Read The boys of summer Online

Authors: C.J Duggan

The boys of summer (page 6)

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Each time the cool breeze flowed through thetrees it whipped around me, fluttering my loose peach singlet andrefreshing my skin that was slick with a light sheen ofperspiration. I stopped in the shade of a towering gum tree.Letting the bike rest on my hip, I pulled my hair up off my neckand closed my eyes, allowing myself to cool and rest for five.

The serenity was disturbed by the distantsound of kookaburras mocking me with their laughter. I peeked oneeye open and listened closer. A sound was slowly closing in with amurmur that became louder and louder. What was that … a car?Possible salvation? Oh,pleasedon’t be a serial killer. Iwas desperate, but not desperate enough to hitchhike with a scarylocal who liked to play the banjo. I grabbed my bike and continuedto walk, cool, calm and collected, instead of sweaty, bloody damselin distress. I would politely decline any invitation and rough italone, surely it wasn’t much further?

The thudding of a burly vehicle and sound ofmusic closed in behind me. The engine slowed, causing the hairs onthe back of my neck to raise. The music volume lowered.

Oh no, no, no. Please keep going.

I walked faster, looking straight ahead, mybike chain rattling more insistently.

Leave me alone, it’s a nice summer’s day,can’t a girl take her bike for a walk?

The car crawled now, it could be a creepywhite van with a hooded deviant behind the wheel, I just knew it. Ihad watched enough late-night horror movies with Adam and Ellie toknow all about stranger danger. My heart was leaping out of mychest. I know I said I would never leave my bike, but, honestly, Iwas getting to the point of ditching the sucker and heading for thehills screaming MURDERER.

That’s when I heard my name.

Chapter Ten

Tess?”

I stopped abruptly, before I spun to see anavy Ford crawling along beside me. I tilted my head slightly andfound a mystified expression peering out at me through the openwindow.

“What are you doing out here?” said Toby.

Toby? Toby was behind the wheel. It wasn’t aserial killer, it wasToby.

I inhaled a deep breath of relief. “Oh, thankGod it’s you! I thought you were a murderer.”

His brows raised in surprise.

“Are you alright?”

No, I wanted to pout,I amsuffering from sunstroke, dehydration, starvation.And I wasall of a sudden keenly aware of how sweaty and awful I must havelooked. I discreetly pushed my fingers through my hair and smiledin good humour, my eyes flicking to my bike.

“I’m afraid she has given up the ghost.”

Ugh! That would be something my dad wouldsay.

Toby pulled over and got out of his vehiclein one fluid movement. He was in his work pants and work shirt thathad Tobias embroidered in yellow on his pocket. The little detailmade me smile. I had only ever heard Sean call him that, and I waspretty sure it was to deliberately hit a nerve.

He gave me a coy smile as he made a directline to crouch and examine my bike. I was mesmerised by his swiftlymoving hands; he had beautiful hands. I had often wondered how theyalways seemed so amazingly clean, considering his job was to becovered in grease and oil all day, every day. He must have someheavy duty industrial cleaner to wash his hands with every night.This thought led me to visions of him at home, showering, gettingready for a night out with the boys at the Onslow for dinner andpool. His hair was always slightly damp, with just the slightesttouch of hair product. He wouldn’t do much more than that, hedidn’t need to; he was naturally perfect. Whenever I brushed pasthim in the crowded poolroom, there was always a hint of a fresh,clean, crisp aftershave. It made me want to be close to him, tobask in all that was Toby.

I snapped myself out of my daydream when helooked back up at me.

“This chain’s history. Where are youheaded?”

I didn’t want to confess I was just goofingaround on my summer holidays, giving little thought to much else.That was the beauty of it. It was meant to be a voyage to forgetall my troubles, all thoughts of him and Angela last night. Andthen here he was straightening up in front of me, looking down atme with those questioning brown eyes.

“Oh, I should be getting home, I hadn’tplanned on being out so long.”

Ugh! God, that sounded like I had a curfew;that I would be in trouble if I didn’t scurry home to Mum and Dad.Why didn’t I just say I was headed to the Onslow to pick up my pay,because I was a responsible working woman? I could have even askedif he wanted to join me for a drink? Like grownups do. Have afriendly chat.

