BOOK 1 - WESTBOUND
Chapter 3 contains a brief reference to sexual violence against one of the lead characters. Readers who are sensitive to this particular issue may wish to skip the scene. The scene is clearly marked in the text.
April 27th 1978, 11:30 pm - Wichita Falls, West Texas.
Cassandra Peters was about to make the biggest and most important decision of her life. She let her eyes roam around the living room. She saw the empty beer cans, the stacks of men's magazines, the dirty old couch, the stained carpet... and she was sick of it all. No matter how hard she tried to clean things up, the bastard she was living with would ruin everything soon after.
She picked up a few worthless little trinkets and a picture frame of her parents. That was all she had collected in the two years she had lived here. Looking back now she couldn't understand how she had survived.
She went into the bedroom and dug out her old leather holdall. She grabbed a handful of her best clothes from the wardrobe and stuffed them inside the bag. In a pair of jeans, she found a wallet she had hidden from her boyfriend, and she flipped through it. 300 dollars was all she had now. It would have to do.
She walked into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. The angry red thumbmarks on her throat were fading now, but she could still feel his grip. He had made sure not to hit her in the face... mostly... but everywhere else was free game. She had cried at first, but after he started to slap her around on a regular basis, her tears dried up.
She ran a trembling hand through her blonde hair. Her green eyes, always so sparkling in the past, were dull and bloodshot. She was used to that by now. She was twenty-two, but she felt like she was eighty. She opened the small cupboard behind the mirror and took a box of headache pills and her remaining contraceptives. Thank God she hadn't gotten pregnant. She didn't want to expose her child to a man like Tommy Rawlins.
She opened the front door, looked back one last time, and closed the door behind her. She locked it and threw the keys through the letterbox. This wasn't the end. This was a new beginning.
Not a moment too soon, her cab finally pulled up in front of the house.
"Are you sure you want to go there, lady. I mean a truck stop... at this time of night?" the cab driver said after Cassey had wrestled her holdall and herself into the backseat of the smelly, beat up Chevrolet.
"Yes I do, driver. Now will you please move on."
"Sure thing, lady."
The cab driver yapped on endlessly on all kinds of ridiculous subjects, but Cassey wasn't paying any attention. All she could think of was the knot in her stomach that seemed to grow worse, not better. Had she made a premature decision after all? Tommy was going to explode when he found out, and he was crazy enough to try to hunt her down. What Cassey needed to do was to be as far away from him as she could. She had decided to go to California to get her life restarted. She had an aunt living in San Diego, but she couldn't reach her last night when she tried to call her...
Again and again her thoughts came back to her boyfriend. If Tommy found her, Cassey was sure he would beat her to death. Slowly. No, can't chance that. I have to get away, she thought.
A truck stop full of interstate truckers was the best bet.
A few days later, in a truck stop outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"I can't believe no one's going west!" Cassey said, venting her frustration to Myrna, the waitress. The young blonde was sitting by the counter, drinking her fourth cup of coffee. Even though she nervously looked over her shoulder from time to time, she felt relatively safe. The first part of her escape had been completed with some success. She had managed to find a trucker headed for New Mexico, but now she was stranded here, in the middle of nowhere.
"What the hell ya wanna go to California for anyway? They're a bunch of nuts I tell ya," the elderly waitress grumbled as she cleaned the counter.
"Oh it's not that bad. I've got some family living in San Diego."
"Perhaps this is your lucky day. Little Toni's supposed to swing by today. Well, that's what she told me, anyway," Myrna said and turned around to take a look at the large clock hanging on the wall behind her.
"Little Toni?" Cassey said and looked around after someone who would fit that description.
"She isn't here yet, but you can't miss her..."
The door opened and a woman wearing a fake looking cowboy hat entered the truck stop.
"Is that her?"
"Hell, no, kid!" Myrna said and laughed.
The door flew open again and a tall, raven haired woman came in. Her arms were covered up to her elbows in dirt and general muck from the road, and her white T-shirt was anything but. She had a long smudge-mark across her forehead, and a few strands of her hair had slipped out of a ponytail and were flailing about wildly.
"Get the hell out of my way, lady!" she growled, and pushed the woman with the fake Stetson aside before making a beeline for the restrooms.
"Don't tell me that's her..." Cassey said, and sighed.
"That's her all right. Sounds like she's in a good mood today, too."
Cassey buried her head in her hands. She would never get to California.
Toni angrily tried to scrub her arms clean of the sticky stuff when Laura, a perky trucker in her late thirties, entered the restrooms.
"Hi Toni," Laura said.
"Naw, something had wrapped itself around an axle."
"Need any help?"
"Yeah, out on the road, twenty minutes ago."
"Ya coulda hollered on the CB," Laura said, and tied her wild mane of ash blonde curls into a ponytail.
"I didn't. Crap, my watch is ruined. $9.98 down the drain," Toni said and flung the watch into a trashcan.
"There's a real cute young blonde outside looking for a ride to California," Laura said, splashing some water in her face and around her neck.
"Looks about nineteen."
"Ain't got time to be babysitting. Where are you headed, Laura?"
"Up north. You really oughtta take a look at her. She's real pretty."
Toni had finished washing up and looked at the sorry state of the sink and the floor.
"She one of us?"
"Hard to say with the kids these days... but I don't think so," Laura said, and dried her face and neck with a clean towel.
Toni left the restroom looking for Myrna. She quickly spotted the young blonde Laura was talking about. For once she hadn't exaggerated - early twenties, maybe 5'-4" or -5", golden hair and the most delicious emerald green eyes. And a real despondent look on her face.
"Myrna, I need to borrow your mop. I made a real mess in there."
"Don't worry, Toni. I'll clean it up."
"No way, Myrna. My mess, my clean-up."
"All right." Myrna put down the rag on the counter and went behind a curtain. After a few seconds she emerged with a mop and an empty bucket.
"Here ya go, honey."
"Thanks," Toni said and went back to the restrooms.
"Am I right, or what?" Laura said, giving Toni a nudge as she walked past.
"For once, Laura. For once."
"Well, I gotta go. See ya 'round," Laura said, and chuckled.
"See ya. Stay safe."
Ten minutes later, Toni handed the mop back to Myrna.
"You got it."
Toni went around the counter and sat next to the pretty young blonde.
"I heard you're looking for a ride. I'm Toni," she said and put out her hand.
"My name's Cassey. Yes, I am. As far West as I can go," Cassey said and shook Toni's hand.
"Why not the Greyhound?"
"Can't afford it."
"Well, I can't get you there for free, either. You'll have to pay for your own food and stuff along the way."
"I've got money, just not enough for the bus."
Toni nodded, satisfied for now.
Myrna put down a steaming mug of coffee in front of Toni. The tall trucker gave her 75 cents.
"You want another one, honey?" Myrna asked the young blonde.
"No thank you, I'm quite full already." Cassey looked expectantly at the tall woman at her side who had the most drop-dead gorgeous blue eyes she had ever seen. She was about to open her mouth when Toni spoke again.
"Where are you going to in California?"
"That's where I'm going. San Diego docks," Toni said, and took a long swig from the mug.
"No way! How about that for a coincidence!" Cassey said and smiled. She tried to turn on the ol' charm so the dark haired truck driver wouldn't tell her to get lost.
"Yeah. Can you drive a truck?"
"Aaah, no. I'm a passenger only. But I promise to keep quiet if you don't want to listen to my yapping," Cassey said, smiling sweetly at the older woman.
Toni looked at the blonde and shrugged absentmindedly.
When nothing more happened, the smile slowly faded from Cassey's face as she realized she wouldn't get a ride this time either. She sighed, and turned away from the other woman.
Toni noticed and felt sorry for the young blonde. There had to be a very good reason for her to be out here on her own, and even besides that, the Highways definitely weren't the safest places in the world for young women. Toni started weighing the pros and cons of having a passenger, and finally came to the conclusion that...
"All right, kid. You've got a deal. We're leaving in fifteen minutes."
"Oh, Christ, thank you," Cassey said, and extended her hand.
With a smile, Toni shook it, and watched the young blonde scoot off to the restrooms.
The two very different looking women stepped out of the air-conditioned climate of Myrna's Truck Stop and into the choking New Mexico heat.
"Which truck is yours?" the young blonde asked curiously.
"You'll see in a minute."
They walked around a rusty old Peterbilt, and suddenly an - to Cassey's eyes - enormous truck loomed large in her view.
A shiny black Mack with a sleeper cab, chrome exhaust and a sturdy white bullbar was the answer to Cassey's earlier question. A large spoiler on top helped to direct the airflow over the trailer, a full-length two-axle Fruehauf grain tanker. Large red and blue letters along the side of the tanker read 'Benny's Hauling'.
"Wow!" Cassey exclaimed excitedly.
"Here we are. My pride and joy," Toni said, and opened the passenger door. She helped Cassey up the two aluminum steps and into the cab.
"It says Toni Willis Trucking, Inc. on the door - is this your own truck?"
"Only the tractor unit. Careful, I'm closing the door now."
Toni climbed up into the cab and turned the ignition. The 6 cylinder engine roared to life, and the engine note was pure music to Toni's sensitive ears.
She waited a few seconds to have the oil pressure reach the correct level, and then selected a gear and drove off the parking lot.
"This truck really is something else to the one I flagged down to get here. That was a beat up old clunker," Cassey said.
"I bought it new last year. It's a Mack RS786. 10-speed transmission and a Turbodiesel inline-6. 280 horseys!" Toni said proudly.
"If you called it a Cadillac Eldorado I'd believe you. I know absolutely nothing about cars or trucks," Cassey said, and looked around in the cab of the truck.
10 miles of highway were behind them already, but Cassey hadn't said a word the whole time. She was determined not to make the tall trucker regret her decision by talking too much, but she found it increasingly difficult to keep quiet.
"So, kid. You said your name was Cassey. Is that a nickname for something?"
Cassey looked at Toni with an relieved look on her face. For once it hadn't been her who had 'cracked' first.
"Yes it is. My real name's Cassandra. When I was younger, everybody called me Sandy... but I like Cassey better. How about you? You don't strike me as a typical Tony?"
"My parents named me Antonia, after my great-grandmother. And it's Toni with an -i, not a
-y," Toni said and laughed.
"Cool, we both prefer our nicknames. But why Little Toni?"
"My dad's CB handle was Big Tony, so it was natural to call me Little Toni when I started riding with him."
"You said was - has he passed away?"
"Yeah. Damn diabetes. They had to amputate his left leg... but they might as well have killed him right then and there. He couldn't drive anymore, and I guess he just lost the will to live."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, Toni. Was this recently?"
"A couple of years ago now. It's all right, I've moved on."
"Did he encourage you to become a truck driver?"
"Well, he wanted a son. Don't they all? But as I grew up, he wasn't disappointed. I was a tomboy ever since I could walk."
"No dolls, then?"
"No dolls. Plenty of toy trucks." Toni turned her head and smiled at the young blonde.
"I had so many dolls I couldn't close my closet."
"I thought as much..." Toni said and flashed Cassey a toothy grin.
"Oh, get off, will ya. Am I really that girlie?"
Toni looked straight ahead and kept quiet. She started whistling off-key.
"I guess I am, huh," Cassey chuckled.
A little while later.
"How long have you been a truck driver, Toni?"
"Oh, going on ten years now. Got my truck license on my twenty-first birthday. Started out helping dad, and after a couple of years he let me have the wheel. Of course, then he got sick, so we had no choice."
"Do you like it?"
"I think that the trucking business really polarizes people. Either you love it, and stay forever... or you hate it from the beginning and drop out. I won't say I love it, but... I can't see myself doing anything else."
Cassey nodded with a degree of understanding.
"How about yourself, Cassey? Can you just up and leave like this?"
"My family couldn't afford to send me to college, so I only have a high school education. Odd jobs in grocery stores and such. Nothing steady."
"I'd be really careful about that, Cassey. One day you're going to find yourself at a dead end in life. Education is important," Toni said and looked at Cassey, who turned her head to look out of the side window, effectively preventing eye contact.
'Oh, I know about dead ends,'
Cassey thought. Her boyfriend didn't want her to work. Didn't want to risk his woman making more money than himself.
"Yeah, I suppose. I used to take a couple of classes in evening school, but... it's a long story," Cassey said and shrugged. Toni looked at her and realized it must be a very touchy subject for the blonde woman.
"Let's talk about something else. How long does this trip usually take, Toni?"
"Well, on average, it takes me about four days to get to California."
"I'm in no hurry... as long as I'm going in the opposite direction of where Wichita Falls is," Cassey said, and started fidgeting with her hands.
A pause. A couple of miles passed underneath them.
"Are you running from the law?" Toni asked pensively.
Surprised, Cassey turned her head and stared wide-eyed at the dark haired driver.
"No, of course not! What, you think I'm running drugs or something?" she said a bit miffed.
"You tell me..." Toni offered.
"I'm splitting from an abusive boyfriend," Cassey said quietly.
"He beat you up?"
"Among other things, yeah," Cassey said and sighed. She hesitated briefly, but then decided to tell Toni the entire story.
"... he wanted me to do... some things I wasn't prepared to do for him."
"In bed," Cassey said flatly.
That silenced Toni for a while. Who the hell would want to hurt a pretty young girl like Cassey?
Cassey sighed again and ran her fingers through her hair. She unzipped a pocket on the front of her holdall and pulled out a small plastic bag containing a couple of joints and a lighter.
"Mind if I smoke?" she said, preparing to ignite one of the marijuana cigarettes.
"Be my guest... hey, hold it. Weed?"
"Pretty good quality. Want one?" the blonde asked politely.
"No... look, if you're planning to smoke that shit, you're gonna have to find another ride, OK?"
She fidgeted a bit, and put the joint back in the bag.
"I'm not a nun or anything, it's just that I get pulled over quite often, and if one of those highway patrol officers smells cannabis in here, I'm the one who gets the fine," Toni said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't think of that..." Cassey said, smiling apologetically.
Making a quick decision, she rolled down the window and emptied the bag of joints out on the road.
"Hey, you didn't have to do that!"
"Nasty habit, anyway."
"I hope they weren't too expensive."
"I hope they were. I stole them from my boyfriend!" Cassey said and laughed.
Toni looked at her and shrugged.
"Have you never tried to smoke grass, Toni?"
"Of course I have, ten years ago when I was young and stupid. I spend the Summer Of Love in Frisco... Got busted for possession and it cost me a good job. Never touched the stuff after I started driving trucks."
"My parents are very old fashioned. I had never dared trying it before my boyfriend asked if I was interested. Unfortunately, I found out I liked it a bit too much. Haven't been able to quit," Cassey said with a sad smirk.
"Have you ever tried anything else?" Toni asked.
"Does beer count? No, seriously, I've stayed with the weed. I figured it wasn't as addictive as the harder drugs, but I learned the hard way that it was... I'm down to a couple of joints a month. It's been a lot more."
"I see. But now you've thrown them all away...?"
"Yeah. I guess I have. But you know, I'm going to California to get my life back on the tracks, so... it's a good time to quit permanently," Cassey said, and absentmindedly toyed with the lighter.
A couple of hours later.
The CB radio was constantly chatting away in the background. To Cassey's ears it all sounded like gibberish, but suddenly one of the messages caught Toni's ear, and she turned up the volume.
"Breaker One-Nine, Breaker One-Nine, this is the Oregon Express with a smokey report. There's a bear in a plain brown wrapper using an alligator head hiding behind a shed on I-40 Westbound, about a mile east of Soningsburg, so stay sharp guys. Out,"
a disembodied voice said from the CB's loudspeaker.
"10-4, much obliged," Toni said into the mic, and then put it back on the hook.
Toni turned the volume back down and checked her speedo. 55, right on the money, as always. She could feel Cassey looking at her, so she turned her head to face the young woman. Cassey's mouth was gaping slightly and she had the most curious look on her face. Toni had to bite her tongue not to laugh out loud at the pretty blonde.
"Do you mind telling me what the hell that dude just said... in English?"
"He said there's a cop in an unmarked police cruiser hiding behind a shed, and he's got a speed camera."
