Love & Life

A Short Story: Second Chances

This is a short story I wrote last year for a competition – they give you the first and last sentences and you fill in the rest … Enjoy!

 

No coverage, not even one bar, the battery was dead anyway.  It was still daytime, but there was an overcast and the sky had a perfectly even dullness, so there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter.  A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest if you wanted to get technical about it.  It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well.  What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills.  This had been happening more often lately. Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.

Thank God the 85’ Eldorado was holding up at least. She filled its tank up earlier in the day using what cash and change she had been secretly stashing away underneath the passenger seat for what felt forever, when actually it had been only three months. Three months to cultivate a plan to leave Jordan and go anywhere, do anything that was far away from the complacent life they had built in that shell of a town just 40 miles behind her. But the truth was, she really didn’t have a plan – she just had to leave.

Cadence had never really left Grove City; she grew up there. It was all she knew – her and Jordan, her job as a waitress at Donna’s Diner, Jordan’s ugly ass brown Eldorado that his uncle gave them as a wedding present two years ago – that was all she knew. She was tired of knowing only that, she wanted to be more and see more. Jordan and her were going to leave Grove City right after the wedding but an unplanned pregnancy put a stop to that.

Not even two weeks after their high school graduation, they shared their marital vows with each other at Shelter #1, which wasn’t the nicest shelter you could rent out at Sherling Park but it was the cheapest. And Jordan Joshua McCarthy and his family were all about a bargain. Maybe things would have worked out better if they hadn’t lost little Joshua at 26 weeks along in her pregnancy. But if she was honest with herself about their relationship, neither one of them handled the miscarriage well. Their marriage was doomed from the start; no one should get married because of a baby and no one should stay together for one, either. Her childhood and certainly her own marriage proved that.

So here there she was, with 24 dollars and 12 cents to her name, after filling the car with 17 dollars and 88 cents full of unleaded, sitting at the three-way stop. Would she turn toward the forest or the clumpy hills? She was familiar with the hills, towns smaller than Grove City were nestled in between them. Supposedly, Lola, her birth mother, was in Durry Lake – one of those towns that has a ridiculous name, like Grove City. No groves in grove city and no lakes in Durry Lake. Maybe there was once groves and lakes there but now there’s just redundancy and grass. 

She hadn’t seen her mother in five years, maybe longer. Still, she didn’t feel like going down memory lane. So the forest, perhaps to find the owner of the chainsaw- as long as it wasn’t a serial killer, was the plan. She had heard the sound of the saw working feverishly a few times before. She had come to that three-way stop before; this wasn’t the first time she had attempted to leave Jordan. The first time she tried to leave, he called her and she turned back around. The second time, she had her friend DeeDee with her. Both drunk and in DeeDee’s car, they had an encounter with the stop sign. DeeDee’s car was okay but both decided it was best to just get home and blame the fender bender on a deer or something. It wasn’t really that smart to run away from your marriage intoxicated, though it sounded good at the time. She wasn’t sure what was different this time around but something in the pit of her stomach told her if she didn’t do it now, she’d never leave and they would both suffer. And they had both been through enough. 

She turned right and headed toward the trees. She rolled the windows down to hear the chainsaw better but she really couldn’t hear much over the engine roaring. She slowed down right as the trees began to appear, closing in on her from both sides. Her mind began to wonder who was behind the chainsaw and why the hell was she trying to find it. She couldn’t hear anything; She contemplated to keep going or wait it out when she heard it. 

The chainsaw was firing again. No more thinking, she’d done enough of that for two lifetimes. She put the Eldorado in drive and headed down the road slowly, following the saw’s high-pitched gnawing sound. Mile after mile, she creeped down the highway trying to figure out which side of the road the sound of the chainsaw was coming from – 10 minutes later, she couldn’t make heads or tails of where the heck the chainsaw was located. It didn’t matter at this point, she felt ridiculous and was ready to pick up speed and find out what was on the other side of the forest. 

