Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
Jenna Owens stepped onto the main road leading into town, minding her own business, and looking for some excitement. Graduation was only three weeks ago, but boredom had set in quickly. The scorching July sun beating down on the blacktop made it feel like fire beneath her feet as her sandals slid along the road. The distant sound of music broke the sound of her footfalls. She looked ahead for the source, but the hilly roads made that next to impossible.
A navy-blue truck came barreling down the middle of the two-lane road. Jenna continued walking, expecting the driver to get into his lane, but he didn’t. The truck accelerated aiming for her. Fear gripped her body and her feet froze in place while her mind began to race. The gap between them rapidly began to close. Jenna ran, desperate to get off the road before she became roadkill.
Just as she hit the dirt, the truck whizzed past her, tires screeching as the vehicle did a one-eighty. Slowly the truck crept towards her, making her heartbeat erratic.
“What’s a pretty little thing like you doing in the middle of the road?” Noah Prescott asked with a devilish smile on his lips.
Jenna instantly blushed at the compliment and stared into the dreamiest sepal eyes she’d ever seen. She tore her eyes away, remembering her fear just moments before. “Are you crazy? You could’ve killed me if I hadn’t jumped out of the way!” she said fighting the urge to return his smile.
“I never would’ve hit you, Jenna.” He was still smiling, and she felt a rush of heat sweeping from her head all the way to her purple toenails.
He’d said her name, which meant that he knew who she was.
“Where you headed?” he asked leaning over the bench seat toward the passenger door, his eyes locking with hers.
Jenna’s heart raced. “Nowhere in particular.” She tore her eyes away from his, hoping he couldn‘t hear the drumming of her heart that filled her ears. It not only drowned out the radio but the engine of the truck as well.
“Hop in, and I’ll take you for a soda to make up for my negligence,” he urged, laughing softly.
She turned and looked down the road, wondering what Mother would say if she left with Noah.
“I don’t bite, Jenna. I promise to return you to this very spot.” He crossed his heart with his forefinger and his smile grew wider.
Jenna nodded, her heart skipping beats. Noah reached his hand out and opened the passenger door. She got in and before the door closed, he pressed the gas pedal to the floor, making the truck lurch forward. He put a CD into the stereo and turned up the volume, the entire dashboard vibrating.
Jenna gazed at his bronzed face, noticing how handsome he was. His dark, wavy hair that was so thick she wanted to run her fingers through it. Noah had vivid sepal eyes that Jenna could easily get lost in, and when she looked at him, butterflies danced in her stomach. He had thin lips and a square jaw, with stubble already growing.
Noah was confident and relaxed, Jenna noticed, her complete opposite. She was a nervous wreck, probably because it was the first time she’d ever been alone with a boy.
She spent most of her time alone, going into the woods behind her house to watch the wildlife. Out there, she felt free of all the chaos that usually surrounded her. She’d never had any friends. All of her secrets, wishes, and dreams, she shared with the tree she'd taken refuge at as a child. She carved her initials into it when she was ten and ever since when she felt sad or had a problem, she went there and talked until her tongue became numb.
That tree, the one thing that always stood tall and strong was always there when she needed comfort and it never wavered like the people she’d met over the years. Jenna hoped that one day; people would actually see her instead of a frightened child hiding inside herself.
“How have you been since school let out?” he shouted, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of the music, pulling her from the introspection.
She thought life would be better after graduation, but she hadn’t thought past that moment, and now she was stuck trying to figure out what to do with herself.
She desperately wanted to attend college in the fall, but her grades suffered, and money was hard to come by. Thinking back, if she had realized they gave scholarships to those who succeeded in high school, she would’ve applied herself more. Instead, she showed up and dreamed of getting out of that place, not thinking of her future.
They arrived at the diner, and Noah brought the truck to a screeching halt. Pedestrians on the sidewalk jumped back in alarm. Some cursed and yelled at him, but he ignored it all. He ran around the truck, opened the passenger door, took her hand, pulling her along into the diner.
They sat in a booth and Noah waved to the waitress. “We'll have two strawberry shakes.”
Jenna watched intrigued. He had large hands and long fingers. Noah wore a white coral bracelet on his right arm, which made his skin appear even darker. She followed the bracelet up his arm, stopping at his well-defined muscles. Because he wore a green tank top, she was able to catch a peek of hair running across the rounded neckline. Her eyes moved to his neck, noticing the matching coral necklace.
She lifted her eyes to his face and blushed deeply again when her eyes met his.
“What are your plans for the fall?” he asked, popping a toothpick into his mouth and chewing the end. She’d always been cute, but now at 18, she mesmerized him. Her auburn hair hung midway down her back in long cascading curls. Jenna’s brown eyes were soft and very expressive. Even when she was younger, she wore her heart on her sleeve for the entire world to see. It was probably the reason most kids either picked on her or ignored her completely. They all assumed there was nothing special, but he knew different.
