A/N: I'm back! I know it's been so long since I've uploaded anything and I hope you do enjoy this new story of mine. I'm also working on a revision of Insane Doesn't Even Begin to Cover It... so look forward to that soon as well! Please don't forget to R&R!

The sound of gravel crunching alerts me to the presence of a car pulling up next to me. I don't react, keeping my head down and my pace even. I've known they've been following me for the past few blocks, only now having the courage to approach me now that I'm leaving the busy late-night commercial streets and heading further into an industrial area. The person in the car seems to grow fed up with my lack of acknowledgement and I hear the sound of the window being rolled down.

"Hey!" I stay quiet. He hasn't earned my attention yet… not until he offers me something I want. "Hey, look at me! C'mon, you need a ride?" That catches my attention, and I slow my pace, stopping to look at the man in the car next to me. He seems to be only a few years older than my own eighteen year old self, maybe twenty two at least. His head is shaved, and he's got piercings decorating his face.

"A ride would be nice." I say cautiously, I know offers like these don't come without an expected form of payment.

"Then hop on in." He leans over and shoves open the passenger side door. A few wrinkled fast food wrappers fall out onto the asphalt as he pulls his arm back, a testament to the state of the inside of his car. The cracked leather seats stick to my thighs as I sit, closing the door next to me.

I feel the man's eyes on me, appraising my appearance and I can only guess what he's seeing. It's been a while since I've seen my reflection in anything other than a dirty fast food restaurant bathroom mirror, but I know I'm not the most pleasing sight right now. I can feel the dirt caking my skin, can see it reflected on my bare knees below the hem of my dirty blue jean mini skirt. I hug my too-large thrifted army surplus jacket closer to my body, ignoring the man's sharp intake of breath as the motion pushes my cleavage up further in my small black tank top, stolen from a store I'd passed my first day out on the road.

Finally, he pulls away from the curb and turns back onto the busy street, out of the industrial zone. The warehouses fade into commercial buildings, boutiques, restaurants and tech spaces all vying for every passerbys attention, their neon signs gleaming loudly from the windows, music playing loud enough sometimes for me to hear it on the inside of the car.

"So… what's your name?" He asks, and I turn my head to look at him. He has one hand on the steering wheel, the other resting on his thigh.

"What's yours?" I retort, eliciting a chuckle from him. He pulls one of his lip rings into his mouth, a cheeky smile spreading across his face.

"Fair enough. I'm Tyler."

"Stella." I say after a moment's hesitation. It's still not easy to talk to strangers, even after all my time alone.

"Stella… that's got a nice ring to it. Where you headed, Miss Stella?" Tyler asks, eyes trailing once more over my body. "If it's far I'm not too sure imma be able to give you a ride there without some… compensation." I can already see the bulge forming in his jeans, and I have to fight to roll my eyes.

Men are all the same

Turning my head back to the window, I lose myself in the neon glow as I move my legs apart, bracing them on either side of the small passenger foot space. A few empty cups crunch as I move my feet, I feel something sticky rub onto my bare skin from touching the center console, but nothing distracts me from the way his fingers feel as his hand leaves his thigh and makes its way from my knee and down to my panty-less core.

He draws another sharp intake of breath when he realizes there's no fabric separating his probing fingers from the skin he sought, and soon they're at work, moving too fast to be pleasurable but I wasn't about to teach this stranger how to get a girl off the right way.

It's only for a ride…

"So Miss Stella, you never did tell me where you wanna go?" He phrases his panted words as a question, getting himself all worked up over me, to the point where he sometimes lets go of the steering wheel to rub himself through his jeans.

"Anywhere." I breathe, leaning my forehead against the cool glass of the window. The commercial lights are fading now, we're heading out onto open highway, trees bordering the road. It's getting harder to see in the dimming evening light, but I don't mind. He doesn't argue with my answer, continuing his failing ministrations on my clit, trying unsuccessfully to angle his fingers to penetrate me. I close my eyes to the sound of his grunts of frustration, dozing off into a stupor of boredom and my own self-made armor of doing what it takes to survive.

