For the least of these, p.7

For The Least Of These, page 7

 

For The Least Of These
 



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  I decided then and there that I wouldn’t meet Rick. Perhaps not at all, but for sure not tonight. I quietly opened the truck door and slid out into the parking lot. I hunched over so I wouldn’t be seen, and I took a fleeting look over the truck’s hood in the direction of the entourage. Damn, they were heading this way. I had to make myself disappear, so I turned back and skulked to the back end of the truck. There were more shadows, so I felt a little safer. In the distance, I saw a dark car parked with no driver. I never even wondered who the car belonged to, I just sprinted towards it. As I rushed past the front of the car, I saw a tag from Hertz, so I knew the car was a rental. Reaching the driver’s side – which was hidden from the truck’s view – I squatted down and held my breath. The light was better here, so I knew there were no murderers or rapists waiting for me. I prayed that Alicia hadn’t watched closely enough so that she could reveal my hiding place. I didn’t even wonder how I was going to get back to the hotel.

  I saw the group reach the truck, and Alicia got out and joined them on the side that was opposite from me. As I watched from my hiding spot, my shoulders began to feel hot and, after a few minutes, I felt like my skin was burning.

  All at once, I realized that someone had walked up behind me. I slowly pivoted around without getting up; my eyes were on the ground. The boots on his feet were quite nice. Although I’m no boot expert, the light was good enough for me to recognize that quality leather had been used to make these shiny black cowboy boots. Black boot-cut jeans stopped at his ankles, preventing me from seeing the intricate stitching on the boots. I moved my eyes deliberately up his long legs, diverting my gaze as I passed his crotch, and focusing on the jeans enough to tell that they were Wranglers and that they were held in place by a black leather embossed belt. His shirt, a fudge colored polo of no discerning brand, was tucked neatly into his jeans and the top two buttons were unbuttoned. When I looked into his face, I recognized him at once. He looked exactly as I had always imagined he would after seeing him hundreds of times on TV and seeing his picture on magazine and album covers even more often than that. He held my gaze with his blue eyes – and they appeared icier than the Arctic Ocean. His full lips opened slightly and even in the diminished light, I could see his perfect white teeth. His skin was tanned with a golden brown tint, and he appeared much younger than his forty years. The color of his hair reminded me of a beautiful black chestnut mare I’d once ridden while on vacation in the Smoky Mountains. He wore it short and it was a little unruly in the front, with little points of hair spiking down across his forehead. I kept remembering the early days when he wore his hair down below his waist and his wardrobe consisted of a T shirt and ripped blue jeans. He had definitely improved with age.

  Immediately I remembered that I was still squatting in front of him, so I tried to pick myself up. My legs didn’t want to cooperate, and I stumbled and almost fell on my face. I felt his soft hand on my left elbow as he helped me balance enough to stand. As I stood in front of him, I had to look up to see his face. Instead of feeling a chill from the wintry blue of his large round eyes, I felt instant warmth – like standing in the heart of Death Valley at noon in the middle of July. Even as the sweat began forming on my forehead, I felt a shiver run the length of my spine.

  “Did you lose something?” he asked in a deep, resonant voice.

  “Huh?” I asked with amazing style and flare. I’m certain he was impressed.

  “Did you lose something? Here, on the ground? What were you looking for?”

  “Oh, that…Well, yes, I, uh…” I was positively charming the pants off of him.

  “What is it? I’ll help you find it.”

  “Oh, no. I mean, that’s okay. I found it already. Just as you walked up.” And I was a great liar.

  “What was it?”

  Damn, he wasn’t going to let me get out of this easily. “My keys. To my car. I dropped them and...” Actually, I’m a horrible liar. “The truth is I didn’t lose my keys. I was hiding.”

  He smiled. His smile was gorgeous. “Okay, who were you hiding from?”

  I tried another lie. This one turned out better because it had a grain of truth in it. “A friend of mine. She’s over there in that truck.” I pointed in the direction of Skylar’s – or should I say Fisher’s – truck.

  “Aren’t you a little old to be playing hide and seek?” he asked.

