Life for Starr Adams sucked. Or at least she thought so. She worked as a clerk at a truck stop. She was raised and still lived in the same mobile home just a few hundred feet from the back door. Her mom still worked as a waitress at the attached diner.
Starr was a ravishing young woman with a slender form and short blonde hair. She always wore jeans and a short-sleeved pullover top of one color or another, many sporting illustrations of faraway places that she'd never seen but her admiring truckers had. She'd amassed quite a collection, and they included such destinations as Epcot Center, Sand Dunes National Monument, San Francisco, and dozens more.
When she complained about their self-imposed isolation her mom reminded Starr of her good fortune of being healthy and loved, but being nineteen she yearned for much more than life currently offered. She'd never dated and only knew about men through the paperback novels that were offered on a circular carousel in the store where she worked; and the customers, most of whom were male and drove rigs. Many flirted with her. A few were cute, but she found many more reviling. And then there was Doug.
"My name's Douglas Wester," she recalled as he introduced himself. He was tall, slender, and appeared to be in his late fifties. "My friends and creditors call me Douglas. But you, sweet child, can call me anything you like."
"I'll call you Doug," she decided, and that started a long-term friendship.
He stopped every chance he got. At times it turned out to be several visits a week. But she hadn't seen him for over a month. Starr understood it depended on the loads he got, but she missed him just the same.
"Hi Starr," a driver greeted her warmly.
She recognized him immediately. "Hey, Bill."
"I talked to Whiskey Man yesterday."
Her sparkling green eyes lit up and she gave Bill her full attention. She knew that was Doug's CB handle. "Really?"
Disappointment was written on his face when he saw her reaction. He placed his hands on the edge of the counter. He slowly shook his head and deeply exhaled. "You know I'm madly in love with you. Why can't you get excited like that when you see me?"
Starr smiled and squeezed his shoulder in consolation. "I'm sorry, but you're never gone long enough for me to miss. Absence makes the heart grow fonder."
"That's not it and we both know it," Bill decided. "The guy is sixty two years old. I'm thirty four. I'm a much more attractive choice for a beautiful young woman like yourself."
"It's not like that between me and Doug," Starr assured him. She was usually a believable liar. "He's a father figure, that's all."
Bill wasn't convinced, but he wasn't prepared to pursue the subject. "He asked me to tell you he's okay and misses you like crazy. He's trying to schedule a load out this way as soon as possible."
Starr revealed an excited look on her beaming face. Unable to contain her enthusiasm, she leaned over the counter and kissed his cheek. "Thanks so much! You've made my day."
"Father figure my ass," he muttered under his breath.
Starr heard him and felt a twinge of guilt. All the guys loved her, but she couldn't help it. She didn't know what Doug had that the others lacked and could care less. He made her heart sing with joy, and that was enough for her. For the first time in her life she'd found happiness.
When he tried to pay for a plastic bottle of juice she refused payment. "Not today, Bill. It's on the house. Be safe out there."
After he left she sat down on a small stool behind the counter. She placed her golden, folded arms on the scratched glass countertop, and rested her chin on her hands. A whimsical expression appeared on her adorable, lightly tanned face. She smiled to herself and felt the heaviness in her heart suddenly lift, replaced with joy. Her mind wandered as she thought of him in his pressed denim jeans, wrinkle-free western shirt, and wide brimmed cowboy hat. And the cheap sunglasses he'd bought there because it gave him his first excuse to talk to her. He always had a smile on his face, an interesting experience to share, and a reassuring hug to offer. Starr couldn't help how she felt. He filled a huge void that nobody else could.
"Please come back soon," she whispered as she looked at the revolving rack that held an assortment of cheap sunglasses that reminded her of him. "But be safe, Doug. By all means, be safe."
Starr wasn't sure what happened to her biological father. Her mom's explanations changed based on her mood. But she'd narrowed it down tone of three possibilities; he'd left for greener pastures, been convicted and sent to prison for life, or was killed driving a truck. Starr accepted the latter explanation, and as a result always worried and urged the men to be safe. It didn't always work; they'd lost two she was aware of.
Her mom sauntered into the store wearing the waitress uniform. Her wrinkled hands clutched two white mugs filled to the brim with black coffee. She placed one in front of her daughter as she leaned against the counter.
