Second Chances – Part 1
It’s the middle of July on a lonely back road in central Texas. The sun was beating down hard on yet another 114 degree day. The engine in Ben’s 18 wheeler ran hot enough to cycle the cooling fan frequently even on the flat. The air conditioning was running full blast and struggled just to keep the cab somewhat comfortable.
‘Another scorcher.’ He thought morbidly as he looked around through the windows. The road was your typical two lane blacktop. The say everything’s bigger in Texas and that was dispelled as myth as soon as he got on the highway heading east. The shoulders were narrow and almost non-existent in places. The lanes too were narrow. In places there was just enough room for two large trucks to pass as both had to practically drive the edge of the pavement. He’d just gone through a small town at 30 mph for the umpteenth time and the speed limit would rise to 55 within a mile of leaving the town limits. He dropped the hammer to ramp up his speed as he approached a hill in the distance. His speed slowly climbed as he predicted his speed to be about 65 just as he got to it. His rig started up the hill and it immediately began to slow as the effect of gravity pulling on 44,000 pounds of boxed beef in his reefer made its presence known. By the time he reached the top, he was only able to hold on to 30. For a brief moment Ben could see for miles around as he topped the hill. The view was spectacular to him as the desert-like landscape stretched as far as he could see. Ben marveled at how isolated he seemed to be yet be only a couple of miles out of town. The sun was setting behind him. The road turned and twisted in front of him, beckoning him on to meet the horizon as if challenging him to beat the sun to it the next morning.
Several more miles passed and the sun’s intensity lessened as it sank lower in the sky. The cab cooled as the A/C didn’t struggle so much to make cold air. Another hill forced its way between him and the horizon. The view kept changing but seemed to stay the same as mile after mile of different sameness and longer shadows passed by the windows.
Ben entered a long curve in the road and as he came round it, he caught a glint off of metal up ahead in the straight. He saw it was a car on just off the road onto the dirt shoulder and a person looking through the trunk. ‘This ain’t any place to have a break-down.’ He thought and slowed his rig immediately. Engine brakes roared and the figure turned to look at him. Then the person waved their arms to flag him down and as he passed the car he could see the diminutive figure of a very petite woman. He pulled over about a hundred feet beyond her car, stopped and slowly reversed direction on the shoulder to shorten the distance between the vehicles. Ben pulled the air brake knobs to set the brakes with the usual loud shoosh of rushing air and a puff of dust from under the rig. He got out and walked back toward the woman and her car.
Lora was on her way to visit her parents in New Hampshire. She planned the trip out and visited family in Colorado Springs before continuing her trip. Instead of heading east on I-70 out of Denver, she called a close friend in Plainview and told her she wanted to come visit for a day or two if that was ok. Sandy was excited to have Lora come visit as they hadn’t seen each other since she’d moved to Plainview a couple years earlier but wrote often. Lora was thrilled and told Sandy she’d be there the next day.
After her visit with Sandy, Lora went east and wound up on US-70. She figured to catch I-35 North out of Fort Worth to start her northerly direction toward New Hampshire. The road wasn’t as good as it looked on the map. US-70 east of Plainview isn’t that good for a car let alone a big rig. In fact it’s narrow and mostly 55 miles per hour. She passed several big trucks and felt there was barely enough room. She marveled at how desolate the area looked and how isolated she felt from everything. She’d passed through several towns only to find herself back out in the desert-like environment quickly. She hated the desert. So dry, desolate and….brown. Patches of green could be seen but even the greens seemed dull. No trees or rather nothing you would want to call a tree. Just sand and brush and brown.
She’d rounded a long curve when her car started acting up. The little red Mazda’s temp gauge was in the red and she pulled over in the straight about a half mile from the curve. She had to pull off into the dirt to get out of the lane and when she did she heard a loud bang like a big firecracker exploding. Just then the car shuddered horribly and she knew she’d just blown a tire. “Of all the stupid…” she stopped in mid-sentence. She beat her fists on the steering wheel in frustration as the dust settled around the car. She knew she should have gone north to Amarillo and take Interstate 40 East. Her A/C had been running full blast but the hot sun beat down on the thin black convertible top keeping the temperature higher than normal. This coupled with the fact the engine was overheated, with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere didn’t do much for her comfort level. Fortunately the temp gauge began a slow drop so she kept the engine running as she fished out the owner’s manual from the glove compartment to look up how to change a flat tire.