"See ya later, Miss Stella." Tyler says as he drops me off in the parking lot of a run down gas station the next morning. He drove till his tank was empty, fueled up and left me here. Wherever here is. I'd stopped paying attention to the road signs long before we arrived.

Sighing, I adjust my skirt and try in vain to run my fingers through my tangled mess of hair, but I know it does no use. The heat outside is sweltering as it's the middle of summer and I step inside the gas station. My nose is first hit with the overwhelming smell of weed and body odor, and I look at the guy at the counter as I walk in. He hurriedly hides the joint he was smoking down below the counter where I can't see.

"Bathroom?" I ask, and he coughs out a little smoke.

"One dollar."

I bite my lip, rubbing my fingers against the last dollar I had to my name, crumpled in the bottom of my jacket pocket. Do I really need to use the bathroom that bad? My bladder says yes, but my brain says no. However, my bladder wins the argument and I slap the dollar down on the counter, feeling a physical pain in my chest when he snatches it up and deposits it in his pocket. He smirks at me, dangling the key attached to a ruler in front of my face.

"How 'bout a kiss, too?"

Frowning, I snatch the key out of his hand and level a glare at him. "How about you take a fucking shower." I hiss at him, and stomp back outside. I'd seen the restroom door when Tyler had dropped me off. I hold my breath before I swing the door open, and I sure am glad I did because I can feel the wave of putrid stink that hits my face before I smell it. It smells like heated sewage, which is basically what it is thanks to the heat outside and the lack of A/C on the inside.

Nonetheless, I power through it enough to do my business, splash some lukewarm water on my face, and leave. My shoulder-length brown hair is an unruly mess, but no finger-combing is going to fix it. It's from weeks of not showering more than wiping my pits with bathroom faucet water, I can feel how greasy it is without even having to touch it. Sighing, I drop the bathroom key next to the door, grinding it into the dirt with the heel of my combat boot before I walk to the closest road. This place is just off the highway, close enough to where I can still hear the cars flying by at seventy miles an hour, but I still can't find a sign leading me to any sort of public town. There's only three stretches of road, the one that leads back to the highway in front of me, one that leads back to the right of the gas station, and one that follows the same path as the highway, to my right.

Less people is better… I turn and begin my march down the long road that leads back behind the gas station, further into the woods. I keep an even pace on the side of the road, boots trampling the long unkempt grass on the small decline. I don't hesitate to worry about snakes, knowing that the noise I'm making trying to plod my way through the grass would scare off anything hiding.

As I walk, the sun grows higher in the sky and the heat grows more intense. My mouth is dry, my throat parched, but I don't want to stop walking. If I stop walking, I don't know when I'll start again, it's just that hot. And the surrounding woods really don't seem to friendly in the daytime, and probably much less in the evening. The shadows from the trees creep along the road, doing nothing to quell the heat, but even quick glances into the depths of the forest and the deep shadows that hide there let me know it would be much cooler there than on the side of the road.

Nonetheless, I value my life more than shade currently, so I continue my trek. I only stop to take a break when I reach a bridge crossing a small stream. I recognize signs warning about fishing and remembering to clean up after yourself if you fish here, so I follow the path down to the edge of the water and cup my hands in the cool liquid, bathing my face and wetting my mouth. It tastes like heaven going down my throat and I give myself a minute to relax and rejuvenate strength in the momentary freedom from the hot atmosphere next to the asphalt of the road. Luckily, there's no one around here to bother me, and I soon find my way back onto the road.

As I walk further dark clouds roll in over my head, blotting out the sun and casting even further shadows from the trees. A cool breeze kicks up and my short hair drifts across my face, tickling my nose. I curse myself for not getting a jacket with a hood as the first drops of rain begin to fall, big droplets that sting as they drip off the branches of the trees and hit the top of my head.

Well, at least this is sort of a shower…

As I walk I tilt my head back and try to scrub at my face, but I feel like I'm getting nothing done. Nothing but a hard scrub with scalding water and exfoliating soap would be able to get the dirt out of my skin now. Sighing, I wrap my arms around myself and continue walking, ignoring the few cars that pass just as they ignore me too, until I find myself stuck at a crossroads of sorts. The road I had been following continues ahead, curving to the left a little bit. However, to the right there's a road that looks a little more worn down and well-used, but almost hidden in the high grass that borders it. I stand at the junction, looking back and forth. There's a set of road signs across the road from where I am, and I cross the pavement to move back some of the tall grass from the wooden sign that points down the unfamiliar road.

