So, I completed “Clouds” a few weeks ago and turned it in with my two handy editing friends. I got one copy back last night, but I’m still waiting on the other. Once I do, I’ll make the necessary changes and while I’m editing through it one time, I’ll have it up and available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle. Stay tuned for that as well as the release of the book trailer that I’ll be posting here, on my Facebook and Youtube.
In the meantime though, here’s another sneak peak into one of the scenes between Luke and Tabitha.
Luke ordered their meal, more muffled noises were heard and the car pulled forward. A more clear voice not too far from the car window repeated Luke’s total price of the food and Tabitha made sure to not even breathe too heavily, fearing that the inquisitive worker might see her moving.
He paid the amount, and then pulled forward one more time. Tabitha could aroma the food floating out from the windows and her gut roared against her, begging for nutrition.
She heard the crinkling of paper as the scent grew stronger and Luke drove away speedily. Tabitha waited patiently, sniffing her dinner and then she wondered something.
“Where are we going now?” she asked.
After a long while, the road became progressively bumpier, her joints knocking against the hard floor of the car.
Suddenly, the car stopped. All was quiet. Tabitha couldn’t hear any cars, any honking, nothing. No noise at all.
“Where are we?”
Luke cut off the engine and the chirping of birds graced her ears. “Outside of town out in the woods somewhere. I found this old path while I was driving one day and I thought it’d be the perfect hiding spot.”
He opened his door, stepped out and then opened the back door, giving Tabitha the cue that it was perfectly safe here.
She threw off the blanket, leaving it in the back seat and crawled out of the car. Tabitha found herself surrounded by luscious greenery of trees, flowers and all sorts of plants she had never seen before. Tabitha had never even ventured outside of Shiloh and had only ever seen such colorful things in her wild fantasies and dreams. They seemed miles away from any form of civilization.
Her senses were filled with pleasant melodies of the songbirds and fresh air coated the heady scent of flora. But what Tabitha marveled at the most, was how bright it was. High above, streams of sunlight broke through the thick canopy leaves, orangey beams of pure sunlight, unfiltered by clouds or rain that inundated her life.
While Tabitha admired the wilderness around them, Luke pulled out the blanket she had been hiding under, along with their meal and drinks.
“It’s so beautiful. I’ve never seen something so untouched,” Tabitha commented, turning in place to take in the panoramic view of the forest.
“You’ve never been to one of the parks?” Luke asked as he handed Tabitha her drink while holding everything else between in his arms.
“No. Christians aren’t allowed in public places like parks. And I don’t pass one on my way to work.”
Tabitha’s face beamed with unbridled wonder as she looked to Luke. He was staring at her, eyes soft and limpid above a gentle smile that rolled across his perfect mouth.
“What is it?” she asked laughingly, taking her drink from him.
“Nothing… It’s just nice to see you smile. You have a great smile, you know that?” Luke motioned them towards a narrow path through between two trees. Tabitha followed.
Tabitha’s gaze couldn’t stay still as they carefully stepped their way through the underbrush. Luke pushed back low-lying branches so she could pass unhindered and occasionally pressed back a dense cluster of weeds that blocked her path. She was flattered by his gallantry, but another idea came to mind.
They were literally out in the middle of no where, outside of the city limits and she was far from help if she needed it. The natural cautionary side of her felt a twinge of worry, but even though she hadn’t known Luke for long, she felt he could be trusted. If he wasn’t, then at least she had a few happy memories to take with her to the work camp.
They soon emerged from the path and into a wide meadow. A breath caught in her throat as Tabitha’s eyes burned with tears at the beauty that lay before her. It was just like the meadow in the dreams she so often had. Sunlight washed over her and the warmth it gave was more than she ever imagined it to be. Her hand fled to her mouth and nose, trying vainly to smother the sobs that sent her body into mild convulsions.
Off to the side, Luke was preparing their picnic, spreading out the blanket and setting out their meal. He looked up and noticed the rising hysteria in her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, fleeing to her side. He let his hand rest between her shoulder blades as she gained control of herself.
“It’s just…” she sniffled, “I’ve been here before.”
His eyes narrowed with confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Tabitha began, gesturing her hands pathetically as she continued to sputter a bit, “I haven’t exactly been right here in this very spot before, but I’ve had dreams about a place like this before. I’m sorry I’m getting so emotional. It’s just even more beautiful in person.”