A few minutes later after a fruitless search to find the instructions, Lora got out and opened the trunk. She started to take out the stuff she packed for the trip setting it on the ground. As she stood up and turned to look into the trunk, she saw the sticker on the underside of the trunk lid with the instructions on how to change the tire. She cursed and continued to empty the trunk to get to the spare and jack. She got the last of her stuff out of the trunk and lifted the floor panel covering the spare. She couldn’t turn the wing nut which held the spare in place. She tried several times and cursed several more. Suddenly she heard a loud roaring sound behind her. She turned and saw it was a big truck. She frantically waved her arms to flag the trucker down for help. As the truck passed, she saw the driver looking down at her as the roar of the exhaust diminished with his speed. She watched as the truck pulled in front of her car a ways then back up to get closer. The truck stopped and the tail lights began to flash.
She wasn’t sure if she should have flagged down a trucker but it was too late to do anything about it. She’d heard stories of how people would stop to help then kill the hapless victim, steal their money and probably the car. She’d also heard stories of truckers and their willingness to help stranded motorists. She felt nervous as the door to the rig opened and a large man climbed down from the cab and started to walk toward her. She moved back behind the car and looked around the trunk lid. Was he good or bad? Then she saw him wave and call out ‘Howdy!’
As he approached the car, the small woman seemed to be hiding behind the car as if scared or something. He was mindful that she might be just that. He was also mindful that sometimes people played tricks on hapless truckers. He scanned the area around the car in the bushes looking for someone that might jump him and try to steal his wallet and maybe do him harm. The he looked back toward her and raised his hand to wave.
“Howdy! I see you’re in a mess a trouble Miss. May I help you?”, he asked in his best light tone and warm smile. She relaxed some when she heard his slight southern drawl and saw the smile touch his eyes.
“My car overheated and blew a tire when I pulled over.”, she said. He was close enough now she could see his deep sea green eyes and dark brown hair. He was big man. Not fat just tall. ‘He must be at least six feet.’, she mused. Compared to her 4 foot 11 inch tall self, he did tower over her a full foot plus.
“This ain’t any place to break-down ma’am. You’re miles from anywhere so let’s get you fixed up and outta here, Ok?”, he said with concern in his voice. She nodded as she practically stared at him. She saw him looking around with a stern look on his face. He looked down at her and picked up on her staring and figured it was because he must be overbearing or something was probably frightened. “I’m going to get the spare put on so you can get out of here ok?”
“OK, Mister…I don’t know your name.”, she cut in mid-sentence.
“Benjamin Logan ma’am. But most people call me Ben.”, he offered politely while tipping his cap and a slight nod of his head.
‘He tipped his hat!’ she thought, shocked anyone would do that these days or even have heard of Emily Post. Her jaw slackened and her lips parted slightly in amazement.
He noted the look of surprise on her face by the blank look and slight parting of her beautiful lips. He chose not to acknowledge it figuring it might embarrass her. He also noted in his mind that her lips weren’t overtly full nor thin and pale. They were better than average. They were perfect along with her chestnut hair and dark brown eyes. She abruptly shut her mouth swallowed and turned away and went to the passenger side of the car. He shook his head. ‘She’s staring at you probably scared out of her wits and you’re staring back. This is no way to act!’, he angrily thought to himself. Then he busied himself with the process of changing the flat.
After a second more determined attempt to twist the wing nut loose his grip on it slipped as it broke free. The motion caused the heel of his hand to slide across the end of the threaded rod. The result was a gash on the heel of his left hand. He cursed quietly and held his hand against his shirt to keep from bleeding all over her trunk. She’d heard his exclamation and came around to look at what might have caused him to curse. She saw the blood on his hand and caught her breath and put a hand to her mouth. The sight of blood always rattled her. He turned and smiled crookedly at her.
“Oh my God! Are you alright Ben?”, she said reaching for his injured hand while also suddenly realizing she’d called him by his first name as though they were familiar with each other. She flushed at the thought.
“Yeah. I’ll be ok.”, he grimaced. He saw her reach for his hand but didn’t pull back. Instead he held it out for her look at.
“That looks bad. Maybe I can find something to dress it with.”, she said.
