He hauled a load of oranges from Polk County, Florida to a big distribution warehouse in Smithton, Georgia, even though short hauls weren't his thing. He typically took only long haul jobs, but it so happened that his next haul was scheduled out of Smithton.
As soon as he dropped the oranges he headed to the loading dock ready to pick up machined parts headed for Omaha. He arrived right on schedule only to discover the load wasn't ready. The shipping manager told him there was a holdup with production but they'd be working overtime to get the job done. What it meant for him was he'd be stuck in Smithton for two days just sitting around waiting.
The consignor was compensating him for his lost time but that didn't appease him much. He liked keeping busy and keeping on a schedule. Time was money, and like all truckers nothing pissed him off quite as much as having some guy fuck up his schedule. But he knew it didn't matter how pissed off he was, there was nothing to be done but wait it out.
He could have stayed at the big truck stop but places like that weren't his deal. To him they were just fancy RV parks for big rigs. They had it all, electrical hookups, satellite TV and high speed Wifi, but he preferred being somewhere on his own. Somewhere more quiet. He was only at the truck stop long enough to fuel the rig and grab a quick shower. He knew a spot, a big vacant lot where he'd park it the next couple of days. There was a gas station with a convenience store and clean restrooms close by, and a little Mom and Pop diner he'd stopped in a few times over the years.
He parked the rig and walked across the lot to the diner for an early dinner. After his meal he had no bigger plans than to chill in the sleeper of the rig. To help pass the time he had some beers in the refrigerator, a new copy of American Hunter, and a solitaire game on his laptop.
It was early, four o'clock Friday afternoon, not yet time for dinner so the place was nearly empty. Just the way he liked it. He sat down at the counter and scanned the menu, more out of habit than need to know. It was pretty much the same as the menu at every little diner he visited.
He didn't even look up when the waitress came over and asked, "Hi there, can I get you started with coffee or something else to drink?"
He was still a little pissed about the delay and when he answered his voice sounded harsh even to him, "Yeah Hun, coffee, black. Thanks."
He was caught by surprise when no sooner were the words out of his mouth than a small pale hand covered his. That got his attention. He looked up and into the face of a sweet and sexy looking blue-eyed blonde. She smiled when she said, "Don't call me Honey, okay? Please. I'm Beth."
In spite of his mood he liked her right away. She had sass and he knew he deserved to be called out. He still had to give it back to her though, just a little bit, "You're kind of a spunky one, ain't ya Beth?" The closer he looked the more he realized just how pretty she was.
"Maybe a little." She was smiling then and he couldn't help but smile back. She had her pad and her pen in hand and asked, "Do you know what you want or do you need a few more minutes?"
"How bout that hamburger steak with mashed potatoes instead a fries?"
"Sure thing. It comes with the soup and salad bar and you can just help yourself to that. Would you like the cornbread or a biscuit with your meal?"
"That's a tough one, let's go with cornbread."
"Well if you're sure, but if it were my money I'd go with the biscuit," Then she leaned in real close and again her hand covered his. This time she squeezed it a little and whispered, "The cornbread tastes like it was made with sand."
He'd never had a waitress act so flirty with him, yeah right, who was he trying to kid. If anyone had ever flirted with him he sure as hell hadn't noticed. He nodded once and answered, "Thanks for the tip, Hun, sorry I meant ta say Beth. I guess I'm goin' with the biscuit."
"Sounds good, anything to drink besides water and the coffee?"
"Nah, thanks. I'm good."
"Okay, but you're missing out. The cherry coke here is delicious." Then she looked at him, smiled again and said, "I'll get dinner going for you." He was baffled as to why this very pretty and completely sober woman would be giving that kind of attention to him. He had no idea but he could feel the big stupid grin on his face as he watched her walking away. It was a view he wouldn't mind spending quite a bit of time taking in.
He shook his head and thought you big dumb ass, can't you see what's going on? That's just the way it's done. When you work in a job like hers, where you're depending on tips it pays to be sweet and fun and maybe a little flirty. He was honest with himself about something else too, there was no way a woman like her was going to be interested in a man like him. A man who lived his life on the road.
He couldn't help that his mind went there though. A night with her wouldn't be a bad way to pass the time, not bad at all. Then he almost laughed at himself, he didn't see her as the kind who would easily give that part of herself up to any man.
She gave his order to the owner / cook Jim, then leaned back with her hands on her hips shaking her head. Just what in the heck was going on with her? She couldn't believe she'd behave like that with some guy she didn't even know. Or some guy she did know for that matter. It wasn't like her at all.