  I let out a nervous laugh. “It was just a joke. We came with Skylar Sims to pick up his brother, and I was just trying to have some fun with Alicia while we waited.”

  “So you’re a friend of Skylar’s.” I could hear the change in his voice. It was clear that he was no fan of Skylar’s.

  “Not exactly. He invited Alicia to a party, and I went along as the chaperone. And now I’m glad I did.”

  “Why is that?”

  “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have met you.”

  “I guess you haven’t met me yet. Since I haven’t told you my name, and I don’t know yours.” He sounded like he thought I was flirting with him.

  “Oh, yes, sorry. I’m Brandy Moretti,” I knew who he was, of course, but I didn’t let on. Only a fledgling Rick Hartwood devotee wouldn’t know Adam Considine, the songwriter who composed all of Rick Hartwood’s songs. The weekend was finally starting to pay off. I’d almost forgotten all the bad things that had happened. I felt certain that I’d be meeting Rick in a few short moments.

  “Hello, Brandy. I’m Adam. Adam Considine. Did you know that you have red paint in your hair?”

  I had momentarily forgotten the red paint, and I almost loathed him for bringing it up.

  “I had a little accident with a paint can,” I said crossly.

  “I’m glad to hear it was an accident. I’d hate to think that you normally do this to yourself before a party. Besides, red and pink just do not go together.” A smile played around his lips, and I felt myself softening towards him again. “It sounds like a story I’d like to hear some time.”

  “Maybe I’ll tell you someday,” I said, as I began smiling, too.

  “Tell me this,” he began again. He brought his hand up and touched my dress strap just above my breast. The strap was small enough for me to feel his hand on my skin, and I was reminded that it was on fire from somewhere inside of me. “…did you go to the beach earlier today?”

  I looked down and noticed that the front of my arm was red, and it wasn’t the red from the paint can. It looked more like a sunburn.

  Before I could answer Adam or comment, Alicia bounced up beside me. “I thought you wanted to meet Rick Hartwood. Why are you over here talking to a stranger?”

  “I’m not a stranger,” Adam said. “I’m Adam Considine.”

  “Oh,” Alicia said, unimpressed. She didn’t know Adam Considine from…well, from Adam.

  Adam turned back to me, “So, you came here to meet Rick? A fan I assume?”

  Before I could answer, Alicia jumped in, “Of course she’s a fan. She’s Rick’s number one fan. And, Brandy, in case you are interested, Rick is over by the truck. If you still want to meet him, you’d best come now. He won’t be performing all night.”

  I was unimpressed with Alicia’s attempt at humor, but I was very excited by the prospect of finally meeting Rick. I even forgot about the burning and the redness. I was about to speak when Adam said, “I guess we’d better go on over there. I wouldn’t want you to miss meeting someone of Rick’s prominence.”

  Without delay, we walked back to the truck, and Alicia began introductions as though she had known these people all her life. “Rick, here’s someone you should meet,” she said. “This is Brandy Moretti – only your number one fan. And this is her friend Adam…Adam something-or-other.”

  “Adam Considine,” Rick said with a laugh. “Yes, I’m acquainted with him. And Brandy…” He said my name and I dissolved into a puddle at his feet – or at least I felt like I did. He took hold of my hand and looked deeply into my eyes. I was entranced. Rick was even more handsome in person than
in print and on television. His twinkling green eyes – not as intense as Adam’s blue ones but beautiful just the same – crinkled around the edges when he smiled. His sandy hair – like a wheat field wafting in the breeze – was tousled in every direction. A thin growth of beard stubble along the curve of his jaw and on his chin gave him a certain rugged-sexiness that was enhanced by his choice of attire: a white twill shirt – unbuttoned enough for a glimpse of the curly hair growth on his chest – and tight khaki chinos. He continued, “…It is a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

  My adoring look must have swiftly changed to a puzzled one, and he quickly said, “Alicia. She’s been telling me that you are a fan of mine. Correction: my number one fan.”

  I was embarrassed. I knew that I must look like a complete idiot with all the red paint in my hair and on my dress, and now Alicia had already been babbling God only knew what to Rick. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.