Suddenly, the sound was gone. She was surrounded by silence, which felt even creepier than the fact she was chasing the sound of a murderer, she pulled over. The engine of another vehicle replaced the saw’s high-pitched motor. It was deep and heavy, perhaps an old pick-up truck. Sure enough, a beat-up two-door brick red Chevy revealed itself about half a mile in front of her on a dirt road that connected to the highway. Whoever was in that truck, was the person behind the chainsaw and now she felt ridiculous for obsessing over a damn chainsaw for what felt like a good part of a day. 

She put the Eldorado in drive and peeled out onto the pavement, fish trailing slightly as she sped past the truck. A popping sound came from the back driver’s tire, it startled her. A flat tire was just what she needed. Now she felt even more embarrassed about the whole situation. She was a class 5 stalker, the highest level of stalking or at least in her mind, and here she was now pulling over because of a flat tire from a nail or something that she probably caught back up the road while stalking. 

She pulled over once again and pushed her head into the steering wheel, praying to God that whoever was in the truck would not come save her. Did Jordan’s car even have a spare tire in the back? She wasn’t sure. Her prayers were not answered for not shortly after she had pulled over, the truck was behind obviously coming to the rescue. 

She looked into the driver’s side mirror trying to get a glimpse of the driver. She sighed, threw one of her hands in the air and hollered to them, apologizing and fumbling through an excuse as to why she was pulled over on the side of the road and why she was acting like a foolish teenage boy driving for the first time attempting impress girls by revving up the engine.

A tall middle-aged woman, with sawdust covering her overalls and sweat-stained white T-shirt came up to Cadence and the Eldorado, with a jack in one hand and gloves in the other. Her dark hair, streaked with gray, was pulled back tightly. The heat of the day had created more than one or two flyways. They exchanged small-talk as Cadence tried once again to explain herself. The woman didn’t seem interested in Cadence’s rambling, assuring her that it was no trouble to help her with the flat tire. It was then, she decided to just keep quiet and let the stranger work on saving her ass … probably for the best.

Cadence felt something hit her shoulder; rain was beginning the splatter onto the pavement – and as if things couldn’t get any more awkward, she announced that it was raining, as if  it was a surprise to the strange woman. The woman looked up at the sky, squinting her eyes. She then looked at Cadence and informed her that her back tire could be patched up but she would need to take the tire back to her house to fix it. She would put the spare tire on for now.

There was something about the woman’s tone that brought Cadence comfort – abrasive yet cathartic in a strange way. As if an older sister was speaking to her. Cadence didn’t have siblings that she claimed anyway. It was a refreshing feeling.  She decided to trust the woman and figured she could charge up her phone – after all, even if she did need to dial someone for help, she didn’t have any way to do with the current state of her phone. 

The kind stranger introduced herself as Evelyn but everyone used to call her Eve so she was okay with that. She asked Cadence to follow her back to her place back up on the dirt road where their paths first crossed. Cadence noticed the truck bed was full of wood – logs, branches, stumps. She wasn’t sure how many trees were in the back of the truck as she followed the Chevy closely. But instead of focusing on dust being kicked up by the tires and the sound of her wipes screeching against the glass, desperate for moisture, she tried to imagine how many trees the woman had chopped up. This also kept her anxious thinking at a comfortable level – no need to panic and flee if Even really isn’t a murderer, right?

Both sides of the road were lined with thick trees and seem to appear thicker the farther down the road they went. A few miles down the road, a two story cabin with a wrap-around porch appeared. Two wooden rocking chairs were nestled to one side of the front door on the porch. She had a feeling that it had been a while since anyone had rocked in those chairs. 

She pulled the Eldorado around to the back side of the house, next to a white-washed tin roof building. She heard a crow fly over her head as she stepped out of Jordan’s car; the storm clouds were darker now and the rain had picked up. A flash of lighting caught the corner of her eye as she followed Eve, with tire in tow, into the shed. The air inside smelled stale and full of melancholy. She sensed desperation when she watched Eve move around the room, finding everything she needed to patch up the tire. A wooden stool draped in cobwebs sat adjacent to Eve’s work bench. She dusted it off before sitting down to watch Eve work in the dimly lit building. Rain banged against the tin roof, taking up the silence between then. But Cadence had enough of silence in her short life already. It was time to take chances, even on strangers. 

