Odd. Very odd. Too odd. Claudia pulled over to the side and stopped.
It was one of those days that you don’t even want to take the time to get mad. Call, and wait for the guy in the truck to come and fix it. Twenty miles from somewhere called Palatka, wherever that is.
Car’s off, A/C’s off, it’s getting warm. There’s a knock on the passenger window. Claudia turned the key back on, and pressed the button.
‘Looks alike you gotta blown frun tahr’.
‘That’d be my guess, too. I was just about to call AAA.’
She did one of those total summations in her mind about the whole situation – in three seconds -and continued.
‘I live about an hour from here and would love to get the tire changed as quickly as possible. Any chance you could lend a hand?’
‘I believe I could, Ma’am.’
The pleasantries were exchanged and Carter dutifully swapped out the flat with the spare. Somehow, the tire wrench was missing, but he had one on his four-wheeler, along with other essential manly tools.
‘There you go, Claudia. The spare dun lost some air so the pressure’s off ‘bout seven pounds, but you should get home, no problem.’
‘Thank you, Carter. You are quite the gentleman. How much do I owe you for your splendid service?’
Carter paused, but not the usual two-second hiatus that first time acquaintances use. No, this pause – had teeth.
‘I own this little track of land rye-cheer and out behind those pines I got a little shop where I fix equipment and stuff.’ Another pause came, but this one caused his strong, tanned hands to actually fidget. About seventeen seconds went by and during that time anyone could have sensed the quiet mental stammering that was going on within Carter. He so wanted to get this next sentence correct.
‘Claudia, for me, it has truly been an honor, just meeting you. We don’t get many lookers around here, and . . . well, just being around you takes my breath away.’
Claudia was stopped in her tracks. Spellbound. ‘It was an ‘honor!?’ she repeated to herself. ‘An HONOR?’ As she closed her well-used book of ‘Replies-to-make-in-this-Situation’, Carter spoke again.
‘Just being around your Spirit has created a memory I will never forget. I not very good with words and stuff, or knowing how to get to know someone, but I sure would like to learn. And I sure don’t want to be a burden or anything. Would this be OK . . .?’
Claudia’s heart had melted. As she sat in the front seat, with his two large hands resting on the window opening, she felt like a pin-cushion with no covering – vulnerable, as if Palatka and everything in it laid her bare to the elements. Once again, Carter spoke.
‘If you are ever up in this neck of the woods again, could we maybe have a cup of coffee together?’
Claudia had lost her capacity for speech. Usually on auto-pilot, now there was no auto-pilot, no pilot at all. She looked at his hands, strong, masculine. There was, now, no fidgeting at all. She looked up at his perfectly clear brown eyes staring at her. She wondered if she was crying but was too caught up in the moment to check, or to even care.
‘Are you OK?’ Carter asked.
‘Yes. Yes. Very much so. Thank you.’ She looked at her hands – fidgeting. ‘How, how can I get in touch with, with you?’ she asked, looking up in one last gaze that attempted to memorize his face.
Claudia pulled on to the vacant road. In the rear-view mirror, Carter’s hand gestured a fond farewell as it moved side-to-side at eye level. If there hadn’t been tears up until then, there were now.
‘An hour, cut right out of the heart of a Thursday afternoon. Did that really just happen? A flat tire, in front of Carter’s, in Palatka. Did that really just happen?’
Claudia already had plans to return there on Monday for a final interview. What she didn’t know was what changes to her life would occur between now and then.