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A note from the Author:
It may well appear this story is a little slow getting out of the blocks. That’s intentional.
Please… be patient… keep reading… your steadfastness and commitment to the story will be rewarded…
Seven years ago. Late September. I’m walking out of the bookstore, just like I do every Friday afternoon.
If she hadn’t said something, if she hadn’t grabbed my arm, I’d have walked right by her, probably without even looking.
But she did; she grabbed my arm and spoke to me to get my attention.
“Excuse me, sir, but can you help me? Please?”
I stopped walking and turned to look at her. And I stopped breathing. Literally.
Standing next to me, still holding my arm was a young girl, maybe eighteen years old; nineteen tops; honey blonde hair pulled back in a pony-tail, and soft blue eyes. I glanced down and up quickly; a t-shirt tailored for a girl’s body suggesting she might be a student at the local college and snug denim shorts; she was a sight to behold, delicately defined features, trim and slender, yet shapely.
I thought I’d stepped more than twenty years into the past, because she looked exactly like my ex-wife Beth. At least, this was how Beth had looked when we first met.
Two decades and change later, I was looking at a vision I was at a loss to describe.
“I’m sorry, what?” Maybe if she repeated the question.
“Can you help me? Please?”
I looked around, for what I did not know.
“I… uh… what kind of help do you need?”
“My car’s dead. It won’t start at all.”
“I’m a student at the university,” she said. “I tried calling my roommate, and she’s not answering her phone.”
“And I don’t really know a lot of people here. I’m a long way from home.”
“Okay. Ummm… where are you parked?”
“Over here.” She spun on her heels and led the way to her car.
It wasn’t new, but it wasn’t an old car, either. A small, two-door coupe, dark blue, a sticker advertising a radio station that played the best of the oldies, and out-of-state plates.
“What’s your name?”
“Kasey. With a ‘K’.”
“Well, Kasey with a ‘K’, you are a long way from home,” I said. “My name is Bruce. Pop the hood and let me take a look.”
“Nearly four hundred miles one way,” she said, unlocking her door.
I watched as she bent over and pulled the hood latch. Her shirt slid up over the back of her shorts, baring her lower back; the shorts hugged her ass like a second skin.
The hood lurched upward, retained after a couple of inches by a secondary latch. I moved around the front of the car and raised it.
Finding the problem should be easy enough, I thought to myself. This was one of the cleanest engines I’d ever seen outside a showroom.
“Who usually works on this for you? It looks to be very well maintained.”
“My step-dad,” she said.
“Well…” Clean was good, made it easier to inspect. I’m no mechanic, but I couldn’t see anything loose. I tugged on the battery cables. Snug. Battery… almost new, showing a green light in its status window. Good. Belts. Snug. I couldn’t see any reason why the engine shouldn’t turn over.
“Try and crank it,” I said.
She slid behind the wheel. A clatter of metal as she lined her keys up with the ignition switch.
A click. Nothing more.
Clearly, a professional opinion was in order.
“See? Nothing.” She closed her car door and walked to the front bumper. “What now?”
I had my cell phone out.
“Steve? Yeah, it’s Bruce. Listen, I know you guys are closed for the night, but I’ve got a problem here… No, not my car. There’s a young lady here from the university; her car won’t start… I’ve looked under the hood, and everything looks good and tight, but it won’t even turn over… how about we get it towed and you look at it in the morning? Great… let me give you the address here.”
I hung up a minute later. The young lady standing şişli escort bayan next to me looked suddenly uncomfortable.
“I don’t have the money to pay for a tow or a mechanic,” she said, folding her arms across her chest.
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. Steve’s a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for years. I’ll take care of the tow and we’ll worry about the repair fee after we find out what’s wrong. Okay?”
I told her I’d wait with her for the tow truck. We’d leave the key in it, Steve would look at it tomorrow, Saturday, and with any luck, she’d be back behind the wheel by the late Saturday afternoon, if not sooner. Fifteen minutes later, we watched her car disappear, front wheels raised off the ground as it headed to the repair shop.
“So, since your roommate hasn’t called you back, I take it you need a ride back to your apartment?”
“I’m in the dorms,” she said. “I’m just a freshman. But, yes, sir, I could use a ride.”
“Okay. Could I talk you into dinner first? Or do you have a date tonight?”
“Dinner?” Her eyes went wide. “You want to take me to dinner? I’m not really dressed for that.”
