Keisha woke up from dreams of driving endlessly, aimlessly, in the fog. She blinked sandy eyelids, and turned her head sharply, winced and waited for her neck muscles and rib muscles to calm down. “What?”
“Not watch now,” the Chinese guy said from the cab below.
“You’re falling asleep?”
“Pee first and sleep.”
“Okay, I’m moving. You go ahead and take a leak first.”
Peach stirred next to her, stiffly, curling her hands up and yawning.
Keisha leaned up on one elbow and looked out the forward windows. Just the last light fading across the trees out there. A good time to get the truck out of these trees, while she could still see. Something was moving, very fast, in an open area among the trees. Blue jacket, blink once and it was gone again.
Keisha scrambled down both ladders, almost falling over herself, and was about to climb back up for her gun, when she saw the Chinese guy come out of the brush holding a rabbit. A very dead, bleeding, gutted, neck-broken rabbit.
“Oh,” Keisha said, swallowing on an outraged empty stomach. “You hunt?”
He blinked at her. “Ahh. You people not? Back home, not so easy catch.”
“How did you clean it? That’s not a knife done that,” Keisha said.
He made a little wave of his hand, showed his fingernails. “Soft tummy. Kitty like, taste good.”
Fish bleed too, but they didn’t have necks that break quite like that. Keisha climbed up the ladder and got out a bottle of water and napkins from the food bag. Peach was peering out the driver side window. “Bunny for breakfast, momma?” Keisha glanced up at the sky ruefully. If she made enough of a camp to cook that thing, they’d lose the light. God only knew what kind of worms and parasites Peach might get from eating it raw. It was like having a dog that chased deer, for crying out loud.
“All right, hang it up and let it bleed out while I get some fire going,” Keisha said. She started snapping sticks and hunting for rocks.
“Hang up?” the Chinese guy said. “Eat now.”
“We don’t know what sick it might have, we gotta cook it,” Keisha said.
“Not sick,” he said.
“It was slow enough you caught it.”
“Dumb, not sick. I smell. It not sick.”
“Okay, so now you can tell sick rabbits by how they smell?”
“Peach also know,” he said.
“Peach, don’t eat this. Just smell. Tell me what you think. Is it okay? Is it sick?” Peach leaned into Keisha’s arm, getting in the way, and then she opened her mouth and nipped on Keisha’s wrist, not all that gently. Keisha scruffed her, firmly, and said, “No biting. Does it smell okay?”
Peach gave a breathy little noise and nodded. When Keisha released her, she huddled into Keisha and made distressed noises. “Okay, Momma, I got the fire going, let’s take a leak, okay? You’ll get your rabbit. Say thank you for catching it for you, right?”
Peach ducked her head, looked up at the Chinese guy, and ducked away again. “‘ankyou,” she whispered.
“Damn, you good girl!” Keisha said.
“‘ankyou,” Peach repeated proudly.
He nodded back. “Very welcome,” he said, and smiled.
“Can you watch the fire for me?”
He nodded, and propped up the rabbit, head down, in a tree nearby.
When they came back, he had the rabbit mostly skinned and completely disjointed and all the various bits of it propped out expertly on forked sticks. He’d clearly done all of this with his hands and a bit of stone that he’d knocked into a sharp edge. The meat was well on its way toward getting nicely barbecued. He was looking at it as if he wouldn’t mind chomping down on raw meat either. It spoke of a lot of time spent out in the back of beyond with nothing much for tools, scrounging for whatever had failed to run away. Sort of like hiding out in the swamp for a couple of weeks after a really bad day. At that, it was lot easier in the swamp than stuck out on some bald coral knob or a mangrove key with no water.
“Wow, looking good,” Keisha said, and stood watching the flames moving on the broken branches she’d dragged in. It was a small enough fire that the rabbit needed every bit of it. She rubbed Peach’s shoulders and neck, keeping one hand on her in case the rabbit started looking too good.
“Too bad only one,” he said.
“Yeah, it does smell good,” Keisha agreed.
“You need too.”
“Oh, I’m okay on cold burgers,” Keisha said.
“No, need more. Soon you got woman need.”
“You get that–” he waved one hand in frustration, and slapped the inside of one thigh.
Keisha looked at him in disbelief.
“You smell,” he said.
Even Peach was staring at him.
“Smell good, real good,” his hand made a flattened, tipping gesture, and then he grinned. “Then you feel bad. Throw thing. Lots bad saying. Lots mean word.”
“Oh Christ,” Keisha growled.