"It's slow today," Audrey remarked.
"Yeah," Starr automatically responded, but her mind was elsewhere.
"What's gotten into you lately? You haven't fallen in love or something, have you?" Audrey quizzed her only offspring. All the signs were there, and they weren't hard to interpret.
Starr shrugged her shoulders. How could she admit having feelings for a considerably older man? He was older than mom; old enough to be her grandfather as a matter of fact. But what else could be expected when a nineteen year old woman's only contact with men was across a counter, and almost all of them were at least twice her age or more? There were exceptions, Bill being one of them, but she didn't have the benefit of being raised in a normal environment. She never got to do the things all of the other girls did.
"Don't get involved with a trucker," Audrey advised. "It's a lonely, miserable life. I know it's hard because that's all you see, and you're at that age when you're ready for love. Don't, Starr. There'll be others, trust me."
"I get so lonely," Starr confessed as she shared a rare intimate moment with her mom. "My life's not normal. I don't get to do normal things. It's so hard sometimes." Tears welled up in her adorable green eyes as she became emotional thinking about it.
Audrey chuckled and shook her head in disbelief. How could she explain to Starr that there was no such thing as normal? "What's normal? Going to school and getting shot by a classmate? Getting date-raped, or beat by an abusive father? Getting shot in the head by a sniper while pumping gas? What's normal, Starr? You tell me."
It didn't take long for an answer. Starr picked up the remote control, turned on a TV that was mounted to a wall bracket across from the counter, and turned on MTV. Gorgeous bikini-clad girls and cute guys packed around a stage in Cancun, Mexico, watching a rapper performing a hit song as they cheered him on.
"That's normal," Starr announced with teary eyes. "People travel, they have fun, and they do things besides work."
"That might be normal for them, but not for you," Audrey told her. "This is your life, and that's theirs. It's normal to dream of being somebody else, baby, I've done it all my life. Trust me. But when you wake up, you're still here in the morning. You have to be grateful for what you have."
"But I want more," Starr said in a determined voice as sadness replaced the brief excitement of Bill's relayed message.
Audrey watched as tears ran down her beautiful daughter's face. "Have yourself a good cry. Let it out. You'll feel better afterwards."
Starr placed her forehead on her folded hands and gave in to the sadness. Her body shook as she released the tension. The disappointment and frustration mixed with salt and moisture and leaked from her eyes in the form of tears.
* * * * *
Audrey was relieved when she saw that everything seemed to be back to normal. Yes, normal, she thought; their version of normal, anyway. Starr no longer exhibited first-love excitement as she had been doing for several days. Audrey was sure their little talk about not getting mixed up with truckers headed off a potential mess, but it hadn't at all. Starr was just busier thinking about being cheated out of a normal life than she was an absent trucker. That would soon change.
A trucker sharply dressed in pressed denim jeans, a wrinkle-free blue-checked long-sleeved western shirt, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat approached the counter. He paused to admire the young lady who sat behind it and was slumped over the glass admiring pictures of the French Riviera. She seemed completely consumed by them and didn't notice his presence.
"You are truly an angel," he observed.
She immediately recognized the Texas drawl. Her mouth stretched into a wide grin and her sweet face beamed with excitement. As tempted as she was to throw her arms around him and plant a kiss on his cheek, she resisted the impulse. A proper young lady never showed her hand so early in the game.
"Been awhile," she commented in an uninterested tone, doing her best to hide the excitement that was anxious to be released.
Doug smiled to himself. At sixty two, he'd been around the block too many times not to recognize the game she was playing. "Yeah, well, I go where my loads take me. I won't apologize for that. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again."
The wide smile disappeared, replaced by a shocked expression. Starr was aghast as she watched him leave in her peripheral vision. The jingling of the bell confirmed her worst fears. It wasn't possible! Had she been wrong? Wasn't it Doug? She rushed to the plate glass window beside the door and watched him walking toward his rig. She was suddenly filled with rising anger. Starr opened the door and ran across the lot towards him. Doug heard the sounds of rapidly approaching footsteps and knew it was her. Now it was his turn to smile.
"Doug!" she shouted, but he kept walking.
