The Surprising Road HomebyScorpio44a©
[Leaving a career sometimes unroots a man. Sends him on an undefined search for some where or some cause to root again. Nick finds a surprising road home.]
Twenty-eight years of wearing uniforms were over. I was retired. In at eighteen, out at forty-six. I put the uniforms and memory reminders in storage, bought a small RV and a boat and went fishing.
The month of July was spent at three different lakes in Missouri. In August I fished in Arkansas. Met some nice folks and they told me about some good fishing in the Carolinas. So, September and October found me making the rounds of lakes in the Carolinas.
Lake Marion is a big lake near the town of Santee in South Carolina. My first day on the lake, I did well. Caught four nice sized bass and threw three of them back so they could grow a little more. I shared dinner with the three families camped near me and swapped some nice stories. Over the next few days we shared more fish, more stories and became friends.
On the twentieth of October I was sitting in my boat near the edge of the lake, casting into a shady spot when my cell phone rang. It surprised the hell out of me. Only four people in the world had my number; my sister, Alison, my ex-commanding officer, my ex-girl-friend and her teen-aged daughter. I almost hoped it was my ex-commanding officer. He was a good guy and if he could get free, some fishing would do him some good.
It was my sister. "Brother of mine, we want you here for Thanksgiving."
"Hello. You want me to load my boat on the trailer and drive all the way to Oregon for a turkey dinner?"
"Yes, and to spend some time with your family. Us."
"That's a long drive, Sis." I knew I'd do it. I love my sister and giving her a hard time is just part of our way of being together. The banter went back and forth for another fifteen minutes, telling me all about the family gossip, the news from my ex-wife, and a few more jabs at getting me to agree to make the drive. I promised I'd decide in plenty of time to make the drive, if I was coming and I promised to call her.
I didn't catch anything that day or the next. Thoughts of heading west showed up more and more often. Just about as often as thoughts of breasts, and sharing a bed with someone showed up. My last bed partner was a nurse stationed on my last base. I left the base and her in July. It was October. Four months! Damn! Two more months and I'd probably start calling myself a monk.
When I tied the boat up at the end of fishing on the twenty-third I noticed a police car parked not too far away. I hadn't done anything that would interest him so I just noticed his car, but didn't pay much attention. That is until I walked over to my RV and found him sitting in one of my camp chairs.
He stood up and asked, "Nick Peterson?"
"Yes, sir." I noticed my posture improved as I answered. "Is there a problem?"
"Well, less just say I have one and I'm hopin' you can help me solve it." He sat back down. I opened the RV and snagged a beer, showed it to him and asked, "Want one?" He shook his head. I sat down and said, "Tell me about your problem."
"In my town there's a couple, not married, but shackin up, you know? Well, they been fightin. Up til lately it's been mostly words. Two months ago he hit her for the first time. Broke her nose. I got him in a recovery program and he did Ok for a while. Three days ago he got drunk and beat the hell out of her. Cracked two ribs and broke a finger on her. She ended up in the hospital. He's in my jail. I'm thinking that when they get back together it's gonna get worse."
"She needs to get away from here. A long ways from here."
"And since I've got Texas plates on my RV..."
"You're quick. I checked on you. Retired Air Force, good guy. You up for the assignment?"
"She want to fight anybody, or just him?"
"She don't even want to fight him. She's a good woman, just hooked up with a jerk." He paused, then added, "The pickins round here ain't much."
"You want me to haul her a long ways away and dump her? Not my style."
"No. Not dump her." His face showed there was a lot going on in there he hadn't said, yet. "Help her find a job and get set up somewhere."
"I may not be from around here, but this doesn't sound like any social program I've ever heard about. What you ask costs money and time."
"I'll give you some money. Feed her, get her some decent clothes and help her get a fresh start. It isn't a social program. She's my baby sister."
"So the money is yours?" He nodded. His eyes were locked in on mine. I thought about it. I had weeks to drive three thousand miles to my sister's place in Oregon. She might be good company. Maybe she could even cook!
"Is she willing to go?" I asked.
"She's scared. She's scared of Jack and she's scared of you. You're a stranger. She oughter meet you, then she can choose to be more scared of Jack or you. I think she'll choose to be more scared of Jack."
