Tex and Karen were sitting in the dinette of their rig.
“The meeting is coming up fast,” Karen said.
“You don’t look like you want to go.”
She smiled, reaching across the table to take his hand. “I’d rather just hole up with you in here for a while.”
Tex smiled. “When you decide, you decide, don’t you, little lady?”
“Having second thoughts?”
“Yeah, right,” he said. “I haven’t been this happy in years.”
“Keep talking like that and we’ll miss the meeting,” she said.
“Oh, it won’t last that long,” Tex said.
“Okay, but clear sometime afterwards,” Karen said, getting out of the dinette.
“What are you doing?” Tex asked.
“I need to wash my hair,” she said. “It’s a mess.”
“Oh,” Tex said. “Fine. Think I’ll go get some air.”
“Okay, sweetie,” she said.
Tex got up and left the coach, walking along the row of other coaches. Ted was outside of his, having a smoke.
“What’s up, partner? I thought you quit putting nails in the coffin.”
Ted glanced over at him, then went back to his forward stare. “Don’t bug me about it, okay? I’m not starting again.”
“Sorry,” Tex said. “You want to talk, or should I continue on?”
Ted sighed, then dropped the butt and ground it into the dirt. “I could use a walk, I guess.”
The two men walked towards the house.
“What’s bothering you?” Tex asked. “The rescue mission?”
He chuckled. “No, I literally can’t wait to do that one. Nothing I hate more than the UN. Hope we abolish the whole damn thing after this war gets over.”
“That’ll depend on who wins,” Tex said.
“You think we’re in danger of losing?”
“You been studying the apps like Jules suggested, partner?”
“No,” Ted said, shooting him a sheepish grin. “I’m coming down with what the rest of the group has.”
Tex looked at him blankly. Ted returned it and shook his head.
“Oh,” Tex said. “She falling for you?”
“No,” Ted said. “Haley is still keeping me at arm’s length. It’s me that’s having the problem.”
“I know how that feels.”
“Oh, please, you knew Karen was going to fall for you.”
Tex chuckled. “No, I didn’t, but I wanted it so badly that I kept at her.”
Ted smiled. “Well, that’s fair, I guess. Still going well?”
“If we could just disappear somewhere and make babies, I’d die a happy man,” Tex said.
“Baloney. You’d get bored.”
“I don’t think so, but who knows,” Tex said. “When did you know?”
Tex laughed. “Really?”
“All right,” Ted said. “When I told her about the rescue mission. I was afraid about her reaction. I wanted so badly to protect her from it, but I knew it would be the end of our chances if I didn’t tell her.”
“I don’t get it,” Tex said.
“Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Tex said.
Ted stopped walking, and looked down at the ground.
“Hey, partner, you don’t have to say anything. I’ll leave you alone.”
“Funny how these women can turn us into mush,” Ted said. He looked over at Tex. “I realized that keeping her close was very important to me. In fact, I realized that what she thinks of things is more important to me than anything. Hit me like a ton of bricks.”
“That can happen without romantic attraction, you know.”
“Oh, I’ve got plenty of romantic attraction,” Ted said. “I’ve been pushing it back as hard as I can. It’s out there now.”
“Whoa,” Tex said. “What happened?”
Ted was silent for a moment.
“Forget it,” Tex said. “Let’s go see if they have any coffee left.”
“No, I’ve started this. You can keep your mouth shut, right?”
“How long have you known me again?” Tex asked.
“All right, sorry,” Ted said. “When I told her about the rescue missions, she had a bad reaction.”
“What kind of reaction?”
“She started to tremble and cry. I hugged her. It was the first time we’d touched like that. She held onto me for dear life.” He paused again.
“Go on,” Tex said.
“Let’s get the coffee first, if they have some,” he said. “I could use it. Could use a belt in it too.”
“I’ve got some whiskey in my rig, but Karen’s in there.”
“There’s some in the kitchen,” Ted said. They went into the house. The maid was there, smiling as they walked up.
“Looking for a snack?” she asked.
“Coffee, if there’s some left,” Tex said.
“Sure, there’s some left,” she said. “Help yourself.”
The two men walked into the kitchen, grabbing Styrofoam cups and drawing coffee out of the big canister pot.
“Smell’s a little burned,” Tex said.
“It’ll do,” Ted said, reaching up to open one of the high cabinets. He took out a bottle of Jim Beam. “You want some?”