“I’ve got a first aid kit in my truck. The rod isn’t rusty so I don’t’ think it’s serious enough for a doctor. By the way, the spare’s flat. “, he said. She looked up at him with a worried look. “I’ll use the air on the truck to fill it and wrap my hand up while I’m up there.” She took his hand and held it. She felt a pang of guilt for his injury and something else. She saw the blood glistening wet and bright red. It oozed and started to run down the side of his hand. He pulled back gently and placed it against his shirt again then reached into the trunk to finish removing the nut. Once done he pulled the spare from the tire well and carried it up to the front of the trailer. She followed him with concern on her mind and her face. He looked over to her and saw the concern but didn’t say anything. Instead he unlocked the passenger door, climbed in and came back out with a first aid kit.
“Would you mind?”, he asked offering her the kit. Without hesitation she took it, opened it up and proceeded to dress his wound quite expertly. His hunch proved correct.
”Thanks. Feels better already.”, he said.
“How did you know I knew First Aid?”, she asked.
“You used the term ‘dress’ in trying to help instead of suggesting I see a doctor. It figured you knew First Aid.”, he said. Ben gave her a wink and started around to the other side of the truck. Lora attempted to follow.
“Stay on that side please. Wouldn’t want ‘MY’ triage nurse to get run over being so close to the road and all.”, he said as he scanned the road behind him for traffic. She raised her eyebrows then nodded and went back around to the other side and felt comforted by his concern of her.
Ben pulled a blue hose out of the side box of the cab and put it down on the catwalk on top of the chassis frame. Then he pulled the red hose off the trailer and connected it to the blue hose with some difficulty as it required two hands. He felt the gash open as he twisted the two glad-hands together and blood started to stain the dressing. He climbed back up and pressed the Trailer Air Supply knob in to apply air pressure to the hose. Before he climbed down he grabbed two bottled waters from his electric cooler and went back around to the other side.
“How about a cold drink?”, he asked her. She brightened as he offered the cold wet liquid refreshment to her. She took the water, opened it and took a long swallow and savored the coolness sliding down her throat. “Thank you.”, she said. “I really needed one of these. By the way, my name is Lora. Lora McKie.” She offered him her hand to shake and he did with a gentle but firm grip. His hand felt strong and sure but not overpowering. The contact made her feel strange inside. Almost familiar. She swore it off as nervousness but couldn’t shake it. He felt the same tingle not knowing she’d felt it too. Then put his water bottle down on the cat walk. As he reached for the air chuck on the hose, she grabbed his left wrist quickly and turned his hand over.
“The dressing is good but won’t do the job if you keep re-injuring yourself. Take it easy on that gash or it will get infected.”, she said. ‘Oh great Lora! Act like his mother.’, she thought sarcastically at herself as she held his hand to inspect the dressing. “You were right. I was an assistant in triage for a hospital in Phoenix.
“Couldn’t help it this time. Had to use both hand to connect the air line. Sorry to ruin your nice work.”, he said. “Do you have some Italian and Celtic ancestry perhaps?”, he inquired suddenly switching subjects. As she held his hand he didn’t want to her to let go. He knew the feeling inside his gut and couldn’t ignore it. It was the same feeling he got when he could hold his wife’s hand when she was alive. His reverie was interrupted by her answer.
“My last name is Celtic for sure but I don’t know where my first name came from. It is spelled L O R A. Could be a part of an Italian name I suppose.”, she said.
“Might be an alternate spelling derivative of the English name Laura?”, he asked.
“It might be. Most of my family comes from Ireland and a female from Britain married into the family line which could explain it. I don’t work genealogy much but it’s interesting to discover things about your past families.”, she said.
Ben looked thoughtful for a moment. She looked at him and wondered how a truck driver could know this kind of stuff let alone talk intelligently about it. The feeling inside her wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t a bad feeling but it seemed strange that she would feel it at all what with her horrible divorce and all. ‘He is handsome. Could I really be attracted to this hulk of a man?’, she thought. ‘A trucker?’
He noticed her hair style was starting to come apart as an errant strand began to unravel. She noticed him looking at the top of her head then noticed the loose hair. It was long and seemed to stop around the middle of her back. She pulled her hat off and laid it down on the catwalk to pull up the errant strands and wrap it again. She had to hold it in place with one hand while searching her hair for something. She was turned sideways to him and he noticed her profile for the first time. She was quite shapely and the curves were in all the right places. Her white sleeveless low-cut tank top rounded a full figure but not overly large. Her waist was pleasantly narrow that flared out to hips that were at least 10 inches larger than her waist giving her the all-beautiful all perfect “hour glass” figure. She looked down toward the ground turning while still holding her hair up with one hand.
