West Texas Awakening

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Sweat rolled down the back of April’s neck as she bent over the engine of her car. She gazed at the tangle of parts and quietly cursed herself for not taking auto tech in school. She could identify the basics, but whatever had caused her to break down on this empty stretch of highway was not basic. She leaned further into the shade of the popped hood, stretching her long legs until she was almost on her toes. But nothing was obvious. With a sigh she rocked back on her heels, looking north and south down the desert highway.

No cars passed for a long time. The sun beat against her skin. The impotent breeze did little to cool the heat, and she began to wonder, then worry, about how long she could survive on this road.

The shorts she was wearing helped with the heat, but her loose top was made of less-than-breathable fabric, and the sweatier she became the more it clung to her body. She tugged at it, but that only made it cling to her more. The landscape around her didn’t offer much diversion, or protection. On either side of the highway were empty yellow fields hemmed by barbed wire, in the distance was a black spot that may have been a cow, but April couldn’t tell; She was more focused on the shimmering asphalt of the road and the car that needed to come and save her.

After too long in the baking heat a low rumble broke the silence, and slowly a shape drove out of the mirage and down the road toward April. As it neared her she could tell that it wasn’t just a car, but a truck sporting a very impressive rack of horns on the grille. April waved her arms frantically, her body flushed with excitement.

Once it got closer to her it slowed, rolling the last couple of feet until it stopped right in front of her.

The windows were already open, a country ballad could be heard playing over the rumble of the truck’s engine. Inside the truck a man leaned toward her over the passenger seat. A thick, black tribal tattoo wound its way up one side of his neck. April stepped back slightly, but he smiled, revealing a couple of missing teeth. “Hey there darlin’, looks like you need to get somewhere and that car ain’t doing it for ya.”

April hesitated, then glanced over at her vehicle. Whatever protection it had offered was long gone now.

“I can give you a ride, town’s just down the road. My buddy has a tow truck and we’ll get your car fixed.”

April didn’t reply as she turned back to the man. He looked like danger, his head was buzzed to reveal a scalp that was just as tanned as the rest of his wiry body. More crude tattoos covered his bare arms. The tank top he wore was decorated with an image of an AK-47, and he didn’t seem to notice her examination of him because he was too busy conducting one of his own.

April could feel his gaze burning into her chest, she glanced down. The thrill of seeing the truck had left her nipples rock hard, and you could see them clearly beneath the sweat-damp fabric of her shirt; along with the rest of her unsupported breasts. She crossed her arms as well as she could over them. “How far to town?” She asked.

“Just a couple miles.”

“I can walk then.” A hurt expression crossed the man’s face, April just crossed her arms harder over her chest.

“Well,” he paused, “Be safe. You got water? It’s real hot out here.”

April only had the one water bottle, but a couple of miles wasn’t that bad, even if it was half-empty already from her wait. “I’ll be fine, thank you. Could you direct me though? Is it just down this road?”

“Yes ma’m. You positive you wanna walk? I ain’t gonna murder you.” His voice softened with boyish concern. “You don’t need to tell me to fuck off, I’ll be gettin to that real soon. It’s just not in my nature to leave a pretty girl stranded, and I wanna be sure.”

April threw up her hands, “Fuck it. Let’s go.”

The man grinned and opened the passenger door for her, she hoisted herself into the cab of the truck. It smelled like cigarettes, with a faint undertone of something more chemical. When she slammed the door, flakes from the faux-leather seats blew around the cab in a puff of air.

“Name’s Brady by the way.” The man offered a hand, up close he was younger than he had seemed from the road. She’d expected some backwater junkie, what with the missing teeth and tattoos, but he was surprisingly handsome. He wasn’t thin, but lean, his muscles revealing themselves in each of his movements. His jaw tapered to a strong, jutting chin dusted with a morning’s growth of beard. When he smiled at her his eyes crinkled beneath his brow, in the light she couldn’t tell if they were blue or green.

“I’m April.” She wiped her hand roughly on her shorts before grabbing his. “Thank you, I’m sorry I was so reluctant.”

He chuckled “‘s ok, I get it. People like me can be pretty scary to out-of-towners like you.”

April winced, “Do I look that out of place?”

“You got city written all over you darlin’. What’re you doin’ this far out in the boonies?”

April sighed and grabbed her seatbelt, tugging on it bakırköy escort a few times until it released itself. She strapped in, the belt sitting snugly between her breasts. “I’m supposed to be doing research for my thesis, it’s on the habitat reclamation of prairie grouse.”

