I never heard the vehicle pull into the driveway much less the driver’s door close when the man got out. I eased myself back to the ground so I could stand up. I couldn’t tell much about the man, but I definitely recognized the vehicle. It was a white SUV with a row of red and blue lights on the roof and SHERIFF is block red letters across the side.
The man was leaning against the driver’s door with his foot propped against the running board. He wasn’t wearing a uniform exactly. It looked just like a simple pair of blue jeans and a khaki shirt. But with the glare of the sun, it could have been a woman with a very bad hair cut wearing hot pink pants and an orange polka dot blouse for all I could tell for sure.
“As much as you used to run around this place when we were growing up, I had you pegged more for jogging or flat out running…not yoga,” he said laughing and making his way toward me.
“Eli?” I asked. I barely recognized the voice, but it sounded so familiar. “Elijah, is that you?” I shaded my eyes with my hand as though the shade would help my poor distance vision.
Elijah Bridger and I practically grew up together the summers I spent running around my grandparents’ farm. He and his parents lived just a few miles away as the crow flies, but we spent most every Saturday afternoon sitting on the edge of the pond drowning worms and hoping for a few drops of rain to cool off the evening.
“Girl, it hasn’t been that long,” he laughed. He expertly navigated the armadillo holes in the front yard and made his way to the shaded pecan tree where I was. “But, it has been a few years. So sorry about your grandfather. I wish I could have made it back for the funeral.”
“I think he would have understood considering you were off serving our country and all,” I said. “Somehow I think he knows you made it back in one piece.”
I didn’t care that I was sweaty and smelled like wet dog, but I reached up and grabbed Eli by the neck and nearly squeezed the life out of him. He almost snapped me in half with his hug. He smelled like crisp linen and fresh soap.
“Can’t breathe…” Eli whispered. “Survived Afghanistan to die in a hugging accident.” He raised up, lifted me off the ground, and swung me around in a huge circle. I didn’t get to see him off when he deployed because no one knew his unit was leaving until just hours before. Eli was Special Forces, received several accommodations while in service and came back a decorated hero…and we never knew the extent of his heroism. But, we could all imagine because we knew Eli.
“Have you had breakfast yet? I’m starved! Please put me down, by the way…I weigh a ton!”
“I haven’t. I am as well, and you’re a twig! Don’t you eat anymore since you work in the city? Did you forget how?”
“No, I didn’t forget how to eat, and I’m actually a very good cook. Come inside, and I’ll make us breakfast.” I finally broke free of Eli’s iron grip and started gathering my yoga gear.
“Actually, I saw what few supplies you bought at The Pig yesterday, and I don’t eat rabbit food,” he snickered. “Go make yourself presentable, and I’ll take you to get some decent breakfast. Looks like you could use some carbs.”
I stopped and slowly turned to face him. I wasn’t ready for another trip to town, but I also wasn’t ready to approach that subject with Eli. Looking at him, his hands propped on his hips and his square jaw set facing me head on, it was a sure bet that he wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer.
“You don’t hear “No” often, do you Sheriff Bridger?”
“Not often, ma’am. Let me check in with Martha on dispatch. Don’t dawdle. I haven’t even had my second cup of coffee this morning.”
I nodded and headed toward the back door of the house.
Even though it was rather pleasant outside, I didn’t want to keep Eli waiting too long. Mostly because, knowing him, it wouldn’t be outside his wheelhouse to barge in and order me to hurry up. Something told me that not only had Eli seen a lot in his years in the Army, he would put up with my nonsense much, either.
“You haven’t changed much, Bits!” he yelled out over the loudspeaker from his SUV. “You still take way too much time to get ready. HURRY UP! I’m hungry!”
“Good grief!” I thought to myself. Well, if the people in the next county needed to know I was in town…they knew. I grabbed my purse and ran out the door.
“I don’t remember you being this obnoxious when we were kids. Did the Army do that to you?” I asked while I buckled my seatbelt.
“No,” he said backing out of the driveway. “I just don’t think you noticed back then.”
Elijah Bridger was as disarming now as he was when we were growing up. I never pictured him in law enforcement, though, when I came back to do an internship at the newspaper. Little Elijah had grown up to be a bit of a law “bender,” as he called it. Bend them he did, just enough before they broke.
I’m not stupid, either. He knew the score, and he wanted me to dish it out to him my own way. That’s the only reason for this little charade this morning. Fine. I can play his games. I’ve worked around enough politicians in my career to understand how to play, so I can step up to this plate. But, being willing to play and wanting to play are two distinctly different frames of mind.