Sunlight peaked in and out from the clouds; the aluminum bus strolled along the country roadside, bumping and jumping at the slightest indent in the poorly kept road. Majestic hillsides rolled in the distance, stretching up the heavens, seeking a refuge and something she refused to even acknowledge. She marveled at the continued peace and solace she found within the countryside; sometimes it made her wonder why she had ever left the place in the beginning. She shook her head. The answer was quite clear.
Alice had simply wanted to break loose and experience the world. Wanting to get away from such vast amounts of wide open green pastures of nothing more than miles and miles that stretched onward for what seemed like an eternity of greenness. With a sigh of resignation, she leaned back on the padded seat and decided to take in the view of the countryside. White clouds as crisp as clean linens dotted the bright blue sky, just meagerly hiding the sun that seemed hell bent on escaping from behind their shadows.
Pine trees and spruce trees dotted the horizon, seemingly at peace with the gentle sway of the wind. Far beyond the hills a dark storm erupted, threatening to come southward more, she shrugged silently to herself, a southern storm was unpredictable and could pass as fast as it came. Lake Edenton came into view, she smiled a bit; the lake had seen many tragedies and many good memories. Its waters were deep in some places, shallow in others but the whole lake was blue like the ocean.
She remembered asking her mother if the lake was natures doing or if people had made it, she laughed at the memory. “Mommy? Mommy! Did Mother Nature make this lake or did peoples do it?” She remembered staring wide-eyed into her mother’s soft gentle face, her sapphire eyes gleaming with interest. Her mother had simply smiled and, giggled at her daughter’s wagging head, “of course Mother Nature made this lake, Alice. She gives us many things.” She wagged her finger at her small daughter, “Don’t you go and forget it now.”
Classical music crackled through the speakers, sending an involuntarily shudder through her body. Music, she ground her teeth at the very sound of the word, it still brought pain and hate to her heart. What a stubborn bastard that man was. Alice gave a small chuckle at the memory of him staring at her like he had suddenly awoken next to a complete stranger who had a terrible disease that he might very well catch. He had no business invading her solace and peace she was seeking.
She had been too trustworthy, too loving and too giving. Too many too’s, she conceded. The bastard could rot in hell for all she cared. He was content with the way things turned out in the divorce, he walked away with half of her earnings in the last seven years, she smirked at the way he turned; the last time she seen him. Aye, she conceded, he got half my earnings but not before I sent him away with his tail between his legs.
Her mind suddenly focused on the small duster town that came into view, the heart of her life and upbringing. Alice couldn’t help but feel a bit of joy at seeing the place. A place where time and age stood at the boarders held at bay by townsfolk as stubborn as a mule; bent on keeping tradition and history; to hell with the rest of the world.
Metal against metal grinding against each other met her ears as the bus pulled to a stop and she grimaced. The seat heaved and puffed, relieved to have finally have been free of her weight and she clucked her tongue. The narrow “walkway” down the bus aisle was little more than half a meter wide and six meters long. Alice eyed the bus driver curiously as she stood on her tippy toes trying her hardest to gain footing enough to open the damned suitcase holder above her seat. The button gave way and sent a cascade of suitcases billowing down on Alice.
“What the fu-” Alice blinked quickly, her heart caught in her throat. The bus driver eyed her but said nothing. She forced a startled laughter and smiled. “Guess I should be more careful.”
“That might be wise,” was all he had offered.
Alice heaved a deep sigh, quickly rubbing her forehead, what a headache. With what little strength she had left in her body, she gathered her suitcases, and carefully but expertly weaved her way down the aisle that seemed like hell squeezed into a tiny compartment. Sweat and oil intruded Alice’s nostrils the moment she stepped off the bus, but she welcomed it. What she didn’t welcome was the bus driver sputtering curses in French at her as if she were a child. Steam rose up from the bus, clearly it was too damn hot out and she too low on patience to put up with jerks who hated the world and blamed it for their lives turning out to be utter shit.
Donald Patrick’s store stood on the other side of the dirt road where she stood. Alice nibbled on her lower lip, debating whether she should bother the old man to use his phone or buck up and walk to her grandparent’s house. She hung her head for a moment, only letting the fatigue sit in for a brief second and then deciding she should call her grandparent’s to see if they could arrange for someone to pick her up. With the gracefulness of a cat, she picked her suitcases up and walked with purposeful, powerful strides.
The store opened unto what she expected it would. Old withered furniture, almost as old as the town itself, stood against a far wall below antique paintings that held a sadness of its own and only someone from the town would understand it. She stared at them longingly, feeling a sense of loss and shame. Dim light escaped from the dainty small lamp that sat on the counter, and Donald himself stood staring at her as if she were no more than an apparition that had materialized out of nowhere.
