My Online Reading of "Led Astray"
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Led Astray Ch. 16-20
Chapter 16. Away
Woody peered through the opening of the
kitchen door. Unfortunately he had been burdened with the
task of fetching the keys. At the moment, Liz slowly went
about her kitchen duties, humming under her breath. On
the far wall by the back door hung a ring of keys. He
eyed it nervously, and waited. At some point, Melina was
supposed to spring through the back door and lure Liz
outside with an excuse. Then Woody would cut through the
kitchen as quickly and as quietly as possible, slip the
keys into his pocket, and get the hell out.
He kept an eye on Liz’s slumped back. She was
currently washing dishes; stacking them on the counter
over an old spread towel. Her decrepit hips wobbled, and
at every slight turn she made, Woody hid his face. He was
squatted just outside the swing door which separated the
kitchen from the dining room, one hand on a knee; the
other holding the door at a crack.
Eventually a stomping sound coughed into the
kitchen, coming from outside. It sounded like Melina was
kicking the dirt off of her shoes on the back porch. Liz
flinched, tipped on her toes to look out the window, and
returned to her relaxed cleaning with disinterest. The
back door creaked open and Melina leaned in.
“You better check this out,” she said
The muscles in Woody’s thick thighs tensed.
“What is it, hun?” Liz wondered.
“We went to check on Mickey,” Melina
hurried, “but Brian had to use the bathroom so we went to
the rest stop and turns out there’s a dead cat in one of
Woody frowned. Did Melina expect Liz to be
thrilled about seeing that dead cat? Contrary to his
expectations, Liz froze. The sponge she had been using to
clean the dishes fell into the sink water.
“What color is the cat?”
“Black and white,” Melina said
breathlessly. “We asked your husband about it and he
started acting real suspicious.”
This one word collapsed into a lugubrious sob
and Liz shoved her way outside. As soon as she had
disappeared out the door, Woody pounced. The keys hit his
pocket in a matter of seconds. Melina stood on the back
porch, gaping after Liz. The poor woman scurried across
the desert in the direction of the rest stop. Woody
realized that in plain daylight, the huddle of buildings
which indicated their whereabouts the night before could
be seen clearly across the flat stretch of sand. Melina
turned to him.
“Come on,” she whispered, as if in the
presence of Liz still. Woody jerked to follow her but
“Mickey took him with him and the kids this
morning,” Melina said. “Now come on!”
She stepped forward, yanked on his wrist, and
peeled him off of the floor. They set into a sturdy half
sprint around the outside corner of the house, kicking up
dust as they ran.
“Where are Brian and Teresa?” Woody huffed.
“Don’t sweat it,” Melina responded. “You’ll
know soon enough.”
Rounding the next corner, they came to the
front, out of Liz’s possible sight. The semi sat deserted
on the shoulder of the road just outside the open chain
Brian and Teresa spurted out from behind the
hidden side of the semi. Their unexpected presence
startled Woody but he hid his shock. Everything felt
right for once. They were working as a team.
When Woody and Melina reached the semi, Woody
began fumbling with the keys. Melina let out an impatient
gasp and snatched them from him. He stepped back to watch
as she jammed one after another into the lock.
Fortunately, the third key was right. The car door sprang
open and she scrambled inside, sliding across the seat to
let Brian and Teresa in from the other side. Woody
hoisted himself up behind the wheel, where he settled.
By the time he had gotten the engine started,
everyone was in place. Brian was squashed against the
passenger door with Teresa on his left and Melina on
Teresa’s left. Stomping on the gas, Woody recognized by
the weight of the vehicle and saw through the rear view
mirror that they were leaving the cabin of the semi behind.
“What the…?” he began.
Brian spoke up to explain.
“I disconnected it while Teresa and Melina
were coming up with a plan,” he said.
Woody smiled. This was amazing. Not only had
they succeeded in escaping on time, but they had managed
to make Melina and Teresa get along. The two girls now
sat side by side, their slender arms touching.
Steering out onto the road, Woody aimed for an
exit to the freeway. He assumed they’d keep heading
toward their initial destination.
Once they had hit a steady speed and everyone
had relaxed, Woody decided it was time to start asking
“Alright,” he said. “How in the hell did you
guys know about that cat?”
“Brian told me about it last night,” Teresa
explained. “And this morning I got up early enough to
hear Mickey’s kids talking about their missing cat. It
sounded like that animal is pretty loved around here. So
it only made sense to pull on Liz’s emotional strings.”
“Yeah,” Melina said. “Plus, if she thought
the rest of you guys were down there and that Mickey had
something to do with it, she’d want in on the action right
away. So we figured she wouldn’t bother taking the long
route in a car.”
Woody’s heart pumped just behind his ears.
Adrenaline was ecstasy. Hearing them get along was heaven.
“Nice to know you guys are friends now,” he
said. A wave of silence flooded the crowded vehicle.
Woody bit his lip.
Damn, I jinxed it, he thought. Maybe if he
hadn’t said anything, the girls would have gone on
merrily, unaware that they had slipped out of their
previous antagonistic roles. Alas, their arms were no
longer touching. Woody felt Melina pressed closer to him,
and he was certain that Teresa now took up a section of
“Check this out,” Brian said, unloading his
pockets. “I got us some toothpaste, a comb, and a little
Melina peered over Teresa’s lap at what Brian
was holding. Her lungs tightened at the sight of the
bulging black wallet.
“You thief!” she cried in delighted
disbelief. “Gimme that!”
As she clawed for the wallet, she wondered if
Mickey had been able to break into the Chevy. She had
accidentally locked the keys inside, and now she chuckled
at the recollection of it.
Must be why it was taking him so long, she
Brian let her have the wallet and she snapped
“Damn! This’ll get us all the way to Canada!”
“No way!” Woody interrupted. “How much is it?”
Melina’s limber fingertips thumbed expertly
through the bills.
“He must have just cashed a paycheck
yesterday,” she murmured in awe. “There’s got to be close
to a thousand dollars in here.”
Brian seized the wallet and Melina made no
further attempts to retrieve it.
“That’ll get us past Canada,” Brian said.
Teresa remained silent.
“Well what now?” Woody inquired. “How much
longer ‘til Flagstaff?”
“Maybe three or four hours,” Brian estimated,
scratching his chin. “We could have cut through Phoenix
yesterday but Melina here had her heart set on the
longer, ‘safer’ route.”
