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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by btmindi on 18 December 2006 - 5:08am.

Chapter 2

Kylee splashed the warm water on her face rather amazed at how dirty it came off. Her hands had been filthy as well. It was surprising that man hadn't run off when he had seen her face. But she was glad he hadn't. At least she would have a warm car to sit in for awhile. And hadn't he said something about food to eat in the car? Her stomach rumbled just thinking about it. Food would be the best of all. She made a quick cup out of her hands and got a drink before exiting the bathroom.

The car was gone. She had known in her heart that it was too good to be true. So why did her heart sink so far that it hurt?

“Are you coming?”

She hadn't heard him running up to her, but when she turned and saw him standing there relief flooded through her. She really wasn't going to be stuck all night at this rest stop. The car had only been moved closer to the bathrooms.

“Yes,” she said. “I'm coming.”

“Good.” he grinned at her. “My mom is waiting to meet you. By the way, my name's Dan. Dan Tyler.”

“Mine's Kylee.” She didn't give her last name, not figuring that it mattered much anyway.

“Hi Kylee,” he said. “Are you ready to go?”

She nodded and followed after him, not taking the hand he had offered to her. He led her to the running car and opened the door to the passengers side. Kylee slipped in, savoring the warmth that immediately surrounded her.

“Hello.” Dan's mom greeted from the back seat.

“Shouldn't you be up here?” Kylee asked.

“No,” the woman said. “I'm better off back here where I can sleep a little before we get home. It's been a long trip and I'm really tired.” Dan slipped in his seat then and put the car in reverse, pulling out of the parking lot and heading them for the freeway. “We've been driving all day.” she continued.

“Stop complaining, mom,” Dan gently chided. “It was your idea to get up so early and leave.”

“I know,” she grumbled, “but I'm still tired.”

“Go to sleep then.”

“I'm trying.”

“That's my mom, Mary,” Dan said. Kylee nodded. “We're on our way back to Gilbert from Idaho. Where are you from?”

“Little town in Texas,” Kylee answered. Where was that food he had offered? She was starving.

“Going to visit family?” he asked.

“Sure,” she agreed. Anything. Just give me some food. She looked around but didn't see anything she could swipe and sneak to eat. Her stomach rumbled loudly in protest.

“How long has it been since you ate?” he asked.

She shrugged. “This morning?”

He clucked his tongue disapprovingly. “The food is in the cooler behind me. You'll have to get it yourself. Just take anything you want.”

Kylee couldn't get to it fast enough. She had to squirm around in the car, but managed to reach the little cooler and pull out the first thing her hand touched. An apple. She crunched into it immediately feeling juice run down her face. She wiped it away with her wrist hoping that Dan wouldn't notice.

He seemed to be happy just driving, not paying her too much attention. Kylee felt free to study him a little as she ate her apple quickly. He had dark hair like his mom, nearly black. His dark eyes were warm and friendly, that she remembered from talking to him at the rest stop. And he was tall, much taller than she was. That wasn't hard, though, as she was only five feet, three inches tall herself. He had a nice voice, soothing. He sang along with the songs on the radio as they drove and Kylee found it oddly comforting to be with a man so secure with himself that he could sing along without being self conscious of the way he sounded. Of course, Dan could sing fairly well, so maybe that was why. She liked his hands. He had nice hands, long and slender fingers with a firm grip when he had helped her up. They felt strong, like they could take on the world and keep her safe.

The apple was gone. “Where do you want the core?” Kylee asked.

Dan interrupted his song to glance over at her. There's a sack we've been putting the garbage in around here somewhere.” he said. “Just see if you can find it and then get yourself some more to eat.”

Kylee was only too happy to do as he requested. The garbage sack wasn't too difficult to find so she shoved the apple core in it rumbled around the cooler for more food. She pulled out a sandwich. Bologna. Not her favorite, but she was still too hungry to care. She bite into it and felt the tang of the mustard.

