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Submitted by spazmom on 22 February 2007 - 2:43pm. |

Chapter 2

Two days later I was driving down the Columbia River Highway. It was so wonderful! It was a beautiful bright summer day and I rejoiced in having left dry hot behind in Utah. I felt like a sponge, soaking up the humidity and lush green scenery along the road.

It was amazing how easy it had been to get vacation time. I hadn’t taken any time off for over a year and my job wasn’t a real demanding one. So, I had called the Palmers the night before, informing them I was coming. They had been thrilled! I was surprised at how much they wanted to see me. It made me begin to think I really wasn’t alone in the world.

They had wanted to meet my plane, but I’d explained I was going to rent a car. I wanted to relax and soak up all the Oregon I could. I had never driven the way myself before, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I knew how to read a map, and just how difficult could it be? All you had to do was get on the Columbia River Gorge Highway and point the car west.

While I drove, my muscles started relaxing and it seemed the first time in a long time I felt completely carefree. It was as if a great weight had been taken off my shoulders. It was hard to keep my gaze from going to the river, but I knew I’d crash if I didn’t watch it.

I reached Multnomah Falls and just had to stop for a moment at my favorite place. I had to drink in the beauty after being away so long.

Realizing how much I had missed it all, I grabbed my camera and walked over to the railing where I could get a perfect shot of the falls with the bridge in front. The moment seemed to freeze in time--The spray coming up off the falls and all the lush green ferns and bushes. I closed the shutter quickly before leaning against the rail and closing my eyes. All I could hear was the roar of the falls, the birds calling to each other, and I soaked up every blissful sound.

Then my conscious got the better of me, reminding the Palmers were expecting me in a certain time frame. I sighed, turning to look at the falls once more. The only saving factor was the knowledge I would be coming back later. I smiled and got back into my rented Honda, heading toward Astoria again.

About an hour or so later I was nearing the eastern entrance to the city when the car made a strange sound and the steering wheel jerked in my hands. I bit my lip, my pulse racing, and managed to pull the car over to the side of the road. I turned off the motor and got out to survey the damage.

“Oh great,” I muttered to myself as I spotted the culprit. “A flat.” I put my hands on my hips and looked around to see where I was. I was still outside of Astoria by a couple of miles, and I realized it was going to be a bit of a walk to find help.

Chuckling, I reached in for my purse and locked the car. What a way to start off a vacation! I walked down the lovely shaded road, humming to myself. It felt good to be out of the car, actually. I hadn’t taken a break except for the falls and my legs felt stiff.

I let the calmness of the scenery sink in as I walked--it really was a lovely day. It was just so nice to be back in Oregon, it didn’t matter I had to walk a couple of miles. It was too wonderful of a day and too gorgeous surroundings.

After a while I rounded a corner in the road, coming upon a large brick walled area with security guards and a huge metal gate. Along both sides were the words Monticello Young Men Academy - Oregon in thick, shinny brass letters. Despite the nice walk I had been having, I was relieved. As I walked up to the security booth, the young man inside smiled at me. Stepping out, he touched his hat in a quick salute.

“Hello, Ma’am,” he said, his voice deep. “What can I do for you?”

“Well,” I smiled, suddenly feeling embarrassed at the situation, “I have a flat tire down the road and I was wondering if I could use your telephone.”

His smile turned into a grin. “Well ma’am, you came to the right place. I’m sure we can help you. There’s probably quite a few guys who’d volunteer to change your tire.”

“Lot’s, huh?” Knowing it was the statement of an all boy facility, I shook my head at the grinning young man. “I just need to use your phone, if that’s okay. It’s a rental car and I want to find out what they want me to do.”

“Sure thing.” Turning, he pointed to the imposing red brick building behind him. “Go right in there to the front desk. They’ll be able to help you.”

“Thanks.” I started off towards the building, wondering what I would find. The complex looked similar to the few other private schools I’d seen - barring the large brick wall. Going up the wide steps and inside the double doors I found that inside it was quiet and very impressive.

Everything was either polished wood or brass with large tinted windows and marble columns, dominated by a large crest in the middle of the entryway floor. To my left was a sitting area with plush leather couches surrounding a rock fireplace. To my right appeared the reception desk as described by the guard. I walked up, finding a nice looking older woman there.

“May I help you?” She asked with a welcoming smile.

“Hello,” I smiled back, really feeling silly now about the whole thing. I licked my suddenly dry lips, and glanced around at the empty lounge/reception area. I felt a little intimidated by the place--it was so quiet and reserved. Oh well. “I was told by the guard outside that I could use your telephone? I have a flat tire down the road on my rental car.”

“Of course!” She smiled sympathetically and raised her hand to point back to where the couches were. “There’s one right over there on the table. Just dial 9.”

