. “I had to buy an entire new supply of makeup. John forgot one of my bags. And of course, it was my most important one.”

“I picked up everything sitting by your front door.” John grabbed the wheel and slid into the front seat. He slammed the door shut behind him.

“Well, obviously you missed one.” Vivian subsided in her seat. “That bag didn’t just have my makeup. It had my dress for the wedding. We’ll have to stop someplace—maybe Dallas or Phoenix—so I can get a new one.”

“That might delay us for almost a half-day,” Clarisse felt compelled to say.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I need a dress. I didn’t bring another that’s suitable for a wedding.” The seat bounced as Vivian flung her head back against the headrest.

“You could have Susan mail it to San Diego,” John said.

Vivian snorted. “I can’t trust her. She probably won’t put enough postage on it!”

“Like I told you last night, I’ll figure something out.”

“Does anyone have a map I can look at?” Clarisse broke in. Sticking her nose into the fray was preferable than listening to any more of Vivian’s complaints.

In the rearview mirror, she caught John’s gaze. He seemed almost grateful as he nodded. “There’s one—”

“We should have just flown,” Vivian interrupted. “It would have made everything so much easier. We’d be there by now.”

“You know I didn’t want to fly. I’ve got some extra time right now, and I’m not going to pass up a perfect opportunity to take some shots of the country on the way back, try something different than portraits and the like.” John’s voice lowered and turned deceptively soft, a sure sign that he was angry. “And I’m sorry you find the whole situation distasteful, but you’re going to have to live with it until we get to San Diego.”