Melina’s head burned. Was this going to turn
into a game of pointing fingers? She hoped not. Her only
reason for drawing out the trip was so she’d be able to
spend more time with Brian before departing. Apparently
her plan had been a success, although losing her cherished
automobile had originally not been a piece of the puzzle.
The windows were rolled down slightly, and a
hot breeze whipped the top of her head. She hadn’t
bothered to touch her hair since the day before and now
she didn’t care. This was the ugliest she was going to
get, and obviously no one minded. Teresa wasn’t exactly
looking her best either.
Melina’s knees and ribs ached from the fight,
but she would tough it out. After all, she was ‘a big
girl’, wasn’t she?
“I say we dodge Flagstaff altogether,” she
“What?” Brian gasped.
Teresa’ breath caught in her throat.
“That’s where we fucking live!”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Melina replied. The
hatred she had stored inside toward Teresa was climbing
back out again. “I just think that with all of this money
on hand, plus a stolen semi cab, we could get in a lot of
trouble going home. Don’t you guys just want a vacation?
Hey, let’s turn around and head to Vegas!”
“Uh, in case you haven’t noticed,” Woody cut
in, “we’re too young to gamble or drink.”
“That’s never stopped us before! Hell,
Disneyland is good enough for me! Let’s run away! Be
Melina’s heart burst with spontaneity. If
only they would listen. She wanted so badly just to ditch
her life. Didn’t the rest of them feel the same way?
“Turn around,” she continued
hopefully. “Let’s go to L.A.! Let’s leave the semi
somewhere out of town and thumb a lift!”
Woody made no attempt to stop the vehicle.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he said.
“Yeah, just shut up already, Melina,” Teresa
Fury lit Melina’s forehead in a stabbing
migraine. She bit her lip and tried to calm herself.
They were all just a bunch of party poopers. At length
Brian shattered the newborn silence.
“L.A. sounds good,” he declared boldly.
Melina shrieked with glee and climbed over
Teresa so she was straddling Brian’s lap, facing him.
“Heck yes!” she cried, hugging him with all of
her might. “Let’s go crazy! Let’s be teens!”
Brian’s mind jumped everywhere. Melina’s idea
actually sounded good to him. He was almost eighteen. He
was ready to escape; to be off on his own. They had
already unintentionally gone astray. Was fate calling
Melina began kissing him. Her dainty,
suckling tongue inside his mouth built him hard against
her, and it took him a while to remember that Teresa was
right there. He resisted Melina with a firm push.
“Cut it out,” he managed breathlessly, daring
not to meet Teresa’s gaze.
“Yeah, you dirty slut,” Teresa cut in. Her
tone was bitter and sulking. “Get off of him.”
Brian saw the bite in Melina’s chocolate eyes
when she turned to Teresa with a pending retort. If he
didn’t intervene soon, their secret from last night would
be revealed. The last thing on his wish list was dislike
from Teresa directed toward him.
“Enough!” he snarled. “I’ve had enough of you
two fighting. We’re going to be stuck together for a
while longer, so you could at least pretend to get along.”
As he said this, he still refused to look at
Teresa. Melina’s jaw snapped shut in immediate obedience
and she swallowed whatever she had to say. His temples
absorbed relief, which dove in to cool his mind.
“Now,” he continued more earnestly, “I really
think we should go to L.A. or Vegas. We’ve gone astray,
you guys. Why not take advantage of it?”
He paused, reaching into the wallet to expose
and fan out the bills.
“Just look at all of this,” he said. “We
could double it in no time.”
“It’s out of the question,” Woody said, stiff
behind the wheel. “We’re getting Teresa home safe and
after that, I’m headed home myself.”
“Fine,” Melina snapped. “Go ahead. But stop
the car and let us out. We’re hitch hiking back the other
Brian’s heart stretched, filling his chest
with adrenaline. Melina was so stubborn; so adventurous.
She had her mind made up, and that’s what he liked about
her. As Woody let off the gas and the semi crawled to the
shoulder, Brian watched Teresa from the corner of his
eye. She sat still; silent.
“Alright,” Woody said. His voice lacked
emotion. He killed the engine, swung open the driver’s
door, and slipped out onto the pavement, opening his pack
of cigarettes as he went. “I’m taking a smoke break,” he
said. “You guys figure this out.”
Brian watched as Melina opened the passenger
“There’s nothing to figure out,” she said,
resolute. “Brian and I are going to Vegas. Come on,
As she scrambled from the car, she gripped
Brian’s big hand, jerking him along with her. He hated
leaving Teresa behind, but how could he resist such an
opportunity? Teresa remained in the vehicle, still
Melina’s long red hair swam in battling
currents down her dorsal, and, stuck in a trance, Brian
followed. They eased their way around the semi cab and
came to Woody, who gazed out at the pale yellow desert.
Wind rippled the feathery sand. A wave of smoke from
Woody’s cigarette caressed the breeze.
Brian inhaled the late spring morning air,
relaxed against the front left tire and shut his eyes.
Was this it? Was he ready to leave Teresa behind to
embark on endless escapades with Melina, free and
untamed? He tried to convince himself that he was.
Teresa’s difficult anyway, he decided
guiltily. I would never get away with half as much as I
do with Melina.
Teresa listened to their conversation
outside. She sat alone in the truck, unsure if she should
show she cared. Obviously Brian had made up his mind, so
trying to sway him in any other direction would be
useless. He had chosen to go with Melina. He had
forgotten about last night’s kiss.
Teresa’s jaw tightened.
I’m not going to cry, she told herself. I’m
not going to let it get to me.
She’d wait it out. She’d continue
eavesdropping as she was, and once the plan was final,
she’d accept it, even if it meant losing Brian. As far as
she had come on her own already, there was no way she’d
give in. Weakness was humorous through the eyes of girls
I’d rather just let her have him than show I’m
jealous and make a fool out of myself, she thought. No
matter what I do, I’m going to lose him. I might as well
go about it with dignity and let them think that it’s NOT
On the other hand, what if Brian was testing
her? What if by simply speaking up; speaking her mind,
she could change his plans completely? She clung to this
hope for a mere moment, just to let it slip through her
fingers. She wasn’t willing to risk humiliation. No way.
Outside, Melina had calmed down and was trying
to rationalize with Woody.