She broke the ice by thanking Eve for taking care of her again. It’s then when Eve began to open up, like a curtain slightly shifted just enough so sunlight can welcome a room in the early morning. Eve revealed that she’d been living in the cabin for more than two decades and back when she first moved in they had plenty of visitors to keep her, and as she revealed, her late husband company.

His name was Henry. She lost him to lung cancer but not the way that most people expected. It was three years ago when he went in for a check-up, he had been in remission for six months. The check-up revealed he had a blood cot and he needed to be watched closely. Stubborn and prideful, Henry assured that he was okay to go home. He never woke up the next morning. 

The story of Henry’s death explained many things about Eve for Cadence. Eve was still living there because she wasn’t quite ready to give up the place where they had built their life together. Eve’s movement and tone showed a small glimmer of hope, though … and in tough times, that’s all you need to make it. Maybe Cadence was completely wrong about Eve and it wasn’t that she was hopeful for something else in her life but that part of her mind was stuck in the past, replaying her life with Henry on a never-ending loop. Maybe it was both for Eve. Cadence shared parts of her story as well, sticking to the highlight reel of marrying young, but this time skipped over baby Joshua and admitted she had a short affair with her co-worker Marcus. She didn’t feel like bringing up little Joshua; some days it was easy and days like today it was hard to think of what could have been. 

Cadence’s tire was fixed but the storm was not subsiding and moving out of their vicinity anytime soon. Cadence’s connection with Eve was growing. Eve must have felt the same way, she invited Cadence into her home for dinner and a chance to charge her phone. Eve suspected it was dead and needed to be charged since she hadn’t seen her on it during their entire time together. A all-too-common jab at Cadence’s generation that from most people would offend her but from Eve, felt genuine and in good fun.

Following Eve, Cadence darted toward the cabin swinging the screen door wide open. The sound of the door slamming started Cadence a bit. The air was the same in the cabin as it was in the shed. The only difference was the decor, stuffed black squirrels, white-tail deer and one black bear, she guess around 7 or 8 ft. tall in the farthest corner. Eve pointed out where she could charge her phone in the kitchen. Eve offered a glass of sweet tea. Cadence smiled and agreed. She sat down in a camouflage recliner. Eve, more relaxed than before, handed her a tall glass of tea before she plopped down on the couch across the room from her. Their eyes were drawn to the fireplace mantle – brimming with framed photos and trinkets.

Cadence wasn’t sure how much she should pry but she could feel a pull from Eve that she wanted Cadence there. She needed her company. Cadence knew she wanted the kind of love that Eve clearly had with Henry. Eve’s grief seeped through her pores, wrinkles and laugh lines around her mouth and eyes. You could tell she had experience real joy and real heartache in her lifetime. Cadence wanted that – hell just half of that kind of love, even if heartache always accompanied it. It was in that moment, she realized that her relationship with Jordan would have never been anything like Henry and Eve’s. A veil of assurance came over her- she made the right decision to leave. She probably should have fully charged her phone, saved up more money and not stolen his car … but it is what it is. 

Eve encouraged Cadence to stay for supper while her phone charged. She wanted to politely decline and begin the annoying dance of insisting back and forth with each other. Cadence imagined two Southern debutants going back and forth with each other painfully dragging out small talk.  The funny thought brought the smile in her mind outward for Eve to see. She wanted to know more; she needed to know about Eve because maybe Eve’s story meant there was more out there for her. Maybe Eve was Cadence’s glimmer of hope.

She accepted Eve’s invitation as thunder shook the house. She was thankful for Eve’s kindness. The two began to talk about a hodgepodge of lighter things –  the weather, favorite pets, including Eve’s chocolate Lab named Moose, who was nestled on the porch with his well-worn dog bed and bone. Cadence was embarrassed to admit that she hadn’t noticed him. Eve didn’t seem to mind. 

