Abel sat, aged face in hands at another of a series of cheap, roadside motels as rain positively pelted against a pane glass window that appeared – at least to his judgment – to be straining a bit too much under the pressure.
Twenty years had passed since that June night when Rebecca drove back to Oklahoma. He had fired up the Mustang and drove down the highway that pointed in the general direction of Elk City, trying to follow her in a logical direction of travel but she had disappeared into the night seemingly as fast as she had entered his life. Doubling back, he checked her apartment. Nothing. The neighbors either knew nothing or were covering for her. Buying the ring had left him flat broke and there was no chance he’d pawn the ring off to raise money to follow her. It was her ring, after all. He had no choice but to wait until payday – two days away – to get enough to start out on the road towards Oklahoma.
Huge flashes of lightning illuminated the two lane road that for Abel’s taste passed way too close to his room in the motel. Semis barreled past at high rates of speed and the spray from their tires hammered the glass and added to the strain on them and also added to the dark mood festering inside the lonely traveler. He had “lost” at love before, I guess. Casey? It never had a chance. There were a couple others in the succeeding years but nothing of any consequence. Then, Rebecca. This one was like Casey in a sense that it never reached a logical conclusion, a logical resolution. He had to leave Casey behind. Rebecca left him behind. Now he knew how Casey felt, he thought. Another truck, another spray, another rub of his face. Another empty minute recorded on the clock behind him.
Abel reached for the tin flask behind him and took a long pull from it. He found comfort in alcohol. Not to excess of course, thankfully. Something about the physical taste of it threw him off the track of addiction, unlike so many of his new friends in the trucking business. There was something about being lonely, he guessed. When you’re young, love is like dancing among flittering, downward and sideways-moving bits of confetti: Your eyes follow it and your heart goes along, but the problem is that there’s nothing steady or permanent about it. Your eye always naturally looks for the next flitter, the next movement, the next…thing. As years had passed, he began to think of Casey in those terms. She was shiny, and she seemed to glow as she walked the halls at the school. The first time he touched her – “accidentally” on the arm in a co-ed gym class – he swore she felt electric. Maybe all young loves feel that way but that was about 30 lifetimes ago and the pain and the miles and the road and the alcohol had even started to wear at her memory.
But Rebecca was different. He was older when he met her and by then all the fake glitter had fallen to the ground, swept up by minimum wage-earning custodians or blown away to the four winds. When you’re older and you fall in love with someone, you can sense the rightness of it. It fits. You connect, and both sides know it. Thoughts are finished by the other, and the electricity is palpable. Rebecca felt electric to him, both in touch and in thought. But the added maturity just added to it and made it seem right, permanent, endless. His relationship with Rebecca felt solid, sort of. A rock-solid wall of emotion on which to stand and to build a future. That was the key. Did she panic because of the pregnancy? Did she think he would run when she told him? Did she take his running outside for fresh air as a “RUN?” As a rejection?
He never found out.
Abel had driven to Elk City with only the knowledge of her last name and the fact that it was her home town. She had never shared the actual address of her parent’s home or even if they still lived there. The first thing he did after pulling his Mustang into town was look in the first phone book he found, a raggedy one stuffed inside an equally ratty phone booth on the outskirts of town next to Ollie’s gas station. Stepping over a crushed McDonald’s drink cup, three spent cigarettes, and an indefinable glob of something on the floor of the booth, he flipped open the book. Ander…Anderson…There it is!, Abel thought. Andermatt, And it was the only one in town, so chances were good this was it. Paul and Mae. He had torn out the page and ran into Ollie’s for directions; seconds later he was in the Mustang and heading north towards the unknown.
930 Mahoney Drive, Elk City, Oklahoma was a nondescript, white-walled home with green window shutters and gutters to match, and a gravel-covered driveway complete with puddles filling the low spots courtesy of an all-to-rare shower of rain. Abel started to pull into the drive but for some reason thought better of it, retreated, and parked on the street opposite the house. He took two deep breaths in an effort to gather himself, spun out of the car on one heel and headed in. Stepping over the puddles, around a metal and orange “OSU” logo sign stuck next to the sidewalk, and up and onto a simple concrete-formed porch with a noticeable gap between the home the the landing, he paused and then knocked. The door almost immediately opened.
A smallish, gray-haired man stood there with a knowing smile. Nattily dressed – which surprised Abel considering how the outside of the house looked – and proper acting, he nodded towards the visitor.
“Uh, yes sir,” Abel stammered.
“Come in. We’ve been expecting you.”
Abel took a cautious step inside the modest home and immediately and instinctively scanned the room looking for Rebecca. The old man sensed this, and while trying to ease the visitor’s concern, he only added to the misery when he spoke.
“They’re not here, Abel.”
Abel spun his head at hearing the word “they’re,” not fully comprehending the meaning of the use of the plural. Had Rebecca run off with an old boyfriend? That quickly? How? Why? Damn! Why did I ever run outside? If I had just held her, right then. Told her I was there always…And I had to run outside! He spun equally hard in the opposite direction when a modestly-dressed woman appeared seemingly out of nowhere behind him, her presence betrayed by the eyes of the man which were looking up, over and past Abel towards her. Over the woman’s shoulder in the hallway near the kitchen, Abel noticed a shiny Crucifix on the wall; beyond it was a pristine statue of the Virgin Mary. It’s shape was illuminated by a small lit candle, the dancing flame caressing the figure’s features and speaking to a tenderness beyond his – or for that matter, anyone’s – understanding.
“This is my wife, Mae. I’m Paul. But you probably already knew that” he said, extending his hand. Abel took it, then repeated the polite and timeless custom with the woman. Seconds of uncomfortable silence passed as an impressive but simple Grandfather clock ticked away in the corner next to a comforter-covered recliner. Finally, the man spoke.
“Sit down, son. Let’s talk.”