“I hope you like mustard,” Dan commented. “I hate the stuff, but my aunt in Idaho made the sandwiches for us.”

“It's good,” Kylee mumbled around the sandwich in her mouth.

“Good.” he nodded.

The sandwich didn't last very long either. Kylee felt much better after eating it though and leaned back in the seat to get some rest. It had been a trying day with the car breaking down and the long walk to the rest stop. Well, she was supposed to be exercising each day and she had certainly done that.

“Are you full?” Dan glanced at her again.

“I'm ok.” Kylee closed her eyes and before she knew it she was sound asleep. She didn't know how long she had been asleep when she woke to the low sounds of voices quietly talking.

“You're awake!” Dan grinned over at her.

“Hmmm?” Kylee raised her hands over her head to stretch but hit the roof of the car instead.

“Are you feeling better?” Mary asked.

It took Kylee a moment to reacquaint herself with where she was and why. “Hmmm? Yes. I'm doing much better now.” She smiled at the older woman. “I guess I was really tired.”

“We'll be home soon.” Mary said, meaning to soothe.

Kylee panicked instead. Home. Their home. What would she do then? She still had no where to go and no money to get there. Maybe she should have just stayed in Holly Springs. At least there she'd had a job even if it was just working in a diner.

“Do you have some one to call?” Mary asked. “If they can't come and get you, Daniel will take you home.”

Kylee wasn't sure how to answer that and so said nothing.

“Are you going to be staying in Gilbert?” Dan asked.

Kylee shrugged. She had no idea where she was going or where she would be staying. “Is it much further?” she asked instead. She wasn't sure exactly where they where and had never been in this part of the country anyway, but there were street lights along the freeway now and some buildings so they had to be getting closer. Right?

“We're just getting to the outskirts of Phoenix. It'll be about forty-five minutes until we get to our house.” Dan said.

Forty-five minutes to decide what to do next. Maybe there was a nice park she could sleep at. Wasn't Phoenix supposed to be warm in the winter? She should have paid more attention in school instead of just passing until she graduated. Maybe then she would know a little more about Arizona.

“Are you hungry?” Mary asked. “Or would you rather have dinner with your family?”

There was no family. “Is there anything left to eat?” she asked.

Mary opened the little cooler and looked inside. “There's a couple more sandwiches and some cookies and apples.”

“Can I have a sandwich?”

Mary handed the baggie to her and watched Kylee rip it open and wolf it down. “Would you like another? Or maybe some cookies?”

Kylee nodded eagerly and quickly ate the cookies as well. Mary watched the girl consume the food, nearly inhaling it. She had to be half starving. What kind of family did she come from? And what was she going to? Mary studied her carefully noticing her well-worn clothes and the beaten look she had about her. Her light brown hair was long, very, very long, although Mary couldn't tell just how long in the dark car. It looked as though it hadn't been brushed all day and the girl hadn't taken any luggage with her. Did she even have anything? Her thin, oval face was pinched, as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders. She had nice eyes, though. Pale brown like her hair. Mary had noticed them when she had turned for the food. And she was really pregnant. Or maybe it just looked that way because Kylee herself was so very thin.

“Maybe you would like to eat with us while you wait for your family?” Mary suddenly invited.

Kylee shrugged, not knowing what to say.

“That would be nice,” Dan said.

Kylee turned her face to the window and watched the buildings increase in number. More and more and more buildings. The traffic had picked up amazingly as well. Dan switched the car onto anther freeway and continued driving. Lights blazed from everything, green and red blinking all over, reminding Kylee that she wouldn't be having Christmas yet again. “Dinner would be nice.” she suddenly suggested, long after the invitation.

“Good.” Mary agreed. “I hope my husband has cooked something good.”

“He cooks?” Kylee asked.

“Pretty well,” Dan said. “Better than Mom.”

“Hey!” Mary protested, lightly tapping Dan's shoulder with her fist.