“Come on,” she was saying. “Think about it
like this. You won’t have to put up with me and Teresa
fighting for the rest of your trip. In fact, you’ll have
her all to yourself.”
Teresa’s mouth dried in reaction to Melina’s
words. She hadn’t considered being alone with him. Sure,
she thought Woody was a great, respectful guy and all, but
she had just met him. Who knew what hid beyond those kind
eyes? Her instincts urged her to speak up; to say she was
going with Melina and Brian to Vegas, but she held back.
She couldn’t make such a life-changing
decision based on a fleeting moment of impulse. She
wasn’t ready to trade her comfortable home life and her
parents’ trust for a few days of limitless freedom,
possibly to soon be ended by intervening cops.
Woody was considering Melina’s reasoning in
silence. Relaxed, he smoked. Other than his breath and
that of the wind, all was silent. Teresa could hear
Brian stepped away from the truck and turned
to take in his surroundings.
His line of vision scanned the sand. Scarce
plant-life reached its brown-green fingers toward the sun,
pleading for mercy. Jagged purple mountains broke the
horizon and a few surviving clouds were gently swept apart
by the wind. His eyes journeyed down the deserted road in
the direction from which they had come, lingering at the
top of the hill. Up there, the road was a white sliver
tucked between beds of sand, barely visible.
As he watched, consumed by thoughts unknown to
even him, something appeared at the top of the hill. Even
from several miles away, he could tell it was a vehicle,
similar to the color of the road. It was headed toward
Gray, he thought. Gray or silver.
His breath caught in his throat.
Silver. Melina’s car. Mickey.
He spun on his heels, feeling the friction of
the pavement against the rubber soles of his running shoes.
Melina and Woody turned at his outburst, their
“Mickey’s coming!” Brian yelled. “Hide!”
Teresa was hanging halfway out of the truck,
her blue eyes on him. Woody and Melina stood still, in
shock. Drums pounded between Brian’s temples. He was
unable to move for a moment. All at once his eyes
absorbed their surroundings. There was nowhere to hide
the truck. No bush was big enough.
And a car chase was out of the question. They
would be out of gas soon, and Mickey had probably just
filled the Chevy Cavalier. After all, the lack of gas was
what had made them stall in the first place. Mickey,
living out in the middle of nowhere, most likely had a
personal stash of gasoline on his property.
You need to quit thinking and get moving! his
“Come on!” Brian hollered. He didn’t wait for
a response before taking off. He’d focus on saving his
own ass. He set into a jog off the shoulder of the road.
The consistency of the sand made it hard to go much
faster. As he ran, he refrained from looking over his
shoulder. If they were smart, they would follow, and
soon. He also didn’t want to know how much nearer Mickey
was. With his luck, he’d run straight into a bush and
never experience fatherhood.
So he ran. He ran so fast that his breathing
deafened him. Stretching deeper into the desert, plant-
life thickened. He spotted a large bush about ten feet
tall and six feet wide. It was plump with rough tangles
of twigs and blade-like desert leaves, thick enough to
hide a cow. He cut out of his line of travel to the right
and made a sharp turn to come to a halt behind the bush.
Uneven sand interfered with his footing and he
landed on his ass. The pain went unnoticed as he fought
his way into the plant. As he squeezed between branches
and cut his face and fingers on ruthless thorns, his gasps
of breath reduced to shallow panting. He could hear the
hasty footsteps of the others and through the leaves made
out the hurried colors of their track uniforms. Teresa
was the only one who had had the chance to change the day
before. Soon they were in behind him, their breathing a
swarm of a million of bees.
They waited, their vision blurred and sliced
by leaves and branches. However, even if they had climbed
out, they wouldn’t have been able to see the road.
Unaware amidst the panic, they had plunged deep into the
desert. The land sloped in so the road was out of view,
and no one had looked back.
Gradually they all caught their breath. Brian
strained his ears. All he heard was the wind sweeping the
sand and Teresa’s grinding teeth just behind his head.
Crammed together, everyone’s skin touched. He crouched on
his knees. Teresa’s shoulder cut into his spine, and
Melina’s prickly knee bore into his calf.
They all sat tense and still, each intent on
holding branches at a safe distance. Any slight move
might snap a thorn into someone’s eye. The approaching
hum of an engine increased in intensity on the unseen
road. Mickey should be coming upon the semi by now.
United, they listened.
Distance made it difficult to hear. However,
Brian could tell that the Chevy had stopped moving. Then
there were voices. The words were unintelligible but they
were words nonetheless. It sounded like the entire family
A dog barked. Brian’s muscles bunched into a
cramp and he snatched his knee up next to his chin,
grimacing against the pain. The cramp wouldn’t let up no
matter how much he tried to move. His calf had
temporarily paralyzed most of his leg and he stifled a
“Shh,” Melina whispered, running her cool
fingers through his short, brown hair.
James barked again. This time he sounded
closer. Brian withstood the pain and tasted blood. He
had gnawed deep into the flesh of his lower lip.
“Shit,” Teresa murmured. “I think he smells
James barked a third time. It sounded more
like a howl. A knowing howl. Brian thought comically, If
hairs were penises, mine would definitely be erect right
now. This thought amused him and he bit back a chuckle,
drawing blood from his tongue as well.
Melina slapped him on the back of the neck.
His skin stung and he realized he must be sunburned a
little. Slowly his leg relaxed. He exhaled with relief.
Then a second car engine joined the first.
Mickey and Liz had the semi and intended to drive off with
both vehicles. Brian felt sick to his stomach.
No one said anything until everything had
quieted again. At that point, Teresa spoke up tentatively.
“I’m guessing Vegas is out of the question
then?” she sneered.
Brian did his best to turn to her, but only
managed to get a side view of her. The bush splattered
dark shadows on her sharp features. She was absolutely
beautiful, and suddenly he was glad Mickey had decided to
chase after them. He was glad the semi had been low on
gas. He was glad that he had spoken to the coach just
days before and convinced him to let Teresa participate in
this track meet even though she was one of the slowest
runners. He was glad they had missed the bus together and
that Melina’s car wouldn’t start up once they were in the
middle of the desert.
All these unlucky events had led up to this
moment in which they sat, almost eye to eye. They were
crammed, squatting in the shade of the ugliest bush ever,
and somehow she kept her humble beauty. Brian was
speechless. Woody’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“We better start walking.”
