“The thing is, I just don’t really have a lot of experience,” she said, tugging nervously at the sleeves of her leather jacket. She was hoping this muttered truth would be enough to convince her mother’s friend not to hire her. She was hoping this starched and ironed man wouldn’t want to offer her the opportunity to gain experience at his up and coming advertising firm. After a hard first year of college, the last thing she wanted was another opportunity to learn. She wanted peace.
The starched and iron man closed the folder containing her one page resume and set it on his nearly spotless desk. Only an open laptop and a single framed picture accompanied her unimpressive list of prior job experience (two summers at the local ice cream parlor and a couple babysitting gigs). He sighed and shook his head before delivering what he thought was bad news. “I’m not sure we have a place for you here this summer. I’m sorry.” It was music to her ears. “Thank you for your time,” she said as she stood to shake his hand. On her way out of the busy office she almost shrieked with glee. “Well, mom, I tried,” she’d say to her mother later at dinner. “It’s too late to get in at the ice cream parlor. Guess I’ll just have to hang out around here this summer.” Yeah, that sounded perfect.
On the way home she took the scenic route, preferring the small towns and big trees to the traffic and billboards of the interstate. She sang quietly along to the song on the radio. She hung her arm out the window and let the cool air play with her fingers. It was late May, but up there in the mountains temperatures rarely got above 70. On this clear day, the wind was breezing through her open window at a crisp 67 degrees. Then, suddenly, something marred the air, turning it from crystal clear to smoky gray. “My car!” she shouted, pulling quickly to the side of the quiet two lane road and shutting down the engine. “Oh no… my car,” she whimpered.
She was in a small town, still fifteen minutes from the apartment she shared with her mom in the city. (“The city” of course, only being a city in comparison to the surrounding towns and villages, all with populations of 5,000 or less.) There were houses on either side of the street – big, old, comfortable, lived-in houses that hold memories and laughter. The town’s gas station was about a block ahead. Once the car was off, the smoke dissipated and she took in her surroundings.
She watched, mesmerized as a girl her age held a baby in one hand and a gas pump in the other. “That can’t be safe,” she said to herself. She watched as a woman her mom’s age walked down the shady street, holding the leash of a Labrador retriever in one hand and her husband’s arm in the other. She was caught up in the goings on of a small town.
Her attention was brought sharply back to the present situation of her broken car by a sharp rap on the passenger side window. “Hello!” a woman called. Long, blonde hair, curly and kinky and unashamedly streaked with gray, framed a tanned, smiling face. “Car trouble?” she asked brightly. She smiles like she knows me, our girl thought from the driver’s side. She reached over to crank down the passenger window and said, more boldly than was characteristic, “Hi. Yeah… do you have a phone I could use?”
“No need for that!” The woman stood up and placed her hands on her hips. “I can get you all taken care of. I saw the ol’ gal start smoking as you were coming down the way. I think I noticed it before you did, in fact. I was sitting on the front porch just enjoying the evening and I saw you coming by. I was looking to see if I knew you – I know most people who come through here – but before I could figure it out, whewee! she was spitting smoke!” The distracted driver listened to the woman talking while she watched the couple, and their dog walk hand in hand down the street. “So hop on out,” the woman at the window continued, “and we’ll get you on your way again. On your way to wherever you’re going. Or on your way away from wherever you’re coming from. However you want to look at it.”
The driver unbuckled her seat belt and grabbed her well-worn bag from the passenger side door. She got out of the car, throwing the bag over her shoulder as she stood, and held out the keys for the helpful stranger, who was still talking. Something about keeping your eyes on the road and never looking back. She finished with, “That’s what I always say anyways. By the way, my name’s Melody.”
“Thanks, Melody.” Our girl smiled and as Melody popped open the hood, she looked up at the trees and breathed in the fresh small town air. Melody had started talking again, but her head was now under the hood of the car and her words were only heard by carburetors and fuel lines and things I don’t understand.
A screen door slammed shut. Melody poked her head out long enough for the following words to be heard: “Oh, that’s my nephew. He isn’t much to look at, you know, but you should see his cousin, my son. A year older and identical. He’s tall too, a basketball star off at college. This one’s got freckles. And cancer. You should see the other one.” Melody’s head disappeared under the hood again.
The nephew was wearing a gray hoodie and jeans and yes, many freckles. He held a can of Coke and he strolled calmly over to the girl. She looked over at him and said the first thing that popped into her mind – something she did not normally do. “I like his freckles.” She was feeling bold from the promise of a summer without a job and the fresh air on her skin. She held his gaze long enough to catch his smile and then she looked at her shoes. When she looked back up again, he was still looking at her, still smiling, still freckled, still wearing that gray hoodie, and still holding that can of Coke. “Wanna sit?” he asked her, jerking his hand back toward the wooden fence that bordered the street. She nodded and followed his gray hoodie to the fence.
“My aunt Melody’s crazy,” he said, laughing.
“She’s being really helpful,” she said. “Especially for not even knowing me. Not many people would help a stranger.”
He nodded and took a sip of Coke. She looked over at him, at his profile, his thin glasses, his high forehead, his small nose, and his full mouth. She couldn’t imagine how his cousin could be any better looking that the boy she was sitting next to. She really did like his freckles, and – “Wait. Do you really have cancer?” Her thoughts flew out her mouth.
“Yep,” he said, before raising the can to his mouth again.
“Oh.” She wanted to redeem herself. She wanted to change the subject. “Do you really look exactly like your cousin?” she asked.
“My cousin’s a pothead,” he said matter-of-factly before laughing hard. She laughed along.
The boy and the girl sat on the wooden fence and talked for the twenty minutes it took for Melody to fix the girl’s car. They talked about school – he had just graduated from high school and she had just finished her first year at an out of state college. They talked about family – she had her mom and he had both parents and a younger sister. They talked about weather and sports and movies and books and music and how the leaves change in the fall. They talked about Coke in a can and Coke in a bottle and whether pizza crust is better thick or thin. They talked about everything – except the future. They talked like they were old friends and as they talked, they just might have fallen in love.
When she was finished, Melody walked over to the wooden fence, talking the whole way. It wasn’t until she was right in front of them that they realized they were being interrupted. “…so I just gave it a jiggle and you should be good to go,” she was saying. “Sorry you were stuck with this one. It’s too bad my son isn’t here. He’d really have some interesting stories to tell ya. Like I said, he’s identical to this one. Well, it was nice meeting ya. I’ll be here if your car ever starts smoking again.” Just like that the stream of words that had been flowing from Melody’s mouth since she had walked up to the girl’s car stopped. Melody turned and walked into her house, the large white one next to the one the boy had walked out of.
The girl hopped off the fence and said, “Well, my mom’s probably worried.”
“Yeah,” the boy said, “probably.”
“So I guess I’ll get going,” the girl said, starting toward her car.
“Yeah, alright,” the boy said. She walked three steps toward the car, away from the fence, away from the boy, then turned around and was honest. “I don’t want to go,” she said boldly.
“Then stay,” he said simply.
// Part 2 comes tomorrow, I promise!! Also, comment/critique is welcome.