Missy should have left hours ago. She knew better than to try and make it up the mountain after dark. It was late autumn, and once the sun set, the weather could turn on a whisper. Twice, she had tried to close the shop after the 5:00 closing time, but three drop-ins happened by, two asking for personalized flower arrangements and another a sweet-sixteen bouquet. How could she refuse?
She’d been open for three months and willingly worked late and odd hours in order to build her client list. She understood the necessity of flexibility in growing this business of hers, especially since she was the sole proprietor. She had put her heart, soul and all her financial resources into this business. Success or failure was on her shoulders alone.
It was late into the evening when Missy finally switched off the lights, set the alarm, and locked the door of the shop. She was exhausted and inhaled a deep breath of weariness before turning on the engine of the car. She stopped at the local take-out for a sandwich special and turned her car towards the mountain summit and the house she shared with two roommates.
The wind was beginning to stir. Leaves dropped in thick stacks over the curved road and covered the meandering river to the left. Shaken loose from abandoned branches, the leaves were now sticky wet from a sudden rain burst now gone. The night sky was dense and dark; the moon was hidden. A train whistle called from a distant line.
Less than ten minutes. Home was less than ten minutes away.
Her eyes focused on the road ahead, both hands firm on the steering wheel. The car up ahead swerved. Missy slowed and thought for sure the car was headed over the embankment and into the river below. Somehow it managed to correct its coarse and continued on. Missy calmed and let out a deep sigh of relief. Only five more minutes and she’d be home.
Without warning, a face formed in her line of vision, the impact of the body against the windshield created a cracking thud. She slammed on the brakes, and the face and its body disappeared into the dark. The car stopped but the motor continued running.
The door handle on her left began shaking. Some strange force pulled at it but the lock didn’t give way. Fists banged at the window. “Get out of your car. Now. Get out of the car, you bitch.” An oversized youth screamed at her, his face pasted to the passenger-side window. His size scared her and she stepped on the gas.
Beep…beep…beep. The rhythmic sound irritated the teen. Travis lifted his head, looked around. Tubes, machines, brightly lit numbers. He must be in a hospital. Then he remembered. He’d been hit by a bitch in a car. All they wanted was the car. “Why didn’t she just give them the car? Bitch. Just give us the car, so easy.”
He reached to feel his forward, but when he couldn’t feel anything, decided to ask for a mirror instead. “Where’s the nurse bitch?” He was in a closed off room, but through a large rectangular window on the right, he could see someone sleeping in the next room. All kinds of machines were attached to the guy. At least he looked like a guy. Could be a girl with her hair buzzed off. Hope it was that bitch that hit him.
To his left of his bed an old man sat quietly in a chair. His thick curly hair was more white than black but evenly speckled with grey on the sides of his face. His dark face was lined and his eyebrows heavy. Both hands were clasped together in his lap patiently waiting. A folded newspaper lay on a table at his side.
“Who’re you?” He squeezed his eyes tight trying to remember if he should know him or not.
“Yes, like what some of you young folks might call a homie, bro, friend.” The man smiled at his feeble attempt to connect with the youth.
“What? A homie? You’re no homie. Not my bro either. I don’t even know you.” He looked around the room. “Who sent you? Tell me you came to get me out of this place?” The man smiled and shook his head. “You a probation officer, the heat?”
“No,” he smiled. “I just came to sit with you.”
“Well, if you ain’t the heat, why are you here? I don’t need no babysitter, no one to sit with me.”
“I think I’ll stay anyway, in case you change your mind. Besides are you expecting someone else? Any one coming to sit with you?”
“Yea, where’s my…” Who would he ask for? Who would bother to come? Not his mom or dad. They moved out of state so he couldn’t find them. His grandmother wouldn’t claim him either. His parole officer? Yeah. Right.
“Listen Son, it works like this. Some of us retired folk have extra time on our hands. A group of us from Hagerstown volunteer to sit with patients. I’ve been assigned to sit here next to you.”
“What are you suppose to do? Get me to talk? I’m not saying anything. I didn’t do nothing.”
“Doesn’t matter if you did or not. That’s on you. We don’t have to talk if you don’t want. The plan is for me to sit here next to you, just keep you company.” Travis looked over at the man. He smiled softly and revealed a missing front tooth. There was an old scar on his chin.