"Which was which?! I'll never understand that strange language," Cassey said and giggled.
"Bear, that's the cop, OK? A plain brown wrapper means a unmarked police car, and the speed camera is shaped like an alligator head, and it's usually green, too. Get it now?"
"Er, sorta. How the hell can you remember all that? And those strange 10- codes, too?"
"There are so many 10-codes that I don't think anyone knows all of them. Actually... wait a minute. I used to have a sheet with some of them on... where the hell did that go..." Toni said, and started looking for it. Finally remembering where it was, she flipped down the sunscreen and took out a small piece of paper.
"Oh yeah, here it is. Take a look, Cassey. I'll bet you know a couple of them already."
Cassey took the piece of paper from Toni and unfolded it. All the 10-codes were explained on one side, and on the other there was a list over the most frequently used CB-words.
"Jeez, Toni... this is even more stuff than I thought it would be."
After digesting the codes and the common words for a little while, she came to a couple of sayings that made her eyes narrow.
"Seat covers - girls' legs?! Beavers!" she said, and looked at Toni with an outraged expression on her face.
"Yeah, beavers are, you know, soft and fluffy, so, you know, ha ha... and seat covers, that's because you fill out the seats so fine..." Toni offered, but she could see her explanations didn't exactly appease Cassey.
"Back at the truck stop, did you think of me as just another seat cover?"
'Ouch, loaded question time,'
"When I first saw you, yes..."
Cassey abruptly turned to look out of the side window. She refolded the paper and handed it to Toni without speaking a word.
"... but as soon as we talked I knew you weren't. A seat cover is one of those bubblegum bimbos, with..."
"Those women have feelings too, Toni. Just because they look funny to you doesn't mean they are empty-headed," Cassey turned around in the seat and her eyes burned into Toni's profile. The driver felt acutely embarrassed and couldn't face the young woman.
"... I guess you're right. It's just that they're so easy targets."
"I know all about being an easy target, so please, lay off them, at least while I'm here." She folded her arms across her chest, and stared straight ahead.
"I'll try, Cassey... I'm sorry I got you all riled up. I can hear this is important to you."
Cassey nodded, but remained silent.
A little while later.
"I need to apologize for what I said earlier, Toni. I didn't mean to be so harsh with you... it's just that... it's a subject close to my heart," Cassey said.
"I understand, Cassey. No problem. I deserved it, too."
"Growing up back home in Wichita Falls, several of my best friends would fit into that category you described. And even though they didn't have college degrees it didn't mean they were stupid. It's not their fault the guys can't look past the boobs and the bleached hair..."
Toni nodded solemnly.
"Suzie, probably my 'bestest' friend of all was an early bloomer, so she was all long legs and a big chest. The inevitable result was of course that she got pregnant with a guy from our neighborhood when she was seventeen. Today, she's 24, looks like 45, with five kids... and her husband split because he wanted someone better looking. She's lost, Toni. And it pisses me off royally."
"I understand what you're saying, Cassey, I'm sorry for making fun of them."
"Were you called a seat cover or a beaver back when you started?"
"Not really, no. Once or twice maybe. Heard the usual stuff about women not being strong enough to drive trucks and all that shit, but that was only from a couple of the old-timers. I was always one of the guys... I think it's because my dad was a well respected man."
"Have you ever been married, Toni?"
"Don't you want any?"
"No. I like my life as it is. As an owner-operator I can't just go on maternity leave. No trucking, no bread on the table. Simple as that, really."
"I'd love to have kids one day. But I feel I'm not ready for one yet," Cassey said, snuggled down into her seat, and continued:
"... besides, I need to come across someone decent, first."
"Mmm. That's the tricky part."
"Amen, Sister." Cassey said and laughed.
Several hours later.
"Hey, sleepyhead, wake up. We're coming up to a truck stop. We'll spend the night there," Toni said to a snoozing Cassey; the young blonde's snoring making Toni drowsy.
"Huh? Oh, all right."
"Yeah, I figured you could rent a motel room."
Cassey rubbed her weary eyes.
"Don't you have a sleeper cab?"
"With one bed," Toni said with a cheeky grin.
"Right... You're not planning on dumping me here, are you?" Cassey said quietly.
"Of course I won't, kid. We made a deal. I always keep my deals."
Toni slowed the Mack and headed off the highway. It was a large truck stop, with at least 70 other trucks parked for the night. She found a space and effortlessly maneuvered the truck into a slot between a Kenworth and a White. Even at 11 pm, the hustle and bustle of the busy truck stop never stopped. As some truckers came in to spend the night there, other left to take advantage of the emptier roads.
Cassey stepped down from the truck for the first time since she had climbed onboard back at Myrna's. Her back was protesting over the torture of sitting down all day, and she stretched several times, resulting in a couple of nasty pops and cracks from her vertebrae. She looked around and found the motel off to a side.
"That looks like the motel. I can get over there myself. I've got money," she said to Toni, and continued:
"When are we leaving tomorrow?"
"Dawn. Don't bother finding back here, I'll pick you up. Sweet dreams, kid."
"You too, Toni."
Toni watched Cassey walking away before entering the main building. The cafeteria was open 24 hours a day, and all menus could be ordered at all times. A dozen waitresses served the countless tables, all occupied by truckers in varying states of tiredness. Coffee was served by the pint, and the burgers and steaks were so huge they needed special plates. A side order of fries was exactly that: an extra plate filled past overflowing with a choice of four different types of French fries.
The tall trucker looked around the cafeteria searching for familiar faces, but found none. With a shrug she headed down the stairs to the underground restrooms and shower facilities. She put a five dollar coin into the slot of the shower cabin, went inside, and started to undress.
Later, while an exhausted Cassey was safely asleep on a lumpy old mattress in a run down motel room, Toni stood beside her truck and thought about the young woman. She was surprised of the depth in her - she might not have book-sense, but she certainly had common sense, even beyond her years. Toni was embarrassed to admit it, but she really did assume Cassey was a seat cover when she first saw her. 'Labels, Toni, labels,'
she scalded herself.
When people found out that Toni was a lesbian, some would curse her and walk away, some pretended to understand, and some didn't give a shit. Which category would she find Cassey in?
Toni sighed and stepped up into the cab. She locked the doors behind her and closed the privacy curtains to prepare for the night.
Toni rolled her eyes and pounded even harder on the door to the motel room. She'd been waiting for five minutes already - first she'd knocked, and when that hadn't worked, she'd started using her fist.
"Cassey? You in there? We're leaving!" she said loudly.
Toni began to worry something had happened, when Cassey finally opened the door.
"Good morning, Toni. Come on in, I won't be long."
Toni stared wide-eyed at the young blonde. Her hair was completely disheveled and stuck out at various angles, and she had pillow marks across her cheeks. Her eyelids looked like they were welded shut and generally her face was drooping like a wilted flower. She was wearing a white oversized t-shirt with a large picture of Mickey Mouse on it, and yellow flip-flops.
"Damn, Cassey..." Toni said disbelieving.
"I always look like this in the morning..." the blonde slurred and lazily scratched her hair. A sudden breeze ran up her legs and threatened to lift her t-shirt, but she caught it at the last moment.
"I better get dressed," she said and turned around, moving like a sleepwalker.
"Yeah, and splash some water in your face, you look like you're still sleeping," Toni added.
"That because I am..." Cassey said from the bathroom.
Toni tried to find a piece of furniture to sit on that wasn't horribly stained... unsuccessfully.
"I brought you some coffee," Toni offered, and sat down on the bed.
"Goof. I'fll haf if lafer..." Cassey replied through a mouthful of toothpaste.
"Yuk, the water tastes like metal here," Cassey said after rinsing her mouth and wiping the remaining toothpaste off her lips.
"Ah, Toni, the hinges on the bathroom door are busted... it can't close. Would you mind waiting outside while I shower and get changed?" she said, holding a towel in her hands.
"Well, I was hoping we could leave pretty soon, before the roads gets too congested," Toni said and looked at her watch... which she suddenly remembered wasn't there anymore.
"I'll hurry. Gotta get some value out of the $3.75 I spent on the towels and the bar of soap."
Slightly less than fifteen minutes later, Cassey opened the door to the motel room and stepped outside. Her face cracked wipe open with a yawn that threatened to dislocate her jaw.
"And good morning to you too," Toni said and chuckled.
"You mentioned something about a cup of coffee?"
"Yep. Here you go." Toni handed the younger woman a polystyrene cup filled with a dark brown liquid that at least resembled coffee.
"I didn't know how you like it, so I ordered it a bit on the thin side."
"Mmmm. It's still warm. Great, thanks, Toni. Hey, how did you know which room I was in?" Cassey said, and took a long swig from the cup.
"The desk clerk told me when I described you."
"Jeez, that's reassuring," Cassey said and shook her head.
"Please, Toni, I need to drop off the keys and buy some breakfast before we leave. I'm starving!"
"Well... all right. But please try to do it quickly, OK? We really need to get going."
"I will. See you in a few," Cassey said, and took off.
Ten minutes later - Toni had brought the Mack onto the highway to resume their Westbound journey.
"Lemme get this straight. You bought for twenty bucks worth of breakfast?!"
"Hey, I eat a lot!" the young blonde said, munching on a donut.
"No shit," Toni said and chuckled quietly.
"You don't eat breakfast?"
"Not usually, no. Well, coffee, sure..."
"You should try it sometime, Toni. It really brings your energy up."
"I have no problem keeping my energy levels up. You, on the other hand, need all the help you can get. You looked like you'd been run over by a steamroller this morning!"
"So I sleep heavily. Big deal."
"Bet you snore, too," Toni teased.
"How the hell would I know, I'm busy sleeping!" Cassey said with a smile, feeling tempted to stick her tongue out at the driver.
A couple of hours passed by without incident, when suddenly the CB crackled to life.
"Breaker One-Nine, Breaker One-Nine for that shiny black Bulldog up ahead. That wouldn't be Little Toni, would it? Over,"
a voice said from the loudspeaker.
Toni smiled broadly, picked up the mic and slung the cord around her arm.
"That's a big 10-4 breaker, who is this, come on back?"
"Oh, Toni you're breakin' my heart, don't you remember your number one man? Over."
"That's a negatory breaker, come back."
Cassey furrowed her brow, but Toni just laughed out loud.
"It's a game. I know perfectly well who it is," she said and smiled.
"Oh..." Cassey said, not quite understanding why that was funny.
"Ah, Little Toni, this is the incomparable Love Machine in his incomparable Mack machine. How's it truckin'? Over,"
the man said on the CB.
"Oh, that number one man. Hiya Bobby. What's your Twenty? Over," Toni answered.
"About a mile over your shoulder. Say, we're coming up to Rafael's. How about a meetup? Over."
"That's a big 10-4, Bobby. See ya there," Toni said, and hung up the mic.
"That's a... well, it's not really a truck stop, more like a big diner."
"Who's this Bobby fella?"
"We go way back, Bobby and me. He was one of my dad's friends. I took a liking to him. He likes to think he's a real ladies man, but..." Toni laughed a bit and made a gesture with her hands that suggested a rather excessive waistline.
"I see," Cassey said with a smile.
"He's one of the good guys. He's always been kind to me."
Toni pulled over on the gravely parking lot of Rafael's and waited for Bobby to catch up.
A minute or so later, his truck pulled off the highway and parked neatly next to the black truck. Bobby's Mack was a cabover 786, predominantly white with red stripes, and it had an extended sleeper cab. The words BULLDOG TRANSPORT were airbrushed onto the piece of bodywork between the windows and the grill.
He was also an owner-operator, but unlike Toni, he also owned his trailer, a three axled dropdeck with a swan's neck coupling. Today, he was hauling very large concrete elements used for building houses.
A man in his prime, 57 years old and 245 lbs. heavy, Bobby Hillerman stepped down from the cab, adjusted his drooping pants, and removed his mirror-glass shades. He grabbed a greasy black cowboy hat from a small compartment behind the driver's door, plonked it down on unruly gray locks, and walked on stiff legs towards Toni's truck. When he saw her, his face lit up like a little sun.
"Damn, it's good to see ya, Toni. Been too long."
"It has, Bobby. You look great." They shook hands and hugged like the old friends they were.
"You coulda shaved, Bobby! You're scratchy!" Toni laughed and rubbed her cheek.
"Whattaya mean? I shaved last Sunday."
"I want you to meet someone. Bobby, this is Cassey. She's riding with me. I'm helping her to get to California."
"Hello, Miss. Damn, you're pretty," Bobby said and bowed like a gentleman... and he almost lost his balance.
Cassey's eyebrows shot up at the sight, but Toni held him steady.
"Thank you, Sir," Cassey said, trying in vain to hide a grin.
"She could be your granddaughter. You better back on down before you blow a gasket," Toni said, making Bobby laugh with a wonderful deep sound that made his entire body shake.
"Do ya wanna sit at the counter, or a table?" Toni asked.
"Table. Them stools by the counter ain't built for butts like mine!" Bobby said and led them to an empty table by the window.
"Coffee's on me," he said and whipped out his wallet.
"Much obliged. Make mine strong," Toni replied.
"And one not so strong, please," Cassey added.
"You got it. Comin' right up."
When he returned, Bobby placed the cupholder on the table and the usual game of finding the right cup ensued.
Bobby and Toni talked for the next twenty minutes or so, telling stories of what they'd seen, and people they'd met. Toni really loosened up, and Cassey thought it was becoming her. It was fascinating to hear all these stories. She guessed that a couple of them were probably a bit exaggerated, but most of them were true.
There were so much more to these truckers than plaid shirts and greasy baseball caps, Cassey realized. Real friendships could be formed, even when they didn't see each other for maybe weeks on end.
A noisy airhorn made the three of them turn around and look outside. A fire-engine red Kenworth entered the parking area, pulling a trailer from Allied Van Lines.
A smile flashed across Toni's face, and she rose and walked over to the window to get a closer look at the new arrival.
"Man, that's Jackson's new K100!" Bobby said enthusiastically.
"His new what?" Cassey said perplexed.
"K-Whopper K100, the California Special, 10-speed tranny an' a Superfly overdrive," Bobby explained.
Cassey looked for help from Toni, but she was still waiting by the window.
"I'll be right back, guys," the tall trucker said.
When the red truck had parked, Toni went into the parking lot.
"Toni knows him?" Cassey asked.
"Yeah. They used to be, ah..." Bobby considered the words, but Cassey interrupted him.
"I get it."
A tall, powerfully built African-American man in his early thirties stepped down from the red truck and waved at Toni.
"Nice to see ya, Toni."
"Likewise, Jackson. Are you all right?"
"Rarely been better. I saw your Mack, so... well it was time for a break anyway," he said, and put a large arm around her shoulder. He gave her a squeeze as they walked back to the Cafe.
"You look great," he said.
"Thanks. Feel pretty good... better than I have done for a while."
"Glad to hear it."
They entered Rafael's and Toni pointed at the table where Bobby and Cassey were waiting.
"Hiya Bobby, man it's like class reunion week here! So, the red and white Bulldog's yours, huh?"
"Yeah, yeah, hello Jackson!" he said and they shook hands.
"Hello, gorgeous!" Jackson said when he noticed Cassey. Toni rolled her eyes and grinned.
"Hi Jackson, I'm Cassey. I'm riding with Toni," she said, and put out her hand.
"...oh. I see. Sorry 'bout that, then," Jackson said as he shook it.
"Huh?" Cassey said, confused.
"It's a long story. Oh yeah, by the way, Cassey, you're looking at a real war hero here," Toni said as she and Bobby headed for the counter to wait for the food they ordered.
"Knock it off, Toni, all I did was to drag the Lieutenant back into my trench. No big deal."
"Is that where you got that limp?" Cassey asked.
"You don't miss a thing, huh? Yeah. Got shot in the damned ankle. Could have been worse. I got my second Heart, and my ticket home from the jungle."
"And then you started driving?"
"Hey, are you a reporter or something? You've got an awful lot of questions," Jackson said, and laughed when Cassey blushed.
"Sorry, kid, only joking. Yeah, I started working for Toni's dad back in '71, and I've never looked back since. Just bought my new Kenny... well, the bank still owns a lot of it, I guess. Now it's my turn for questions. How did you end up with Toni?"
