Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP) – Chapter Six

Chapter Six: Russ Jacobs

It never fails.  The drive from New York City to Cleveland should take about nine hours at most, not counting breaks.  Russ doesn’t usually have a load to drop off in Cleveland, but with traffic delays that inevitably happen, he’s forced to stop for the night somewhere near the Midwest city.  While his weekly schedule varies a day or two, Russ tries to spend his weekends back home in the Big Apple.  He leaves New York first thing Monday mornings.  

With no need to stop off at Cleveland, he’s on the Ohio Turnpike, bypassing the traffic around the city.  He’s just passed several miles south of Cleveland now and is heading toward his destination for most major deliveries coming from New York: Chicago.  But he knows he’s got to stop soon.  As he approaches the rest area at mile marker 139, he remembers his encounter with Shelley from a few weeks earlier.

“What the hell,” he mutters.  “Might as well stop off here for the night.  They’ve got decent enough facilities.”

Russ makes a face, tired of his own stink.  A hot shower and some time to stretch his legs in the truckers’ lounge would be just the thing, so he pulls off the turnpike and parks his truck behind the rest stop facility.  It’s another unseasonably mild night for December as Russ steps out of his truck.  The snow from a few days ago has melted.  As he walks to the building, he half-expects to see Shelley.

Shaking his head, he thinks, Don’t be ridiculous.  Why would she be here?

Fifteen minutes later, Russ enters to the longue and drops into one of the comfy chairs.  That shower was great.  If he’s not careful, he just might fall asleep in that chair.  Instead, his stomach growls, so he leaves the lounge after a short while to grab something to eat.  He passes the janitor, an older man with a gut, as he mops the dining area.  Most of the chairs are up and a wet floor sign warns him to be careful.

Russ orders a burger and sits down at one of the tables with chairs on the floor.  Even though it’s the middle of the night, people still wander in and out.  While Russ chews his burger, his phone vibrates in his pocket.  He reaches for it and pulls it out.

“Hey bro, what’s up?”

It’s Brandy.

“Just stopped off for the night, sis.  Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

After he hits “send,” Russ sets the phone down and is about to take another bite when the phone starts to vibrate.  Damn it.  She’s calling.

“Bran, it’s almost three in the morning.”

“Oh, come on, Russ.  You know a mother never sleeps.”

“Jack’s still waking up a lot?”  

“He’s only two months old.  Maybe if you become a daddy one day, you’ll know what it’s like.  You could, you know, babysit–”

Russ chuckles.  “Not on your life, Bran.”

“What are you saying ‘no’ to?  Being a dad or watching my kids?”  Brandy’s accent grows thicker when she gets worked up.

Russ nearly laughs again.  “Both.  So, okay, what’s up?”

“You’ve got that big birthday coming up.”

“Yeah, don’t remind me.”  Russ groans and rubs at his face with his free head, the exhaustion from the day hitting him.

“Okay, I’ll lay off, but you are gonna be home for Christmas, right?”

“That’s the plan.  I don’t need my head on that Christmas platter with all of Mom’s cookies for not bein’ home in time.  Don’t worry, sis.  I’ll be there.”

“Great.  But hey, about that party–”

“Bran, enough.”  Russ stops talking as he spots her outside the building, walking across the sideway toward the picnic tables.  “Hey, I’ve gotta go.  Sorry.”

“All right.  Talk to ya later.”

“Yeah, bye.”

Russ ends the call and wraps the last bit of burger up, stuffing it in his coat pocket.  He stands and tries not to jog out the doors in his haste to find her.  When he catches up with her, he realizes how silly he must look running around out here at an hour like this.  Shelley has stopped walking and is seated at one of the picnic tables.

“Hey,” Russ says.

She startles and seems about to stand, but Russ raises his hands in surrender.  “It’s me, remember?  Russ, the trucker from a few weeks ago?”

Shelley releases a long breath through her nostrils.

As Russ joins her, he keeps some distance between them and remains standing.  “You sound like you’re either coming down with something or getting over something.”

“What?”

“Your breathing.  Are you stuffed up?”

“I’m fine.”

“What are you doin’ out here, then?”  Russ takes a step closer, hoping he doesn’t scare her away.  She shouldn’t be afraid of him, but as he watches her, he can’t help but wonder if she really is crazy.