Luke exhaled with relief and smiled. “It’s alright. Do you want to eat further out in the middle? It’s not like we’re going to be seen out here anyway.”
Tabitha nodded and watched as he went to slide their picnic farther away from the tree line and into the grassy field. He had to beat back the high stalks, but eventually he cleared a very cozy patch for them to sit in.
Having regained her composure, she joined him on the blanket. The sharp scent of the grass overpowered the smell of the food, but she relished in it. Luke unwrapped the food and handed her burger to her as he began devouring his own.
“So, why did you bring me out here?” Tabitha finally asked as she settled into her surroundings. She hadn’t even bitten into her food yet, but Luke was already halfway through his meal.
He swallowed a mouthful before looking up with striking blue eyes. The sunlight made them even more captivating. “I wanted to share a meal with you.”
Tabitha shook her head. “No, I mean, what’s the point of the meal?”
“To be fed of course.”
She gave him a look that told him to get serious and he chuckled.
“Ok, ok,” he said as she reclined back on his elbows, crackling the grass beneath him. Tabitha’s eyes roamed over his chiseled torso before returning to his face. She hoped that he would take the color in her cheeks as an effect of the sun and not the blush that it really was.
“Over the past month I have seen you nearly everyday at work and not once have we had a meaningful conversation or gotten to know each other. It’s been bothering me.” Luke laughed a bit and looked away. “I hope you won’t find this awkward, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot and I can’t seem to stop.”
Tabitha bowed her head in an attempt to conceal the radiant smile that she couldn’t contain. Now she knew they felt the same way for each other. Luke haunted her night and day, everywhere she went and no amount of work or scripture reading could block him out of her thoughts.
Luke’s gaze fell back to her. “So, I wanted to get you some place where we could talk and get to know each other. My original idea was to get a secluded table in a corner at a restaurant where we wouldn’t be stared at or noticed too much, but I think this actually worked out a lot better.”
“Yes, it did.” Tabitha ogled at the greasy burger and took a apprehensive bite. Her taste buds were overwhelmed by the riot of flavors. Tabitha’s eyes widened with shock. She had never tasted anything so delicious. The restaurant had fine food, but it was often cold and stale from being left out for too long. And the foods at home were no better. It was like a whole new world had opened up for her.
“You ok?” Luke asked.
Tabitha, her mouth still full, savoring the first bite, nodded her head and looked to him, eyes filled with excitement. “Yes,” she mumbled. “This is amazing.”
Luke fell onto his back, writhing with laughter.
Tabitha ignored him and took bite after bite, loving her first experience with fast food. When Luke’s laugh died down, he watched her finish off the meal at a ravenous speed.
“You were hungry,” he commented, his voice laced with amusement.
Tabitha stuffed a few fries in her mouth and nodded.
“Have you even tried the soda yet?”
She had almost completely forgotten about it. She sipped it up through the straw and thought her mouth would explode with the shock of the carbonation. She wasn’t expecting it, but found it a refreshing chaser.
Luke let her finish the meal in silence and when she crumbled up the wrapper and dropped it to the blanket.
“Ok. Well, how should we start off then?” Tabitha asked, feeling the buzz of caffeine suddenly hit her system.
“How about… hobbies. What do you like to do in your free time?” There was a perkiness to Luke’s face as if he had been looking forward to this all week.
Tabitha’s lips tightened into a thin line, knowing full well what the answer was. She had no hobbies. There was nothing appealing about her home life. She wasn’t quite ready to tell him about her mother yet, but what else was there to tell? She didn’t want him to lose interest in her because she was boring, but she didn’t want to lie and puff herself up with images of going to parties that didn’t happen or talents that she didn’t possess.
“I don’t really have the convenience for hobbies. I get home from work and usually I’m so tired I just go straight to bed if I don’t have anything else to do like laundry, shopping or cleaning.”
Luke didn’t seem disappointed. The sun accentuated the blonde streaks in his hair, making his skin look even tanner than in the city, especially against the white glare of his button up shirt. “Then we have something in common. I don’t have any hobbies either.”