"Oh, that's a long story, too. I was looking for a ride to California, and, well.. it ended up being Toni."
Jackson looked at her strangely.
"So you're a hitchhiker? I thought... I don't know what the hell I thought," he said, and tried to look anywhere but at the young blonde.
Now it was Cassey's turn to be confused.
"That's the second time you've done that... I mean, is Toni an escaped serial killer, or something?"
"Hell, no! I just..."
They were interrupted by Toni and Bobby who put down four enormous plates on the table.
"I'll go get the pops," Jackson offered, and left the table quickly.
'What the hell is going on around here...?'
For once in her life, Cassey found herself out-eaten. She couldn't cram down another French fry, but Bobby was on his way to his third helping. She looked at Toni, who chuckled and winked at her.
"While the living dump truck is away, I think I'll take a quick whizz," Toni said, and left the table. The silence between Jackson and Cassey was awkward, but fortunately, Bobby quickly came back with another cheeseburger.
Suddenly someone said,
"There's a cop cruisin' the lot, checkin' plates."
Everyone looked outside. Sure enough, a police cruiser slowly toured around the parking lot. It stopped in front of the diner, and the cop got out.
"Oh Jeez, it's the Fat Creep," someone said, and everyone groaned.
A real nasty looking sheriff entered the diner and looked around for easy pickings. He was in his late fifties, rotund and double chinned. He had a well-groomed, small mustache and there was an evil gleam in his eyes that didn't bode well for anyone who'd cross him. He had his service revolver sitting high on his hip, so it wouldn't get in the way of his fat gut when he sat down. Cassey knew his type well, even if she hadn't met this one before - and she knew they were always Trouble with a capital T.
His eye caught Jackson, and he lumbered towards their table.
"Hey boys. Taking a lunch break?"
"As you can see, yeah." Bobby mocked him by answering with half a cheeseburger sticking out of his mouth.
The sheriff turned his eyes to Cassey and let them slowly run up her body.
"How old are you, kid?"
"I'm twenty-two. And I'm a hitchhiker," Cassey answered coldly.
"Sure you are," he said, the barely hidden look of lust in his eyes betraying what he thought Cassey's profession really was.
The sheriff turned to Jackson, but before he could say anything, he was interrupted by Toni.
"What seems to be the problem, Sheriff?"
He turned to face her.
"Oh, nothin', Ma'am. I 's just wonderin' why a white girl was sharin' a table with one of them blacks."
He looked back at Cassey, and sneered:
"I'd stay away from him, Miss. You never know where he stuck it the last time."
Cassey's cheeks blushed crimson red, causing the Sheriff to chuckle.
Toni looked at the younger woman and begged for her not to respond. Fortunately she didn't.
Satisfied, the sheriff turned around and went over to the counter to order a coffee.
"We better leave before he comes back for more," Jackson said quietly to the others.
Once they reached their trucks, Cassey broke the silence.
"Jesus H. Christ what a goddamn creep... I hope he chokes on his coffee!" She touched Jackson's arm, and gave it a squeeze.
The large man gave her a reassuring smile.
"It's all right, guys. Shit happens. I'm used to it by now."
"It's not right, Jackson, it just isn't. It's so flipping unfair," Cassey said.
Jackson shrugged his shoulders.
"There's nothing to be done about it."
Toni shook hands with Jackson and Bobby and hugged Jackson briefly.
"See ya on the flip-flop. You too, Bobby."
"Stay safe, Toni," the large man answered.
Cassey kept quiet for the first ten miles after leaving Rafael's, and Toni was beginning to worry that the incident with the Sheriff had hurt Cassey deeper than she let on.
"Toni? Can I ask you a question?"
"Jackson seems like a nice guy, but why did he act so strange towards me?"
"What do you mean?" There really wasn't a need to ask. Toni knew exactly what was coming.
"Well, when we first met, he called me gorgeous, but then, like fifteen seconds later he apologized... and then, while you and Bobby left to get the food, he asked me how I had met you... I told him what happened, and he got all awkward on me..."
Toni turned her head and for a brief second looked straight into Cassey's emerald green eyes. She quickly looked back on the road.
"... He probably thought that you're a lesbian."
"That's one hell of an assumption considering all I'd told him was my name..." Cassey said and chuckled.
"No, you also told him you were riding with me."
"I still don't underst... Oh."
"So?" Cassey asked.
"What do you mean, 'So?' "
"It's 1978, Toni. Lesbians are everywhere. There's no shame about it anymore."
Yet another beat. Toni sighed.
"Now that, my friend, is easy for you to say."
"You like girls, I like boys. Does that mean we can't be friends?"
"Christ, Cassey, it's not a joking matter. I've had people spit on me when they found out."
"Did you honestly think I'd do that to you?"
"... Well, I hoped not."
"Good, because I wouldn't. Ever. I don't know 'bout you, but I feel we've bonded pretty well in this last day and a half."
"I do too, but I know several straight women who feel very uncomfortable around me, even long after they found out. They find me unnatural."
"Yeah, well, I don't. I've known a lesbian all my life, so I know that 'unnatural' thing is nonsense."
"My aunt Jenny."
"It's different with family."
"Why? She's still a lesbian."
"It's different, it just is."
"I don't think it is. You can forget about me being uncomfortable, Toni. Not gonna happen. And one more thing, I wasn't joking before - I want to be your friend," Cassey said, and put her hand on Toni's arm. The driver turned to look at the young blonde woman and smiled. She was rewarded by the cutest nose crinkle she had seen in years, and her smile broadened.
The discussion over for the moment, Cassey leaned back into her seat and pondered something else.
A little later.
"Wait a minute, Bobby told me you and Jackson used to be..."
"Bobby is a sweet man, and a good friend, but he can't find his own nose when the lights are out," Toni said flatly. Cassey started to chuckle and within moments she was laughing out loud - so much so that Toni couldn't help but join her.
40 miles later.
"Now what are you doing back there?" Toni said to Cassey as she could hear the younger woman fumble around in the sleeper.
"I was getting too warm. If you don't mind, I think I'll slip into something more comfortable."
'Depends on what you call more comfor...'
Toni thought, but was cut off by a gloriously tanned and well muscled bare leg popping out of the sleeper. It was quickly followed by another leg and then the rest of Cassey, wearing orange colored cotton shorts, and a dark green spaghetti strap tanktop cut off a couple of inches below her breasts.
Toni really tried to look at the road ahead, but her eyes constantly found the young form beside her.
"I can't believe you're not hot, Toni. You're wearing cowboy boots!"
"Well... they're part of my uniform, you know... I'd feel naked without them."
Cassey laughed and opened a paperback.
Toni couldn't remember when she had last seen such a flat, muscular stomach. In the trucking business, everybody tended to bulge out in the middle as a result of the endless hours spent sitting down - herself included.
"How long have you worked out to get killer abs like those?" she asked Cassey.
"A couple of years. Working out is a pretty good way to make time go by faster."
Toni just nodded. She could well imagine Cassey working out on maybe a rowing machine, all sweaty, and... 'the road, Toni. Mind the road.'
Cassey took her shoes off and put her bare feet up on the dashboard. She crossed her legs at the ankles and leaned back in her seat to stretch out.
She noticed Toni's stare, quickly took her feet off the dashboard, and said:
"Oh, Toni, I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was doing that. That's the way I relax the best."
"... no... no, it's all right. Go right ahead and enjoy yourself," Toni said, and forced herself to take her eyes off the muscular legs.
Cassey smiled, put her feet back up, and started to read the book.
A little later on, the two women had great fun singing along to Toni's many Country & Western tapes.
Eighteen wheels that keep on a-rollin'
Two stacks a-diesel smooooke a-blowin'
If I ain't been there, I'll soon be a-goin'
I'm a-truckin' on down the road.
"Damn, you've got a great voice!" Cassey said, very impressed.
"And you got a loud one, Cassey."
"Hey, I know I can't sing worth a shit, but I ain't lettin' it stop me."
"Har-dee har har, Missy," Cassey said, and stuck her tongue out, making Toni laugh out loud over Cassey's childish insult.
"You wanna hear another tape?"
"Sure, whatcha got? Only trucking songs?"
"Yeah, mostly. I rarely listen to anything else."
"It's all right. I kinda like some of it. My mother would freak out, though!"
Cassey went back to searching through the many tapes in the glovebox for something to hear. Finally, she found one with a familiar name on it.
"Hey, the soundtrack from Smokey & The Bandit! I loved that film. Don't you think Burt Reynolds is hot as hell?"
"No, I guess you wouldn't, huh? Sorry, old habits..."
"Never mind. Let's hear it."
Soon, the sound of Jerry Reed's guitar filled the cab of the truck, and Cassey started singing along, loudly, to the theme song from the movie.
Ya heard the stories 'bout Jesse James -
an' John Henry jus' ta mention some names...
"When did you first figure out you were a lesbian, Toni?"
"I guess I always knew. When the other girls in my class in school started wearing makeup and dressing up, I noticed that I was a lot more attracted to them than to the boys."
"Yeah... it all culminated in one fucked up disaster of an evening. I can't remember what the occasion was, my school was celebrating something or other... anyway, I had a date with some guy, because I didn't want to be left out, basically. He turned out to be a jerk, so we split within minutes. I approached a girl that I had a crush on, and asked her if she wanted to... experiment a little. Well, things happened, and we had sex. The rumors spread like wildfire, and there was no turning back from that. Not that I wanted to."
"Ouch. That must've been tough on you, as a teenager?"
"It sounds worse than it actually was. I had plenty of attitude back then, and as I said, I knew all along. A lot of people were disappointed in me, and I lost a lot of friends after that night. Found some new ones, though."
"What about the girl?"
"Her parents moved her to another school. I never saw her again."
"What did your parents say?"
"My dad never really told me how he felt about it, but I think he was a bit disappointed. He had probably hoped I would start a family and have lots of children, but I don't know. My real mom died in an accident when I was four, but Dad married again, and my stepmom, well... she hated it. Started getting all nasty and calling me names."
Cassey put her hand on Toni's forearm and gave it a little squeeze.
"I'm so sorry to hear that. So you're not in touch with her anymore?"
"No. I haven't seen her since dad's funeral. Good riddance. I hated her guts, and as far as I know, the feeling was mutual."
An hour's drive later, dusk was slowly approaching.
"Let's lighten up the mood a little. How about a little movie quiz?" Cassey asked.
"... Eh, well, all right. Shoot."
"I'll ask you a question, and if you can answer it, you can ask me one, OK?"
"Yeah, but I haven't had much time to go to the movies... but I'll try."
"What was the tall furry creature called in Star Wars?"
"I haven't seen it."
"You haven't seen Star Wars?!" Cassey said and bolted upright in her seat. Toni shrugged.
"It's not really my kind of movie... space ships and rayguns, and..."
"It was lasers, Toni, not rayguns. And the furry creature was called Chewbacca," Cassey chuckled.
"If you say so. I bet you saw it twenty times!"
"Not quite, three times. I can't believe you never saw it... go on, your turn to ask a question."
"No, you do another one, I couldn't answer yours."
"All right, how about... who played the godfather in those Mafia pics?"
"Oh, I know that one. That was Marlon Brando."
"Correct. Now it's your turn."
"Lemme see, what was the name of the truck in White Line Fever?"
" 'Oh, you haven't seen it?' " Toni mocked the younger woman with a big grin.
"Smart alec. I've never heard of that film."
"It's a trucker movie from 1975 with Jan-Michael Vincent."
"It was called the Blue Mule. All right, let's stay with the names. What was the black TransAm called in the Smokey & The Bandit movie?"
"Oh, I know that! It was... was... Oh, darn..."
Cassey scrunched her face up like a prune, and rubbed her forehead.
"You give up?"
"Doesn't ring a bell at all," Cassey said, and shook her head.
"Well, that was the name."
"Oh great, it was my idea to play a game, and now I'm losing hand over fist."
"I'll let you have this question, then," Toni offered.
"Who played the pilot of the 747 in Airport '75?"
"Hmmm. Hmmm, Jack Lemmon? No, that was Airport '77..."
"He was in '77, yeah."
"... Could you give me a clue? Pleeease?" Toni smiled sweetly.
"He played Moses."
"Charlton Heston. Easy-peasy," Toni said, making Cassey laugh out loud.
Suddenly Cassey's stomach growled like a grizzly. She put her hands on it to try to shut it up - it didn't work. It growled again, and she became embarrassed and blushed accordingly.
"Are you sure you're not the bigfoot in disguise?" Toni teased, looking at Casey's cheeks, who were tinted in the cutest shade of pink.
"Quite sure. I just need a chocolate bar," Cassey said and dove head-first into the sleeper cab, so she wouldn't have to face the driver.
Toni shook her head in a good natured way over the insatiable hunger of the younger woman.
It was just after 11 pm. Cassey was back in the passenger seat, snoring quietly, and Toni couldn't help but chuckle at the young blonde. If she didn't talk, she ate, and if she didn't eat, she slept.
Toni saw the headlights of a car coming towards them, but didn't think much of it.
Suddenly the headlights started drifting over into their lane. Toni yanked on the chord for the airhorns and the two metal trumpets bellowed out a piercing sound into the darkness. When that didn't seem to have any effect, she started to feverishly flash her high beams.
"What the fuck!" Cassey exclaimed, jerked out of her sleep by the horns.
"HANG ON!" Toni yelled, and turned the big truck left and out of the path of the oncoming car. The Mack swerved and started to tilt, but it caught at the last moment.
They were headed towards the desert, and Toni was practically standing on the brake pedal, hoping the damn thing wouldn't jackknife. A loud *THWACK* was heard from the rear, and the entire truck shuddered. Cassey buried her head in her hands and let out a small scream.
"Fuck, he hit the trailer!" Toni shouted angrily.
When the black Mack finally stopped, Cassey peeked out from between her fingers. Her heart was beating faster than she thought possible, and she stared wide-eyed out into the pitch black night.
"Wow..." she whispered in a trembling voice.
"You all right?" Toni asked.
Toni got up from her seat and went into the sleeper cab. She grabbed a big flashlight and then climbed down.
"Stay in the truck while I see how much is left of him, Cassey."
Toni immediately saw that the oncoming car had hit both axles on the right hand side of the trailer, but none of the tires seemed to be punctured. The car had continued on another 25 yards or so into the desert on the other side of the road. She ran over to the steaming and ticking Ford and clicked on the flashlight to check on the driver, a middle-aged man. Toni opened the door.
"Are you all right?"
The man bled profusely from his nose, and there was a bloody smudge on the steering wheel. He nodded slowly to Toni.
"I fell asleep..." he slurred.
She went back to the rear of the car. The bootlid had been torn off completely and was gone. The right quarterpanel had been mashed in, and the bumper had been ripped off its hinges on the right hand side. Thank god the fuel tank was in the left side.
Toni found some rags that appeared to be clean, and gave them to the man. He wiped his face off and tried to stop the bleeding.
"I can't get this damn bleeding to stop..."
"I'm gonna call the medics, but it'll be a while until they can get way the hell out here," Toni told him in a stern voice.
"Please do. I'll... wait here."
Toni went back to her truck and stepped up into the cab.
"Is... he alive?" Cassey asked apprehensively.
"Looks like he hit his head on the wheel. He's got a pretty bad nosebleed. I'm gonna try and see if I can raise someone on the CB."
"I think I'll go and talk to him while you do," Cassey said and got out of the cab.
Toni nodded and grabbed the CB-mic. She pressed the button and said,
"Breaker One-Nine, this is a 10-33, repeat, a 10-33. There's been a traffic accident on the I-40, about seven miles west of Floraville. A man's been injured, so we need an ambulance and the police. Anyone out there, over?"
Back in the town Toni and Cassey had just passed through, a Volunteer Firefighter was sweeping the floor in the garage when his wife yelled at him from the dispatch, located on the first floor.
"Honey, come quick! I've got an accident report here on the CB!"
He rushed up the stairs to the office, and picked up the mic.
"This is the Floraville Firebrigade, you're coming in loud and clear, Breaker. Repeat your message please, over."