  Rick seemed almost as puzzled as I had been a few moments earlier. He let go of my hand and introduced me to the rest of the band. Dylan, Skylar’s brother, looked remarkably like Skylar. Both of them were tall and muscular – although Dylan was taller, and both of them had blond hair and beards. Dylan’s eyes were a darker blue than Skylar’s, and he looked a lot older than Skylar. Bass player Kenny Dressler was even taller than Dylan. He had long, wavy flaxen hair that went down to the middle of his back. Even in the darkness, he wore sunshades that hid his eyes from me. Otherwise, he was clean shaven and not bad looking. Jared Peterson was the keyboard player and the newest member of the band. He wore his black hair in a Mohawk and the rest of his head was covered in tattoos – as were his arms. He wore a short goatee on his chin but was otherwise clean shaven. His eyes were golden brown and unblinking. He wasn’t ugly, but his looks did scare me a little. Rick then said, “Why don’t we all go back to the hotel. We can have a few drinks in the bar.”

  Kenny and Jared began walking towards a silver Chevy Cavalier. Skylar, Dylan, and Alicia were getting into the truck. Alicia was in the backseat while Skylar drove and Dylan took the passenger seat. No one offered to move so I could get in the back with Alicia. I looked at them helplessly and wondered where they expected me to sit.

  I was about to ask just that when I felt a hand on my burning shoulder. I turned around and it was Rick. Normally, his touch would have thrilled me and probably been the most wonderful feeling in the world. But now it only served to amplify my pain. I even cringed slightly, but Rick didn’t seem to notice. “Why don’t you ride with Adam and me? We’ve got plenty of room.”

  Again, I allowed myself to forget my pain. “That would be great,” I answered.

  Rick led me to the dark car I’d hidden beside earlier – a silver gray Lexus. The seats were black leather. Adam was already in the driver’s seat, and Rick helped me into the shotgun position. Rick sat directly behind me.

  I was beginning to suspect that Adam had expensive tastes. The car was very luxurious. The outside of the car – including fog lights, tinted windows, and a sun roof – was fancy, but nothing compared to the interior. The first thing I noticed was the navigational system in the center of the dashboard. The stereo system was custom installed. It was made by Bose and it included a six disc CD player, satellite radio, a cassette player, and multiple speakers. A small digital screen displayed the current outside temperature. Adam started the engine, and we were cruising at sixty in just seconds.

  Adam glanced over at me. “You really should put something on that sunburn, Brandy. It looks really unpleasant and painful.”

  “It’s not a sunburn,” I said. “I don’t really know what it is. It just sort of happened right before I met you.”

  “That’s Adam for you. Giving girls the hives before he even talks to them.” Rick said with a laugh, but Adam just ignored him.

  My seatbelt began pulling tightly across my chest. The pressure it put on my tender shoulder was unbearable. I pulled at it until the tension loosened a bit. Although not as intense, the pain was still there, and now I was beginning to feel it in my back. I couldn’t imagine what could be causing this problem. I hadn’t been in the sun all day.

  “So how did you get red paint only in your hair and on your dress?” Rick asked.

  “It’s sort of a long story. Suffice it to say that a punctured paint can and I had a fight – and I lost.”

  “But why is the paint only in your hair and on your dress? There’s none on your skin,” Rick pressed.

  “Well, I did have some on my face, arms, and back, but I used some solution to clean it and…” Awareness crept into my brain. I was having a reaction to the carb cleaner.

  Adam looked away from the road towards me. “Just what kind of solution did you use?” he asked.

  I didn’t want to tell him. I knew how stupid I would look. I had even suspected that the cleaner would be dangerous to my skin, and I had used it anyway. But I couldn’t lie. I needed to get the chemicals off my skin, and if I lied, I wouldn’t be able to do it soon enough. Hopefully, I hadn’t already waited too long. “It was carb cleaner,” I replied in a small, self-effacing voice.

  “What?” Rick laughed out loud from the backseat. “You put carb cleaner on yourself? Why in the world would you do that?” He was having quite a laugh at my expense, but I had to admit that it was sort of funny – or at least stupid.