Dan chuckled, a very pleasant sound to Kylee. “Just kidding, Mom.” he said. “No one cooks better than you.”

“That's more like it, son.”

Kylee felt her stomach turn, the familiar feeling of motion sickness over taking her. She turned to face the front and look out the windshield, hoping the feeling would go away.

“Are you ok?” Dan asked.

“No,” Kylee grunted.

“Need to stop?”

She shook her head. “It'll go in a minute.”

“What's wrong?” Mary asked. “Morning sickness?”

Kylee shook her head. “Car sickness.”

“Oh dear,” Mary murmured. “If you need to stop, just tell Daniel and he'll pull over.

Kylee nodded, but the feeling was passing. She got motion sickness so easily it was embarrassing.

“Have you ever been to Phoenix before?” Dan asked.

“No.”

“Well,” he said. “That's BOB, over there.” He pointed out his window toward a couple of tall buildings, one of which looked like it had a dome on top. It was hard to tell in the dark.

“That rounded one?” Kylee asked.

“That's the one.”

“What's BOB?” she asked after a second.

Dan glanced at her, incredulous. “BOB - Bank One Ball Park. The baseball field for the Diamondbacks.” Kylee still didn't look impressed. “You know,” he pressed. “It's where the World Series was played. In 2001.”

“OK.” Kylee said.

“You aren't a big baseball fan?” Mary asked.

“Not really.” Kylee said. She hadn't even owned a TV to watch any and know if she liked it or not.

“You ought to go and see the Superstition Mountains while you are visiting,” Mary said. “They're beautiful. We go hiking at least once a year up them. And there are some fun touristy things up there. Like Gold Field Gold Mine.”

“I'll have to think about it.” Kylee said, but she turned away from the window. She had no money to go anywhere.

Mary gave her strange look. “You do that.”

Dan switched freeways again. Kylee looked out the side window to see more lights flash by until she started to feel car sick. It was easier than trying to talk about things there was no way she could do. She had no car to take her to the mountains, no money to do the touristy things, no way to reach BOB or anything else. Maybe she should have stayed with her car. At least she could have slept on the seats and had a change of clothes. Surely police would have come by sooner or later and rescued her.

“There's Tempe Town Lake.” Dan pointed out the window again.

“Funny looking lake,” Kylee commented. Instead of being a large, rounded lake like she was used to seeing this one was long, looked more like a river than a lake.

Dan laughed. “It's our excuse for a lake.” he explained. The town dammed off part of the Salt River bed and filled it up and now it's a lake.”

“What about the river?” Kylee asked. “Where does it go?”

“There was never any water in it anyway.” Mary explained. “We don't get much rain around here.”

Kylee had to admit that the lake did look pretty with all the lights shining on it. There were even some boats out on it. Nice. Maybe this would be an ok place for awhile. She had to stop somewhere and have the baby.

The baby. Another scary thought. What would she do with a baby? Where was she going to keep it? What could she dress it in? She shook her head, not wanting to add that headache to her worries tonight.

“I know,” Mary said. “It seems silly to fill a river with water and call it a lake, but it's the only one we've got around here.”

“No,” Kylee began to explain what she had actually been thinking, then thought better of it. “It's not so silly,” she finished.

Dan switched onto yet another freeway. “How many freeways are there around here?” she asked, amazed at the complexity of getting home.

“Not that many,” he laughed again. “This is the circuitous route, but it's quicker.”

Kylee nodded, making a mental note to look up “circuitous” the next time she saw a dictionary. It was nice to hear that the trip was almost over. Maybe they would even let her take a sandwich and some apples or cookies with her. It would give her something to eat later.

“Almost home,” Dan announced as he finally turned into the lane to exit the freeway. Val Vista Road the sign said. What kind of name was Val Vista? He turned right at the stop light and passed more businesses before they reached some housing. Kylee kept expecting them to turn into one of the nice housing developments but they kept going until they went over some railroad tracks. Finally, he turned onto a dirt road with houses spaced well apart. The road curved around to the left and a garage door ahead began to open.