Brady whistled, “Sounds fancy. Let’s get you sorted so you can keep on saving the birds.” He leaned past her and engaged the lock on her door. As he drew his arm back it brushed against her chest, sending an electric shock down her spine. She shivered.

Brady didn’t say anything as he shifted his truck into drive, but a grin crept over his face. April took a couple of deep breaths, hyper-conscious of how it pushed out her breasts. She hadn’t been fully honest, but Brady didn’t need to know about the break-up that had driven her away from campus and far out into the Texas desert. No one needed to know how the barest touch now left her with a heat between her legs that wouldn’t go away, no matter how many times she touched herself. The work was supposed to help distract her, but without her car she couldn’t even do that.

Graciously, Brady turned up the radio and they didn’t speak for most of the drive. The country crooners of the last decade kept them company as Brady’s truck barreled down the empty highway. He tapped his hands against the steering wheel, joining in for the chorus with a surprisingly strong baritone. April rolled down her window and, with a nod from Brady, kept it down, letting the wind blow her long blonde hair from her face. She could feel herself cooling down after all that time in the Texas heat. She watched as the landscape around them changed from empty fields to scrub brush and trailers.

After a while Brady turned the radio back down, and spoke his question to the road. “So where you from originally Miss April? That accent ain’t from Texas.”

“I think I’m what you all call a Yankee? I’m from Pittsburgh originally. This is a far cry from my hometown.” She shrugged, still staring out the window.

Brady let out another chuckle, “I don’t mess with that Dixie shit as much as you think. But how does a sweet thing from Pittsburgh end up in Texas to study prairie grouses?”

“It’s a long and boring story. And don’t call me a sweet thing like you can get away with it.” She looked at him sharply and he returned her glare with a lazy grin. She felt another shiver down her spine.

“What about you Texas? What do you do out here in the ‘boonies’?”

“Oh you know, what I have to.” He smirked, slowing down the truck as they drove into town. April looked at him, unamused.

“What kind of dumbass non-answer is that? For a guy who picks up random women off the side of the road you have not perfected the art of putting them at ease.”

Brady held his hands away from the wheel for a moment, “Now I just don’t want to go tellin’ secrets to sophisticated women such as yourself. Besides, you’re about to be the talk of the town. You’ve gathered that we don’t get many folk this far out?”

“That I’ve gathered.”

“People gonna be turnin’ out to catch a glimpse, you’ll have time to meet them all later. But first thing we need to do is track down Ephraim.”

“Who’s Ephraim? Is he your friend with the tow truck?”

“Yes ma’m. He’s a real squirrely fella but real fun once you get to know him.” Brady turned the truck off the main drag to a street that looked less dead than the rest of the town. “Now look out for a blue pickup truck all old-fashioned but cleaned up nice, he’s liable to be drunk as a skunk in that bar right there by now.”

“‘By now?’ It’s 4:30 in the afternoon.”

“Exactly. What else do you think we’re doin’ out here darlin’? Do you see any other activities?” Brady shook his head, pulling the truck into a parking space in front of a brick building with a flashing tavern sign. “We got three things to do out here: drink, fight, and fuck. Let’s hope Ephraim’s doin’ the first one. Then later you and I can do the other two.” He put the car in park and laid his arm on the back of her seat, that cocky smile on his face again. April balked, even as she felt the warmth between her legs spread to her belly.

“Let’s find your friend first.” April opened her door into the afternoon sun, taking in the smells of Brady’s dusty, abandoned town. She paused, her eyes closed, and waited for Brady to get out of his side of the truck. When she heard his door slam she joined him on the sidewalk. It was the first time she’d seen him upright, and it sent another rush of adrenaline through her body. Even with his body settled into a self-assured slouch he stood taller than her, though not by much. April was surprised by how he dressed, he talked like a regular country boy but his clothes had a definite hip-hop flair. The chain around his neck, the baggy tank top, his sneakers; those tattoos. Luckily, he hadn’t ruined it by wearing some stupid hat. He walked past her with a swagger and led her into the dimly lit tavern.

The smell of stale beer and sweat bakırköy eve gelen escort assaulted her nose at first, but she quickly grew accustomed to it. It took longer for her eyes to adjust after leaving the afternoon sun behind. The interior was much like any dive bar she’d been to, the same cheap chairs and aging dartboards, the same neon signs casting their nauseating glow.