Even Jim noticed and he gently warned her, "Ain't seen ya act like that with a customer or anyone else Beth. Watch yourself, ya know truck drivers are a lot like drifters. Never in one place for long."
"I know Jim, and thanks for worrying about me. I'm not really interested in him. I'm just having a little fun." That wasn't quite true and she was aware she was being ridiculous, flirting with him that way and all. There was just something about the guy. She shook her head again at the thought, yeah there was something about him alright, something called trouble.
She asked herself, seriously Beth? C'mon. He looks as rough as a gravel road and he sounds even rougher. Plus he's a truck driver. He'll be in town a night at the most and then what? Still in his slightly coarse and unkempt way he was very good looking, and she hadn't missed the muscular body. But forget it, he wasn't even sort of her type. Not her type at all.
She just had that one big fat problem, she couldn't seem to take her eyes off him.
It all started before he even came in and sat down, when she innocently took a bag of recycle out to the can in back. She always glanced around the lot before she even stepped out the door, worried some predator would be lurking there. This time when she glanced she saw him jumping down from the cab of a big rig.
He was walking toward the diner and she knew he could see her behind the dumpster, just standing there unashamedly checking him out. Mostly she was focusing on his walk. It was more of a glide really. Shoulders back, long easy strides, arms swinging, pigeon toes and…and well darn it, there was just something about that walk.
She hoped he was coming in to eat and that he'd sit at the counter. She'd see a lot more of him there than if he sat in a booth.
She was back in the moment and shaking her head again. She was pathetic. How embarrassing. The poor guy walks in, sits down at the counter only looking for a cup of coffee and a meal. Not only had she gotten "touchy" with him, but gosh she flirted like she was desperate for attention. She wasn't even sure why she told him not to call her Hun, she actually kind of liked it. A lot. It was so old-fashioned, no younger guy had ever called her that. She had to get it together. Knock this off. She shook her head yet again as she reminded herself what he was, trouble.
She refilled his coffee and he looked at her with his deep blue eyes, nodded once and said, "Thanks Beth." The way her heart fluttered you'd think he told her she was a goddess. Sheesh
When Jim rang the little bell and she took the trucker his meal she blurted out her question, "So, you're on the road, huh?"
He shrugged, "I should be but the load ain't ready so I'm stuck here in Smithton for a couple a days."
"Oh, huh, really. Where does a stuck truck driver stay?"
He was kind of squinting one eye, giving her that look that asked, "Are you for real?" But he answered her question, "This particular truck driver will be stayin' in his rig." Then he got a little more smart alecky, "Ya know, it's called a sleeper."
On that note he scooped up a huge forkful of potatoes and gravy and shoved it in his mouth, "mmm good," while she just kept standing there like both her legs were broken.
He was aware he could be clueless and plenty awkward when it came to women, but it finally dawned on him what might be going on. He went for it, "How old are ya? Ya old enough ta drink?"
"Of course I am. I'm 22. Why? Are you old enough to drink? Oh, and what's your name?"
He snorted a laugh, "Daryl, and I'm old enough ta have done my share of drinkin'. I'm 31. Ya wanna go have a beer when ya get off?"
She smiled, "Sure. I'm off in an hour." She saw a couple enter and said, "I have to take take care of them, I'll be back."
He watched her work while he finished the rest of his meal and questioned himself. Did he just make a huge mistake? She was cute and fun and probably looking for something a lot more meaningful than what he had to give. Shit though, it'd be a lot better spending the evening with her than sitting in the back of his rig playing solitaire on the laptop. Still he'd remind her, this wasn't the start of anything, he was only in town for two nights.
He was waiting outside the door when her shift ended. He just had the rig so he thought they'd be taking her car, but when he mentioned it she told him, "Oh, well I don't have a car anymore. It died of old age and I'm saving up for a new one." She didn't want that news to end the evening so she was quick to add. "I only live a mile from here. If you don't mind we could walk there first and I can change out of my uniform real quick."
"Nah I don't mind if you don't. It'll do me good to walk around some."
They hadn't gone a block when she admitted to something else. "I'm sorry, I won't be able to invite you in when we get to my place."
Before she could say any more he'd stopped in his tracks. He could swear he felt the hair on his neck stand up. What? He was good enough to buy her a beer but not good enough to walk in her front door? "Yeah well if ya don't want me in your house then maybe we shouldn't be doin' this."
"No Daryl, no. It's not that I don't want you in there. It's, well it goes along with trying to save money for a car, and also the fact I don't make that much money. I don't exactly have a real place. You know, not like an apartment or something. I rent a bedroom in the home of an older couple. I save a lot on rent and they get to supplement their social security check. Anyway, they have some rules and no male guests is one of the rules. Like I said, they're old and they're old-fashion."