“You’re fine,” I said. “Listen, the last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable. But I remember what it was like as a freshman, with and without a car. Dorm food isn’t the greatest all the time, and money’s tight.”
“You have no idea.” She rolled her eyes and looked away from me.
“When I was going to college, and it wasn’t that long ago,” I said, “we never turned down a free meal.”
“Mom says there’s no such thing as a free meal. Everything has a price.”
“Your mother sounds like a very smart woman, but in this case, she’d be wrong. Let me buy you dinner, you can tell me about yourself, and I’ll take you back to your dorm.
Kasey stood looking at me, gently twisting on her feet, biting at her lip.
“What about your wife? Shouldn’t you be going home to her?” Kasey looked down at my hand.
“I’m not married,” I said. “And I don’t have a girlfriend, either.” She was still weighing it in her mind. “You have to eat. And from the sounds of things, if you go back to the dorm, you’d eat alone anyway. If you let me take you to dinner, we’ll both have somebody to talk to. And if your roommate calls, she can come and get you, or if you’d prefer, I can take you back. It’s completely up to you.”
“Okay. You can buy me dinner.”
A few minutes later, we sat at a table in the corner at one of the local Mexican restaurants, eating chips and waiting for our food. In between dipping chips into the salsa, Kasey began to open up and talk about herself.
“I’m still not sure what I want to major in,” she said, “but I worked really hard in high school. I graduated with twelve college credits and managed to get a bunch of grants and scholarships.”
“Sounds like you worked really hard,” I said.
“I worked my butt off,” Kasey said, her eyes going wide as she realized what she’d said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say…”
I shook my head. “That’s okay. Sometimes we put out a lot of effort without a lot of recognition.”
“I wish mom saw it that way.”
“Your mother doesn’t think you work hard at school?”
Kasey shook her head. “It’s not that. It’s…” She took a deep breath. “Mom doesn’t want me going to school here. She thinks I should’ve stayed closer to home.
“But a lot of the scholarships I received are for here. And this is the school I want to go to.”
“I see. Well, I’m sure when she sees a great first semester report card that…”
“I’m on my own now,” Kasey said. “My report card won’t matter to her because she won’t see it.”
“What do you mean, you’re on your own?”
“She told me that if I went to school here, I’d really have to work hard because she wouldn’t pay for anything.”
“That’s too bad. What about your dad?” She’d mentioned her step-dad earlier. I assumed he and her mother were still together. Maybe her father could step escort mecidiyeköy in and…
“I… I haven’t seen him in years,” she said. “I don’t even remember him, really. He walked out on mom and me when I was really little. We haven’t heard from him since. I can’t count on him for anything, assuming he’s still alive.”
“Wow. I’m sorry to hear that. That’s unfortunate.”
Kasey shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”
A few minutes later, we pretty well abandoned conversation for the plates in front of us as they steamed.
After dinner, we got back in the car and headed for the college campus.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Really? Why are you being so nice to me?”
I looked over at her.
“I have a daughter about your age.”
Kasey looked at me, a stunned expression on her face.
“You… you have a daughter my age?” She asked in a manner that almost intimated she thought she was the only freshman girl attending college anywhere.
“I’m not married now,” I said, “but I was several years ago.”
“What happened? I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“The company I work for, when I started with them, I traveled a great deal. I was gone all the time. My wife didn’t like me being on the road so much, but there wasn’t really anything I could do about it. Anyway, I came home from one of my trips and she was gone. She’d packed up everything she owned and moved out, taking our daughter with her.”
Kasey’s mouth fell open.
“She just left? And took your daughter with her?”
“She left a note that said she was gone, she wasn’t coming back, she had our daughter, and that I shouldn’t try to find them.”
“So you didn’t even look for them?”
“Oh, I looked for them. Initially, I had no idea where to start, but I gave it a shot anyway. Trying to track her down was like throwing darts at a map of the southwestern United States. Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Denver. I was always one or two steps behind. Last I knew, she went to Reno.”
“So, she went to Reno. Then what?”
“She vanished.” I looked over at Kasey. “Without a trace. It was like she just walked into a hole and disappeared. My little girl was almost three when she left; she’d be about your age now.”
“So, what? You gave up looking?”
“I had nowhere else to look. About the time she was in Phoenix, I received divorce papers. Kind of hard to process given the nomadic status of her whereabouts. Finally, after she vanished in Reno, I filed for divorce. It finalized almost four years to the day after she disappeared.”
“What did you use as justification?”