“Really?” Tabitha didn’t want to believe him. A Gadrian man had many priveleges. He could do anything he wanted, go anywhere, buy anything and no one had the right to tell him that he couldn’t. Why not use such a blessing?
“Yeah, really. I don’t have a lot of stuff and I’ve given up a lot of things I used to do in my hometown so there’s not much left for me.”
“What things did you give up?”
Luke’s face went sour as if reliving a painful memory and she instantly regretted asking. “It’s things I can live without. I used to smoke and drink a lot. I was on the party scene a lot, but as I got older it became less enticing. It just wasn’t fun anymore.”
Although Tabitha couldn’t relate, she was thankful he was a changed man.
“I still drink on occasion with my dad, but not nearly as much as I used to.”
“You don’t look much older than I am,” Tabitha observed.
Luke seemed intrigued. “How old are you exactly?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No way. You seem so much more mature than twenty-two.”
“Well, how old are you?”
“You don’t look it,” Tabitha said with a smile. “You look much younger.”
“I guess we’re even then.”
Tabitha coiled her feet behind her and leaned against one hand, tilting her head against her shoulder, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest. “But you must do something after work?” she asked, getting back to their original conversation.
Luke shrugged, lacing his fingers over his stomach. “Not really. My dad and brother are usually busy with their own things so I sit on the couch with them, but my mind is miles away when they’re talking to me.”
She wondered if his mind was on her in those moments like her mind was on him, but didn’t push that question. “Tell me about them?”
“Who? My dad and brother? There’s not too much to tell. My dad, as I’ve told you is the chief of police. He’s always been in the police force as long as I can remember. And I don’t think he’s part of the Gyad like you thought before. I think he’s just regular police. At least, that’s what I gather when he comes home and talks about work.”
“And your brother is a lawyer?” Tabitha recalled.
“Yep. He’s got his own law firm opening in Shiloh. He’s the brainiac of the family and has a lot more common with my dad than I do.”
“Then you must be close with your mother?”
Another shot of pain flashed in Luke and Tabitha wished she would stop hitting raw nerves. “My mom hasn’t been in the picture since I was little. Everyone gives me different stories. Dad said she committed suicide, my brother said she was killed, my family said she just ran out on us. I don’t know what is true and what isn’t. All I know is she’s not around.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Tabitha said softly, genuinely heartbroken for Luke. She knew what it was like to lose a family member. She knew all too well.
“What was your family like?” Luke asked, propping himself up onto his elbow.
She sighed and steeled herself for the story that would unfold.
“My dad worked for a construction company, as did my brother. They were good, honorable men. My father led us in bible studies every evening. My brother would help me with my academic studies and chores all the time and take care of me when our parents were working.
“My mom used to work for a seamstress in the city, helping make wedding dresses. She loved her work and made the loveliest dresses for me when I was little. Even if she had to make them out of flour or potatoes sacks, she always had a knack for making it pretty…” Tabitha’s mind drifted off to the wonderful memories she shared with her family. She would have given anything to have them back with her now. “I can still remember they day that the police took them away… I miss them a lot.”
A single tear escaped down her cheek, a mournful sentiment to her late family. “But,” she continued, “I know I will see them again.” She felt herself smiling at the very thought of seeing her brother and father in heaven, standing with Jesus and all the angels. It would be a glorious day, indeed. No more crying, no more suffering. Just love and joy would reign in God’s majestic heavenly kingdom.
“You’ll see them again? Are they still alive?”
The look on Luke’s face was a mix of confusion and compassion.
Tabitha shook her head. “No, they’ve passed away, but when I pass away someday, I’ll see them in heaven.”
His eyes lit up with interest at the mention of heaven. Tabitha quickly added, “But I won’t go on about such things. It’s illegal to talk about and I’m sure you weren’t looking for preaching when you planned this meal.”
Luke couldn’t help but laugh. “No, I didn’t, but I wouldn’t mind hearing about it later if you’re willing to tell me.”
She grinned and nodded, eager to share her faith if he was open to it. “That sounds like a plan.”
A beat of silence passed between them before she continued their discussion.
“So, if you and your brother are old enough, why don’t you move out of your father’s home?” Tabitha knew that many Christian families stayed together in one home for as long as possible if they could help it. They needed each other for support and fellowship, but she knew Gadrians to not be that way at all.