About what exactly? Cars? School? Hisgirlfriend?

“If you want, I can give you a lift home,” hesaid.

I tried not to look so overjoyed, but thethought of being rescued by Toby was an even better outcome than Icould have ever hoped for.

“Yes, please! I don’t want to die out here,not like this.”

He smirked. “Murderers, death; you have adark mind, Tess.”

And before I could hide my smile, he grabbedmy bike and lifted it onto the bed of his ute. The very same one Isaw parked in his drive, or occasionally at the Onslow Hotel. Deepnavy, big and bulky, this was a man’s vehicle. A vehicle I wasabout to climb into.

I fought to overcome my nerves as I openedthe passenger door. I hoisted myself up inside. Toby was busysecuring my bike in the back. On the passenger floor was a lunchbox and thermos. I slid my feet away from the items, which wasn’tdifficult considering the ample room inside. There weren’tindividual seats but a light cream bench seat, with nothingdividing me from Toby. I leaned my arm on the open windowsill andpondered. You could fit three bodies in for a ride with ease ifsomeone was pressed up next to the driver. I wondered who hadridden in this car with him. Sean? Stan? Angela?

Okay, let’s not think about that.

Toby pulled open the driver’s door, and hefilled the rest of the cab’s interior. He fired up the beast of anengine and pulled into gear, gloriously tearing up the bitumen. Istole a quick glance in the side view mirror and grabbed my hairthat was flailing around from the open window. I held it back atthe base of my neck, and my wispy fringe momentarily blinded me. Istole a sideways glance at Toby. He met my eyes briefly and smiled.I looked quickly out the window. In my peripheral vision, I watchedas Toby’s suntanned arm rested on top of the wheel, his other armleaning casually on the open window. He was relaxed and confidentbehind the wheel. It was of little wonder; if he got his learner’sat sixteen he would have been driving for six years by now. Icalculated it in my mind. I would have been 11 when he starteddriving. I tried not to think too much about that.

An awkward silence swept over us, only to bebroken by Toby’s cough before he spoke.

“So, where did you go last night?”

I tried not to shift in my seat at hisquestion. I was hoping that my sudden disappearance after theglass-breaking episode would go unnoticed. I guess not.

“Oh, you know, kitchen duties beckoned.”

“Oh?” He seemed surprised.

“Yeah, whenever a crisis breaks out theyshine a giant K in the sky, and I hightail it.”

“So you head to the phone booth and changeinto your apron and rubber gloves?” Toby’s mouth turned up at thecorners. Just a little.

“Isn’t that Superman?”

“Oh right, sorry. My bad, giant K in the sky:you’re rocking it Batman style.”

“Exactly. Except if I was Batman, I wouldn’tbe needed in the kitchen full stop. Bruce Wayne doesn’t dokitchens.”

“You could serve customers like the speed ofa bullet.”

I laughed, shaking my head. “Again, Superman.Why don’t you know this stuff? What did you do as a kid, spend itoutdoors or something?”

“Misspent youth, clearly. I obviously don’tknow my superheroes at all.” He frowned as if deeply distressed. “Imust look into that.”

“I would if I were you, that’s kind ofembarrassing.”

He flashed a smile my way, before turning hisgaze back to the road. There was more silence, but this time itwasn’t uncomfortable. I turned to peer at my bike rattling away inthe back.

“So, the old girl,” I tilted my headbackwards, “will she ride again?”

Toby glanced at me then back to the road;that elusive upward tilt of his lips reappeared as if he wasfighting not to smile.

“Let me put it this way. I thought I’d haveto surround it with some sheets and bring out the 22 to put it outof its misery.”

My eyebrows rose. “You carry a 22?”

“You think carrying sheets isn’t weird?”

“Yeah, but sheets aren’t deadly.”

“You haven’t been to an all-boys boardingschool.”

“Ew! Okay, give me a gun.”

There it was, that smile. He made no effortto hide it now. It shone brightly, lighting up his entire face.