  “You need to wash that stuff off of you,” Adam said. I noticed that he wasn’t laughing. My esteem for him grew in that moment. “I think you need to go to a doctor. Those chemicals could be dangerous. I’m going to take you to the Emergency Room of the nearest hospital.”

  “Wait a minute,” Rick said. “Are you sure this is that serious? We don’t want to overreact.”

  “All I know is that she put some chemicals on her body a while ago, and now she’s as red as a lobster. And from the look on her face, she’s in pain, too. I’m not going to take a chance.”

  I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell them that it wasn’t serious at all. I wanted to tell them that it didn’t hurt. But it did, and it was getting worse all of the time. My butt and my legs above my knees were now starting to burn, and I was beginning to realize that I had probably absorbed the chemicals from the vinyl seat in the truck. I needed relief, and a hospital didn’t sound so bad at that instant.

  I have no idea how far or in what direction we traveled. The lull of the car rocked me into a fitful sleep where I dreamed that Rick was at my bedside in the hospital. He wouldn’t look at me and I was crying for him. Then I saw myself lying in the bed and all of my skin had turned into black, ugly scabs that were seeping pus. I was loathsome, and Rick refused to turn towards me. Then he walked out of the room, and Adam came in. His eyes were filled with pity, but he didn’t turn away from me. Instead, he reached down and held me in his arms…

  I suddenly realized that I was no longer dreaming. Adam did have his arms around my neck and he was trying to get me out of the car. In my sleep, I hadn’t been cooperating with him, and my deadweight was even greater than my normal excessive poundage. Adam didn’t seem to be bothered. He had plans to carry me inside if necessary, but I brought myself to full wakefulness and prevented him a future of slipped discs and painful backaches. Using his arm just to steady me, I got out of the car under my own strength.

  “Man, you are as red as a lobster,” I heard Rick remark.

  Adam helped me across the parking lot, and Rick followed close behind. Normally, I would have been humiliated to have Rick, Adam, or most anyone else see me this way, but my skin felt like it was on fire and that was all I could think about at the moment.

  Most emergency rooms I’d been to in the past were filled with patients and the wait to get into a room was lengthy, so I was surprised to find that there was no one ahead of us when we entered the waiting room. The woman at the registration desk – tall and thin with graying black hair and half glasses that sat on the end of her beak-like nose – took my name and asked me for my insura
nce card. That was when I realized that I’d left my wallet in Alicia’s purse. I explained that I didn’t have it with me. The woman told me that I would have to pay a fee in advance, so I also had to tell her that I didn’t have any money or credit cards with me. She was on the verge of turning me away when Adam walked up and handed her a credit card. She seemed satisfied, and she told the nurse at the next desk that she could take my vital signs. The nurse was a plump woman with red hair of such a brilliant color that it could have only been formulated in a salon. She motioned for me to come to her.

  Before I moved, I turned to Adam and said, “You really shouldn’t do this. But thank you.”

  “It’s nothing,” he assured me.

  I turned to look at Rick, but he had vanished. “Rick stepped outside,” Adam said. “I’m sure he’ll be right back.”

  After the nurse had listened to my symptoms and taken my temperature and blood pressure, she took me to a treatment room. Rick hadn’t returned, so Adam followed me. The nurse didn’t stop him. Apparently since he was paying my bill, he was free to go with me. While I changed into one of those too small hospital gowns, Adam waited outside the room. Before I let him come in, I got into the hospital bed and covered up with a sheet. He came in and sat down close by my side. I couldn’t explain it, but I liked this very much. I had all but forgotten Rick, and I didn’t even wonder where he was.

  After the nurse left, Adam said, “I’m glad you let me bring you here. I knew you were red, but I didn’t realize it was this bad when we were in the car. You’ve also got some welts on your back – I saw them earlier.”

  “I knew better than to put that stuff on me, but I let my vanity convince me that it would be okay. I didn’t want Rick to see me painted red.”

  “You probably should have just gone home and washed it off in the shower. Then you could have met Rick.”

  “I wanted to, but Skylar said there wasn’t time. It probably wouldn’t be this bad if I hadn’t sat on that truck seat. It was saturated with those chemicals. I hope Dylan doesn’t have the same thing happen to him. He was sitting there for the ride home.”

 

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