“We’ve all gotten used to each other, I guess. We get along fine and it’s cheaper to live together. We’re just three bachelors, so it’s not complicated. My dad never dated anyone after mom. My brother hasn’t found the right girl that could put up with his busy lifestyle. He’s a bit of a workaholic. And I…” Luke paused to think of the correct wording. “I guess I’m just waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” Tabitha had to ask before taking another sip of her soda. She wanted him to say something pertaining to her, but that would have been too perfect.
“For… that right motivation to take that leap of faith again, I guess.”
There was a far away glimmer in his eye as his gaze fell past her. She could see the brokenness, the scars that he tried to hide. Tabitha esteemed herself in being highly intuitive when it came to people. It was a gift she had since she was little. No matter how hard someone tried to hide a hurt, she could still see it in their mannerisms and especially in the eyes. The eyes always betrayed the person behind them.
Tabitha also picked up on the word again. Had he loved and lost so tragically to make him guard his heart? Even from her? She knew it was time to change the subject.
“I remember you said that you owned your own restaurant in Trezville. Have you always been interested in the food industry?”
Luke turned back to her, the shadow of apathy gone from his eyes. “I’m more interested in the management aspect of running a business. I seem to be good at it, so I’ve stuck with it all these years.”
“Do you get along well with Mark and Jack?” Tabitha asked, unsure of what spurred that question forward.
Luke snorted. “Are you kidding? I hate those guys. I barely tolerate Jack and do my best to stay on Mark’s good side, but they both just aggravate me in the end.”
Tabitha gave a soft laugh and tiled her head back. “I remember when you almost beat Jack up in the kitchen. Do you remember that day?”
“All too well,” Luke replied with a nod.
Tabitha sat up, incited by the heat of the memory. “I remember the room being so thick with tension that I was practically swimming in it. And the look in Jack’s eyes when you threatened him! I only wish I could inspire that kind of respect.”
Luke shook his head. “That wasn’t respect, it was fear.”
“Still, I wish I could stand up for myself like that so you didn’t have to.” Tabitha had the courage to do it. There were countless times when she wanted to give Mark a piece of her mind, but she kept herself on a leash to avoid trouble. If she only had the power, the authority that Luke had, things may have been easier for her. Is she weren’t a Christian life would all be easier.
“Well, anytime you want me to rough them up a bit, just let me know.” Luke pounded his fists together for emphasis and she giggled.
They smiled as a moment of silence fell between them. Tabitha tried her best to look at anything but Luke, while all he did was gaze at her with a longing that she was sure bordered upon an emotion forbidden to both of them.
Tabitha blushed a deep red and bit her lip. “So, what is this exactly?”
“What do you mean?” Luke’s expression never waivered.
“Is this a…” she could hardly bring herself to say it, “a date?” She had heard talks about these things at the restaurant. Inside the ghetto, it was known as courting, but she knew them to be the same.
Luke seemed a little surprised, but his smirk didn’t fade at the question. “I believe it would be,” Luke said coolly.
“You know this is wrong. We’re not even supposed to be here together,” she said meekly.
“Oh, come on now. You were just opening up and being yourself and you have to bring that up again?” Luke’s eyes rolled and he fell onto his back, disturbing the bed of grass again.
Tabitha leaned forward a little. “But you still know it’s wrong and yet we’re here anyway!”
Tabitha knew this fact could not be ignored or covered up by appetizing food and pleasant conversation. It was a real problem.
Luke turned his head and looked to her with pleading eyes.
“I know it’s wrong. I know this is illegal. I know we shouldn’t be here, doing this. But, aren’t you at least enjoying yourself? You must get lonely sometimes, too, late at night, staring out the window, wondering if you’ll ever have someone you can rely on for friendship? Aren’t you tired of not having anyone who understands? Someone to hold you at night when it gets cold or when you have a nightmare. Someone to be there when you’re crying and broken hearted that can mend that pain deep down where you won’t allow anyone else. Don’t you want someone like that in your life who is faithful enough not to run away?”
