Chapter Six ~
Jim felt such a loss when Faith left the vehicle for a minute he couldn't concentrate on his driving. He'd have to haul it if he was gonna catch-up with the rest of his crew before they reached Texas. He shook his head to shake-off the odd feeling he was experiencing and punched the gas. He shoved a CD in the player and the car was filled with the deep voice of the newest country music star. He settled back against the seat and tried to concentrate on the road, but the singer was saying something about girls and all he could think about was amber-colored eyes and dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. He shook his head again and turned the CD player off, shrugging his shoulders.
He mentally struggled about calling her, but lost out. He dialed her number. "Hey Faith, just wanted to make sure everything's okay on your end. Call me when you get the chance," He said to the answering machine when she didn't pick up. He sighed and tossed the phone onto the console between the seats. His crew would tease him if they realized he had a crush on the cute little meteorologist.
Faith was in Michelle's office listening while she issued severe weather statements for the next day. She loved being a meteorologist, but she didn't think she'd like her sister's job. There was way too much responsibility and stress involved. She much preferred reading the radar and reporting to someone else.
When her sister finished she looked up at Faith. "Where's the footage you got? Did you enjoy chasing the storm?"
"I’ve got it right here." She handed her sister the memory card. "I did enjoy it. It was awesome. Thanks for letting me go, Shellie, I'll never forget it."
Michelle pushed the SD card into her laptop and the footage Faith had gotten appeared on the screen. She was so mesmerized but what she was seeing she didn't say a word until it was over. "Wow that was amazing. I'm gonna go show the producer. I have an idea..." She left the room.
Faith sighed and sat down. She was tired, but too keyed-up to relax. She pulled her new laptop out of its bag and opened it up. She started analyzing the radar. The storms developing in the gulf were gonna wreak havoc on Texas tomorrow. The outer edges might even see some severe weather tonight, she decided. "Wow, I wish I could've gone to Texas with Jim." She didn't expect anyone to be in the room so she was surprised when someone spoke back.
"Maybe you can go to Texas. Do you really want to?" Marnie Jones asked her with a hopeful smile.
"Are you serious? I would love to go." She realized her rudeness and said, "I'm sorry, I was out of line."
"It's fine. Your sister brought me the footage you got and I love it. I know it seems funny to be talking about ratings for a news show, but I have to. Our ratings have been falling steadily for the last two seasons. Michelle pitched an idea to me I think would boost our ratings. She postulated we have a new show called 'Live Shots with Faith.' We would send you out and let you get extreme weather footage similar to the clip she just showed me. I really think it'll boost our ratings." She gave Faith a look of hope.
"That would be awesome, but what if the people don't like it?"
"We'll play the footage in a few minutes and see what feedback we get. I think I'll put a poll on our webpage too. That’ll give us a good indication of whether people like it or not."
"But it's really late. A lot of people are in bed already."
"That's true." Marnie tapped one long, manicured fingernail on her bright red lips. "We'll start playing it now and let it go until noon tomorrow. You go ahead and get a bag packed and catch up with that storm-chasing team. You can tag along if they don't mind, and if it turns out the public isn't crazy about the idea then you've just got a free paid vacation."
Faith could tell she was already coveting the ratings that might come from the new venture.
"My Dad's in the hospital, though. I'm supposed to pick him up and take him to my house in the morning." She felt disloyal because she really wanted to go. Her Dad needed her and she was thinking about herself instead of worrying about him. Guilt filled her.
"Faith, go pack a bag, I'll pick Daddy up tomorrow and take him to my place," Her sister said as she re-entered the room. "You've had him for years. Let me have a few days."
"Are you sure, Shellie? I know you're busy..."
"I'm sure," Shellie said. "I want to spend some quality time with Daddy, and with the farm gone I'll have the chance." Both women gave Shellie a quick look. "Okay, I know that sounded bad. I didn't mean it that way, honest. I just meant he won't be out farming."
"Okay...but you better not say something like that to him or he'll be upset," Faith warned.