'Swiftbrooke, Oregon, five miles'. Huh, so I'm in Oregon. Knowing where I am sends a little bit more comfort into my veins and I bite my lip. The rain is coming down harder now, and I don't know how long it will be before I reach another town, so I turn down the path to Swiftbrooke and pick up my pace.

It's coming on evening when I finally reach the outskirts of the town. There's another sign welcoming visitors that's got paint chipping, but I'm hopeful the rest of the town isn't as decayed as their sign. The main road is still a bit worn down, but some potholes seem to have been recently filled in with gravel so I take that as a good sign as I walk further. The first buildings that come into sight are residential, small houses with small yards. No one's outside in the rain, but I don't let that deter me and walk more into the center of town. There I find myself on what seems to be the 'main street' here. Immediately my eyes are drawn to the blinking neon sign of the Holly Inn, a motel across the street, and I jog over to the main office.

I open the door and step inside, trying my best to wipe off my boots on the welcome mat but I still squeak as I walk across the linoleum floor to the front desk. There's a middle-aged woman sitting at the desk, feet propped up, flipping through a magazine. Her blonde hair is cut short and styled back away from her face, I'm assuming to make herself look younger than she really is.

She doesn't make any move when I walk in, and I frown for a moment until my eyes fall on the little bell situated on the top of the desk. A small little sign made of paper is taped to the desk in front of it, it reads 'ring me for service'. A little annoyed, I tap my fingers on the bell and it rings, and the woman finally looks up from her magazine. She seems a little surprised to see me, but I don't miss the annoyance in her face as she takes the sight of me in.

"May I help you?" She asks, dropping her feet off the desk and leaning forward. She pops gum I didn't know she had in her mouth, making me flinch.

"I-I need a room."

"Uh huh I can tell. You got money?" Her eyes narrow on me and I swallow hard, remembering my last dollar that was pocketed by the clerk at the gas station.

"No ma'am. But I promise I'll pay it off. I… don't have anywhere else to go." I say, shifting on my feet. I know there's water pooling on the floor because of how thoroughly soaked I am, and I feel bad about it. Her eyes narrow at me once more but she gets up from her chair, placing her hands on the top of the desk. I catch sight of the nametag on her uniform - Darla.

"Lemme go ask my manager. Stay here." She says, before turning and walking into a door behind her. I twist my fingers together, breathing in the smell of cold air conditioning mixed with what I'm assuming is my own stench, and I blush. This is such a bad first impression, there's no way she was gonna give me a room. Sighing, I turn and head back to the door, taking a deep breath to face the downpour once again.

"I thought I told you not to move." Darla's voice comes from behind me and I turn around awkwardly.

"I just…"

"You just nothing. Here, he said you could stay, but you gotta pay it back." She drops a key on the desk and I hurry to snatch it up, as if it's going to disappear forever.

"Thank you so much! I will pay it back, thank you!" I say, nodding my head at her as I turn to leave.

"Uh huh." She says as I leave, settling back down in her previous position. I don't even mind that I can feel her eyes on me as I leave and walk past the glass windows, towards the rooms. I'm just happy to even have a room to stay in.

The number on my key says room six, so I hurry to the line of rooms and find number six, unlocking the door and letting myself in. The room smells stale and un-lived in, but I did see one or two cars in the parking lot so at least the inn is sort of lived in, and not just left to rot. The overhead light flickers on when I flip the switch, and the first thing I do is head straight for the bathroom.

The light in here is a little yellow but at least the mirror is mostly clean, one of the corners broken off. I strip out of my wet clothes and drape them over the top of the door and the towel rack, taking the towel and folding it on top of the toilet. I almost want to cry when I see the small bottles of shampoo and conditioner waiting in the corner of the shower, as well as the pre-packaged bar of soap and cheap razor. I turn the shower on as hot as I can and step in, letting the hot water pour over my body and soak into my skin and hair.