“Abandonment. The judge told me if I could ever catch her in one spot long enough, I could sue for custody, but I could never find her.”
“What about child support?”
I shrugged. “There was nowhere to send it, and she never asked for any. So, I started setting money aside in case I ever found her.”
“Yeah. My little girl, like I said, is about your age. All things being equal, she’d be a freshman in college. And if she needed the money to go to school, I’ve got it sitting in an account waiting on her.”
Kasey slumped back into the seat.
“That still doesn’t tell me why you’re being so nice to me.”
We pulled up in front of her dorm.
“Somewhere, my daughter has grown up without me. I like to imagine that she’s grown up to be a beautiful, wonderful young lady, achieving her goals and fulfilling her dreams. The realist in me knows it’s not that easy, and I like to think that if she’s ever off on her own, in need of assistance, that someone will show kindness to her without expecting anything in return.”
Kasey looked at me.
“Give me your hand.”
I held my hand out to her as she fished around in her purse before pulling out a pen. She grabbed my hand and rolled it over, palm up and began writing numbers.
“That is my cell phone number,” she merter escort said. “I have to work tomorrow; I do work-study at the library. But I’m off at four in the afternoon, so could you call me around four-thirty and let me know how much it’s going to cost to fix my car?”
“I can do that.”
“Thank you.” She was still holding onto my hand.
Kasey leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
“I’ll be waiting for you to call,” she said as she climbed out of my car.
I nodded to her as she turned and walked up the steps and into her dorm. A number of students, her peers, followed her up the stairs with their eyes, and then focused back on me as I drove away.
Later, when I was at home, I sat in the bedroom I used as an office. I sat in the desk chair staring at the framed black and white photo in front of me. It was a reminder of a different time not so long ago.
Photography had once been an intense hobby of mine. I’d owned three different 35mm cameras; one of them I’d used almost exclusively for black and white photography. Black and white film allowed you to get a completely different texture with your pictures; images were often sharper, clearer. And you often got shades of gray that no color photograph could ever come near.
It was a small photograph, all things considered; about four inches by six inches. Three faces stared at me from the frame. My ex-wife, then much younger, much happier. I stared at a much younger version of myself, too. And in the picture, I held a very young little girl in my arms, a toddler. Kimmy was two and a half when my sister had snapped the shutter taking this picture. It was the last photo of the three of us together. It was one of the last pictures I had taken of her before she and her mother vanished.
I sat back in the chair and dispelled myself of the most impossible of notions. There was no way Kasey could in fact be Kimmy.
Across town, in her dorm room, Kasey lay in her bed, propped up on an elbow, her eyes focused on a black and white photo, nearly four by six. Her roommate, Stacy, walked in and Kasey shoved the photo under the covers.
“What’s this I hear about you going out with some old guy tonight?”
“I didn’t go out with him,” Kasey said. “My car died and he brought me back to the dorm.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Stacy asked.
“I figured you were probably on a date with Wes. I didn’t want to bother you.”
Stacy rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“You are far too trusting, Kase. You’ve gotta be more careful. He didn’t try anything, did he, this guy that gave you a ride back?”
“He’s not like that,” Kasey said. She started to tell her roommate she’d gone to dinner with Bruce, but decided against it. It would give rise to too many questions. “He’s a nice guy.”
“Brad asked about you again,” Stacy said.
“He can keep asking.”
“He’s super cute, Kase.”
“If you think he’s so cute, you go out with him.” Kasey pulled up the covers and rolled over, away from her roommate, pulling the picture with her.
“All I’m saying, is, we’re all a little homesick, and we’ve all done a few crazy things since we got here. I don’t want to see you get into any trouble. Okay?”
“Yeah. Right. Okay.”
A moment later, Stacy stepped back out into the hall, a towel wrapped around her as she headed for the shower.
Kasey pulled the photo from under the covers and held it in front of her. In the picture, there were three people; a very pretty young woman, a handsome young man, and in the man’s arms, a toddler, a little girl. The woman was Kasey’s mother; the man holding her was her father. That’s what her mother had said. Kasey knew she’d been about two and a half when the picture had been taken. Up until tonight, she’d… was hate the right word? Was that what she’d felt for the man?
But now, things weren’t so clear. Daddy was smiling in the picture. And after nearly sixteen years, he hadn’t changed that much. Had he? He was still quite handsome. Just like in the photograph.
Kasey put the photograph under her pillow, rolled over against the wall and let the pillow soak up her tears as she cried herself to sleep.
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