Faith rushed to her house to pack a bag. She wasn't sure what to take, but knew she would need a raincoat and a hat of some kind, and maybe an umbrella. She chose some thick socks and wrote down on a piece of paper to stop at the gas station and get a bag of ice. It would be more practical to take some sodas with her than to stop every time she got thirsty. Some bottled water would be good, too.
She went to the pantry and packed another bag with emergency items like a flashlight, Band-Aids, and peroxide. She threw in a bottle of alcohol, too. Hopefully I won’t need any of this stuff. She slung the bag over her shoulder and left the kitchen.
Twenty minutes later she was on the road. She got on forty-four and headed Southwest out of Oklahoma City toward Wichita Falls. She went down through Chickasha and past Lawton. By that time she was extremely tired and caught herself nodding off several times. She decided she would turn around and go back to Lawton for the night. She'd tried to call Jim several times, but it kept going straight to his voicemail. She pulled into a motel parking lot and rented a room. She went straight to bed and was out like a light. She didn't wake up until a little past four-thirty the next morning. She jumped out of bed and got into the shower. She needed to get on the road if she was going to make Wichita Falls by daylight.
Jim Anderson was up at four-thirty. His clock went off right on the dot. It was still dark outside and the humidity was so high his clothes were sticking to his body. He hopped in and took a quick shower before he walked over to a little diner in the same parking lot as his motel. He ordered a big breakfast because chances were he wouldn't have a chance to eat once the day got started. He was in such a hurry he didn't bother checking the messages on his phone. It lay at the bottom of his pocket, its heaviness reminding him to do so before he left for the busy day ahead.
Faith got dressed and rummaged around in her sack for the cloth dog carrier she took everywhere she went when the dog was with her. She'd debated whether to bring Scooby and had decided she would. She didn't relish the mess she would be faced with if she left him home alone. A tornado of her own would be her only reward for that action. She found the carrier and slung it over her head before saying, "Come here Scooby." He ran to her and jumped up in her arms, showing no ill will toward her when she tucked him into the bag. He was close to her, and that's all that mattered to him.
She picked up the rest of her bags and carried them out to the car before walking over to a little restaurant in the same parking lot the motel was in. She walked into the quaint little place and up to the scarred wooden counter. She grabbed a menu and headed toward an empty table. She still hadn't noticed the man staring at her as if she were an apparition. She sat down in the seat, arranging Scooby's bag so he was off to the side of her.
"You aren't really gonna eat with that thing attached to your side like that, are you?" A familiar masculine voice asked in amusement.
Faith looked up, right into the face of the very man she couldn't get off her mind. "Jim! Wow, I am so glad I ran into you. I tried several times last night to call you but you didn't answer the phone," She gushed in surprise. Her heart rat-a-tatted against her rib cage and she took a breath to calm it.
"You did?" He pulled his phone out and checked the missed calls. He looked up with apology in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I must not have heard it ring. I was playing music. Is something wrong?”
"No, I was just going to ask if I could tag along on your next chase. My sister showed the clips I made to the producer and she had a brainstorm idea for a new segment called 'Live Shots with Faith.' She thinks it'll boost our sagging ratings." By the time she finished she was breathless.
"I don't mind a bit. I'll have to ask my crew what they think when they get over here, though. We're a team, you understand. We're all supposed to meet here by six and it's almost that now," He said as he flipped his wrist up to glance at his watch.
"That makes sense. Do you think they’ll care?" She gave him a look of hope and changed the subject so maybe he’d quit staring at her. “I’m surprised you’re still here. I figured you’d be in Wichita Falls by now.”
“We got tired and decided to bunker down for the night.” He reached a hand out to her dog and asked, "Does he bite?"
"He might, he’s a little leery around strangers," She warned just as he put his hand under the dog's chin and scratched. The dog nuzzled up to Jim's hand like he'd known him forever.
"You're not supposed to have dogs in here," A heavy waitress informed Faith as she arrived at their table.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't even think. I can take him out to the car..." She made to get up but was stopped by Jim’s words.
"Mabel, stop that. Faith's a good friend of mine and her dog's harmless."
The way he said it let Faith know Jim knew the waitress.
"I didn’t figure it for an attack dog, I just don't like any women sitting with my man," She told him bluntly.
