Just knowing that the days in her cramped apartment were almost over gave Melissa a little extra energy, so much that she didn’t mind the light rain that began to fall as she stepped to her assigned parking spot. “Just another week,” she thought, “and I’ll be parking in a dry garage instead of this stupid, rainy parking lot.” In the three years she’d lived in the Forrest Lake apartments, only twice had broken glass punctured one of her tires. She wasn’t just moving up from apartment to condo. Two more paychecks would be enough to trade in her dad’s old car for something new.
Her navy blue suit jacket swung on the hook attached to the roof in the back seat as she cut the wheel and sped away from the place where the air-conditioning worked when it felt like it. It was only thirty-five minutes from here to the office. She had timed her new place at forty-six minutes. Even if it were an hour and forty-six minutes, she still would be moving, and moving up, very soon.
She attached the earpiece to her cell phone before reaching 95 North because it would only be about a minute later that her mother would call. Until then, she searched for a traffic report.
“There was yet another assault in Harrison County yesterday,” said the announcer. “The victim was again a female in her early 20′s. She is still in intensive care with internal injuries and a severe concussion. The attacker dragged her out of her car and into a wooded area. Fortunately, a passing motorist witnessed what was –”
“Hi Mom,” Melissa said as she clicked on her phone and off the radio.
“Hi, Dear. You on your way to work?”
Melissa smiled and rolled her eyes. “You call me at the same time every day.”
“So what’s on your schedule for today?”
“Same stuff,” she said. “Cleanings, x-rays, probably get bit by a kid. And some old guy will probably put his hand on my butt.”
“Are you serious?” gasped her mother.
“Oh yeah. I’m due for a few bites and feels this week.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t work there.”
“Mom. I’m kidding. Relax. You got me out of my apartment. Let’s take one thing at a time. I can’t talk now. I’m running late, and I want to hear the traffic report. And I don’t like to talk when it’s raining.”
What had been a drizzle was now growing into a steady rain.
“Okay,” her mother said. “Call me when you get to work so I know you made it.”
“Sure. Ring you once. Bye.”
Melissa thought more about the longer drive from what would soon be her new condo. The expressway was quicker, but there was also a toll. County Road 152 was about fifteen minutes longer, but it was free. “Free,” she thought, “or $1.50 a day, times five days a week, times fifty weeks, that’s $375 a year. I could skip the tolls, leave early, and that would pay for my coffee and bagel all year.”
Before she could disagree with herself, her engine sputtered and stuttered a few times but then continued. Stalling on the I-95 would be rather dangerous because there was no shoulder on this stretch, so she said a small prayer that she’d make it off the highway and to the county road safely.
Melissa loved numbers, and she knew it was exactly fourteen point seven five miles to the office once she exited 95. Ten of those miles were along the thick trees of County Road 152. Every one of those ten miles was deer territory. She allowed no radio and took no phone call until she was beyond 152 because all of her attention needed to be on the lookout for “Bambi.” Today, however, the needs of her engine outweighed the need of the wild life.
Halfway across 152, her engine quit. Dad’s Toyota came to rest on a grassy shoulder where not one house was visible. She knew each connecting street, but at the moment she was not near any of them. She was not accustomed to and had no tolerance for a break in her routine.
As she was still guessing whether or not the closest house was either ahead of or behind her, she instead almost slap herself in the head as she remembered her cell phone. She hit the speed dial for work but didn’t hear the ring she expected. “No signal” was on the screen. She looked at the thick trees on the right and the wall of water now streaming down the windshield, making the trees looked like a Salvador Dali painting. As she turned to the driver’s side, she let out a short scream. There was a knock on the glass and a face looking in. She caught her breath, eased her pulse, and glanced left to be sure the door was locked.
“You okay?” asked a dark man in a hat. She didn’t panic. She held up her phone.
“I,” she choked, “I just called my husband. He’ll be here in a few minutes.” She watched to see if he had believed her. “Thanks, Sir. Thank you for stopping.”