“A little,” Tex said. “We’ve got that meeting coming up.”
“Yeah,” Ted said as he poured a small amount into Tex’s cup. He poured a larger amount into his, then capped the bottle and put it away.
Tex had a sip. “It’s good, partner.”
Ted nodded and took a sip, then another. “Good, that’s better.” They walked outside.
“See you later,” the maid said as they left.
Tex waved at her as they walked down the steps. “You ready to finish? I’ve got to get back to Karen in a few minutes. Only said I was stepping out for some air.”
“Okay,” Ted said. “There isn’t much more to tell. We hugged until she settled down, then broke it, looking at each other. She thanked me and was about to back away when I kissed her.”
“On the mouth?”
“First on the forehead, then on the mouth,” Ted said.
“How did she react?”
“She bolted,” Ted said. “I called for her to stop, but she ran out of the coach.”
“Know where she is?”
“Around,” Ted said. “I think she’ll be back. I shouldn’t have hit her with that. She was dealing with the rescue mission. I dumped more on top of it. I feel like a jerk.”
Tex chuckled. “You’re not a jerk, and I’m sure she knows it. You been sending signals to her?”
“I don’t think so,” Ted said. “Shoot, I don’t know. Maybe. We still interact like friends.”
“You haven’t tried to change that yet, have you?”
“Nope,” Ted said. “It’s like being attracted to your best friend’s wife. I looked at her as off-limits, and was doing a good job of controlling myself.”
“Until just now,” Tex said. “Don’t worry about it. She’ll settle down, and then figure out what she wants. May be just friends, but she hangs around with you most of the time, from what I’ve seen.”
“There aren’t other un-attached women around for her to hang with.”
“That’s true,” Tex said. “You need to think this through. Don’t rush yourself or her.”
Ted chuckled. “You sound like Dr. Phil.”
“Maybe. Just common sense. Let her take the next step.”
“Okay,” Ted said.
“I’ve got to get back, partner. See you at the meeting.”
“Thanks, Tex,” he said, watching as he walked away.
“You were gone for a while,” Karen said. Tex sighed and sat on the couch.
“Ended up chatting with Ted. Sorry. Want a sip of coffee?”
“Sure,” she said, taking the cup from him and sipping. Her eyes opened wider. “Is that whiskey I taste?”
Tex chuckled. “Oh, yeah, forgot. Ted wanted some. Put a little in mine too.”
“It tastes kinda good,” Karen said as she handed the cup back to him. “Ted okay?”
“He’s nervous,” Tex said. “Can’t really talk about it.”
“Oh,” Karen said. “Haley.”
“I didn’t say that,” Tex said.
Karen laughed. “You didn’t have to. Look at us. We’re like an old married couple.”
“No, more like a young married couple,” Tex said, watching as she sat next to him.
“Yeah, maybe we are,” she said, looking into his eyes.
“You have something to say? You look serious all of a sudden.”
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I’m happy. That’s all.”
“You want to be married,” Tex said.
“I didn’t say that,” Karen said. “We’ve only just started the dating phase, remember?”
Tex kissed her, Karen returning it with more passion than he expected. “Wow, little lady. Wish we had more time before the meeting.”
“Me too,” she said. “Think Ted is going to be okay?”
“Not talking about that, remember? I promised.”
She looked into his eyes again. Tex had the urge to kiss her, and started moving towards her. “No!” she said quickly.
“Sorry,” Tex said.
She giggled. “If we do that again we really will miss the meeting. You can have me when we get back here.” She tried to read his eyes, petting his cheek. “There’s that look again.”
“Maybe we should stop talking. It’s becoming worse than the kiss was.”
Tex leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands holding his chin.
“Thinking?” she asked, leaning forward so she could see his face.
“Yeah,” he said.
“We need to talk, don’t we?” Karen asked, brow furrowed. “Are we going too fast for you? Are you getting nervous?”
Tex looked at her. “No, that’s not it, at least not for me.”
“I’m serious about you,” Tex said.
“I know that,” Karen said. “I got that message before we broke through with each other.”
He looked back at her silently, her face turning red, her eyes dilating. “Oh.”
“What?” Tex asked, looking down. She put her hand under his chin and turned his face back towards her.
“If you thought I’d go for it, you’d take me somewhere and marry me right now, wouldn’t you?”
Tex stared silently at her, the look of reverence back on his face.
