Chapter 42. Sweetheart, Aloha

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Back then, I didn't understand why Johan was in such dire need of a replacement child. Now I had a slight idea.

Dad eventually caved, signing the contract with the pen he'd later throw out the window as we drove away. Did he feel as gross as me, having sold ourselves off to Johan Derrick to save a few bucks?

"You should do yourself a favor and learn how to fill your own gas, Marcia," Johan suggested. "We're a mere river and a half away from the state border, I can show you any day if you'd like."

I smiled, consciously refusing to show off my teeth.

"Maybe," I answered. "Someday."

I now wondered if that last exchange took place, or if I dreamt it as an orange light from my dashboard warned of an unfortunate soon future.

How could I forget to fill gas? Had I always been this short-sighted? My God, how did I ever get anything done?

I estimated there was enough gas in there to get to Lake Grenada, but running out would be an embarrassing dent in my getaway plan for later, if I did get away. Thankfully, coming up a quarter mile away was the old, nameless gas station I stopped by on my first trip.

At a slow pace, still with the cracked-up, winding road all to myself, I made it to the station coming up to my left.

I pulled over by the gas pumps, the flat roof over me allowed for some slight shelter from the storm, though the wind nearly blew me off my feet as I exited the car.

Weird.

Oh, yeah, Marcia. Like that's a first: something's not right in Peachbode.

This time, it was more of an inconvenience than before: the gas station - not to mention its proud co-establishment, the mini-mart was closed. I can't tell you for how long, my heart said it had never been open, and it could only have been a fragment of my imagination, perhaps it even burned to the ground on this night twenty years ago. My head, though, was willing to bet they had just run out of business, after all, I was the only frequent commuter in and out of Peachbode.

The 'WE'RE OPEN' sign inside the door was blocked by a wet paper notice outside, saying 'HELP WANTED'. Where did Betty, the cool mini-mart employee go?

Raindrops hard as gravel shot at my forehead, I held one hand on my hood to keep the wind from ripping it off but didn't feel safe without the other resting on the gun in my pocket.

Overwhelming stress came over me, even though it was another four and a half hours until I was supposed to be standing by Lake Grenada.

It was hard not to notice the bright orange that appeared up by the side of the road. Squinting as it came closer, I made it out to be a hunter's vest, eye-popping in contrast to the camouflage clothing it covered. The man's back was hunched, with a hunting rifle strapped to one shoulder, and a large, black plastic bag over the other.

Pastor Richard.

"It's the girl with the million questions, again," he said, slowly approaching for the gas station.

While I didn't like the sight of the rifle on his back, I was comforted by the slightly less aggressive tone he used this time around.

"Sorry to tell you, but the station is done," the Pastor informed, now standing on the other side of the car from me. "I'll give you a hand with the gas if you need it."

The old man was already headed for the gas pump when I could give my answer:

"Thank you, Pastor Richard," I said.

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