AN: To anyone who read chapter 1 of this story before, maybe you should go back and reread it lol. I goofed and uploaded the unedited version of that chapter by mistake. Not a lot of changes, but it is way better than the rough draft that was up first. Sorry, ya'll! Anyway, enjoy chapter 2!
Wesley wasn't sure what to say as he drove to the bookstore and Anna didn't seem particularly interested in talking as she stared silently out the passenger side window. Wesley shifted in his seat and turned on his blinker to signal that he was turning left onto Main Street.
"So how have you been? Since graduation, I mean?" He asked, mostly just to break the silence, but not looking over to her.
"Fine. Nothing's changed." Anna replied, her voice quiet compared to the low rumbling of the truck.
"I'm surprised you haven't already left for college. Taking a semester off or something?"
Anna gave a short laugh and turned to look at him, her brows raised in what Wesley thought might be amusement. "Something like that. Looks like you're still here, too. Thought you were gonna see the world?"
Wesley turned into the parking lot of the bookstore and put the truck in park.
"Yeah, well, plans change I guess. Like it or not."
Anna nodded. "I know all about that," she thought. Changing plans was something she felt like she had become very familiar with over the last five years. Like a roller coaster that was always veering first one way and then another, so that you could never predict the next turn.
Wesley thought Anna looked like she was about to comment but instead, she just reached for the door handle and said, "Thanks for the ride."
"Hey, wait." Wesley's voice brought her up short and she turned back to him. "Do you have a way home after work?"
"I'll be fine." She said, shouldering the old door open, ignoring the way it groaned in protest.
"I know that, Anna." He said softly. " I'm just saying that I don't mind coming to pick you up if you need a ride."
Anna got out of the truck but turned to answer through the open door.
"But I do mind. Besides, I have a shift at the diner when I'm done here. It'll be late by the time I get off." Annoyance was clear in her voice and she really just needed to get inside before she was even later. Still, Wesley didn't leave.
"All the more reason for you not to be walking home alone." Wesley persisted, "What time does your shift end at the diner?"
Anna shook her head before closing the door. The window was up but he could hear her clearly as she said, exasperatedly, "It's fine, Anderson. Really. I'm sure you've got better things to do anyway."
And with that, she turned and walked up the sidewalk and into the bookstore, leaving Wesley to wonder what she had meant.
Wesley parked the truck outside Cooper's Feed Store and walked up onto the old plank porch, the cow bell that hung above the door jangled as he went inside. The main room was deserted except for the young man sitting behind the counter, whittling a piece of wood with a pocket knife and his blue tick coon dog, Duke, sleeping on the floor by his side. His shaggy brownish red curls fell into his face and covered his eyes and he paid no attention to Wesley's arrival. He didn't need to. The sound of the old red truck was one that he had committed to memory, as he'd been hearing it since he was a kid. Emmett Cooper had been Wesley's best friend his entire life.
"What's up, Wes?"
Wesley skimmed his hand across the top of a barrel full of peanuts before he walked up to the counter. "Hey, Coop. Dad sent me to get the order. I thought you had classes today?"
Coop put his project down on the counter before standing and walking with a slight limp to the side door.
"Hey, Pops, Wesley's here!" He called out before turning back to answer Wesley. "Pop's decided I needed a sick day."
Wesley's eyes rose in concern for his friend. "Must be hurting if you actually agreed to that."
Coop shrugged and stole a peanut from Wesley's pile. "Eh, 'bout a four."
Wesley nodded in understanding. Coop always used the numbers from the pain scale when he talked about his leg. He usually tried to down play it as much as possible but if he were staying out of school, Wesley knew it had to be worse than he was letting on.
Coop lost his left leg when he was ten, in an accident on the farm. At first, they weren't even sure he would pull through at all, but he surprised them, as he so often did, and was in the hospital for months afterwards recuperating and learning to walk on a prosthetic leg. For the most part, Coop is your everyday kid, with just some added hardware. Most of the time, nobody thinks about Coop's leg at all, and when they do, it's just another part of who he is. But sometimes he has phantom pains that can be debilitating. Coop's grandfather, Hank, has raised him his entire life and after the accident, he sold off a lot of their farm to keep them afloat and opened the feed store where he still works.
"Ain't it about time for a refit?" Wesley asked.