“Never mind,” she said. “That look said it all. I will, by the way.” She stood up. “We’d better get to the meeting.”
Tex looked at her, shocked and speechless. She shot him a smile and reached out her hand to help him off the couch. They left the coach, heading for the patio near the house.
Ted wandered the grounds, looking for Haley, wondering if he should be. The conversation with Tex made things even harder, and he regretted saying anything. Everything was going wrong. He felt despondent, like he did when he left his restaurant behind. His life was out of control. He was riding it along, afraid of where it was taking him, just wanting to get off. His phone dinged at him. Broadcast message. Meeting starts in five minutes.
“Dammit,” he said, hitting Haley’s contact. He typed out a text and sent it.
Haley, sorry. I got carried away. Can we just go back to the way it was? I’ll behave. I promise.
He slipped the phone back into his pocket and walked quickly towards the meeting, dropping his half-finished coffee into the trash on the way. People were already showing up. Jules and Shelly were under the covered part of the patio, the flat screen TV moved out onto a table next to them. He saw Sparky there with Dana, and most of the younger people were already seated towards the front. He avoided them, finding a place near the back. Robbie turned and nodded to him from the front. Tex and Karen walked in slowly, hand in hand, Tex shooting him a glance as they sat down.
“Hello,” Jules said from the front. Thanks for coming. Anybody not here? Ted, where Haley?”
“She’ll be along,” Ted said. “Go ahead. I’ll brief her on whatever she misses.”
“Good,” Jules said. “Anybody else not here?”
“Sorry we’re late,” Gil said, rushing in with Tisha.
“Yeah, sorry,” Tisha said. They sat up near Robbie and Morgan. Stacey turned, seeing Ted by himself, his brow furrowed. Ted nodded and smiled, trying to keep him from getting concerned. Brianna snuggled closer to him, and whispered something in his ear. They both faced forward.
“Okay, I go,” Jules said. “First, we talk mission to destroy Mertins Electronics.” He nodded to Shelly, who sat in front of a laptop on a small table. She used her mouse to share a picture. It was a satellite view of the electronics factory complex.
“We don’t go in here. We get near and blow up, with battle wagon guns and mortars,” Jules said. “Team from Oakland join.”
“Do they have battle wagons too?” Tex asked.
“No, we break open location. They go in with five thousand fighters. More like infantry.”
“Citizen fighters,” Robbie said. “Good.”
“This looks like it could turn into a trap for our vehicles pretty easily,” Justin said.
“Yes, but we have new advantage. Some already know about. Now we show rest of you.” He nodded to Shelly, who changed the screen, picking up her cell phone. An image of it went to the screen.
“What’s that?” Gil asked.
“General Hogan’s technical lead finish prototype apps that show enemy RFID chips. Shelly, show San Jose.”
She nodded, moving the map on her screen to that area. Large numbers of icons showed up.
“This enemy concentration in San Jose. We can see real time with apps.”
“Who has these now?” Justin asked.
“Leadership team for now. Restricted. Eventually all have.”
“Why is it restricted?” Justin asked.
“Final version show name, rank, and country of origin data. All ranks of enemy have RFID chips with this information.”
“We need to keep them in the dark on our capabilities,” Tex said. “Until we can see all of them by name.”
“Oh, I get it,” Justin said. “That will keep government infiltrators from escaping.”
“You got, young man,” Jules said. “Exactly right. These apps keep situation from becoming ambush. We see. We’ll be ready.”
“So, we break open this facility and let the citizen infantry finish the job, then,” Katie said. “That sounds less dangerous than some of our other battles.”
“Yes, is,” Jules said. “Ivan take to airwaves as it’s going, show video., All channels, like in southern California.”
“Is this what we’ll be doing for the rest of the war?” Tisha asked.
“No, move to next part of meeting now,” Jules said.
“Wait, when are we doing this?” Justin asked.
“Exact timing come from Ivan within hours. Probably within next three days.”
“Okay, thanks,” Justin said. “Sorry.”
“No sorry, ask questions always,” Jules said. “Very important. Thank you for doing.”
Justin nodded, smiling.
“Okay, next part. This dangerous part. Ivan identify three locations like Torrance Police Station.”
“Oh, God,” Tisha said.
“Son of a bitch,” Cody said. “We’re going to mount rescues, I hope.”
