tagRomanceThe Perfect Pieces Ch. 02

The Perfect Pieces Ch. 02

byDreamCloud©

Author's note: Chapter 2 of 13. Thank you Tim413413 for selfless editing.

The Perfect Pieces - Chapter 02

The sun was waning when I got into the car and started the long drive back to the house. I fiddled with the radio and gave up trying to find a station with something other than an ad. I tuned to my favorite and turned it down waiting for the music to cycle back. I looked up as the light changed and turned onto the on-ramp. Halfway down the ramp, Amber was hitchhiking.

"Fuck," I said to myself. I wanted to drive by so badly I could feel it in my bones. Images of a news story of an unnamed woman found dead on the side of the road made me stop. I tried to quell my anger at myself for buying her dinner. I knew her name now. She wouldn't be the nameless dead girl. It would be my fault if I drove by. I stopped a car's length beyond her. Closed my eyes and rested my head on the steering wheel. This would end badly for me. I hate dealing with people.

I timid knock on the passenger window brought my head up. I sighed and pushed the lever to lower the window.

"You can't hitchhike," I said sharply. I meant it to come out softer, but I was still a little hot. "Especially at night," I added with a more even tone. Damn, I think I just sounded like my father did when I was younger. I disliked this situation immensely. Amber laughed. I hated this situation.

"I've made it halfway across the country, Mark," Amber chuckled. "Go on," she continued, pointing down the road, "I'll be fine. You've done enough." She headed to the back of my car and went back to the edge of the on-ramp. I took a deep breath. I couldn't believe she laughed at me. Stupidity had always been my guide when dealing with people. I got out of the car, visions of her raped and dead on the side of the road steering my stupidity to new heights.

"I'll give you enough for a train ticket," I called to her, "anywhere you want to go." She stared at me. At least she didn't laugh. "You can't hitchhike," I repeated, as if that made all the sense in the world. She could certainly hitchhike; it was I who couldn't let her. She took a step away from me. Fuck, she thought I was the murdering rapist.

"Look," I said, "I'll leave some money right here," I kicked around the gravel 'til I found a fist-sized rock. I grabbed my wallet. I pulled out the $240 and some singles I had, folded them and put them under the rock. "It should be enough to get you across a couple of states. Just promise you won't hitchhike." She stopped moving backward.

"I promise," she called from the safe distance. I nodded and got back into the driver's seat. I did what I could. I prayed that murdering rapists didn't ride the train. I put the car into drive and continued on my way.

"Mark!" Amber shouted. 'Idiot,' I thought to myself as I put the car in park. She ran up to the passenger side window, her hand full of my money. Her money now. She struggled a bit with her words. I waited, not wanting to issue any more stupid statements from my mouth.

"I need a place to sleep for the night," Amber said. Tears flowed. I think she would have rather driven a nail through her foot than ask me.

"I don't live very close to town," I said, trying to discourage her, "I usually only come in once a week." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

"I'll clean," Amber offered, "yard work." She seemed pretty desperate for someone who hitchhiked halfway across the country. She saw my hesitation and sweetened the deal, "I need a safe place for the night." Now I could play hero and save her from the train-waiting murderous rapists.

"It would only be a couch." I wimped out.

"Okay," Amber agreed. I popped the lock and she got in the front seat and laid her backpack on the floor at her feet. For all I knew, she was a hitchhiking murderous rapist. Well, murderous anyway.

"Buckle," I ordered. Amber smiled and buckled herself in. I put the car back into drive and headed down the ramp and merged onto the highway.

"Are you sorry you met me?" Amber asked. She said it with shamed softness.

"Yes," I said too quickly. "No," I rephrased once I had a second to think about it. "I am kind of set in my ways and maybe a disruption is what I need." I was lying to her and myself.

"I'm sorry," she said. I left it at that. Some early Fleetwood Mac ended the ads so I turned up the radio and let Stevie Nicks talk for both of us. I was surprised to see Amber's finger tapping as she mouthed the words. She seemed too young to be a fan.

We rode through some Journey, followed by Heart. I had to turn down 'Barracuda' since I wasn't in the mood to get hyped up.

"You're in trouble, aren't you?" I asked, not taking my eyes off the road. I had thought about it, and it made sense. I might as well know what I had gotten myself into.