Faith laughed in delight and Jim looked at the waitress as if she'd gone crazy. "Mabel, you're already married. You need to stop flirting with me before Joe comes over and rearranges my face for me."
"Joe ain't gonna do no such thing. Besides, what he doesn't know won't hurt him," Mabel said as she winked at Faith.
"I think you should give him a break Mabel." Faith looked over at Jim and gave a small smirk. "I think he's taking you seriously."
"Surely he knows better by now?" Mabel asked with a worried expression on her prematurely-lined face.
"I don't think he does. I think I'll have the pancakes with bacon," Faith said without pausing. Change the subject.
Mabel wrote her order and disappeared into the kitchen behind the counter.
"She's just ribbing you. She winked at me when she was flirting so I think it's all an act she's putting on."
"Well she shouldn't do it, no matter the reason. She's a professing Christian woman."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Faith asked in confusion. "I'd rib somebody that way. There's no harm in it."
"It wasn’t meant to be that way."
He didn't elaborate and Faith didn't argue. She was pretty sure it would end up in a disagreement and she couldn't afford to make him angry right now.
"Here they come," Faith said as she looked toward the door. Just in time.
Alex Jones was the first one through the door. Faith was immediately reminded of the reason why she hadn't cared for him. "Hey there pretty lady, what are you doing here, or do I even need to ask?" The innuendo was plain in his voice.
"Alex, I've already made it plain that your behavior toward Faith is uncalled for. Don't give me a reason to send you home. I can always give your job to her."
"I can go home right now if you want me to," Alex returned in anger. His handsome face was a picture of petulant rage.
Faith rushed to head-off a full-blown argument. "Jim, there's no need to do that. I can overlook his adolescent behavior."
"I'm not acting like an adolescent," Alex retorted as he took a step toward her.
"Yes you are. There isn't anything going on between Jim and me, and even if there were, it wouldn't be any of your business.”
Jim's heart did a somersault at Faith's words, but he had to take control of the situation before it spiraled out of control. He'd worked with Alex for several years and this wasn't like him. What he had to do saddened him greatly, but he knew it had to be done. "Alex, go on home, you're fired. I'll send your last pay check in the mail."
"You mean you're really going to fire me over this little bit of fluff?" Alex asked incredulously.
"Yes I am, but she isn't just a bit of fluff, Alex. She's a trained meteorologist. She can be my spotter until I find a new one. I'm sorry it had to come to this." Jim’s eyes had the hard glint of finality in them.
Alex stalked off toward the SUV he'd been riding in. The rest of the crew watched in amazement as he pulled out his phone and called for a ride.
"Is there anyone else I need to have words with before we get started?" Jim asked, looking at each one of his crew members.
They looked at each other and shook their heads no.
"Is everything okay with you, boss?" Bobby Cantor asked, his forehead wrinkled in concern.
"Yes, but the way Alex womanizes has gotten on my nerves for a long time. When he started in on Faith it was the last straw. He looked at her with such tenderness Faith’s heart ached.
When he looked up, all of his people were staring at him. "What?"
"Nothing, boss," Bobby said, shooting a warning look to the others.
"Uh...not a thing..." John Haney stuttered.
"Nothing's wrong boss, really," Vince also hurried to reply.
Jim looked at them one by one until his gaze landed on his sister's. "Are you going to tell me what all this secretive stuff is about?"
"Bro, don't make me say it out loud. You know I can't lie to you, but I don't want to be embarrassing."
Jenny's eyes fell on the laptop she'd brought into the restaurant. "Jim, there's a fatty on the ground two miles North. If we hurry maybe we can fly a birdie into the swirl!" She shut the lid and picked the laptop up. She stuffed it back in the bag and headed out the door, expecting them to follow, and they did.
There was a wild scramble as everyone hurried after her.
Faith rushed out with them and stopped abruptly, not knowing where she would ride. She stood outside the restaurant door in uncertainty, waiting for Jim to say something.
"Leave it, we'll come back and get it when we're done," He said, understanding the look.
"That's fine with me." She rushed over and climbed into the passenger seat of his SUV.
He climbed in the drivers’ side and they sped out of the parking lot after the rest of the team.