“Thanks.” Going back to the little lounge area, I got out my rental agreement. Fortunately there was no problem contacting them, and I was just hanging up when I realized the background noise had grown and some kind of commotion was going on behind me.

I stood up, turning around to see several young men in tan pants, burgundy button up shirts and short dark ties milling around a young man standing in the middle. His young face looked like he’d been in a fight and gotten the raw end of it. All the boys were shouting - some of them pushing at him - and the receptionist was trying to get them to calm down. I heard her voice quavering as she tried to exude authority and persuasion at the same time, trying to get the boys to tell her what the problem was.

Obviously it wasn’t working, and I debated offering my help. What in the world could I do? Should I even interfere when it wasn’t any of my business?

Sighing, I pulled my purse strap back over my shoulder and took a deep breath to steady my suddenly shaking nerves. Heavens, they’re just teenagers, I reminded myself. It only helped a little and biting my lip, I walked over to her desk, having to pass the young men to do so.

Suddenly all the shouting stopped. There was silence for a moment before a couple of them whistled. I smiled a little weakly at them and wished I had thought of something else, like sneaking back out the large front doors when no one was looking.

“Well, well,” one of the young men said, eyeing me with a leer. “Look what just dropped in, guys.”

I groaned inwardly, ignoring him. I have no illusions about my looks--I know I’m not ugly, but I also know I’m no beauty. I figured there must not be a lot of women at the facility.

“She’s a looker.”

“Maybe she’s a new teacher...” was a wistful comment.

“I’d take that class.” A couple of them elbowed each other and I felt the beginnings of a blush working its way up my neck.

“What are you doing here, beautiful?” a deep voice from among them tried to catch my attention as I finally reached the reception desk.

I realized with some relief that they had calmed down, and the receptionist was smiling gratefully at me. I turned, putting the firm counter at my back, observing that the beaten boy in the middle seemed to relax a little, looking at me as well. His face was a mess! I almost gasped out loud.

“Well,” I coughed to clear my throat, managing to find my voice. “I’m just in a little bit of trouble, boys.” Trying to keep my voice light, I pretended there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. Only, how do you pretend you don’t see someone that has blood dripping from a cut above his eye and obvious swelling going on around his mouth and chin?

I took a deep breath, fixing my smile on. I could do this. “I have a flat tire a little way down the road and the guard out front tells me he’s sure lots of guys here would help me change it.” I put my hands on my hips, tilting my head to one side--hoping to make them think I was totally at ease with their attention, something I’d seen a roommate do. “Now, that sounds like he’s trying to pull some kind of Polish joke on me. It doesn’t take too many guys to change a tire on my little Honda unless you’re planning to pick it up!”

As they all laughed, I realized even the receptionist seemed relieved that I had intervened. I sighed, realizing I must have learned more than I’d thought from that long departed roommate.

“Well, I’m sure we can help the lady,” one of the boys stepped forward, flexing his large biceps that seemed to strain the sleeves of his shirt. “Even if we do have to pick up the car.”

They laughed again at that and one of his pals punched him in the arm. “Yeah, that’s your favorite thing, JJ,” he said. “Helping out the ladies.”

“Helping them into his bed is more like it,” the kid in the middle muttered between swollen lips, causing them all to chuckle appreciatively.

I wasn’t sure if he was warning me or joining in the ribbing, but I took the hint. “Now then, boys,” I said, definitely ready to get out of there. “Who wants to help me out? I only need one or two of you.” Actually, I wasn’t sure I wanted help from any of them--the way they were all poking each other and leering at me, but I didn’t know how to get out of it now.

“Hi guys, what’s going on?” A deep voice from behind me cut into the chatter and laughter among the boys. “Hey Dave,” the voice seemed to take on a steel quality, although still trying to convey nonchalance--and I realized he was speaking to the poor beat up kid in the middle. “What happened to you? You look like you ran into a brick wall.”

“More like a brick wall landed on him,” someone chuckled cruelly in the back.

Finally, the man stepped into my range of vision--the owner of this rich deep voice which seemed to vibrate inside of me. Tanned, tall, broad shouldered, and light haired, he held my interest has none had for a while. He had a strong presence and seemed to be quite at ease in his dress slacks and button up shirt. His tie was just a little loose, causing me to grin. How men hate their ties! I glanced away, trying to hide my grin and caught a look of pure relief coming from Dave, the kid with the face.

What ever had been going on, he had been in serious trouble. My earlier nervousness returned, and I became anxious to be out of there. I was surprised to find this kind of tension and confrontation in a setting that had only moments ago been quiet and hushed. I slowly inched toward the end of the counter as the deep voiced man came stepped closer to the group.

“Hey Mr. Palmer,” one of them said lamely.

At the name Palmer I gasped and turned again, trying to get a closer look. Palmer? Was he a relative I didn’t know about? I didn’t recognize him–-although, I reminded myself, watching as the boys warily backed up from his approach--I hadn’t seen any of them in at least three or four years.