"When does she get out of the hospital?"
"This isn't a big town. You bring her by to meet me and someone will see us and tell Jack she left with me."
"I won't bring her by. Way I see it, you'll leave tonight, drive over to Lexington to Edmund's RV Park there. Bout nine tomorrow night, we'll drop by. I'll be in civvies and driving a Dodge pick-up. She'll be with me. You'll meet and talk. She'll be packed and ready to go."
"Won't folks notice you came and talked to me here?"
"I've stopped and talked to half the people in this campground today. Seems someone stole some stuff from the store. I'm in-vestigatin." He smiled.
"Ok. I'll meet her. Lexington? Is there more than one campground?"
"Stay at Edmunds. I looked inside your RV. You've got GPS, so findin Lexington will be easy."
"What if she's more scared of me?"
"Then I take her back to Jack. He gets out on Tuesday. I'll probably be using the money I'd give you for her funeral." He looked sad and depressed at that possibility.
"Let's hope she picks me. Should I have some dinner ready for us?"
"That might be a help. She loves Sweet Potato pie."
"If I see one in a market, I'll get it. Now, let me get packed up and out of here."
We shook hands and he left. It took me an hour but I got on the road and into the campground in Lexington before it was completely dark. I stopped once on the way, at a market. I found a sweet potato pie and bought a large container of jambalaya and a salad. A twelve pack of diet Coke went with me, as well. Opening my fridge and seeing beer wouldn't be a good sign to her.
When I got set up in the campground, I ate a little of the jambalaya and salad. They were very good. I sat outside my RV to eat and met a couple of my neighbors. Like in many campgrounds people get out and walk in the evening. When one of my neighbors asked where I was headed I said I was headed up into North Carolina to see if they still had any fish.
After I ate a little I cleaned up the RV and me. I had a day to kill before the sheriff and his sister would be "dropping by." I spent the time making room for her stuff and doing some deferred maintenance on the rig. By evening I felt good about the RV and me. I showered and shaved. The years of military training had me well trained. I always showered and shaved, every morning and every time something important was happening.
By nine in the evening I was sitting back outside in clean jeans and a button front shirt. My boat and trailer were hitched and ready to roll.
At nine-fifteen a red Dodge pick-up parked in one of the visitors parking spaces and I watched the sheriff help his sister out of the truck. She walked like it hurt to move. She looked scared and in pain. I got up and moved a chair to make it easy for her. I held the chair and the sheriff helped her sit.
"Mr. Peterson, this is Kate. Kate, Mr. Peterson." The sheriff said.
"Nick. Mr. Peterson was my Dad. Nice to meet you. I have some food. Interested?"
She looked up at me for the first time. "It hurts to eat." He voice was soft and her eyes said more than her voice. She was hurt and scared. Other than being a little swollen and a small bruise on her cheek she was a pretty woman. The shirt she had on hid most of the details about how she was built, but it was obvious she wasn't fat or sloppy.
"That may be, but starving hurts worse. A little salad, jambalaya and sweet potato pie might help you feel better."
The sheriff said, "Even if she doesn't eat, I'm starved." We went inside and brought the food out. I also brought three diet Cokes. She watched and when the smells hit her she looked for a fork. I handed her one and set a plate in front of her.
Her brother dished out a little of everything for her and we sat. Her brother and I ate and she picked at a little of everything. When we were done I still had enough jambalaya for lunch the next day.
We talked. She asked questions and I answered. She asked more questions and I answered. Her brother stayed quiet.
"Can I see inside?" She asked.
We helped her up and into my RV. She looked around and said, "There's only one bed."
I said, "The dining area converts into a bed. Takes less than a minute." I showed them. She looked at the tiny kitchen and said, "I can cook."
I said, "Good, cause I'm not very good in the kitchen."
"The jambalaya was pretty good." Kate said.
"I got it at the market in Lexington."
She sat on the side of the dining room bed and said, "I'll go. If I stay Jack will get drunk again and kill me. I have to go."
"Ok." Her brother looked relieved. "I'll get your things out of the truck."
He came back with three suitcases. I asked which one she needed that night and in the morning. That one stayed inside. The other two I stashed in the outside storage bins. While I did that they said their good-byes. I walked the sheriff back to his truck.