“Are we talking about guns and dirty boys’sheets?” Toby frowned.

“You started it,” I said. “Sheets aside,which I really don’t want to know about, did you really go toboarding school?”

“Yep, my parents shipped me off in Year 7.The longest year of my life. I ended up just mucking up until theyhad no choice but to bring me home.”

I stared at him for the longest time. Tryingto imagine Toby ever being bad, I just couldn’t picture it.

“So the sheets were that bad, huh?”

He burst out laughing; it was a wonderfulsound, rich and warm. It made my skin tingle.

He shook his head as he refocused on theroad.

“You have no idea!”

It was a bizarre conversation, our firstformed sentences alone together. Well, there was the party but thatdoesn’t count. How would I tell Ellie about my bonding session inToby’s ute?

She would squeal and insist that I tell hereverything, and she’d ask the most obvious question. “So what didyou talk about?”

Umm, guns and dirty sheets?

It would probably be better to go all crypticand tell her: ‘stuff’.

We pulled into my driveway; Toby killed theengine and jumped out, rounding the back of the ute to untie mybike. While I climbed slowly from the cab, I watched as he liftedmy bike like it weighed nothing, his flexed, bronzed biceps theonly proof of any strain.

“Where do you want it?”

In my bedroom.

I mentally slapped myself and fought not toblush.

He waited for me to answer.

“Umm, I just keep it in the garage.”

He nodded and walked it over, leaning itagainst the far wall.

“Just there’s fine,” I said, “thanks, Toby.”His name sounded so strange, so intimate on my tongue. I wanted tosay it again.

He looked at the bike, in deep thought.

“You’ll be out of action until you get a newchain.”

“Yeah, I’ll go and buy one tomorrow.”

Because I was now a responsible working womanwho could buy things like that. I would forgo the cute little skirtfrom Carters and buy a bike chain.

So depressing.

“Well, if you need someone to fit it …”

“Oh, that’s okay, my dad will do it.”

And as soon as the words came out, I wantedto kick myself, preferably with steel-capped boots. Had he justoffered to fix my bike? And I had blurted out that no, my daddywould do it?

IDIOT!!

“Cool, well, they’re not that dear so youshould pick one up down at Mac’s store.”

I started to walk him to the car, but hepaused, head tilted as he looked at my leg.

“You’re bleeding.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, just had anup-close-and-personal encounter with the bitumen,” I said. “Itdoesn’t hurt.”

Like hell it doesn’t!

His brows creased with concern and hecrouched to examine it closer. My breath hitched in my throat as helightly touched the skin around my knee. I fought to keep mybreathing steady with the intimacy of it. He straightened, his lookstill serious.

“I have a first aid kit in my glove box; comeon, let’s clean you up.”

We had a first aid kit in the house, but Iwasn’t blowing it a second time. I followed him to his ute.

“Jump up on the tray,” he called over hisshoulder as he headed to flip open the glove box and retrieve asmall, blue zip-up case. I had planned to follow his advice when Inoticed, due to my five-foot-nothing stature and the height of thetray, there was no way I could master it gracefully. Before I couldeven voice the issue, Toby had read the troubled look on my face.Without a word, he was by my side. With a small smile, he placedthe first aid kit and a bottle of water on the tray.

“Here.” Before I had time to think, his handswere on my waist and, as if I weighed nothing more than a feather,he boosted me up to perch on the tray. I fought not to squeal insurprise and my hands grabbed onto his shoulders for leverage.

“You okay?” he asked, his hands still on mysides, as if securing me in place.

I nodded all too quickly. He smiled at theaffirmation and let me go. I could still feel the pressure of hishands, the feel and flex of his muscles as I was suddenly airborne.I could tell I was blushing profusely and hoped it might pass assunburn.

I straightened my leg for his attention, ashe rummaged through the first aid kit.

I arched a brow. “Rescue many damsels indistress?”

A crooked grin formed on his lips, but hedidn’t meet my eyes. “Every day! It’s a tireless job.”

My skin tingled from his touch as his handclasped under my knee to hold my leg steady.

“Looks like you’re the Superman then? Comingto the rescue and all.”

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