Hope to have some more exciting pictures soon, but these are still beautiful...
~Chapter Seven ~
Justin woke up gritty-eyed and irritable. The sun blazed through his shades blinding him with slat-like rays.
He sat up, rubbing tired eyes. A glance at the bedside clock told him he’d slept for six hours. It was almost noon. He flipped his feet to the floor and groaned. “I haven’t slept this late since I was a kid in school.”
The gray fur ball at the end of the bed came up and wrapped around his arm, meowing.
Justin laid a hand on his soft fur. “Yeah, yeah. I know. You’re starving to death.”
A plaintive meow was his answer. He chuckled and stood up. “Okay, breakfast coming up.”
About halfway through his walk down the hall, he remembered. His heart sped up causing an uncomfortable tightness in his chest. “Arianna.” He shrugged his shoulders and sauntered into the kitchen in no big hurry. Forcing her out of his thoughts wasn’t easy, but he needed to do it. Rooster meowed again and he chuckled, remembering the look on his mom’s face when he’d told her what he named the cat.
The look she gave him shifted from disbelief to ‘whatever.’
He’d stared at her for a moment then asked, “What?”
“You named your cat Rooster?”
“Yeah, after Rooster Cogburn. That’s who he reminds me of.”
She threw her hands up in the air. “I give up.”
He shook his head to dispel the memory. He didn’t want to get caught up in the last argument they’d had. He’d stormed out afterward, and then stumbled onto Arianna. Literally.
Her name came unbidden to his lips. “Arianna.” He liked the way it felt rolling off his tongue. The name matched the woman.
After feeding the cat and grabbing a bottle of water he went back to the bedroom and picked-up his running clothes. He went into the bathroom, emerging a few minutes later ready for his usual morning exercise. A run would do him good, or at least he hoped so. He needed to clear his head so he could begin his search for her son.
Outside, the weather was beautiful. The sun was high in the sky and beaming down like a giant sunflower in the sky. He shut his door and locked it with the keythen dropped it into the pocket of his running shorts.
The cute blond who lived next door was out on her patio watering some flowers and waved at him as he passed. It was funny because before yesterday he always got a little thrill when she waved and smiled at him. Today he felt nothing but friendliness.
“A little late today aren’t you?” She asked as he passed.
“Yeah, slept in, but it’s still cool enough to run.”
She smiled. “Yes it is. Be safe.”
He nodded and began a slow jog, readying to start his run. He knew he wanted to retrace yesterday’s steps. Maybe he would find some clue everyone else had missed. “Yeah right,” He scoffed. “Because I’m so much more observant than the police.”
A few minutes later he was at a full-out run. His eyes scanned every house up and down both sides of the street. Had she been held captive in one of them? He looked at the top of each one, searching for the small window she’d described but none fit the description.
An hour later, tired and disgusted, Justin jogged up to the gas station across from the park. He pushed the glass door open and went in, straight to the water cooler. He opened the door and caught the reflection of a middle-aged man standing behind him.
Chills sped up his spine at the look of hate he saw on the man’s face. But when he blinked and trained his eyes on the man’s reflection once more, his look was pleasant and friendly. Wow, I need to lighten up.
He grabbed a water and held the door open for the guy. He took it, said, “Thank you,” and Justin walked away. A power bar would hit the spot. He walked over to search the rows of candy bars until his eyes homed in on what he was looking for. He picked-up the oat-bran bar and tossed it onto the counter beside his water.
The middle-aged man was standing behind him now, and again, a little chill of fear spread over him. He looked Justin up and down then said, “Nice day for a run.”
Even though the guy was giving him the creeps, he was polite. “Yes it is.”
The man held onto a bottle of soda and a can of formula as if they were a lifeline. He gestured at Justin’s clothes. “How long you been running in these parts?”
“As long as I can remember. Probably twenty years.”
“Whoa. So you’re from around here?”
Justin didn’t like the questions but had no reason to ignore the man. “Yep, born and bred.” He smiled, trying to dispel his own since of unease.