He always wondered why she stayed to herself, didn’t try to make friends. Jenna Owens was the biggest mystery in Texas and she was sitting across from him. He smiled at the thought of being able to get the most elusive girl in town to come with him without any coaxing.
“I don’t really have any,” she admitted. “I thought about college, but we don’t have the money right now. I was hoping to get a part-time job, but that requires transportation.” She bit her lower lip, stopping the conversation and shifted her eyes to the table.
Noah’s left eyebrow rose as he studied her face. She was definitely uneasy, fidgeting with the wrapper from the straw, her eyes constantly evading his. “If you’re serious about a job,” he said smiling, “I could take you to see, Stoney.”
Her brown eyes drew together, causing a crease on her forehead as she studied him. “Stoney?”
He laughed and sat back into the vinyl booth. “Stoney Jackson. He owns the station down the road. I know for a fact he’s looking to hire a new cashier.”
Jenna smiled brightly, flashing her white teeth. Excitement registered in her brown eyes, and then quickly faded, her face suddenly somber as she frowned. “I don’t know how to run a machine like that,” she muttered.
He reached across the table, squeezed her hand, and smiled warmly at her. “Why don’t I take you over there after we finish our shakes?” She snatched her hand away as if his touch somehow burned her delicate skin and looked down at her lap.
Noah sat forward again, wondering what exactly was going through her mind. He waited, wondering why she couldn’t look at him. He knew he was staring at her, knew she could feel his eyes on her face, but still she kept her gaze down. It seemed like minutes had passed, but still she refused to look up.
Finally, she lifted her chin and looked at him. “What?”
“There’s some heavy thinking going on in that brain of yours,” he said. “Don’t worry about anything. Let’s talk to Stoney first, and if he gives you a job, we’ll work out the rest.”
She smiled and nodded.
Noah took out some money and tossed it onto the table, then stood up and reached his hand out for her. He couldn't help feeling happy when she set her small hand in his. Finally someone was able to strike up a conversation with the mysterious Jenna, and wasn’t he the lucky one for stumbling upon her today. He tugged her back to the street. They drove to Stoney’s station, which was really bustling, since it had a prime location right off the interstate.
“Howdy,” Tiffany, the cashier said. “Is this grease-monkey corrupting you?”
Noah rolled his eyes, ignoring the remark. “Jenna’s looking for a job.”
“Great, hope you get it. I sure could use the help,” she said smiling.
He guided her through the door off the store that led to an auto shop and back into Stoney’s office. Noah knocked loudly, and then opened the door without waiting for a response.
“Noah? What in tarnation are you doin’ scarin’ me like that?” Stoney demanded.
Noah smiled at Jenna and turned back to Stoney, who sat behind a cluttered desk and looked at her curiously. He was a husky man with a plump, round face. Gray hair peeked out the sides of the baseball cap, and his eyes were the same dull gray, almost perfectly matching his hair.
“Jenna’s interested in the job,” Noah said.
Stoney brought his thumb and forefinger up to his chin, studying her for a moment, looking Jenna over from head to toe like a specimen.
“Have you ever worked a cash register before?” he drawled slowly as if every word he spoke was more important than the last one.
She shook her head, feeling crushing defeat. She could lie, fake the knowledge, but they’d figure it out quickly. It would be easy to see that she had no experience whatsoever. She needed the job and lying was out of the question.
He sat in his chair, stone-faced, silence stretched as she waited for a response. “Be here tomorrow at noon and I’ll have Tiffany show you the ropes,” he said in a gruff voice.
Jenna smiled and extended a hand. “Thank you very much for the opportunity.”
His face broke into a wide grin, and he started laughing, his broad shoulders bouncing. “This here gal could teach you a thing or two about manners, boy.”
Noah nodded once. “I think she could teach me a lot more than a thing or two,” he admitted, his eyes on her.
They went back into the store, and Noah gave Tiffany the good news.
A wave of happiness washed over her as they drove back to her house. Finally, at the age of eighteen, she had her first job! She couldn’t wait to tell her parents the news, and hoped they didn’t object to her newfound hope.
Noah stopped the truck at the same spot where he’d almost run her down an hour earlier. “I told you I’d bring you back here, didn’t I?”
Jenna smiled. “Thanks for everything you did for me today. I really appreciate it.” She got out of the truck and started walking down the road, fantasizing about breaking out of the shell she’d kept around her for so long now.
“Jenna,” Noah called. She stopped walking and turned back to the truck. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at eleven-thirty.”
She nodded and turned away heading toward home. Before she turned down the gravel road, she looked back and found Noah watching. Waving once, she turned and ran.
She burst through the door, making Mother almost jump out of her chair with her long, wavy red hair flying around her face.
