Soon after Calla had finished getting dressed, there was a knock on the door that led to Gary’s room. She could hear Jay and Joe Don talking loudly about horses. Calla grabbed her wallet and phone and opened the door, her and Gary’s eyes met.
“Good morning, again,” Gary said with a charming smile. “Are you ready to go?”
Calla nodded and followed his and his two friends out the door. She waited for Gary as he made sure it was locked.
“Are you okay?” he asked, placing a hand on her back while walking to the elevator.
She smiled. “Yeah. I’m okay. I factory reset my phone by the way. Deleted every social media I had and I didn’t look at any texts.”
“That’s great!” Gary said, stepping into the elevator. “A fresh start begins with a new phone. We’re going to have a great time today.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Calla said, watching the numbers on the elevator move to one. “I’m going to try my best to be optimistic about things from now on. I think a fresh start also begins with changing myself.”
Gary stared at her, thinking about that whole changing oneself. Calla was beautiful and perfectly imperfect and he admired her for how strong she was to leave her ex. He couldn’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for her to leave knowing he could’ve been back while she was packing. Thinking about it, he realized she had a small handbag with her. Probably with very little clothes.
“What do ya’ll think about going shopping?” Gary randomly asked as the elevator reached the bottom floor. “Before we head to the stables.”
“I don’t have a problem with it. There’s something I want to look at anyway,” Jay said with a shrug.
Joe Don agreed as well did Calla. Gary smiled, happy he had everyone on board. As they drew closer to the car, Calla had suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, a look of fear on her face. Her entire face went white as though she had seen a ghost and her body was shaking.
“Calla?” Jay asked, lightly touching her elbow. “What’s wrong?”
She raised her shaky hand and pointed to a blue car that was parked in the hotel lot. A man around her age stood outside of the vehicle with two other men she’d never seen before. Gary followed her gaze and quickly moved in front of her. He was close enough to her for him to be able to feel her shaking.
“Keep walking and don’t look over there,” Gary whispered, wrapping an arm around her shivering shoulder.
Jay walked on the other side of her. He kept looking back at the guy and his friends who didn’t seem to notice them at all as they finally made it to their waiting car. Gary casually opened the door for her and she climbed in quickly, him and Jay following close behind.
“What’s going on?” Joe Don asked in the front seat.
“Her ex is over there by the blue car with a couple of guys,” Jay said.
Joe Don glanced in that direction as their car drove by and he made eye contact with the ex boyfriend of Calla’s. Joe Don gave him a small smile and a nod as they drove on by.
“He’s found me,” Calla whispered, her body shaking violently. “I was so careful, and yet he found me.”
Gary quickly grabbed her hands in his and squeezed gently. “Everything is okay. He didn’t see you. We can get another hotel.”
“Or stay in the buses,” Joe Don added, rubbing Calla’s arm. “You’re alright.”
“But he’s so close. What if he sees me?” she panicked, her breathing heavier.
Gary pulled her close after switching places with Jay so he could comfort her. He had wrapped an arm around her while his free hand, held hers and ran circles with his thumb. He rested his temple on hers as she shook from an oncoming anxiety attack.
“List to me,” Gary whispered in her ear. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’ve made you a promise to protect you, yeah?”
She nodded with a sniff. “Yeah..”
“Let me play out that promise,” he said, kissing her forehead. “You’re safe. We can get a new hotel or like Joe Don said, sleep in the buses. It’s your call.”
“A… new hotel,” she said, taking a deep breath and releasing it.
“Alright,” Gary nodded. “We can arrange that. Everything is alright.”
Jay patted the top of her hand and smiled. “I don’t want this to sound stupid, or insult you in any way, but have you ever pictured an adventure like this before?”
Calla managed a smile. “Not at all. In fact, I pictured my life would amount to nothing with an abusive boyfriend and so-called friends who don’t actually care about me.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Joe Don said in the front seat. “What made you decide to leave him?”
Calla sighed and stared out the window, her hand still being held by Gary. “I knew I wanted to escape. It took him doing something to me that made me say I’ve had enough.”
“What did he do?” Jay asked.
She became quiet and it seemed like a dark cloud formed above her at the very thought of it. She shook her head, biting her bottom lip to keep from crying. Jay took the hint and didn’t ask anymore questions.
“I think you’re a very strong woman,” Gary said, giving her hand a light squeeze. “And I admire you for that. Not a lot of people would do that because fear is too strong. I pray for those people who have gone through the same thing.”
“Some have it worse than I did,” Calla said, her honey brown eyes meeting his blue ones.
Gary felt a flutter in his stomach when she looked at him. Her eye color was different in the sunlight, although they still had that honey brown look, a ring of gold hung inside her iris adding another layer of depth to them. They still had that sad unsureness.
Gary cleared his throat and Calla realized she was still staring at him and looked away. He smiled to himself and noticed Jay staring at him with a childish grin. Gary shook his head at him as if saying, say nothing.