“I’m headed toward Townsend. It’s the nearest town with good food and a hotel. Does that work for you?” Brent glanced in Gabe’s direction but kept his grip firmly on the steering wheel. Though the rain had slowed to more of a thick mist, Brent’s stress level behind the wheel held at a steady monsoon-level.
“That sounds wonderful! I could definitely eat.” Gabe smiled. In fact, Brent noted, the man hadn’t stopped smiling since they got in the car; not a creepy, roadside-killer smile, but instead a genuine, slight, but fully joyful smile that was almost magnetic. Brent found himself wanting to smile, too, as if by some kind of cosmic osmosis.
“I’d say so,” Brent instinctively spoke with a mockingly deep voice, making a reference to Gabe’s substantial frame. Instantly, upon realizing what he’d done, he opened his mouth to apologize for taking a jab at the total stranger in his passenger seat, but before he could form the words, he heard Gabe’s generous laugh emanating throughout the vehicle. Brent laughed, too; but not at his own joke. Instead, he laughed at Gabe’s laugh. The man’s laugh was completely uninhibited. It was the kind of laugh that instantly caused others to laugh along.
Then, as if provoked by an outside force, Brent’s mind jerked immediately back toward his anger and the purpose of this trip. He fell silent.
The two headed into the mist for what seemed like forever. Time slows down when you’re hungry. When they crossed the bridge over Little River, Brent became visibly more spritely. “We must be getting close,” Gabe noted.
“We are! We’re going to the Black Bear Café. It’s one of my favorite places around here. It reminds me of being a kid.” Gabe smiled and watched through his window as they navigated the highway, weaving alongside the river.
In a matter of minutes, Brent was making the left-hand turn across the highway and into the more-gravel-than-asphalt parking lot adjacent to the small, but well-lit eatery. He pulled into the first spot he saw and threw the car into park. As he unlocked the doors, he noticed a strange look on Gabe’s face. Gabe was motionless. Brent reached for his door handle, “You comin’ big man?”
“We should move,” Gabe spoke calmly, but matter-of-factly.
“What?” Brent almost chuckled. This had to be a joke.
“No really, you should park elsewhere.”
“The only other spot is, like, 100 yards away. You do realize it’s raining, right?” Brent tried not to sound frustrated, but Gabe still hadn’t moved from his seat and his patience was wearing thin. Gabe didn’t respond with his words, but he looked Brent right in the eyes. The look on his face made Brent’s stomach flip. Though his mind told him it was idiocy, he couldn’t help himself. He needed to move. But, he didn’t want Gabe to know that. “Fine.” Brent shook his head. As he put the keys back into the ignition, he thought to himself, “This is the dumbest thing ever. Who is this guy? Why am I listening to him and why should I give a flying…”
“Thank you.” Gabe’s smile was back and his kind voice interrupted Brent’s mental tirade. Brent backed out and drove all the way over toward the only free spot, in front of a completely different set of shops, ensuring the two would walk 100 yards in the rain before they reached their destination.
“Better?” Brent’s question was thick with sarcasm, but Gabe didn’t seem to mind.
“Can we go eat now?”
“We can.” The pair opened their respective doors and Gabe reached into the floorboard to grab his rolled poncho. He didn’t pull it on, but he did unroll it and put the hood over his head, letting the remaining fabric drape his shoulders like a cape. Brent grabbed his still-soaked hoodie and, upon feeling its saturation with his hands, opted out of putting it on. What good would it do anyway? Instead, he tucked it under his left arm, hit the locks, and began walking briskly toward the café. Gabe followed after him, needing fewer strides to cover the same amount of ground.
When the duo was about 15 feet from the door, Brent noted a panicked racket in the distance. He turned his head to see a red, two-door truck approaching from around the curve to the west, at breakneck speed. The sound emitting from the truck made it sound as if the muffler had been made from cheesecloth.
Without warning, the truck began to fishtail. The sounds of the engine mixed seamlessly with the sound of water whipping back and forth as the driver of the vehicle lost control, and the truck’s tires took to the water like a rubber raft; a rubber raft that had been shot from a cannon.
Need to catch up? Visit Volume 3 — Volume 5 coming next week.
Tylie Eaves is the CEO and Founder of Vertu Marketing LLC and Vertu Publishing. She is a wife, mother, author, speaker, coach and research analyst who strives to carpe the crap out of every diem.