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Authors: Jennifer Davis

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BOOK: For The Least Of These
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“What are you doing?” Alicia asked.
“Pull up beside them!”

“No.
I might have changed my mind about following them, but I still don’t want to get into trouble. Back here, they can’t tell that this is the same car that was pestering them before.”

“If we aren’t going to wave and yell, what are we going to do?
You were kidding about the road trip, right?” Alicia was beginning to have second thoughts.

“Now who is wimping out?
I was dead serious. It’s Friday night – no work tomorrow. We’re going all the way. Maybe we’ll get into Rick’s next concert. Maybe I’ll get to meet him. I’m ready for some action now, thanks to you. Now turn on the radio and let’s have some fun.”

Alicia had a sober look on her face, but she didn’t speak.
She reached over and turned on the radio. Like a prophet of the future, Rick Hartwood’s voice poured out of the radio singing one of his most popular songs, “Weekend Distraction”.

I knew at that moment that I’d made the right decision.

Chapter 2

Vince
nzo Moretti met Stacy Winters in 1969 – not at Woodstock, but at the annual summer music festival in Pensacola, Florida. They married a year later, and their first – and only – child was born in 1972. She was a chubby baby with dark blond hair and hazel eyes. Vince wanted to name her after a new song by the group Looking Glass, and Stacy agreed. And so I was christened Brandy.

While I was growing up,
I was always forced to call my parents Vince and Stacy; they were way too cool to be called Mom and Dad. They were undeniably the grooviest parents on the face of the earth, although calling them “parents” is stretching it a bit. They were more like the best friends you never wanted. You know the ones. They always agree with everything you do or say, and you always seem to be trying to avoid them. That was Vince and Stacy. If I had told them that I was dreaming of becoming a homeless bag lady when I grew up, they would have given their whole-hearted approval. I suppose it is great to have parents that encourage you, no matter what you want to do in your life, but my folks carried it way too far. And since I was a down-to-earth, level-headed, quiet and shy nerd, I desired parents that wouldn’t embarrass me at PTA meetings.

I’m sure that most kids would have given their right arm to have my life.
I never had chores to do, and there weren’t many rules. If I wanted money, all I had to do was ask for it; the reason didn’t matter. I was allowed to listen to my music as loud as I pleased, and I could stay on the phone with my friends forever. I never had a curfew, and Vince and Stacy never questioned me about where I was going or where I had been. I was free to make my own choices regarding cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs. Most of these things held no fascination for me, but I did like having no chores and having money. Still, most of the time I yearned for my parents to put up barriers and set limits. I often felt unloved because they didn’t seem to care enough to restrain my activities or punish my failures. As a teenager, I found myself over indulging in the lawless confusion. I stayed out well past midnight every night of the week; I drank until I was wasted; I tried marijuana and a few other drugs. I even stole money from Stacy’s purse – just to see if she’d get mad. She didn’t. I finally tired of all the nonsense near the end of my senior year of high school. Unfortunately, by then it was too late to graduate with honors or win any scholarships, so after high school, I continued to live with – and off of – my parents.

Eventually, I put myself through night school and became a cog in the big wheel of business.
I had spent the last five years as an Advertising Planner – also known as glorified gopher – for a co-op grocery chain. In addition to one thousand other things, I contacted grocers and arranged special promotions and ads in their stores. I wanted to be the graphic artist that designed the chain’s print ads, but I had been bypassed for a promotion three times because I was too accommodating and too timid. I couldn’t afford to quit, so I endured the humiliation and continued to do my best.

In my private life, I had finally escaped my parents’ chaotic house, and I enjoyed sharing a
house with Terry. No one believed that we were not lovers, but it was true. Of course, Alicia seemed to believe me, but occasionally she would still insinuate that Terry was a lot more than just my roommate.

I thought about all this as Alicia and I drove along behind the buses.
Alicia had set me thinking about my quiet, unexciting life.

The sound of Alicia’s voice startled me.
We hadn’t spoken in almost an hour. “Did you see that sign? Only ten more miles to the Biloxi exit. That’s where his next concert is, isn’t it?”

I cleared my throat and
wiped at my eyes. “Yeah. Maybe I should get closer to the buses now.” Alicia nodded, and I decreased the distance between us by half. The thrill of the chase was about over. Or maybe it was just beginning.

