The pounding in her head beckoned her back into the waking world. She squinted her eyes tighter to avoid it. In a sudden recognition of her surroundings, she reached desperately across the bed until her hand slapped against flesh. She breathed a sigh of relief, planting her palm across a familiar chest. She had yet again avoided her greatest fear that he would leave her and she wouldn’t remember why.
A thump landed on the foot of the mattress, and the weight of four stealthy feet made their way across the lumpy duvet. Two bright yellow eyes met hers when she finally lifted one of her eyelids. The vibration of Vikram, the black alley cat they had taken in back in Baton Rouge, soothed her familiar morning woes. She stroked his soft fur and took four deep breaths before she lifted the duvet and walked into the adjoining kitchen of their converted van and started coffee.
Hours later, after she had cooked breakfast and cleaned the dishes, sitting cross-legged on the ragged futon in the living space with her latest romance novel, Emmitt emerged from the bedroom. She looked at the clock. It was 11:15. He was bare-chested, wearing only the dirty jeans he had been sporting for the past twelve days. They hadn’t run into a laundromat since Kansas City. She looked up, her breath catching at the sight of the sharp hills of his abdominal muscles, his tattooed skin oscillating as he stretched upward to showcase them.
“What did we get into last night?” he yawned.
She blushed, embarrassed that she could not remember, but somewhat relieved that he didn’t either. She shrugged and smiled up at him. “You hungry?”
“Always,” he replied.
She got up and dutifully took to the kitchen once again, eager to please him. After finishing yet another round of dishes, she opened the side door to the van and checked their surroundings. They had just made it to Amarillo, heading west for the coast. It was flat and dry and boring. Just how it needed to be for them to remain undetected. She didn’t know how he was funding their nomadic lifestyle, but she didn’t ask questions, opting instead to simply enjoy the ride. She plopped down a lawn chair outside of the van, and stared out into the West Texas horizon, erasing the past from her mind once again.
He joined her shortly after, cracking a PBR and passing her one. He took a long draw and ended with a satisfied “Aahhh.” She smiled. The man could kill someone in cold blood right in front of her and she would love him for it all the same. He issued a goofy grin towards her and lifted his can. “Where to next?” he asked.
She pursed her lips, contemplating. “You know I’m not calling the shots,” she finally said. “Any reason why we can’t stay here?”
He scoffed, lifting the beer towards his lips once again. She shook herself out of the fantasy that they would find a city and fall in love with their surroundings and settle down.
“Well, we’re heading west, right?” she asked. The trailer door swayed as Vikram announced his presence and plopped himself into Emmitt’s lap. He patted the cat on the rump and nodded.
“How far’s El Paso?” she asked.
He smiled. “Now you’re thinking. I think we can make it there before sunset.”
She took the wheel after they finished their beers, and they crossed the high desert to the soundtrack of Metallica’s Black album. They pulled into an RV park shortly before dark.
“One beer,” he smirked at her as they settled in.
She wavered but could not say no to his bright green eyes, pleading for her compliance. They walked into the closest dingy neighborhood bar and took the red pleather barstools closest to the television. He wanted a recap on the Sunday games. He ordered them boilermakers – a long pull of Crown Royal and a Coors Original, and they settled in.
But instead of the games, a breaking news alert flashed across the screen. Two fugitives were wanted for murder. Their identities were unknown, but a man had been brutally beaten in Baton Rouge, and left for dead. He had been bludgeoned to death with a sharp object that was not found on the scene.
An icy prickle crossed her spine as she watched the news. She glanced towards Emmitt to gauge his response. He did not bat an eye. She peered back up toward the screen when the memories came flashing back.
She was sitting alone with a Cape Cod at the end of a high-end bar, the alluring notes of a saxophone sprinting from one end of the scale to the other. She took a sip of her drink and looked down the line of the bar, catching eyes with a well-groomed older man. She flipped her auburn hair and lowered her gaze and looked at him once again. He caught her drift and moved seats next to her. She leaned her knees toward him and batted her eyelashes. He was droning on about his accolades while she scanned the room, finally settling on those piercing green eyes, with a devilish smile mounted underneath.
With hot, putrid breath, he suggested they leave the bar. She gave a demure smile in return and agreed. She had wobbled when she stood, the alcohol hitting her stronger than she could manage, but she caught herself and steadied herself towards the exit.
He pulled her arm in, marking his territory, as they exited the bar. Her eyes wandered again until she caught those bright green eyes gesturing around the bar. She swayed and suggested they take the alleyway. Feeling confident in his conquest, he agreed. They trampled clumsily across cobblestone until they reached an unused dumpster around the corner.
She pulled him around the dumpster and backed herself into the brick wall, recognizing the appearance of her vulnerability and how that first relaxed him and then caused him to overestimate his place of power. She relented into it, and allowed his hands to wander throughout her body, believing he had the advantage in this situation. She murmured for him to slow down, but he understood their power dynamics and pressed himself into her body harder than before.
She drew in a breath in fear, but those piercing green eyes reappeared from around the dumpster – as they always had. Before she could react, he wielded a hatchet in his left hand and came down directly on the man’s head three times before he fell to the ground, lifeless.
She gasped and leaned against the wall, pulling up her dress. He met her gaze and nodded. He reached down and around the man’s pockets and pulled out his wallet. His sparkling smile reached her and disarmed her immediately. “We found our way to Fresno,” he’d said.
She shook herself back to her surroundings, seeing the blurred half-empty beer, the display of cheap liquors behind the bar, the splintered wooden bar top, and the television above, still covering the murder out of Baton Rouge. She turned again to Emmitt, breathless. He was bantering with the bartender and still paying no attention to the news story or her, but caught a sideways glimpse of her stare. He flashed his white teeth in her direction when he realized she had returned to reality, and winked.