I'm back from San Francisco. Let me catch you up. Cam has asked Stella out for lunch. Even though things haven't been great between the two of them especially after he asked her to change his grades using her campus computer access, she still thinks this is the signal that their relationship is on the upswing. You be the judge.
The majestic oak trees that provided shade and trysting spots for young lovers gave the dorm’s façade a little collegiate charm. Her lips twisted as she recalled the college pamphlet. Yep, that sucker had all the marks of a PhotoShop expert. Of course, at the time, she didn’t care about the campuses appearance. All she knew was that she wanted out of the battleground her home had become and a full scholarship was the ticket.
A few students stood in the tree shadows. No Cam anywhere near the building. A quick tap brought her phone back to life and allowed her to reread Cam’s message. If he was waiting, where was he? A breeze ruffled the dress around her ankles, cooling the damp sections that stuck to her body. Absentmindedly, she pulled the dress away from her skin as her eyes scanned the area. Two short toots of a car horn caught her attention.
The sound came from the side parking lot almost empty except for a handful of cars. Generally, parking space rated up there with premium concert tickets during midweek. The weekends were different since most students did their best to get away even if it meant visiting another college or driving home. Those left managed to entertain themselves with the limited attractions of movies, restaurants and glow golf. A few used the weekend to run those former mom errands of laundry and grocery shopping.
The lack of cars made it easy to spot Cam’s familiar red car. It looked more like a garish Easter egg to her, but he insisted it was an Italian sports car, an ancient one. Her hand went up in greeting as she hurried to meet him. Instead of getting out and greeting her, he stayed in the car. As she drew closer, she noticed he sported sunglasses.
It was almost like he was hiding, and the sunglasses were part of his disguise. Stella squashed the suspicious thought as she hurried toward the car. It was a sunny day, which meant anyone would wear sunglasses. Yeah, that was it.
“Good, you’re here.” Cam glanced in his rear view mirror before reversing. Stella kept quiet, busy fastening her seat belt. It clicked in place about the same time, Cam shifted into drive and floored it. The small car had lurched before the power kicked in, hurtling it down the narrow road. They careened onto the main road causing another car to swerve. Stella closed her eyes sure of impending death.
A loud honk, muttered curses, and Cam laughing assured her she lived instead of waiting a soul assignment in Summerland. A loud exhale escaped her lips. Somehow, she forgot Cam’s driving habits since her trips in his car were rare. Wouldn’t want people to see the two of them together. Stella shook her head trying to rid it of the annoying voice.
“I heard that. “ Cam’s head swung in her direction. The dark lenses hid his eyes, but his lips pressed together in a firm line. “How many times do I have to tell you this is a high-performance engine? I have to rev it up occasionally. Can’t drive around like your eighty-year-old grandmother.”
Instead of pointing out, she didn’t have a grandmother; she watched the scenery fly by. Strange, he never remembered. She’d mentioned it more than once. Her mother’s parents died in a bizarre safari accident. Her father lost contact with his parents, which left her with no grandparents to fuss over her.
Groups of students in school T-shirts and colored face paint stood near the bus stop. There must be a game. The light changed, forcing Cam to slam on the brakes, propelling Stella forward until the seat belt locked, throwing her back into the seat.
The stop allowed her more outside world observation. A couple holding hands strolled in the direction of the bus stop. The tall, slender male angled his head toward the girl. His nod and subsequent smile were indicative of his attentiveness to his date. The girl stopped and stretched up to place a kiss on his cheek. The spontaneous display made her envious. Why couldn’t she and Cam be more like that?
Lunch out was a start. In the end, she wasn’t the type of female who inspired that kind of whole-hearted affection. Goddess knows her mother wasn’t one either. The stiffness of her parents’ relationship hadn’t been noticeable until she started hanging out with Leah. At first, Leah didn’t invite her over, preferring to meet her at other places. It made Stella think that her parents were even worse than hers. The natural affection between Leah’s parents, Adam, and Maura surprised her since she believed married people stopped touching around the age of thirty or whenever they had kids.
The last thing she wanted to be was forty plus years old throwing things at her husband’s car as he drove out of her life. Her eyes cut to Cam without thought. The smirk gracing his face wasn’t for her. A more charitable person would call it a smile. It wasn’t.
The way he drove with his shoulders back and his smug expression demonstrated he’d taken in his current surroundings and found no one nearby that he considered in his league. A tidbit of information from psychology class about people accepting or rejecting people in five seconds popped in her head. Something about a casual glance decided if a person was helpful, dangerous, or not important. At some point, Cam decided she was helpful.
Yeah, helpful, not hot, it wasn’t what she wanted. She didn’t expect some awe-inspiring love where a man would travel to the ends of the Earth to rescue her, but something a little better than being helpful. In some ways, she was little more than a maid service with side benefits. Still, he was taking her out.
The car picked up speed as they left the congested campus area. Stella studied the strip malls, churches, and an assortment of neighborhoods. Not having a car kept her close to the campus. It was nice to get out. The colorful tree leaves hinted at a season change despite summer heat lingering past its time. The buildings became less and less as cornfields dominated the scenery, out of the city and its associated restaurants.
“Where are we going?”
Cam kept silent for a few heartbeats. For the tiniest moment, a scenario rolled out where he dumped her dead body in a ditch. Fear ran down her arm raising the hairs in the process. Stop being stupid. He has no reason to kill me. Haven’t witnessed a crime. Have nothing worth taking. In this case, I’m one of those people who’s worth more alive than dead. The sudden crime scene images faded with his reply.
“There a diner this way I thought would appeal to you since it’s small town and all.”
Small town? She’d never mentioned being from a small town, a city, not an overly large city, but not a small town, either. He was confusing her with someone else, not a flattering thought.
“Oh.” Not the best response, but considering everything swirling around in her brain, it had to be the safest.