The water that comes off of me stays brown for a lot longer than I wanted it to, a testament to just how filthy I really was. But it feels so nice to work the shampoo into my hair, I use almost the full bottle on it just to get it to feel clean again, and the conditioner does wonders for the tangles. When my hair is done, I rub my skin raw with the soap, getting off as much of the dirt as I can. I also take the time to shave, having not done so in months. The feeling is amazing, and I bless whichever maid was thoughtful enough to leave a tiny bottle of lotion next to the sink as well. By the time I'm done I feel fresh and rejuvenated, but exhausted. I make sure the room door is locked before I collapse on the full sized bed, passing out as soon as my body relaxes into the sheets.

The next morning I wake up to the sun shining on my face through the window. My best guess tells me it's about nine a.m. and the clock next to the bed assures me I'm correct. Sighing, I stretch out in the bed and stare up at the popcorn ceiling. I need to pay Darla back for the room… but that would require staying here for longer than intended. But… maybe it won't be so bad to take a break from running for a little while. He hasn't found me yet, and maybe this place is just far enough off the beaten path to let me have a break for a little while.

Groaning, I get up out of bed and go find my clothes in the bathroom. The skirt and tank top dried some over the night and I tug them on, not loving the cold feeling of partially damp fabric as it slides across my skin. The jacket is a lost cause, though. It's going to need at least another day to dry completely.

I fix my hair as best as I can in the mirror, it's much easier to finger comb now that it's clean, and I finally get it to look somewhat decent. When I finally step outside of my hotel room, key clenched in my fist, I feel blessed by the sunshine. If it was raining I probably wouldn't have the courage to leave again.

Instead, I take off back on main street, looking in windows of shops for any sort of 'help wanted' signs. A few people stare at me as I walk by but I ignore them - maybe they just don't get too many visitors. With the state of their road when I was walking up, I'm going to assume that that's the case. I try to give friendly smiles to everyone but no one seems to want anything to do with me, so eventually I stop trying.

This town isn't the friendliest town I could've walked into

Finally after searching for about thirty minutes I find just what I'm looking for - a help wanted sign. I open the door to the restaurant, stepping into the dim interior. On the inside it looks just like any sports bar I'd seen, with tables for people to sit and eat, and a bar for people to drink at. There's a guy cleaning the bar when I walk in, and I come over to sit in one of the barstools.

"Um hi, I saw your sign… are you hiring?" I ask, and the guy looks up at me, blinking slowly. He seems to be focusing on something over my shoulder and I turn to look, but nothing is there. Frowning, I turn back. "Hello?"

"Oh, hey sorry about that, we don't get too many visitors here. We sure are hiring, let me go get my boss." He tosses his rag down and heads into a door to the left of the bar. After a few moments he comes back out with a short chubby man following him. The guy appraises me and my outfit, lingering on my bare arms.

I know what he sees but I make no move to hide the scars, keeping my eyes level on his face. If scars are going to be the reason why I don't get hired, I would have no problem packing up and leaving town right now. I've got too many of them to count.

"Troy here said you were lookin' for a job?" He asks, and I nod quickly.

"Yes sir, I… just got here and need a way to keep myself on my feet." I say, and he nods, still looking me over.

"You got a place to stay?"

"Yes sir, over at the Holly Inn. Darla, the receptionist, got me a room for free and I'm lookin' to pay her back for it."

"Any experience waiting tables, tending bar?" He asks, and once again I nod. I'd done so much waitressing in my time wandering the roads, and I'd even done the whole bar thing once or twice. It was hard but I liked the challenge.

"Yes sir I've done it a whole bunch."

There's a moment of quiet as he glances back and forth between me and Troy, seeming to have a silent conversation with him. I pick at my nails as I wait, wanting to squirm in my seat thanks to my impatience.

"Alright. You start tonight at seven. You'll be waitressing until Troy sees your skills behind the bar. I'll have a uniform for you when you get here. See you then…" He trails off and I know he's looking for a name.