By ten a.m. their mouths were parched. By
eleven, Teresa was redder than she had been the day
before. Melina wasn’t far behind, and Brian’s tan had
deepened. Woody was pink at the extremities and yellow
everywhere else. They had avoided returning to the road,
for fear of being found by Mickey or someone else.
They trudged deep into the middle of nowhere.
Their hands served as their only protection from the
desert sun, and their spit was their only hydration—if it
could at all be considered a source of hydration.
Melina was miserable. She led the way. The
others had fallen behind her a few yards but she kept her
steady pace. She preferred it like this anyway. She
liked the silence and felt that her mind was being given a
break; a chance to recuperate from all the bickering with
Teresa. By the time another dispute occurred, she would
be fully charged and ready to win.
How long had they been walking now? She had
no watch or any other way to know the exact hour and
minute, but judging by the position of the sun and
estimating how long it had been since they left the house,
she guessed it was sometime around noon. They’d been
walking for over two hours now, which meant they must have
covered six to seven miles at least.
There was no way she’d run under these
conditions. With no water on hand, no idea of how far
this desert would stretch before they reached
civilization, and with the knowledge that the others were
unable to keep up with her mechanical pace, Melina wasn’t
about to put forth the effort.
So she walked, her head held low to dodge the
sun’s stare; her mouth tightly shut to trap as much
moisture as possible. Plant life had thinned
exceptionally over the few hours they’d been walking, and
the sun scorched their skin. She would pray for wind if
it weren’t for the sand.
How much longer would this go on? She was
about to raise her head to check on the position of the
sun again when a low grunt caught her attention from
behind. She stopped in her tracks and slowly turned
The group was farther behind than she had
expected—twenty yards at least. Teresa had collapsed and
each guy held her by an arm.
“Don’t just stand there!” Woody yelled at
Melina. “Come help!”
Melina set her legs into motion and cringed
against the wear of fatigue on her muscles. When she
reached the guys, they were sweating in a futile attempt
to keep Teresa from touching the stove of sand. She had
fainted, and Woody and Brian were too weak to hold even
her slight frame. Melina came around behind her,
supporting her from under the neck and head.
“What the hell are we supposed to do?” Brian
Melina’s foggy vision fell to the ground.
“I am so fucking stupid,” she mumbled. “I
never should have offered you guys a ride.”
She looked back up at Brian. He ran his damp
tongue over his acrid lips.
“The worst thing we can do right now is start
blaming ourselves,” he said, eyeing her directly.
“We need to find shelter,” Woody said.
“No shit,” Melina replied.
Looking around, she knew they’d have little
luck with that anytime soon. Without warning, Brian
peeled off his track jersey one-handed, still using the
other hand to hold Teresa’s shoulder.
“See that cactus over there?” he said,
pointing with his nose. “It makes a pretty long shadow.
Let’s lay her down. We can use some of our clothes so she
doesn’t get burnt by the sand.”
Melina bit her tongue against any coming
protest. She nursed no immediate desire to help Teresa,
but knew that Brian and Woody felt otherwise. Step by
step, they managed to get Teresa over to the cactus.
Brian spread his jersey on the sand and turned to Woody.
“Come on,” he said. “Help me out here.”
Melina watched as Woody removed his jersey as
well and placed it next to Brian’s on the sand. Woody’s
was much larger.
Together, they lowered Teresa, her back on the
shirts. Melina was gentle with her head, although a
seething urge told her she’d much rather slam it against
the cactus and snag it on the thorns. She stepped away as
quickly as possible, intertwining her fingers behind her
back. They stood under the sun, eyes on their unconscious
“I hope she’ll be alright,” Brian said.
There was a desperate silence until Woody
“We need to keep an eye on the shadow and move
her when it shifts,” he said.
Melina suddenly felt empty. Just hours
before, she had considered this trip an adventure. Now
there was no telling what would become of them. It was a
“We need to find water,” she said. “That
should be our main concern.”
The guys nodded. Another silence followed.
“I’ll go,” Brian volunteered.
Melina’s mouth was dry and she dared not open
it to retort. Instead, she listened, something she’d
scarcely done before.
“You guys stay with Teresa,” Brian continued
when no one offered an argument. He was taking the role
of a leader and Melina admired this. He pushed back his
strong shoulders, cleared his throat, and went on. “I’m a
long distance runner. I can last quite a while. We must
not be that far from somewhere anyway. You guys stay here
and make sure Teresa keeps out of the sun. When she wakes
up, don’t stress her out too much.” Following this
command, he glared at Melina, and, resentful, she
understood. “I’ll go for help,” Brian said. “I’ll be
back before dark.”
He stood in their reverential presence a
moment further and then turned. No one said as word as he
departed in long, hurried strides. Melina watched the
smooth, rippling muscles on his bare back until they were
too far to be seen. Then she lowered herself next to
Teresa in the slender shadow of the cactus.
An hour passed. Melina and Woody dragged
Teresa a few inches east on the track jerseys, away from
the fangs of the early afternoon sun. She slept,
unperturbed. They sat at her toes, Indian-style, drinking
the silence of their thoughts.
“I wonder how long he’ll be gone,” Melina
said. Woody heard the tight apprehension in her throat
and patted her knee. He noticed that she needed to shave
a little, but made no comment.
Thank God us guys don’t have to shave our
legs, he thought.
“He won’t be too long,” he assured her. “If
he’s not back by dark, we can start worrying.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell
she had turned to look at him. Her attention was on him
for what seemed like the first time in ages. He refrained
from meeting her gaze for a minute or two but then gave
in. Her chocolate eyes were small and worried, not large
or assertive as they normally were. He squeezed her firm
knee where he had patted it, and she winced slightly.
“I think I’m starting to burn,” she said
Woody chuckled. She did look kind of pink.
“You’re not as bad as Teresa,” he comforted.
“Thank God for that,” she laughed.
He let his palm linger on her knee. He liked
touching her. She reached down slowly and clasped his
large hand with her small one. As usual, her slender
fingers were cool and refreshing, even in the heat of the
day. The feel of her hand alone turned him to stone from
the waist down.
She leaned in and planted an affectionate kiss
on his cheek. Her lips were dry but welcome against his
skin. It sent a shiver down his spine.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Melina
inquired with a toss of her messy red hair. The cluster
of freckles on her nose seemed to dance for a second,
“Like what?” he asked. His voice was hoarse.
