He sat in his rental car, the engine idling. His green eyes focused on the screen of his cell.
"It's up to you, baby." He could hear her soft, southern voice as read the text.
Turning left would take him back to his life before it was too late. Back to the oranges and browns of the Mojave. Right would take him to the red clay of the Carolinas. The land blanketed in a lush green forest. It would take him to her. The only woman he really loved.
It wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't looking for anything when he met her. Love wasn't something he had been searching for. Something seemed to click between the two of them right from the start.
"I can control this," he assured himself as they began talk.
A chuckle escaped his throat as he recalled that naive moment.
He had been frightened. He knew he could fall in love with her, and deep down inside he knew he would. Twice he tried to back away, and twice he had failed. The first time he had made her angry. He had been stunned. He had no idea that she cared. He couldn't stay away now, it was too late.
She had told him about the "one." He remembered the ache he felt. He was married, she wasn't. How could he possibly be her "one."
"I hope you find him," his reply had been weak and transparent.
She had laughed at him, "You know you want to try."
He did. He wasn't sure what he was most afraid of. Being the one, or not being him. One thing was certain, he wanted to be her love.
He watched a man in a pickup smoking a cigarette. "Tobacco alley", that was what she said on the phone.
For a moment, he wished he smoked. It might give him insight, or least something to occupy his hands while his mind raced.
Honor and duty, he had been raised with that, it was ingrained in him. Do the right thing. All his life he had followed that creed, and usually at a cost to him.
He looked down at her picture, her eyes, the face he loved, but had never touched. Again, he stared at the words. An open invitation. An invitation for happiness. For love.
Love, he loved her so much. He would easily give up everything in his life for her. He had done it once before. Simply walked away from a life. This was more complicated this time. More people would be hurt. And that was something he wasn't sure he could do.
He fell in love with her, and once that began, he let go. He stopped fighting it. It was hard for him to accept that she returned his love with the same passion. Her words intoxicated him, her voice entrapped him, her love freed him.
She had never asked him to give up anything, if he did it, it would be on his own. For her. He tried to remember the last thing he had done just for himself, and nothing came to mind.
He had no regrets. It was a dangerous game he was playing, a fool's hand most likely. He risked it all with her. He felt alive for the first time since he could remember. Before her, he felt as if he were marking time until his death. Existing. Breathing. Sleeping. Working. For one moment with her, he would give everything, and anything. He would give up all of his tomorrows for just one kiss.
There was guilt. He felt guilty because he couldn't give her everything she deserved. He wasn't free to walk up to her and wrap his arms around her, stare into those eyes, and whisper, "I love you, baby."
Left was his past. Right was his future. That's how it felt as he looked at the green highway sign a hundred yards or so ahead. He thought of the trunk and his suitcase. And how it felt the last time he had done something similar.
He had loved Lisa, more than any woman until she entered his life. There were similarities between the two, the hair color, stature. They both made me feel whole, like a man. The way Lisa cocked her head and grinned at him. The feeling of those fjord blue eyes sparkling into his.
Things had gone badly and Lisa ended the relationship. An ache like he had never felt permeated his very existence. Looking into mirror as he shaved, wondering what would happen if the razor slipped. He would scarcely breath feeling the sharpness of the blade at his jugular. He knew he couldn't stay and survive. Leaving was the only option. On a bitterly cold January morning, he had packed one bag, and left everything else behind for whoever wanted it. He knew he would never be back to collect anything. It didn't matter, it was just stuff.
He ached. He closed his eyes, feeling the sting of emotion in them. It didn't feel fair, he was so close, but yet, so far away. In mere hours he could see her, hear her, touch her. What would her cheek feel like? How would she touch his face? He wanted to feel her in his arms, was that too much to ask?
The diet pepsi burned his throat as he swallowed. "Why is life so difficult?" he wondered, "There are no easy answers."
Life is like that, rarely are there are any freebies. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. There's a price to be paid, a tax levied, a toll collected on each decision we make. He knew he could either way, there was no doubt. He felt the heightened anxiety of being on the edge. The adrenaline rush seemed to take hold.
He shifted the car into gear, his foot pressed on the accelerator. He was moving. The junction was nearing. It was time to fish or cut bait. This was the moment.
77 North the sign read.