|Staying. A home.
They were forbidden words. Wishful words. Without provocation images of Hannah popped into his mind. Angrily Jeb set his jaw and turned his concentration on setting up the bricks.
What wouldn’t he give to be able to set down roots? What wouldn’t he give to stop running and be able to live a life without fear?
The image of Hannah’s face floated to the front again. Jeb figured it had to have been because of the fear word. The woman lived in fear every day of her life, just like he did. Although it was a different kind of fear. If mankind ever found out about the race of beings called Ruinos living among them.
He glanced overhead at the bright sunlight. It would reach into the low nineties today. His epidermal layer would stay nice and tight until sunset, but by that time he would be safely ensconced inside his motel room for the night. Only then could he remove the human-looking layer and relax in his own skin.
But that relaxation came with a price. The Arra could not track them in the daylight when they were wearing their outer skin. At night, however, the pale reflection of light that bounced off the moon wasn’t enough to keep them imprisoned. By opening themselves to their true forms, the Ruinos also placed themselves in jeopardy of being discovered. Hunted. Captured or killed.
No. Not or killed. And killed. Ruinos had unbelievably short life spans when they were captives of the Arra.
Jeb shook his head in thought as his hands automatically laid a symmetrical foundation of bricks around the shiny aluminum machine. There was a lot he had accomplished in the short time he had been on this planet. He could physically pass for one of them. He could speak their language—or at least one of them—enough to be understood. Plus read and write it. He had even managed to soak up as many of the nuances he could find regarding their culture.
Yet for every accomplishment, there were many more he couldn’t fully grasp. At least not now. For one, he couldn’t pass a drug test. For another he had no legal documentation. What papers he had he’d paid a lot of money for. He was as an illegal an alien as he could be.
His thoughts wandered back to Hannah. She had gone totally white when he had told her he was leaving. Her blue eyes had filled with tears. If Jeb allowed himself to believe, he would have thought she had been devastated by the news.
The image of the purplish bruise on her upper arm came back into focus. What kind of human could hurt an innocent such as Hannah? The woman wore her vulnerability about her the same way he wore his outer skin.
Why didn’t she leave the man? It wasn’t like she needed him for anything. At least, not financially. According to Barb, she was the only breadwinner in that relationship. That was what the woman had told him that one morning he had gone to breakfast and not seen Hannah at work.
"She called in sick," the woman said tightly, pouring him a cup of coffee.
"Sick? Is it serious?"
Barbara gave him a cautious look, wondering how honest she could be with him. "If you’re thinking a stomach virus or something like that, you’d be wrong. What can I get you?"
He decided on a cheese omelet, then watched as the woman went to place his order. The diner was practically empty this time of the morning. Although it opened for business at six a.m., the morning rush usually didn’t start until after seven.
Breaking his morning routine, he picked up his cup and walked over to the bar, perching on one of the stools. Barb turned around and gave him a surprised look. Before she could say anything, he asked point blank, "Did he hurt her again?"
"She didn’t say, but I would put money on it."
Jeb chewed over the saying and took it for a yes.
"It’s almost become a nightly ritual," the woman continued in a whisper. "You’d think he’d lay off of her since she’s the one footin’ the bills. Paying the rent. That no-good boyfriend hasn’t held down a job for the past year and a half. Says he hurt his back. He was collecting workman’s comp until a few months ago when it ran out." Barb shook her head at the injustice. "I feel so sorry for the woman. I just can’t tell you."
"Think she’ll be back tomorrow?"
"Maybe. Depends on how bad he roughed her up. But I will tell you this. Carl’s gotten a lot more careful where and how much he bruises her. The man knows if he’s not careful he could hospitalize her, and that would mean an end to his bar-hopping with the boys until she got well enough to go back to work."
A crunching sound brought him back to the present. Jeb stared at the dust particles in his hand. He had crushed the hard clay brick as easily as wadding a sheet of paper. Gritting his teeth, he bent back to his task.
He wished he could do something for her, but what? The woman was claimed. He had no rights to her. Even if he did, there was nothing he could offer. Absolutely nothing.
Lane one was finished. Getting to his feet, Jeb went over to the truck with the water cooler and poured himself a paper cup. One down, three to go. At this rate he would be finished well before quitting time, not that it mattered anymore. He would go back to the motel and pack his things. Maybe go out for a nice last meal at La Italiana before calling it a day. Then in the morning go see Hannah at the diner for one final breakfast before picking up his last paycheck and heading out of town. Next stop, Clearwater.
Draining the cup, Jeb tossed it into the trash bag and returned to his brick laying. He would be able to keep his hands busy, but his mind had the whole day to dwell on Hannah Pitt. To dwell. And reminisce. And wonder why the woman affected him as much as she did, when no other woman on this planet had before.