"10-4 Floraville, there's been a traffic accident on the I-40, maybe seven miles west of the town. A man's been injured so we need an ambulance and the police, over."
"10-4 Breaker, we copy. We're sending the ambulance right away. The police will follow. Over and out." He grabbed his jacket and his gloves.
"Honey, get Ted on the horn. Tell him I'm on my way," he said, running down the stairs, taking two steps at a time.
Toni walked back over to the wreck. She smiled when she saw Cassey chatting away with the unfortunate man. Either it'll cure him or kill him, she thought to herself.
"Ambulance's coming. We're lucky, there was one in the town we just went through."
"Yeah, Floraville, that's where I was headed," the man said, and looked sadly at the remains of his '73 Ford. His nose was still bleeding, though not as much as before.
"We'd just finished paying for the damn thing, too... my wife's gonna kill me."
Out in the far distance, they could see the flashing lights on top of the ambulance speeding towards them.
After an hour and fifteen minutes, they were finally allowed to move on. Cassey had turned very quiet and she seemed to be smaller than usual.
"Cassey, are you all right? Do you want me to do something for you?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine... it's just that I've never been in a traffic accident before... and on top of that, the deputy we met really reminded me of my boyfriend," Cassey said, and wiped a stray tear away from her cheek.
Cassey looked out at the two beams of light cutting through the darkness, occasionally reflecting off a road sign, but mostly staying glued to the road. She sighed deeply and ran a trembling hand through her hair.
***SPECIAL WARNING BEGINS***
"Listen, Toni, I really need to share that story with someone... but it's gonna make you uncomfortable..."
"When I first met Tommy he was so nice to me. He bought me flowers, and candy... and a necklace. When we were on a date he kissed my hand, you know. A real gentleman. I was a late bloomer, so I was still very 'young' and naive even at nineteen. I still lived with my parents because I wasn't mature enough to live on my own... so naturally, when a good looking man started sweet-talking me, I responded."
"Then what happened?"
"I made the biggest mistake of my life and moved in with him. I was just so tired of living with my parents. This was two and a half years ago. The first year or so was pretty good, but then... he changed. I don't know if that was his real face starting to show through or what it was, but whenever we..."
Cassey blushed and looked down, but continued,
"...whenever we had sex, he started slapping me around. It got worse after that. One thing led to another... and then Saturday before last, he was drunk when I got home from attending a class in night school. He was on the phone with a dude called Johnny, a real piece of filth, that one. It wasn't long before Johnny came over, with a half-empty bottle of booze. They started to get all macho, and I figured I better withdraw for the night," Cassey said, sighing deeply.
Toni shook her head. She knew where this story was headed.
"To cut a long story short... Tommy wanted to reward Johnny for something he'd done at work, or whatever, and he ordered me to have sex with his piece of shit buddy. For me, sex is an act of love between two people, you know, not the wild monkey dance with a complete stranger, so I refused. Johnny got real pissed, and Tommy even more so. Johnny eventually took off, thank God, but Tommy demanded that I slept with him... I agreed, to calm him down. But it was much more violent than ever before. I hated it. He was hurting me, and I couldn't hold back the tears... It just seemed to turn him on more."
"He raped you!" Toni growled.
"I consented..." Cassey said quietly.
"That's bullshit and you know it!" Toni's knuckles turned white from the death grip she had on the steering wheel.
"There's more," Cassey said and started to sob again.
"... when he was done, he pulled out a knife and started to threaten me with it. Said all kinds of disgusting things to me... that I had to make it up to Johnny, and... on and on. I grabbed his wrist to move the knife away from me, but it just made him angrier. He put his hand around my throat and said he was going to cut me up so bad even my mother couldn't recognize me... he... he said he was gonna carve his name into me..."
Cassey couldn't contain herself any longer, but buried her head in her hands and started to cry for real.
***SPECIAL WARNING ENDS***
For the second time that evening, Toni slammed on the brakes. As soon as the truck had stopped, she darted around the front, opened the passenger door and climbed up beside Cassey. The tall trucker hugged the young blonde furiously, soothing and comforting her with quiet words.
"Why didn't you call the cops?" Toni asked quietly after Cassey had settled down a bit.
"Because both Tommy and Johnny are deputies with the Sheriff's office..." Cassey whispered, her voice hoarse from the crying.
"Those fuckers," Toni said and closed her eyes.
The emotional breakdown left Cassey so drained that she could hardly sit upright, and Toni quickly made the bed in the sleeper cab so she could get some rest.
Toni pulled up the blanket to cover Cassey, and gently moved a lock of the golden hair away from her face - a face that was so haggard from crying that it nearly broke Toni's heart.
"Sleep tight, kid," she whispered. Cassey mumbled something unintelligible, and turned to her right side. Toni smiled wistfully, and then went back to her seat to drive on into the night.
About thirty minutes later, she saw the bright lights of a truck stop coming closer.
Relieved, she pulled off the highway and into the nearest available slot. She couldn't remember the last time she had been so knackered. What a day. She checked her watch. 1:05 am. Damn, they wouldn't be able to leave at dawn this time. She was just about to crawl into the sleeper cab to tell Cassey they had stopped for the night, when there was a knock on the door.
'Oh, what the hell now!'
Toni grumbled, and opened the privacy curtains again.
"Want some company?" a garishly dressed woman said.
Toni gave her a menacing glare through the window, and after a short while the prostitute gave up and walked on to the next truck.
'Lot lizards. Great, that's all I needed!'
Toni thought. She didn't want to expose Cassey to the seedy side of the truck stops, so instead of sending her off by herself to look for a place to spend the night, Toni decided that it would be safer for all if Cassey stayed in the sleeper cab. With a deep sigh, Toni resigned herself to be sleeping across the seats.
Cassey woke up and stretched. She ran a hand through her hair and rubbed her face, trying to remember where she was. The blanket protecting her smelled completely different from what it usually did... in fact, it had a very pleasant scent. A truck starting in the background made her remember. They weren't moving, so Toni had probably found a truck stop.
'What time is it...'
she thought, and looked for her wristwatch. She couldn't find it, but a digital clock on the shelf right next to her read 6:39 am.
She sat up and rubbed her face again. Her eyes were puffy after last night's crying, and she wished she had something to put on them. She could hear someone snoring, so she quietly moved a flap of the leather curtain and peeked out of the sleeper cab...
...right into Toni's bare back. Blushing, Cassey let the curtain fall down again.
7:05 am, and Toni's back was killing her. The polyester covers had scratched her so much that she had almost thrown them out of the truck. Instead she had taken her t-shirt off and used that as protection against the cold. By now it was much warmer in there than normal, and Toni's thoughts crossed to the young woman in the sleeper cab.
'There are so many creeps and assholes in the world, but why did they have to pick on Cassey? Such a beautiful, warm and kind young woman.'
It dawned on Toni that she had bonded pretty well with the young hitchhiker, and she found herself wishing that they were playing on the same team. Well, even if they had been, Cassey was too emotionally ruined right now - it wouldn't be fair on either of them. But had they met without any baggage... oh boy, watch out, earthquake zone...
Toni chuckled quietly to herself, but unfortunately, the small movements made her back hurt even worse.
'All right, enough is enough!'
Toni thought and sat up angrily. She tried to get the wrinkles out of her t-shirt, but soon gave up. It was smelly anyway. She withdrew the privacy curtains and yawned. The world still looked the same. She turned her head and discovered that the muscles in her neck were hurting, too.
"Hey Cassey, are you awake?" she said softly.
"Yeah, I'm just waiting for you, sleepyhead," The younger woman joked, and opened the leather curtain to the sleeper cab.
"There's a first for everything," Toni said, and reached inside to open a small compartment where her fresh t-shirts were.
"Toni, thank you for tucking me in last night. I'm... a bit embarrassed for, you know, breaking down like that," Cassey said sheepishly.
"Don't be. I know how important it is to get things like that out of your system."
"So I didn't scare you off?"
"No, you didn't. In fact, I'm glad you told me," Toni said, and put her hand on Cassey's shoulder. Their eyes locked for a few seconds until Cassey looked down.
"Listen, I'm sorry to break up the moment, but if I don't go and pee now, I'm gonna explode," Toni said with a smile, and grabbed her wallet.
"Can't have that, can we? I'll hold the fort while you're away," Cassey said and laughed.
When Toni returned, she climbed up into the cab, and went straight into the sleeper.
"Oh Jeez, I'm sorry, Cassey," Toni said embarrassed, and quickly moved back out.
"It's all right, it was bound to happen sooner or later! No big deal," Cassey said and laughed. She came out into the front and flipped her hair out of the fresh t-shirt.
"Sorry anyway," Toni said. She locked up the truck, and the two women headed for the truck stop.
"So, how do I rate?" Cassey whispered to her in a cheeky tone.
"You know..." the blonde said, and wiggled her eyebrows.
"I told you the other day that it's not a joking matter, Cassey," Toni said sternly.
"You're right... not funny."
"Weeeeell, a seven, maybe a seven-and-a-half," Toni drawled.
"Oh... out of ten, I hope..." The young woman's voice was tinged with disappointment.
"Yep, out of ten. Hey, you asked for my opinion."
"I suppose I did."
"Your ribs are showing. I like women with curves."
"My ribs are showing because I only eat half as much here as I did back home!"
"I beg your pardon! You're constantly stuffing your face with all kinds of junkfood!"
"You ain't seen nothing yet!"
"Why you aren't the size of the Goodyear blimp, I'll never know."
"Hyperactive genes, I guess."
"Hyperactive something or other, that's right!" Toni said and quickly moved a step to the right to avoid Cassey's gentle slap.
A few hours passed, and because the traffic hadn't been too bad, they'd managed to cover a lot of ground after leaving the truck stop. Right in the middle of a boring stretch of road, Toni's sixth sense kicked in, and she started to feel that something was off.
"Cassey, I don't want to spook you, but does your boyfriend drive an orange and blue Chevy Chevelle?"
"... no, he's got a red Firebird. Why?" she answered with a slight tremble in her voice.
"A Chevelle's been following us for the better part of twenty minutes, and there have been plenty of opportunities for them to pass us. How about that other creep... what was his name... Johnny?"
"Don't know... I've only seen him together with Tommy... do you think it's them?"
"Doesn't have to be, of course. But it does seem strange. You're a trouble magnet, you know that?" Toni said to the young blonde.
"Been one all my life..."
"Heh. In about five miles or so, we're coming up to a series of s-bends. I can't go through there particularly fast, so we'll see what the deal is then."
There was a 40 MPH speed limit for trucks through the s-bends, so when Toni slowed down for the first part, the muscle car pulled out and drove alongside them.
"They're coming up fast, Cassey. Quick, lean over me and look out of the window. Do you recognize them?"
Cassey got up and stretched across Toni, trying to not hinder her driving.
It only took five seconds, but for Toni, time had slowed almost to a standstill. It had been a while since she had been this close to another woman, and Cassey was most decidedly A Woman. Her golden hair smelled fresh, youthful, inviting... 'Toni!'
she chastised herself. 'What did you decide on just this morning! No messing around with this kid!'
. But it was hard for the trucker to think about anything else than the flat stomach she could feel against her right arm, and Cassey's hand on her thigh. Toni was sure that would leave a scorchmark on her jeans...
And then the moment was over. The Chevelle rumbled past, the V8 growling as the driver hit the gas, and he disappeared around the first of the s-bends.
"It wasn't them!" Cassey said greatly relieved, scooting back to her own seat. Toni cleared her throat nervously and shuffled about to try to find a comfortable position.
"Oh yeah, wasn't them."
"Did ya get the license plate?"
"... actually, it didn't have one on the rear..."
"I don't think it had one on the front, either."
"Hmm. What could that mean?"
"Trouble, just of a different kind."
They'd made it safely through four of the five bends when Cassey suddenly yelled,
"Watch out! "
"I see it."
The orange and blue muscle car was parked across the road maybe a hundred yards ahead of them. The passenger door was open, but both the men were gone.
"What the hell's going on?" Cassey asked confused.
Toni started to gear down, but suddenly she saw the sun reflecting in something off to the right, a pair of sunglasses perhaps.
"A fucking ambush is what!"
She mashed the gas, and the turbocharged Inline-6 howled. The truck quickly gained speed, and two men came running out of the shadows. One of them had a pistol in his hand.
"Oh Jeez!" Cassey shouted when the saw the gun.
"Get your head down, Cassey!"
The young woman did better, she left the passenger seat in a flash and dove into the sleeper cab.
"Fucking highway robbers!" Toni could hear Cassey shout angrily from somewhere behind her.
By now, the Mack was going 60 MPH or so, and the Chevelle was zooming towards them.
"There's no room!" Cassey shouted in a panic.
"I'll make room."
Toni aimed for the weakest part of the car, the rear axle and the section just behind it. The two men became very agitated, and the one with the gun started firing on Toni's truck.
Cassey screamed just before the Mack hit the Chevelle with tremendous force. The shock of the impact sent her flying through the sleeper cab, and all kinds of things fell off the shelves. Toni was nearly jerked out of her seat, and she barely managed to hang on to the steering wheel.
The impact sent a cloud of dust and sand flying from both the two vehicles, and for a moment Toni's vision was obscured... and then they were through. She wrestled the truck for another few seconds, and geared down frantically for the last s-bend. She checked the mirrors to see what had happened to the other car.
As far as she could see, the rear axle had been torn from the Chevy. The man with the gun was still shooting away at them. Toni hustled the Mack through the last s-bend a little too quickly, and the tires squealed in protest.
Toni noticed she had been holding her breath, and she released it with a prolonged sigh. Never a dull moment...
"Hey, are you all right in there? You can come up for air now," she called out to Cassey.
The answer was a muffled curse, so Toni looked back. Cassey's very shapely backside was in full view as she tried to dig herself out of a mountain of clothes and small items that had been thrown about.
"Goddamn those fuckin' sons-a-bitches!" she roared when she finally emerged back into her seat.
Toni chuckled. There was a lot more fire to that young woman than what she'd originally thought.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Thanks. Your bed is a mess and a half back there... hey, I can't believe those creeps were trying to rob us! One of 'em fired at us!"
"They won't be doing no robbing for a while. We wrecked their car."
"Good." Cassey crossed her arms over her chest and looked very miffed.
"I'll try to raise the smokeys as soon as we're out of the hills. The CB doesn't work in there... that's probably why they picked that spot."
"Great, more cops."
Some time later, a police cruiser sped off into the distance, leaving the two women standing on the side of the road. By now, the two men trying to rob them had been apprehended and they'd been taken to a small town in the vicinity, their criminal careers over for the moment.
Cassey was looking at the damage from the impact with the Chevelle, but Toni only had eyes for the $65 fine in her hand. A small vein was visible on her forehead, and she was completely silent, which wasn't a good sign.
The cop had given her the fine for driving with a broken headlight. That she had broken it trying to escape from criminals didn't really appease the cop - even if the two men were wanted for several robberies and violent assaults against truck drivers.
"I can't believe it... A sixty-five goddamn bucks' fine..." Toni finally said to no one in particular.
The headlight housing on the right side had been cracked, and the glass was gone. The fender had an ugly ding in it, but that looked fixable to Toni's eyes. She reckoned it would take about two hours to get it back to its original shape - she started calculating how much that would cost her, and she cringed. Still, being stopped by the highway robbers would've been far worse. She shook her head and put her hands on her hips.
All this time, Cassey had watched her cautiously. She didn't dare talk to Toni for fear of being growled at, so instead she tried the old-fashioned approach by putting her hand inside Toni's arm, and giving it a little squeeze.
It worked. Toni looked at her with a tired grin.
"You know, Cassey. I have never, ever had this much happen to me before. I'm serious. You're a regular bad luck charm."
"At least the cop didn't frisk us," Cassey added, only half-joking.
"Yeah, thank God for little favors, huh?"
"What about the headlight?"
"The cop gave me a day to get it fixed. When we reach the truck stop tonight, I'll try to figure out what to do. Anyway, let's move on. We've still got a long way to go," Toni said and patted Cassey on the back.