“I, um, well… What are you doing back here?”

Russ laughs.  “I’m a trucker.  I drive pretty much the same route from New York to Dallas and back every week.  I pass through here a lot.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t have to stop at this rest area.”

Russ half-smiles.  “Okay, guilty as charged.  Maybe a part of me wondered if I’d see you again.  Something about you from last time — the way you were out there in that blizzard around the same time as right now, lookin’ for all the world like you were lost — I dunno.”

“Why would you come here to see if I was here?”  Shelley’s voice is guarded.  She’s got those weird sunglasses on again, and she’s picking at a hole in the thigh of her jeans.

“Can you at least go inside?  It’s damn chilly out here.”

“Well…okay.”

Russ moves to the side to let Shelley pass, but she halts and turns, lowering her glasses to survey him.

“Are you coming?”

“What?  Yeah, of course.  I just–”  I didn’t wanna walk too close.  Russ begins to follow, but Shelley keeps her pace slow until he’s next to her, albeit with several feet between them.  I guess she thinks I might try something if she can’t see me.  “It seemed rude to walk ahead of you,” he settles on.

Shelley shrugs.  Once they arrive inside, Shelley removes the sunglasses and stows them in her coat pocket.  

“Did you, uh, want something to eat or drink?” Russ offers.

“No, but thanks.”

“You sure?  I mean, not to assume anything, but you–”

“You must think I’m homeless.”

Russ’s face heats as he grimaces.  “Sorry, but yeah.  Why else would you be outside?  I thought you might live here or somethin’.”

Shelley walks toward the dining area.  While passing the janitor, the old guy stops in his tracks and stares at her with wide eyes.

“Hey, you finally came inside,” the janitor says, smiling slightly.

“Yeah,” Shelley says quietly, avoiding his gaze.

Russ raises his eyebrows, his eyes snapping from Shelley to the janitor.  “You two know each other?”

“Wouldn’t exactly say that,” the old man says in a scratchy voice, “but this young lady and I share a cigarette or two together sometimes.  Told her to come inside several nights ago.”

“So you’re here every night?” Russ asks Shelley.

Shelley is glaring at the janitor.  “Let’s not talk about that, okay?”

The janitor shakes his head and chuckles.  “Better luck to you with her,” he says to Russ and shuffles off, the wheels on his mop bucket squeaking.

Russ watches him go and then asks, “Can I at least get you a cup of coffee?”

“If you insist.”

“I do, actually.”  As Russ and Shelley approach the coffee place, he wonders why she’s so cold, and he isn’t thinking about the freezing temperature outside that must chill her to the bone.

After she orders a cup of regular coffee, they find seats.  Russ pulls the rest of his burger out of his pocket and says, “Hope you don’t mind.”

Shelley shrugs.

For a few minutes, they eat and drink in silence.  Every so often, Russ glances at her, but her eyes are on the table top.  

“My full name is Russell Daniel Jacobs, and I’m about to turn forty in a couple of weeks.  I ain’t lookin’ forward to it.  Now, Shelley, tell me something about yourself.”

“What?”  Shelley sets the cup down with such force that it nearly spills.

“I told you a bit about me.  Now it’s your turn.  It’s called gettin’ to know each other.”

“Is this what this is?”

“Do you have an objection?  Do I have a third eye growing outta my head I don’t know about?  C’mon.  I ain’t promising I’ll be back here anytime soon…if ever again.”

Shelley creases her forehead.  “It’s just been a long time since I have a conversation like this or any reason to have one, I guess.  Okay, my name is Michelle Parkinson, but no one calls me Michelle, at least when I had people to call me something.”

A dozen questions whirl through Russ’s head like the snow that’s starting to swirl outside.  He stares out the window at their reflections mirrored back against the darkness.  Shelley is back to looking at the table like it’s the most interesting thing in the world.  He knows if he pushes her too much, she will close up.

For now, it’s enough to know her real name.  Russ finishes the burger.  If he knew it wouldn’t scare her away, he’d place his large, warm hand over that boney, pale hand that rests on the table next to the coffee cup.  

Despite what he said, Russ knows he’ll be coming back here.

 

Poetry Tuesday – My Love for You

Nothing but tears as far as the eye can see,

But tears are blinding.

You cannot be

On the path to finding

Who you are.

