They’d been living in the van for two months. The air conditioning was gone and they prayed daily that the radiator held up a little longer.
After six months of a global pandemic, Daniel got laid off with almost fifty of his coworkers when the small manufacturer of party supplies he worked for finally collapsed. Bean’s job as a waitress barely gave them enough to wash their laundry some days.
Her car was repossessed and she didn’t fight it because they couldn’t manage the payments anyway. It was the newer vehicle they relied on for everything. Daniel’s transmission went on his old truck and they had no way to pay for the repairs.
When they received the thirty-day eviction notice, he traded the truck for a used van. He gutted it and did as much work to the engine as they could afford. They put their mattress in the back, took their clothes and keepsakes, a few things that could double as camping gear, and walked away from everything else they owned.
There was no point in trying to put it in storage. It would only delay the inevitable.
No help was coming. He didn’t have family since he’d grown up in foster care and she didn’t claim a single member of hers.
She’d barely made it out of her childhood alive.
At a rest stop in Wyoming, Bean got out of the car and looked at a fitfully sleeping Daniel. It was hot and they hadn’t eaten much the last few days.
Even tired, hungry, and scared as hell, he was the most beautiful human she’d ever known. His skin looked darker in the pale light from the parking lot but it wasn’t as dark as his long lashes. He was ten years older and always calm even when she was screaming on the inside.
Every step of the way, he’d gone above and beyond to try to save them. His unemployment would kick in soon but…they couldn’t wait and she refused to let him go hungry.
Not when she had an asset she could sell.
One she’d used for three years when she ran away from home at seventeen. She crashed in a flop house and let men use her to buy drugs she needed to numb her brain, to forget the horror, to exist another day.
Daniel had been her last trick. He’d refused to touch her. She was nineteen and confused by his kindness. No man had ever been kind to her.
He gave her a little room in his small rental house with a lock on the door. It had an air mattress and a cardboard dresser.
She had never been so grateful.
He worked all the time and picked up overtime when he could. He saved money a little at a time but always seemed to help out people who needed it.
An elderly neighbor, a single mother, a friend from high school.
Once, he told her that having a nest egg didn’t feel right if he saw someone who needed a real egg to eat.
He’d been married once but told Bean his ex-wife had found her true love and deserved to have the joy it brought her. He didn’t fight the divorce and they still spoke on Christmas.
Daniel and Bean lived together for two years and he never even tried to kiss her. During that time, she got clean and went back to school for her GED.
She cleaned his house, did his laundry, and cooked every meal. She even cut the grass when he bought a used mower – no matter how many times he told her he would do it on his day off.
He didn’t have days off.
Every moment she’d spent in his presence had shown her what being a good person meant. He never raised his voice, never hurt her, and never made her feel as if she owed him for saving her life…her future.
The first time she kissed him, he set her away and said, “You don’t have to do that, Bean.”
Her answer had been to kiss him a second time. When he hesitated again, she smiled. “Do you want me, Daniel?” He nodded cautiously. “I want you, too. I truly, deeply want you…and I’ve never wanted anyone. Something tells me I never will again.”
He’d loved her all through the night and given her the first orgasm of her young life…despite laying down with more men than she could count.
The pandemic had kicked them as it had kicked so many but she wasn’t going to let this man, this good human, go hungry.
Not when she had the power to save them both.
It was just a body and many men had touched it without taking a piece of her with them.
Daniel might hate her for what she was going to do but she would take that risk. He was worth every risk.
Closing the door softly, she smoothed her palm over her clothes, adjusted her small bag, and turned toward the parking area for the truck drivers.
* * *
The sun was coming up when she walked to the restroom and stripped in the biggest stall. She scrubbed her body at the sink and used almost the whole soap dispenser. She washed her hair as best she could and brushed her teeth. Taking fresh clothes from her bag, she dressed carefully.
She ignored the slight shake of her hands.
As she exited the brick building, the sun peeked over the horizon. She lifted her head and took a deep breath.
“Please let him still love me.”
Walking toward the van, Daniel climbed out. He wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes. She knew he would have panicked when he woke and she was gone.
As she got closer, she realized there were tears tracking down his cheeks. He pulled her to him and held her close. Stroking his big hand over the back of her head, he whispered, “I’m sorry. I hate that you felt forced…”
“No,” she said against his chest. “You’re still the only man I want. The only one I’ll ever want. It’s just a body and I used it to help us last a little longer. Don’t hate me. Please don’t hate me.”
He sobbed as his arms tightened around her. “Never. Never, Bean.”
They stood there crying together as the sun rose. “I love you, Daniel.”
“I love you. More than any person in my life. I’ll never let you down again.”
“You didn’t let me down. You never could, Daniel. Life is fucked but it won’t stay like this. We just need a minute to catch our balance.”
Pulling back, he held her face and stared into her eyes. She loved how the early morning sun made his shine like amber. “Are you okay? Tell me the truth.” She nodded and reached up to wrap her fingers around his wrists. “Do you swear it?”
“I swear it.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
He kissed her slow and deep. She knew they would survive the coming months and years no matter what.
She loved him.
He loved her.
They were stronger together.
Opening the passenger door of the van, he helped her up in her seat. He leaned in and kissed her again. “This is not your role. Not because I have an issue with the job or what you do with your body. It isn’t good for your beautiful, gentle soul.” He placed his large palm over her upper chest. “This heart is too fragile to be tugged back and forth in such a way. Alright?” She inhaled carefully. Then she nodded. “We’re going to be okay.” Sliding his palm along her neck, he added, “Thank you for helping us.”
“You’re welcome, Daniel.”
One more kiss and he closed her door. He grabbed his shoes and shirt from the back and put them on. Jumping up in the driver’s seat, he started the engine and lifted her fingers to his lips.
With him, she would always be free.
Free from her past, free from pain, free from the expectations of others. She would never hurt him, never make him feel less than, or let him suffer if she could prevent it.
Daniel pulled onto the highway and drove toward the sun.
© Shayne McClendon
PS: If you love short stories, I hope you’ll check out the following collections by my three alter egos (more are available but here are the first volumes of each)…
Quickies – Volume One (by Shayne McClendon)
The Others – Volume One (by Sabrina Rue)
Bang! – Volume One (by Charlize Rojos)