Ryan shifted as the old truck's springs bounced him around as he ran over the train tracks. Windows down, the air carried the scent of warm rain not far in the distance. Just one more reason to be glad to be back home. Even if only for a while.
He pulled into the lot, parking among the other dusty pickup trucks with a sprinkling of newer cars and the odd minivan. Locking the door of the truck, he could hear the slow cadence of country music drifting from the open windows. It was likely to be a long night. He leaned against the truck and took the letter out of his pocket, careful not to tear it along the well worn creases.
Maya tugged at the hem of her long denim skirt. She didn't know why she'd let the other teachers talk her into coming to Rowdy's. She didn't even come in on other nights when the music was something she might like to listen to, instead of the country music wafting over the crowd. The dance floor was packed with couples two-stepping, pressed close together.
"Maya." She turned. From the look on Karen's face, she'd been trying to get Maya's attention for some time. Maya smiled and raised her brows in question.
"It's your turn."
Maya didn't have to ask her turn at what. Since they'd gotten there an hour before, the rest of the women in the group, had been downing shots of tequila and giant glasses of fluorescent orange margaritas and daring one another to ask men to dance.
"It's your turn, you swore you would."
Maya sighed and wondered why otherwise normal women, would begin to whine the same way their charges did,
"I will, I will."
She picked up her glass of wine and sipped, eyes roving around the bar. Someone bumped into her lightly from the side as they sat on the stool next to her and she turned around on the stool, facing forward. Their eyes met in the mirror lining the wall behind the bar before she cast her gaze down.
Her eyes fluttered back up to his in the mirror and she bit her lip.
"You're going to have to do it soon or she'll keep harping on you until you're miserable."
She turned slightly, angled towards him, her eyes cast downward again.
"Why not. You have to ask someone."
Why indeed. Ryan had no idea why he was riding to the rescue of a woman he didn't know. Other than the fact that she was pretty. And clearly uncomfortable. He turned fully to face her, his eyes tracing the line of her slender neck as it gave way to shoulders bared by the off the shoulder top she wore. He noticed how beautifully her dark skin contrasted with the color of her top.
"You'll have to ask me out loud though. Otherwise she'll think I asked you and it won't count."
Maya looked over at the group and sighed turning back to the man next to her.
"Would you like to dance?" She was half hoping he'd say no. She'd be done since all that was required was that she ask him to dance.
He smiled, dimples appearing and held out his hand. "Of course."
Ryan led her out to the floor, to an uncrowded corner and placed his hands at her hips, leaving some distance between them. She was busy watching her feet and didn't notice him smiling at the top of her head.
"Come here often?"
She looked up, confused. "Of course not."
"Why of course not?"
"Well, it's a bar. Why would I come to a bar often?"
His distracting questions worked. When she wasn't busy watching her feet, she fell into a natural rhythm with him. He just smiled at her again, though his eyes were laughing at her.
She realized that she'd probably sounded like a stuck up prude and stammered. "Uh, do you come here often?"
"Nope." There was a hint of laughter in his voice to match the laughter in his eyes.
"I'm only in town for a little while".
"Here on business?"
"Home on vacation. What's your name?"
"Maya Butterworth?" She didn't know why she'd told given her last name.
"It's nice to meet you in person, Maya."
She frowned slightly. "In person, do we know one another?"
"I'm Ryan Phillips."
She stopped moving. "Sgt. Ryan Phillips?" He nodded and urged her to continue dancing.
She flushed and looked away from his eyes. She could see it now. His bearing and confidence. The dark hair growing out of a short cut, beginning to curl slightly. He'd once sent her class a picture of himself and the rest of the men in his troop.
The DJ announced a song for lovers and half the floor cleared. She pulled back and he shook his head, pulling her into his arms. "Come on Ms. Butterworth, let's dance."
Ryan closed his eyes, inhaling her light scent. It had been 13 months since he'd touched, held, smelled or talked to a woman. 13 months since he'd been assigned to his current duty station. 13 months since his fiancée had called off the engagement because she didn't think she could handle the separation.
He delivered her back to her group at the end of the song, before heading to the restroom. The group was standing to leave, gathering their belongings and Karen made her way over.
"I thought you'd be out there forever. You only needed to dance with him once, you didn't need to keep bothering him."
Ryan walked up just as Karen finished speaking. He took Maya's coat from her and held it as she slipped into it. "Maya, thank you very keeping me company tonight I hope to see you again."
Karen's mouth snapped shut and she grabbed her purse, hustling the rest of the group along.