“Hey, Bill,” Mr. Palmer greeted another student, his voice relaying something I couldn’t quite catch. The rest of the young men did though, and they shrugged, glancing around at each other as the atmosphere lightened a bit. However, it was apparent this problem was not going to blow over and be forgotten.

I bit my lip as Dave nodded his head toward me. No, not me! “The lady seems to have a flat tire down the road and was looking for some help.” How he managed to get any words out of those swollen lips, I had no idea, but suddenly I realized the teacher was now looking at me.

As he looked at me, I met his prepared expression with one of my own--only to find myself gazing into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. The kind of blue that you see when the sun is setting and one edge of sky is dark and the other is gold and pink--in between is this blue that caught my breath.

“Angela?” I heard him utter in surprise. “Angela, is that you?” He seemed stunned.

It occurred to me in that moment of breathlessness that he was indeed related to the Palmers--who else would know my name? “Yes,” I said slowly, still trying to catch my breath. “I’m Angela. Who are you?” I had known this person before and not remembered him? That wouldn’t be possible! He wasn’t someone you could forget.

“Sean, Sean Palmer.” Suddenly he smiled, making those blue eyes sparkle. “Don’t worry,” he chuckled at my obvious confusion. “You haven’t met me. At least not for over 10 years.”

“Oh.” I felt ridiculous, standing in the middle of a croud of young men in a large reception area, having this conversation. I hadn’t seen him for 10 years? How could I have forgotten him? “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”

“That’s okay,” he shrugged. “My parents have lots of pictures of you and your parents. I guess I have the advantage.”

He then seemed to realize where we were standing as well, and rolled his eyes. Was he was blushing? I felt the familiar heat going up my own cheeks as the kids started laughing and elbowing each other. I sighed, wishing there was a way to control it, but there never was.

“Okay guys,” Sean turned to face the boys standing behind him after a quick wink at me. “Who wants to help out our friend here?”

They all wanted to volunteer, of course, raising their arms and calling out their abilities. Amazingly, Sean picked Dave and one other kid named Brian to help. Didn’t Dave need stay and see a doctor?

“C’mon, we’ll go in my car. No reason for us to walk back and forth.” I felt him grab my elbow, a little startled still by what was happening, and propel me forward. “You guys all get back to where you’re supposed to be,” he said over his shoulder, and I looked at him questioningly as his voice had gone hard. He ignored me, and marched us through the doors--Dave and Brian following behind.

“Are you very far away?” he asked, glancing at me.

I shook my head. That hard tone in his voice had woke me up to the fact I knew nothing about this man-–gorgeous or no--and he was taking me out to his car! So what if he recognized me and knew my name, what was I to think about a man who could control teenagers with a voice of iron?

He led us to a black Toyota 4Runner, silently opening the passenger door for me before seeing to the back one for Dave and Brian. He moved quickly, as if he was anxious to get off the school grounds, and started the car – still without saying a word. The minute we were past the security guard at the gate, his handsome face turned grim.

“How are you, Dave?” he asked bluntly. “Do you need to go to the ER?”

“I’m not sure,” came the low reply from the back. “I’m not feeling too great, but it’s mostly bruises, I think.” He sighed and I glanced back at him worriedly.

“We could go to the hospital first if we need to...Sean,” I ventured hesitantly. “I’m more concerned about Dave. It’s not that crucial to change the tire.”

He turned to smile at me, the effect making his whole face lighten up. “I think we’ll be okay. I don’t want mom and dad to be worrying about you.”

I smiled at the mention of his parents, my heart beginning to warm at his concern. “Okay.”

He glanced up at the rearview mirror so he could see Dave. “What was that all about back there?”

Dave managed a shrug, but Brian–who appeared nervous just to be in the car with us--glanced at me, bit his lip, as if deciding something.

“They were blaming him, sir,” he finally blurted out, his hands twisting together. I decided he was really nervous about being with Sean and perhaps Dave. “There was another drug search.”

Sean glanced at Dave again. “They decided you had finked?”

Dave nodded, moving his head gingerly. “Yeah...again. It always falls on me.”

I looked out the window, remembering what we were in the car for in the first place, and spotted the Honda.

“There it is,” I said, pointing so Sean could stop.

He nodded and the car fell silent as we pulled up behind the little car and climbed out. Brian went to inspect the tire and Sean came over to get the keys from me. As he was opening the trunk, Dave clambered out, coming to stand by me.

“I want to thank you for trying to help back there,” he said, his voice gruff.

I looked at him surprised. “I thought I was doing a good job of acting.” Going back over the events in my mind, I had to chuckle. “I think playing the flirt comes too easy for me. I’ve never tried it before.”