I turned the radio off, and I glanced over at Alicia.
She had perked up again, and she was getting a devious look in her eyes. “What are you thinking, Alicia?”

“I was just wondering if he was going to get off that bus at a hotel.
We are going to follow them into town, aren’t we?”

“Of course we are.
Do you think I came all this way for nothing?” I tightened my grip on the steering wheel. My hands felt clammy. I was acting fearless and confident, but I was really nervous and uncertain.

A few minutes later, the buses and I were exiting the
interstate for the city of Biloxi, Mississippi. I was tense again. Alicia was bright-eyed and ready for more excitement. “Don’t lose them, Brand. If they go to a hotel, are you going to get a room, too?”

I hadn’t really thought about it.
I had three hundred dollars in my pocket, but I wasn’t prepared to stay at an expensive hotel. “It depends on where he stays. I can’t afford a luxury hotel. Besides, he may not even be on the bus.”

We were soon coming into Biloxi.
The traffic wasn’t heavy, as it was four in the morning, so I wasn’t worried about losing the buses. I just didn’t know what I would do if they went straight to the Coliseum. I didn’t want to stay in my car until the concert started – if we could even get tickets. My thoughts were interrupted when the two buses separated. One moved into the right turn lane while the other one stayed straight. “What should I do, Alicia?” I tried not to sound too panicky.

“Calm down, Brandy,” Alicia said in an oddly serene voice.
“The Coliseum is to the right, so I would follow the bus that is going straight. Maybe it’s headed for a hotel. Maybe, Rick is on board.”

The thought of seeing Rick again boosted my energy.
I let my fears fade away, and I pulled up behind the bus. The driver might recognize my car, but it no longer mattered. I had to see Rick one more time.

We followed the bus up two more streets.
I watched as the bus began to turn right – just as the other bus had done. “What is going on?” I asked Alicia. “Do they know we are following? Are they trying to split up to lose us? Why didn’t he turn back there with the other bus?” Of course, Alicia didn’t know the answers either, so we just followed. Sooner or later we’d find out where we were going. The bus turned on its left blinker and slowed to a stop at a red light. I noticed a gas station on the right and a Mexican restaurant on the left. The restaurant was closed, but I suddenly had a craving for jalapeno cheese dip. The bus made a sharp left turn and we followed.

The turn took us onto Biloxi’s Beach Boulevard.
Directly on our right were miles and miles of sugar white beaches that bordered the Gulf of Mexico. I knew we were heading towards Biloxi’s Casino row, but I thought we were still a couple of miles away from the first casino when the bus turned on its left blinker again.

“Looks like we followed the right bus,” Alicia yelled excitedly as the bus pulled into the driveway of the Richland Hotel.
I cautiously continued down Beach Boulevard so the bus driver would not notice us. Alicia was agitated until she realized that I was about to make a U-turn at the next intersection.

There was a BP gas station next to the Richland, so I pulled up to the pumps.
“What are you doing?” Alicia asked.

“I need gas, and they aren’t going to get away now.
Whoever is in that bus is going to stay at that hotel. And I believe we are, too. Let’s just let them get checked in…”

“I thought you weren’t going to blow your money on an expensive hotel.
That one has “rich” right in its name.”

“I’ve changed my mind.
Anyway, I don’t have to blow my cash. I have my Visa right here in my wallet. It’ll be worth the price to be able to say I slept in the same hotel as Rick Hartwood…”

“I have a plan,” Alicia interrupted.
I felt a chill run down my spine at the mere suggestion of one of Alicia’s plans. “Why don’t I go on over and check us in while they are checking in? Then I can find out what room Rick is in. They’ll never guess that I’m the girl that was yelling at them earlier. You know how demure I can be if it serves my purpose.”

I wasn’t sure it would work, but I agreed to Alicia’s plan.
I handed her my credit card and she bounded lithely towards the hotel. I watched her until she disappeared through the huge beveled glass double-doors, and then I got out to gas-up my car.