"Yes," Amber answered. She didn't elaborate.

"Have you lied to me?" I asked. Again, I didn't look at her face. I just wanted to know if I was being completely conned. Of course it was a stupid question. If she lied about lying, I would be in the same boat.

"No," Amber responded. I looked over. Amber's eyes held apprehension and dropped to her feet. "I just didn't tell you everything." I believed her.

"Do I want to know everything?"

"No, it's best that you don't," she said quietly. I nodded and took a deep breath. Nothing involving other people is ever easy. I thought for a moment as 'Barracuda' continued quietly in the background. I decided I would commit to one night. Whatever the situation, it wouldn't affect my helping an obviously desperate woman. I already decided she wasn't murderous. If she was a thief, which seemed thin, my most valuable things wouldn't interest her at all. I had already given her all my cash and you can't hitchhike with a few hundred pounds of glass. Her eyes and mind were clear and she wasn't emaciated, so I wrote off drug use. It had to be something with the relationship that went from bad to worse. Risk was now my middle name.

"Then we will ignore it," I concluded out loud, "you can relax tonight, and I'll get you to the train in the morning." Amber visibly relaxed and smiled. It made me feel better. I had no idea what kind of person I was helping, but she needed it. For one night, she could unwind with little thought to survival. Her smile drew mine out. I was fully committed.

Heart gave way to Kansas. I turned 'Dust in the Wind' up a little. It was nice to use the radio as the third person. It allowed me to continue driving without saying something stupid. One thing about oldies, everyone knew the tunes. They never deviated from what they were so long ago. Very trustworthy. My neurotic need to fill the silence with words abated. I turned on the headlights as the sun dropped.

Ads interrupted a few songs later. I quickly flipped between stations and found nothing. I turned back to my favorite station and turned it down low.

"You don't like silence," Amber observed. She was smarter than she looked. I grimaced at the thought she may be figuring me out. I was hoping I could just be the nice guy who helped her out. "I don't like it either," she added. My shoulders loosened. "Sometimes it's nice. You know, when you're alone without anything to worry about." I looked over. She was looking straight ahead putting words to my thoughts.

"I usually stream IHeart when I sleep," I admitted. She smiled.

"Oldies?"

"The Dead, mostly," I answered, "it syncs better with my dreams." Silence filled with stupidity. I needed a new car. One with a bluetooth sync for my music. I clamped my teeth together to shut my mouth. Music syncing with dreams. She probably thought I was a lunatic. Hell, I thought it of myself.

"I have...well had, a bootleg of them playing Alpine Valley in '88," Amber said, filling the silence, "I used to play it when I read. It was pretty good recording for a bootleg." This time I started the smile.

"I saw Garcia at Soldier Field in '95," I bragged. It was a badge of honor for me.

"His last concert?" Amber asked with interest, "I was only 15 when he died."

"Second to last," I clarified, "I saw him Saturday. He played again Sunday." I was having trouble straightening my lips. "Are you a Deadhead?" I asked.

"I like the music," she answered without missing a beat, "it has a flow that a lot of bands seem to miss. I'm not a dedicated, decorate-the-house-in-skulls, type of Deadhead, but they're in my top five." I turned off the radio. Silence wasn't as bad as I thought.

"And who rounds out the top five?" I asked.

"That's a pretty intimate question, and I don't even know your last name," Amber said, pursing her lips to hide a smile.

"Winslow," I replied. "Answer the question." Her eyes looked out the window unfocused as she thought.

"Santana, Moody Blues and Cat Stevens when I sleep," Amber answered. My eyebrows lifted high.

"I would have pegged you for something more modern," I said honestly. The purple in her hair looked more punkish, maybe headbanger or rap. "That's only four counting the Dead. Who is the fifth." She blushed.

"Dido," Amber replied quietly.

"Who?" I couldn't quite make out her answer.

"Dido," she repeated a little louder. I think she was hesitant to tell me.

"What is a Dido?" I asked lightly.

"British singer," she answered with a more normal voice. I guess she meant to own it now.

"Never hear of him," I admitted.

"Her," Amber continued, chuckling, "I think you probably have. You just don't know the name. 'White Flag' ring a bell?" I shook my head. It must have been where she got the purple hair. Most of my music died in the early 90's.

