~ Saylor ~
Sitting on my stool at the dry cleaner’s, my foot tapped
along the ground in a steady rhythm. The humid, thick air
wrapped around my face and up into my hair like a bath towel. I
grinned a little. My heart thrummed. It was safe. Not deadly. I
haven’t heard of many cleaning-related deaths. One guy in the back
burned his hand real bad because he shut the press lid too quick,
but I don’t do the presses. Just the buttons. Unbuttoning the shirt
buttons, buttoning the pant buttons, zipping the zippers, pinning
on the tags. Tag it, bag it, and repeat. It’s simple. Again, not deadly.
It’s practical. Comfortable.
The wooden, swinging door to the back thrust open toward
me. A screeching stack of hangers filled with clothes, covered in
plastic, swayed along the rail mounted to the ceiling.
“Rack these and you can go,” Crystal called out from behind
the bags as the door shut between us. “Slow night. I’m closing.”
Her voice faded behind the rattling of the steam-powered presses.
Nobody had come in for the last half hour; surprising, for a
Wednesday night. Crystal was right. The hand of the clock on the
wall ticked to seven. Finishing up the last tag on the shirt, I tossed it
in the silky red bag. Drawing the string tight and yanking it into a
knot, I pulled the lumpy sack up from its stand. Red meant rush.
Following where Crystal exited, I ducked around the plastic
bagged laundry and tossed the red bag into the big red bin by the
metal wash tubs. The last of the presses hissed, winding down, and
the back room seemed to sigh in relief. Usually the area rang with
conversations of the ladies cleaning and pressing. They’d gone
already, booking it to dinner with their families.
Crystal was probably in the office counting the registers.
Shoving back through the door, I wound over to the front
entry and glanced out the windows. Clouds made the sunset hazy.
Three small trees lined the edge of the parking lot, their flimsy
branches and leaves flopping about in the soft breeze. Golden
flecks of light pranced upon the blacktop in the empty parking lot. I
snapped the lock on the door. Closed. A burly black truck rumbled
into the drive, gleaming black rims on the tires tagging the
I couldn’t help but grin then, and tossed a wave to the dim
interior. Holding up a finger, I spun on my heels and ran to the
“Crystal!” I called, grabbing the heavy hangers. “My ride is
Ten bags for customers whose last names began with M
later, Crystal slumped through the swinging door. “What’d you
“My ride’s here!”
“Oh. Alright. See you tomorrow.”
“Okay. See you!” Yanking my thick time card out of its slot
on the wall, I penciled in the time for the day.
“What shift you working?” she asked.
“Early!” I whined. “I’m the six crowd. Have to open.”
“Fun for you!”
“You know it.”
“I bet Earl brings coffee.”
“Eh. I guess it helps.” I shrugged. The lights from Tucker’s
truck shone through the front doors.
“Yeah. Nicer looking driver inside.” I jiggled my eyebrows
She giggled. “You go get it, girl.”
“You bet I will.”
“Here, I’ll lock the door behind you.”
After last waves and condolences for opening so early the
next morning, I ducked out of the glass entryway and flung open
the truck’s passenger door. Tucker hunched over a pile of papers
stacked up in his lap and propped against the steering wheel.
“Whoa.” I breathed out. “That’s a lot of paper, yo.”
“Hm.” Tucker tapped a pencil against his forehead. He
squinted at his other hand’s grip on the wheel.
“Are—hey? Hello? Everything okay?” Hefting myself up
into the body of the truck, I hauled the door shut behind me. Cool
air drifted around us. I sighed, liquifying against the soft seat. “Air
conditioning.” I breathed in the sweet, crisp wind. A last beam of
sunlight meandered across the dashboard, renewing the cab with
the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans. Wiggling my
throbbing toes against the soles inside my hot shoes, a shudder ran
through my spine.
“Sorry.” Tucker glanced up. “I have to finish a project before
we can grab dinner.”
Dinnah. Dinnah with Tuckah. I’ll take it. His lovely Aussie
accent. Say anything, Tuckah. “What kind of project?” I asked.
“Hold up.” He held out the eraser end of the pencil for a
moment, then sighed, and scrawled several sentences on the paper.
While he finished, I buckled my seat belt, untucked my
white polo shirt from my khaki pants, and re-did my ponytail into
a fabulously unkempt messy bun.
Tucker gathered all the papers, shuffling them into a huge
stack, and dumped them into a box in the back seat. “Have you
talked to your dad today?”
“No. But he’d be happy to know you have a huge box in
your back seat.”