The old man cleared his throat, a tight smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “Miz Alice?” His eyes twinkled when she nodded gravely at him, “my word!” Donald bustled around the counter, hurrying to stand before her. “Well hello, child. It sure has been ages since you been down here.”
Alice smiled at the old man; he was an old coot unto himself, but a sweet, smart old coot non-the-less. She respected the man, for he was everything a southern gentleman stood for. “It sure has, Mr. Patrick.” She blinked, and fidgeted with the solid silver ring on her right hand. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if she could use his phone when a commotion started from behind her.
Instantly the voice registered to none other than Keith Gordon. She remembered him all too well. The bad boy, a reputation that sent mother’s shrieking at the thought of their daughters being around him, even a priest would have had a hard time listening to him confess without feeling awkward. She remembered all too well the way he touched, the way he tasted- The emotional door slammed shut. She couldn’t go there. She was too fragile to even begin to dig into her past.
“Donald, what’cha got a woman standing ‘ere for? She ain’t makin’ herself useful.” He whistled through his teeth, admiring her long hair as it swayed just above her hips. A woman of fine taste, he chuckled to himself, his eyes glinting a dim evil. “What’cha doin’ here, sugar?”
“Clearly none of your business, Keith.” She spat through her clenched teeth. She hated the venom and hate he could rise in her, even after all these years the pain had only been pushed aside, the embers merely banked but not doused; the way she thought it had. She had painstakingly fallen head over heels in love with the man and he had thrown it in her face brutally.
“Keith, my boy,” Donald chimed in, clearly sensing the discomfort in the woman who stood before him. “What can I do for you?”
He all but chuckled. His lazy drawl seemingly impossible, “why, what I could do for is havin’ a ride by this fine lady right ‘ere.”
Alice breathed deep, hoping to find calmness… strength… anything to avoid looking into his eyes she had once trusted… and loved, she added with a heart sickening thought. She could do nothing more than stare into the eyes of the old man in front of her, she focused on his eyes which were a soft brown, gentle like a beagles, compassion and understanding shining through them. He had aged considerably over the last ten years, but it still held his pride and a handsome face. If she hadn’t been so shaken up by the thought of having Keith stand behind her, she would have told Donald just that. He had aged with ease and he looked good for his age. The coward in her told her to stand with her back to Keith, while damning him to hell for hurting her so bad.
“Hey sugar,” he drawled on, “you mute?
“Why you little-” she spun on her heel and glared into his eyes, which were well above her by several inches. Even as he stood towering over her, she stood her ground and gritted her teeth. She wiggled a finger at him, as if he were nothing more than a pesky schoolboy caught red handed and she the teacher. “First, I am not ‘sugar’, secondly, I will not be giving you any ride, except a ride straight to hell, which in my mind, is better than what I truly want to do to you, and thirdly, I am not a mute. As you can see I can talk, you-you-” she suddenly caught herself, what could say that she hadn’t already said to him before? Jerk? Asshole? Son of a bitch? Heartbreaker? She shook her head fiercely from side to side.
“Ah,” he laughed, a sly grin twitching to escape and spread over his handsomely tanned face. “Alice LaMotte,” he chuckled and shook his head, hardly believing his eyes. “I should have guessed it was you and your snippy attitude.”
“Snippy?” Alice blinked in disbelief and ground out an emotion she refused to name. “Who are you to call me snippy? Of all the things I’ve been called,” she shook her head sadly, quickly averting her gaze from his and staring instead outside the small window. She silently pleaded for a shred of sanity and pride, she notched her tiny chin up an inch and met his golden intense gaze, “go back to your… your whatever you do.”
Keith grinned a devious grin as he leaned down to her, “ah but what I do ‘ere is seduce pretty ladies like yourself,” he laughed a sour laugh, he still remembered. He had long let go of his thoughts of a future with her, he had them but they were fleeting and disappeared quickly when she ran off to the city to pursue a more rewarding lifestyle; he had forgotten about her, until now. Keith could care less about his audience, he hardly cared about the scowl that Alice wore and the way her mouth had turned upside.
“You disgusting pig,” she shrieked when his words had finally registered. He only laughed and stared intently into her eyes. Alice shuddered inward, the thought that she had lost her innocence to this barbarian was like the dreams you had when you were six, being a princess or being an astronaut; they were almost too imaginary to be true. But she had. Curiosity had made her get into the truck with him after the dance, she had been sixteen, young enough and naïve enough to think he would be with her forever; so she gave him her virginity without a second thought. And he had so carelessly thrown her away a year later too. With that in mind, she batted her hand in front of her as if she had smelt something foul and wanted to get away from it. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Donald smiled brightly as Alice turned back to him, “now, how can I help you?”
