I haven’t forgotten this. I wish I had more time…. i may steal a little today while I am working on other stuff.
Anywhere but Here Chapter 1
As I drove down the road shaded by towering trees, I couldn’t help but smile. Early
fall was the best time of year in New Mexico. Warm days, cool nights, the smell of roasting chile on the air. I chose a good time to come back this way, even though the season had never crossed my mind.
I turned onto a dirt road that wound around past a huge old cottonwood and an adobe house with no glass in the windows. Someone had been keeping this road up, it was smoother than the pavement I just left. A mile down the road, I came to the turn in to my destination: an dilapidated mobile home park. Just inside the entrance sat several rusted out cars. I took a right turn and drove past several 70s vintage mobile homes. I pulled up beside a faded red and white house surrounded by chain link and dirt bikes.
He came out to the porch before I had even shut down the engine. He just stood there and watched as I shut down, climbed out of my dusty old RV and walked to the gate.
“Hey Bobby.” I opened the gate and walked toward him.
“Hey Shel. How you been?” He smiled and it was like the sun had come out from behind the clouds. He walked down the steps and wrapped his arms around me. “I’m surprised to see you here. You said you were never coming back.”
“Carrie called last month. She sounded scared, said she needed my help. I was in the middle of something up in Montana but got here as quick as I could. But she isn’t answering my calls and no one’s home.” I looked up in time to see his face go dark. He looked down at me with sorrow in his eyes and I knew my worst fears had come true. He stepped back and turned toward the door. “C’mon in, You can stay in my spare room tonight if you want or I can run an extension cord out to you.”
I followed him up the stairs and into the house. The force of memories as I crossed the threshold nearly pushed me back outside. “I don’t know if I can do this, Bobby.”
He turned back to me and took my hand. “Just try for tonight Shelly. I’m here. I won’t let anything happen.”
I knew he was thinking back to the night I left. Carrie and I had gone out partying with some friends. It was way late when we got back to my house. Usually I would have called and made some excuse and then crashed at Carrie’s or called Bobby and he would have come and gotten me. That night, I was drunk and just wanted to go home. My dad was still up and my uncle and his friends were playing poker. Carrie drove off as soon as I got inside. By the time I got back out, I could hardly stand. I stumbled my way down to the corner and called Bobby from the pay phone. I swore I would never come back to New Mexico and in the ten years since, I had never been back.
I looked around when I got inside. The inside of the trailer was completely different than I remembered. Where it had once been dark paneled, shag carpeted, packed with all Grandma Caldwell’s things, it was now painted white with spare furnishings and wood flooring.
“You’ve been busy in here.”
He laughed. “Not really. You’ve been gone a long time. After Grandma passed, I just started changing things a little at a time. Most of the family came by and took her things. I kept a couple of pieces but you can walk around in here now.”
I turned to him. “Bobby, what happened to Carrie?”
“I don’t know. She disappeared. I don’t think she ran. She would have called you or me if she had. She found something bad going on at work. Probably when she called you.” He opened his fridge and pulled out a pitcher of iced tea and poured two glasses. “C’mon over and sit down. We need to game this out. I have a few leads and I suspect she gave you something to work with too.”
“Are the police looking?” I walked over and sat at his little table.
“They looked a little at first. But after a few days, they concluded that she probably took off. They couldn’t find any signs of a struggle or any signs that things were odd at work. In fact, her boss said she was on a vacation.”
“She isn’t one who would run. She’s more like you. Guess that makes sense since you’re family. But you all don’t just up and run. She would have told someone.”
“Exactly. She didn’t say a word to her folks or me. I went by her apartment and the cats were there and not fed. Her suitcase is in the closet and her purse was on the counter. Carrie wouldn’t leave like that. Anyway, we pointed that out to the police but they just had nothing to work with. I doubt they have closed the case but they also don’t seem to be looking very hard.”
I took a long drink of the tea. “Do you know what was going on? All she told me was that she had found something strange. She said she needed help figuring out what to do and that there weren’t many people she could trust.”
“That’s all she said to me too. I am pretty sure there was some drug smuggling going on out of the warehouse where she worked. You know what a bulldog Carrie is about numbers. If there was something strange in the books she would have caught it. Are you hungry?”
I looked up at him. “Not really. But go ahead and eat if you are. What are you thinking?”
He smiled. “I’m thinking we team up like we used to and figure out what happened to her. No one else is going to. You know your dad died?”
“I don’t really care. That bastard died the night he decided to let his friends have me.”
“They’re all dead.”
“How do you know that?” I knew the answer already but I wondered how much he would tell me.
“I was told by the person who took care of them.”
“Well. I’m not really sure what I am sposed to say to that.”
He laughed then and grinned at me. “I didn’t do it and I don’t know exactly how it was done. They didn’t want me to jeopardize college or anything. But I do know who and when. We got em all, honey. No one is gonna hurt my girl and not pay for it.”
I looked at him thinking. It had been a long time since anyone had thought of me as their girl. Actually, Bobby might be the only one who could say that. “Do you remember the first time we met? That camping trip up at Fenton.”
He sat down with a couple of peanut butter and honey sandwiches on a plate and offered me one. I took it absently while watching the emotions play on his face. “Yeah, you and Carrie about drove me crazy. I had my friends camping with me and you little brats wanted to tag along.”
I laughed. “I was so mad at you guys. Acting like big shots patrolling the river with BB guns. I just wanted to help.” He laughed and took a big bite out of his sandwich. “I wanted to be part of your family so bad back then and that was before mine fell apart.”
“Shel, do you ever wonder…”
I stopped him. “Bobby, I wonder every day of my life what could’ve been. It don’t do no good.” I stood up and pushed the chair in. “Okay, I gotta get some sleep.”