Tucker huffed out a laugh as he twisted back to face the
steering wheel. “Too right.”
“You don’t need a back seat in a truck, Thompson,” I
mimicked Dad’s stern concern. “A vehicle serves as transport and
Tucker furrowed one eyebrow, lowering his voice. “When
you take Saylor out in that truck, imagine I’m right there in the
Giggling, I rolled with it. “Is he in the back seat? In the box?”
Tucker’s humor loosened then, and the one eyebrow rose.
“What? Is he in the box?” I glanced back at the box. “Did
you kill somebody?”
He rolled his shoulders back, and sniffed. “Let’s eat.” He
forced a smile onto his chiseled jawline. “Starved. Absolutely
“Did—did you kill a guy?”
Tucker’s emerald glance rolled over to me and then behind
him as he reversed the truck away from the front of the building.
“I’m in the mood for pasta. Something saucy. And bread.”
His hunched shoulders swelled into tense arms, gripping his
menu. In the three months he’d been working with the new
recruits, he had spent a lot of hours in the fitness center. Those
muscles on the sides of the neck, the perfect place to rest a head or
nuzzle a kiss, had become more defined along with his shoulders.
His camouflage uniform jacket didn’t hide it.
A single candle in a red glass holder flickered between us
upon a red and white checkered plastic tablecloth. Only a block
down from the dry cleaner’s, we hadn’t had a chance to say much.
But the waiter would be bringing our water glasses any time and
Tucker just stared at the menu like he wanted everything on it.
Maybe he did. That was entirely possible.
“What’s in the box, Thompson?” I breathed out the question.
“The tears of my ancestors.”
The waiter stalked up then, carrying two ruby jars filled
with icy liquid. Setting them down before us, he offered a quick
smile. “Have you decided what you’ll be having this evening?” He
readied a notepad from the black apron at his waist.
Tucker tossed the menu onto the table, the cardboard
slapping onto the plastic. “I can’t. I’m sorry.” Tucker ran a palm
across his forehead and jerked his head my way. His eyes stared
through me. “Here’s—let’s—I need to—”
Tucker slid his chair out while the waiter stared. Tucker
grabbed my wrist and heaved me toward the door. I mouthed a
silent “apologies” to the stunned man, as the muggy evening air
filtered around us. Tucker charged onward, until he stopped short
at the bench on the front porch. Robotically, he sat, stiff, on the
edge of the metal furniture.
“Are you alright?” I asked. “Seriously, what is in the box?”
“I have to leave.”
“You should eat dinner. I think you’re having a hangry
moment. Hungry and angry. All at once. Hangry.”
“It’s not like that.”
“We all get cranky. The waiter—”
“I’ve been called up for duty overseas. On the seas. Away.
Not sure exactly where we’re going.”
My tongue melted into the roof of my mouth. “The—why?
What?” All the questions I wanted to ask clung to my ribs, sticky
“We need to find—” He stopped, licking his lips and then
clamped them shut. “I’m not supposed to say. It’s a high-level
“Do you know who’s going with you?”
“Your dad will be assigning duty recs tomorrow.” He
heaved out a heavy breath through his nose.
“But. You. You just—for how long? How long will you be
gone?” As the sun sank behind the trees, so, too, my heart tugged
into the horizon.
“Until we finish the assignment.”
“You can’t tell me?”
His palms wrapped around my cheeks, guiding my eyes to
his. “If you were to join us, I could tell you everything. And we
wouldn’t be apart again. We’d be side by side on the field.
Together. Working as a team for a greater good. And I wouldn’t
have to garner secrets or confidences or keep information from you.
You’d be right there.”
“I can’t. I won’t.” Shuddering away, I had to break free from
his warm, pervasive grip. He’d have me sunk in an instant. The
chill helped. “You know I can barely walk by myself. I’ve spent
months, months, getting to where I can stand up for an hour at a
time without leg braces.” Anger welled up, underlining all the
words as they tumbled out.
“You’d see it all for yourself.” He continued his line of
thought, ignoring my argument. “You wouldn’t miss out on
anything, because you would be on the front.”
“Can you not hear what I’m saying?” I cried out. “You hear
me, Tucker. If there’s one thing I love about Tucker Thompson, it’s
that he hears me in all the noise. No matter what I said, you heard
“That’s the thing.” He pleaded back, just as sunk in his own
case. “You will be heard. By getting back out there, standing on
your own, you’d be free.”
“Stop. You haven’t seen me broken. I’m broken. Remember
those months you traveled the world doing missions for Alliance?