She laughed, it was stupid of course, Keith stood not two feet behind her, but hell it was funny. Donald had watched as a warzone started in his little shop and quietly observed without judgment and had said nothing about it afterwards. Her spirits lifted a tad and she smiled. “Could I use your phone, Mr. Patrick?”
“Of course, of course,” he nodded towards the ancient looking phone sitting beside the cash register. Alice moved towards the counter, and left him standing eye to eye with the man who wasn’t a man at all; but an animal reined in by a very fine thread, eager to escape at any moment. Pulling his lips into a straight, tight line, he turned and stalked away.
Keith stared at the woman who carefully cradled the phone with her hand, quietly examining her and what type of woman she had become. He hadn’t seen her in, what? Six, seven years? Her attitude had only become sharper, like a double edged dagger, ready to strike at any moment and even now, he could see the stiffness settling around her shoulders. He grinned, she felt his gaze on her, and he knew it, too. “Aw, c’mon sugar, don’ get me all wounded.”
Alice glared up at him, not willing to give in to his game. She was a sophisticated, educated and perfectly civilized woman. She had merely snapped at his jabs but had gained control. A small smile appeared on her lips, she knew his game, and he wasn’t going to bait her. “Hello,” she spoke in a cool, prim voice, “could I speak to either Diane or Paul please?” A nervous shiver ran up her spine, she looked up and Keith stood but a few inches from her. She instantly moved away and turned her back to him. “Hi Grandpapa, its Alice.”
She nibbled on her lip as her grandfather spoke in his slow, southern drawl. “Where are you?” He hadn’t wasted a moment on pleasantries.
Keith stood with his hip leaning against the counter; she was sure a spit-fire, more so than she was when she was sixteen. She had long straight auburn brown hair that fell just above her hips, exotic almond sapphire eyes sat above high cheekbones; she had a delicate cream color complexion. He couldn’t help but smile at her figure; she had a small waist that flared into generous womanly hips. Alice turned and glared at him, at that he chuckled. She hung the phone up and sighed irritably. “Oh c’mon sugar, what did your grandparent’s tell you about manners? Being a southern lady and all.”
“And you’re the one to talk, Keith Gordon?” Alice threw her arms in the air, this was pointless. “If you’ll excuse me,” she nudged around him and picked her suitcases up, “My grandfather will be waiting for me in a few minutes.”
He eyed her and the suitcases she carried; he tilted his head and blinked slowly. “Movin’ back ‘ere, eh sugar?”
She turned and walked to the shop door, after what seemed like an eternity; Alice managed to turn the doorknob and walked outside into the blinding light. Keith hadn’t even waited a second before following her. “Keith,” she spat out with venom, “it is not your business on whether or not I am moving back here. Now please leave me alone.”
Keith turned to leave, turned his head and stared at the small woman. His voice came out soft and smoky, “not a chance, angel.” He threw his head back and laughed. “Catch you are around.”
“In your dreams,” she spoke softly and in mine, she clenched her teeth shut and closed her eyes tightly. A horn from the car in front of her honked and she jumped. Her grandfather sat in the driver’s seat, his eyes soft and tired. Alice smiled gently at him; he was an old and gentle person. She waved an awkward wave and went around the car to the back. The trunk opened and she put her suitcases in.
The sun beat down relentlessly, it left a hot, sticky feeling on her skin, a fine film of sweat covering her skin. Alice looked around the tiny town, people walked slowly, gossiping and catching up with one another. Old men sat outside Anne’s Corner Store, the faces had changed, but it didn’t matter; they were the same as the old men before them; bent on sitting there for an eternity, talking and reminiscing about the past.
Dirt roads ran along the stores, Alice guessed it was because the townsfolk were hell bent on keeping the town as it had been fifty years ago, dirt roads and no cement. She nibbled on her lip, nervous but excited. The driver’s door opened and her grandfather got out staring at her. She blinked quickly, wondering if something was wrong.
“Alice?” He called through a haze of strain and stress, “are you alright, my dear?”
She cleared her throat and forced a smile. Her voice coming out soft and small, “I’m okay grandpapa, just thinking, that’s all. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry child,” he smiled, his face lighting up a tad. His smile was warm and understanding.
“Okay,” she said at last, catching glimpse of Keith down the road talking to a woman, she felt a stab of jealously and it had taken her by surprise. Jealousy? She shook her head, “Let’s head home.” Her home, the place she played in as a child, and grew up in.