He handed me an envelope. "My phone number is in there and ten thousand dollars. Use the money to take good care of her, get her started." He paused, like he was looking for the right words to say. "I'm trusting you with the life of my only sister."
"I won't let her or you down." We shook hands and I felt him wanting a hug or something more than a handshake, but our training in being men wouldn't let him do it. He got into his truck and drove away. I stood in the road for a while as the importance of what I had taken on hit me. For the first time in my life a woman's life was in my hands. Was I up to this?
I helped ten guys live through Iraq. I could do this, I told myself. I straightened up and went back inside. Kate was crying. I closed the door and sat next to her, one arm automatically went around her back.
When she stopped I said, "We ought to get some sleep."
She said, "Where do I change?"
I said, "I'll go in the bathroom and you can change out here. There's more room. When you're in bed tell me and I'll come out and go to bed. Ok?"
She nodded. I went into the bathroom and shut the door. Twenty seconds passed and she said, "Nick!" It sounded painful.
"I need you out here."
When I opened the door I saw why. Her bandages wouldn't let her get her clothes off. I didn't say anything, I just helped. It took a while but we got her into a big t-shirt of mine and into bed. I shut off the light and got into bed myself.
It was kind of nice listening to her breathe as we settled in for the night.
My eyes popped open at about seven. Kate called my name again. I said, "I'm here."
"I had trouble waking you. I need help getting up and I really need to get into the bathroom."
It took a minute but we got her in there and as I started to close the door she said, "I'm embarrassed, but I can't lower my panties. Bending hurts too much."
"I won't look." I said as I helped her. When she sat I didn't have time to close the door before the flood began. She giggled a little and then winced. Giggling hurt. That got us both giggling and her wincing as her stream kept making noise.
When she finished, she hesitated. I realized she would have trouble wiping without it hurting more, so I tore off some paper from the roll and wiped her. I helped her stand and I pulled up her panties.
"God! I am so embarrassed!"
"In a few days, when you feel better, I'll have you do me, then we'll be even."
"Don't say stuff like that! It'll make me laugh again, and laughing hurts!"
It was eight-thirty before we were dressed and ready to drive. I became well acquainted with her body in the process. I had her stay back in the dining room until we were on I-26 west. Then I helped her sit shotgun.
Two hours later I changed to I-40 west. It was pretty quiet between us until that transition.
"Where are we going?"
"For now, west. Exactly where, I haven't decided. Is there somewhere you'd like to go?"
"I've never been anywhere. If we go west will we go to St. Louis?"
"Yes, that sounds good. I've wanted to see the arch. So, we're going to St. Louis."
"Bill told me you were in the Air Force. Did you fly?"
"I was enlisted. Pilots are officers. I was in charge of an electronics maintenance outfit. We repaired airborne electronics."
"Did you travel a lot?"
"I don't know about a lot, but I guess more than most people. I was stationed in quite a few places around this planet over the years."
"I did my basic training in Texas, then went to Mississippi for electronics school. After training I went to Taiwan for two years. I came back to the states for a couple years and then went to Germany, Pakistan, Italy and England. Two more years in the states in Omaha Nebraska and I went to Japan, Guam, Australia and then Iraq. My last two years were spent back here in the states, back in Texas where I started."
"When we cross into Tennessee it will be the first time in my life I've been out of South Carolina."
"Tennessee looks a lot like South Carolina. They even speak southern. You'll be fine." I joked.
She smiled and was quiet for a few more miles.
"Nick, when we stop for lunch, could I have a pain pill?"
I aimed the RV over to the side of the road and stopped. I got her pain pills and a diet Coke. I said, "Keep them handy. You don't need to check with me, take them as needed."
She took two and thanked me. I got us back on the road and into Tennessee. As we got close to Knoxville I saw a truck stop and knew they would easily have room for my RV and boat. We could get lunch and some snacks for the road. I pulled off the Interstate and stopped.
After a short discussion I went inside and bought lunch, snacks and fresh bandages. We ate in the RV. After lunch we were back on the road. Kate wanted to know about each of the places I had been. When we got close to Nashville I saw Kate take another couple of pain pills.
"Kate, does the jostling around increase the pain?"