"Stella. My name is Stella." He nods, and reaches over the bar to shake my hand. His grip is strong but so is mine, and I meet his eyes over our hands, staring at him for just a moment before I avert my gaze and drop my hand. "Thank you again!" I call as I walk out of the restaurant, and back onto the sunny street. It's getting closer to noon but I find myself wanting to explore this little town more, if I'm going to be living here for a while.

I walk up one side of main street and take my time looking in the windows this time, admiring clothing in the little boutiques and pastries in the window of a bakery but not daring to go inside, knowing I look like the runaway that I am. Other places I've been haven't been too welcoming of people that look like me, lost and alone, so I'm assuming this small town won't be too welcoming either. So I ignore the growling in my stomach and head back to the hotel, locking myself away in my room to wait until seven. My hunger hopes that maybe as an employee I can get a meal, but I know not to expect much from my first day. It's just been so long since I've eaten anything other than scraps from a trash can.

When six thirty rolls around I'm more than ready to get to work for my first shift. I hastily walk down the street to the restaurant, stepping in through the front door and weaving my way through the mass of people crowding the bar. The same boy from before, Troy, is working, and he smiles at me when he sees me approach.

"Ah there she is, I almost wasn't sure you were gonna show." He teases, and I smile slightly.

"There's no way I wouldn't have." I say, and he nods.

"Alright well Vince has your outfit in the office, there's an employees only bathroom down the hallway, the key is hanging on the wall in the office as well. Once you're changed, meet me back here. You can leave your old clothes in Vince's office." He says, and I nod.

"Yes sir." I say and he shoos me away, sliding a shot glass down the bar to a waiting patron, who slams it back like it's nothing. I personally hadn't ever really gotten used to the taste of alcohol, not liking how it dulled my senses. I hurry and do what Troy instructed, gathering my new uniform from the edge of Vince's desk. Vince is in there when I walk in but all he does is grunt out a greeting before going back to his paperwork. I snatch the bathroom key off of its hook and go back to the bathroom to change.

The uniform itself consists of short black shorts paired with a tight forest green collared shirt with the outline of a wolf emblazoned on the breast pocket. The words 'Wolfsbane Sports Bar & Grill' are scrawled in cursive below the image, and I find myself appreciating the little image of a wolf. It was nicely done, and honestly I hadn't even looked at the name of the restaurant before I walked in. I fix my hair up again, self consciously running a hand through the chocolate brown tresses before I work up my courage and gather my old clothes, depositing them with Vince before I meet Troy at the bar.

"Alright, Stella, meet our two other night waitresses, Denise and Victoria." The two other girls leaning on the bar next to Troy. We appraise each other, they look me up and down and I do the same for them. Denise has almost waist-length blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes, but I can smell her cigarette addiction from where I am, the smell of stale smoke comes off her in waves every time she moves. Victoria, on the other hand, is a curly haired redhead with a smattering of freckles across her nose. Her green eyes are the color of emeralds and they make me jealous, my eyes being just a boring brown.

"Uh, hi." I say, waving awkwardly. Their eyes slide off of me and back to Troy, and I look at him as well.

"Alright well now that we're all acquainted, here's the deal for tonight. Stella, you'll shadow these two as they wait tables until you feel confident enough to manage a section by yourself. Denise, you've got zone one and half of two, Victoria you've got the other half of two and all of zone three. Once you feel confident enough and I feel confident enough in you, I'll have you take over zone two." He says, as he points out the zones to me. Zone one is the area closest to the door, mainly tables, not the bar. Zone two is mainly the bar and a couple tables scattered in the middle of the floor. Zone three is a section of booths in the back of the restaurant, near the huge flat screen TVs. I'm careful to memorize where they are, glancing down at the zone layout that Troy slides to me. It seems pretty simple.

"If you have any questions you can just ask us, we got you." Denise says, and I'm actually surprised she's so welcoming. I send her a smile and follow her onto the floor. As we walk to her zone, and Victoria goes to her. For the first hour I shadow behind Denise, watching as she greets customers with a large smile and writes down orders, flirting with some of the men, and the way she interacts with some of the children is heartwarming.

"Do you have kids?" I ask her as I trail her back to the kitchen when she puts in some orders.

"Yeah, two. A six year old boy and eight year old girl." She says, and a huge smile grows on her face when she mentions them.