“Shel…” He started then stopped and started again. “Shel, do you need a power cord? Or do you wanna sleep in the spare room?”
“No, Bobby. I need some space. I’m pretty set up out there. Don’t need the power for now. Ask me again tomorrow if I’m still here.”
“K. Honey, if you need anything…”
“I know. I’ll be expecting Frontier in the morning.”
He laughed. “No problem. Burritos and cinnamon rolls in the morning. We need to go by and see my folks. Then we will go by Carrie’s and see what we can find.”
We walked to the door and I turned to say good night. He reached up and touched my cheek. And then turned and walked back to the back of his house.
I walked out to the rv, stopping briefly to turn on the propane tank. I opened the door and turned on the battery operated lamp long enough to light the candles. When I turned off the lamp, the inside of my motor home was as cozy as any small room in a house. I had replaced the thin cushions with a pillowtop mattress and splurged on linens for my bed, draped luxurious fabric on the ceiling and purchased several fluffy pillows, which all worked together to make a very comfortable sleeping area. The candles flickered and I turned on the small stove to heat water for a cup of tea, knowing that I was never going to be able to sleep tonight.
I woke after a restless night to the sound of someone knocking on my door. The sunlight was streaming in through the blinds. I moaned and rolled over then pulled back the covers and padded to the door. Peeking through the window, I saw Bobby standing outside. I opened the door and let him in.
He looked around my little motorhome when he walked in. “This is pretty nice. You’ve spent a lot of time making this look like a home.”
“Well, it’s where I live so it might as well be homey.” I turned the burner on the stove on and set up the coffeepot.
“So do you ever plug in or is it all set up to work without electricity?” he sat at the little table and watched as I got the coffee started.
“I plug in sometimes. It’s nice to use the microwave and the tv. My computer and phone can go a couple days without a plug in. The fridge and stove are set up to run on propane. The shower works and the hot water heater can run propane as well. So I keep my tank full and then it doesn’t matter. I mostly use candles for light.” I got a couple of cups down and poured cream and sugar into both, then as the coffee got dark in the percolator, I poured coffee.
He laughed as I sat down. “I can’t believe you still remember how I like my coffee.”
I grinned back. “It’s the same way I drink mine. And that is your fault. All those late nights sitting around talking and drinking coffee. You always made mine the same as yours.”
“You ready for breakfast?”
“When am I not? Especially since we are talking about the best cinnamon rolls in the world. I have been dreaming about them for years.” He laughed at me then. “And green chile. I almost came back a dozen times just for the chile.”
“Well, come on up when you’re ready.” He stood up and ran his hand across my shoulders as he walked out, carrying my coffee cup with him.
I got dressed quickly, jeans and tennies. As I left, I turned the propane tank off so I wouldn’t run my gas out while I was gone and locked up. Bobby was waiting on the porch.
He still drove his old Ford. I remember when he bought the old truck. We piled in Carrie’s Tercel, drove up to Durango and met this old guy who was selling his truck. It was a spray painted light blue 4×4 that drank gas like an old wino.
“I can’t believe you’re still driving this old truck.”
“Why not. She runs great and there ain’t a hill out there she can’t climb. I have a car I keep at Mom’s if I need something a little less rugged.”
I climbed into the truck and buckled in. He looked a little disappointed that I sat in the passenger seat instead of sliding into the middle which had been my spot, even before we were together because Carrie always refused to sit next to him. He put the truck in gear and we drove down the road. He popped in a cd and sang along with Trace Atkins, looking over at me from time to time. We rode along in silence. I was afraid to talk because I didn’t know what he was thinking. My mind had been churning through memories, both good and bad, all night. We finally got back to the highway and headed through Tijeras Canyon into Albuquerque.
“The city has grown.”
“You really haven’t been back? Its grown out to the west.”
“I said I wouldn’t come back… And if I had I woulda called you.”
“Would you? I know you talked to Carrie sometimes, but why didn’t you ever call?”
I wished I had kept my mouth shut. I knew he was going to have something to say I didn’t want to get into this morning. “I don’t know, Bobby. I didn’t call Carrie all that often either.”
He gave me a look I couldn’t read, then turned the radio up. I was glad because I didn’t want to fight about this.
I hadn’t called him because he was all tied up in the memories of all the trouble in my own family. I had always counted on him to be there, but both times things blew out of control I didn’t call him until after. And then the bad feelings and pain were all mixed in with my feelings for Bobby.
“Bobby…” He looked at me and shook his head. I looked out the window and watched the sights on Central Avenue pass me by.
We turned onto Cornell and then through the Frontier parking lot. Bobby found a good spot in the alley and parked the truck. We got out and he caught my hand as we walked in. The line was fairly long, but the Frontier is designed to deal with the long lines and we got to the register quickly. Bobby ordered breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls for us both along with glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. We were number 87, so we took our juice and walked back to find a table.
I watched the sign for our number and then looked at Bobby. He was looking at me. I smiled and then saw that out number had come up. Bobby laughed and told me to stay at the table and he got up and went to get our food.
I could smell it before he set the tray down. That delicious smell of good New Mexico green chili and then the subtler scent of cinnamon and butter. I took a bite of my burrito and closed my eyes. It was just as I remembered. The bite of the chile, the cheese and potatoes. Oh I should have come home sooner. We didn’t talk at all through the burritos and then when I got to the cinnamon roll, I was in heaven. All the warm butter and cinnamon and sugar. I just sat and slowly savored every bite. When it was gone, I licked the sugar off the fork and looked down at the saucer.
“Are you going to lick the plate too?” Bobby’s eyes were sparkling and his mouth twitched with amusement.
“I might.” I scraped as much of the icing and butter off the plate with my fork as I could and then licked the fork again. “There is nothing in the world like this.”