“Where’s Reggie? He’s suppose to get me out of here.”
“He’s back in custody, on his way to Baltimore.”
Suddenly his head hurt. He saw a woman screaming and the fear forming in her eyes. His head hit the windshield of the car. Then the pain, his head smashing into an immovable barrier. The pain was unforgiving. He passed out
Missy parked her car in the driveway, both hands gripping firmly on the steering wheel. What was she going to do? Already she feared the headlines: Missy Brown charged in hit and run. Man killed in impact. Charges pending.
No one would believe her, believe it was an accident. She’d left the scene. How could she have been so stupid?
She got out of the car, but left her headlights on. Surveying the damage, she saw splattered blood and a deep dent on the hood. She turned off the lights and went inside.
She found Becca in the kitchen. “Missy, what in the world? What’s wrong? You look like Hell.”
Missy started crying. In between the sobbing, Becca figured out what had happened. “Let’s find my dad; he’ll know what to do.” Her father, now retired, had worked in law enforcement until last year. She picked up her phone and tapped in his number. “No answer. Everything is going to his voice mail. I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave a message.”
“I want to go back to the place. Turn myself in.”
Becca insisted on taking her car and, with Missy sitting next to her on the passenger side, retraced the path to the scene of the accident. Then she’d drive into town to her parent’s home. Her dad would know what to do.
The road was blocked with police cars and an ambulance. Twirling red lights glared into the slow procession of traffic now reduced to one lane. The women had nowhere to stop but had to continue.
“Now what?” Becca looked at Missy. “What do you want to do?”
“Let’s turn around and go back to the house. I’ll get my car. I’ll turn myself in to the police department in town.” She started crying. “I can’t live with this, but I don’t want to go to jail either. My name all over the newspapers. I’ll have to get a lawyer, court. Oh, my God.”
“Okay, okay, Missy. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You need a clear head. Think.” She paused, “I agree, we need to find a police officer, first. We’ll worry about the rest later.”
They found a place to make a U-turn and drove up to the house. Once there, they jumped out of Becca’s car and into Missy’s. “I’ll drive,” Becca stated. Missy didn’t refuse.
They drove down the hill, back towards town. The police were still at the scene but the ambulance had left. The one lane of traffic was still causing the traffic to back up. Missy choked as they passed the spot. She didn’t want to start crying again. Becca was right; she needed a clear head to think.
Beep…beep…beep. That sound again. His eyes opened, slowly and Travis woke from a deep absence. Staring straight ahead, through the un-curtained window, he saw two people looking over a chart. Must be the doctor. Finally, someone can get me out of here. Standing next to the doctor was the old man, his hands clasped behind him.
He looked up and smiled at Travis. His head turned and he said something to an old woman approaching. Her rounded pear shape waddled closer. She clearly favored her right leg. She wasn’t as dark as him but had the same grayish hair and tired smile. A soft cap covered her head. An oversized purse, slung over her shoulder, helped her with her balance.
The two exchanged words. Then she turned and entered the room next to Travis’s. It was the same patient he had seen earlier, still surrounded with tubes and machines.
Hope it’s that bitch that hit me.
The old woman, sat down next to the patient. Thoughtfully she placed her bag on the floor, took the patient’s young hand and softly patted it with her own wrinkled one. Was she singing? Talking? With her free hand she made a circle over the patient’s head. Maybe she was praying.
Travis turned his head back towards the entrance. The doctor and nurse were gone and the old man was sitting next to him in the same chair. The newspaper was folded neatly on the table beside him. “How’d you get in here?”
“Walked through the door.”
“Yeah, funny. Who’s your friend?” With his free hand, Travis ran his hand over his blond bangs, thinking to push them out of his face, but they were gone. He felt skin instead. The pain caused him to wince.
“A friend, she sits with patients too. Those who need company.”
“Looks like she’s singing and praying over there.”
“That’s what she does.”
“That what you do too?”
“Sometimes. If I think it will do any good. But I don’t sing. Can’t sing. Can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Don’t ask me to sing.” He smiled. “You want me to pray over you?”
“That’s what I thought.” He smiled.
“I don’t want to talk either. I’m not saying a word.”