As I stood there pumping gas, I no longer felt the least bit worried.
At first, I didn’t even notice the convertible that drove up on the opposite side of the gas pumps, but it was hard to overlook a Porsche Boxster – or the attractive torso that was leaning into it. The car was blue metallic with blue leather interior while the torso was clothed in an olive green polo shirt and green cargo shorts. He was wearing white running shoes and white crew socks. I could not see his face, but his hair was short and light brown. He appeared to be searching for something behind the front seat, and for the moment, I forgot about Alicia and Rick Hartwood.

I couldn’t pull my eyes away, and before I realized it, the torso stood up and turned towards me.
He looked straight into my eyes and his sandy hair gently fluttered across his forehead. His vibrant green eyes seemed to pierce me and his lips moved into a playful half-smile. He’d caught me staring at him, and I would have looked away if I could. But I couldn’t. I felt my heart racing towards some invisible finish line. I swallowed and I could feel the saliva moving in slow motion down my esophagus until it made a thunderous boom as it reached the pit of my stomach. I felt my face burning and my palms were almost dripping sweat. I felt as though I was paralyzed as I watched him start walking towards me. With a loud click, the gas nozzle stopped, but I kept my tight grip on the trigger. My eyes felt as though they were stretched ten times their normal size, but I was powerless to retract them. As he finally reached me, my mouth fell open to allow a tiny little gasp to escape.

“Do you live around here?” Rick Hartwood
asked.

“Uh…um…no,” I somehow managed to say.

“Are you okay?” he asked with some concern. “You look pale. Have you breathed in too many gas fumes? Here, let me finish pumping your gas for you.”

He moved my hand from the nozzle, and his warmness coursed through my body.
The sizzling heat that was overtaking me brought me back to my senses – sort of. My paralysis was suddenly replaced with passion like I’d never known before. I found it difficult to move aside, but I was blocking him from Sam’s gas tank. I reluctantly walked out of his way.

“Thank you,” I murmured.

“This is some car you’ve got here. I haven’t seen a Gremlin in years.” He peeked inside the window. “Is it a 5-speed?”

“No, it’s a 3-speed.
” Somehow talking about Sam calmed me a bit. “It’s a V-8. It can move when it needs to.” I shivered as I imagined him saying, “Like when it is chasing a bus?” I quickly moved on, “So why did you ask if I lived around here?”

“I’m looking for the Grand Casino.
I was hoping you could tell me where it is.”

I said, “I know where it is.
Just keep going east on this road. It’s just a couple of miles down. You can’t miss it”

“Are you here to gamble?” he asked as he returned the nozzle to the pump.

“No, I’m going to see Rick Hartwood – if my friend and I can get tickets this late.” The name just rolled off my tongue as though I didn’t have a clue who he was. “She’s over at the Richland trying to get us a room.”

Rick looked puzzled, but he was clearly used to pretending to not be Rick Hartwood.
“You must have planned this at the last moment,” he said finally.

I was amazingly cool.
If he could pretend he wasn’t Rick, why couldn’t I? “Yeah. We saw him earlier in Pensacola, and the concert was so phenomenal that we decided to try to see him again.”

He looked uncomfortable.
“You know the concert isn’t until Sunday night?”

“I know.
How did you know? I mean you’re clearly not from around here.” I felt in control now. This was just a man like any other. I could handle him.

I started to ask his name, but he walked back towards his car.
“Thanks for the directions, ‘Brand’.” He said my name in an amusing sort of way – reminding me of Alicia. Funny, I didn’t remember telling him my name. He went about pumping gas into his handsome sports car; then he added, “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

After retrieving my receipt from the gas pump, I bravely walked over to him and said, “By the way, you didn’t tell me your name.”

“No, I didn’t,” he said. He paused, and I almost believed he was going to leave it at that. “My name is Rick Hartwood, but I think you already know that.”

I felt my throat tightening and my heart racing.
I closed my eyes tightly. I didn’t know what to say. I heard him saying, “Brandy, are you okay? Brandy?”

I opened my eyes slowly.
Alicia’s face was only two inches from mine. “Brandy,” she called. “Brandy, are you okay?”

My forehead barely missed the steering wheel as I jumped up in alarm.
“You aren’t Rick Hartwood,” I stammered.

Alicia looked herself up and down.
“You’ve got a point there. Is this a delusion you’ve been having for a while now, or is it something new?”

BOOK: For The Least Of These
13.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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