“Yes, do, but like I say, dangerous. Everybody involved needs to understand, make choice, volunteer. Understand? I know emotions run high on this. Too much emotion result in dead team members.”
The room burst into murmurs.
“Count me in,” Tisha said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s the least I can do.”
“Me too,” Katie said.
“Don’t decide yet. We lay out what we know now, and you decide later. It won’t happen until after assault on Mertins Electronics.”
Ted felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, Haley’s beautiful face staring back at him, eyes red from crying. She sat next to him. He looked at her, but she nodded towards the stage.
“We need to listen to this,” she whispered, avoiding eye contact with him. He shut up and watched. The discussion went into each location, and the beginnings of a strategy for handling each. Jules highlighted the dangerous parts, while Shelly showed long-range app visuals of each of the areas. The crowd sat mesmerized. Then Jules opened it up for questions.
Cody stood up. “One thing is bothering me about this.”
“Go ahead,” Jules said.
“The rescues aren’t strategic. I thought the focus was on beating the enemy as quickly as we can. In the first rescue, I remember there was some doubt as to if Ivan would agree to the risk.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Justin said. “This could be valuable as a recruiting tool.”
There was a collective groan from the crowd, Justin looking like he wanted to take it back right away.
“No,” Jules said. “We not use Torrance rescue, and neither use these rescues. We won’t expose victims. If they want, they do themselves. Not us.”
“Then why?” Justin asked. Robbie shot him a glance, which he ignored.
“I push issue, when find out from Ivan,” Jules said. “My fault. That’s why voluntary. This not strategic war, this rescue only.”
“But Ivan’s okay with it, right?” Karen asked.
“He’d rather we didn’t, but he not forbid. Hell to pay for me if we lose people and hurt mission.”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Shelly whispered. He glanced her way, then back at the crowd.
“Well, I’m all in,” Ted said from the back. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.”
“I agree,” Tex said.
“Me too,” Sparky said.
Others around the room nodded or said yes in agreement.
“Take time to decide,” Jules said. “Relax and enjoy during time we wait for Mertins operation. Any other question?”
Ted watched the crowd as they sat silently, nobody asking anything. He glanced over at Haley. “Shelly’s going to read Jules the riot act when this is over.”
“Why?” Haley asked.
“They’re together, and he just told her he’ll be in trouble if this doesn’t work out.”
“They’re together?” Haley asked. “How’d I miss that?”
“Just happened, and there’s been so many other things.”
The crowd started to get up and leave the patio, most heading back to their rigs. Ted got up.
“Wait a minute,” Haley said. “We need to talk. You know that, right?”
He sat back down and looked at her. “Okay.”
“You think I’m angry at you,” Haley said, seeing the fear in his eyes.
“Not angry, exactly,” Ted said. “That would be easier.”
“What?” Ted asked.
“You know. How long. Has it been since the beginning, or recent?”
Ted sighed. “It’s been a slow ramp-up. I’ve always liked being with you, and we’re together all the time, so it’s been building. Holding you made the feelings rise in me beyond what I expected.”
She studied his face, giving nothing away with her expression. Ted’s heart was pounding in his chest.
“You still look scared to death,” Haley said. “How strong is it?”
“I don’t know, I….”
“Stop,” she said quickly. “You know exactly how strong it is. I know you. Like you said, we’ve been together all the time.”
“What do you want me to say,” Ted asked.
“Just answer the question,” she said.
“It’s strong,” he said softly.
“Strong meaning your attracted to me, or is it more?”
“You mean am I madly in love with you?” Ted asked, smiling, trying to break the tension.
“Stop that,” she said. “This is serious. Is it just attraction, or is it more?”
“Geez, this is like pulling teeth,” she said. “Do we have to do the scale between one and ten thing?”
Ted felt anger rising in him, and looked at her, trembling. “Dammit. I’m in love with you. You’re all I think about. I adore you. All right? I’m sorry.”
“Okay, we can go now,” she said, standing up. “Let’s go see if they made more coffee.”
He sat looking up at her, flabbergasted. “That’s it?”
“That’s it for now,” Haley said. “I’ve got to think about this, and I won’t be rushed.”
“If I can’t have you that way, I still want to be friends with you,” Ted said. “I know I blew it, and I’m sorry.”
Haley smirked at him as he got up, shaking her head. “You have no idea what I’m thinking, so don’t project. Let’s go.”
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas has just been published in the Kindle Store! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2017