A few miles further down the road, Toni decided to speak her mind.
"Listen, Cassey, I've been thinking about something you said last night. Why didn't you leave your boyfriend sooner if he was treating you like dirt?"
"Well... despite what he did to me, he was all I had. And I did love him... once."
"Yeah, but you deserve so much better, Cassey. The way you look, you could have anybody."
"But that's just it, I didn't want anybody else, I already had someone. As I told you, when I first met him, he was a breath of fresh air. My parents are conservative people, and I was so damned tired of living with them. I had a happy childhood, but a very restrictive youth. I wasn't allowed to do much, except for silly little things..."
"You told me yourself you were very naive. Your parents were just trying to protect you," Toni offered.
"Yeah, I guess you're right... well, it's a moot point now. I can't undo what's done."
"You do realize you don't have anywhere to live, right?"
"Well, I'm hoping to reach my aunt before we get there. I know she'll let me stay with her for a while."
"That's not a long term solution, Cassey. I think you need to find an apartment pretty quickly. You'll need money for that, so you'll have to find a job, too, you know."
Cassey merely nodded. Toni didn't want to push her, so she let it rest.
A little after 5 pm.
A dark green Oldsmobile convertible slowly crept up alongside the Mack. The driver honked the horn and Toni looked down. Her eyes popped wide open and she had to blink a couple of times because she couldn't quite believe what she saw - the passenger on the front seat of the Olds was waving her panties in the air, which of course left her wearing... nothing. The passenger wiggled about in the seat to show off her goods, and Toni just stared.
"What's up Toni, you look like you've seen a ghost...?" Cassey said.
"No... it's a... well... a flasher."
"A what?!" Cassey said, and once again leaned across Toni. She squealed in surprise when she saw what was going on in the car next to them.
"Oh! My! God! Toni! You can see her... her... everything!"
Toni gave the airhorns two short stabs, and the convertible pulled ahead of them.
Two women in the backseat - that Toni hadn't had the time to look at before - turned around and pulled up their t-shirts. They gave the black Mack a nice goodbye-wiggle and then they were gone.
"Does this happen a lot to you?" Cassey asked with a cheeky grin.
"What, that well endowed blondes flash their little golden fleeces at me?"
"No... but it matches all the other strange stuff that's been happening in the last few days perfectly, let me tell ya..."
Several hours on from the surprise encounter, they were driving into the approaching dusk. Toni yawned and wiped her eyes. She was looking forward to calling it a day - all this activity had made her tired, and her back and neck were still aching from sleeping across the seats last night.
"I really hope I can shower when we reach the truck stop. I'm beginning to feel ripe," Cassey said, sniffing her armpits.
"Heh, you still smell fresh as a daisy to me. I remember one time during the big heatwave two years ago... everybody was stinking, myself included, to be brutally honest, and the only truck stop within miles had no water left. Damn near started a riot, that," Toni said with a smile.
"I can imagine. A truck stop full of sweating, smelly truckers... not my idea of fun!"
"Yeah, that was like 'Smell ya later'," Toni said and laughed.
"Hey, you wanna play a game or something?" Cassey asked.
"Oh, you know, I'm not good with games, Cassey. Unless it's arm wrestling..." Toni took a glance at Cassey's well-defined biceps.
"... and I'm not sure I would have a chance at that, either."
"You're a lot taller than me. You have a lot more weight to throw around," Cassey said, and slapped Toni playfully on her shoulder.
Toni gave her a mock hurt look that sent Cassey into a series of chuckles.
"I didn't mean you're fat!"
"That's what you all say, all you well-toned exercise goddesses... us curvaceous women have no chance of ever getting to look like you."
"Gimme a break! You're easily the most beautiful woman in here."
"Nonsense, Cassey. Have you looked in a mirror recently? You could be on the cover of every fashion magazine there is."
"So could you. You'd knock 'em all out."
"We urgently need to find somewhere to spend the night, you're beginning to hallucinate..." Toni grumbled and winked at Cassey.
The young blonde winked back and chuckled quietly.
A road sign was lit up by the headlights as the truck thundered past it.
"We're gonna have to take a rain check on the game, Cassey. Only two miles to the truck stop..."
"Saved by the bell, huh?"
The two women looked at each other, and it was impossible not to feel the spark of energy passing between them. Almost imperceptibly, Toni almost, almost,
made a comment, but she chose to let the moment pass.
As they had done on Monday, the two women split up. Even though Toni offered Cassey the opportunity to sleep in the truck again, so she could save some money, the young blonde politely declined - she'd observed the driver wincing from the aches in her back at least twenty times that day, and she didn't want to cause Toni any pain.
Instead, Cassey grabbed her holdall and headed for the ever-present motel. Hopefully this one would be a bit better than the one from the other night.
Toni had driven the tractor unit into the garage and two mechanics had gone to work on the busted fender and the headlight. The sparks were flying as one of them used a grinding tool on the metal.
She was waiting outside the garage with a mug of something they told her was coffee, but actually smelled and tasted more like discarded gearbox oil.
"Don't you just love to look at the stars, Toni?" somebody said right next to her, making her jump a foot in the air.
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you..." Cassey giggled, and continued:
"I bought you a cup of coffee, but I see you've got one already..."
"Much obliged, Cassey. I don't know what the hell that was, but it wasn't coffee..." Toni said, and dumped the 'gearbox oil' into a small bush next to the garage.
"You didn't answer my question."
"Look at the stars? They're just there, you know."
"You're so unromantic!"
"I've just never really thought about 'em," Toni said and shrugged.
"I love looking at the stars. They bring out the poet in me. Whenever I have the time to stargaze, I get an urge to write poetry," Cassey said, leaning her head back so she could watch the endless array of little white dots in the sky.
"Oh yeah...? Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue... that sorta stuff?" Toni said and took a swig from the new cup of coffee, which was a hundred times better than the gunk from before.
"Yeah, yeah, 'that sorta stuff'!" Cassey said, laughing out loud over Toni's complete lack of interest in poetry.
"Did you manage to grab a shower?" Toni asked.
"Yeah. I feel much fresher now. This motel looks a lot better than the one from a couple of days ago. The bathroom door can actually close this time."
"Wow, must be a five-star motel, huh?"
"Something like it. Actually, the prices are reasonable, so I'm OK."
One of the mechanics came out to the two women.
"We'll be done in about thirty minutes, Toni."
"All right. I'll wait."
When the mechanic left again, Toni turned to Cassey and said:
"Thirty minutes mechanics-time equals fortyfive minutes of our time."
When the truck was finally finished - fortyfive minutes later - the two women said goodnight to each other.
Toni's eyes followed the younger woman as she walked away with a noticeable swagger in her hips. Why Cassey didn't have a line of suitors a mile long, she'd never understand. Very good looking, an athletic body, a sharp mind... all in all she was exactly Toni's type...
Oh well, in another lifetime maybe.
After returning from her own shower, Toni undressed and went to bed. Her back was killing her, so she was dearly looking forward to a softer bed than the damn seats from last night.
She fell asleep almost before she had turned the lights out, and it wasn't long before she started dreaming. At first she couldn't really understand what was going on, but it soon became clear to her that she was in the middle of an erotic dream. A very
She found herself making love to a woman whose face she couldn't see, but there was no mistaking the muscular legs, or the flat stomach, or even the golden manes on the other woman.
She saw her hands and lips all over the other woman, all the while being kissed and fondled herself. She saw herself gently moving two fingers between the other woman's wet folds and heard her lover moan passionately... The other woman opened her eyes and Toni stared into her sparkling emerald green orbs...
...and woke up with an almighty jerk. She bolted upright in the bed to clear her mind of everything from that dream. The time on the digital clock read 2:05 am. Toni rubbed her face with both hands. Her heart was beating wildly and she could smell the telltale musky scent of arousal in the air.
'If I'd known it would lead to this, I would have told Cassey to get lost on Monday...'
she thought - but at the same time, her heart told her that it was a lie.
She didn't dare go back to sleep at once, so instead she went out into the cab and cracked open a can of Coca-Cola. Sitting in the dark, she pulled the privacy curtains apart on the driver's door and looked out into the parking lot.
It looked the same as any other truck stop parking lot she had ever seen. The streetlights attracted thousands of insects, flying about aimlessly below the glaring orange lights.
This couldn't continue. But what could she do? She sure as hell couldn't tell Cassey that she had just had the most delicious wet dream with the two of them. The young woman would be scared off in world record speed - Toni knew exactly how she'd feel if some guy told her that he had fantasized about her while... well... she'd tear his head off. Both of 'em.
Toni sighed. And to think that she had feared Cassey would feel uncomfortable when Toni told her about herself...
'Ace predictions, Antonia Willis,'
The truck on her left started and glided out into the night. Toni suddenly noticed a blue and green cabover Peterbilt parked two slots away. The lights were still on in the cab, but the curtains were closed.
Could it be? It certainly looked like Charlotte's truck. Toni sighed again and looked up into the quilted roof. Lord knew she badly needed a woman's touch. Making a quick decision, she emptied the can of Coke and put her jeans on.
She locked up the truck and headed over to the Peterbilt. Yep, it was Charlotte's truck all right. In a very cruel twist of irony, she found herself about to knock on a door and ask if they 'wanted some company'. Toni sighed again... and knocked.
"Charlotte, you in there? It's me, Toni."
The privacy curtains were pulled apart and a woman peeked out. She was a little older than Toni, 35, and she was a very pretty brunette with mahogany brown eyes and cute dimples. She quickly opened the door.
"Oh boy, Toni! Long time, no see, huh? Come on up, for cripe's sake. No point getting your yummy ass bitten off by the mosquitoes!"
Toni climbed up into the Peterbilt, and took a glance out on the parking lot... and the images from the dream still lingered within her.
The next morning, just after dawn.
Cassey was really proud of herself for getting up so early. She didn't even feel tired, which was very, very different from what she was used to. The big change was of course that she had something to get up to.
When Cassey washed her hair, she wondered what would happen today - the last day. She could hardly believe it. She had only known Toni for four days... four days! And yet she felt like they'd been friends forever.
What would the future hold for her? Cassey had given a lot of thought to the things Toni said to her about education. As soon as she was settled in with her aunt, she would look for work. She would need a place to stay, but having money for an education was more important. Cassey knew her aunt wouldn't mind having her stay for a little while, but she knew it was impolite to stay much more than three weeks or so.
She stepped out of the bathroom and began to dry her hair. She still giggled when she thought of the conversation she'd had with her aunt when she finally reached her on the phone last night.
"I'm so proud of you, Cassey. I think you've made the right decision. When are you here?"
"I don't know yet, but it'll be sometime tomorrow. You can't miss me, I'll be arriving in a big black truck!"
"Oh, lord, don't let any truckers fool around with you!"
"No chance of that, aunt Jenny, it's a lady driver."
"Uh-huh... like I said..."
"Oh, don't be silly!"
Cassey finished drying her hair and proceeded to clean up the motel room. She dropped off the key by the desk clerk and headed for the parking lot. She noticed the curtains were still in place on the Mack, which was unusual.
Suddenly she saw Toni and another woman standing close together... really
close together. So close, in fact, their lips were touching. Cassey blushed furiously. She didn't know what to do or where to go. She was standing right in the middle of the gigantic parking lot, and there wasn't anything she could dive behind.
Toni finished kissing the pretty brunette and gave her butt a squeeze. They hugged, and the other woman climbed into a Peterbilt. She started and drove off, giving Toni a salute with the airhorns as she did so.
Cassey found the situation safe, so she walked closer.
"Good morning," she said, very surprised over the sharpness in her voice.
Toni turned around, still smiling.
"Morning. Is something wrong, Cassey? You're all flushed," Toni said, noticing the color of Cassey's face.
"Who was that?" 'Good god,'
Cassey thought. 'Whose voice is that?'
'Whoa! No way... she's sounding like she's jealous...'
"You saw us? She's a real gorgeous girl I've known for a couple of years. It's nothing serious, we just like to... meet up once in a while. It was a coincidence that we were both here at the same time."
"Well... you don't have to defend yourself to me, you know... ha ha," Cassey said, her voice slowly getting back to its usual timbre. She shuffled back and forth on the parking lot, unsure of the strange emotions within her.
"I'm not. Let's get something to eat."
Cassey put her bag in the Mack, and thought to herself:
'Get a grip, you idiot. You have no right to feel so jealous. You've known Toni for four days. And did you really expect a woman who looks like that to be chaste?'.
The day turned out to be real hot, so by lunch time, the two women had rolled down the side windows to get some fresh air. Cassey had bought a bag of apples at the truck stop, and she was busy cutting one into slices. When she was done, she offered half of them to Toni.
"What's this?" the driver said.
"Well... I think it's an apple...? Don't you eat apples?"
"Sure, but you bought them, they're yours."
"And I've decided to share. Here," Cassey said, and held out the slices so Toni could pick them up.
"Thank you, Cassey."
"You're welcome," the young blonde replied with a smile - and one of those cute nose crinkles. Toni's eyes lingered on Cassey for a few seconds, but when she could see the young woman starting to turn her head towards her, she quickly went back to stare out of the windscreen.
"I hope you don't mind me asking, Toni, but isn't it uncomfortable to always wear a bra? Don't you chafe?"
"Well, sure, when it's really hot, but there's a good reason for it..."
"You don't want anyone to stare at your nipples?" Cassey offered with a smile.
"Do I look as I care about anyone staring?" Toni replied with a raised eyebrow.
"No, it's actually because the roads are frequently so poor and uneven that it's a real bumpy ride... you know what I mean. Don't have to tell you how that feels."
"Ouch, no. But it's been pretty good on this trip, right?"
"This road's flat as a baby's bottom, but it's an exception. I remember not long after I started driving, I was going on the I-10 in New Orleans, and I hit a pothole. The whole truck bounced so hard I nearly became airborne! Well, my breasts had a really rough landing on the rebound..."
"Oh, God!" Cassey squealed and squirmed in her seat.
"...It knocked the wind out of me. I had to pull over and massage my chest. That was the only time I wondered if trucking was really safe for women..."
Cassey laughed out loud. She felt a blush creeping up on her cheeks from the mental image that story had produced, but she hoped it would go unnoticed.
"... So I started wearing a sportsbra, and I've done so ever since," Toni said.
"I'm glad I wasn't with you on that trip! Wow, the tricks of the trade, huh?" Cassey said and wiped her eyes.
They didn't have far to go now, and that fact made Cassey feel strangely down. To lighten up the mood a little, she decided they should listen to some music, and she practically turned the glovebox inside out to find a tape they didn't hear the other day. She found one that Toni had written 'great' on, and showed it to the driver.
"I guess 'Great' means that it's really good?" Cassey said.
"Yeah. That's one of my favorites."
"Country & Western?"
"But of course," Toni said and chuckled.
"Let's try it," Cassey said, and inserted it into the tape deck.
As the first song started, Cassey instantly recognized it.
"Hey! I definitely know this one! That's Roll On Big Mama!"
"Sure is," Toni said and flashed her a broad smile.
Cassey took a deep breath and started singing along to the song - loudly, and slightly off key. Toni joined her a few words into the song, and the two women were soon going hell for leather.
Roll on, roll on Big Mama,
I like the way you sing
Roll on, roll on Big Mama,
The night time lets her breathe
Well, the feel of the wheel delivers me
From a life where I don't wanna be
And the diesel smoke with every stroke
Sings a song with a heavy note
And ramblin' is the life I chose
Sittin' here between the doors
And the yellow line a-keepin' time
The things that's a-runnin' a-through my mind
Through my mind
Roll on, roll on Big Mama,
I like the way you roll
Roll on, roll on Big Mama,
You are my very soul
On through the snow and the drivin' rain,
To the forty-below in Bangor, Maine,
To the hundred-and-ten in the Texas sun,
There ain't no road that-a we ain't run,
Up through the Colorado mountain tops,
Down to the desert where Reno stops,
North to the green of Port o' Delan',
There ain't no road that-a we ain't seen,
We ain't seen
Roll on, roll on Big Mama,
You're singing out my song
Roll on, roll on Big Mama,
The highway is our home
"Oh man, I can't believe I'm singing Roll On Big Mama actually riding in a truck! We used to play that song at every single party at school a few years ago. I feel like a silly schoolgirl all over again, but damn that was fun!" Cassey said, and clapped her hands together.
