Sometimes that imaginary line in the sand is the only thing stopping you from loving. Parker is homeless. He's hot, tired, hungry, and thirsty. He has never expected miracles in his short life. They don't happen to him. When he's picked up on the side of the road by a well-meaning grandfather, he's driven to Jasper. Another small town on another long stretch of highway. One that would be nothing but a place to get a meal with the twenty he reluctantly accepts from the compassionate driver. Ian can well remember the sight of his niece that long ago morning Caleb brought her shivering, terrified, and homeless to his door. Unable to leave the young man, he offers the first kindnesses Parker will have known in more than three years. Through Ian, Caleb, and their family, Parker regains his dignity, and his ambition to reach goals taken from him. It's a slow process for him because trust doesn't happen overnight. But by the time he's found a family, love, and dreams, he also realizes he may have found home.
Parker hefted his backpack onto a shoulder, his other arm held out with his thumb up. The passing vehicle didn’t even slow down. The hot cyclone of dry air it left in its wake made him grimace. He paused to let it rush beyond him as the sultry August heat beat down on him. He was used to walking. Except every now and then, a cool car would be welcome.
He adjusted the large cowboy hat on his head and started moving again. Forward. He never wanted to go in reverse again. Why be somewhere after you’ve already been there? He wanted to go where he’d never been, and that was in front of him. Never behind.
Parker walked through the noonday heat into the afternoon. He held out his thumb, though no one ever stopped. They hardly did anymore. Not that he could blame them. People died making goodwill efforts. He couldn’t imagine doing anything like that. He hated to fight. Hated to hurt others. If those facts made him a pussy, then so be it. Lord knew his father had called him that and worse over the years.
He stopped under a shade tree a few yards from the road, resting, aware he was rambling in his thoughts. Sunstroke, dehydration, and no food. Not a good combination for a lone man traversing the country’s highways. Sinking to the ground, he fanned his face with his hat. His boots were dusty. He was filthy. He’d forgotten what a hot shower felt like. Idly, he played with a loose side tooth with the tip of his tongue. Sooner or later, he’d have to do something about it. One too many hits from his dad. It was getting worse, which wasn’t a good sign.
A beat up truck slowed at the roadside. He didn’t blink, waiting. There was a grinding, metallic creak as a window rolled down to expose the driver. A gnarled older man that had to be eighty if he was a day leaned on the wheel. “You need a ride, boy? You’s lookin’ mighty peak-ed.”
Parker nodded. “
How far you goin’?”
“As far as you can take me.” He’d never had a destination.
“Climb in the back.” He hooked a thumb over a shoulder. Parker stood at the offer. “I can get you to Jasper. It’s apiece up the road yet.”
It wasn’t AC, but it wasn’t walking. Parker nodded grimly. “Appreciated.”
He tossed his hat and backpack over the truck sidewall then hefted himself in to sit behind the cab. He rested an arm over an upright, bent knee.
The driver spoke through the rear cab window before getting a good speed up. “Name’s Grint. I’d let you up here, but I’m driving to see my grandbaby. Daughter will have a might fit if the truck is filthy.”
The old man’s grumbling made him smile. “I don’t mind. Thanks for the ride.”
“You’s welcome. Hang on back there. I’ll let you know when we hit town.”
Parker closed his eyes. It wasn’t so bad. The chance to rest helped. He didn’t know how long they drove. He didn’t have a watch or a phone. In the grand scheme of his world, neither mattered.
He jerked and blinked his eyes when the driver’s door slammed shut. “Wake up. This is as far as I can take you.”
Parker swiveled on his neck taking in the town in a first glance. “Jasper, huh?”
“It ain’t N’Awlins,” the old man scoffed, then cackled a dry laugh like he’d made a knee slapper of a joke.
Parker slung his pack over a shoulder and crammed his hat on his head, gliding over the edge to land on his feet. “Thanks, Grint.” He went to shake, but faltered.
The man held out a twenty dollar bill. “Here, son. You need this more than I do today.”
“I can’t take your money.” He attempted to back away, smacking into the truck behind him.
“When you have it, give it t’a person who needs it more ‘an you.” Grint managed to stuff it in his front pocket, ignoring his refusals. “Two doors from the bakery is grub. Get a meal ‘afore you take off outta town ‘gain.” With that, Grint turned and walked down the sidewalk to one of the other storefronts, leaving him standing there on the sidewalk confused. The kindness of strangers never ceased to amaze him. He pushed fingers into his pocket, feeling the stiff crispness of the bill.
It was real. He bowed his head and sent a silent thank you to Grint for being bothered enough to stop today. He looked the way Grint had told him to go, making out the red and white striped banner that had to be the bakery. Self-conscious of his disheveled state, he hurried as quickly as he could past doors, spotting the entry for the restaurant. White script on the door proclaimed it to be Lucy’s. He hoped they didn’t turn him away because he was a walking wreck.
Just as he reached the door, ready to put his best foot forward and hopefully get to eat, he spotted the large cop at the register. Beige on brown uniform, the thick, black holster belt that sat at his hips, and the two pairs of black steel cuffs clipped on the back. He did an about face that made him dizzy and he stumbled a step. Parker tried to take another step, reaching for something to firm his balance against. He found air. Sweat broke out on his forehead. Noise vacuumed to his own harsh panting and nothing else. He swayed as his knees turned to water.
“Hey, easy there!” Strong hands captured him at the waist. “Here, sit down and put your head between your knees.”
He sank numbly to the curb and did as told. He’d learned a long time ago, acquiescing early on meant less pain later. “I didn’t do anything,” he croaked, shivering. He hated being roughed by the law. Hated it.
“Just breathe,” said the soothing, deep voice.
“Is he okay?”
“Don’t know yet.” That was the man behind him. Calm, in charge.
“Officer Drew? Wha’cha doin’ t’a that young’un?”
Parker recognized that voice. Grint.
Parker caught the motion as a beige leg and more than likely the body it was attached to moved into his vision to talk to Grint, yet the hand on his shoulder remained.
So it wasn’t the cop holding him down.
“Think you can sit up now?” Still calm. Unaggressive. Parker knew better than to trust it. He was too outnumbered. Parker nodded silently. He grasped his hat and held it in his hands, trying to look around. The cop, the man behind him, Grint, and a lady he could only guess was his daughter holding a young toddler.
“Sorry,” Parker mumbled.
“You gonna let that boy go eat, Ian? He ain’t hurtin’ nuthin’.”
“Making sure he’s okay,” he said loud enough to be heard. “Are you okay?” he gently asked Parker.
Parker nodded. The man stood and offered a hand. Looking at how dirty his were, Parker studied the man’s, Ian’s, and noticed he had a mechanic’s hands. Some professions you could tell by a man’s hands. He had no idea whose could be worse at that moment. He clasped the hand above him and found his feet.