“Looking for something?”, he asked. Without looking up she answered that she was trying to find the bobby pin that fell out. She had turned toward him slightly bent over while looking on the ground for the pin. He saw the slight gap in her cleavage and a good portion of the tops of her breasts. She stood up and he looked down quickly as if trying to help look for the lost bobby pin too. She looked up at him with one hand still holding her hair in check and said, “No way I’ll find it in the dirt. No way to see it. I’ll just get another one.” She threw up her free hand in defeat and turned to walk toward her car.
“Ok. Be careful please?”, he called after her. She looked back and said she would without breaking her short stride. He watched her for a few moments. Her petite frame seemed alive and very sexy. Her hips swayed back and forth seductively as her short stride allowed.
He turned back to his work and took the other end of the blue hose with the air chuck and pressed it to the spare tire’s valve to fill it. She retrieved a bobby pin and while setting her hair up again, watched him doing something with the spare.
After a minute he pulled a tire gauge from his shirt pocket and checked the pressure. It read 52. The rating on the sidewall read that it should be 60 PSI so he applied more air until the pressure read 60 on the gauge. Once filled he took the spare back to the car where she was waiting.
“It’s full now. Do you have a tire pressure gauge Miss Lora?”, he asked.
“Uh. I don’t think so unless it’s in the glove box.”, she replied and proceeded to search the glove box. When the search turned up nothing he handed her the gauge he had.
“Take this one then. Best to know what the pressure is when the tire is cold so you can tell if you have a leak or not.”
“How far can I go on the spare?”, she asked.
“Only as far as needed to get a new tire on the other rim. Spares aren’t really made for anything more than to get you to a tire shop.”, he said. She thought a moment and decided his slight southern drawl and western character went well together. He’d already started to put the spare on the hub and hand thread the lug nuts.
“Ok. Where’s the next town from here?”, she asked picking up the lug wrench and handing it too him. He took it gladly and nodded with a smile.
“Witchita Falls has a couple of good tire shops. It a big town so it’ll have everything you might need. Your tires are Yokohama’s so you’d best go to a shop that sells them. Just to stay consistent. By the look of these others, I’d recommend getting two tires to put up front and keep the two best of the three left to put on the rear.”, he said.
“I’ve been needing a new set for a little while. Just thought I could wait until I got to my parents.” , she sighed. “Oh well. I guess now’s as good a time as any.”
He’d finished snugging down the lug nuts then lowered the jack to let the tire on the ground. He put a final torque on each lug nut and let the jack down completely pulling from under the car. He carefully put the blown tire in the tire well as best it would fit followed by the jack and wrench. He removed his gloves and started to help her load the truck back up. The two touched inadvertently on purpose several times. Each time a feeling of longing and belonging kept passing through them. Finally the trunk was repacked and only a couple of things had to be put up front in the passenger’s seat.
She’d thanked him and handed him two folded twenty dollar bills.
He had a pained expression as he took the offering. “I can’t take your money. Really it’s enough to know you’re ok and on your way. You don’t need to pay me anything.”, he practically pleaded but hoped he didn’t sound like it and handed the money back to her.
“No really you probably kept me from dying or something out here. Please take it?”, she asked. “This is only a small token of my appreciation. I want you to have it.” She offered it back to him with those beautifully dark brown seductive eyes you can’t say ‘no’ to. He extended his hand hesitantly and took the bills.
She stuck her hand out to shake his hand and he accepted it. She told him to take care of that gash and was in her car and gone as quickly as that. He stood there and watched her drive away down the road until she topped the next hill and disappeared from view. He stuffed the money into his pocket and headed toward the front of his rig to put up his equipment when a feeling of loneliness swept over him.
When he reached where he’d been working on the tire, he donned his gloves again and cleaned up his equipment. He didn’t feel like doing anything right then. He just wanted to crawl into his sleeper and get some sleep and forget about today like most days. But then today wasn’t like most days and wished it didn’t end when she left.
Ben went around to the other side of his rig to check for any loose equipment when he noticed her hat had blown off the catwalk on to the ground. He stared at it a moment and remembered her laying it on the catwalk when her hair started to unravel. He bent down to pick it up. He lifted it toward his nose and sniffed. It still had her perfume on it. He climbed back into the cab, tossed the hat onto his bunk, filled out his logbook and headed for Wichita Falls and a truck stop.
‘Wouldn’t it be ironic if…’ he mused silently knowing full well the odds were well out of his favor. He pulled back on the road and headed for a truck stop in Wichita Falls.