As soon as she walked into the bar with Brady, it fell silent. There were a few people gathered around a pool table in the corner, another few propped up the bar. They were of varying age and size, but what she noticed immediately was that almost all of them were men. Every single one of them drilled into her with their eyes. The academic in her quailed at the attention, but her body responded with a renewed arousal. Some of the men turned back to their conversations pretty quickly, satisfied with what they had seen. Others watched her like hungry animals. April wanted to run to catch up to Brady who was making his way to the end of the bar, but she forced herself to walk at a normal pace, allowing their scrutiny to slide over her body. A young man lay sprawled over the bar, apparently asleep.

Brady shook the young man, who groaned as he straightened into a sitting position. He turned toward Brady with bleary, half-lidded eyes, “What in the fuck?”

“Ephraim,” Brady patted his cheek, “I’ve got a job for you, now wake up.”

He was younger than Brady, with floppy blonde hair hanging low over his brow. Ephraim waved his hands at his friend, “Give me a minute.” He fell back against the bar and began snoring softly once more.

“You get off my bar Ephraim!” A middle aged woman hustled over to swat at the young man with a rag.

Ephraim groaned, but the first smack of wet terrycloth forced him off the bar and back into his own barstool. The next two seemed to sober him up somewhat. The older woman settled back on her heels, surveying her work.

“You closin’ out, Ephraim-honey?” Her voice sweetened, she now smiled at the drunken youth and picked up the empty glass in front of him.

“Yes ma’am.” Ephraim nodded, his head loose on his neck. “Thank you Gina.”

“No problem sugar. You take care of our boy now Brady, make sure he gets home okay. Don’t think I don’t know what you idiots get up to sometimes.” She tossed a long braid over her shoulder and looked April up and down with a neutral expression. “Who’s your friend here?”

“I’m April, I was driving through when my car broke down. Brady found me and gave me a ride.” She held out her hand and Gina shook it.

“She speaks for herself! I like that in a woman. You’re welcome here anytime April. You let me know if anyone gives you trouble in this town. These men know that if they get on my bad side they don’t get to drink in my bar.” Gina went to the register to finish closing out Ephraim, who had made it to his feet, albeit unsteadily.

“Are you sure he’s good to drive a tow truck?” April eyed the young man with suspicion.

“Well he’s not going to get any better if he stays here, I can tell you that much.” Brady threw his friend’s arm over his shoulders, holding him in place as he fished through Ephraim’s pockets for a tangled wad of cash. When Gina returned with the receipt he handed her most of it. “See you tomorrow Momma Bear.”

The older woman laughed, “That you will, naughty boy. Now git out of here unless you’re buying drinks.” She moseyed to the next customer, shaking her head. “Nice to meet you April.” She called over her shoulder.

“Nice to meet you too!” As they walked away the stares still followed April, but she tried to ignore them, “I like her.” She told Brady.

“Gina? Hell yeah, she’s a good lady.”

Before they could get out the door an older man, bloated with liquor and stained with nicotine, blocked their path. He wheezed a breath of whiskey in April’s face, “Hey there, darlin’.”

“Leave her alone Clint.” Brady’s face became a black mask.

“You shut up Brady, I’m just tryin’ to be hospitable.” He leered at April, “A sweet piece of ass like this should be introduced to everyone in town. How about you walk those long legs over to my table and find yourself a seat in my lap?”

“Um,” April lost her voice for a moment, “No thank you.” She could feel herself start to quail in the face of this disgusting man. Clint bared his teeth at her in a hunter’s smile, and reached a meaty hand toward her ass. The taste of metal flooded April’s mouth and she swatted his hand away. “Actually, absolutely not. You are fully aware that I am in no way interested in spending time with you or having you touch me.” April felt a rush of confidence and leaned toward the grotesque man, who licked his lips nervously. “If I wanted to fuck you Clint, you’d know. Don’t make me tell Gina you’ve been bothering me.”

Clint’s eyes grew wider and he backed off long enough for April to push past him and out the door. She stepped into the light and took a nervous breath of the bakırköy grup yapan escort fresh Texas air. Brady followed her out with Ephraim still slung over his shoulder.

“Sheee-it April. I knew you were tough but damn.” He stared at her, “damn.”

“Can we please go get my car now?” She didn’t want to tell him that the effort of saying what she said had left her with tunnel vision and shaking knees.

