“I think I’ll check on Hank,” I said. “See how far he’s come with the truck.”
“In a hurry to get out of here already?” Chuck smiled.
“No, not at all,” I chuckled. “But I do have to keep moving if I want to make that meeting in Houston.”
Chuck only nodded and disappeared back into the office. I stuck the unlit cigarette back into the pack and made my way to Hank’s.
Has it been two days already?” Hank asked when I stepped into the small garage. He had the hood of the Chevy up, but the real work seemed to be going into an old Ford Fairlane parked to one side. Tools littered the floor around it, and the engine hung dangerously above the hood, balanced on chains that seemed to groan in protest.
“Just checking up on the old girl,” I said.
Hank wiped his hands on his overalls and made his way to a desktop in the corner. His fingers flew across the keyboard at an impressive pace, and windows popped up and closed like a flash on the screen.
“Should be here in the morning,” Hank said, squinting as he read his invoice. “Like I said, UPS comes once a week. I could probably take my truck and pick it up if you’re in a hurry.”
“No hurry,” I said. “That’s fine.”
“Enjoying your stay so far?”
Hank slumped down in the chair in front of his computer and used his grease rag to wipe the sweat from his brow. Although the weather was warm outside, the garage itself felt like a furnace. I could already feel beads of sweat running down the line of my back.
“So far,” I smiled, when a sudden thought struck me. “That truck of yours, do you need it over the next few hours?”
“Thinking of going on a road trip, Mr. Ridder?”
I shook my head. “Want to check on a friend,” I said. “She hasn’t shown up today, and I’m a bit worried.”
Hank squinted at me for a few seconds, then nodded and tossed me a set of keys. “She gives a nasty kick when you start her up, so be careful,” he said.
“No problem,” he said. “Glad you’ve made friends so quickly.”
I waved and walked out the garage.
I drove the way to Ashlyn’s from memory alone, although I knew that if I stopped to ask for directions, I’d be pointed the right way. I didn’t need to do that, though. As soon as I was off the main road and had managed to find the dirt road with the red marker, it was a straight drive all the way up to her house.
Her truck was parked by the side of the house, the tarp drawn and the back empty. I pulled up beside it, peering through the windshield at the greenhouse in hopes of seeing her moving about inside. The plants made it impossible for me to make anything out, but either way, the door was closed with the padlock still hanging from outside.
Maybe Chuck’s right. She could still be asleep.
“Then there’s no harm in making sure, is there?” I asked myself as I climbed out of the truck and slammed the door behind me, hoping that the sound would announce my arrival before I knocked on the front door.
I had barely made it up the front porch when she stepped out, the screen door swinging closed behind her. She had her arms crossed over her chest, and her hair fell across half her face. She looked gorgeous, despite the fact that her smile seemed a little forced and her eyes didn’t shine as much as they had the other day.
You’re overstepping. You fucking idiot, maybe she didn’t want to see you today. Why are you acting like a love struck, high school nerd?
“Hey,” I greeted, stopping at the bottom of the porch steps.
“Morning, Sabbatical,” she joked, although I could see it wasn’t genuine. She was being nice, and I felt like a fool.
Turn around, go back to the motel, and remember that women chase you, not the other way around.
I ignored the voice in my head. I didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was because I had enjoyed her company. Maybe it was because I needed a friend who wasn’t humoring me because I was rich. Whatever it was, I felt like I would have chased her to the ends of Texas if I had to.
Which pissed me off. Just a little.
“Afternoon, actually,” I said. “Missed you at the motel this morning. Thought I’d check up on you.”