"You have internet here in the boondocks?" Amber asked, looking out at the wall of trees that fenced in the highway.

"Cellular router," I nodded as I answered.

"Then we'll YouTube her so you'll know," Amber continued. The conversation continued with me confessing my top five and her critique of them. We went into other groups, comparing yeas and nays, finding we had more music in common than not. We moved to movies and books and by the time we arrived, I was at a complete loss as to the purple in her hair. None of her tastes fit the rebel color. I didn't ask. Music was a deep enough topic.

I was disappointed it was dark when we arrived. I wanted to show her the land in something other than black and white. I would have liked to see if she found it calming like I did. Instead, I just pointed out where the driveway began and drove the quarter-mile stone path to the house.

"No neighbors," Amber observed. I sensed a renewed fear in her voice. I had lived here so long, I took it all for granted. To a woman, it was the perfect place to be violated. No different than the hitchhiking. The chances she took were astounding.

"There are," I said carefully, "about half a mile in either direction down the road." She looked both ways trying to see other houses in the dark, avoiding my eyes. I shouldn't have brought her here. "We can go back," I said, meaning it, "I should have gotten you a room at a Red Roof." I had my credit cards. Why in the hell had I agreed to bring her home?

"I'm safe here, right?" Amber asked. About thirty minutes too late.

"Yes," I answered, "but if you don't feel safe, it doesn't matter." She bit her lip as she assessed my words. "I can take you back," I repeated.

"No," Amber decided. She didn't elaborate as she opened the passenger side door. I sat there watching her get out, grabbing her backpack. I wasn't sure how I felt about her being frightened all night. She poked her head back in the car with a smile, "I trust you if you trust me." It would have to be mutual.

I got out and gathered my new glass from the back seat, careful to not let the box bottom break. I set it on the car hood and fished out my keys and handed them to Amber. "The box is heavy and I don't want the glass to fall through." She took the keys and I led her to the side door with my arms full. It took her a few tries to get the key in the lock, but she managed.

"Switch is on the right," I instructed. Amber turned on the lights, and I put the glass in the utility room. "Washer and dryer," I said, pointing out the obvious appliances, "detergent's in the cabinet if you would like to wash some clothes."

"That would be nice," Amber agreed. I took her into the great room. Large stone fireplace, flat panel and an L shaped couch that rarely saw visitors. She handed me my keys and looked around.

"My bed," she smiled, pointing at the couch. I nodded.

"Help yourself to anything you find in the kitchen," I said, gesturing toward the refrigerator behind the counter and stools that separated the two rooms. "I only have one shower, though there is a half bath behind that door." I pointed to the guest bathroom near the kitchen.

"Would you mind if I took a shower?" Amber asked.

"Of course not," I answered, "and there's even a lock on the door." I smiled. She smiled uncomfortably back. Why did I mention the lock? I should just detail everything she should be frightened about. My mouth just wouldn't stay closed. I closed my eyes and spoke again, "I meant that to be reassuring. I didn't mean you shouldn't trust..."

"It's okay," Amber interrupted, "I know." I looked up, and her smile was more genuine. It had a little humor in it as well. At least me feeling like an idiot lightened things up a bit.

"Go ahead," I said, waving her into the bedroom, "I'll catch up on one of my shows." I turned, picked up the remote and sat on the couch. The TV started to cycle through its boot up sequence.

"Mark?"

"Yes," I said, turning to look at her.

"Thank you," Amber said, then disappeared into the bedroom.

"There are clean towels in the linen closet," I yelled. She responded with a garbled affirmative. I returned to the TV and traversed to my DVR listing. I settled on 'Elementary.' I was two shows behind and I knew the season cliffhanger was coming.

I woke to a low rumbling. At first, I thought it was a truck tearing up the lawn. I realized quickly, as sleep left me, it was just the washer going through a noisy cycle. I was still clothed, on the couch with a blanket over me. I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I could smell the coffee.

"Good morning," Amber said from the kitchen. I looked up. She was more appealing cleaned up. Her hair took on a silky sheen and laid in an orderly fashion. "If I would have known the washer was so loud, I would have waited." She lifted a cup to her lips. "Coffee?"

"Yes, please," I said as I worked the couch-induced stiffness from my joints.