He felt like an dick and apologized, "Sorry, I get a little thin-skinned sometimes. I can wait out front or sumthin'."
When they got there he saw it was a very small bungalow. He figured no more than two bedrooms, and now that he knew the score he told her, "I'll be right out here when you're ready." He walked around the block twice then sat on the curb and waited. A few minutes later she came bouncing out the door in tight jeans and a sleeveless sweater. His first thought was she was more than worth the wait.
He took her hand, "Now what? You got a place in mind? We could get a cab or sumthin' if ya want."
"I don't really go to bars much," She got a little color in her cheeks when she softly laughed and admitted, "Okay I never go to bars at all. There's a place I've seen though, just about six blocks from here. It's a little tavern over on Elm Street. I think they just serve beer but the sign says pool and I'm sure there's a jukebox."
"That's all I need," then he added, "that, and for you to be there with me."
She squeezed his hand, "How nice. Thank you."
Despite the attraction he was trying to be a standup guy. It was then he gave her that dose of reality again. "Ya know I'm just in town the two nights girl. Beth. I got a load ta haul outta here Sunday. That's my life. I'm never in one place for long."
Later she'd tell herself she should have walked away right then and there. He was nice, he was sexy and good looking. He was also leaving. It was like she deliberately set herself up for heartbreak. She tried not to hear what he was saying, she didn't want to think about that stuff. She just wanted to enjoy her time with him. Instead of being smart she said, "I know. I get it. It doesn't mean we can't have some fun, right?"
He continued to be a little baffled by this woman. She didn't look or act like the party girl type and even though he'd made the inevitable clear to her, he still felt guilty. But his attraction to her seemed to override his guilt and he answered, "Yeah we can have some fun. Why not? I got a couple days."
She wanted off the subject of him leaving and asked, "Don't you have a house somewhere?"
He laughed, "Well yeah, I ain't a bum. I got a little place over in southwest Georgia, just out of Statesboro. It's small but I got an acre of land and a shop buildin'. That's where I keep my pickup and motorcycle when I'm on the road."
By the time they reached the tavern it was bustling with the after work and end of the week crowd. He ordered them a couple of beers and then he watched her whole face scrunch up when she took a small taste. He tried not to laugh when he asked, "I take it ya ain't much of a beer drinker, huh?"
She hated to admit it, it made her sound like such a baby, but she told him, "I've never had one before."
Everything about her was different from everything he was used to. "I can get ya sumthin' else. Ya want coke?"
"That would probably taste better." He smiled and ordered her coke and while they waited his hand went to her hair and he smoothed back a stay curl.
He tried reminding himself that he probably shouldn't touch, but he quickly put that out of his mind and asked her, "Ya wanna play pool?"
She laughed a little when she answered, "Sure I do. Well I'd like to try at least. I've never played."
If he hadn't known before he was sure now, she was no party girl. Never had a beer, never played pool. She wasn't like any of the woman he'd known. He put an arm around her waist, bent down, kissed her cheek and said, "Let's see if we can change that right now."
He'd never enjoyed playing pool more than he did that night. Leaning his body over hers while he helped her line up her shots was an experience he'd be happy to repeat a million times. It wasn't just the physical part either. She was funny and she didn't hesitate to laugh at herself or at him. It was all good-natured stuff, never mean.
He'd always had a tough time around women. He felt like he was supposed to try and impress them somehow. The trouble was he just wasn't good at being anything but himself. With her it didn't seem that way. He was just being him and he was sure she was just being her, and together they were having a very good time.
He needed to check himself again. He knew he was already starting to feel things for her and he couldn't do that. There was no way. He only came through Smithton once every three or four months and he didn't usually stop except to unload and fuel up.
She was having the time of her life with this man who on the surface had seemed rough and cranky. She found out that under that exterior he had a good sense of humor and he was really nice and thoughtful. She appreciated that he didn't tease or belittle her about her lack of pool playing skill, and he didn't act superior when he showed her how to line the shots up.
It was all so fun and she felt so happy, but there was also the sexy part. The way he leaned over her whole body like that, touching her hands and arms while he showed her how it was done. His warm breath in her ear when he said things like, "Now just give the cue ball a hard and fast jab, it'll knock that 5 ball right in." She knew she was already feeling way too much for the man who would be gone so soon.