“Like you want to rip my pants off,” she
“See,” he said, “you answered that question
Melina tilted her head and smiled superbly.
She withdrew her hand from his, just to slide it further
up his arm to his shoulder, where she applied some force
and rubbed toward his chest. She climbed out of her
Indian-style position so she could squat in front of him
and face him, eye to eye.
Now she stroked his chest with both hands.
The pressure on his exhausted muscles was delicious.
Woody closed his eyes and let his head fall back a
little. She squeezed gently at his pecks and his nipples
tightened. She carefully made her way downward, inch by
With her expert touch she massaged his ribcage
and kneaded at his ample abs. Her hot breath told him she
was drawing nearer. She pushed at him until he unwound,
setting his back on the cooling sand. Melina peeled off
her shirt, rolled it up, and tucked it under his neck for
support. He peeked at her through half-shut eyes and took
in the desire on her face. Then he closed them completely
and let her continue, his other senses strengthening.
One of her hands crept slowly under the
elastic waistband of his track shorts. The other rubbed
his member from the outside. Woody let loose a groan as
her firm grip encircled him. With her outside hand, she
tugged down his shorts. His generous cock poked out from
the slit in his boxers, and with one swift motion she
exposed it completely.
The sensation heightened the harder she
squeezed and the faster she went, back and forth, side to
side, up and down on the shaft. She ran her wet palm up
one side, pulled it over the velvety head, and slid it
backwards down the other side of his length. A bead of
juice formed on the tip and with a dip of her head she
lapped it off with her tongue so he could sample her
Woody groaned again and Melina’s spread thighs
quivered against his knees as she gave in to his
pleadings. Slowly she inserted his penis into her mouth,
snaking her tongue all about it. He stiffened further and
set his hips against her, pressing down on the back of her
head with one hand to deepen his penetration. She
accelerated, swirling her tongue over the head; sucking so
perfectly he thought he’d burst.
Faster and faster she massaged and licked,
coordinating her mouth with her hands. The friction of
their skin built a profound heat at his base, dying with
her breaks just to escalate whenever she picked up her
speed again. He strained his focus on the impending
height and thrust his pelvis faster to warn her. She
pressed more urgently, jerking him in large, delectable
circles. With one last grunt, he released shamelessly
into her mouth. The orgasm rooted deep and he convulsed
exquisitely. She licked him clean of every last drop of
fluid and he relaxed, his eyes shut; his veins trembling.
She fell on top of him, breathless.
“You cured my thirst,” she murmured.
A smile curved his lips helplessly. Then a
third voice intervened.
“You guys are disgusting.”
It was Teresa.
“Where the hell is Brian?” she asked.
Chapter 17. The Rescue
Approximately six miles east of where Teresa,
Melina and Woody were stationed, Brian jogged. He hadn’t
stopped a single time since departing, and he ran with a
numb and partially delirious mindset. Every year he
joined the high school cross country team as well as
track, and had run much longer distances than this one,
but never in such conditions. With each step, all he
could tell himself was:
Just keep running. Just keep running.
And so he did. He just kept running. His
shoes were ovens but he no longer felt the ripe blisters
on the balls of his feet. Those had been desensitized a
few miles back. He thought about Teresa, passed out and
useless, and he used her as his primary motivation.
His tongue was a dry mountain guarded by a
stone fence of teeth. His jaw hung open and his breath
stole in and out. Ahead, he saw that the sand erected to
a steep hill. There was no telling what lay beyond it.
Just keep running.
The sun glazed his eyes.
Just keep running.
A layer or two of crusted sand coated the bare
skin on his face, shoulders, chest, back, arms, and calves.
Just keep running.
He reached the foot of the hill.
Just keep running.
Pulling his knees high, he began his strained
Just keep running.
He silently thanked Coach Vaughan for all
those times they had done high knee exercises during
Just keep climbing.
The land stretched a quarter of a mile toward
the peak of the hill. He kept running.
Step by step, huff by huff, ache by ache, he
made it. When he reached the top, he stopped for the
first time in over an hour, his toes at the edge of a dirt
road. Sand slithered down the side of his face in an
avalanche of perspiration.
On the other side of the road sprouted the
front of a desert forest. Was this possible? He dropped
his gaze. The tracks on the road looked recent. His mind
screamed in celebration but his strength dissolved in
exhaustion. He collapsed to his knees. His ribs ached.
His abdominal muscles were tight with wear.
He fell forward and lay unconscious on the
Woody, Melina, and Teresa sat in silence—Woody
in extreme relief, Melina in subdued shame, and Teresa in
diminishing disgust. They sat for minutes, which grew
into hours. They fixed their eyes in the direction of
Brian’s expected return, and, due to anticipation, were
unable to blink.
They cooled their skin with illusions and
quenched their thirst with forced hallucinations. The
lower the sun fell, the more it swelled, until it was a
large, throbbing egg yoke just above the lowest dip of the
horizon. They feared it would burst, and when it didn’t,
they bid it farewell. It retreated into its shell and
cast out sequins of desperation. The day died, stealing
with it all grains of hope.
Brian dreamt about water. He dreamt he was
taking a cold shower in the locker room at the school from
which they had departed the day before. He stood under
the stream, shivering, with his mouth open. He swallowed
the water with an open throat, unmoving. His hair clamped
his forehead and temples in limp strands.
A pair of cold hands then circled his waist
from behind, and a warm, wet female body pressed against
his backside. Without turning, he knew it was Teresa.
She hugged him tightly and though he grew hard under her
tender touch, he felt no urge to start anything. He stood
still as he had been, and simply felt her against him—felt
an overbearing combination of yearning and caution in her
She reached up with her left hand and stroked
the wet hair just behind his left ear.
“What should we do?”
Her voice was strange; not Teresa’s at all.
Suddenly he realized that the hand on his head didn’t
belong to her either.
He opened his eyes, his cheek on the coarse
sand, and looked up into a stranger’s face. She was young—
perhaps sixteen or seventeen, and hard to see in the light
of the moon. She peered down at him behind a wave of
blonde bangs. The rest of her hair was straight, stopping
just below her shoulders. Her eyes were light; her skin
tan from the recent sun.