"You were out of it last night," Amber continued as she poured me a cup, "I thought it best to leave you where you were." She walked around the counter dressed in my robe. It swallowed her up, but it definitely looked better on her than it did on me. I would have to rewatch 'Elementary.' I hated when that happened.

"Thank you," I said, taking the cup.

"Thank you for the bed," Amber returned. Her grin was as bright as the morning. At least my nodding off benefited someone. I chuckled as I sipped my caffeine. She sat down next to me, pushing the blanket off to the side. "It's been a long time since I have felt clean," she admitted, "I really want to thank you for that and everything else." I was suddenly worried about my breath and the unknown condition of my hair.

"You're welcome," I said, using the cup to block my morning breath. I took a sip of my coffee and thought it best to move my morning halitosis outside. Besides, I would get to show off my land. The whole reason I bought the place. I had a desire for her to like it. "Let's go on the porch," I said as I stood and gestured with my cup to the curtained french doors. She followed.

"Oh!" Amber said as we entered the screened-in porch. It was the best compliment I could imagine. I had kept the grass mowed to the river, about 100 yards away, slightly downhill from the house. Old-growth willows umbrellaed the grasses, mixed with some proud oaks. The birds were loud, it being early and a brown rabbit was running across the grounds as if on cue. "Is that your dock?"

"Yep, though I only own a canoe," I replied. The river moved slowly and was a good twenty feet wide. The dock didn't really stretch out over the water. It was merely a solid bank to sit on and watch the river flow by.

"All of this is yours?"

"Yep," I said again. It was wonderful to watch her eyes as she took it in. It was a perfect morning to show it all off. Just cool enough to make the coffee more valuable. I sat on one of the cushioned chairs.

"You live here year round?" Amber asked as she sat down in the chair next to mine. I nodded my head.

"My workshop is in the garage and the land is my inspiration," I said. My practiced excuse for being a hermit. The truth is that nature was a much better companion than most humans. I had never pissed nature off.

"It's beautiful," Amber commented. She relaxed into her chair and watched the world flow slowly by with me. If the weather was good, this is how I started all my days. Usually followed by a brisk walk around the grounds. It was my world.

"I have to agree with you," I said, tipping my cup toward her, "it's my reality and my escape from it all in one." Amber laughed. I thought it was profound.

"You're in love," she said between chuckles. I thought about it for a second.

"Yes," I admitted. She went back to her coffee, suppressing her giggles. We sat in silence for a few minutes, letting nature's symphony wash over us. I eventually drained my cup and stood to get a refill.

"It is worth your love," Amber said as I opened the door. I stopped and looked back. She was still looking away, watching the river.

"Would you like a refill?" I asked, remembering my manners.

"Please," Amber said, holding out her cup. I retrieved it and went into the kitchen. I smiled to myself as I poured. It was nice to share my land with someone who enjoyed it. My ex called it a fucking dump. Of course, she would have preferred a few trips to Europe instead. It wasn't difficult to get it in the settlement. She hated me, but not enough to deal with the fucking dump.

I collected the full cups and carefully maneuvered outside without spilling any. I handed Amber her cup, and received a smile. Ample payment. I sat down again, enjoying the morning. Amber sighed contentedly.

"You have built a nice life, Mark," she said, sipping her coffee. Unlike my ex, Amber understood. She folded her legs in the chair, sitting more like a teenager.

"I could show you around," I said, "I usually take a walk after coffee." She smiled without answering. I dropped it. I wouldn't want to hang around me either. I should get her back to town before the afternoon train. The dryer's buzzer went off, the sound dulled by the doors.

"That should be my clothes," Amber said, standing, "it will take me a few minutes to put the second load in the dryer and get dressed. I'd love to see the rest of the place." I smiled and sat there as she went inside, wondering why I was so pleased. Even the coffee tasted better.

We walked down to the river first. Amber in tan shorts and a t-shirt that had seen better days. It had a faded image of a runner on the back and some writing on the front. The lettering had lost a lot of its coloring and I didn't feel right staring at her chest to make out the words. I suspected she used to compete in races at one time. Her legs certainly looked toned. Very toned.

The boards creaked loudly as we walked onto the small dock. It had been awhile since I had been on it. It may be time for some repair. I pointed out a turtle that was swimming parallel to the shore. Its nose above the water; you could just make out the shell below. It seemed unconcerned by our scrutiny.

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