"You're so good with kids, I'm sure you're a great mom." I say, and she turns that smile on me.

"Thank you, it means a lot. I'm really trying to do good by them…" She trails off and I can see that there's a hint of pain in that story, so I change the topic.

"Alright I think I'll go see what Victoria is doing. Thank you for letting me follow you around!" I say, and she nods.

"Good luck."

I turn around and walk to Victoria where she's taking some orders from the booths. The experience following her is similar, but she does more flirting with men than Denise did, but I see the reward she gets in high tips, especially from groups of men specifically. At the end of that first hour I feel confident enough to show my own skills, so Troy lets me loose with my own notepad, pen and apron. I figure that my easiest way to do this would be to start with the tables and work my way to the bar, so I do so. It's a little awkward at first, talking to people but soon I find my rhythm and I have families laughing along to stupid jokes, and men tripping over themselves at the sight of my chest in the tight shirt, which I'd purposely left unbuttoned.

The bar patrons are a little more rowdy, and I feel more than one hand on my butt as I try to lean around people to get their food orders, if they have any. Troy is too busy making drinks to take orders, thus why I'm mainly working the bar food-wise. After my first hour working alone, I take a breather behind the bar for a moment and Troy grins at me.

"How you holdin' up, Princess?" He asks, and I roll my eyes.

"Just call me Stella, and I'm fine. Some of the men here can be really handsy though," I say, laughing it off. It truly doesn't bother me, I've dealt with much worse but a dark look passes over his face when I mention it.

"Hey, if anyone does something you don't like you tell me okay, I'll handle it." I gape at his serious tone for a moment before I shrug.

"Nah, don't worry about it. I can handle myself." I say, grabbing my notepad up off the back counter and tucking it back in the pocket. A few of my orders from the kitchen are ready and I make my rounds around the bar and few tables of zone two once again, handing off food plates and taking drink refills.

By the time my shift ends at three a.m. I'm exhausted. I did get a meal though when I took my break at eleven, so that was nice. My stomach is nice and full even though my feet and hands hurt like a bitch from carrying heavy plates and being on my feet. The pain is nice, though. Makes me feel like I'm working for something. That, and the wad of money I have in my pocket from the tips I made tonight. As we're all packing up to leave, I follow Denise and Victoria out of the side door and into the alley as Vince and Troy finish cleaning the place up. They walk with me to the edge of the road, making small talk.

"You did great on your first night! You got great social skills, girl." Victoria says, draping a friendly arm over my shoulder. She's very tall, with slender legs that I would kill for. I'm a measly five foot one, barely.

"Yeah just be glad her first night wasn't a night when the Family decided to come in." Denise says, rolling her eyes slightly. I look at her quizzically. The 'Family'? What were they, some kind of mafia?

"Who are they?" I ask, as we make it to the sidewalk.

"Don't worry about them, sweetie. They're just a group of people that live up the mountain a ways. The brothers have their hands in a lot of the businesses around here, so it's always really important when they and the people they live with make a trip into town. They keep Swiftbrooke running so we're all real grateful for them, even if they are a little scary." Denise explains, zipping up her light jacket. For all the heat that the afternoon, the night did carry a chill. I regret not bringing my own jacket, but it's still wet and hanging on the bathroom door in my room.

"Oh so it's just like… a big family for real then? Not like, some mafia shit?" I ask, and Victoria laughs.

"Swiftbrooke mafia? I don't think so… It's just a group of people that live together, not really all related but probably just good friends. Y'know that whole 'get a big group of friends and start a compound together' type of deal. Some of the boys are real sweet though, but then again some I would say you should steer clear of. You'll know who I'm talking about when you, inevitably, meet them." She explains, hugging me goodbye. "See you tomorrow night, Stella!" She calls, walking with Denise down the sidewalk.

I sigh and wrap my arms around myself, walking the other direction back towards the Holly Inn. It's not a long walk, but the chill in the air has me walking faster. Something about the wind whistling through the trees surrounding the town makes me feel unnerved, and I'm thankful when I'm locked back inside my room, as bland as it is. That night I fall asleep satisfied with my day, for the first time in a long time.