Dan pulled into the open garage and stopped the car. “Here we are!” he announced. “Wait!” he said as Kylee began to open the door. “Let me help you out.”

“I can do it,” she protested.

“Sure you can,” he agreed. “But a little help isn't going to hurt you.”

Before she could say anything more he was out of the car and around to her door. He helped his mom out first and then opened Kylee's door. He held a hand out. She stared at it for a minute then slowly reached her hand out and placed it in his. His hand was warm and soft and gentle and encompassed hers completely as he tugged a bit to help her out. Kylee found that she needed the help after her legs had been still for so long.

“Oh!” she gasped.

“What?” Mary asked as she pulled things out of the car. A pile was accumulating: the cooler, jackets, a small tapestry bag.

“My feet feel a little strange is all.” Kylee explained. She placed a hand under her swollen belly and peered around it to look down. “Holy cow!” she groaned.

Mary steeped over to look. “Honey,” she laughed. “Your feet are swollen!”

“They sure are!” Kylee tried to laugh as well, but it sounded more like a small sob.

“It's ok,” Mary gave her a one-arm hug. “It'll go away once you rest a little. Here, come with me. Daniel will unload the car and we can get you settled down and resting so your feet will feel better.”

Kylee allowed her to steer her into the house, Mary's arm still around her shoulders, and away from the offensive car. The house would be warmer anyway.

“Mom!” a girl screeched as she plowed around the corner to fling herself into her mother's arms. “Oh!” she stopped suddenly when she saw Kylee.

“Janie, this is Kylee. She caught a ride home with us and will be staying for dinner.” Mary introduced the two. “Kylee, my daughter Janie.”

“Hi,” Kylee shyly said.
“Hi. When's your baby due?” Janie asked. She was twelve years old and very curious about everything. She had the same dark hair and Dan and Mary and the same good looks;dark eyes, pleasant face, smiling mouth.

“A few weeks, I think.” Kylee said.

“You think?” Mary asked. “You don't know? When did you last visit your doctor? And what is he thinking allowing you to travel at this point in your pregnancy?” Mary was quite indignant at the thought of this lovely young girl not being properly taken care of.

“I don't have a doctor,” Kylee quietly admitted.

“No doctor? Well, who's looking after you then?” Mary demanded. Dan pushed by them with his first load of luggage.

“How about some help, Jane?” he asked.

“In a minute.” This conversation was far more interesting.

“Well?” Mary was still waiting for her answer.

“I am.” Kylee said.

“Where is that baby's father?”

Kylee shrugged, having absolutely no idea and not really wanting to know anyway as he was the reason she had left her little Texas town, but wishing that she could sit. Her feet were killing her and she was feeling very tired and worn out again.

Mary muttered something about irresponsible youth as she hustled Kylee away from the door, through the kitchen, the family room, and into a cozy living room and with overstuffed chair that she was promptly pushed into with her feet propped up on an ottoman. “You wait here,” she ordered in such a voice that Kylee wouldn't dream of moving.

“Rachel! Nephi!” she called as she moved out of the room. “I'm home!”

More people crowded around Mary, hugging her and asking about her trip. One was another dark-haired girl, a couple of years older that Janie. The other had to be her husband as he was an older man, also with dark hair, though his was graying at the temples. He was obviously where Dan had gotten his looks from.

Dan moved back into view, arms laden with bags and suitcases. “Next time I want to go, too.” Rachel pouted.

“Here, start practicing,” Dan pushed some of the bags into her arms.

“That wasn't what I had in mind!” Rachel called over her shoulder as she walked down the hallway and disappeared.

Everyone moved into the kitchen and out of Kylee's sight. Without the noise and excitement around, she quickly fell asleep again.



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