car running on dark road at night

Thea Beginning

Flash Fiction — 28 Days of Stories #4 — Part 2

Read: Breaking Ben

Thea turned her truck west onto Highway 20 just before midnight. The inky black sky closed around her as the lights from the scant buildings in town receded. She had less than an hour to drive, but the darkness hid deer and elk along this stretch of road. The wildlife factor alone so unnerved her, she left a full twenty minutes before she had to so she could drive slower and still arrive in time.

She had made this drive many times before, but never west this late at night. The truck hummed steadily at 55 MPH. Her phone showed 47 minutes to her destination, and her iTunes shuffled through her favorite songs. The swooning orchestral overtones of Unforgettable by Nat King Cole filled the cab. This was the version that Natalie Cole had created into a duet.

Thea thought back to when she added this song to the playlist. Three years ago last June, a month after her mother had passed, she had been sitting in her mother’s office, sorting boxes of scribblings, incomplete scripts, and unpublished manuscripts her mother had written.

With no monetary need to publish, Ruth took immense joy in creating whole worlds that would never see a critic’s eye while she drew a breath. The chair of the university’s English department wanted all of it, offering Thea a paltry sum under the guise of avoiding the complicated nature of sorting the gold from the grains.

Thea felt a responsibility to sort out everything.

Around mid-day, the doorbell rang and the app on Thea’s phone said there was a person with a package.

When she flipped to the app, she saw an elderly gentleman on the porch. Voluminous white hair and a well-trimmed beard, he looked like Hemingway’s ghost. He was carrying a pot of daisies.

Thea charged toward the door and flung it open unceremoniously.

“Can I help you?” No names. Keep it abrupt, just as her mother would have.

The man’s eyes snapped up from the flowers and met Thea’s. His jaw dropped slightly.

Thea had seen the piercing blue of his eyes every day she looked in the mirror. Her mother’s eyes were brown.

She tipped her head to the flowers and then back to the man. “You knew my mother.” It wasn’t a question. It was a fact. Her mother never accepted cut flowers. She hated to watch them die. She paid the florist to divert any such deliveries to the assisted living facility. This man stood there with a pot of planted gerberas.

“You’re Thea,” he said. She nodded.

“Can I come in?”

“Can I get a name?”

“The name’s dad. I’m your dad.”

Thea kept her arm on the door. She didn’t move.

“Do you need a drink, sweetheart? I’ve got some whisky in my jacket.”

Thea had begged her mother for information about her father. And now a person was standing here claiming to be him.

“I’m going to need more than that,” Thea said.

“Your birthday is November 6th. If you’re like me, you can’t stand cilantro or hoppy beers, and your mother’s addiction to keeping secrets was the toughest part of your relationship with her.”

Thea laughed as she remembered that line. She rounded a smooth corner leading into the mountains, her eyes skimming the road.

After he had produced a photo of a much younger version of her mother with him, she relented and let him in.

44 years she had lived without a dad. 44 birthdays and Christmases and Halloweens and first days of everything she did without anything from him.

She knew her mother had wanted it that way.

Now, she careened in the dark in her truck toward the Castle Rock historical marker on Highway 20 in the middle of the night to help this same man whom she wasn’t allowed to know until her mother’s death.

The historical marker’s area was covered in crushed gravel, and her truck’s tires crunched on it. The sagebrush was lush this time of year, and its sweet scent filled the cab even with the windows up. She flipped her truck toward the east and waited.

The lights of a couple of semi-trucks dotted the highway behind her. She shrunk down in her seat and put her Stetson on, in case anyone could make out a silhouette they might think she was a man. She took her pistol and the loaded magazine out of the center console and put them in the cupholders when a car pulled up behind her. The moon lit the area enough for her to see her dad open the door of the tan Camry, pop the trunk, and raise himself to standing. She put the pistol away as he walked to the trunk of the car and grabbed his small suitcase out of it. When he went to the passenger door, she heard him say, “Come on, Ruthie, it’s time to go.”

Thea never got over that he named his dog after her mother.

Opening the back door to the cab of her truck, he tossed his bag into the backseat and Ruthie jumped in without prompting.

“You’re leaving for the rest of your life and you have one bag?” Thea asked.

“Everything I need is in this truck,” Ben said, climbing into the passenger seat. “Let’s go.”

Breaking Ben Pt. 2


About Christine Wilcox Anderson

Writer, former corporate communications exec, and perpetual student of life on this rock.
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