“Jenna! You scared the life out of me!” She pressed her hand against her heart.
Jenna ran up and threw her arms around her excitedly.
“What’s going on with you?”
She pulled out of her mother’s embrace and sat on the floor looking up into the porcelain face. “I found a job and I start tomorrow.”
Mother looked down at her, confusion written on her face as her eyes darkened. “How’d this happen in such a short time?”
Jenna couldn’t help laughing at her mother’s stunned expression. She stood up and looked at her, wanting to see the reaction that was sure to come. “I went walking down the road and met up with Noah Prescott. He told me Stoney Jackson was looking for a cashier, and Stoney hired me on the spot.”
She looked at Jenna for a long time, her face frozen.
Jenna desperately wanted the job, hoped it would help her gain some independence. She was tired of living as if she didn't exist—like a loner—and wanted to climb out of the shell that held her back for so long. Freedom was calling, and she didn’t want to let it go. She had to think of a way to make her parents understand how important the job was.
“I know you’re worried about me,” she began, “but Noah said he could drive me to and from work. Besides, the Prescott’s are good people, you said so yourself.” She relied on the loose lips of Peggy Jo, one of her mother’s best friends, who never said anything bad about Noah’s family.
“We’ll discuss it over dinner. If your father doesn’t object, I won’t stand in your way.”
Jenna kissed her cheek and ran to the bedroom to decide what to wear to work the next day. She pulled out her favorite jeans and blue blouse, excitement racing through her entire body. She couldn’t wait until the next day to go to work. Finally, there was something exciting and worthwhile to look forward too.
She helped Mother with dinner, setting the table and putting her father’s favorite beer in the freezer. She paced the front porch for ten minutes, waiting to see his truck come bouncing down the road. When it did, he beeped the horn and she ran to greet him.
“Someone’s had a good day,” he said grinning, flinging the door open.
“Dinner’s ready and waiting.” Jenna grabbed his rough hand and dragged him to the house.
He looked at his wife, Tess, hoping her face would give him some insight, but all he got was a smile. He sat at the head of the small wooden table as Jenna placed a cold bottle of beer before him, the frosty bottle a dead giveaway. Anytime someone wanted his approval, a nice, ice-cold long neck would appear. He smiled appreciatively, twisted off the cap and took a swig, then looked up at her.
“Well? You gonna tell me what’s on your mind?”
Jenna glanced at mother, who nodded, then took a deep breath. “I was offered a job today. Before you say no, I want you to know that it’s a great opportunity for me to start earning some money. I would like to be able to go to college, get a car, start looking towards my future, and this is a good place for me to start.”
His reddish-brown eyebrows knitted together, and he stared at her with big, brown eyes. Her father, Terry, was a handsome man, but when he was angry, his gentle face turned hard, and Jenna never wanted to be on his bad side.
“Where’s this job of yours?”
“Stoney Jackson’s place near the interstate. Noah Prescott said he’d pick me up on his way into work, so you won’t have to make any extra arrangements for me.”
He glanced at mother, as if he could know her feelings from a quick look, and then turned his eyes back to Jenna. “I suppose that’s a good place for you to start.” He smiled, and his face softened, the wrinkles in the corner of his eyes relaxed.
Jenna leapt out of her chair in excitement, landing in his lap and hugged him tight. “Thank you. You’re the best father a girl ever had.”
After dinner, she headed to the backyard and into the woods, straight to her favorite thinking spot. She never thought much about her future before, but, more and more, she was glad for the chance to emerge from that shell that she hid in most of her life.
Tess and Terry Owens were the best parents she could’ve asked for. They adopted her when she was only six months old. Tess was wonderful, and her story of how she chose Jenna out of all the other children in the orphanage was something she clung to, feeling that she were truly special, but wished with all her heart that others could see it too.
She could still picture herself as a little girl sitting on Tess’ lap as she recalled seeing Jenna in the crib, waiting for the right family to come along and rescue her from the orphanage. Tess believed destiny brought them together to give her the family she always wanted.
Jenna was lucky to have them in her life. They gave her love and the feeling of family she might never have known otherwise. They never thought of her as anything but their daughter.
Terry was a ranch hand who worked for the Larkin family for almost twenty years. He was tall, with light-brown hair that now had patches of gray, and his brown eyes twinkled when he looked at his family. He taught Jenna how to ride at the tender age of five, and took her to work with him on Saturdays, helping at the Larkin ranch. Besides exploring the woods, her favorite place to be, she loved being around the horses, cattle, and hands. That was where she first found acceptance, and no one made her feel out of place.
Living in Hill Country, Texas, she was always aware of the land. The vastness of this state had many wonderful things to offer the people who lived there, and the tourists who came in droves searching for the American cowboy.
Texas boasted mountains, the Gulf of Mexico, rivers, lakes, cattle ranches, and fields that stretched for miles. From the time she was a small child, she looked around in awe, trying to figure out where she belonged.
