Running to You

By: Andrew Grey

Chapter 1

BILLY JOE didn’t move as he realized that being here was a huge mistake. He blanched and was relieved no one could see him. The chirping of birds and singing of cicadas had faded, replaced with a chorus of crickets emanating from the tall trees. Spanish moss hung from the branches, and the only light came from a bonfire that did little to pierce the blackness. The night was hot and sultry, but cold fear left Billy Joe with ice water running through his veins, wishing to hell he’d stayed home and kept his curiosity in check.

He turned and slowly made his way back down the old trail, hoping like hell he didn’t step on anything. He made it about halfway to his car before his stomach rebelled, and he leaned over, losing his dinner in the undergrowth by the side of the trail.

He did his best to make as little sound as possible, wiped his lips, and continued on to the road. He stumbled to his old black Escape and got inside, started the engine, and pulled out, waiting for some distance to turn his lights on, hoping he was far enough away to not draw anyone’s notice.

“Jesus Christ,” Billy Joe breathed under his breath, gripping the wheel until his knuckles turned white, pressing the accelerator damn near to the floor in a desperate need to get the hell out of there. More than anything, he wished he could unsee what he’d witnessed. The reverend always said things happened for a reason. Billy Joe wondered if the long-winded old gasbag wasn’t right about something for once, but he’d be damned if he could see the reason behind something like this.

Billy Joe’s hands trembled, and he pulled off to the side of the road, breathing deeply, willing the shuddering in his hands and legs to subside. Damn it all, he wasn’t going to do this again. He shook his hands rapidly and took calming breaths, pushing away what he’d seen. Billy Joe knew he had to seem as normal and relaxed as possible when he got back home. Feeling a little better, he got back onto the road, heading toward the city.

A plan—he needed a plan, Billy Joe realized as he reached the outskirts of town. He turned into a Walmart parking lot and hurried inside. Reaching an ATM, he used his card to take out as much cash as it would allow and stuffed it into his wallet. He grabbed a cart and decided now was a good time to do some shopping. Originally he’d thought that bringing a few things home might provide a cover for where he’d been, but as the image of his new future solidified, Billy Joe knew what he needed to do.

After trips up one aisle and down the next, he had the cart pretty full. Lastly, he added a couple of bags of chips and the Cheetos his mother adored to the top of the cart and headed for the checkout. He shifted his weight from foot to foot as he paid for everything, then pushed the cart out the door and to his car. He loaded everything into the back, out of sight, except for a single bag with the snacks, and drove home.

“Hi, Mama,” Billy Joe said quietly as he stepped inside through the screen door. He set his bag on the table and hugged her the way he usually did, feeling very little. The scales had fallen from his eyes and he saw things more clearly. “How is Tyler? Thank you for watching him for me.” He pulled out the chair and sat down, his balance going a little wonky.

“Were you drinking with those good-for-nothing friends of yours?” she scolded in a tone only mothers seem to have mastered—that weird mix of anger at the behavior and acceptance that boys will be boys.

“I stopped and had a beer at the Road House.” That place was always so crowded that, on any given night, anyone could be there and no one was going to remember shit. “Only one, and then I got some snacks and came home. I needed a chance to breathe a little bit.” Billy Joe pulled out the bag of snacks as a silent peace offering, at least to the tiny niggle of his conscience. He’d just lied to his mother, something he rarely did.

“It’s all right. Tyler and I had a quiet evening, and he went to bed a couple hours ago. He’s such an angel.” She poured herself a mug of coffee and sat back down. She opened the bag of cheesy snacks and ate them one at a time. He knew from experience that she’d finish the entire bag if she allowed herself. But she closed the bag and put it away after a few minutes, the packaging rustling as Billy Joe left the room.