When he knew she was getting very close he unexpectedly turned and scooped her up into his arms. They gave each other a long overdue hug and enjoyed the warm, loving embrace. After a few moments he released her.
"Where are you going?" she asked, still stunned by his quick departure.
"I forgot your presents," he announced. "I thought that might get your attention. You seemed too busy with all that fantasizing about France to pay me any mind."
"You know that's not true!" she angrily exclaimed. "You know how I feel about you."
When the serious look on his face changed into a smile, Starr knew she'd been had. She punched his left shoulder and turned her back to him. Doug stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders and gave her another big hug.
"I missed you like the dickens," he admitted as he earned his way back on her good side. "Why don't you come with me sometime? You could see so many wonderful places."
"Bill said he'd be a much better choice for me than you," Starr revealed as feelings of hurt and anger were still present. "Maybe he's right."
"Sure, if you go for that type," he agreed, and then added "But we both know you don't. It's me that lights up your incredible face when I cross that threshold, not Bill or anyone else. I've known that since day one. I don't understand it, but I've learned that there are some things a man shouldn't question but just accept and be thankful for."
"My mom would kill me if she knew I had the slightest interest in a trucker," Starr said. "I can't explain it, either. She told me to steer clear because life with a trucker is filled with loneliness and misery. But how can she expect me to live my life here and ignore my own feelings when they develop?"
There was a slight hesitation before he replied. "She's just trying to protect you by sharing a lesson she learned the hard way, I expect. I'm not going to stand here and tell you anything different. You're nineteen, gorgeous, and full of life. You're burning brighter than anyone and anything else around here. It's like watching a shooting star on a summer night streaking across the sky. You're my Shooting Starr, and I'll hang on to you for as long as you'll let me. But you need to get out of this place and find your own life, not live your mom's. I'd be right proud to give you your first glimpse of it, if you'll let me."
"Maybe," she said in a non-committal tone. Starr wasn't sure if she could ever leave. It was the only home she'd ever known, and it would be so hard to abandon her mom in such a manner.
"Sleep with me tonight in my rig," he suggested. "You have my word I'll be a perfect gentleman and nothing will happen. I just want to hold you in my arms for longer than a hug. The invitation's there whenever I'm here. Just tap on the window."
"You've given me a lot to think about," Starr commented. "I don't know what to say, Doug, about any of this. I'm frustrated, I'm confused, and I'm happy and sad all at the same time. Mostly I'm scared, though. It's like my whole life has been leading up to this point and all I want to do is cry."
"You're at a crossroads, Starr. Decisions that are going to define who you are and how you live need to be made. If you don't have the courage to decide, life decides for you. Don't let that happen. That's the only advice I can give you. If you ever need to talk, to be heard, or just to be held, I'm here."
"Thanks," she said in heartfelt appreciation. "For everything."
"You go on inside. I'll get the gifts," he instructed.
He reappeared a few minutes later holding an unwrapped white gift box. Upon opening it she found two T-shirts. One was colorful with several different types of fish and advertised the Seattle aquarium. A second one was white and had pink flying pigs on the front, along with 'Cincinnati, Ohio'. A brief story on the back explained how the city was built on the profits reaped from slaughtered pigs, hence their angelic progression. There were also picture books of both cities' attractions.
Tears formed in her eyes as she looked at all the wonderful gifts he showered her with. The fear and trepidation that gripped her evaporated and were replaced by strong emotions of love and admiration. She was confused by the sudden changes in her emotional state, and that caused the tears to stream down her face.
"I'm sorry, I'm a mess," she admitted. "Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. They're wonderful."
He stretched his arms out and gestured her forward. She accepted his warm embrace and cherished the moment, thankful for the absence of other customers.
"Remember, you make those decisions," he whispered his encouragement. "I'm having dinner next door. I'd be obliged if you joined me, but I'll understand if you don't."
"Maybe." She didn't mean for it to come out the way that it did, but they both broke out in laughter. She was facing life-altering decisions and couldn't even make a simple one. "I'm hopeless, aren't I?"
"Don't you worry; I'll get through to you yet."