Slowly, Brian hoisted himself up. The girl
was squatted next to him. An older boy, maybe in his
early twenties, stood nearby. He studied Brian
“You need some help?” the girl asked.
Licking his lips, Brian could almost—in
recollection—taste the shower water from the dream. He
recognized, however, that his mouth was just as dry as it
had been when he collapsed. Forcing his rough voice, he
“My friends are waiting for me six or seven
miles back,” he explained. “I came for help. I told them
I’d be back before…”
“What are you doing out here?” the older boy
intervened. “Where are you from?”
Brian told them most of the story, omitting
the night’s stay at Mickey’s and the situation with the
stolen semi. In place of those, he claimed they had
merely strayed into the desert once the car had stalled,
and had traveled aimlessly overnight. The siblings
watched him with an unmatchable solemnity, drinking his
“We need to go get them,” Brian hurried on,
finding his feet so he could stand. The girl helped him
up and he winced against a slicing headache. She turned
to her brother.
“Let’s take him home and get the jeep,” she
Her brother thought over her suggestion with
an uncertain frown, and when he didn’t reply, she
“We can’t just leave them out here, Lou.”
Lou chewed on the inside of his cheek for a
second or two, glaring at her. Two moons shone in his
“Fine,” he growled at last.
His sister’s face brightened and she jumped
once with excitement; then contained herself. She grasped
“Come on!” she said. “Let’s cut through the
They lay on the sand in the dark of the night,
facing the stars. Their heads formed a circle and their
bodies branched outward like the strings of a spider web.
As they awaited Brian’s overdue return, they sang.
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your
hands!” they hollered deliriously. “If you’re happy and
you know it, clap your hands! If you’re happy and you
know it, then your life will surely show it. If you’re
happy and you know it, clap your hands!”
They had sung a few different songs before
Teresa suggested this one. The last time she had sung it
was in church several years before, and now found it
brought her an eerie sense of déjà vu.
“Wait!” Melina cut in. “I’ve got one!”
“Go for it!” Woody said.
“If you’re slutty and you know it, clap your
hands!” Melina sang.
“Melina, clap your hands!” he said.
Lauren and Lou helped Brian through the
woods. Each of his arms draped a shoulder. He moved his
sore muscles fearlessly and grimaced with each step.
They’d been walking for several minutes now, their shoes
crunching on ancient dead leaves and twigs.
“What were you guys doing out here?” Brian
“Looking for our dog,” Lauren replied. She
was very short next to him and he felt lopsided,
sandwiched between them. “His name’s Nephilius. He digs
his way out a lot.”
“Nephilius?” Brian asked.
“Lou made it up. Doesn’t it sound like a real
“Are we almost there?” he inquired.
“Yeah. Our house is right on the edge of the
Shadows clotted their path, and Brian could
merely trust that they knew the way. A few casual
droplets of moonlight here and there told him they weren’t
heading straight into oblivion. Eventually they pushed
their way through the last branches and stepped out onto
the ridge of a moonlit meadow. A few houses were
scattered about, their lights bright and comforting.
Beyond them, the rocky land fell toward a bigger cluster
of lights—a town; possibly a city.
“Come on,” Lou said. “We’re just about there.”
He and Lauren held Brian more firmly, and they
made their way through a neat wood fence and up a slim
stone path toward the humble one-storey house.
“Now I get to meet your parents, huh?” Brian
“No,” Lauren laughed. “This is the house Lou
is renting. He moved out a few years ago. I come over on
the weekends for the parties. People crash out here all
the time. It’s like the cool hang out spot.”
Once inside, Lou flicked on the light. The
walls were cluttered with overlapping posters and pictures
of random girls and celebrities. Two fairly decent plaid
couches sat perpendicular to one another, one against the
wall, the second with its back to their entrance. A large
flat-screen TV filled the farthest right corner of the
room, next to the narrow doorway of a hall. To their
left, a simple kitchen branched off of the living area. A
few stools were lined up at the island counter, and
cupboards were crammed together over and around the small,
naked window. Brian lowered his gaze to the floor. The
carpet looked like cloth—a faded beige color.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Lou announced.
He let go of Brian and began pointing. “This is the
living room, that’s the kitchen… the bathroom’s right off
the kitchen next to the laundry area. And see that hall
over there? We have three bedrooms. The biggest one’s
mine. Lauren claimed the second nicest for her weekend
stays, and the third doesn’t even have a door. We turned
it into a game room ‘cause it’s big and spacious.”
Lauren cut in.
“Some of you can probably sleep on the pull-
out,” she said. “There’s a cot in the game room and
someone can take my bed. I’m due home tonight for school
tomorrow so I won’t be needing it.”
Brian licked his lips.
“You have anything to drink?” he asked.
“I hope Brian’s okay,” Teresa said. They were
tired of singing and lay in almost complete silence until
she spoke. It had been an hour or two since the sun went
down and they were beginning to worry.
“I bet you he passed out somewhere,” Woody
Teresa jumped to her feet.
“We can’t just sit here,” she said. “It’s
cooled off so much now… we can go after him. If something
happened to him, I want to know.”
“I’m too lazy to get up,” he complained.
Teresa glanced from Woody to Melina. She
looked asleep. Her hands were folded just below her
breasts and her mouth was partly open.
“Whatever,” Teresa said. “I’m gonna go find
him. I don’t care if it takes me all night.”
Just as she turned to leave, two headlights
washed them in yellow. An engine growled and tires
squealed as a lime green jeep hopped toward them over the
mounds of sand. It came to an abrupt hall a few yards
Chapter 18. Home Sweet Home
On the drive to the house, the wind whipped her
hair into a worse frenzy. Melina shut her eyes and
decided she didn’t care. It just felt so good to know
they were no longer lost. They had a destination in mind
and that’s where they were headed. The wind on her face
was refreshing—almost good enough to quench her thirst.
Lou and Brian sat up front with Lauren in the
middle. Melina was squished between Woody and Teresa in
the back. She actually didn’t mind. For the past few
hours, she and Teresa had gotten along quite well.
Singing songs to pass the time had broken several barriers
between them, and it was a tremendous relief.
Although she admitted to herself that she
personally got pleasure out of antagonizing other females,
Melina felt she was beginning to like Teresa as a person.