He smiled crookedly, making me wince in sympathy over his split lip. “You did great. I - I saw your look when you realized they were harassing me. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” I suddenly felt a little uncomfortable with the conversation, I hadn’t expected any thanks. “I’m sure the receptionist had already sent for help and it would have been there any minute.”

“Maybe,” he acknowledged with a shrug and looked away, but the expression on his face told me he doubted it. After a moment he glanced back at me, licking his raw lip hesitantly. “I just want you to know I owe you one.” He turned and went to join Sean and Brian--attempting to help with the tire.

Watching him go, I was amazed. I vaguely heard Sean tell him to get back in the car, but I’m sure my chin was touching the ground. That was the most unusual encounter I had ever had. I was sure his announcement didn’t mean much--I wouldn’t be seeing him again anyway. It was interesting to me that he would feel that way. Most of the kids I’d known would have been angry and or embarrassed, claiming they hadn’t needed any help.

I’d never had anyone say they owed me one before. It was an interesting feeling. It concerned me a little that he hadn't thought help would come from the receptionist, but then perhaps he wasn't on good terms with the staff. Who knew.

In a few minutes the spare tire was on and they were putting the flat in the trunk. Sean came over and I smiled at him, wondering where he had been all those years.

He came to a stop next to me, biting his bottom lip, hands in his pockets, obviously uneasy about something.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wanting to chuckle at the ‘little boy’ look.

“Angela,” he reached over, turning me a little away from his car so the boys couldn’t hear us. “Do you think you could avoid telling my parents about what happened? Not about the car, I mean about the fight.”

“Oh,” I looked at him surprised. “Sure. No problem. May I ask why?”

He shrugged, watching Brian tease Dave who mumbled back as they loaded the jack back into the 4runner. “They aren’t comfortable with my working at the Academy. They think I could do more good if I was working at Astoria High or something.”

“Oh.” Suddenly I felt as if I had forgotten most of the English language. Sighing in frustration at my reaction, I looked down at my feet, trying to have logical thoughts about his parents and the situation. This was going to be the pits of a vacation if I couldn’t talk the whole time. Why was I was so tongue-tied with Sean? Just because he was the handsome man I’d seen in a long time?

The boys ambled over, Brian handing me the keys. “Here you go, Miss, it’s all ready.”

“Thanks guy’s, I really appreciate it,” I assured them, smiling to let them know I meant it.

They both grinned, Dave wincing as he did so, causing Brian to roll his eyes. “Come on, Dave, let’s get in the car.” Grabbing his arm he pushed him toward the car and I glanced up at Sean who was looking at me strangely--almost wistfully.

“Thanks for all your help,” I said, feeling rather foolish as I put out my hand. No one seems to shake hands anymore, but it was something instilled in me by my parents. He smiled suddenly, as if I’d offered him a million dollars.

“You’re very welcome, Angel.” His voice was husky, and it did strange things to my insides as did his touch. His hand was warm and firm and held mine as if to keep me safe-–strange it would make me think that.

And the way he shortened my name! I blushed, thinking the way he said it made it like a caress. I looked at his face, startled by my reaction to him. His eyes grabbed my attention--they were a deeper blue, richer--and I thought inanely that if there were water that color anywhere, I’d drown willingly.

“Hey, Mr. Palmer, let’s get goin’!” Brian’s shout from the car startled me, making me jump and let go of Sean’s hand. For a moment he seemed disoriented, then he shook his head. He frowned briefly, glancing back at his car.

“Coming, guys.” He looked back at me, other concerns now making his expression somber. “I need to get Dave to the hospital.” He ran a hand around the back of his neck, shifting a little – almost like he was reluctant to leave. “Angel, do you remember how to get to my parents house?”

I smiled at his concern, the warmth in his eyes making my stomach twist in unfamiliar knots. “I’m not sure, but I brought your address. Is it hard to find?”

He gave a lopsided grin, standing a little taller. “No, it’s not. You’ll be fine.” He turned and headed for his car and the minute those eyes left mine, it was as if I was suddenly alone--bereft. I couldn’t help it, I had to know if I was going to see him again.

“Sean,” I called, stepping forward to get his attention.

He paused, turning with a slight smile on his handsome tanned face. “Yeah?”

“Are you going to be at your parent’s later?”

He grinned and I gulped, knowing I’d been too obvious. “I’ll be there tonight, Angel.” He reached out as if to touch me, and then he was getting into his 4Runner and I had to turn back to the Honda.

Sighing, I got inside the car and looked at the steering wheel. What was wrong with me? I’ve never acted like this before. I’ve met some good--looking men before--but this was crazy! I shook my head, starting the car with too much force, making it grind. I needed to get my head together or I would be sorry. Sean didn’t want some girl he hardly knew drooling over him. I sighed again, pulling out onto the highway. I had never drooled before! I was sick, that was it. I was glad I had time before he came home--maybe I’d have pulled myself together by then.

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