She wasn’t sure how much time had passed during their conversation but it had been a enough for the storm to pass through and the blanket of grayness had appeared again, the rain had stayed but now it was slow and rhythmic.

Eve began putting together what she said was one of her favorite meals, crockpot spaghetti. Cadence joined her in the kitchen and the two continued talking. Cadence shared more of her history, how she didn’t know her biological father and how her mother’s made-up stories of her father’s identity varied from the drunken traveler looking for a good time to a married physician in the next town over. It all had become a game in Cadences mind as a way to cope with the lies – which story was her mother going to spoon feed her this time? Eve found the humor in it and sympathized with her. 

It was when they sat down in the dining room that the two women found their most common denominator – both had a similar loss. Eve and Henry married in their mid 20s. By this time, they had already had two children together – Annalise was three and Lee was six months old when they wed. The 20 acre-property with the cabin and shed was given to them as a wedding gift from Eve’s father. Cadence had made note of the number of people in most of the pictures  on the fireplace mantle and in the dining room – four people – a woman, a man and two children. In the dining room, a book shelf and buffet were covered with doilies, cookbooks and classic American literature. Cadence shared her favorite, Huckleberry Finn, which seemed fitting at this moment. Eve didn’t have a favorite. 

All the picture frames were simple, black or silver, no ornate details in the corners, no wording such as “Best Dad Ever” or “My Mom Rocks.” Just plain black and silver picture frames. Actually, it wasn’t the plainness of the frames that stood out, it was the fact that there were no pictures of the children older than teenagers. Cadence bit her lip – did she ask?

Eve caught her scanning the frames and sighed. Though her life has been full of joy, it was also full of grief – the bittersweet cousin to joy. Her two children, 19 and 16 at the time, were at Walmart several towns over, a good 45 minutes away from home, in Overton, the only town that had anything to buy at a reasonable price unless you wanted to pay sky-high prices for a loaf of bread at any mom and pop grocery stores between here and Walmart.

A storm had rolled in, the National Weather Service had deemed it severe and advised people to stay home or seek shelter. Henry and Eve couldn’t reach the kids, service was terrible out there in the woods. Instead of staying at the Walmart and seeking shelter, Annalise and Lee decided to try to outrun the storm and hopefully make it home. A F2 tornado touched down around the area where the 86’ navy Corsica was found. Annalise and Lee were ejected, yards away, from the car. Cadence’s heart sank. Cadence attempted to comfort Eve. She had suffered lost not one by three times and now it was just her and Moose. It was then Cadence opened up about little Joshua. She explained how she couldn’t imagine having your children for many years, close to being out on their own and then lose them. Eve assured that it didn’t matter when you lose a child – losing someone who you created with your own blood was the deepest part of the pit. Losing Henry, pushed her farther into the pit but at this point she was numb from it all. It all felt the same – she felt alone and Cadence’s company was a sign that she needed to get out the woods. 

Cadence continued to share her story, including her indifference in her marriage and just feeling stuck in life. Perhaps they could help each other become unstuck? She admitted to Eve that she didn’t really have any plans. She had been waitressing and making baby blankets on the side with a sewing machine her grandmother gave her when she graduated high school to making a little extra on the side. She saw the irony in it.  

Cadence was adamant she would clean up supper, Eve’s hospitality and openness (though gut-wrenching) was welcomed. It was the least she could do for Eve, though she already knew Eve was the type that didn’t want or need pity. But she had to do something for her. The rain had stopped by now and the sun hidden in the clouds was setting. Was it time for her  to go? Perhaps if she left now, she could make it Overton and find a cheap motel to stay at for the night while she planned her next move. 

An idea came to Cadence’s mind. What if she asked Eve to go with her? It was obvious that Eve was also stuck, and perhaps their chance meeting with each other was so they could push each other forward. Maybe this is why she was actually able to leave Jordan and their monochromatic life. Perhaps God was pulling them together, because it was both time for them to move on and neither one of them would do it on their own.

