Excerpt from For the Love of Big Orange

     
     The cherry lights of the officer's cruiser reflect in my rearview mirror, an all too familiar sight for me. They say you can't go home again. Well, I'm one of those gals that shouldn't.
     Rubbing the dashboard of my bright orange pick-up truck, I recall Judge Rudy's sage advice, "No matter how bad you think you've got it, look around, somebody's got it worse."
     "Today, Big Orange, we are that somebody," I say with a pat, the same way Judge used to. I know she's not an animal like a cat or a cow, but she's all mine. Besides, she's the only thing living or dead that I've ever really formed a lasting bond with.
     I turn the crank on my window as the officer approaches. "Did you realize this is a school zone, Miss?" I hear him shout from below.
     I ignore him.
     "License and registration please," the officer's voice booms. Obliging, I rummage through the glove box and hand the papers to him.
     The view from my perch is a good six feet off the ground, so I actually have to reach down to give him my registration docs.
     I try not to chuckle as the officer stands on his tippy-toes attempting to reach my eye-level. "Yes, Officer, I do. I know this road better than my own name." Shit, Lacie, this is a cop you're talking to. "I'm headed just up the road... to Judge Rudy's house." Perhaps a little name dropping will get me out of this one.
     A slight grimace flashes across the officer's face. "You should know better than to speed through here on a weekday. Wait here while I run your license."
     Well, that blows, he must not know Judge.
     Letting out an exasperated sigh I flop my arm across the back of the bench seat. If prior experience is any indicator, this is going to take a while. I close my eyes and turn up the tunes to keep my mind occupied. The steady rhythm of the fiddle and acoustic guitar of Punch Brothers, my favorite bluegrass band, puts my mind at ease. The twang of the banjo warms me, conjuring fond memories of summer nights spent listening to local musicians pickin' their banjos and guitars in the bluegrass meadows.
     Thump! The sound of Big Orange's frame being knocked interrupts my tranquil moment. "Lacie Joe?"
     Startled, I jump, banging my head against the doorframe. Seeing stars, I grumble, "Jesus, Hayworth, what the hell did you do that for? Better yet, what are you doing here?" I must have hit my head harder than I thought.
     "That's one hell of a way to greet a guy you left standing at the altar." He flexes a palm over the edge of the doorframe.
     A flash of guilt races through my mind as I envision Jay Hayworth, waiting, smartly dressed in a rental tux, standing in the best man's position at my girlfriend's wedding. I can only imagine the chaos that ensued as the wedding party realized the maid of honor wouldn't be gracing them with her presence.
     "A little dramatic, don't you think? And..." I pause, studying him. My best friend and high school sweetheart is now a grown hunk of a man sporting a dark navy police uniform with slight stubble of facial hair and a chiseled chin. No need for him to stand on his tippy toes. He is eye-level and then some.
     Residents of the village of Sagebrush gawk at the sight of an officer conducting a traffic stop as they drive by. Everything is big news in town with a population of eight hundred and fifty. Lucky me.
     "When did you become a cop?" I ask a bit more breathless than I'd like, looking down Big Orange's side-rails. I hope the question sounds innocent enough.
     I know full well that Jay successfully graduated from the academy and is climbing the ranks of the county police force. My dad, technically foster dad, Judge Rudy, routinely shares information he believes to be pertinent about Jay's shift, schedule and current position with the force.
     I appreciate the updates. I've always known that Jay is capable of great success. He deserves grand things in life. Much better than I could ever offer him.
     His shift information comes in real handy when I roll into town headed for Judge's before the rooster crows each morning. I've used it to my advantage to avoid contact with Jay. Today I'm running late, thanks to a delay back at the home, thus foiling my plan to prevent a run-in with the man whose heart I practically left tire marks on.
     "How about you exit the vehicle so we can talk?"
     "Ok, Officer Jay Hayworth." I make certain to exaggerate his name as I oblige, opening the door, exiting Big Orange with a hop.
     I do so a little too swiftly, causing the "officer" to stumble back a few steps. Oh, who am I kidding? He doesn't really stumble. Jay's body has completely transformed since the last time I saw him. Almost as if he stepped into a genetic altering capsule like Captain America. Going in all short and scrawny, coming out all hulked up, solid and strong.
     "Dammit, Lacie, this is serious." Officer Hayworth hooks a thumb and gestures toward the cruiser, cherry lights still flashing. He returns his herculean sized arms to a crossed position. I revel in the sight of the rigid contours, the definition of the muscles in his forearms visible beneath his cuffed short-sleeve uniform shirt wrapped around monster biceps. Regardless of their size, his arms always felt like home to me. His wrist still sports the silver chain bracelet I gave him as a high-school graduation present. I'm not sure if I'm more surprised by him wearing it, or that it still fits.
     "My partner is back there running your license and plates. Seems you may have a few unpaid parking tickets due in Lexington. Not to mention you were speeding through here on a school day."
     "I'll have you know there are only two parking tickets, Officer." I stand on tippy-toes, my just over five-foot frame dwarfed against Hayworth's tall and lean stature. Even in my heeled sandals, he is still a head taller than me. I almost poke his badge, but retract my hand not knowing how he might react, being how he's a big-shot officer of the law and all.
     It's been five years since I sent a cryptic text to my best girlfriend explaining why I bailed on my maid of honor duties. I convinced myself that I wasn't a total screw-up, as I at least had the common courtesy to line up one of the bridesmaids to step in and finish what I couldn't on the day of the wedding. I was just too much of a wimp to face Jay in order to offer an explanation, so I'd left him a card tucked under the windshield wiper on his 4x4.
     "I'm contesting the tickets by the way. And..." I pause, wisping locks of hair from my vision. "They have nothing to do with how I drive and whether or not I was speeding."
     Jay steps toward the rear of my truck. I follow as other drivers slowly navigate around us. I dare glance at a few who rubber-neck with disapproving eyes, fighting the urge to flip them the bird. I figure it might not help my present case.
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