Rain drops sprinkled across the dark windshield as splatters of logic in Clara’s mind tried to justify her actions.
She couldn’t have made it to the hospital any sooner. If she’d skipped processing that last order at the warehouse, she’d have lost her bonus for sure. And how could she have known it really was near the end?
“Tomorrow’s too late,” her sister had said yesterday. This time, she’d been right.
Clara hit the cancel button on her cruise as she came upon taillights. Great. She’d likely be stuck behind the car the rest of the mountainous drive. She should’ve stayed the night at Jeanette’s house, but Clara preferred the two hour drive home. Even in the nighttime rain.
The paper license plate flapped on the bumper of the sedan. Clara accelerated. The only passing opportunity was less than a mile away. Her right headlight shone on the paper plate as she prepared for the pass. Her eyes bounced to the plate and back again. Why did it catch her attention?
Her stomach turned at the sudden realization. An image from the highway she’d left twenty minutes prior crowded in. A flashing road sign.
KIDNAPPED CHILD. SILVER FORD FOCUS. PAPER LICENSE PLATE.
The double yellow line changed to short flashes. Clara lifted her foot and let her Maxima back off the bumper of the silver-ish Focus.
“God, what do I do?” Clara gulped. Had she just prayed? Must have. Her sweaty palms denied any hint of sarcasm.
She lifted her cell phone from the cup holder, clicked the OK button and checked the brightened screen while keeping an eye on the road. No signal. And there wouldn’t be for several miles.
That left two options. Follow the car until she could get a call through to the police or turn at her home and make the call from there.
Thoughts of the day overcame her.
The hospital and Jeanette’s grief stricken face. The day spent in a growing numbness as funeral arrangements were made. Clara mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Her mother was gone.
In the least, the Focus would have to follow this road to the next town. There weren’t others it could turn on. Except country roads. Isolated. Clara shivered.
The row of mailboxes flashed by, signaling the nearness of her drive. Clara slowed. The silver Focus swerved a touch and the distance between them increased. Jeanette’s words haunted Clara’s logic. “Tomorrow’s too late.”
“God, what do I do?” Clara repeated the words in a soft tone. Her dirt driveway passed in a blink. She pressed the gas pedal to roar the Maxima to high gear. She wiped her right hand on her jeans and then gripped the steering wheel with it while swiping her left hand. The silver Focus had slowed. Clara matched its speed.
The green sign read thirty-six miles to Yanis. The Focus increased speed. Clara held a slight distance. She glanced at her signal-less cell again. When she looked up, the silver sedan was full in her headlights. Clara slammed on her brakes, her tires screeching on the wet pavement. The Focus jerked to the left and onto a dirt road.
“God?” Clara checked her rearview as she sat in her stopped car. Heart clogging her throat, she made the left turn.
Darkness crowded her car’s interior as Clara approached the rise the Focus had disappeared over. Pine trees choked the narrow road. She topped the rise. The Focus was stopped on the other side.
She watched as the passenger door bounced open and a small figure ran toward her. Clara hit the unlock button for her car doors as the young girl popped the handle and scrambled into the passenger seat.
Clara shoved the gear shift into reverse and the Maxima’s tires spun on the red mud as it lurched back. She had noted a short driveway on the other side of the ridge which she backed her car into and gassed back out before the gears shifted. The girl was sobbing. “I- we – she thought you were Daddy.”
They gained the main road. “What’s your name?” Clara checked the rearview. Nothing.
“Anna B-Beth. That-that was Mom. She doesn’t think right anymore. She’s not supposed to see me without Daddy. But she came to school…” Anna Beth slouched in the seat.
Clara decided to leave it at that for now. She whispered, “Thanks, God” and puffed out a breath as she let her first tear of the day slide down her cheek.
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