“No one said you have to talk. Besides, I’m not here for the talking, not going anywhere.” He picked up the newspaper.
“Reggie, he’s the one who told me to get into the middle of the road. We had to get a car. So I did what he said, but I’m the one that got hit. Could have been killed by that…” but he couldn’t say the word. “I’m the one that got hit, not Reggie.”
“Maybe you learned something.” He smiled. “But maybe not.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“Not too smart trying to stop a car in the dark and on one of those back roads. You’re sixteen right? Not too old to use some common sense the good Lord gave you.”
“That Lord of yours never gave me nothing but hell on earth.” He felt a searing pain ripple through his forehead. He grabbed his ears to try and stop it, but instead he passed out.
The two women continued down the mountain until they reached the highway entrance. “Look, Becca, there’s a cop over there, on the other side of the overpass. He’s parked at Sheetz.” She recognized the county logo on the side of the parked car. Becca turned into the parking lot and stopped the car.
“Are you okay, Missy?”
“Let’s get this over with.” They both got out of the car and walked inside. They found the officer sitting at a round plastic table eating a hot dog and fries. As they approached, an unfamiliar face looked up at them.
“Officer, I have something to you need to know,” Missy started. “It’s about the hit and run up the mountain.”
The officer looked up, clearly interested. “Okay.”
“Can I tell you outside? Too many people in here.” Already the few customers and the workers behind the cash register were listening.
“Sure.” The officer followed them outside.
“I was the one who hit the boy on the road.” She paused. “He came out of nowhere. I didn’t see him until he hit my windshield. Then some big guy started pounding on my driver’s side. He was yelling and screaming at me. I got scared.” She sucked in her breath, trying to maintain control. “I left. I drove away from the accident.”
“Where’s the car?”
“Over here.” The officer followed the two women.
He examined the dent and saw the blood spots. “Well, you hit him good. That’s all I can tell you. He was taken to the hospital. That’s where he is now.” He paused. “Good thing you hit him. The other kid was carrying a sixteen-inch butcher knife, really sharp. They escaped from a juvenile detention center, a group home, early this morning. Those in charge didn’t know they were missing until last night. They were on the road, trying to steal a car. The way I see this is you prevented these escapees from doing real harm. Could have used that knife on someone. Could have been much worse than the kid ending up in the hospital.”
“What should I do?” Missy asked.
“Go home. Get the dent fixed when you can. Maybe you hit a deer. Happens all the time around here. No need to write a report. Nothing good will come of it. No, no need for any written report.”
Missy stood rooted to the sidewalk. “Okay,” she stammered.
“Best just to forget the whole thing.”
Both women got into the car. The officer returned inside.
Becca started the car and looked over at Missy. “What do you want to do now?” She noticed the sandwich bag on the backseat. The sauce had dripped through the bag leaving an oily spot. “First, let’s get you something to eat. A few glasses of wine might help too. I have a bottle at the house. Pizza take-out, cheap Chinese or fast food?”
Missy started crying.
“Okay, pizza it is.” Becca found the number on her contact list on her phone. A voice answered. “Pete’s Perfect Pizza. How can I help you?”
The two stopped by the liquor store, bought a couple of bottles of wine, and picked up the pizza. It was time to head home. Missy was shaking uncontrollably. She couldn’t shake off the look of horror and disbelief as the face stared into her eyes. Over and over, her brain tried to make sense of the trauma she was feeling. She relived the image of the face as it crashed into the windshield and then disappeared into the darkness. She wanted to scream but choked and then cried instead.
Becca looked over at her friend, clearly worried. “Forget the wine, girl. I have some of Grandpa’s moonshine, mountain stilled. You’re going to need some fire in your veins to get through this night.” They both laughed.
Beep…beep…beep…Travis opened his eyes and looked around the room. The old man was sitting quietly beside him. He seemed asleep. “You still here?”
“Told you. Don’t have no where else to be. Just keeping you company, sit here with you.”
He looked at the other person in the next room. The chair next to the patient was empty. “Where’s the old lady? Your homie?” Travis and the old man smiled in unison.
“Must be a little late. She does a lot of sitting these days. Funny thing. Lots of people all over the place, billions of people. Yet, most live alone, no one to sit with them when the time comes.”