She turned to him to thank him and noticed how beautiful his eyes were for the first time.
"Do you need a ride home?" She looked around, the group had already gone outside, Karen no doubt angry with her for hogging an available man.
"I rode with Karen. But if you wouldn't mind, I'll just let her know."
"Not at all." He threw money on the bar and grabbed his keys. He guided her towards the door with a hand at her back.
Ryan guided her to his 1954 Chevy truck and opened her door. She placed one foot on the doorframe and slid in. He closed the door but stood outside gesturing until she used the hand-crank to roll down the window.
He leaned in the window and pressed his lips to hers, the lightest touch. She didn't pull away and she felt him smile wide against her mouth before he pulled away and walked around the front of the truck.
The truck roared to life, the tires kicking up gravel as Ryan pulled onto the road. The scent of old leather and pipe tobacco rose up around Maya as he made his way down the road.
"Is this your truck?"
He shifted into third gear. "Yep. My grandfather gave it to me when I was 15 and I spent a few years restoring it." At the stoplight he turned to her, "would you like to go somewhere and talk?"
The seconds between the question and her answer seemed to take forever. "Yes."
Maya didn't know why she'd agreed, any more than she knew why she'd agreed to let him take her home, other than avoiding Karen.
The light turned green and Ryan pulled through the intersection and changed lanes. He pulled into a bay at the drive-in hamburger stand, full on this night of teenagers out on dates.
They each rolled down their windows and Ryan leaned across the seat to look at the drink and dessert menu located out the window of her side of the truck.
Maya kept still, holding her breath as he leaned closer. He was starting to sprout the beginning of a scruffy beard and she fought back the urge to stroke his skin to feel the stubble.
"You can breathe, you know."
"I was waiting for you to decide what you want. To order, what you want to order."
"I know what I want, Ms. Butterworth. Have you decided?"
Maya decided it was dangerous to look into his eyes and occupied herself with looking at the menu.
"I'll have a cherry limeade with extra lime."
"Care to split some onion rings?"
She nodded and he leaned out his window to give their order through the speaker system. Just as he did, fat raindrops splashed down onto the pavement, though the truck was covered under the awning. Maya inhaled deeply and settled into the bench seat.
Ryan was looking at her curiously.
"I love the smell of rain. I often sleep with my windows open when it's raining."
He reached over and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. "So do I."
They were in deep in conversation, debating the last good movie made when their food and drinks were delivered. He was insistent that Rocky was the best and she countered with Them, a movie about giant insects.
As the night wore on, they discussed their work. He was explaining his role as a medic in the Army and the work he did in Afghanistan and she was telling him about the joys of being a public school teacher.
Ryan took his time studying her. From her short, unpainted nails to her sleek black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Small hoops adorned her ears and a small gold bangle bracelet lay against her wrist. Her white top, blue denim skirt and brown, heeled boots were tasteful and apparently designed not to draw much attention.
"How long have you lived in Independence, Maya?"
Maya finished sipping her soda. "My entire life. My entire family lives here. You?"
My family lived mostly in Cumberland, just outside the city."
"You said lived. Where are they now."
Ryan shifted. "It was just my father left, and he passed away recently"
"How recently, Ryan. Is that why you're here?"
He nodded reluctantly. "yes, he passed away a week ago. I came home to say goodbye and take care of things."
"What about your mother, siblings?"
"My parents divorced when I was young and I stayed with my father. She got remarried and has two kids with her new husband."
Maya reached for his hand and laced her fingers with his. "I'm sorry."
He squeezed her hand. "Thanks."
Maya glanced at her watch, surprised to see that it was now 2 a.m. Ryan followed her glance and turned the key in the ignition. "Let's get you home, Ms. Butterworth."
Maya gave him directions and they drove in silence. Ryan pulled into her driveway and took a look at her home. A modest bungalow on a street lined with bungalows.
He walked her to the door, his jacket held over her head to protect her from the continuing rain. At the door he looked down into her eyes and dipped his head, placing a kiss against the corner of her mouth.
"Would you like to come in?"
She looked away and he tipped her chin up by placing a finger beneath her chin. 'I didn't say I didn't want to, just that I shouldn't." He kissed her, breaking the seal of her lips with his tongue, sliding it in over her teeth and along her tongue.
"Invite me for dinner one night."
She nodded before speaking. "Would you like to come to dinner tomorrow night. Around six?"
He waited until she went inside and he heard her lock the door before bolting back to his truck and heading to the farmhouse.
What he really wanted to do was sit outside on her porch with her, watching the sun rise.