Gail's Book Nook

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Looking in the Window: Lost and Found at Christmas, a Barely Above Water Short Story



A peek into Christmas in the lives of Matt and Suzie from Barely Above Water. Originally published in the December issue of  Good Stuff from Gail’s Book Nook. See sidebar to sign up for future copies.



Earlier at the shower

Suzie hadn’t seen Aunt Frieda since Matt and Suzie’s wedding, but Suzie intended to become part of Matt’s remaining family, and she wanted Aunt Frieda to know that. She couldn’t believe she’d forgotten the one thing Aunt Frieda asked Matt and her to bring. But she had it now from the local grocery in Hart’s Mountain, North Carolina, and she was headed back to Aunt Frieda’s house. Her mouth gaped in awe at the landscape.

Icicles hung like crystal tendrils on the barren trees on a precipice to her left. The sun glinted off of them in silver tones. An ice sculpture of cascading water that had frozen in its tracks sparkled on a rock embankment on her right. She couldn’t let this magical wonderland distract her for long, but she’d never seen anything like it.

She leaned her head forward as she crept at a snail’s pace on the slippery road. The car inched over the center line, and she rotated the wheel. The vehicle slid then sped downhill toward the cliff. Suzie’s heart pounded in her chest. She screamed, but there was no one to hear.

***

Matt checked his watch. Suzie had left an hour ago to run a twenty-minute errand. She was so sensitive. Of course, she’d sensed how he yearned to stay close to those he loved, especially at Christmas. Tradition mattered, but now he wished he’d never said he’d brought fruitcake to Aunt Frieda’s ever since Mom died. Suzie had insisted she’d pick it up. Then she got busy throwing the party for the kids he coached in football and writing extra articles for The Sun Dial, the newspaper where she worked in Destin. No wonder she forgot. He wrung his large hands as he paced back and forth in front of Aunt Frieda’s picture window overlooking the snow-covered mountains in the distance. “What was I thinking letting her go out alone?”

Aunt Frieda ran her hands through her dark hair. She looked so much like Mom. The emptiness left in his soul when Mom died seemed worse every Christmas, but right now, he just wanted Suzie back safe and sound.

“Suzie insisted she wanted to take care of it.” Wrinkles creased Aunt Frieda’s brow. “She has her cell phone, doesn’t she?”

“Yes,” Matt called Suzie and got no answer.

“You’re as white as the snow.”

Tears pooled in Matt’s eyes and blurred the ornaments on the Christmas tree. “I lost her once when we were dating because after Mom died...” The words nearly choked him...“I couldn’t deal with illness, and Suzie has Lyme disease.” He wiped his brow. “She’s been so strong and fought so hard to be all right.”

“I’m sure she’s fine. She’ll walk in here any minute. In this weather it could take an extra forty-five minutes to drive to town and back, and she hasn’t been gone that long.”

Aunt Frieda motioned for Matt to sit in the Navy easy chair. He obliged, and she plopped down on the matching sofa.

***

Suzie raised her head off the steering wheel and rubbed it. “Ouch.” Where was she? Why was everything white? Where was her Mom? Oh, Mom died. Suzie sobbed. She missed Mom so much. Ralph, the only Dad she’d ever known, died too. She had no one until she met Matt. Where was he? Her body heaved with more crying.

***

Matt tapped his foot on the hardwood floor. “I can’t wait any longer. I’m going to look for her.”

Aunt Frieda scooted to the edge of the couch. “It won’t hurt to search on your own, but if she isn’t on the main road, you’ll need a four wheel drive to navigate the scenic route.”

Matt slapped his forehead. “She took the drive with a view. I just know it. That’s so like her.”

The color drained from Aunt Frieda’s face. “Let’s go. Fred’s old jeep’s in the garage.”

The two of them jumped up, put on heavy outdoor clothing and left. Frozen snow crunched underneath their boots as they stepped to the garage. Aunt Frieda handed Matt the keys and slipped into the passenger’s seat. He backed out and ice cracked as the wheels rolled across the driveway.

“You look just like your mom driving the car, the way you held your mouth when you turned the key, and with your dark hair and eyes.” Aunt Frieda shook her head. “This time last year Fred was shoveling snow in the driveway. We have too many holes in our hearts to be so young.” Aunt Frieda gave Matt a friendly jab on the arm. “Well, at least you and Suzie are young.”

“Fifty-two is hardly old.”

Aunt Frieda chuckled and lightened the mood “We’ll always have our memories, but let’s not forget our blessings. Don’t worry. Suzie’s fine. I’m so glad we have her.”

“Me too, we’ll all stay in touch after Christmas. It’s important for us to be here for each other.”

“There’s the base of the road.” Aunt Frieda pointed, and Matt turned onto a steep parkway covered in frozen snow. The jeep slid toward a rock wall on the left, but Matt straightened the car. His heart pounded in his chest, not only at the near miss, but at the thought of Suzie cold and frightened on this treacherous stretch. If only he could floorboard the pedal and zip to her.

The tires spun. Determination filled every fiber of Matt’s being, and he accelerated to pull the vehicle forward. The car slipped toward the guardrail on the right. Sweat popped out on Matt’s brow as he righted the vehicle. He breathed deep trying to relax. “There’s no one else out here, and I can see why.”

“Everyone who lives in these hills knows better. The surface freezes at one end of the road before the snowplows make it to the other. They’ll close it. This storm came up so fast they just haven’t done it yet.”

Large snowflakes pelted the windshield. Matt leaned forward. “Now, I can’t see.”

“Stop! That’s your car!”

A twinge of hope coursed through Matt as he drove to the wreck. “She crashed into the tree growing up from the cliff. That kept her from tumbling over it.” Matt trembled. Tears rushed to his eyes as he cut the engine.

“We know who stopped that car.” Aunt Frieda touched Matt’s arm.

“Oh yes, thank God!” Matt hopped out and charged toward Suzie, slipping, sliding, and waving his arms to keep his balance.

He opened the door, and Suzie grabbed him around the neck so tightly he hardly could breathe. She shivered in his arms. “How long have you been here?”

“I’m not sure. At first I was thinking about Mom and Ralph, and I couldn’t remember where I was.” She turned and picked up a grocery bag from the passenger’s seat. “Here’s the fruitcake.”

Aunt Frieda took tentative steps to them. Suzie slid out of the car and hugged her, and Matt threw his arms around both of them.

Aunt Frieda wiped tears from her cheeks. “Let’s go home and celebrate Christmas!”

The End

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