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At the Stars

By:Elisabeth Staab

At the Stars

Elisabeth Staab


1. THIS BITCH IS GONZO


Cassie

I gotta be honest, it’s one hell of a rush staring down a tractor trailer in the rain.

So much of one I can hardly breathe as hot, heavy drops batter my prickly skin. I swear even with the truck’s horn blaring at me, I can hear every freaking beat of my heart. Really hear it, like that whoosh – whoosh – whoosh sound is rushing into my ears through a set of quality headphones.

I feel... alive. Free, like I haven’t been since maybe ever.

I spread my arms out to my sides, laughing. That high-pitched, throat-searing, I’m-totally-cracked sort of laughter that you hear from crazy cartoon villains. Because I am. Crazy, I mean. Not in the wearing tinfoil helmets to protect myself from government mind-control kind of way, but, you know.

Crazy in the staring-down-a-semi-in-the-rain-at-night kind of way.

Honestly. I’m not out here in the middle of the road trying to die. I just... needed to remember what it was like. Staring that possibility in the face.

The truck horn blares again. Adrenaline surges inside me. God, this is nuts. I need to move.

I’m about to, when I hear the yell.

“Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

It’s late and dark, and I’m startled enough that at first I can’t tell where the shouting is coming from. It nearly sends me a mile up in the air.

I finally command my feet to move, but then something—someone—tackles me from the side. I roll and land in a squishy patch of wet grass by a busted fence on the far side of the road. Half on top of the extremely large guy who shoved me.

The tractor trailer rumbles past. I can’t understand what the driver shouts as he goes by, but I’m sure I can fill in the blanks. Stupid bitch.

Certainly, I’ll agree this is not my finest hour.

Then it’s like one of those things you see in movies: I’m trying to get off of him, the guy who grabbed me. We’re both wet and so is the grass, so I keep slipping. He’s trying to help me so the whole thing is a mess of grabbing hands and apologies and foreheads clunking into each other. I’m thinking if this was a movie and not my life, it might be the comedy portion where everyone points and laughs.

“Would you stop struggling and let me help you up?” Okay, he doesn’t sound like he finds any of this funny.

It hits me that it’s three in the morning, and I’m making the stupidest thing I’ve ever done even stupider. It doesn’t help that there’s a completely dangerous moment when I let this guy’s warmth, the steady way he’s propping me up, and the rhythm of his minty breath in my ear comfort me.

These past weeks without Mom have felt so empty and I fought so hard to hide away from the “you poor thing” stares that I don’t know when I last touched another person. It’s too, too easy to let the warmth seep into my skin and muscles. To forget my defenses. Then I remember a strange man has his arms around my shoulders.

Stupid. Stupid.

I jump, sending my elbow into his solar plexus. I run toward the road, but I slip on gravel and fall.

He coughs hard and folds forward, but still manages to grab hold of my leg. “Hey. Stop. What the fuck are you thinking?” His reflexes are fast. I’m ready to stomp on his hand with my other foot when he growls, “Dammit, I’ll let go if you promise not to try and get run over again.”

I stop, sinking my weight into my heels. Heat rushes over my body, making me feverish in spite of the fact that I’m soggy. A drum pounds in my chest. I want to be anywhere else, but I’m out of options.

Anyway, this is my mess. I put myself here.

His shadowy form looms large. This guy’s definitely big, and I can feel his lingering heat and the shape of his muscles like they’re still molded to my body. Serious bulk—the kind that flexed and rippled each time he moved against me. He must work out.

Mental note: I’m going to add “you must work out” to my list of things never to say to random people I meet on the side of the road.

So I’m out here in the middle of the night, in the rain, with a total stranger who’s bigger, stronger, and can probably outfight me. Oh yeah, and I have no car because it died earlier over on the shoulder, which is kind of what started my epic meltdown. So if this guy’s a psycho, I’m more than a little screwed.

Now that I think about it, maybe the fact that he’s probably already pegged me for a whack job will work in my favor.

“I don’t know what you’re even doing here. I was fine, you know. I wasn’t going to let it hit me.” I put my hands on my hips. Okay, so I’m being defensive, but we’ve gotten off to a seriously bad start. Even if I never see him again, I’m intent on showing him I’m no helpless damsel.

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