Coop nodded. "Yeah. I have an appointment in a few weeks."
Just then, Hank came inside and walked over to Wesley. Hank was a gruff man of about sixty who still stood as tall and straight as he had when he was enlisted in the Marines. Hank could almost always be seen wearing jeans and a flannel shirt with work boots. He also wore a faded, red baseball hat that said Cooper's Feed Store on the front that Wesley was sure he never took off.
"Here's your dad's receipt, Wesley, and tell him that part for the tractor should be here next week, ya hear?"
Wesley nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll tell him."
"Alright." He turned to Coop. "You feel like helping me load this up?"
"Sure thing, Pops." Coop said as he stood back up, trying to hide the wince as he put pressure on his leg again. Hank missed it but Wesley hadn't.
"I'll help too," He said, walking around the counter. "Beats hanging out in here."
"Clean them peanut shells up first." Hank called back over his shoulder as he walked back out the door.
Wesley turned back around and scooped the shells into his hand before dropping them in the trash basket behind the counter. Coop had stopped to wait on him and when Wesley was back at his side, he whistled at the still sleeping dog. "C'mon, Duke, you old lazy thing. If I gotta get up and work with only one leg, surely you can on four!"
Wesley laughed as Duke slowly stood up and followed them outside, before promptly laying back down on a shady spot of grass. Coop just shook his head at the dog before beginning to haul up bags of horse feed and chicken scratch to Wesley who had climbed up on the tailgate of the truck.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Hank said, snapping his fingers. "Your mama wanted a couple jars of Mrs. Wilson's fresh honey. I'll be right back, boys."
Once he was back inside, Wesley said, "Saw Anna Davis today."
Coop stopped and looked up at Wesley, covering his eyes from the sun that was beginning to peek out from behind the clouds. "Really? She actually talked to ya?"
Wesley shook his head. "Barely. I think she said maybe three sentences the whole way into town."
"Wait. What? Did you guys go somewhere?" Coop asked as he reached for another bag off feed to pass on to Wesley.
"No. She was walking down the road as I was on my way here. I...um, I accidently splashed her with the water from a puddle as I went by." Wesley admitted, scratching at the back of his neck with his hand, his cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
Coop burst out laughing. "Well no wonder she wouldn't talk to you!"
"Haha. Keep laughing. That's real nice." He said as he jumped down from the truck bed and put the tailgate back up. Both boys leaned against it to wait for Hank to come back out with the honey.
Wesley broke the silence first. "I wonder why she quit talking to us in the first place?"
"I don't know, Wes. Seems like everything was fine one day then high school started and it was like she quit hanging out with us all of a sudden. Like she had better things to do."
Wesley's brows furrowed as he thought back to what Anna had said, just before she walked into the bookstore.
"Weird. That's the same thing she said to me earlier."
When Hank came back out, the boys said their goodbyes and Wesley headed home, deep in thought about Anna and how quickly they seemed to have drifted apart.
Later that night, after Beau had already been sent up to bed, James, Tommy and Wesley were all sitting around the living room. James had an old western on the TV, but he really wasn't paying much attention to it. Instead he was hovering over the checkerboard that sat on the coffee table between Wesley and Tommy, giving advice to Tommy in hopes that this might be the night that he beat his older brother.
Tommy moved his red piece up and to the right, in the direct position that Wesley needed him to be in in order to get his last remaining pieces.
"Tommy, don't-" But it was too late. Tommy had already removed his hand from the piece and Wesley took the opportunity to make a triple jump, winning the game.
"What?! No way!" Tommy exclaimed while Wesley laughed from his spot in the floor across from the younger boy. Tommy ran a hand through his unruly blonde hair and looked from his brother to his dad. "Thanks for the warning, Dad." He huffed.
James laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "I tried, Tommy. You always jump ahead of yourself."
Ruth came in from the kitchen then and said, "Okay, Tommy. It's nine-thirty. Up to bed with you."
"Awe, mom." He complained. "How come I barely get a later bedtime then Beau and he's four years younger than me? Besides, I want a rematch." Tommy gestured weakly towards the checker board as he looked from his parents to Wesley, hoping that he would come to his defence and convince them to let him stay up later.
"Because I said so, that's why. Now get upstairs, young man."
"Do what your mom says, Tommy." James said as he settled back in his recliner and began to watch the movie. Tommy grumbled and stood up.