Justin didn’t know what to say. He felt bad for the thought that popped in his head, which was ‘I don’t care.’ It wasn’t a Christianly thing to think and he repented.
The cashier finally appeared from the back room and rung-up his items. Justin turned toward the older man. “Have a nice day.”
“You too Justin.”
Cold chills raced through his veins. How did the guy know his name? He took off out the door and jogged a couple blocks up the street, wanting to put distance between he and the creepy man.
Afraid he might’ve been followed, he veered off the regular walking trail deeper into the woods. With each step his fear intensified. He wasn’t a chicken, but something about that man had given him the creeps from the get-go. Should he report it? He shook his head. Nah, he was just being dramatic. Probably from lack of sleep. He retraced his steps and came back to the jogging trail. He’d seen a bench on his way by and it was calling his name. His legs trembled, threatening to fail him.
Suddenly, a phone call to his mom didn’t seem such a bad idea. Echoes of Mama’s Boy circled in his head, but he pushed them away. There was nothing wrong with loving your mother, even if they were overbearing.
The phone rang several times with no answer and his finger was already over the end button when he heard her voice. “Hello?”
“Justin, what’s wrong?”
How did she always know? “Wow, can’t a guy call his mom without anything being wrong?”
She laughed. “Yes they can, but when their voice trembles, moms know something is wrong.”
He thought about that for a moment. “Oh.”
“So are you going to tell me?”
“It’s nothing really. I just had a strange encounter at the gas station.”
“Some guy came in behind me and gave me the creeps. When I paid and turned to tell him to have a good day he said my name.”
“Really? That is strange. Are you sure you don’t know him?”
Justin sighed, feeling better after hearing his mom’s voice. “Positive. Anyway, it’s over now. I just called to tell you I love you and remind you how sorry I am about yesterday.”
His mom coughed. “Your apology is accepted. You don’t have to keep mulling it over. I know I over-stepped my bounds, but I’m getting desperate for grandchildren. I guess it’s a sign of my age.”
A picture of Arianna popped in his head, and a little faceless bundle with it. He shook his head. Today was really weird. “I know mom. It’ll happen when it happens though. I don’t want to rush into marriage and find out later I made a big mistake.”
His mom grunted. “That can happen even if you don’t rush into it.”
He nodded, agreeing. She was right about that. The thought of Arianna somehow broke his concentration and he wanted to get off the phone and call her.
“I know mom. But look, I have to make another call. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
She said quietly, “Yeah, yeah. I got it. Your use of me has depleted for the moment.”
“Mom, you know better. I promise I’ll call.”
“Okay, I’m holding you to it. Love you.”
“Love you too Mom.”
He stood up and slid the phone into his front pocket and began the return jog. He would go see her instead of call.
He could imagine the cold disdain he would face, but at this point it didn’t matter. His desire to see her was stronger. Somehow, she’d grown to be a part of him in less than a day. He couldn’t imagine a time when he didn’t know her, and he didn’t even know her yet.
“All right, Justin, stop the weird stuff.” He threw his water bottle and power bar wrapper in the trash can as he passed and poked ear buds into his ears. A sermon by his favorite preacher was what he needed right now.
He watched as the younger man threw away his trash and headed back up the jogging trail. Jealousy overwhelmed him. It wasn’t fair she’d been rescued by a real prince charming. Maybe he would have to make sure Arianna never fell for that young, handsome face and athletic body…He rubbed a hand across his unshaven chin. “Maybe I will.”
He started his car and followed behind. It irritated him that he was wasting precious time out here following some young pup instead of at home tending to his new prize. But the idea of someone new had soured somehow. He missed Arianna.
He nodded his head as he drove. “Yep, I’m gonna get her back. She belongs to me, not Prince Charming.”
Losing interest in where the boy was going he veered right and headed home. He had to get rid of the new girl and feed the baby. Suddenly, life wasn’t so simple anymore.