Teresa wasn’t a pushover. Obviously, she had faced Melina
head-on. Besides being strong-willed, Teresa was also
delightful to talk to. She carried a deep respect for
others and was easily amused. She had a general love for
life. She was determined, she knew what she wanted, and
yet she had still not thrown herself at Brian. Melina was
secretly jealous of this attribute but admired it just the
same. She had so many regrets about rushing past
Simultaneously, Melina feared Brian would see the
same good in Teresa that she saw, and compare it to her
when choosing between them. Sure, she was beginning to
like Teresa, but she still wanted her chance with Brian.
She was in love with him. She’d been in love with him
ever since he unknowingly took her virginity about a year
and a half ago.
She’d done so many things with so many guys, thus
boosting her slut reputation, but had never “gone all the
way” until she met Brian. Once she took that first step,
it was easy to climb the rest of the stairway… with
She’d wanted sex so badly before she actually
obtained it, but now that she’d had it, she didn’t just
want it. She needed it. Any remotely attractive guy that
she saw was a possible target.
Even now as she sat in the back of the jeep, she
gawked at the back of Lou’s head up front. His dirty
blonde hair fell in clean waves around his ears. His tan
neck was strong, supported by subtle veins connecting to
his broad shoulders. She wanted him. She’d known it the
very moment she laid eyes on him.
Teresa’s vision had skimmed him carelessly to land
once again with certainty on Brian. But Melina hadn’t
been able to look away. Lou was tall. He stood almost
head and shoulders above everyone in the group. He was
serious, indifferent, and held a set jaw. He was
everything she needed and desired.
Finally they pulled up to the fence in front of
Lou’s house. He hopped down from the driver’s side,
unlatched the gate and opened it to make way for the
vehicle’s entrance. Once they had parked alongside the
house, everyone climbed out of the jeep.
Melina kept her distance from Lou and fell behind
so she could watch his strong back as he led the way.
Woody followed everyone around the house,
disinterested. He wanted to go home already. He wanted
no part in Melina’s girlish escapades. This whole
adventure was her fault—her scheme and he wanted out of
it. He was exhausted from the humidity of the day, from
his games with Melina, and from trying so desperately hard
to steal Teresa’s attention from Brian.
He was sick of it all. Melina didn’t love him.
She never had. She only messed around with him when no
one else was near to fulfill her whorish needs, and he
could find better elsewhere, although undoubtedly not in
Teresa. Teresa apparently had her mind made up. She was
in stubborn pursuit of Brian.
Glad he’d come to his senses, Woody decided that
come morning, he’d be gone. He’d sleep off his fatigue
tonight and take off early before the others awoke.
“Hey,” he spoke up during their little tour of the
house. Currently they were all gaping at the game room.
When he spoke, everyone veered around to look at him.
“What city are we in?” he asked.
“You mean town?” Lou said.
Woody noticed how close Melina was standing to
Lou. He refrained from rolling eyes in revulsion.
“Pepperville,” Lauren replied. “Don’t ask us
about the name. We don’t know.”
Woody nodded and set a slight shrug to his
shoulders. Now that he knew where they were, it would be
easy to take note of the address outside, and when he
called home, they would know right where to find him.
Teresa’s eyelids were heavy. She intertwined her
arm with Brian’s and let him guide her; her weight slumped
against his side. Melina didn’t seem to notice. All of
her focus was on Lou. She kept a safe distance of a foot
between them. When he moved, she moved, and when he stood
still, so did she.
With a sigh of relief, Teresa hoped she’d be
facing no further competition from Melina, at least not
tonight. At the moment, she was too drained to fight back
should the slut pose a challenge. She noticed the other
girl, Lauren, watching her closely but politely.
Lauren seemed uninterested in the two new male
arrivals. Her main concern appeared to be Teresa, and
Teresa felt like she was constantly being watched. She
squeezed closer to Brian and he rubbed at her shoulder
The group entered Lauren’s room. One half of it
was taken up by a Queen-size bed. A large dresser and
beauty station stole easily a third of the other half.
“Who wants my bed?” Lauren asked. “I won’t be
sleeping here again ‘til Friday.”
Teresa moved quickly for the kill. Her legs gave
underneath her and she fell face-first on the pink
“I’ll sleep in here with her,” Brian offered.
“No,” Melina cut in. “I will.”
Brian turned his sight on her and saw her brown
eyes aflame. Her messy red hair was thrown back and she
held her small chin high.
“Fine,” Brian said. “I’ll take the pull-out.”
“Then where will I sleep?” Woody complained.
“Actually,” Lou intervened, “There are two
identical pull-out couches. We just need to arrange them
better so both can be used. I’ll help you guys with that.”
The boys headed out of the room, leaving the girls
behind. Brian was reluctant to abandon Teresa in the same
room with Melina, but forced himself to follow the group.
Melina turned to Lauren.
“So what’s the deal?” she asked. “How long are
you guys gonna let us stay here?”
Lauren shrugged. Her blue eyes were big and
“How long do you guys need to stay here?” she
It was Melina’s turn to shrug. She lowered her
gaze to Teresa, who had shamelessly crashed out face down.
“Brian and I don’t want to go home,” Melina
explained. “I know Woody wants to be gone at the most in
a couple of days… he’s a momma’s boy… but I have no idea
about Teresa. She doesn’t talk much.”
Melina lifted her vision to meet Lauren’s, and
Lauren was watching her with the same vacant expression as
“Lou won’t mind having you guys stay here for a
while,” she said, “as long as you don’t cause trouble or
cost him any unnecessary extra money.”
“And you don’t care that we use your bed?”
Lauren shook her head.
“As long as I get it back come Friday. I need my
Melina lowered and sat on the edge of the bed.
“I know it’s not that late,” she said, “but I
could use some sleep. We’ve been nomads in the heat
almost all day today.”
Lauren nodded and a sparkle formed in her eyes.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” she
Melina returned the nod appreciatively.
Lauren slipped out the door and shut it firmly
behind herself. Melina sat in the silence. Her bones
weighed her down and she fell back against the many
pillows. Her eyes fell shut instantly.
Brian awoke in the middle of the night to Woody’s
boisterous snoring across the living quarters. He tried
to see but the room was pitch black.
That’s right, they have all the windows covered
with posters, he reminded himself.
He realized how much more at ease he felt sleeping
here compared to Mickey’s house. He felt more at home, as
if it was meant to be.