“See?” he chuckled, poking the rabbit, “Bad words!”
“All I fuckin’ need right now, start having my period! How the hell–”
He held up both hands. “Smell good. I know. That smell… then other smell.”
“That’s fucked up! How the hell can you smell that?”
“Woman smell.” He nodded toward the rabbit. “Food smell good. Woman smell good.”
“And what does your bunch like to do to women who smell that good?” Keisha growled.
He looked at her. “I not hurt you. I not hurt Peach. I like smell. I like you. You like Peach, not me. Okay. Not be afraid.”
Keisha looked at Peach. “You stay here. Right there. Okay?”
Peach nodded, eyes wide.
Keisha crossed the five steps it took to reach the Chinese guy. “I have never been afraid of a man in my life, and I ain’t about to start now. Most guys are assholes or dumb or both. The ones that ain’t, the good ones like Dan was, I like them just fine. I ain’t decided about you. Got that?”
Keisha reached out and touched him. Straightened his jacket collar, brushed a strand of hair back from his face. “You in my truck, you belong to me, I am gonna cover for you with anybody askin’ questions, you got that?”
“I give you huge points for bringing that rabbit for Peach. You keep an eye out to help her, I am right there with you. I am watching your back, I got you. Don’t mess with any of that.”
“I ain’t had a bath in ages, and you tell me I smell good,” Keisha said.
“Yes,” he said. It was getting too dark to see his eyes, the face smooth and unreadable in the dusk. But his nostrils opened up wide as a dog sniffing.
Keisha shook her head. “Man, I heard some funny come-on lines, but that beats all of ’em.”
“Peach get woman smell too,” he said then, warningly.
“Oh yeah, of course she will, grownup gal like her,” Keisha said. “She’s cycling right with me. We can all be grumpy together, how’s that sound? God, I’m talking to myself, nobody understands a goddamn thing I say–”
Peach stood where she was, quivering. “I know stay here,” she said then, perfectly clear.
Keisha looked up at her. “Wow. What was that, momma? You can move now if you want, you can come here.”
Peach rushed into her arms, hugged her. “No grumpy,” she said into Keisha’s shirt. “Smell good.”
“What, you agree with him? I’m reeking like two days of sweaty hard driving, you like that?”
Peach nodded. “Smell good.” And she started licking Keisha’s shirt.
“I think you two are starving hungry, that’s what I think. C’mon, give it about twenty minutes, you’ll be stuffed and happy and grease all over and then you’ll start fussing about getting your paws clean.”
Peach licked up onto Keisha’s neck, and then the side of her face, carefully and gently, and then she licked onto Keisha’s mouth.
“Okay, enough, that tickles,” Keisha said firmly.
“Kiss,” Peach said.
“Not now, momma, I’m trying to move this rabbit stick. Okay? Gimme two minutes.”
“Okay,” Peach said.
The Chinese guy smiled at Keisha and said, “I do fire. You go. Kiss Peach happy.”
“Not go,” Peach said. She held out a hand toward the guy, beckoning.
Keisha looked at her, and at the equally puzzled guy.
“You smell good,” Peach said to him. “Lick you.” Then she looked up at Keisha and smiled. “Lick you.”
“Oh sunovabitch,” Keisha said loudly. Peach leaned and kissed her on the collarbone, apologetically, hugging her. “I heard you, Peach. I ain’t mad at you, I’m fine. I heard you. You like how he smells, you like how I smell, right?”
Peach leaned into her and sighed happily.
“I’ll think about it,” Keisha said, glaring at both of them. “And no licking until it’s decided! Let the two of you go at it like bunnies, shit, that’s what happens to bunnies, isn’t it?” she waved at the sticks.
They looked at the meat, and back up at her.
Peach said, “I lick you good,” and stroked Keisha’s arm, sadly.
Keisha ruffled the hair around her ears. “Yeah, I love you too, momma, but I don’t want nothing bad to happen to you, either.”
“I not bad to Peach,” the Chinese guy said, with dignity. “I know careful.” And he got up and started to walk away into the woods, back stiff, head up, very upright.
“Where are you going?” Keisha snapped.
“I go, not make you afraid,” he said, still walking.
“You’re not going off in these woods alone in the dark. Not now, when I wanna get back on the road tonight. Not when I just told you you’re mine, you’re in my truck. Not if I tell Peach to make you come here,” Keisha said levelly.
Keisha held out a pointed finger. “No. Don’t argue. Just come back and sit down and eat some rabbit. Help Peach. Might make her sick eating all this by herself, might be too much all at one go.”