Toni smiled at the 'silly schoolgirl'. It just happened to be one of her favorite tunes, but she'd never thought she'd be singing it at the top of her lungs in such charming company.
"Too bad Joe Stampley didn't call it Roll On Little Toni, huh?" Cassey said with a grin.
"He probably didn't 'cause it doesn't rhyme at all..." Toni deadpanned.
"You might be right about that... on the other hand, why don't I just call you Big Mama from now on... wouldn't that be a hoot?" Cassey said, and flashed her most angelic smile in Toni's direction.
"No. Uh-Uh. No way, no how, no ma'am," Toni said and shook her head vehemently.
"You sure?" Cassey bashed her eyelids repeatedly.
I never lost a fight for sweet temptation
That's before I laid my eyes on you
Should'a known it when I felt a shiver in my soul
That you'd be too good at doin' what you do
You'd make an angel wanna cheat
I can't keep you off my mind
You'd make an angel wanna cheat
Don't have to say it to walk the line
I feel the fire everytime you touch me
I see the devil laughing in your eyes
Tryin' hard to hold on, but I jus' can't help myself
I guess it took too long to realize
You'd make an angel wanna cheat
I can't keep you off my mind
You'd make an angel wanna cheat
Don't have to say it to walk the line
'If I didn't know better, I'd swear that The Kendalls had written that song about Cassey... fits her to a T,'
Toni thought as the tune faded out.
The trucker glanced over at the younger woman to see her face. Shiver in my soul, check... felt the fire when she touched me, check... laughing eyes, check...
'I rest my case,'
Another couple of songs went by, and the two women had a great time singing along to the ones they both knew, when Toni suddenly remembered that the last one on the tape was a Crystal Gayle song about the sad end of a relationship. She didn't know if she should stop the tape or... too late... the song had already started.
In love so blind,
I stepped across the line
Now just memories of you linger
Sometimes a girl in love
Will go too far
I was a crazy fool,
Let my heart overrule
Each decision my mind was making
The harm is done,
There is no place to run
You can't give me back what you've taken
Sometimes a girl in love
Will go too far
But I know I will smile,
For in a little while,
I'll be holding somebody new...
Cassey didn't know this song, but she'd been humming along to the music when the lyrics suddenly caught up with her. She choked up and looked out of the side window so she could have a private moment. But she didn't cry. There weren't any tears left for that relationship, or for Tommy. She'd spent them all that horrible night in the bedroom, and then two nights ago in Toni's warm embrace... for the young girl from West Texas, there would be no going back.
The traffic grew heavier by the minute, and the San Diego skyline soon came into sight. Before long, they were driving on a big eight-lane freeway taking them to the western parts of the city and the docks.
'Not long to go now,'
Cassey thought, and sighed.
'Who could ever have predicted how attached I would get to that truck driver over there? Certainly not me. Jeez, when she walked into the truck stop on Monday... all greasy and grumpy...'
Cassey couldn't hold back a giggle, making Toni look at her with a bemused expression on her face.
"What's so funny?"
"I was just thinking about how you looked when you came into Myrna's truck stop... you know, after you had worked on the truck?"
"Oh yeah... great first impression, huh?"
"Yeah! Well, it worked out in the end."
"Hmmm," Toni answered with a smile.
Cassey fell silent and debated with herself if she should tell Toni what was on her mind... she finally decided to take the leap. She steeled her resolve and turned around in the seat so she faced the driver.
"Toni, I want to tell you something important. Last night, it was a week since I left Tommy. At first I was so worried about everything... and the trucker I hitched a ride with from Wichita Falls to Albuquerque was old, grumpy and smelly. Then I met you... and I haven't been worried one second since, not even when we thought that Chevelle from yesterday might have been Tommy, because I just knew
that even if it had been, you would've been able to find a way out of that situation. God, listen to my ramblings, huh?"
"It's all right, Cassey," Toni said and blushed a lot more than she normally would do.
"What I'm trying to say is that I'm so, so grateful that you wanted to help me." Cassey used her sleeve to wipe away an errant tear from her eye, hoping that Toni hadn't noticed it.
"Hey, kid... These long highways grind the soul out of us truckers. It can get really lonely out here, and... well, I've really enjoyed your company. The week has just flown by. You know, I almost feel like I've known you for years," Toni said, smiling at the young blonde. She put out her hand and Cassey grabbed it and held it tightly.
Toni activated the turning signal, and the truck rumbled into the freight central.
She stopped at the end of a line of trucks, all headed for a booth where the manifest would be checked by an employee.
After waiting for about five minutes, it was finally their turn to pull up to the booth. Toni handed the manifests to the man sitting there and he quickly scanned the documents.
"Good afternoon, Miss Willis," the man said, and continued:
"Your trailer needs to go to warehouse 16, loading bay 4. Do you need a driver?"
'I beg your pardon?'
Cassey thought, and her eyebrows shot up.
"No," Toni replied coolly. The man put a stamp on the documents and handed them back to her. She drove off, leaving the man to take care of the other trucks in the line.
"Did he really ask you that?" Cassey said disbelieving.
"Yeah. I'm a woman, we can't drive. Didn't you know that?"
"Right. We should stay at home and cook dinner and breed children," Cassey said in a mocking voice.
"Right!" Toni said, and chuckled over the stupidity of it all.
The freight central was an extremely busy place. Small shunter-trucks were constantly hauling trailers to and from the cargo bays. It seemed very chaotic, but everything that happened was according to a plan. As soon as a truck had dropped off a trailer, it was to drive to the staging area where masses of freshly loaded trailers were ready to get shipped out.
The black Mack arrived at warehouse 16, and Toni expertly maneuvered the truck into bay 4. Because she was hauling a tanker, she'd have to be very precise in hitting the marks.
If a driver couldn't hit the marks, the ground crew would have to wait for him to try again before they could get to work, and they'd always let the driver know about it by loud jeers and whistling.
They had no such bother with Toni, she parked the grain tanker right on the money. A man quickly attached two hoses to the tank nozzles, and activated the suction pumps. While this was happening, Toni jumped out and disconnected the trailer's airbrakes from the rear of the cab, causing them to lock on. Then she took a large wrench and lowered the parking wheels on the tanker.
When she was done, she climbed back up into the cab, checked that the trailer was stable, and slowly drove off in the tractor unit, heading for the staging area.
"Just flippin' wow!" Cassey said, completely overwhelmed by the anthill-like activity in the freight central.
"Yeah, it's kind of a busy place, huh?"
"No shit! I can't believe how well you parked the trailer."
"It's what I do. And I'm damn good at it," Toni said, and meant every word.
"OK, let's see if we're lucky enough to find a trailer going back home. If it's Frankie or Joseph controlling the staging area today, then I think I've got a pretty good chance. They knew my dad."
"And the other controllers don't like you being a woman driver?"
"Something like that, yeah."
Cassey shook her head.
The middle-aged controller was walking around in a sweat-soaked shirt, holding a clipboard. A walkie-talkie was constantly squawking with information from various shunter drivers.
"Sorry, Toni, there's nothing for you right now. Unless you want to take a local turnaround to L.A. ?"
"Aw shit, Joseph. You mean to tell me there's nothing going East? There are thousands of trailers here."
"Oh, we've got plenty of loads going East, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, hell, I've even got one for Miami, Florida. Take your pick."
"Look, I've been on the road for three weeks, I need to go home, you know?"
"I'm not bullshitting you, Toni. We ain't got nothing to New Mexico. Everything is either local, northbound, or long distance. How about a load of furniture going to Seattle?"
"Then I can't help you," The controller said and shrugged.. Toni turned around and went back to the truck.
"Shit," Toni said when she returned.
"I don't like the sound of that... you couldn't get a load?" Cassey said.
"Oh sure I could, for all the states of the union... except New Mexico."
Toni suddenly noticed that she was in the middle of a major pout. She snapped out of it because she didn't want to ruin the last hour together with Cassey by being her old grumpy self.
"I'll think of something later on. Now let's go find your aunt."
"Toni, if you're too busy or something, you can drop me off at a bus stop. I won't mind..."
"Nope. A deal's a deal," Toni said, and turned the ignition key.
"Well... thank you," Cassey said.
Toni drove out of the freight central and slowly brought the tractor unit into the busy city streets. After a little while they reached a typical San Diego suburb with a lot of two-story houses, drawn back from the sidewalk.
They found the correct street without much hassle, and parked at the curb in front of a house made of red bricks.
A woman peeked through the curtain on the second floor, and scooted down the stairs. She opened the door and waited on the doorstep. Cassey waved at her out of the opened window.
Toni looked at the young blonde, who had her bag in her lap and a forlorn look on her face.
"Well, Cassey, I guess this is as far as it goes."
"Walk me to the door?"
"Sure." The two women left the truck, and walked the short distance to where aunt Jenny was waiting.
'Hello, would you look at that...'
, Jenny thought as she saw the two women approach her.
She couldn't help noticing the very statuesque woman her niece was walking next to, and she definitely
couldn't help noticing the look on Cassey's face.
She looked at Cassey, and then back at the tall woman... and then back at her niece. Was it possible?
'If my sister knew she'd kill herself,'
When her two guests reached the doorstep, she pulled Cassey into a bear hug.
"Welcome to San Diego, Cassey. My, my, you've changed since I saw you last! You're a regular bombshell now! Wow, look at you!" the older woman said, and held Cassey at arm's length so she could get a good look at her niece.
"You're only saying that to make me feel better, aunt Jenny," Cassey said and blushed.
"Oh, no, Cassey, I mean every word. How old are you now?"
"God, already? Then it's been six years! Let me see you... you're a very pretty woman," Jenny said, making Cassey's cheeks blush crimson red. She looked down at her feet, unable to meet her aunt's eye.
"Hello, I'm Jennifer Rogers. I'm Cassey's aunt," she said and smiled, putting out her hand towards the tall truck driver with the sky blue eyes.
Toni shook it.
"Antonia Willis. Please, call me Toni."
Toni looked at the older woman, who was wearing an oversized t-shirt, a pair of faded jeans and sandals. She appeared to be in her late 40's, and the lines around her eyes and mouth told a story of a woman who loved to smile. Her green eyes were very similar to Cassey's, but perhaps they were a bit more blue. Apart from a few gray strands, her hair was roughly the same color as Cassey's, but where the young woman wore hers long, Jennifer's hair was cut very short.
Their eyes interlocked, and Jenny knew right away what the deal was between her niece and the driver.
"You've driven together since Monday?" Jenny asked.
"Yep. Been an interesting week," Toni replied dryly.
"I'll bet," Jenny said and looked straight at the tall trucker to gauge her intentions. Toni responded with a wistful half-smile.
"Where'll you go after here, Toni?" the young woman asked, oblivious to the exchange between the other two women.
"I'm off to another freight central to see if they have a trailer to take back east. And then it's out to the truck stop to spend the night. I'm leaving at dawn as usu... hey, Cassey, please don't cry..."
"I want to stay with you, Toni!" Cassey suddenly said through a veil of tears. She was clutching her bag tightly against her chest without even realizing it.
"You do? Really?" Toni said, very surprised. She knew they had clicked very well, but it was still one hell of a step to take - for both of them.
"Yeah. I was afraid you might get angry with me if I told you earlier. I mean, we've only known each other for four days... but it's been the best damn week in my adult life..."
Aunt Jenny looked back and forth between the two women like she was at a tennis match. Her eyebrows were at her hairline, but she was secretly rather smug.
A few tears fell down Cassey's cheek, and without hesitation, Toni used her thumb to wipe them away.
'And that seals the deal,'
"Oh hell, kid, I would never get angry with you. I'll tell ya what, I've never laughed so much, and never talked so much as I have these last couple of days. It's been really fun to share my truck with you."
"So... how about it?" Cassey asked hesitantly.
"Well, Cassey... remember you have to put up with my grumpy nature, and the dirt and grime of life on the road, and..."
Cassey laughed out loud, and slapped Toni's hand lightly.
"Oh, you're not grumpy."
"I just haven't had the time to be grumpy. I mean, I've never had so much happen to me, like *ever*!" Toni said, laughing.
"Yeah, I'm your little bad luck charm, you told me... So?"
Toni didn't know what to say. In a way she'd love to have the bubbly blonde along... in four short days she had become the best friend Toni had ever had... but... there were so many things... so many obstacles.
'If I say the wrong word now, Cassey will break apart,'
Toni thought, and looked at Jenny, pleading for some help.
The older woman picked up the look, and said:
"How about we go inside and I make us some coffee, huh?"
A little while later. Toni and Jenny shook hands on the doorstep.
"I hope you can live with this decision," Jenny said.
"Yeah... thanks for the coffee and the talk."
Toni walked the short distance to the truck, opened the door, and got inside. She turned the ignition key and pulled the chord for the airhorns.
She turned her head to the right and looked into Cassey's emerald green eyes, shining and sparkling with excitement.
"Let's go, pardner," Toni said.
Cassey nearly blinded the driver with her smile. Then she leaned out of the opened window and waved goodbye to her aunt with a white handkerchief, soaking wet with tears of joy.
"I'll call, I promise!" she yelled to aunt Jenny, who frantically waved back at her niece.
Toni put the truck in gear and turned the black Mack out into the traffic, heading for the intersection that would take the two women back out of the suburb.
Cassey had been right all along.
This wasn't the end. This was a new beginning. For both of them.
BOOK 2 - CASSEY'S BIRTHDAY
Sunday, August 19th, 1978.
Pink tendrils reached across the eastern sky, and soon the first rays of the day were shining on a small house on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Toni Willis yawned and rubbed her eyes. Darn, still waking up at the crack of dawn even when she didn't have to. In the background, she could hear the neighbor's dog barking at a car driving by.
She looked around the smallish bedroom. The house wasn't much, but it was their home. She stayed there when she wasn't on the road. It was really only a living room with a kitchenette, a bedroom, a small bathroom and a storage room, but the monthly rates were dirt cheap, and that's why she continued to live there even though it was really too small for two people.
Two people. Toni never thought she'd be able to say those words in earnest. She had never been one to settle down, and she still really wasn't. It was just that blonde woman that she had met some months before that had turned her world upside down.
Toni's pride and joy, her large black Mack tractor unit was parked outside the small house. That was how they'd met. She had picked up the most innocuous looking hitchhiker... and they were still together, nearly four months later.
Toni looked down at the blonde head resting on the taller woman's shoulder. Cassey Peters was sprawled across Toni's body, still asleep.
Toni fondly remembered the utter and absolute thrill she got when Cassey kissed her for the first time. Up until that point, Toni never dared to hope for more than what they already had, which was a very intense friendship.
In fact intense was a fitting word for their relationship. When they argued it was explosive, but always mercifully short lived, when they kissed the world stopped spinning, and when they made love for the first time, it was measured on the Richter-scale. Literally!
Her eyes stopped at a newspaper clip that Cassey had cut out of the local rag. It said 'Slight earthquake felt in Albuquerque! First tremor in a decade.'
- That had been on the front page the morning after...
'Yep, we never do anything half-assed.. Aphrodite in disguise, that's who Cassey really is,'
Toni thought and smiled broadly. She put her arm around Cassey's shoulders and snuggled down to get some more sleep.
Several hours later Toni woke up again, disturbed from her dreams by a very pleasant sensation - she opened her eyes, and discovered the sensation was caused by Cassey nibbling on her neck.
"Good morning, sweetheart, and happy birthday," Toni whispered.
"'Morning, love. Thank you." Cassey continued to gently kiss the older woman's neck, going from her ear and moving forward. The effect wasn't lost on Toni, who rather quickly felt a well-known spark ignite within her.
Cassey's kisses followed an invisible line going from Toni's chin to her lips. Cassey pulled back slightly and looked straight into Toni's eyes, pleased to see the ice blue orbs sparkling. The older woman was sure she could hear a thunderclap somewhere in the distance as Cassey dove down and assaulted her senses with a ferocious kiss.