They sat at a little table and talked about things like music and movies. She told him about her career plans, which were none. "I should probably be embarrassed or something, but my only real goal has been to get a car. I thought once I did that then maybe I'd go to school. I just don't know. Is that terrible?"
"No it ain't terrible. Sometimes it just takes a while ta figure stuff out. I worked as a mechanic before and I liked that. Then I went with a trucker friend a mine on a couple of trips and thought it was sumthin' I'd like ta do. Been doin' it since I's about 25. You'll find whatever it is you like ta do."
As the night went on there was a little more touching. His hand on her shoulder, her hand brushing against his, his arm around her waist and him giving her quick kisses on the top of her head.
What had them in the little tavern until closing time wasn't the desire to drink, it was a desire to spend time together. Both of them hoping the evening wouldn't end.
When the bartender hollered, "last call" they were surprised at how long they'd been there and the good time they'd had. They stood to go and the urge was strong, he'd like to make love to her but he knew he had to be a gentleman. She was way too special for him to be anything else. He took her hand and did his best to smile, "C'mon girl, I'll walk ya home."
She didn't want to go home alone to the tiny bedroom. She wanted to have every minute with him she possibly could. She stopped, took his hand in both of hers and asked, "Can we go to your truck? I've never seen the inside of one."
He knew he should say no. He knew how this would likely end up. He knew he was being selfish but he just couldn't seem to help it, "Yeah, we can go there." Then his arm wrapped loosely around her neck and he drew her close to his chest, whispering into her hair, "Ya sure bout this Beth?"
Her arms had slipped around his waist and she seemed to be snuggling her whole body into his when she whispered back, "Yes."
They chatted along the way. They talked about her happy childhood on the farm, they talked about his very rough childhood in an old trailer. They talked about the things they'd like to do someday. They talked about a lot of things. They talked about everything except what was about to happen between them.
They stopped at the gas station by the lot. They did what they had to do in the restrooms, and while she nervously scanned the candy aisle, and did her best to pretend she didn't notice what he was buying, he paid for the box of condoms. He held her hand more tightly as they walked the short distance to his rig.
He helped her inside and she smiled, "Oh my gosh, I had no idea how roomy these things are. It's like a mini studio apartment."
He smiled as they settled in the back, sitting side by side on his bunk, "Yeah well it's home for me a lot of the time and it's real comfortable."
He opened the little fridge and asked, "Coke?"
"If you're having something."
He didn't bother to take one. He shut the door of the refrigerator and before she knew what to think his arms were around her. His lips pressed on hers while he laid her back on the bed. Although she seemed nervous she offered no resistance. His body lay over hers and his tongue was in her mouth, he was still cautious though. She'd already become the last person on earth he'd ever want to hurt.
As his hand slipped up inside her sweater and he felt the warmth of her soft skin, he pulled back just far enough and just long enough to question once more, "Ya sure Beth? Ya sure?"
She looked up at him and nodded her head yes, but that wasn't quite enough for him. "Say it, are ya sure?"
"Yes Daryl. I'm sure."
They were the words he hoped she'd say as his lips moved to her flat tummy and he began kissing and sucking at the pale and delicate looking skin. His hand slowly moved the sweater up her body and he popped the clasp of her bra. It wasn't long before his hand and his lips were on her breast, when he took her small breast in his mouth and she responded with a moan it all felt good to him. But it didn't feel right. He had a gut feeling sex wasn't something this woman did often, if she ever had at all.
He wanted her so badly but his head and his heart told him it was wrong. He pulled away and he pulled her sweater down, "Nah Beth, I can't."
She didn't understand. She was confused and feeling rejected, "Did I do something wrong?"
"No. No. There's nuthin' wrong with you girl, absolutely nuthin'. I just can't do this Beth. I can't take this from ya and then leave. It's not right and I already care way too much ta treat ya that way. C'mon, I'll walk ya home."
She was softly crying and she told him, "But Daryl I want to stay with you. I said yes."
"Beth, there ain't nuthin' I want more than ta spend this night with you, but it just ain't right. Later on when ya think about it you'll be glad."
They didn't speak on the walk back to her house. The only sound was her soft crying.
He was hurting too. It was tough to want something so much and to just walk away, but that's what he was doing. They got to the front door of the little bungalow and he wrapped his arms around her for the last time. His forehead rested on hers when he said, "Ya don't know how much I wish it could be different but like I said, you'll be glad we didn't go there. I don't think I'll be glad but I do know what's right. You take care now, Beth. Have a good life."
She didn't wash her face and brush her teeth, she didn't undress and put her nightie on. She just lay down on her bed and kept her face buried in the pillow so her landlords wouldn't hear her crying.