“For Peach, yes. But for you?” he said.
“Please,” Keisha growled.
He came back, marched up to her, looked in her eyes in the dimming light, and then he knelt down in front of her and put his forehead down on the toe of her boot.
“Oh godammit–” Keisha growled. “Cut out that shit. Stop. I know your folks don’t do that kinda thing these days, cut it out!”
He sat up on his heels and looked up at her. Then he put one hand on Peach’s foot, and rested one arm against Keisha’s leg, and he leaned into Keisha’s knee. “Smell good,” he said, and sighed.
Keisha didn’t move. Peach was hanging onto her middle, hard, and he was wrapped around both of them. It was more like having a pile of dogs leaning into her than a basically childish girl and a total stranger of a man bent on worming his way into her jeans. “You know, Peach, you smell pretty damn good too,” Keisha said at last. “Okay, I hate to spoil our party, but it’s time to break it up and check on the rabbit again.”
He groaned, and made her laugh.
The rabbit was good, too. Gamey as hell and tough and greasy and half-charred on the outside, nearly raw on the inside, but Peach growled happily as she tore into it, and he grinned at them both, and Keisha relaxed a little bit when they both got busy dribbling bottled water on their hands and fussing with the napkins. That took them longer than gobbling down the rabbit did.
Keisha got the folding shovel out and buried the fire, and tossed the charred meat sticks and the bones away into the woods so it’d be less obvious at first glance from the road.
When they got back in the truck, the Chinese guy was too tired to protest. She told him to climb up, take his gun with him, and get some sleep. Peach sat bouncing happily in the passenger seat, singing out whenever she saw house lights out in the darkness, or when she saw cars on the road in the mirrors behind them. Keisha taught her how to play with the CB radio, and she scanned happily across the bands, singing to herself in the blank areas and startling back in her chair when she got voices. Within two hours she was curled up limply in the seat belt, head nodding, asleep again.
Keisha got local radio stations tuned in and sang along hoarsely with the gospel hymns. When they got too crazy with preaching, she flipped to oldies, or r & b, or even country, wailing away with Tammy Wynette. Nothing modern or urban or edgy or the least bit fashionable out here. Kinda strange, when she thought about it, since pop music was supposed to be what got played the most on stations like these, trying to help the truckers stay awake crisscrossing the dark.
Turned out the Chinese guy had bad dreams too. Early on, Keisha had adjusted one of her multiple mirrors inside the cab to look up into the sleepover compartment. She’d worried about Peach for awhile, and then she found she liked glancing up at sleeping kitty-gal in all her odd limp little positions.
Glances at that told her he was not sleeping well. She heard him flop around and give a muffled noise, hitting the sides of the sleeping compartment with his whole arm at one point, and then making sleepy, grumpy noises in some language she didn’t understand, rustling around, turning over and going back to sleep. After the fourth time he woke himself up, he pushed aside the curtain and hung his elbows out over the edge, looking out the forward windows. He rumpled at his hair, looking hot and dazed and disoriented. He took his jacket and shirt off and he sighed when she opened the cab windows wider for more air.
“Catch,” she said, and tossed up a bottle of water for him to snag out of the air.
“Thank you,” he said, and did that camel routine of his, dropping the empty bottle on the floor. Then he hung there over the edge, leaning his head on one hand, staring somewhere downward, looking like the bumps in the road were hurting him again.
The mirror told her that his forward end was holding still, but the other end was moving in a way that didn’t match the road. Well, not her business if his libido was getting a nice hand, but damn, did his bottom have to have that distracting little wiggle to it? She kept her eyes on the road and only gave herself permission to glance at him occasionally. If she was guessing, she’d say that jacking off as pain relief wasn’t working as well as he wished it would. Eventually he pulled back into the cabin area, curled up on his side and pulled down the loose front of his pants, which showed her some amazing abs. Then he blocked the view with the top of his head. When he moved, it only gave the mirror a great view of the lump on his back, which looked about the size of a golfball. It looked bruised with repeated old green and black marks, as if great force had been applied to it constantly, and damaged the meat in between.
Guy needed a doctor, stat, before he gave himself a severed spinal cord or something.
Just like Peach needed somebody who could look at her lab results and figure out what else she needed added to her food.
Keisha turned her gaze from the man’s bruised back in the mirror, and thought hard about how she was going to have Peach wait for her safely while she did the meetup with the computer guy and got the laptop sorted out. Would she need the Chinese guy to stand guard over Peach, or come with Keisha as extra bodyguard?