Welcome to the first chapter of the Quinn family! This chapter is going to be kind of a long one, so bear with me, because they won’t all be this long.
The cool current of the AC blew across my shoulders. It was 2 am and I was wide awake, my thoughts consuming me. I laid a hand on the curve of my stomach and smiled at the movement from the inside. I took a deep breath and tried to lay down again. My bear of a husband reached for me and I fit myself into the curve of his body. He stirred slowly, before leaning in and gripping my ponytail so that I’m forced to look at him. Even though he’s half asleep, his eyes flashed angrily as he growled, “It’s not time to get up. Where were you?” My lip quivered as I told him I couldn’t sleep. He rolled over briskly, and cuts off any hope I have of cuddling him tonight. I rolled over as well, feeling bad for waking him up and older than my 19 years. I held my belly protectively and wondered how things got so bad. The night I turned 18, I ran away from home. My mother was a former telenovela actress, who always cared for the bottle more than her own daughter. The night I left, I went up the rickety stairs in our house one last time, and made my way into my mother’s room. I stood over her sleeping form for a few minutes before opening her underwear drawer. I grabbed the stack of cash and stuffed it into my backpack without a care. I turned and looked in the mirror one last time. I heard the bed covers rustle and knew that I had woken my mom. She sat up and mumbled something incoherently, clearly still drunk from the night before. My voice betrayed the pain I tried so hard to mask, “Bye, Mama, I won’t be back for a long time.” I tightened the straps on my bag and turned away, her drunken sobs following me back down the stairs.
I made it to the end of the driveway before bursting into tears. Tears of joy, tears of hot anger, tears of grief for my childhood, tears of my newfound freedom. I set out down the road, in search of the nearest bus station. I walked, and walked……..and walked some more. Why did my journey freedom have to include so many hills? Also, why did we live so far out of town? I finally caught my first break as it grew dark. There was a grungy little sports bar, The Hidey Hole, I decided to stop there and see if I could get directions and a drink.
The inside of the place was nicer than the outside, but it was still pretty grungy. I made my way over to the bar and caught the bartender’s attention. He leaned against the counter, “What’s a pretty little thing like you doing way out here?” I smiled at his charming Southern accent, “I’m a little lost, and I happened on this place. Do you know where the nearest bus station might be?” He scratched his head, “I suppose the closest one would be in town, but that’s not for another 4 miles or so. You’re not going to make it there before dark, sweetheart.” I groaned and lay my head on the table dejectedly. He brought me a coke, and a bowl of peanuts before helping the next few guys that came in. I reveled in the crisp cold of the soda, and munched on the peanuts for a while.
The air in the room seemed to change as the door breezed open. A sharply dressed man made his way to the stool next to mine and ordered a beer. He gave me the once over before saying the same thing the bartender said, “What’s a pretty lady like you doing here?” I snorted in the most unladylike fashion before saying, “What’s a guy dressed in a fancy doing in this craphole?” I looked to the bartender, “No offense.” The bartender had a strange expression on his face, but I pulled my gaze back onto the good-looking stranger in front of me who seemed to be holding in his laughter. Finally he burst into chuckles, “That tongue’s gonna get you in trouble one day, missy, I’m the owner of this craphole.” I blushed and nearly dropped my drink. I was completely tongue-tied, so my mouth kept opening and closing like I was some sort of fish. He stuck his hand out, “the name’s Rajahvishni Darwish but you can call me Raj.” I refused to meet his gaze, but I shook his hand anyways, “I’m Lauryn Hernandez.”
He scooted closer to me on the seat, “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,. Can I make it up to you?” I was about to apologize, but his charming smile sent shivers down my spine, “You can make it up to me with a big plate of nachos.” He winked at me before turning to the bartender, “Tony, our nachos, on the house, for this young lady.” We shared a plate of nachos and talked about everything and anything. He had my crying with laughter, and I poured my heart out to him. I had known this man for hours, but I felt more connected to him than any other person I had ever known, except maybe Tony the bartender.
As the evening wore on, I stood up to stretch my legs. Before I knew it, Raj pulled me over to the dance floor in the corner. Boy, did he have some moves. I still felt like a shy teenage girl next to him. It took a while, but my confidence grew and I began to really feel the music. He held me in his arms and twirled me around, “As far as crapholes go, how does this one compare?” I giggled, “Oh, number one for sure.”
Just like that, he leaned his head in and kissed me deeply. It had been a long time since anyone held me so tenderly. The kiss seemed to go on and on, my mouth yearning for more of his. When the song ended, he held me in his arms, and we danced slowly to the next one, my heart content. Some might say it seems unlikely that I would feel so attached, so fast, for a man I just met. In all of my 18 years, I’d never gotten this much attention. I soaked it in like a dried out sponge dipped in water for the first time. .
As the bartender called out for closing time, Raj leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Should we continue this somewhere a little more private?” I gulped heavily and weighed my options. I could either walk the 4 miles into town, or I could let this dashing, mysterious man I just met take me to his home. I couldn’t in good conscience get in the car with a stranger, and I told him as much, “It might seem a little naive, but I can’t go with you, Raj, as much as I want to, I don’t know you very well.” He seemed to think about this for a minute before saying, “We don’t have to drive anywhere, if that’s what’s throwing you off. This place overlooks the ocean, if you just walk down the hill a ways, there’s this nice little private beach cove. We could sit there and…talk.” My heartbeat quickened as he grabbed my hand lightly. Before I knew it we were on our way down the path. He stopped by his car and grabbed a thick jacket and a picnic blanket before we made it down the hill.
He stretched out the blanket so that we could lean against the hillside and watched the stars over the ocean. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I let out a deep sigh of contentment, and Raj chuckled, “Tired?” I smiled, “Nope. Not even close. I can’t believe my life right now. Yesterday, my day was spent cleaning up after my drunken mother. She decided that now was as good a time as any to paint the walls. Except she used nail polish, and didn’t get very far.” Raj barked out this deep booming laugh that made my stomach feel fuzzy, “You can’t be serious…” I detailed some of the crazier things my mom had tried to do while under the influence. For some people, being drunk meant they stumbled everywhere, and got sick to their stomachs. For my mom, it was an elixir for confidence and stupid decision making.
After some time, I began to feel the chill in the air, seeping in from the ground, Raj wrapped his jacket around me as if we were some lovesick movie couple. I felt my eyes grow heavy and I leaned against his strong warm presence. I don’t know how long I was asleep for, but I was quickly woken by Raj, who was shaking me softly, “Lauryn, are you alright? You were crying in your sleep.” My face turned red, and I was glad that it was too dark for him to notice. I nodded, “Yeah, just a bad dream.” He didn’t need to know that I always woke up with tears on my cheeks.” He smiled warmly, running his thumb along his face, before kissing me softly. I turned and slid my body closer to his. We fit like a perfect puzzle piece. Naturally, one thing led to another….. and let’s just say neither of us fell back to sleep that night.
That morning, as the sun rose, Raj offered me a ride, and after the night we had, it would be silly to refuse. After checking on the bar, he joined me in the car, “So… where to, m’lady?” I smiled before saying, “Well, I’m not sure. I guess the nearest motel until I can find something more permanent.” The look on his face spoke volumes of his disapproval, and I wanted to crawl under a bush and hide forever, “You mean you don’t have a place to stay? No family or anything?” I shook my head slowly before his finger pulled my face to look at him, “There’s no question, then, you can stay with me.”