She had so many wonderful things to look forward to now and could finally put the past behind her. Had destiny placed her on the road today? Was Noah the one who’d help break the chains that bound her to a nonexistent life? Dare she dream about a future now?
Maybe she was getting ahead of herself, but she couldn’t help it. Her life was looking up, and she couldn’t wait to embrace it.
The next morning, she waited patiently for Noah to arrive and drive her to work. Ready half an hour early, she watched the clock ticking on the wall. If she could’ve moved time forward with a magic spell, she would have. Jenna lingered at the corner and was elated when Noah arrived earlier than expected.
She looked at the wristwatch and smiled. Only five minutes had past. Noah smiled brightly as he stopped in front of her.
He’d had her on his mind all night long, even dreamt of kissing her, holding her close. No one had ever intrigued him quite the way she did. He wanted to know everything there was to know about her, solve the mystery, and maybe even have a lasting relationship with her. He’d been up at dawn, anticipation taking over, and hoped that she’d be waiting if he arrived early.
“I had the notion you’d be out here early,” he said.
Jenna tried to hide a nervous smile climbing into the truck.
Noah drove slowly to the station. Jenna glanced at him, watching him closely. While the radio played, he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel until he couldn’t take her staring at him any longer.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” he asked, catching her gaze.
She blushed and turned away to look out the window.
He smiled, fascinated by her shyness. “Jenna.”
“What?” She tried—and failed—to hide the enormous smile.
He laughed and continued driving. Jenna Owens needed time to adjust to him, and that was just fine for now. He’d wait her out, and then see if there were any sparks between them. Noah parked behind the building in the only empty space he could find. “We have ten minutes before we’re needed inside. Why don’t we stay here and talk?”
Jenna nodded, but remained silent.
“So, what do you like to do for fun?” he asked.
She sighed. “I like going to the ranch on Saturday’s to help my father,” she acknowledged. “I help the other hands, so they get off work a little early.”
“Do you like movies?” He tried to catch her eyes, wondering why she continued to avoid his. He noticed a spark of excitement in her warm brown ones. He’d never seen anyone look that contented before. Most people constantly worried about things out of their control, and never saw any beauty around them. Jenna was different.
“Well, I guess we should go in now.”
Tiffany was busy with customers when they entered the store, so Jenna waited to one side and watched how easily the woman did her job. She wondered if she’d ever have such confidence.
When the last patron left, Tiffany waved her to the door. “Howdy, Jenna.” She smiled. “Why don’t you punch in on your time card, then we’ll start.”
Tiffany showed her where the clock was and how to set the card inside it for the right day. After that, she explained the cash register. She made it look so simple. If only it would be that way for Jenna.
Occasionally Jenna stared at the door leading to the garage and caught Noah watching her. She’d smile, then turn away embarrassed.
“Looks like you have an admirer,” Tiffany said, glancing at Noah.
“We’re just friends,” she uttered, shifting her gaze to the floor.
“Maybe that’s what you think now, but by the way that boy looks at you says he wants more than friendship.”
Jenna looked at her in shock for insinuating such a thing, but when she looked back at the door, Noah was still smiling, his soft, sepal eyes glistening as he gazed at her.
Could Tiffany be right? Could he really be interested in someone like her? How could she get into his truck to go home without clamming up? This piece of information, even though she wanted it, now plagued her, making her more nervous than ever.
Now all thoughts were about him. When she looked up at the clock and saw it was time for the shift to end, her stomach tied up in knots. She punched out on the time card and waited for Noah outside his truck, her hands sweating, and her breathing heavy. What was happening to her? She had to calm down and fast.
He came around the building toward her grinning. “How’d it go?”
She smiled back, “Fine. I messed up a few times, but Tiffany managed to correct my mistakes.” Her eyes lingered on the line of grease on his face. Even with the dark smudge on his cheek, Noah Prescott was something to look at.
He noticed her intense stare and went to the driver’s side mirror. He pulled a rag from his pocket, wiped his cheek, then got into the truck and started it up.
Neither said a word for a while. She was concerned that he was upset because she stared at the grease and didn’t say anything. “Jenna, I have a question to ask,” he said softly.
She looked at him, surprised when he finally spoke. What did he want to know about her now? She couldn’t take any more of his 21 questions. It was hurting her head trying to come up with answers that didn’t sound so dumb and immature.
He pulled off to the side of the road at the end of her street. “Would you like to see a movie with me tonight?”
“That would be nice,” she said, barely above a whisper.
“I’ll pick you up at seven.”
She nodded and got out. “Thanks for everything. I appreciate what you’ve done for me, Noah.”
She walked away, and then turned back once. Noah was still sitting there, watching her every move. She waved and continued walking as the excitement of having her first date finally hit.