"I'm really starting to lose my shit here." Cody Garret gripped his cell phone tight.
"Calm down, Cody." His mom was using the patented talking-Cody-down-from-the-ledge technique they had perfected over the last few years. But she sounded wrong, and even though her voice was broken up by interference, he could sense her worry. He wished to hell he could reassure her and say he was okay.
"I. Can't. Calm. Down," he bit out through gritted teeth. The panic that usually stayed buried well inside him threatened to push to the surface with an insistent press of pain at his temples and a cold sweat that left him shaky.
"Can you count for me, darling?" Nothing was working. Not the counting or the imagining his happy place. Jeez. His happy place was so far away from being stuck here it wasn't even funny. The traffic on this road snaking around London in one big circle was his vision of hell.
"I've been in this tiny fricking Toyota for six hours, Mom, and in the last hour we've gone four miles. Four."
"Has there been an accident or something?"
"I can't see. I'm just in a line of freaking stopped cars."
"Can't you turn off from the road you're on? Maybe take a back road?" He knew his mom was trying to help, but he'd thought all this already.
"I'm in between turnoffs; I'm stuck where I am."
"Okay. Do you need me to get Anna?" Anna was the only other person outside of his mom that had a handle on these panic attacks, but the last thing he wanted was for his heavily pregnant sister to have to deal with his crap. His mom had managed to throw the equivalent of ice water at him with that simple question.
"No," he said quickly. "I'll be fine. Listen. I'm--breathing."
"The lights are changing ahead," he lied convincingly. "I'll call you."
"Cody, promise me you'll pull over if this gets worse."
"I promise." He disconnected the call. Tears choked his throat, and he wondered what the guy in the Lotus next to him would think if he saw Cody beat his head against the steering wheel. Claustrophobia and anxiety clawed inside him like a wild animal wanting to escape a cage, and he was willing to do anything to clear his head. Even give himself a concussion.
Both front windows were fully down, and the car blower was on full blast, but it wasn't enough air. He considered climbing out of the car and standing on the M25 just to feel something except the metal box around him. The noise of a horn snapped through the fog in his head, and he realized the cars in front of him were actually moving. Slowly, but moving. Shaking with tension and desperate to just get the hell off this road, he pressed lightly enough on the accelerator to join this crawling snake of steel as it carved its way through flat green countryside closer to where he needed to be. Pain banded his head, and he focused on the tension in his shoulders and neck that was causing the headache. He had to concentrate on relaxing, but dizziness assailed him. It took all his concentration to keep the car on the damn road at five miles an hour.
Finally the sign for the exit was by the side of his car. Then he passed it, and it was a way back, and then before he had even gotten control of his breathing, he was off from the static parking lot that was the London orbital and onto a new motorway heading north from the city.
Thankfully whatever was stopping the traffic on the M25 didn't appear to exist on this new road. He pressed his foot to the floor, and incredibly air was inside the car, whipping his too-long bangs around his face. The air coming into the car was heavy with heat; he didn't remember reading anywhere that England was supposed to have a heat wave in October and not for the first time he wished he had done more research. Not caring where it took him, he decided he needed to be off this road and took the first exit off of the M1. Turning onto a quieter road, he took a left, then a right, and finally found a place to pull over.
Almost like his mother knew he'd managed to find a way through the metal hell, his cell rang, and he saw it was her. He answered on the third ring as he clambered out of the small car and inhaled great lungfuls of air.
"Cody?" She sounded as anxious as he felt.
"I'm okay," he said quickly. "Sorry. I'm okay," he repeated. The last was more for his own sake than his mom's. He needed to tell himself he was moving through to the other side of the attack and that he would stay well and sane.
"Cody, you made this decision too soon. I wish you had waited—"
"I couldn't wait, Mom," he interrupted quickly. He was so not ready for this conversation again. How the hell could anyone expect him to stay in Baltimore when there was a chance he could see Vince again?
"What if the notes weren't from him, Cody? You should have taken them to the police…"
Cody closed his eyes tight against the midday sun that burned through his thin jacket and made him sweat. He wished he could take it off, but his fair skin needed to stay covered; it burned too quickly. He listened to his mom as she listed all the things that he should maybe have done. He knew all the what-ifs. His mind played them over and over again. What if he hadn't met Vince Antonelli? What if he hadn't gone home with him? What if Vince hadn't done just enough for a younger more impressionable Cody to fall in love? Would any of it have happened? Or was Cody Garret predestined to always be some man's punching bag?
© RJ Scott
The Gallows Tree
Author: RJ Scott
Publisher: Cobblestone Press
Genre: Contemporary, Gay, Romance, Suspense/Mystery
Cody Garret is only just finding his way after an abusive relationship ended with his ex in prison. Coming to England to restore Mill Cottage is his way of running so he has time to heal. His goal is simple—hire a company to help make the mill cottage saleable then go back to the States.
What he doesn’t count on is meeting Sebastian Toulson-Brown, the brother of his contractor and the man who may be able to show him he can stop running.
But first Cody and Sebastian must deal with the ghosts of lost loves and the destinies that are woven into the story of the mill and the sycamore trees that stand on its land, one of which might be the gallows tree.