“Yes ma’am.” Brady half-dragged Ephraim to his truck. April took advantage of the private moment to fan herself with her shirt. The sound of a lighter startled her and she looked around before locking eyes with a man leaning against the tavern. He was wearing a cowboy hat and boots, one foot resting against the brick wall. He saw her watching him and winked as he lit his cigarette. April spun on her heel and hurried back, trying not to think about the dimples that creased the cowboy’s cheeks.

“What is wrong with me?” She asked out loud.

“Shit. Nothin’ darlin’.” Brady had leaned Ephraim against the hood of his truck, where he rested on an elbow, admiring her with hazy eyes. His stained, blue coveralls were tied around his waist, and he had hooked the thumb of his other hand behind the knot. Under his tight tank top he was as wiry as Brady, a cross hung on a delicate chain around his neck. He looked as hungry as the rest of the wolves in the bar.

“This is the weirdest town I’ve ever been to.”

“Seems perfectly fine from where I’m lookin’.” Brady pulled a bag from the seat of his truck and tucked it into the big metal box behind the cab, snapping closed the cumbersome padlock on the front of it. “Now hop up miss April, you’re in the middle.”

With a sigh April climbed into the cab and settled herself into the center of the truck’s broad bench. Ephraim followed, swinging himself in with more energy and bumping his hip against hers. Reaching over her shoulder for a seatbelt April found nothing. Ephraim didn’t even bother to check. Brady followed them into the truck, pushing April over slightly so she was firmly wedged between the two men. Her bare legs flushed with goosebumps at the warm touch of their bodies. April tried to concentrate on the task at hand, they were going to get her car, and then she could leave these strange people behind.

As they pulled away from the tavern and back onto the road, Brady had to reach between her legs to shift gears; each time his hand accidentally brushed some part of her flesh. April watched him but didn’t protest, and as they drove back down the highway she could feel herself growing more and more aroused by these light touches.

Ephraim leaned past them to fiddle with the radio, changing the station to one of solemn gospel music. Brady switched it back. “He always does this when he’s drunk. Gets real nostalgic.”

“Man shut the fuck up. Nobody wants to be listening to no Garth fuckin’ Brooks right now. Shit.” Ephraim settled back into the seat, his arms crossed. “April probably doesn’t even like country.”

“I don’t mind it.”

“See Ephraim, you’re just being an idiot. Everybody loves Garth fuckin’ Brooks.” Brady squeezed April’s knee, and when she didn’t say anything, left his hand where it was. “What nobody likes is that Jesus bullshit you insist on playin’ when you miss your Momma.”

“Don’t you talk about my Momma Brady, I swear to that bullshit Jesus I will knock you out.” Ephraim sat up straight in his seat, his body taut. April brushed Brady’s hand away, suddenly uncomfortable with the rising tension in the car.

“No you won’t Ephraim and you fuckin’ well know it.” Brady shifted gears again and pulled into the driveway of an auto repair shop. April breathed a sigh as they came to a stop, but Ephraim exited the truck like a bullet from a gun. His feet kicked up a cloud of sand and dirt as he raised his fists toward Brady. April stayed where she was in the middle of the bench seat, unable to move.

Brady stayed still for a moment, breathing carefully. He moved suddenly, slamming the door behind him before April could fully register that he’d left the truck. He was on Ephraim just as quickly, his fist connecting with the younger man’s stomach once before he had an arm around his neck. Brady drove Ephraim to his knees, the mechanic’s arms flailing as he fought to get free. Looking up at April, Brady threw her a wild grin, and pulled Ephraim to the dirt like he was wrangling a steer. They wrestled for a few minutes, limbs tangled around each other. April watched them, her body shivering with goosebumps. Garth Brooks kept singing about beer chasing his blues away.

“Uncle!” Ephraim finally cried, and Brady released the arm he’d been twisting behind the other man’s back. His black clothes were now yellow with dirt and his chest heaved with exertion. A cut on his face bled slightly, but he didn’t try to clean it or even touch it. He just walked over to the truck and opened the passenger door.

“You can come out now Miss April.” He offered her an unnecessary hand to help her out of the truck. April, strangely exhilarated, found herself taking it. She hadn’t witnessed a tussle like that since high school, and it’d had the same effect on her then. The smile on Ephraim’s face as he pulled himself out of the dirt only confirmed this for her: they were showing off. Her heart pounded in her throat as Brady led her to the door of the auto shop.

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