His words cut Tabitha deep. It was the very musings of her own soul, spoken aloud for the first time. Just the night before, she was gazing out the window at the darkened clouds, thinking about the one person that could chase away her loneliness. The one person she knew she would want in her life as a companion. The one person she knew she could trust above anyone else outside of the ghetto. And that person was sitting right in front of her. And glancing up into his eyes, she could see that the one person he wanted was in front of him as well. A million different emotions warred just beneath the surface for both of them and she could see it just as plainly as the sunshine around them.
She didn’t know how to answer his question. She only knew what she felt. But, what she felt was wrong. It was a sin. It was illegal. But he looked so broken, yearning for some response of agreement or sympathy. He longed for someone just as much as she did.
It made no sense, none of it made any sense. The sensible girl would not fall so hard and so quickly for someone she barely knew. But beyond everything, there was something about it that just felt right. But could it be possible that he had fallen so hard too? Or was he that desperate for companionship? He had his pick of women. Why her?
While she was deep in thought, she scarcely noticed that Luke was stirring from his resting place.
He sat up completely and leaned forward onto his hands and knees, coming so unnervingly close to Tabitha that she had no time to react.
His hand reached around the back of her neck to pull her closer to him, but she was quick enough to see where this was going. Tabitha reflexively pushed her hand against his muscular shoulder, stopping his progress. Her body trembled with anticipation and her stomach tightened. She couldn’t breathe as chills crept over her skin.
Their noses were almost touching and she could feel his hot breath on her face. Their gazes were locked, full of emotion. Fear, passion, longing and brokenness coursed between them.
Tabitha wanted so badly to drop her hand and let him do what he intended. Her fingers quivered on his chest, barely having the strength at all to keep it raised like that.
The only thing she could whisper was, “No.”
She felt like an imbecile for saying such a thing, but she had to say it. Her flesh wanted to say yes, but her spirit said no. She had to go with the one that she trusted more.
“What?” Luke whispered, sitting back slightly, looking even more puzzled and hurt.
“I can’t. I’m sorry. Please, don’t.”
Tabitha let her hand drop, hoping he wouldn’t make another advance. Luke only let his head hang as he sat back onto his heels. A sigh escaped him and she wished she could take it all back. Whatever pain he had deep inside, she didn’t want to make it worse.
“I’m sorry, I’m just not ready for that sort of thing.” She bit her lip and let her gaze fall down to the vacant space between them.
This was the moment where she could truly judge his character. Was this whole month a farce? A plot to get her alone and take advantage of her? Or was he sincere in his intentions towards her and respect her wishes? She wondered if he would still care for her, even if she didn’t give him the pleasure he wanted.
“I’m sorry for pushing like that. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just couldn’t help myself.”
Tabitha met his gaze and smiled. That was the answer she was looking for.
Luke ran his fingers through his hair, appearing to be in deep thought, struggling in a battle with his own conscious. Tabitha wanted to test him further.
“If you really can’t control yourself, you know that Alisha is always open for a relationship. I think she likes you,” Tabitha mumbled. She would never forget the way Luke seemed to brush her off that first day at the restaurant. She’d see the way Alisha flirted with him over the last month too. Luke would have had to be blind not to notice.
A flash of anger came across his face. “I don’t give a rip about Alisha. She’s a slut and I wouldn’t go on a date with her even if she paid me.”
Tabitha had to bit her lips together to keep from giggling. She hated to admit it, but she agreed with him. Seeing her lightened mood, Luke softened as well.
“Then why can’t you help yourself?” Tabitha knew she was prodding at Pandora’s box, but she didn’t care. She was too curious.
Luke grinned. “Because, you’re beautiful, inside and out. It’s hard not to want to.”
Tabitha never heard anyone say those words to her. They were like a balm to her shattered self esteem. “Thank you. But, can we get to know each other a little better before that?”
He nodded in agreement and they settled back into the flow of conversation.
It was then that she realized that she was talking about kissing and romantic notions as casually as if it were something that was inevitable to happen between them. Who was to say that this was going to work out at all? For all she knew, tomorrow would be her last day in Shiloh before being dragged to a work camp for some silly reason. Or Luke could decide to find another job.
The idea of never seeing each other again constricted her lungs, but she tried to push the thoughts away. She didn’t know what the future held and neither did Luke. But, she took comfort in the idea that they would face it together, no matter what it was.
For more insights and the “Story Behind the Story” of Clouds, check out its Book Page. And stay tuned for the pre-order notice!