A Certain Point of View
The pencil ceased its motion and contact-dry eyes looked up as the sound of tires crunching heralded the approach of yet another vehicle. Lee watched and waited, his hand shaking slightly. Once the old blue car that reminded him of his parents' Caprice passed by, he took a deep breath and turned back to the sketch before him. Despite the soothing scratch of the graphite point and the concentration needed to continuously compare the reality before him with the image he was creating, he was unable to keep his mind from bouncing back and forth between the call he'd made last night and the one he'd made this morning.
He hadn't lied. He'd artfully chosen each and every word he'd `spoken' to her — most times. That little incident involving the typo on the word `clock' not withstanding, he'd been very careful not to specifically say anything about himself that wasn't true. After all, there were words like `kid' that were true — he was just 26 — and safe.
But, he hadn't lied. His conscience was clear on that one point. Of course, he hadn't been completely honest, either. And that fact weighed heavily on his every waking moment. He and Jason had concluded that she already knew, that she'd figured it out on her own, but it hadn't made it any easier to broach the subject with her. The memory of a previous rejection was still sharp in his mind.
Then, last night in a rest stop somewhere the back side of nowhere between Florida and Pennsylvania, he'd stood in front of a pay phone with hands shaking so badly he was afraid he'd drop the handset as soon as he picked up. On the drive north, he had convinced himself that he had one last chance to make things right, to tell Rhea... everything. And, in the dark of that May evening, he'd decided it was time to do it.
However, as he listened to the phone ring, "what ifs" began to cloud his mind and, as her beautiful, husky voice filled his ears, his resolve wavered. He would tell her, and that would be the end. He'd head west to Illinois instead of north to Pennsylvania. She'd never speak to him again, a thought which actually caused physical pain.
Her voice soothed the ache inside some and he tried to harness his fears enough to do what had to be done. And, she was perceptive. She knew there was something wrong, something he needed to tell her and hadn't. She always knew. That's what made their relationship so special, the fact that they could sense each other, each other's thoughts and feelings, despite the distance and the mediums used for communication.
Still, as she asked, "What's wrong?" he hesitated.
Could he live without this? Without her? He swallowed the lump that seemed to have formed in his throat and replied, his voice cracking slightly, "Nothing."
"Something you haven't told me?"
Lee couldn't answer that without setting the ball rolling that would topple his whole world, so he remained silent.
Lee gnawed the inside of his cheek.
"You're not black or something, are you?"
"No!" The question startled the squeaked denial out of him.
"No," he said again, and qualified it with, "I'm just nervous."
Rhea was quiet for a moment, then, "Okay. When do you think you'll be here?"
Lee closed his eyes and tipped his head back. "I don't know. Probably very early in the morning."
"Okay. Call me when you're close."
"And, drive carefully."
Lee smiled. "I will."
"I love you."
Lee swallowed silently. "Love you, too," he whispered. "See you soon."
With that, he had avoided the revelation yet again.
He'd finished the drive north, rented a room in a hotel near her house, taken a nap, showered and shaved his sideburns — the only part of his face that ever needed shaving. Then he'd taken a drive. He'd followed the directions she'd given him, but couldn't make heads or tails of the back country roads that the city girl had given directions to. She managed to give landmarks, but he swore not one of them existed.
So, he'd returned to the hotel and called her, explaining the problem and where he was.
It wasn't a lie. He had tried to find her house for all that he probably wouldn't have had the guts to walk up to the door knowing that her sister and mother were likely all there waiting to meet the mystery man who had swept their Rhea away. Once again, he had that veneer of honesty to protect him. There was no point dwelling on the fact that the outcome would have been the same even if he'd found her house. His alibi was still good.
And, now, he sat outside the hotel in one of those cheap plastic chairs from Wal-Mart waiting for a red Chevy pickup truck to come show him the way to either hell or salvation.
Lee glanced up at the big Mack rig he was sketching and stopped. There before him was the very truck he was waiting for and a face was leaning out the window looking at him.
Lee clutched the sketch pad to his chest, his hands suddenly clammy and his heart galloping away without him. In the flesh, his mind jabbered inanely. That's her in the flesh.
"Hey. C'mere." She smiled at him and he was sure he'd die right there. Instead, he got up, still clutching the book. Despite the smile he felt forming on his face, he could barely breathe and he had no memory of the walk to the truck. However, he'd waited six months for this moment and wasn't about to let it pass him by.
When he reached the truck, he stopped and stared. She was smiling. It was okay. Everything was okay, and Jason had been right.
"So, uh..." he started, knowing that the eloquence for which she had often praised him was no where to be found today. He shifted his stance and clutched the sketch pad tighter. "I should just follow you, right?"
Rhea's smile widened, if that was actually possible. "Yeah. Where are you parked?"
"Over there." Lee gestured vaguely towards the parking lot on his right. "Gimme a sec."
He paused for one more look, some part of his mind wondering why he couldn't bring himself to touch her despite the mere inches separating them. Then, taking a deep, cleansing breath, he turned and headed for his ugly little Escort, letting the book fall to a more comfortable position in his hand.
He got to the car and climbed in, all the while marveling at the ease of their union and wondering what the future now held in store. He started the car and rolled out of the parking spot, feeling lighter than he had in weeks. He pulled up until the Escort's nose was just shy of the Chevy's and waited for her to lead him home.
She didn't move.
Lee squinted to see into the pickup, but the cab was shaded enough to hide Rhea's face. He waited some more.
Finally, he switched off the ignition and got out. His eyes never left the truck as he walked around the front of his own vehicle. Rhea's head was bowed and, as he drew closer, he heard the one sound that haunted his dreams, the sound that had awoken him from the edges of sleep so long ago, the sound that had driven his fear since the beginning of their relationship.
He reached her door and stopped. Some random part of his mind registered a cassette tape sitting alone in the bed of the truck, left over from her recent move into the new house as his eyes slowly tracked up to the woman who held his emotional wellbeing in her hands.
If it was possible for a heart to break, he was sure that his had. There was no denying the sound he'd heard a moment before. Rhea was crying. Of all the responses he could have imagined from her — the ones based on her tales of violence against the men she'd dated and been wronged by — this was the one response he had never anticipated, the one response against which he had no defense.
As he stood there, helplessly, hopelessly, he heard her speak in a near whisper, "You're a girl."
And, with that accusation, his chin dropped to his chest and his stomach dropped to his feet. He shifted his weight onto one leg and hunched his shoulders further to hide the offending body parts. He worked his jaw several times, trying to get a sound to emerge.
Finally, miserably, he responded.
"I'm sorry. I thought you knew."
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