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Saving Della Ray
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Everybody said, stay away from him. He was trouble. Big trouble.
One look at his big, black monster of a bike and the wild tattoos that snaked out of his leather jacket onto his hands and neck and I knew they were dead right.
The last thing I needed was more trouble. I had enough just paying my bills and taking care of my little niece. She was a special needs child so all the money I earned flowed into her care and education.
In any event, I was a good girl. I didn’t date bad boys. Oh, no, not me.
Not even when they looked like Gage…. and they set my body on fire every time they came within shouting distance of me.
In my world nothing was as it seemed, and danger lurked everywhere. One wrong move could mean a violent death.
I was supposed to keep my head down and focus on what I needed to do. Not go around playing the good Samaritan.
But when I saw that delectable mouth tremble with shame I couldn’t help myself.
I thought I could just blend back into shadows afterwards, but the more I tried to ignore her, the worse I throbbed for her.
She couldn’t understand why I kept pushing her away, but she didn’t know I had a secret.
A secret that could end her world as she knew it.
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“What?” I croaked.
The cashier pulled my MasterCard out of her card reader, and stopped chewing gum long enough to repeat loudly, “I said, your card has been declined.”
My face burned with embarrassment. I could feel the gaze of everyone in that store on me. I wanted to run out of there and never go back, but this was now my local. Tightening my hold on my niece’s warm sweaty hand, I swallowed the shame crawling up my throat and said, “It can’t be. I just got paid. Can you please try it again?”
Her bored eyes were a dull amber as she held my card out to me. “There’s a bunch of people waiting behind you, ma’am. I know a declined card when I see one.”
I forced a smile. “Please. Sometimes it doesn’t go through on the first time, but if you try it again, it does. I work at the diner down the road and it happens to my customers occasionally.”
She stared blankly at me.
I let go of Jess and leaned towards the cashier. “Just one more time, please. I’m pretty sure it will go through.”
“Go on. Give her card another try. We haven’t got all day,” the woman behind me said.
I turned to meet the queue of eyes watching me with various expressions, impatience, annoyance, curiosity, and outright pity. “Sorry about this,” I said with an awkward smile to no one in particular.
With a long-suffering sigh, the cashier slid my card back in. My paycheck should have cleared, but as I tapped in my pin number, I could feel the sweat begin to gather under my arms. Silently, I prayed the card would go through. Otherwise, Jess would be eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner tonight.
The cashier turned the face of her machine in my direction. “Declined,” she said loudly, as if she was pleased to have proved me wrong. “Martin!” she bellowed. “Can you come here for non-payment re-shelving?”
“Coming,” a male voice answered from somewhere at the back of the store.
I didn’t bother to wait. I picked up my card from the cold steel counter, straightened my back and gave Jess the sweetest smile I could muster. “Let’s go, Sweetie.”
-Knocking On Heaven’s Door-
I looked at the blonde child’s head bobbing innocently. Then I looked again at the girl. Her face was flushed with embarrassment, but that smile which she gave the child. There was something majestic and noble in it. I saw that selfless smile once when I pulled a woman out of a burning car. “My baby. Is my baby safe?” she’d asked. When I said yes, she had smiled like that just before she breathed her last. I stared at the girl in fascination. She was too thin. Her clothes were clean, but well worn.
Let it go. Let it go.
She wasn’t my problem. Her check would clear in a couple of days and she would come back for the groceries. Not the end of the world. I definitely shouldn’t get involved. No way. Not with a girl like that. One look at her and I knew she would be a big complication. I didn’t need even a small complication.
“What about the groceries for our nice dinner, Della?” the kid asked innocently.
The girl took the child’s hand in hers with such infinite tenderness that something happened inside me. I felt a tug in my chest. Like the first time I looked into the big, bottomless eyes of a child whose father I had just killed. He didn’t cry. He didn’t scream. He just stared at me with blank empty eyes. I knew I had destroyed him. As I’d turned and walked away, something inside me shattered. I was never the same again. Sometimes I still dream of him.
I didn’t consciously plan it, but suddenly I had pushed my way to the front of the narrow aisle.
She looked up at me, frowned, and pulled the little girl to her.
I put my carton of milk on the counter and dropped some twenty-dollar notes next to it. “This should cover both bills.”
The cashier’s eyes widened. “You want to pay her bill?”
I didn’t answer her. I didn’t even wait for my change. I needed air, even if it was the suffocating hot noon air outside. I grabbed my carton of milk and walked away without looking at the girl. I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t get involved. There should be no blowback from this moment of weakness. It could mean the difference between life or death for her and me.
-I need some sugar in my bowl-
I watched his damp cascade of dark hair, the black T-shirt that showed his strong back; the tightly muscled and inked arms, and the stone washed black jeans that hugged his lean hips as he strode out of the store.
“Ma’am, take your groceries, please,” the cashier prompted.