The man’s hat was pulled low. Water ran off the brim. He looked left and right, stood, and rubbed his face like someone who had just woken up. “Ok,” he said. “Good luck.” The rain prevented her from seeing him clearly. She thought she saw facial hair, but he was gone. She reached for a pen in the glove compartment and scribbled on the back of a napkin. “Black male, 200 pounds, red jacket, grayish dirty hat, jeans, brown boots.” She peered into the side view mirror. “Limping. Old blue pick up.” The old blue pickup moved around her and headed off. She couldn’t read the license plate through the downpour, but she was content that she had something helpful for the police.
Melissa clicked the radio back on and waited for another news report or anything to erase the sound of the rain. “And don’t forget our news-spotter hotline. Just press star-1-0-6-0 from your cell phone if you see news, traffic, weather, or anything else that you think we should know.”
She was about to call until she remembered having no signal. As she put her phone down, a white car pulled in front of her and slowly backed up, almost touching her front bumper. Melissa smiled as she peered through the wet windshield at a BMW emblem on the trunk. She smiled more when she dropped her foggy window to reveal a very handsome man with an umbrella.
“Need some help, Miss?” he asked with perfect teeth.
“Um. Uh. Help? Y-yes,” she fumbled.
“Any idea what’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” she said slowly. “No.” She knew that the real problem was how to get his phone number without being obvious.
“Pop the hood and I’ll take a look,” the pretty man said. She fumbled on the floor for the hood latch. She pulled both the trunk and gas tank lid before finally hearing a loud “clack” as the hood jumped up an inch. The man with the umbrella walked to the front of her car and easily lifted the hood.
She jumped out of the car and dashed to join his shelter, moving as close to him as possible. He looked under the hood at what Melissa interpreted as various sizes of metal and rubber with various degrees of road grime. She watched impressed as he scanned the engine, occasionally touching parts and wiggling things. She admired him more as he blurted things like “hmmm, okay,” and “not sure about that.”
The umbrella occasionally moved away from her, but she quickly followed it. He smiled when that happened. Her arms instinctively wrapped across her chest as the rain and cool breezes teased her body. He watched her feeble attempt to cover herself, and the umbrella moved again.
“See this?” he asked, pointing at what appeared to her as a random car part. “Feel how hot that is.” She reached as far as she could without putting her skirt against the wet car. When she almost toppled over, his hands were very ready to grab her hips and pull her back from the car. The combination of three-inch heels and muddy ground put her directly in his arms, looking up at his wonderful face.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, struggling to regain her balance.
Her eyes were so focused on him that she barely heard when he said, “Don’t be sorry,” he breathed. “I’m not.” He studied her face, and she adored his. “Lock your car, get your keys. C’mon. I’ll give you a ride.” She said nothing, just nodded and did as she was told while he studied her skirt.
A few miles away, in a far less pretty part of town, a man with a red jacket, grayish dirty hat, wet jeans, and soaked brown boots limped away from his old blue pickup truck. Inside his wife of forty years was responsible for the heavenly smell of bacon that greeted him even before he entered their leaky, one-bedroom home. She turned as she did every morning to smile at him as he returned from work. Her usual “Welcome home, Honey,” was cut short when she did not see his usual smile.
“What’s wrong, Honey?” she asked, keeping the spatula over the frying pan so no bacon grease dripped on her foot. He shook off the rain and cold that he had brought with him before giving her a stronger than his usual bear hug. When he backed away, she could see something different in his eyes.
“A car was broke down on 152. Young woman all alone. I tried to help her, but I could see she was — kind of — afraid.” The woman couldn’t tell if he was crying or just wet from the rain.
“Honey, don’t you fret none. You did the best you can. If she didn’t want your help, then that’s her bad luck.” She kissed him on the cheek and removed his dripping wet hat. Then she kissed him on his shaved head as he bowed it in prayer.
“Lord, I hope you got that girl somewhere safe this morning. I tried. Amen.” Silently, he added to the prayer. Why was I born looking like this, making people so afraid of me? Why, Lord?
Each time the white BMW took another turn, Melissa again thought about how he was not following her directions.
“I’m going to be late,” she mildly protested.
He said nothing, but again he gave her his glorious smile.
Article © Richard Voza. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-12-27