thanks go to JC for this one…for planting the idea! What started as a wee fantasy grew like milkweed in my brain! ~nilla~
Everyone who knew Caleb loved him. He was the ubiquitous nice guy–the one you could count on to help you tote your groceries to your car if he should chance to see you struggling with them. The one who would shovel an elderly neighbors walkway, or buy cookies from the little girls outside the hardware store, or help on the work party at the local grange. He saw, he cared, he helped.
He lived just enough outside of town to be comfortable. Neighbors on each side, but enough room to have gardens between. He’d been there when Mr. Joseph had died, when his nephew moved in, then out again, flipping the house in under five months. And then it had sat. He didn’t mind the quiet. The surcease of the pounding of hammers, the screaming of saws had definitely improved his ability to work. As an independent computer networker, he rarely had to go into the city to attend to things, which he was fine with. The city had its glamour, to be sure, but he much preferred the bucolic life out here in the far reaches of bumfuck.
He’d grown up here, married here, buried his wife here. As a teen, he’d worked school nights at Mr. Elway’s grocery store, now the IGA, and mornings and weekends at his family’s farm at a variety of odd tasks. He went off to the city for college, found a great job, a great woman, and a great life. The one thing missing–that key element– had been a sense of belonging, that sense of “home”. All he’d managed to do was to run away, run to where bright lights and busy nights had beckoned, only to discover that his roots ran deeper than he’d ever imagined. Thankfully his wife had liked the country as much as he did; moving had been the best thing for them both. Her sudden illness, and quick passing had left him shell-shocked. Now, years later, he had yet to find what he’d had with Diane. Grateful every day that he was here surrounded by family and friends, rather than alone in the city, he was content with his life. His parents still lived back outside the outskirts of town, still had the farm, though parcels had been leased to cell phone companies for their ugly towers, and not so much corn was set out as in his early days.
He sat on the steps of his front porch, as the sun crept ever closer to the horizon, the vermillion of the eastern sky presaging a beautiful sunrise. He was happy, sitting here and drinking coffee, enjoying this quiet time of day. No traffic broke the silence of the ending night. In fact, looking down the quiet street, he could see lights starting to pop on at the rear of some homes. Miss Margie was up, making her bread. Others were up to start their morning coffee, pack lunches for their kids school lunch. He’d been up awhile, working the kinks out of a project that was just short of annoying. Lifting his cup for the last dregs, he noted that the for sale sign was gone next door.
Hmm. That was curious. Perhaps it had tipped over in the wind the other day. Pushing off the step, he walked over. The sign lay in the grass. Lifting it, he shoved it back into the hole in the lawn. The bold SOLD sticker slashed across the “For Sale”.
“Well, what do you know?” He mused to himself. Letting the sign fall back to the lawn, he headed back to his house, scooping up his mug and heading inside for another shot of java.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Pack up her stuff and head off for a new life. New had a certain cache after the old had been so bad. Not abusive. No, that would have shown energy, desire, engagement.
Apathy was a far deeper pain.
It was humiliating to discover that he had, as the cliché went, married her for her money. And her parents summer home in the Hampton’s. And the brownstone in Manhattan. That had been in her family for three generations, until her divorce. Leaving New York, starting over, had been the most reasonable decision she could make. Charles would continue to humiliate her at any social gathering, dressed out in his half of her families fortune, toting his sweet young confection of the month on his arm.
And dammit! She wasn’t old! She wasn’t young, either, but rather in that comfortable in-between place in her life. Some might call her decision to relocate as a rebound of her divorce. She prefered to think of it as a recovery. A reboot, so to speak. She almost laughed at that thought, considering that she’d spent the last 6 years working in the tech field. She’d taken a leave-of-absence from that job, knowing she’d never return. She had enough money to live on quite comfortably. She would take up gardening. And yoga. And..and…whatever she wanted to do!
The truck with the biggest chunk of her belongings had left yesterday, but she’d rented a cargo van for her most special things. Besides, she’d decided to take her time, not racing across the country to her new home, but actually seeing the land. She’d bought the house over the phone, wiring money, viewing it online, but not ever setting foot in it. She’d take that time, enjoy the adventure she was embarking on, and take what came…well…as it came. The house had been renovated, the small town looked friendly enough, and the weather was fine for a cross-country ramble.
She might be nuts, but she was actually having fun for the first time in her life.
Heading out across the wild unknown, she’d seen small towns, long stretches of absolutely nothing, the wild twists of rivers, the wide wet gap called the Mississippi, and dozens of small towns along her drive.
And now, at 930 at night, in the middle of east bumfuck USA, she had a fucking flat tire.
The day had gone along fine. Caleb had put in a good 9 hours on his project, and while it wasn’t totally finished, it was smoothed out quite a bit. He couldn’t wait to drop this client, who was a frigging pain in the ass. But he didn’t get paid to like the client, he mused, one foot on the brass foot rail at the bar. He nursed his Bud, listening to the truly awful garage band attempting to make music. Really, they were loud. But really? It wasn’t music. Getting out for a change of pace had been nice until the quasi-band had begun. Ignoring the hopeful teasing of the waitress, he slid a bill under his glass, and rose from the stool. The smell of tobacco, old beer, and the faint tingle of piss in his nostrils made him glad to be leaving. The night sparkled around him, the stars beaming as he turned his truck in the gravel and headed down the long road to home.
As he rounded the big curve on rural route 87, he spied the van nudged to the side of the road, blinkers flashing. The lights of his truck splashed onto the van, and the person pacing on the green verge.
He slowed, pulling up behind it, keeping his lights on.
She turned to look at him as he slid out of the cab. Definitely a she, based on the profile shadow thrown up on the back of the van. She looked upset, so he shelved his smile.
“Well it’s about time,” she all but growled at him.
His smile wasn’t only shelved, it sucked back behind his lips so fast he almost got a friction burn.
“I called the tow truck like two frikking hours ago. Where the hell have you been? Did you drive here from frigging NEW YORK?”
“Miss….I think you have me confused with someone else.”
“OH MY GAWD! Have you been…drinking? Drinking on the JOB?”
He almost got back into his truck, but the same manners that carried him through the last 48 years of his life came to the fore. She was upset. Likely scared to death. Her license plates read New York; she was quite obviously out of her element here in the country.
“Miss…My name is Caleb. I live in Plainville, and I was coming home when I saw you here. I don’t work for a tow company, just a good neighbor. If you want, I can fix your tire, OR I can get back in my truck, head on home, and try to forget that I left a lovely woman alone by the side of the road.”
His words, delivered blandly, were loud enough, firm enough, to puncture the last of her composure. As he watched, her face fell, and large tears began to roll down her face. He wasn’t one to fret overmuch about a woman crying–it was endemic to the gender, he felt–yet he couldn’t deny the feeling of empathy that ran through him.
“How about I take a look at your tire?”
” ‘k…” she sniffed, digging in her pocket for a tissue. He watched her fight for control, admired that.
Bending to his task, he’d located her spare, removed her old tire, set up her new one. He put away the tools, put the dead tire into the back of her van, and wiped his hands on a cloth from his truck. Dousing the lights, he moved back to her.
He could see her face turn to his.
“Not at me…look up.”
The stars lay on the sky like a blanket. The twinkling gleam was a magical view he never tired of. He’d missed that in the city, too.
“There’s always a silver lining, you know. You just have to learn where to look for it. Have a safe journey.”
Declining her offer to ‘pay him for his time’, he leapt up into the cab of his truck and turned back to the road, heading for home, and a decent nights sleep.