“When the time comes? What’s that suppose to mean.” Open fear formed on his face.
“When a body needs a friend, someone to sit with.”
“So you sit with other people like me?”
“No, not in your case. You’re a special case. Need a full time friend.”
“You’re that friend?”
“You can say that.”
“I just did.” He laughed at his own joke.
“Now, that’s good. A laugh. That’s a good sign.”
“I feel sorry for the woman who hit me.”
“She was scared, really scared. I saw her face when she hit me. Reggie screaming and yelling, pulling at the door handle. A nightmare in her head for a long time.” Travis looked straight ahead, “I know about nightmares, those kinds of nightmares. Screaming and yelling, not knowing what’s coming next.”
Silence. He looked over to the old man.
“Could have been worse. She could have stopped the car, opened the door.”
“Some situations turn out better than hoped for. Things can always be worse.” He smiled at the youth.
“Don’t like to think that way, but yeah, there’s a good chance Reggie would have used the knife. He could be mean when he wanted.” He turned to the man and looked him in the eyes. It was the first time he had looked inside the man. He realized he didn’t know his name.
“Piper, Peter Piper. That’s my name. You can call me Piper.”
“How’d you know what I was thinking?”
“Don’t know. Just do.”
“So what’s going to happen to me?”
“Don’t know for sure. A lot depends on you.”
They both watched as a thin tall woman entered the next room. She paused for a second and smiled at Piper. Her hair was long, curly-thick and a dull orange color. Freckles covered her pure white face. Her clothes were old, a style from another time. She wore an ankle length full gray skirt and overlapping blouse. Its mid-length sleeves revealed boney wrists.
Piper’s body stiffened. The movement was not lost on Travis.
Walking over to the patient, the woman stood with her back to the two. Travis watched, fascinated, waiting, not knowing what to expect. She appeared to run her hand over the person’s face without touching. Her hand dropped to her side. She turned towards Travis and smiled, a serious but amusing smile. Once more she turned her back on the two, and looked over the patient. Travis felt anxious. This was weird behavior for a hospital volunteer.
Then she left.
The machines went crazy, and the room instantly filled with nurses, attendants and crash carts.
Travis looked over to Piper, worried and distraught. “What’s happening?”
Without warning, Travis felt the pain surging through his head. This time he cried out, “Stop the pain, stop the pain.” Instead of passing out, he opened his eyes wide and stared into the faces of six people standing over him.
“That was close, Travis. We almost lost you.”
He looked towards the other room, but there was no other room. Piper wasn’t anywhere to be seen. “What the hell?”
They laughed. “Hell, yes. You came pretty close, but fortunately for you, it wasn’t your time.”
Piper was standing outside the room, the newspaper under his arm, his hat over his head.
“Now you can see life from the other side. Be interesting to see what you do with a second chance.”
Missy parked in the space behind her shop but stayed inside the car as she fumbled for her keys, buried deep inside her oversized purse. It was too cold to try and hunt for them while standing outside the back door. When she finally walked into the workroom, she was filled with the scent of flowers and her eyes began dancing at the sight of ribbons, beads and bows. How she loved designing and selling flower arrangements! How she cherished this opportunity to continue on with her life, her plans. It was a second chance at growing her dream after the Hell she had been through. She trembled at the memory of the accident, only a few weeks past. The memory left her with an unsettling, cold emptiness that chilled her to the bones.
But for now, she could celebrate. She pulled up the shades covering the front windows, unlocked the front door, and turned the closed sign around to read “open.” She stepped outside, her hands on her hips, surveying the new, shiny sign overhead. It read: “Flowers, Bows and Beads.”
“Now that makes a pretty sign.” A voice called over Missy’s shoulder. Missy turned and smiled at an older man.
“Thank you.” His face was kind and his thick curly hair, more white than black, gave him a distinguished look.
“I’d like to order some flowers for a patient in Hagerstown. Do you deliver?”
Ann Marie Bezayiff received her BA and MEd from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an author, blogger, columnist and speaker. Her columns, “From the Olive Orchard” and “Recycled Recipes from Vintage Boxes”, appear in newspapers, newsletters and on Internet sites. Ann Marie has also demonstrated her recipes on local television. Currently she divides her time between Western Maryland and Texas.