Eve came into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and to grab what was left of the coffee cake in the fridge. It was now or never. Cadence, hands deep in the kitchen sink, turned to Eve and as calmly as she could told her it was time for both of them  the move on and get out of this place. Eve gave her a deer-in-headlight look. It was crazy, right? They barely knew each other and here this young woman was asking this older woman to basically to just leave everything and drive with her, with no set plan and no idea what would happen tomorrow.

By the look on Eve’s face, Cadence regretted her plea to leave with her. She dried her hands with the towel by the stove and excused herself. She walked out of the front door and sat in the one of the rocking chairs on the porch. No surprise, cobwebs needed to be dusted off. Cadence was ready to bail, to get in the Eldorado and get the hell out of there. But, crap,  she remembered she left her phone and charger in the kitchen. 

She thought for sure Eve was going to kick her out. The screen door swung open and Eve appeared with Cadence’s phone and phone charger in her hands. She told Cadence that she needed to leave and thanked her for the company. She quickly snatched the phone and charger from Eve’s hands and darted toward the Eldorado. The spare tire, still on the car, caught her eye. She stopped and rolled her eyes. She looked back at Eve and pointed to the tire. Eve nodded and went back inside.

Feeling foolish and frustrated with herself, Cadence sat in the Eldorado sulking as she waited for Eve to appear from the cabin, ready to put the tire back on. She wished she knew how to put a tire back on herself. In fact, maybe it was time to learn. She hopped out of the car, went into the shed and grabbed her tire and headed back out to the car. Dammit, she needed tools. As she turned back to the shed, she heard one of the Eldorado doors open and slam shut. Confused, she looked back. Eve was standing there, she had just placed a small suitcase in the back of the car. Eve wiped tears from her eyes and smiled at Cadence. Maybe her invite to run away wasn’t so crazy after all.

To lighten the mood, Cadence asked every question she could about putting the tire back on and Eve played along. There had been enough serious talk that evening, they would have plenty of time to divulge sins later. The tire was now fixed. Eve hesitated and said she needed to grab one more thing from the house. She assured Cadence that she wasn’t bailing on her. Cadence put the car in drive and stopped right in front of the house. She smiled at Eve and told her to take her time. She rested her head on the steering wheel as she waited. The last bit of light in the sky would disappear in a matter of minutes. She turned the headlights on in the car. Eve appeared several minutes later, dragging a small chest and holding a bag full of food. Everything was shut off, even the coffee pot and Eve was ready to lock the door behind them and go. 

They loaded the small trunk and food in the back of the car. Eve then hollered for Moose to join them and hop in the back seat.  Cadence eyes widened; she hand’t thought of Moose. But they couldn’t just leave him there? Cadence joined Eve coaxing Moose into the back. Once he was in the car, she shrugged her shoulders and sighed  … it is what it is. They both hopped into the front seat, looked at each and nodded and Cadence put the Eldorado in drive.

She peeled out of the driveway and hollered celebrating their new found freedom. Eve laughed and shook her head. Maybe it wasn’t as appropriate for the situation but it felt good. Cadence relaxed her shoulders and settled into the driver’s seat, coaxing Eve to find some tunes on the radio. They didn’t say much to each other as they drove down the winding highway through the forest. Cadence would ask what was in the small trunk later. She had a pretty good idea what was in there, though – pictures of her children, keepsakes and photo albums. 

44 Before she knew it, they had reached Overton city limits and they were on the other side of the forest. Cadence wondered if Jordan was out looking for her. She didn’t want him looking for her but she how desperate he had been before to keep her around. Surely, he knew this was coming. They pulled over to let Moose pee in the grass.  They both agreed to stay in Overton for the night. Cadence, concerned for Eve and her past with town wanted assurance it was okay to stay there.  Eve confirmed multiple times that she was okay with staying in Overton.  They decided to give the Woodsman Motel a try. Eve offered to pay for their stay; Cadence knew she didn’t have much money to her name so she let her do it. Room 4B was their room for the night. Apparently, the town’s yearly ice cream social was tomorrow. They were lucky to have found a place so cheap for the night and with two queen beds, according to the person at the front desk. After seeing the room though, they could see why it was so cheap but neither one complained to each other.