"Roll over onto your back, Cassey," Toni said when they separated.
The blonde woman did as asked. Toni sat up on the bed and looked at the grinning li'l devil in front of her.
"Have I ever told you I love you?" The dark haired woman purred seductively.
"Have I ever shown you?" Toni said and took her oversized t-shirt off, revealing her nude, tanned body.
"Not often enough!" Cassey said and laughed out loud.
Cassey started to remove her own nightshirt, but before she had time to get it off completely, Toni jumped her and began tickling her mercilessly with her long fingers.
"Tickle time!" Toni cried out and went to work on Cassey's ribs and sides.
The young blonde tried to wiggle this way and that to get away from Toni's relentless tickling, but to no avail. The bedroom was filled with the sound of joyous laughter, and after a few seconds, Cassey was completely out of breath. She had a huge, beaming smile on her face, and all in all, she felt like she was in heaven.
After a little while, she finally managed to put her fingers on Toni's waist and she started giving as good as she got. Now it was Toni's turn to squirm around, and Cassey seized the opportunity to flip the dark haired woman over onto her back. Cassey quickly straddled Toni's hips and she was finally able to take her nightshirt off.
"Oh baby, you're so sexy," Toni said as she ran her hands up Cassey's sides, cupping the two perfect breasts. She ran her thumbs over Cassey's nipples, and was pleased to see them immediately stand to attention.
"Yeah?" Cassey said in a husky voice, the intimate touch sending a wave of pleasure through her body. She leaned down to kiss Toni on the lips.
"I'm glad you think so," Cassey whispered, and went back to nibble on Toni's neck. Like before, she placed a string of little kisses along Toni's strong jawline, ending up gently playing with Toni's bottom lip.
"Does the birthday girl have any special wishes?" Toni said between kisses, running her hands up and down Cassey's bare back. She hooked her thumbs inside the elastic band of Cassey's panties and pulled them off, earning a throaty purr from the young blonde.
"Oh, give me a minute to think of something," Cassey said, and traced Toni's lips with her tongue.
Toni opened her mouth to let Cassey in, and soon their tongues were engaged in a most wonderful dance.
Cassey pulled back again. She took Toni's hands and pulled them up to her breasts, making it clear for Toni what to do. When Toni started playing with Cassey's erect peaks, the blonde woman's breath hitched and she closed her eyes and purred.
Cassey moved over to straddle Toni's thigh. Soon, her hips started moving back and forth on their own accord, and her throbbing center rubbed rhythmically against Toni's silky soft skin. A few throaty moans escaped her as the cadence grew ever faster.
Toni's heart was thumping hard in her chest, and she felt extremely turned on by the sight of her partner being so aroused, and by the feel of the warm wetness on her thigh. She moved her hands from Cassey's breasts and placed them on her backside. She gently pushed downwards to add a bit more pressure, and Cassey responded by groaning loudly.
Without breaking the sweet contact, Cassey pulled Toni up towards her and into a sitting position. They wrapped their arms around each other's bodies and moved as one.
Cassey could feel her climax wasn't far away, so she slowed right down to get the most out of the wonderful sensations. She briefly rested her head on Toni's shoulder before moving over to kiss the dark haired woman again.
"Open your eyes, baby, I want to see you when you come," Toni whispered into Cassey's ear.
Cassey opened her eyes, and it was almost her undoing. The sight of the two ice blue orbs pulsing with need so close to her made her even more giddy than she already was, and she couldn't stop her hips from bucking.
Cassey had a wicked grin on her flushed face as she locked eyes with Toni and resumed the rhythmical motion. Not even a minute later, a powerful orgasm ripped through her body, making her cry out and buck wildly on Toni's thigh.
A series of aftershocks made Cassey's body tremble and quiver, but they eventually stopped, and the two of them fell back onto the bed, still holding on to one another.
"Wow..." Cassey whispered, completely out of breath.
"Happy birthday, baby," Toni said, gently kissing Cassey on the lips.
Some time later. Cassey was surprised the house was still standing - it certainly wasn't for a lack of trying. She looked at Toni - the older woman appeared to have fallen asleep again.
'Must've worn the old girl out,'
Cassey thought to herself and grinned knowingly.
She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and padded out to the bathroom. Now came the worst time of the day - it was a constant lottery if the water in the shower was steaming hot or ice cold... she turned on the water and carefully put her hand into the stream. The shower had obviously decided to give her a birthday present, because the water felt pleasantly warm for a change.
After showering and wiping herself down, she dug out a clean pair of panties from the dresser, and grabbed some of yesterday's clothes. Sunday was laundry day and they were going to the Laundromat later.
She went past the bedroom again, and couldn't help but chuckle at the sight. Toni was still in bed, apparently completely comatose. She was flat on her stomach, lying diagonally across the bed, with her beautiful round butt cheeks on proud display.
"Toni? Honey, it's getting late," Cassey said to the sleeping goddess.
"Hhrmpf," Toni said and started to wiggle about to get into a sitting position. Her raven black hair was a mess and was sticking out in all directions.
"Perhaps we should cut back on the love making if it wears you out like that?" Cassey said, waiting by the door for the inevitable reply.
"Never!" Toni replied firmly, making Cassey giggle.
"Just a suggestion. I'll fix breakfast while you shower, OK?"
"Hey, wait a minute, it's your birthday, I'm supposed to make it for you."
"Nah, I got it. Don't worry."
Fifteen minutes later, Toni joined Cassey at the small kitchen table in the corner of the living room. She grabbed a slice of whitebread and put it into the toaster.
"We're running low on bread," Cassey said.
"I'll put it on the list... if I could find it," Toni said and yawned again.
"It's over on the magnetic board. I've rearranged it," Cassey said and smiled.
"So you have. Sorry I didn't notice it before."
"As long as you're paying attention to me, I don't care about anything else!" Cassey said, and wiggled her eyebrows.
"That's a given, honey," Toni purred and leaned forward to give Cassey a kiss. The toast chose that moment to pop up from the machine, and both of them jumped in their chairs.
"What a difference a year makes... Do you know what I did last year for my birthday?" Cassey said thoughtfully as she munched on a French toast.
"I had an exclusive little party. Just me and half a bottle of Jack Daniel's. And when ol' Jack was gone, so was I. Slept for fourteen hours and threw up for the next two. I was so drunk I had a hangover for a week afterwards. And now..."
Cassey took Toni's hand, and choked up so badly she couldn't say another word.
"I say we're both pretty fortunate," Toni said. Cassey nodded.
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again. You're the best thing that ever happened to me," Cassey said and squeezed Toni's hand.
"I'm glad you think so, but honestly, you'd already taken the biggest step when we met, by leaving that creep."
"I don't know... the next one was just as important for me," Cassey said and chuckled.
"Remember the look on aunt Jenny's face when we walked up her garden path?"
"Yeah. She knew."
"She did, didn't she? It took me another two weeks after that to fully realize what was going on," Cassey said with a smile.
"And we've never looked back since," Toni said, and leaned across the table to place a strawberry flavored kiss on Cassey's lips.
"Oh, yummy! ...and sticky!"
Later, after the dishes were done.
"Fred's home, his dog's running around," Toni said after peeking through the window.
"Then I'll just hop over there and ask if we can borrow his truck," Cassey replied.
"You do that. I'll collect the dirty clothes in the mean time."
Three big plastic bags later, Toni was wondering how the hell two women could amass so many dirty clothes in only two short weeks - and nearly all of it was Cassey's, too. Toni only used 20 % of their closet: her cowboy boots, three pairs of blue jeans, a small collection of tanks and plaid shirts and a pile of more or less identical white t-shirts didn't take up much space.
Cassey returned with the keys for Fred's '66 Chevy Pickup truck.
"Let's go," Toni said and picked up the three bags.
Toni waved at old Fred who was sitting on his porch, his dog at his feet. He waved back, and the dog growled.
They got in and Toni turned the ignition key - and found out the orange and white truck had a big hole in the exhaust, producing a thunderous noise when she stepped on the gas pedal.
"Your exhaust is screwed!" Toni yelled to Fred.
"I know!" he replied and waved again.
"Heh. Must've just happened. There wasn't anything wrong with it the last time," Toni said and rolled her eyes. She blipped the throttle in Neutral and the whole thing shook.
"How the hell can he drive like this?" Toni shouted to be heard over the racket, and that was just from idling in Fred's driveway.
"He doesn't. He lost his license last month. He's blind as a bat!" Cassey said loudly.
"I've lived next to him for five years and never spoken with him... you're here for four months and you already know his entire life's story. Typical."
"What can I say, I'm good with people."
"No shit," Toni said and gave Cassey's knee a squeeze.
"Hey, that's my knee, not the gearshift!" Cassey said sternly, and then returned the gesture by tickling Toni's arm.
Toni forced the shifter arm into Drive, and the transmission howled and creaked.
"I shoulda brought my hearing protection!" Toni said and tried to step very lightly on the gas pedal. It didn't help. The cracked exhaust roared whatever she did.
Everybody looked at them when they entered the parking lot of the shopping mall, and Toni quickly found a place to dump the old crate.
"Sweetheart, I know it's a mean hand to play on your birthday, but do you mind doing the laundry alone? I need to fix that piece of shit exhaust," Toni said.
"Oh, I think I can handle it... but it'll cost you," Cassey said and smirked.
Toni took off her Mack baseball cap and held it to her heart.
"Golly Miss, Ah'm just a poor truckdriver with a leaky roof over mah head and two mouths to feed. Ah don't reckon Ah have anythin' that can satisfy yer needs..." she drawled.
Cassey leaned over towards the driver, and slowly ran her index finger up the inside of Toni's thigh, coming to a rest on her silver beltbuckle.
"I think we can work something out... later," she whispered seductively.
Nothing more needed to be said, so Toni settled for nodding her head.
When Cassey had finished doing the laundry, she returned to the truck, only to find Toni on her back underneath it, cussing and swearing like a sailor on shore leave.
"Honey, calm down, they can hear you all over the parking lot!" Cassey said and looked around.
"That goddamn piece of... Oh, hi, you're back."
"I'm trying to tie a tin can around the broken section of the exhaust, and it keeps on falling off!"
"A tin can?" Cassey said perplexed.
"Yeah, it's an age old trick. Get a tin can, cut it open from top to bottom and force it onto the pipe. Usually works, but this son of a... darned thing won't stay on!"
"Can I help you?"
"No room down here. Anyway, I think I've fixed it now. Looks like your positive vibes did the job."
"Gee, thanks!" Cassey laughed.
Toni crawled out and Cassey stared at her partner's formerly white t-shirt.
"You know, that 'look' is really you... all rugged and hands-on..."
"I'll give you hands-on..." Toni grumbled, and tried to brush off the patches of soot and the flecks of rust that had fallen off the old crate.
"Later, as we agreed on."
"...I probably need to clean up a bit before we leave for the Fair."
"That's probably a good idea, honey," Cassey said and winked at Toni, who in return raised both eyebrows and scrunched up her face in mock indignation.
Toni sat down and turned the key. The exhaust still produced some unwanted noises, but it was much better now.
"The old tin can works every time," she said and reversed out of the parking space.
As they turned onto their street, they could see a brown UPS truck parked in front of their house. The delivery man was ringing on their doorbell.
Toni dropped Cassey off at the curb before parking in Fred's driveway.
"Hello, Sir, do you have a package for either Ms. Willis or Ms. Peters?"
"Yes, Miss, for a Miss Cassandra Peters."
"I need to see your ID, Miss. The package is marked as 'Valuables'."
"Huh? I wonder what could that be," Cassey said as she picked her driver's license out of her wallet. She showed it to the delivery man.
"Here you go."
"Thank you, Miss. I need your signature here on the dotted line." Cassey did as instructed and scribbled her name. The driver said goodbye and drove off.
She looked at the strange box, which wasn't big, only four by four inches. It felt solid but it wasn't heavy... strange. She unlocked the door and went inside.
Toni soon came back from Fred's, wiping her filthy hands on a rag.
"I managed to wring $5 out of the old coot for the tin can. His dog hates my guts. Didn't stop growling at me," she said and threw the rag into the bathroom.
"I've received a package from aunt Jenny," Cassey said and showed Toni the mysterious box.
"Hey, it must be a birthday gift," Toni said and smiled.
"Well, aren't you gonna open it?"
"I'm afraid it might be something embarrassing, like a sex toy or..."
"Nah, the box is too small for most of those things."
"Oh, and you're the big expert on 'those things'?"
"Wouldn't you like to know. Anyway, I'm gonna grab a quick shower," Toni said and kicked off her boots.
Cassey kept staring at the box and still didn't make a move to open it.
"Do you want me to open it for you?"
"No, it's fine. I got it. Thank you."
"Well... OK," Toni said and shrugged.
After finishing the shower, Toni blowdried her hair and then went into the bedroom to pick up a new t-shirt. She debated with herself whether she should choose the one with the Coors logo or the one with the Mack logo... finally making up her mind, she picked the Coors one and put it on.
As she buttoned her jeans, her ears picked up a strange sound. It sounded just like...
In two steps, Toni was out into the kitchen. Cassey was crying and large tears ran down her cheeks. The box had been opened and Cassey was holding a piece of paper. Toni kneeled down and held her partner's hand.
"Good lord, sweetheart, what's happened!?" Toni said terrified.
"It's a letter from aunt Jenny, here..." Cassey said, and handed Toni the small piece of paper. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
Toni took the note and read it:
Happy birthday, Cassey.
I know true love when I see it.
This is a gift for both of you.
Love, aunt Jenny.
Cassey picked up two shiny items from the padded box and showed them to Toni. Two identical gold rings, with very abstract patterns of Celtic-looking symbols engraved on the outside, and the letters T&C 1978 on the inside.
"God almighty, these must have cost at least 300 dollars each..." Toni muttered and put the note down on the table.
Cassey took a napkin from the kitchen table and blew her nose in it. She was still in shock, so Toni ran her hand up and down Cassey's back to calm her down a bit. Suddenly, Toni noticed that something was written on the flip side of the note.
"Hey look, there's more... 'please give me a call for the story behind the gift, Jenny.' It's 10 am there now. You wanna call her right away?"
"I... I need five minutes..."
"All right. Come on, I'll help you to the couch," Toni said, and put her hand on Cassey's elbow to lift her up from the chair.
A few minutes later, Cassey dialed her aunt's number. The phone was picked up on the third ring.
'Jennifer Rogers speaking.'
"Hello, aunt Jenny."
'Hello, Cassey, and happy birthday. I take it you have received my gift?'
"We have, yes. I don't know what to say... they're unbelievably beautiful. Thank you so very much..." Cassey said, and started weeping again. Toni went into the bathroom to get a box of soft tissues so Cassey wouldn't have to use the coarse napkins.
'I'm glad to hear that you like them, Cassey. I had a good friend make them after your last visit here. The air between you and Toni practically glowed, you know. I thought it would be a great idea for you and your love.'
"Oh, it really was. I'm so happy, and I know Toni is, too."
Toni put the box of tissues on the coffee table and sat down again. Cassey immediately pulled one out of the box to wipe her eyes in.
'I'm happy to hear that. OK, as I told you on the note, there's a story behind it. In case you are wondering about the strange patterns on the outside: It's an ancient Celtic symbol. The swirling pattern represents the way love twists and turns, yet always finds its way to the ones that need it the most. I thought that was really fitting for the two of you.'
Cassey had taken one of the rings and studied it closely as aunt Jenny spoke. She could almost hear the symbols whisper to her in some long forgotten language.
"Wow, that's really interesting... "
'Yeah, I thought so too. Anyway, I don't want to take up any more of your time, so... have a real nice birthday, you hear?'
"I will aunt Jenny. And once again, thank you very, very much... "
'You're welcome, Cassey. Give Toni a big sloppy kiss from me!'
"Will do. Bye bye!"
Cassey hung up, still staring at the rings. She placed them very carefully back in their box, and turned to look at Toni.
"Aunt Jenny says hi. And..."
She moved in real close and placed a sloppy wet kiss right on Toni's lips.
"...she told me to give you this," she said and wrapped her arms around Toni's waist.