He winked at her as she wiped the tears from her eyes and willed them to stop. He entered the diner a few steps away and left her alone. Starr felt so silly for behaving the way she was, but she didn't know how else to feel given the circumstances. What was she supposed to do? Who should she believe? Was this truck stop destined to be her life, as it had been her mom's?
* * * * *
Doug was just drifting off to sleep when he heard a soft tapping. Initially he discounted it, but it persisted. Finally he awoke and heard it again. This time he poked his head through the curtain that separated his bed from the driving compartment and saw Starr through the driver's side window. A large smile emerged on his face. He crawled forward and opened the door.
"Good evening, darling," he greeted her wearing only a pair of red briefs.
"I couldn't sleep knowing you were out here," she explained as she climbed in. "Is there room enough for me?"
"Why would you even ask a silly question like that?" he inquired.
"Because I'm nervous," she honestly answered. "I probably shouldn't be here, but I am. You said you'd be good."
"You have my word."
Doug smiled as he watched her climb in. She was dressed in light blue shorts and a skimpy top, both dotted with adorable brown teddy bears. He could see the swells of her hand-sized breasts through the fabric, and the tell-tale peaks of her nipples. It was an inspiring sight for a trucker that was accustomed to so much less.
After she lay beside him he tugged a light blanket over them both. She laid facing away from him and he spooned her, enjoying the warmth of her body and the sweet fragrance of perfume.
"A man could get used to this," he admitted.
"So could a girl," she confirmed with a naughty grin on her face.
He held her tightly against the length of his body and savored the moment. His only regret was that, eventually, he knew he would drift off to sleep. He'd rather remain awake and enjoy their brief time together. At his age he knew he had no right to be intimate with a nineteen year old woman, but he was selfish enough to try. Life was too short not to try.
His lips pressed against the side of her wonderfully scented neck and he kissed her repeatedly. Starr softly groaned as she enjoyed the feel of his lips on her skin. She rolled over onto her back and looked up at him for several moments. After she nodded yes, he kissed those luscious lips. His tongue snaked into her mouth in the first serious kiss she'd ever had. Her own tongue awakened and kissed him back. The warm, wet muscles desperately entwined and swirled, seeking the pleasure of one another's presence.
The kissing was wonderful, and he'd kept his word. There were no advances, although she lay beside him dressed only in night clothes. Starr felt so safe in his clutch, so loved, and so normal. She realized that this was what normal people did. It felt so right being here with him.
"You can touch my boobs through my top," she offered, although it was more of a desire disguised in a tempting offer.
"Don't make the offer if you're not comfortable with it," he replied, happy with just her presence in the truck.
After a few moments of silence and reconsideration Starr responded "I'd like for you to touch me."
Doug wasn't ignorant. He knew that a woman had needs just the same as a man. And he also knew that when a woman asked for something, a man had a duty to provide it. Or she'd go elsewhere to have that need fulfilled. His hands swiftly cupped the swells of soft flesh and gently fondled the warm mounds. Her adorable green eyes closed and she softly groaned as tingling warmth filled her loins. She rejoiced in feeling normal.
"You are so beautiful," he whispered into her ear. "Your flesh feels glorious. When I kiss your skin it's sweeter than cotton candy at the State Fair."
"What's a State Fair?" she innocently asked.
"Starr, there's a big world out there. Let me show a piece of it to you."
"Is it scary?" she questioned.
"It's every emotion you can imagine," he replied. "Yeah, it can be scary at times. But also exciting, wonderful, fun, sad even, but that's what living is. This truck stop is like a baby's cradle. It's safe and predictable, but as it keeps out the bad things it also keeps out the good things. You deserve the world, and the world deserves you. You're an angel, my Shooting Starr, and the people of this world deserve to see your brightly shining soul. You're inspiring and I love you for it."
Starr smiled into the darkness. "You love me?"
"Yeah, I love you," he confirmed. "Everybody that knows you loves you. The only people that don't love you have never met you."
Starr felt so special; so normal. This was what she'd been missing, and it was here all along; the feel of his hands groping her breasts through the thin top, the tingling warmth of excitement, and the feel of her rapidly beating heart. The warmth of his body against hers was delightful, as was the freedom of revealing her very soul. She wasn't ashamed to admit her ignorance when she was with him, and loved hearing his reassuring and comforting words.