46 Exhausted, Eve said she was going to bed. Cadence decided to take a bath to give Eve some privacy and to process how the day had unfolded. She had no idea what was going to happen, but it felt right – they were saving each other. The water thankfully was hot and Cadence spend a good hour soaking in the tub. Her phone, sitting on top of her duffle bag,  went off. Her state of somewhat peace was interrupted by Jordan’s call. Maybe the note she left him wasn’t enough? She reached for the phone, dripping water all over the top of her Grove City High School Clover’s duffle bag, and answered. He had been crying … actually, he was still crying. He was confused by her leaving and upset that she took the car. She felt the urge to apologize but bit her lip instead. Once he was finished sharing his frustrations,  she explained everything in the note. He had settled and despite her pleas for them to leave together, she knew he had no real interest in leaving Grove City. She did, she needed to leave. She needed more. She explained how she had thought of every possibly scenario. They could get divorced and they both stay in Grove City, or perhaps she would move to Drury Lake, but they would run into each other. It was inevitable. She needed a clean break from him, because she knew, deep down, that he needed it, too. He needed to be free, too. The death of their unborn child could have brought them closer together but instead it did the opposite. And that way okay and she was done feeling sorry about it or blaming anyone, including herself.

She assured him that he would be okay and start a new life with someone there; this was the best thing for both of them. She said that once she found a place, she would reach out to him to sign divorce papers and hung up. Hopefully, that was enough closure for the both of them. She stepped out of the tub, dried herself off, slipped on her pair of black shorts and favorite dark purple T-shirt. She found Eve curled up in the fetal position in her bed, overalls and dirty T-shirt and all. She had at least taken off her boots before she fell asleep. Moose was asleep on the floor beside the bed. It was then she noticed how old Moose was, he really was all she had left of her former life. Cadence looked around for a spare blanket. She decided to just pull the comforter off of her bed and place it over Eve. Cadence turned off all the lights, plugged in her phone and rolled herself into the remaining sheets on her bed. It didn’t take long at all for her  to fall asleep.

She woke up to Eve barreling through the door with two cups of coffee from the gas station down the street. Eve had filled up the tank of the Eldorado. She wasn’t sure what Cadence liked to eat for breakfast, so she just stuck with coffee but she had creamer in her purse. With excitement in her voice, Eve wanted Cadence up so the could discuss their next move. Cadence suggested they hit up the ice cream social for a cheap meal, as she didn’t have much money to her name. Eve agreed. Cadence noticed how Eve’s steps seemed lighter despite the fact that she was heaving men’s work boots. As Cadence went to the bathroom to make sure she had all of her belongings, Eve put Moose in the car and unlocked the small trunk in the backseat. She peaked inside just for a moment – all of her money, thousands upon thousands of neatly placed cash, was still there. 

Both gathered their belongings and followed the signs for the ice cream social. Both took their time enjoying the booths, looking at the crafts and tickets for sale. Moose stayed in the backseat with his head out the window. Neither one of them bought anything, but it was nice to see the smiles of others and enjoy the sunlight. They put some cash in the donation jar to pay for their meal – one hot dog each, two Pepsi’s and three scoops of ice cream. Eve chose chocolate, Cadence chose banana, Moose had no choice – they gave him vanilla.

They made their way through the crowd, and back to the El Dorado.  And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them.  They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them.  Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it.  The first crow squawked and then both flew away.  They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the El Dorado.  Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery.

Paragraph #50: copy and paste this text as the last paragraph of your short story

They made their way through the crowd, and back to the Eldorado.  And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them.  They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them.  Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it.  The first crow squawked and then both flew away.  They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the El Dorado.  Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery.

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