Hawthorne & Heathcliff
Author:R.K. Ryals

There was a light clunk on the worn, tile floor, and a blue marker rolled against my desk. Leaning down, I snatched it, my fingers gripping it so hard my knuckles whitened. This was it. Heathcliff had not only found a new way to talk to me, he’d found a way to talk to my fear, my fear of walking away.

There’d been a test after his shoe’s question, another short discussion about poetry and a new required reading book, and finally free time. I’d started working on the mirror assignment then, but first I dropped a sheet of paper, the marker in my hand as I knelt to retrieve it.

My shoe bumped against his shoe as I sat upright, a clumsy, blue cookies instead? written on the side.

It was then I found the words to start Mrs. Callahan’s assignment. Every now and then, words just happen. For me, these words were like a recipe, an odd order that may not make sense at first, but completely works together when it’s finished.

Hawthorne Macy

I’m a cook. I like making food because I can take a variety of components and make something old, comfortable, new, or unique out of it. My life is like a recipe. In my mirror, I see the ingredients, my uncle and me. I’m not sure how we work, but we do. Each time I’ve glanced into the glass growing up, I’ve seen him behind me. At first, I was a little girl with terrible hair, my bewildered uncle standing at my back, his flabbergasted eyes on my tangled head. I think that’s how we came to be, Gregor and me. He was left with a terrible muddle of a girl, and he had to figure out how to put her back together.

The bell rang, and I startled, my notebook snapping shut. The classroom emptied, busy feet rushing for the door. Only one pair of shoes other than mine remained.

His shadow loomed over me. “You said something about cookies?”

Standing, I stuffed my things into my messenger bag, my face averted. “Today? You don’t have anything else you have to do?”

Heathcliff rocked back on his heels, his hands finding his blue jean pockets. “One delivery. You wouldn’t want to go with me, would you?”

I hesitated. I wasn’t sure what Heathcliff saw in me, why he felt this need to keep trying so hard. He was taking me out of my comfort zone, and while it bothered me, it also felt oddly exhilarating.

I was quiet too long, and he leaned close. “Come on, ride with me. I’ve got my truck today, and I’ll take you home afterward.”

With a quick, unsure glance at the door, I found myself murmuring, “Okay.”

His shoes rocked forward, his step light as he led me from the room and out of the school, his feet pounding over brown grass and pavement. An old two door Toyota truck sat in the parking lot, the red paint having seen better days.

Heathcliff pulled the squeaking passenger door open, and then patted the roof. “1985, four wheel drive, 22RE motor, and over 200,000 miles on her. She’s not young, but she’s strong.”

My gaze fell to the cracked and faded black leather bench seat within, and I ducked under his arm, my messenger bag hitting the leaf and dust strewn floorboard.

Heathcliff rounded the truck, his fist tapping the hood before he swung open the driver’s side door and climbed in. Reaching for the floor, he grabbed a work jacket, shook it off outside, and offered it to me.

“I’ve got to do a little work on the heat and air,” he admitted. “I kind of like riding with the windows down though. Even in winter.”

My fingers dug into the rough blue jean coat, my arms sliding into the insulated sleeves. It smelled faintly of oil and pine needles.

He started the truck, his arm falling over the back of the seat as he pulled out of the parking lot. “You seemed distracted at the end of class. Finally started writing on the paper?”

A couple of turns, and the road began disappearing under the truck, the yellow lines moving faster and faster. The wind rushed in through the open windows, roaring through my ears and chilling me. It smelled like bark, exhaust, and ice, even though it wasn’t snowing and rarely did in our hometown.

When I didn’t answer, Heathcliff’s voice rose above the wind. “I know why you won’t look at me.”

My head shot up, my gaze on his windshield. There was a crack in the glass, one line that curved upward over the windshield wiper before sinking back into the hood.

“You’re scared I’ll see the pain.” His fingers brushed the jacket I wore, his hand dangling near my shoulder. “You’re not hiding anything, Hawthorne.”

My lips parted, my fingers gripping the open window, the metal cold against my palm. “Why are you trying so hard to get close to me?”

The truck slowed, the wind becoming less desperate, its fingers no longer ripping at my hair.

“You’re genuine,” he said. “I could use genuine.”

We passed a large Vincent Hardware & Quik-Stop sign, and Heathcliff pulled the truck into the parking lot. Vincent’s was one of those one stop kind of places. There were three wooden buildings, all attached in some way, all square and mostly unadorned. The largest was the hardware store, a separate dirt parking lot behind it. The middle building, attached to the first by a breezeway, was a small café, and the smallest was a convenience store with four gas pumps. The smell of wood, gas, and greasy hamburgers infiltrated my nostrils.

Heathcliff’s door creaked. “I’ve just got to grab a few things.”

Leaving the truck idling, he jogged into the hardware store. There were a wide variety of vehicles parked in the lot, most of them newer and older model pickups. A group of rough, oil-stained men stood outside chatting. Kids from school crowded into the café, yells rising over strains of country music.

Curious gazes met me through the window, and my eyes fell to my lap.

The truck’s tailgate came down, voices rising as wood hit the bed. The truck shook.

“This needs to go to the Parkers. If there’s no one around, Kenny said you could just stack it in the old barn,” a deep male voice ordered.

The tailgate slammed shut, and Heathcliff’s door re-opened.

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