"Yeah, some. But, I need to get away from Jack, so it's worth it."
I saw another truck stop so I pulled in and stopped. I fired up my laptop and looked for campgrounds in the area. I found one called a resort so I headed there.
We pulled in and found a nice spot for us. Kate watched as I got us hooked up and plugged in. I walked over to the office/store and discovered a beauty parlor attached to the store. I asked some questions and found out that Kate could have an appointment in fifteen minutes.
Back in the RV I told Kate my idea. Part of leaving home is changing who she was into a new Kate. I figured a new hair-do could be part of that. Her hair was long, dark brown and slightly wavy with bangs. I helped her to the parlor and said, "Change her hair. Make it easy to care for and sexy. Short would be good."
The lady asked, "You willin to let me really make a change?"
Kate answered, "I want to be a new woman!" I nodded and left them to the task. As I walked out the lady said, "Come back in three hours. I'll introduce you." She laughed as I left.
Three hours later I walked back in and almost didn't recognize Kate. Her hair was very short, quite curly and blond. Not the one color blond that lots of bottle blonds are, but a natural looking blend of blond. She loved it. The lady explained how easy it would be to take care of and I paid her. The bill came to seventy-five dollars. I gave her a fifty dollar tip.
Kate looked in the mirror often back in the RV. She liked the new look. "Jack would hate this." She said.
"Is that why you like it?"
"Partly, but I like it more because it's fun."
We had a conversation about when we should change her bandages. The sheriff told me about her broken finger and some ribs but didn't explain why she was bandaged. She explained that when Jack beat her he kicked her wearing his work boots and they tore up her chest.
We decided to change bandages once a day during daylight hours. We got her shirt off and I carefully removed the bandages. Jack had kicked her at least four times. There were four separate wound areas. Two had needed stitches and the other two were held together with butterfly bandages. I cleaned the wounds and rebandaged her. Her breasts had to be uncovered while I did the job, so I looked and smiled internally. Jack had not directly damaged her breasts. He had come very close, but they were undamaged. Almost half her chest area was badly bruised. Her skin was various shades of deep purple, yellow, green and pale white.
After the bandages were on I went back to the store and bought three refreezable ice packs. They would help the swelling go down faster and reduce the pain. When I came back Kate was holding a shirt in front of her chest but hadn't put it on.
"You want help getting the shirt on?" I asked.
"Are you gay?" She searched my face for a signal, an answer.
"You spent half an hour tending to my bruises and cuts with my tits bare in front of you and... nothing."
"Your left breast is black and blue. You're taking pain killers about every three hours. I'm not the kind of guy who would add pain to someone just so I could cop a feel. If it's gonna happen, I'd rather we both enjoyed it. So, I'll wait."
"So, I'm not ugly?"
"No, you aren't ugly. Not even close. And, I'm not gay."
"Ok. I've never been around a man like you."
"The men you've known would have mauled you, just because you didn't have a bra on?"
"Then for the next few days, until you've healed up a lot more, I recommend you go braless. I'll enjoy the view, it won't hurt you as much and you won't get mauled."
"That will be weird. Since I turned eleven I've never gone a day without a bra."
"Didn't it feel better when I took the bra off you?"
"Yes! It kept pressure on the bruises."
"Then put the bra in a drawer." We spent some time on the computer looking at maps and planning the next few days travel. When our route to St. Louis was planned Kate looked at me and asked, "When will you start looking for a place to drop me off?"
"That's more up to you than me. If you get a feeling you'd like to stop somewhere and check it out, we'll stop for a few days. If you like it, we can find you a job, a place to live and then I'll move along. It will take more than making sure the town has a DQ to convince me you'll be Ok."
"How'd you know I love DQ?"
"We drove passed one on the way here. You smiled and watched it as we passed."
"Oh." She was quiet again for a while. Then, "Where I stay will be west of St. Louis. I want lots of land between me and Jack."
"Ok. Take a look at the maps and pick a direction for us when we leave St. Louis."
As she looked at the maps and read web sites about different places I started dinner. I emptied a bag of frozen stuff into a bowl and put it in the microwave. That was just about the upper limit of my cooking ability.
When it was ready I dished it up and we ate. Kate asked, "You don't drink beer?"