"Thank you, aunt Jenny!" Toni said, and laughed out loud.
The Pickup truck rumbled into the grassy parking lot of the Albuquerque State Fairgrounds. This was the last day of the big Summer Fair, and everyone had seemingly decided to visit at the same time.
"Damn, look at all these people! We're never gonna find a parking spot," Cassey said, sounding very frustrated.
"No, it looks... yes we are!" Toni said and hurled the Pickup into a vacant slot on the left, just in front of a gray Oldsmobile.
"Well driven, Ma'am," Cassey said and nodded her head at Toni.
"Why thank you, Ma'am," Toni replied.
The driver of the Oldsmobile honked at them a couple of times, but stopped when he saw Toni's six feet tall frame step out of the truck. He quickly drove off, preferring to look for another parking spot somewhere else.
"Better luck next time," she said after him.
"Oh boy, I can smell the popcorn way down here. Come on Toni, there's no time to waste," Cassey said, generally acting like a giddy schoolgirl.
"Hey Cassey, are you sure you just turned 23? I think thirteen is more like it."
"Watch it lady, or you're gonna start sleeping on the couch!" Cassey said in a stern voice as they walked towards the entrance of the Fair.
"Let me see... I might actually get to sleep a whole night, hmmm, I don't know..."
"I beg your pardon!" Cassey said, and slapped the taller woman gently on the butt.
As they were standing in line for the first attraction they saw, Toni could feel a pair of eyes burning a hole in her back.
"Somebody's checking me out, I can feel it. I hate being checked out," she growled quietly to Cassey, who was standing in front of her in the line.
Cassey turned around.
"It's just a couple of teenage boys. No problem. But let me tell you honey, it's difficult to look past you."
"I'm wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt, Cassey, same as hundreds of other women here."
Cassey let her own eyes linger on Toni's body.
"No contest, Toni, no contest."
After twenty-five revolutions in the slowest merry-go-round Toni had ever been on, it was time for Cassey to buy her first box of popcorn. Once she had it, she stuffed her face with the freshly popped corn like there was no tomorrow.
Toni watched her with a bemused look on her face.
"Whatcha lookin' at? So I'm a popcorn kinda gal, big deal," Cassey said through a mouthful of popcorn.
"Do you think you could spare me *one* single popcorn, huh?"
"Oh, why not. Here, you can have the rest," Cassey said, and handed Toni the nearly empty box.
"Gee, thanks," Toni said as she looked down at the last few corns.
A soft drink vendor pushing a refrigerated cart walked past them, and the colorful advertisements caught Cassey's eye.
"You want a sodapop? My treat," Cassey said.
"I could use a Coke."
"Small or medium?"
"Small. Only one restroom here," Toni said and smirked.
"Two small Cokes, please," Cassey said to the vendor, who expertly filled two Styrofoam cups with the sticky brown liquid. With a smile, Cassey handed him a few coins and took the two drinks.
"Here you go," Cassey said, and gave Toni one of them.
"Thanks. What do you want to try next? The ferris wheel or the shooting gallery?"
"Where's the ferris wheel?" Cassey asked and turned around to look for the ride.
"... no, that's too high. I'll stick to the shooting gallery."
"All right. You're gonna have to do that by yourself, I can't shoot worth a damn," Toni said, as they started walked away from the popcorn stand.
"I'm from Texas, it's kinda demanded of you there," Cassey said and smiled.
"Oh Toni, look at those cuuute teddy bears! Wouldn't they look great in your truck?" Cassey said and pointed at the prizes on offer in the shooting gallery.
"... yeah, I guess..." Toni said, scratching her head.
Cassey put down the 50 cents on the counter, and an attendant gave her a rifle.
"So you think you can shoot, little lady? Here's your chance to prove it. Get eight out of ten of the easy targets and win a little teddy bear, OR get six of the moving targets and win a BIG teddy bear. You may fire when ready - if you're up to the challenge," the man in the shooting gallery said.
Cassey took the rifle and aimed at the moving targets. Remembering the lessons her daddy taught her when she was a kid, she controlled her breath and squeezed the trigger.
Pow... Pow... Pow... Pow... Pow... Pow. Six shots, six hits.
Toni's eyebrows shot upwards - Holy cow! Even the barker was silenced for a second or two.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like Annie Oakley is visiting us today," he said, falling back into his role.
"You win a BIG teddy bear, Miss. Which color do you prefer?"
"The white one, on the left."
The attendant reached up and took the big fluffy bear down off the shelf.
"Here you go, Miss."
"Thank you," Cassey said and flashed him a big grin.
"A white bear for my love in white," Cassey said to Toni, and handed her the teddy.
"Thank you, fair lady. Now I have to go and win something for you. It's your birthday, not mine!"
"I'll think of something I want and let you know."
They found a bench and sat down to rest their legs. Children were playing everywhere, running back and forth between the benches.
"Oh, I know. There's a mechanical bull over there."
"Me on a bull? Cassey..."
"No? OK, how about... how about the wheel of fortune? I'd say you're a pretty lucky woman."
"Heh. I might give that one a try. Don't hold your breath, though."
"I know, Dunk The Clown!" Cassey said and laughed off Toni's expression.
"Do they really give out prizes in that?" Toni asked confused.
"Sure they do. We passed it a little while back. No teddy bears, but they had cute rag dolls dressed like the Old West."
"That's a deal, kid. Let's go," Toni said in her best John Wayne imitation.
"Step right up, folks!" The barked announced.
"Five balls fifty cents! One dunk will win you a little doll, three dunks will win you a large doll, and four or more dunks will earn you a large doll and five more balls!"
"Welcome, Ma'am. Step right up, don't be shy - your mother wasn't!" the barker said to Toni when she stepped up to the plate.
Annoyed by the fact that she was called a 'Ma'am' and Cassey a 'Miss', Toni missed the first ball.
"Oh come on, ya can do better than that!" the clown teased.
The second ball was a direct hit, and the clown went down to a great cheer from the spectators. After a short wait, Toni threw the third one... which missed.
"Yer' pitiful ya know that?!" the clown shouted loud enough for everyone to hear. Toni knew it was all part of the game, but she still didn't like being talked to like that.
Only two shots left to make it count. She had won a little doll for Cassey, but gosh golly she was going for the big one.
The fourth ball was a direct hit again. Only one to go now... she aimed carefully, and threw... hit! The clown went down, and the barker stepped closer.
"Yay! Gotcha!" Toni whooped.
"Congratulations, Ma'am. You may choose one of the large Genuine Old West Rag Dolls."
"Which one, Cassey?"
"The one with the black hair."
The barker heard, and didn't miss a beat.
"The one with the black hair for your lovely golden-haired daughter, here you go, Ma'am," he said loudly, and the spectators behind them snickered.
Toni took the doll from the barker, completely mortified. They left the amusement and started to walk around again.
"Did you hear what he said?" Toni asked, stunned.
"I did... mom."
"Now *you're* gettin' close to sleeping on the couch, young lady!"
"Better change the subject then. Don't you think this doll looks just like you? Blue eyes, long black hair and everything?"
"There's a name on a little tag... 'Tex, The Gunslinger.' Yep, that's you all right," Cassey said and laughed.
"Cute. Ya want another popcorn?"
"I've never said 'no' to popcorn in my entire life, and I'm not about to start now..."
A little later, the two women stood outside a small wooden shed, closely studying several drawings that were on display. Inside, the artist was busy drawing a picture of a young girl using a charcoal pencil.
"Damn, this artist is good," Toni said.
"Yeah, but it's pretty expensive, 15 bucks a piece," Cassey added.
Toni looked at her, and then back at the drawings.
"Tell you what, I was planning to invite you to a drive-in movie later on, but how about we had one of these made instead? That way we'll always remember this day. When the girl is finished, I'll ask the artist if she'll draw the two of us together. How about that?"
"Oh, that sounds really great, Toni! Yes, please!"
The girl ran out with the drawing in her hand, and Toni knocked on the doorjamb.
"Excuse me. Is it possible for you to draw two people in a single sketch?"
"Sure it is, was that your kid before? You want one with the two of you?" the artist said. She was of an indeterminable age, but probably in her 60's. Her long, gray hair fell loose over her shoulders, and she was wearing a rust-colored dress and a headband. The ensemble made her look a little bit like a hippie who hadn't noticed the 1960's were long gone, but her face and her eyes were warm and kind.
"Er, not really, it's more like... Cassey?"
Cassey stepped behind Toni and waved to the artist.
"... more like the two of us."
"Oh, that's no problem. But one of you will have to sit on the other one's lap... I only have one chair..." the artist said.
"You got it. Come on, Cassey."
Toni took her cap off, grabbed the chair and made room for Cassey to sit on her lap.
"Aren't you uncomfortable?" the artist asked.
"No, no, we're fine. Thank you," Cassey answered politely.
"Ma'am, I'm going to omit the logo on your t-shirt. I'm not allowed to draw company symbols. The copyright nonsense, you know."
"Oh yeah, sure thing. Ready when you are," Toni said.
"All right, here we go," the artist said, and put the charcoal pencil to the heavy paper.
Cassey was speechless when she saw the completed drawing. She couldn't fathom how lifelike it was. Toni's long flowing black hair and her own fair locks sort of melted together. And their eyes... The artist had caught a very special moment between them. They were looking into each other's eyes, and the love in that look was mesmerizing.
While Toni held the tube of cardboard they had bought from the artist, Cassey rolled up the drawing, and very carefully put it into the protective tube.
"It's almost dinner time. How about we find the truck and head for the BK?" Toni asked, grabbing Cassey's hand.
Cassey merely nodded.
As they walked back to the truck carrying their two prizes and the tube with the drawing, Cassey was still silent.
"Aren't you feeling well, honey? I can't remember the last time you were so quiet."
"I'm fine, it's just... that drawing. Is that how other people see us?"
"I don't know, Cassey."
"It's so beautiful..." the blonde woman said quietly.
After they had bought their food and found a table, Cassey went to work on her two double-decker Whoppers with cheese. Toni had bought a much smaller burger and a small fries, and she was watching the younger woman with a mixture of awe and pleasure.
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again. One of these days you're gonna forget to put on your human suit, and I'll see that you're really the Bigfoot, right? Because I can't understand how the flippin' heck you can eat it all."
The first double-decker was already gone, and Cassey wiped her hands and mouth in a napkin before diving into the next one.
"It's quite simple, actually, I just open my mouth and move my jaws. Done it most of my life," she said and smiled.
Toni rolled her eyes and shook her head, earning her a kick on the shin.
"Ahhhh," Cassey said and patted her belly.
"All done? Are you sure you don't want another one?" Toni asked in a deceptively sweet voice.
"No, no, I'm quite full now, thanks. How was your burger?"
"Great, how about your four? ... and how did you like *my* fries?"
Cassey stuck her tongue out at Toni.
"So now we've got company at home, huh? A white teddy bear and a really cute rag doll. Did you have a bedside companion when you were a kid, Toni?"
"No, not really. I mostly played with toy cars and trucks. They were a little too hard edged to be sleeping with."
"I loved my furry little friends. I had loads of them," Cassey said dreamily.
"I remember you told me you had a closet full of dolls."
"Oh yeah! All shapes and sizes. Mostly plastic, but there were a couple of rag dolls. They didn't look as good as the new one from today, though."
"You want some coffee to finish off the day?" Toni asked and found her wallet.
"Sure. Is it any good here?"
"It hasn't let me down yet," Toni said and went up to the counter to order two coffees.
"Where do you want to hang the drawing of us?" Toni asked over the rim of her cup.
"In the bedroom, I think. I've always found it strange to have..."
Cassey looked around and lowered her voice. Toni leaned in to hear her.
"... to have Farrah Fawcett watching over us when we... you know," Cassey said, and wiggled her eyebrows tellingly.
Toni laughed so loud that even the people slapping the burgers together looked at her. Cassey blushed furiously and tried to hide her face in her coffee cup.
"Why haven't you said anything? That's just an old poster," Toni said, and wiped the corners of her eyes with her sleeve.
"You might be attached to it, or something. Well, I've said it now."
"As soon as we're home, Farrah's outta here!" Toni said and laughed again.
The lights were turned off in Fred's house, so Toni pulled into their own driveway and parked the Pickup behind the Mack. She took the key out of the ignition and turned in her seat to look at her partner.
"Cassey, listen... I know that birthdays are great for reflecting on the past, but we have some things we need to talk about regarding the future, too."
"I know, Toni. I'm not forgetting our agreement. And... I was thinking that now would be a good time to do it. I read in the newspaper the other day that a local company is looking for typists, and the night schools soon open their autumn classes."
Toni nodded and mussed her partner's golden hair.
"But... you know. It's gonna be difficult. We're sitting right next to each other, and I'm missing you already just thinking about it!" Cassey tried to joke, but the laughter stuck in her throat. She could feel some tears start to well up in her eyes, but she refused to give in to them.
"It'll only be the first few days, Cassey. As soon as you collect your first paycheck, you'll think differently about it. But it's definitely gonna be a lot quieter in the truck!"
"Yeah. I guess you have to find yourself another hitchhiker, huh?"
"I'm gonna drive straight past all of 'em to get home to you faster!" Toni said and leaned over to kiss Cassey's cheek.
A sad smile creased the younger woman's features.
"We really need the money. I hope I'll get that typist job," Cassey said.
"Yeah, I do, too. You could probably find a job in the dispatch out in the freight central, but there's no public transportation out there, and the bank won't give me another loan while I'm still paying off on the truck. And Fred's old piece of junk would bring more trouble than what it's worth," Toni said, and slapped her hand down on the steering wheel of the Pickup.
"Yeah, I know. But what if I actually did get a job out there? I could probably get a loan myself, then."
"You could, but it isn't just buying a car, Cassey. Then it's gas, insurance... your paycheck will be eaten up by that alone. There won't be anything left for the books and tuition fees and all those things."
Cassey felt as deflated as a leaky balloon. Just the thought of being a liability for Toni put her on the brink of crying for real.
They left the Pickup. The canopy of stars shone brightly out here in the outskirts of the big city. Cassey just stood there and soaked it all in. Toni unlocked the house.
"I can see there's something more on your mind, honey," she said.
"Yeah... I know you don't care much for gazing at the stars, but do you think we could tonight? Just for a little while?"
"Of course, Cassey. I'll get the blankets - meet you in the backyard."
Cassey slowly ran her fingertips over the surface of the gold ring aunt Jenny had given her. This was yet another big step she had to take. She hoped it would all work out in the end. She sighed deeply and walked around the house to the backyard.
When Cassey got there, Toni had already placed a large blanket on the ground.
"Which way?" Toni said, holding two pillows in her hands.
"Right here," Cassey said and sat down on the blanket. She took one of the pillows and arranged it so she was comfortable.
"It's a warm evening, we don't need a cover," Toni said and threw the down blanket back into the house.
She flopped down next to Cassey and took her hand.
"I hope you've had a nice birthday, honey. It was definitely fun to see the Fair again. I simply haven't had the time go to there the last couple of years."
"Everything's been just right, Toni," Cassey said, and squeezed Toni's hand.
Toni looked up at the stars. She thought they looked the same as any other night, but she also knew that Cassey loved to stargaze.
In fact Cassey's eyes were closed. She was going thinking about all the bad things that had happened to her before she met Toni, and also all the good things that had come out of their relationship, including two fluffy prizes and a magical drawing - but above all, Cassey realized that it was unfair to Toni that she had to pay for both of them on top of the many expenses for her business. It was time for Cassey to earn her own paycheck.
Suddenly a shooting star streaked across the sky right above them. Both women hurriedly made a wish.
"I know everything's gonna end up all right for us now. I just wished upon that shooting star," Cassey said.
"I did too, honey."
"Then we can't lose."
Very gently, Cassey ran her fingers up Toni's arm.
"Let's make love..." Cassey whispered seductively to the woman next to her.
Toni turned to her left side and brushed Cassey's hair away from her forehead. The two women looked deeply into each other's eyes and marveled over the love found there.
"Out here?" Toni asked surprised.
"Yes. Out here... just you and me... beneath the ancient stars..."
Continued in Part 2