All this fog and deception, the wound left a scar.

Blurry vision, twisted perception,

To where do they lead?

The ancient memories are haunting.

No life sprouts from the seed.

Life’s tasks are daunting

To an unguided soul such as you.

If I could see inside,

Would I find it is true–

From the world you hide?

Dare I speak your name

And try to reach your heart,

Would you call me insane

And pull from me apart?

The gap grows ever wide,

And the bridge begins to fall,

Yet you wonder why no one’s on your side,

Believing none love you at all.

How sad is such a tale

Of a lost child who refuses

To lift from his eyes the vale

That condemns and confuses.

Perhaps if I take a stand,

Ever-reaching for you,

One day you will understand

My love for you is true.

06/06/02

Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP) – Chapter Five

Chapter Five: Sarah Wilcox

A jazzy rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” plays in the background.  Most people are oblivious to the music, but as Sarah spins out another order on the cappuccino machine, she sings softly and rocks her hips.  Caught up in the love of Christmastime, she whips up peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes by the dozen.

“Here you go,” she says with a wide grin as she sets another order on the counter for pickup.

The middle-aged couple returns the smile.  

“Thank you,” the woman says, slipping a dollar into the tip jar.

“Merry Christmas,” Sarah replies as they walk away.

She glances at the full tip jar.  Normally, at the end of each shift, the workers divide the money evenly, but during the holiday season, they’ve been collecting the money to go toward buying gifts for underprivileged kids.

“We’ve made quite the dough today,” remarks Benny, a handsome African American man who’s been working beside Sarah that morning.

Sarah smiles at him.  “That’s part of what I love about this time of year.  It brings out the best in people.”  

While they talk, their hands are busy making drinks.  Benny winks at Sarah, and she feels the blush on her face.  She’s been working beside him more than just this morning.  In fact, they’ve been spending hours working together, and Sarah wonders if he’s into her like she is into him.  He can’t be much older than her, and he’s tall and lean, not overly-muscular.  Maybe he played basketball in high school or college.

“What are your plans for the holidays?” Benny asks over the rush of noise.

“Gotta work till noon, but then my family’s spending the afternoon and evening with my aunt and uncle and their kids and grandkids.  The grandkids are young, so it’s that fun age of watching them open gifts, still believing in Santa and all that.  There will be tons of family there–even more than I can remember.  How about you?”

“Would you believe they gave me off work like I requested?  My last day before we leave for Florida is the 24th, and then I won’t be back until after New Year’s.  My family’s all down there.”

“You’ll be having more days off if you aren’t careful, Benjamin,” the assistant manager, Tina Ross, barks.  “Now, pay attention and get back to work, both of you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Benny says.  When Tina turns her back, he mock-salutes her.

Sarah and he are reduced to a fit of giggles.  

“Careful,” Sarah says lowly, “if you aren’t careful–”

Benny snickers.

Hours later, Sarah finishes her shift and steps outside to gently falling snow.  She walks slowly to her car, savoring the peace that the snow brings.  Despite the revving of semi-truck engines getting on and off the turnpike, Sarah finds a certain stillness as she gets into her car.  She sits in silence for a minute before turning it on, then turns the radio dial until she finds a station playing Christmas music.  The song ends within seconds, and the radio announcer starts up.

“And we’re still going strong on our drive to touch the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands, who don’t have the money to have a Christmas dinner and a few gifts around the tree.  It’s true that our families and friends are greater than what money can buy, as is the birth of Jesus Christ.  That’s why in the spirit of giving and love, we are asking those who are able to call in and make a pledge.  We’ve already reached–”

Sarah turns off the radio as her eyes fall on the woman who sits at the picnic table every day.  Before she can let fear change her mind, she goes back inside the rest area and orders a cup of coffee.  Nothing fancy, just something warm.

“You know you don’t have to pay,” Janice says as she rings Sarah up.

“I know.”  Sarah shrugs with a soft, sad smile on her face.

“Hmm.”  Janice hands Sarah the coffee.  “See you tomorrow.”

“Thanks.”  