He lay awake several minutes longer, listening to
Woody’s steady snores. When he grew too restless to stay
still any longer, he swung his legs over the edge of the
bed and sat up. By now his eyes had accustomed slightly
to the dark, and he could see the outline of the front
Brian gradually stood up. His muscles were tight,
so he stretched them out with a slow kick of each leg.
The silence of the house was pleasant, but he felt he
could use some fresh air. He padded across the cheap
carpet to the front door and stepped outside. The breeze
was cool but carried a minor aftertaste of humidity.
Stars giggled overhead and tree branches creaked in the
wind. Brian shut the door and took in his surroundings.
There were no nearby streetlights, so it was dark as
hell. The porch’s wooden floorboards were cold under the
soles of his bare feet.
A slight whimper jerked his attention from the
road to the porch steps, and he saw he had company. Two
yellow, friendly glowing eyes stood a few feet away, and
he could make out the strong legs of a German Shepherd.
Next to the alert dog sat a darker figure. All Brian
could see was curly hair, and he knew at once that it was
His blood froze for a moment and he regained
composure before approaching her from behind.
“What are you doing up at these hours?” he asked.
She seemed to have not heard him, so he opened his
mouth to repeat himself but stopped when he saw her shrug.
“Couldn’t sleep,” she said. “Have you met
Teresa ran her small fingers through the golden
fur on the dog’s head.
“I don’t know who he belongs to, but he squeezed
under the fence while I was sitting out here. His tag
says his name’s Nephilius.”
“He’s Lou’s dog,” Brian said matter-of-
factly. “They were looking for him earlier.” He
chuckled. “Actually, you should thank your buddy here for
being the reason they found me.”
She sounded apathetic—in a daze. She continued
petting the dog and the dog stood still, as if he’d never
been pet in his life.
Eventually Brian found the courage to sit next to
her on the porch steps. Nephilius sniffed at his hand
with his damp nose and turned back to Teresa for more
petting. They sat in quite harmony for a few minutes,
enjoying the breeze and taking in the moon and their own
personal thoughts. At length Teresa interrupted the
“I don’t even know what I want anymore.”
Brian’s heart stopped.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I don’t know if I want to go home,” Teresa
hurried to explain. “Sure, I know that’s where I belong
and it would be the right thing to do, just to spare my
parents a heart attack, but a big part of me craves
She looked his way. Her eyes were bluer than
ever. She chuckled nervously.
“Brian, I’m not an adventurous person.”
He felt himself smiling back.
“I know, Tee.”
“And under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t let
anyone give me a stupid nickname like that,” she said.
“Then why do you let me?”
Teresa shrugged and kept her eyes on Nephilius.
“Come on,” Brian teased. “We both know there’s a
She became suddenly solemn.
“Well, if you know the reason, why do you ask?”
“Just to hear you admit it,” Brian said.
Their eyes met briefly and Brian was disappointed
to see a cloud of uncertainty in hers.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Teresa lowered her gaze to the ground and
continued petting Nephilius.
“Like I said, I don’t even know what I want
“Well here’s a simple question for you,” Brian
said. “It requires a simple answer. Not much thought
When he didn’t continue, she spoke.
“What is it?”
Suddenly he was nervous, as if peering over the
edge of a cliff. He boldly swallowed his heart and
“Do you want me?”
It was Teresa’s turn to remain quiet. Each
passing moment of silence was torture, in which his words
resounded foolishly on the air between them.
“I don’t know,” Teresa said at last.
His heart sunk to the bottom of his essence.
“How can you not know?” he whispered. “It’s a
“Because I don’t know if you want me or Melina.”
She caught his eyes in a net of accusation from
which he couldn’t escape. He found his voice but
“I—Teresa? Well, I don’t—I don’t know if you want
me or Woody, so I guess that makes us even.”
She still had a strong hold on his eyes. He dared
not fight that hold. As long as he returned the look, he
“Brian,” Teresa continued, “I haven’t considered
Woody an option—not for a single split second. It’s no
Still nervous, Brian responded.
“Well, you’ve said nothing about not considering
me,” he said.
“I’ve considered you,” Teresa admitted, “I’ve just
not made up my mind—because like I said, there’s this
whole deal with Melina.”
“Well, Melina is to me as Woody is to you,” Brian
“We both know that’s bullshit,” Teresa said. “She
wants you bad, and to some degree, you want her back.”
Brian bit his lip. She had it all figured out.
If only she could see how much more she meant to him than
Melina did. Perhaps he should continue to support his
lie. If Teresa knew even the slightest detail of anything
that had happened between him and Melina over the past two
days, it’d be over. She’d change her mind about him
completely. So he pulled a few words out of his ass,
polished them up, and stuck them charmingly on the end of
his fishing line as bait.
“Teresa, Melina can try all she wants to get me.
You’re the one I think about when I wake up each morning.
You’re the one I’ve been after since the day we met. I
have a past with Melina, but that’s all. A past. Not a
present, and definitely not a future. She can try to turn
it into more but I won’t let that bag of STD’s lay a hand
At first Teresa had watched him in quiet caution.
Then as he had continued with his speech, a smile had
risen at the corners of her mouth.
“I want you, Tee. You’re the one.”
He had told her mostly the truth, and his last
statement most certainly had not been pulled out of his
ass, but he felt slightly guilty that he hadn’t been
completely honest about Melina touching him. It was
simple. He had a weakness for sex, and Melina reeked of
They sat there staring at each other for the
longest time, and when she looked away, Brian wanted to
hit himself for not kissing her. The guilt was just too
much already. He hated lying to her. Teresa scratched
Nephilius behind the ears absent-mindedly and sighed.
“Brian, I just don’t know you well enough,” she
said. “I haven’t figured you out yet. I’m sorry, but I’m
not like Melina. I’m not going to throw myself at you
just ‘cause you have a dick.”
His voice came out husky and barely audible. He
“I don’t want you to throw yourself at me. I just
want to know how you feel. That’s all I ask.”
“Well how about I get back to you on that?” Teresa
said. She started to get up and Brian’s heart sunk. “You
need to prove to me that Melina means nothing. Until you
can do that, I’m sorry, but I won’t consider you an
She left then, and Nephilius followed, as if he’d
been following her all his life. Brian sat alone in
silence, in the dark, and in shame. He grabbed his hair
by the roots and studied the ground.
What’s wrong with me? he confronted himself. Why
couldn’t I jus