Celia on the Run by Sarah Mandell



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Nick Novaczek is a cautious soul, a 17-year old with a boring life, a predictable future, and a quiet thirst for danger. On the eve of his beloved grandmother's funeral, danger finds him by the motel swimming pool. Her name is Celia and she's everything he's not. This foul-mouthed beauty is hitchhiking across the country to make amends with her estranged father and doesn't carry an ounce of fear or hesitation in her tattered suitcase. She's bad news all around, but for a rule-follower like Nick, she's intoxicating.

Twenty-four hours after speaking to Celia for the very first time, following one extremely lucky night, Nick is hopelessly hooked and "borrows" his parents' car to join her cross-country mission, even though her story is full of holes. It's the mistake he's been waiting his whole life to make. Together, they dodge a train, jump off a bridge, and scam everyone in their path. Nick is blossoming into a teenage fugitive, just like Celia, and he's never been happier. She may not be who she says she is, but she's got his vulnerable heart.

After weeks of detours, with hundreds of miles left to go, their wild adventure starts to unravel. The money dries up, Celia's dark secrets begin to surface, and it's clear they both want vastly different things out of this partnership. Celia is all about no strings attached and severing whatever they may have between them once they reach their destination, while Nick is head over heels in love and wanting a future with the girl in his passenger seat. They seem to reach a new low on a daily basis, but she won't turn back, no matter how desperate things get. After all, this is her trip and Nick is just the driver. Celia's got a charming smile to pay her way, a willing accomplice, a hidden agenda, and an endless supply of lies. Not to mention a gun.

Excerpt:

Having vivid flashbacks of the encounter the night before was a strange contrast to the funeral occurring around him now. Nick closed his sleepy eyes, forgoing the smell of lilies for his recollection of Celia’s intoxicating scent. She smelled like a suntan, like chlorine, like sweet almond soap. Her aroma would be forever associated with sex. He tuned out the raspy voice of the pastor, trading words about heaven for the heavenly echo of Celia’s breathing, her quiet gasps, her skin brushing against his. Recalling those glorious details got Nick’s heart rate elevated. He was slipping back into the dream he’d lived through only hours ago, though in reality he was sitting between his parents on a hard wooden pew in a chapel with 1970-something décor and his grandmother’s casket in front of him. It was a weird and wonderful way to feel in such a place at such a time, but the memory of Celia was winning control of his mind and body, hands down. He was still under her spell, drunk on sex, ignoring the traces of guilt.

Nick ran his fingers through his short hair, down the back of his neck, like Celia had done. He touched his lips, remembering what hers felt like clinging to his, soft and warm. The taste of her kisses was still on his tongue, making him thirsty. Nick discreetly hugged himself, wrapping his hands around to feel the sore spot under his shoulder blade where her nails dug into his flesh during a reckless moment of ecstasy. Of course he didn’t mind the residual pain now. It was a badge of honor, letting him know he did something right.

He forced a sober expression and kept his face aimed at the floor, praying nobody was onto his ill-timed daydream. It wasn’t just a dream. The whole thing had been an extraordinary learning experience, a crash course in the crazy-hot world of sex. Nick had always been an adept student, racking up several college scholarships in his senior year, but being with a beautiful woman was a whole different lesson. He paid close attention and crammed every motion and reaction into his mind as though this was the most important test he’d ever take.

But in the beginning, Nick could only stare up at Celia with gratefulness, hypnotized. “Holy moley,” was all he could say. The first round ended after just thirteen seconds and his breathless apologies. To his relief, she rolled onto her back and tossed him another condom.

As the casket rolled down the center aisle of the chapel, Nick recounted the tender embrace he and Celia kept that morning, surrounded by the mess of towels on the floor. He’d never felt so content, so alive. He begged her to stay another day but she was reluctant. It took an assertive morning screw to change her mind. Sex worked like a charm, she was bursting with need. Nick felt like an accomplished lover in her arms, not a fledgling. Before they untangled their bodies at dawn, Nick stroked her chestnut hair, pleading softly in between kisses on her temple, “Please don’t go, I’ll do anything to keep you just one more day. Please, please, please don’t go.”

Celia sighed after his twentieth plea, paired with his twentieth kiss on her face. She sunk her teeth into his shoulder and replied, “All right. Quit begging. I’ll stay. But don’t go getting attached to me, okay? One more night.”

Nick was overjoyed by her answer but that elation was short lived since he had to get back to the room before his parents woke up and freaked out about his absence. If only this somber family obligation could be over now, he’d be back under her, feeling complete. Torn between intense urges to do it all over again, better this time, and expressing his vulnerable feelings, Nick resigned to wanting nothing more than to see her face. It mattered not if it was his heart or hormones leading the way, he needed her and he needed her soon. She rocked his world and made him question his entire life, all in one hot night.

Philip, Nick’s cousin, noticed his oddly peaceful appearance from the other side of the chapel. He could tell something was different so he followed Nick into the bathroom after the service.

Nick was bent over the sink splashing water on his flushed face.

“What’s wrong with you?” Philip prodded.

Nick shrugged with a sheepish smile. The water dripping down his neck felt just like Celia’s wet hair dripping cool relief onto his chest, his feverish skin. Ignoring Philip’s interrogation, Nick looked in the mirror. Staring back at him was a man, a man who had made love to a woman. His wintery gray eyes, identical to his father’s, seemed to have a spark of happiness today, a sign of spring. His teenage haze had evaporated overnight.

“What the hell happened to you?” Philip asked again.

“Uh…nothing. You know, the funeral stuff…it’s kind of weird,” Nick lied.

“What’s with that smirk?”

“What’re you talking about?” was his best response.

Philip nudged Nick in the ribs. “C’mon. Spill.”

“Fuck off,” Nick snapped, feeling like a rebel. Celia had a foul mouth and it was already rubbing off on him. Nick never used the F-word out loud before, he felt invigorated, he wanted to say it again, but instead he left his cousin without spilling the details Philip so desperately wanted to hear. The details were too fantastic to recount out loud, he didn’t dare tell a soul. Nobody would believe him anyway considering his rather uneventful dating record.

Well, there was one person who would have believed him, but she was being laid to rest. Nick went around to the back of the chapel and lit up a Virginia Slim, just like he promised his grandma the last time he peered into her shining black eyes. He hacked and wheezed following his very first puff, before the nicotine relaxed his chest.

“Grams, you’d be proud of me. She’s absolutely wild, she’s smokin’ hot and I’ve never been so happy,” he said to the sky, blowing gray clouds towards the heavens.

The cruel afternoon crept by with visions of Celia constantly on his mind. Nick was floating with happiness during a rather miserable day, a day that refused to end despite the minutes ticking by. Finally, around 4:30 his parents headed across the cemetery towards the car.

Amy hugged her son, scrunched up her nose and asked, “Have you been smoking?”

Nick passed off a confused look, hoping he wouldn’t have to outright lie to her face on a day like today. Luckily, she shook her head, erasing the accusation. “I’m sorry, of course you haven’t. I guess I can still smell that awful smoke even though she’s gone, huh?” She squeezed him tighter. “Nickolas, your smile has helped so much today. Thank you.”

He felt a trace of guilt knowing his lazy smile had only to do with the beautiful hitchhiker he spent the night with.


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