Sarah holds the cup carefully between her hands, like she’s cradling a precious treasure.  She stops at the stand where the cream and sugar are and grabs a few, stuffing them in her coat pockets.  She heads back outside into the snow, which is still falling gracefully.  With every step in the direction of the strange lady, Sarah’s heart thuds in her chest and up through her head.  She eventually reaches the woman, who is staring in the direction of the woods.  Standing a few feet away, Sarah hesitates with what to say.  She closes the distance between them and gingerly sets the coffee on the table, adding too many creams and sugars next to it with shaky fingers.

The woman turns — a sudden, jerky movement that takes Sarah by surprise.  She’s wearing sunglasses.  Sarah half-smiles.

“I just, uh, wanted to give you this.  It’s cold outside and all, so I thought you might want something to keep your warm.  If you don’t like coffee, I can get you tea or hot chocolate.  I work at the coffee place right inside.”  

Sarah stops babbling as the woman picks up the cup and takes a sip.  “Coffee’s fine.  Thank you.”

Sarah’s face eases into a full smile.  “You’re welcome.”

The woman doesn’t say anything else, but as she takes another sip of the coffee, Sarah is certain she hears a contented sigh.  Before the happy moment falls into awkwardness, Sarah says a quiet goodbye and leaves, smiling to herself all the way to the car and all the way on the drive home.

“What are you smiling for?” Sarah’s mom asks when she enters the kitchen.

“Just, you know, Christmas and the season of giving and all that, Mom.”  Sarah kisses her mom’s cheek, asking, “What can I do to help?”

 

Out-Poured

 

When darkness claims the day,
And sadness won’t go away,
When God seems so far,
And clouds cover every star,
When doubt and fear close in,
And you feel you just can’t win,
When friends are lost,
And you don’t know the cost,

That’s when faith can grow,
And God’s light will show.
It’s sometimes the harder path,
Where we feel the world’s wrath,
So much suffering and pain,
Wondering what there is to gain,
That teaches us what matters,
Even when our spirit is in tatters.
There is no price for love,
Heaven-sent from above.
Keep your feet on the ground,
And strength will abound,
But hold fast to the Lord
And His mercy out-poured.

I wrote this for all those who are going through hard times, especially feeling alone and/or sad at Christmas. Remember Who loves you! I pray for you always. 

All These Things I Believe

 

God calls us Home,
Each in His own time,
And that is why life is precious.
Do not fill your days with worry and fear,
But rather, be grateful for the life given you.
Mourn lost loved ones,
But rest safely in the comfort of knowing they are with their Lord.
Do not bemoan getting older;
Each year is another gift from God.
It’s true that life is short,
So don’t waste time on anger, bitterness, and all forms of negativity.
Blessings surround you more than you know;
Embrace them.
The pain and suffering of this world cannot compare to the One who has overcome the world.
You are God’s precious child,
Deserving of love like everyone.
All these things I believe.

Poetry Tuesday – Within These Walls

If time could speak,

Would we find what we seek?

Memories long ago forgotten,

Children every year begotten,

Echoes down these long halls,

All hidden within these walls.

 

If time could see,

Would we find who we ought to be?

Words etched on aged stone,

Left cold and alone,

Shadows of what was rise and fall,

All kept within these walls.

 

If time could reflect,

Would we find what we call perfect?

Laughter since faded,

Emptiness invaded,

Forever striving to recall,

All shrouded within these walls.

 

05/27/02

Ode to Christmas Insanity

Shopping is done,
And presents are wrapped.
Wasn’t that fun?
More like whacked?!
Staying up late
Addressing the cards;
Now, wait,
What’s in my front yard?!
The mail truck is here;
Let’s run like a fool!
Oh, dear, oh, dear!
All this for Yule?!
Covered in flour up to each elbow,
More cookies to bake,
Stack and frost in a row.
Oh, for Pete’s sake,
What is that smell?
I forget one batch.
Oh, well, oh, well.
Start again from scratch!
I swear, if I get one more email
Begging for my business –
This is why I hate retail!
Nothing but a mess!
Pull out the tree
And untangle the lights,
Oh, whee, oh, whee!
This gives me the frights!
Here comes the cat
To knock it all down.
Now what do you think of that?
Maybe next year I’ll just go out of town.
Now, I think myself generous,
But how many a charity
Must ask for my Ebay bonus?
Do you want me to live in poverty?
Elf on a shelf
Can take the plunge in the lake;
I’m beside myself
With dancing in the snowflakes!