He was fighting with himself all the way back to the rig. He was sure he was doing the right thing but it felt so shitty. He wanted to cry, he wanted to run back and tell her he changed his mind. He didn't.
By the time he got to the rig he knew what he had to do next. He wasn't taking a chance on her being at work the next morning. If he saw her he knew he'd weaken. He fired it up and drove the short distance to the truck stop and that's where he stayed. Alone, miserable and missing her.
The call came late Saturday night, the load would be ready to pick up Sunday morning. He was anxious to get it and get on the road, but not because of the money. He needed to get out of town and try to forget he'd ever met Beth Greene.
Omaha was just under 1300 miles and by early Sunday afternoon the load was on and he was on his way. He'd barely gotten a start but he'd already been missing her for two days. He thought he couldn't stand it if he didn't at least hear her voice. Why the hell didn't he get her phone number? No he told himself, get those ideas out of your head. Better to have no contact at all when there's no hope.
She was off Saturday and grateful for that. If she'd gone to work and seen his rig in the lot she might have gone over and knocked on the door. She would have humiliated herself even more than she already had.
She'd thrown herself at him, she'd even kind of begged him. What had she been thinking? She didn't know. What she realized was he'd done his best to spare them both. He'd done the right thing, the honorable thing, the gentlemanly thing. Yet knowing all that didn't seem to be making her heart hurt any less.
While she was busy humiliating herself she should have asked to see his phone. She could have put her number in and maybe someday he'd call her. No, not likely. He'd made it very clear he didn't see anything going anywhere between them.
She arrived at work Sunday morning and the first thing she did was look over at the lot. The rig wasn't there. It hurt so bad but maybe now that she'd seen the proof he was gone she could start to get over him.
Jim took one look at her and he suspected what might have happened. "Are ya okay Beth? He didn't hurt you did he?"
"No, not physically. He couldn't have been more of a gentleman but that doesn't mean my heart isn't broken."
Jim was a gentleman too, he didn't mention that he'd warned her.
Early Wednesday morning he dropped his load in Omaha and he'd never been happier to get rid of one. The whole trip had been a mess. Not the roads, not the traffic, not the weigh stations, it was him. He was the mess. He couldn't stop thinking about her. He wondered if he made a mistake, he wondered why he was so determined to make them both miserable. He wondered about a lot of things.
He could have gone straight from Omaha to Lincoln and picked up a load destined for El Centro, California. It would make a real nice payday. He didn't take it. Instead he took a consignment for a load headed to Denver, a load he'd have to drive clear to Valdosta, Georgia to pick up.
Omaha to Valdosta was a long way to drive empty, there was no money to be made doing things that way. He didn't give a fuck. Not this trip. He was fueled up on hope and caffeine. He put the hammer down and slammed those gears all the way from Omaha to Smithton.
He parked the rig in the lot and left it running while he hurried in the diner hoping she'd be there. He smiled when he saw her and he was relieved when she smiled back. There eyes never left each other as she walked from behind the counter, and he didn't wait for an invitation. He took her in his arms and held her close when he whispered, "I gotta get on the road again. I gotta be in Valdosta in three hours. I's just hoping Beth, maybe ya wanna come with me?"
"With you to Valdosta? Then what?"
"Nah, not just ta Valdosta. I ain't talkin' about a short haul. I'm in this for the long haul Beth. I want ya ta go with me everywhere I go from now on."
She was already untying her apron when she asked, "So I'll ride with you in the truck," she hesitated, "and I like that idea, but what about when we have kids, then what?"
He laughed, "Well I hadn't thought quite that far ahead. I s'pose we could fit one in the rig with us. If ya want more'n that we might hafta settle down in that little house in Statesboro."
Her mind might be questioning the decision but her heart knew what it wanted, "I have to let the landlord know I'm leaving…and I need my clothes…and oh my gosh, Jim."
She turned around and the cook was standing behind the counter just clicking off his phone. He opened the register, took out some bills and walked over to her. "As soon as I saw him walk in I knew what was gonna happen. I called Rosita to come take over for ya. She's on her way." Then he smiled at Beth as he handed her the bills, "Here's the pay ya have comin'. You two go on and make a good life for yourselves." Then he looked at Daryl and told him, "She's a good girl, you treat her special."
Daryl nodded his head to the man, answering, "I aim to."
Beth's eyes had a tear or two when she smiled at him, "Thank you Jim, for everything."
She turned back to Daryl who still couldn't quite believe it was happening. "You're really comin' with me Beth?"
"Yes. It's what you said…I'm in it for the long haul too."