“Okay, so we have time. That means it’s safe. You don’t have to come with me,” I argued, again trying to pull the door shut and again he stopped me.
“You afraid to be seen with me or something? Afraid what the townsfolk are gonna think?” he teased.
“No, it’s not that.”
“Ah, so you think the big bad biker is going to scare the natives,” Bear said, stepping up into the truck. I had no choice but to scoot over to the passenger side to avoid being crushed underneath him.
The truth was that I couldn’t seem to think around him. A few minutes to myself might be able to clear some of the Bear induced haze that had been following me around, but there was no way in hell I was about to tell him that, so I came up with something that was still true, although a little less important on my scale of reasons for not taking him into town with me.
I threw my hands into the air, letting my frustration show. “I think you don’t seem to own a shirt and Emma May at the Stop-N-Shop is going to take one look at you and have heart attack number three.”
The corner of Bear’s mouth turned upward in a crooked smirk that made little lines appear at the corner of his eyes. He slowly leaned over me, closer and closer. I leaned away, plastering myself against the seat like I was trying to force myself to be one with it. “You think I’m hot, Ti?” His cool breath fluttered against my neck. “You jealous? Afraid I’m gonna make some little old lady’s panties just as wet as I make yours?”
“What…what are you doing?” I asked breathlessly when he reached across my lap.
“I drive kind of…wild,” Bear said, pulling the old lap belt across my waist and clicking it into the rusted buckle.
I breathed a sigh of relief and disappointment when he sat back up straight and started up the truck. He lifted up off the seat and pulled out something that had been hanging from the back of one of his pockets.
He pulled it over his head.
More like a tight black tank top.
If anything it did more to enhance the defined muscles of his chest and the ones on his stomach that trailed down to the V that pointed down into his low slung jeans. “See? You were wrong, I do own a shirt,” Bear said with a wink. With one long arm across the back of the bench seat, his fingers brushed my shoulder as he turned the truck around and headed down the driveway.
“Like that helps,” I muttered.
“Didn’t catch that,” Bear said, although I had a feeling he had.
“I’m perfectly capable of driving,” I said.
“I’m sure you are, but you’re with me right now, and as long as you’re with me, I drive.”
I turned my head toward my window and rolled my eyes.
I watched the orange grove pass us by as we made our way down the road and past the spot where Bear had raked over the dirt to erase any and all traces of the crash from the night before. Oranges were stacked high under the trees. The sickening sweet smell that had been permeating the air for weeks before THE NIGHT that changed everything had turned into something that smelled like takeout left in a refrigerator for a week too long.
“Why does it smell like something died out here?” Bear asked.
I shot him an obvious look. “Maybe because something did?” I replied sarcastically.
“Not what I meant, Ti. You know it. I mean, why are the oranges rotting?”
“When Sunnlandio pulled their contract it became pointless.”
“Why?” Bear asked, looking genuinely concerned. He lit a cigarette using the old push-in lighter on the dash. He rolled down the window and leaned out with his elbow on the ledge, his hair blowing in the breeze.
I shrugged and tried not to launch into the evils of the Sunnlandio Corporation. “Short story is that they discovered it was cheaper to import from Mexico.”
“But why let the oranges rot?”
“Harvesting costs a lot of money,” I explained. “And when you don’t have buyers lined up it becomes as much of a waste as the oranges to attempt a harvest. Chain supermarkets and big juice companies already have their own contracts or their own groves, or like Sunnlandio, they’ve switched over to importing. It’s cheaper to let them rot which sucks because it’s such a waste. Can’t even donate them because that still means that someone has to pick and deliver them.”
“You’ve been doing this all on your own?” Bear asked, taking a drag of his cigarette. I’d told him what had happened with the grove before but being face to face with thousands of rotting oranges made the situation even more real. Even more disturbing.
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