While you were out exploring, I recovered from nearly dying.
Wheelchairs, leg braces, endless dark nights where my voice
refused to meld with my mind. The words refused to come out, but
they’ve started to come back. But look at me now. I’m done with
“You aren’t, Saylor! Remember the nanocomputers! I
brought them back for you. Those weeks when we injected the
serum of nanocomputers back into your blood, they changed you
for good. You are a whole new person.”
“No! I am not. I’ve lost.”
“Why do you continue arguing a moot point? Quit being
dramatic about the pain and use it. Move into it. Make it a stepping
stone and not a crutch.”
“Easy to say.” I spat out the words. He doesn’t hear me. The
idea drove burning and blurry tears into my eyes.
Tucker stepped back. He studied his shoes and lowered his
voice. “You need to come with us, Saylor.” He planted his balled-
up fists in his pockets.
A man and woman walked up to the front door, eyeing us
discreetly. I offered a tight smile as they entered the restaurant.
Tucker sank onto the bench.
“You might want the old Saylor to come with you. The one
who was reckless and bent on destruction. She stole a boat and
convinced everyone she could save the day. That Saylor didn’t
know her limits. She didn’t realize how tall the heights truly are.”
“But I’m not Yesterday Saylor anymore.” I held up a palm to
stop his beautiful voice from bickering. “I’ve built big walls and I
ripped them down. I did my hard thing: saved the world from a
global wave of solar radiation. And it struck me down. I cannot do
“Why do you believe that lie?” His voice breathed out
question after question, unhearing, misunderstanding.
I can’t face any more giants. “Some people face death and it
makes them stronger. It makes them want to live each day fully
and do big things. But I did those big things. I gave away my time
for people who hate me now, and who say I’m this despicable
“You’re not despicable. Why do you care about what
strangers think of you anyway?”
“Stop. You are not listening to the words coming out of my
“I’m hearing you.”
“No.” Quaking in my white tennis shoes, I bit back loathe
for his thick-headedness. “You used to hear me. I’m not sure—”
“Saylor, I refuse to leave on a bad note again. I’ve left twice,
wait, three times from a bad spot. I won’t do it.”
“Maybe it’s our fate.”
“And since when do you believe in fate?”
“When have I not?”
“Who am I even speaking to right now? Where’s my Saylor?
The Saylor who forges her own path, come what may?”
I let out a quick yell, a quite unladylike grunt, and tossed my
fists in the air. “Do you not see I’m losing this battle inside of
myself? Do you not see I’ve got nowhere to go? I’ve got nothing to
give. I don’t care about the things I used to dream for. Now I dream
of blood stains. Now I dream of falling into darkness. My losses
outweigh any wins I’ve ever had. My clothes don’t fit. My knees
always hurt. And I can’t train. And I can’t run. And I can’t be who I
used to want to be, because I tried, and it ripped me apart. I cannot
face the darkness again.” The tear spilled out of my eye, running
down the side of my nose, dragging a river of black mascara with
it. I didn’t care.
Tucker sprang up from the bench, wrapping his arms
around me. His coffee scent devoured the hunger and wrenched
hope. Whatever spices of cinnamon or leather or mountain forests
he’d used earlier, bound the splinters of fear. He held me, resting
his cheek against my ragamuffin hair.
“All I want,” I whispered, “is to sit on a porch with you,
watching a sunset together.”
He swallowed, breath ragged. One of his hands buried into
the back of my hair. “We can find a sunset. That I can do.”
He laced his fingers through mine and we wound over to the
truck. He parked us by the small pond over the hill from Fort Story,
and we sat in the back of the bed, legs dangling over the gravel,
while stars dropped into their places above the trees.
We didn’t say much.
The stars didn’t either.
But Tucker held my hand the whole time, even as he walked
me to the door of the house, and kissed my cheek. I ached for more.
I wished he’d said less. His eyes, oh those eyes, they shone with
questions and unstated opinions.
That night behind my closed eyelids, black pools of wide
oceans quivered with unblinking eyes and hollowed cheeks.
Somewhere someone laughed, but it silenced with a quick crack.
Somewhere in the deep forests, monsters lurked, snapping and
flapping their vicious wings, heaving fire at those who’d charge
Grab your own copy of EARTHSHINE next Tuesday, October 9th!
Sign up here to receive an email notification about new blog posts and news! Let me come to you. I promise, no spam!
Please note that you will receive a confirmation email. Simply click the "Yes, subscribe me to this list" button to begin receiving updates from me.