"Hey, we'll play again tomorrow, bud. Besides, I'm about to leave anyway." Wesley added as he too, stood up and began to put away the pieces of the game.
"Fine." Tommy said goodnight and headed up the stairs. Once they heard his door close, Ruth turned to Wesley.
"And just where are you going at this time of night?" She asked, her hands on hips as she stared at her oldest.
"I'm just gonna go into town. A friend of mine needs a ride home from work."
"Which friend?" She persisted.
"Oh, Honey," James interrupted and winked at Wesley who stood, keys in hand, by the door, "Let the boy go. It's probably a girl."
Wesley could feel the tips of his ears going red and he was glad that his hair was long enough that it covered them. Ruth's eyes lit up, oblivious to his embarrassment.
"Is it a girl, Wesley?"
"Mom!" He groaned and she laughed.
"Alright, alright. Just don't be out too late."
"I won't." He promised. "I'll see y'all later." He was out the door and off the front porch before either of them could call out a goodbye.
"Anna, what are you still doing here?" Ms. Claudine had just walked back into the front of the diner to find Anna clearing tables and wiping them down.
Anna looked up to see the older woman standing next to the counter, arms crossed over her chest and with a look of disapproval on her face.
"I just wanted to finish up before I head out. I'm almost done."
Ms. Claudine walked over to her and took the dish rag out of her hand.
"Correction, baby, you are done. Now it is late and I know you have to work at the bookstore in the morning." She began to lead Anna over to the counter and took her bag out from where it was stored before handing it to her. "Thank you for all your hard work today. Go home. Go to bed. Good night." She finished in a tone that left no room for arguing.
Anna gave her a rare smile. "Yes, ma'am."
Just before she walked out the door, Anna turned back. "Can I grab another shift tomorrow?"
Ms. Claudine sighed and nodded her head. She didn't honestly need the help but she knew that Anna and her dad were struggling to make ends meet and Anna was a good, hard honest worker. One of her favorites, even.
"If you want to work, you come right on in."
"Thanks. Good night."
As soon as Anna walked outside, the night air still suffocatingly hot even after the rain, she saw the familiar red truck. Wesley stood near the hood and Anna couldn't help but think that she would have a hard time getting rid of him.
"I said I was fine." She said when she was close enough to him. "I don't need anyone looking out for me."
Wesley shrugged and pushed himself away from the truck.
"I didn't say you did. You've always been more than capable of taking care of yourself, but you shouldn't have to. Do you always walk home?"
Anna rolled her eyes at the boy she had grown up with and had once considered her best friend.
"Why do you care, Anderson?" She asked, her tone icy.
Wesley looked at her in confusion.
"Because I care about you. Because it's not safe, not even in Decatur, for you to walk alone late at night."
"Well, thanks for the concern, but I'm good."
As she turned to walk away, Wesley grabbed her arm. She looked down at his hand on her arm and he dropped it immediately.
"Look, whatever I did to make you hate me so much, I'm sorry."
Anna stared up at him and saw a sadness in his dark eyes. She closed her own eyes and took a deep breath. They were standing so close that she could smell his aftershave. She could see, from where the street light shined down on them, the smattering of freckles across his cheeks and the stubble from a five o'clock shadow on his jaw. She could hear his breathing as he waited for what she might say next. Anna steeled herself and looked away towards the truck.
"If I let you take me home tonight, will you leave me alone?"
If Anna had looked at Wesley in that moment, she would have seen the hurt flash in his eyes as he looked at her, then to the ground. Wesley nodded and replied in a quiet voice.
"If that's what you want, AnnaBelle."
Anna stiffened at the use of her nickname from when they were kids. Without another word, she opened the truck door and climbed in. Wesley took a moment to try and collect his thoughts before he got into the drivers side and put the truck in gear.
They were silent on the way to Anna's house and when they got there, Anna noticed that all the lights in the house were already off. She hoped that meant that her dad was already in bed, asleep. Before she could get out of the truck, Wesley's voice stopped her. Though this time, she didn't turn to face him.
"Anna, I really am sorry. For whatever I did. I wish you would just tell me. But anytime you need me, I'll be here."
Anna didn't answer. She got out and shut the door before walking up the pathway to her house. Wesley watched her to make sure she got inside safely, before driving off down the road.