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Home > Falling Away (Falling #4)

Falling Away (Falling #4)
Author: Jasinda Wilder

ONE: Drifting

Ben

I have no idea where the hell I am. And, honestly, I don’t even care. I’m still headed west on the I-80 as I have been for like…shit, like a month. I mean, yeah, I know you can make it from coast to coast in like three days nonstop, but I’m not in a rush. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just…going. So I drive until I get sick of driving, and then I find a cheap motel to crash in, and I’ll just stay there for a while. A day, sometimes more if I like the place. A few times I’ve swung off the 80 on a detour, just to meander and go wherever I feel like going.

I’ve always known I was a very, very lucky guy to have the parents I do. I mean, I’ve never wanted for anything. Not a damned thing. But they still made me work for things, one way or another. I had to keep my grades up and help out around the house and shit, but that’s to be expected anyway. But to have the financial freedom to do what I’m doing, to just drive and not worry about money? It’s incredibly freeing. I’ve got money of my own I’ve been saving. Once I turned sixteen I started working part-time at the coffee shop near school, just to have my own savings. I worked there for five years, staying on when I started college. I never really spent much of what I made, so I’ve got some cash banked up. Plus, if I ever need more, I could just call Dad…but I won’t.

So…I drift.

And I try not to think about Kylie.

Which, not having much to do but drive and listen to music is…nearly impossible.

So I make a game out of it. If I can make it ten miles without missing her, or wondering what she’s doing, or thinking about calling her, I get to wallow in my own misery for five whole minutes. It’s a bargain with the devil, and it’s fucking pathetic, and I hate myself for it.

But it gets the job done.

Ten miles. Hey, look at the cow. How many cows are there in that field? God, it’s only been a mile, shit. Change the radio station to the Liquid Metal station on the XM, crank it, and see if I can decipher all the lyrics to three songs in a row. Hey, it’s been ten miles.

Fuck, I miss her. I miss her strawberry blonde hair and her blue eyes and her laugh. I miss the easy way we could spend an entire day hanging out and doing homework and watching TV and driving around and exchange maybe a hundred words the entire time, because we just got each other. And then I’ll indulge in memories until my heart aches and my eyes burn and I want to drive off the fucking road. I try to force my thoughts away.

After a month of traveling this way I make it to Iowa. By then I’m bored of my own company and the inside of my truck, and sick of my own thoughts, so I rent a room on a month-by-month basis and get a job at a bar, bussing tables. It’s a tiny dirty place just off the freeway and I work for cash under the table, giving the owner only my first name. It feels exciting, in a way, like I’m on the lam or something. I make friends with the line cook, Dion, and we get wasted after the bar closes, playing poker for quarters. I mess around with the waitress, a woman seven years older than me named Abby, who has lived in the same shitty little nowhere town her whole life. She’s the daughter of a cocktail waitress who had drifted into town years ago, got herself knocked up and never left. Then Abby had gotten knocked up at nineteen and the pattern continued.

It’s sad.

But Abby is kind and doesn’t ask any questions about who I am, or where I came from, or where I’m going. She’s content to drink cheap whisky with me in my hotel room, watch reruns of M*A*S*H and Cheers and make out, play wandering hands. That is, until she pushes me to go further and I can’t…she doesn’t get that. Apparently “I just can’t” isn’t explanation enough when I—ahem—very clearly and obviously and physically seem to want to go further with her.

So I pack my clothes in my duffel bag, toss the bag in my truck, and I take off right then, at 4:19 in the morning.

I drive north, up into South Dakota, and end up in another one-stoplight town a few miles off the freeway. I land a job splitting logs, which then turns into digging postholes for a fence that ends up running around a thousand-acre ranch. I stay there doing that for two and a half months, chopping firewood and digging holes and planting posts and running fence. It’s hard physical work, and it keeps my mind occupied.

Eventually, though, the work is done and I’m back in the truck. West again, through Montana, where I discover that herding cattle is a lot more boring than I thought it would be. After that I head south through the corner of Idaho, and do a three-month stint in a restaurant as a line cook.

By this time it’s winter, so I point my truck west and aim for the coast. In a little industrial town on the coast of Oregon I unload pallets of I-have-no-clue-what off a boat and load them onto a semi. I do this for a while and then head south along PCH, following the Pacific, finding work where I can in bars and restaurants, doing temporary unskilled labor for cash.

In time, it gets easier to pass entire days without thinking about Kylie. And then days turn into weeks, and then I only think about her late at night, right before I fall asleep.

Eventually, I stop thinking about her almost entirely.

Almost.

I faithfully call my parents once a week, ’cause I’m a momma’s boy, deep down.

I follow Dad’s games on TV, watch him lead the league in TDs and take the Titans to the Superbowl, which is exciting, even though they ended up losing to the fucking Patriots again.

Eventually, after spending most of the winter in San Diego working on the docks, I head eastward once again through the Southwest, this time driving through the desert with my windows open, stopping to flip burgers or pour beer or wash dishes for a week or two here and there.

I’m restless.

Not unhappy, just…sick of traveling. Sick of driving.

Sick of myself.

So when I hit the Texas border, I discover I have an affinity for the wide open spaces and the huge sky. I make my way through Texas, meandering and exploring, not in a hurry, not headed anywhere in particular. After a month or two of drifting around Texas, I end up in San Antonio. I like the city, and decide to stick around for a while. I apply for an actual job in a bar downtown, with a W-2 and everything. A month later, I’m leaning against a wall in Starbucks, waiting for my mocha, when I see the ad:

Football players wanted for an experimental minor league team. Serious, experienced players over eighteen. Open tryouts, May 9th at noon, Alamodome.

Boom.

After three seasons starting as a wide receiver for Vanderbilt, making university records for rushing and TD receptions…I make the team easy.

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