“How much longer will this take?” Emily’s tone was laced with frustration and boredom. “I still can’t understand why we didn’t take a plane. Flying is way cooler than driving.” She rolled her eyes and sighed loudly from the passenger seat, evidently exasperated with her “shit for brains” mother.
Elizabeth Brooke’s hands tightened around the steering wheel as she tried to keep her composure and not snap at her daughter. She is only twelve and hasn’t asked for any of this. Elizabeth took a deep breath and forced a smile, hoping to diffuse the tension. “You’re right and the next time we travel, we will use a plane, but you know I wanted to take the car with us.” Despite her efforts to keep her voice even in an attempt to placate her daughter, Elizabeth’s words were strained.
Not for the first time, Elizabeth doubted her decision to leave Los Gatos, their picturesque hometown in Santa Clara County. When she’d seen the small advertisement for a live-in caretaker, it seemed like the answer to her prayers. Everything in their hometown and about the Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose reminded Elizabeth of her husband.
Tears burned her already tired eyes and she blinked hard.
On the passenger seat, Emily was gazing out of the side window, but Elizabeth doubted her daughter took in any of the scenery.
She had hoped that the days of traveling would help Emily adjust to the idea of the move. Moving from California to Connecticut was a monumental event for a twelve-year-old, and Elizabeth knew it would take time for Emily to feel comfortable with the change. But so far, the long hours on the road seemed to be doing nothing but intensifying Emily’s frustration. Elizabeth wished she could make it easier for her daughter. But she was as helpless in alleviating her daughter’s distress as she had been in helping her husband cope with his cancer and the horrendous treatment. A treatment Michael hadn’t wanted but endured for his wife and their little girl.
Elizabeth swallowed around the lump in her throat and deliberately eased the grip she had on the steering wheel.
Over the days, the scenery outside the car windows morphed from the sun-drenched coast of California to the vibrant hues of the desert. The next day, mountains rose in the distance, their peaks shrouded in mist. Elizabeth tried to talk about the beauty of the countryside, hoping the change of scenery would lift Emily’s spirits. But her daughter seemed immune to the majesty of the landscape passing by.
Again, she turned to watch her daughter.
Elizabeth’s heart hurt as she studied her girl’s slender shoulders. She wasn’t built to carry the weight of her father’s loss. Her straight reddish-brown locks reached her shoulders and framed a heart-shaped face that was a feminine carbon copy of her father. The only features she inherited from Elizabeth were her hazel eyes and her delicate nose. Elizabeth noticed the deep brackets around Emily’s nowadays perpetual down-turned mouth and the dark shadows under her daughter’s eyes.
A loud horn caused Elizabeth’s gaze to return to the road and her heart skipped a beat. She saw truck headlights approaching at high speed. She clenched her back teeth against a scream and swerved the car back to her side of the road. Once again, her hands tightened on the steering wheel as she tried to maintain control of the car. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest as the truck bore down on them.
In the passenger seat, Emily let out a small gasp of fear.
Elizabeth fought with the steering wheel as the car swerved from left to right. Again, the truck driver leaned on the horn. The sound was jarring and a stark reminder of the potential hazards and risks of driving on the open road.
As the truck roared past them, the blaring sound of its horn filled the car. The deafening noise felt like a physical assault on Elizabeth’s senses, causing her heart to pound like a trapped animal’s and her shoulders to stiffen as her body prepared for the impending impact.
Her nerves fraying, Elizabeth steered the car to the shoulder as she tried to steady her breathing.
Emily let out a shaky breath and turned to her mother. “Mom? Are you okay?” she asked. Her shaky voice was laced with concern. The sound and intonation reminded Elizabeth of her sweet little girl. The personality Emily seemed to have shrugged off during her father’s illness to have it replaced with a surly and spiteful preteen.
Elizabeth forced a smile, trying to reassure her daughter. “I’m fine, sweetie. Don’t worry about me.” She jumped when the blaring wail of a police siren sounded behind them, and blue and red flashing lights illuminated the interior of their car.
Elizabeth lowered the window. Her breathing hitched in her chest. She placed her hands in clear sight on the steering wheel as the uniformed officer approached their car.
Keeping her focus on the side mirror, she studied the man. Her heart raced with anxiety. It didn’t prevent her from noticing his athletic build and short-cropped hair, his stern expression, and the badge glinting on his chest. He reminded her a bit of her Michael when he’d been in his late twenties. A painful pang twisted her stomach as she remembered her husband’s strong and resilient years.
“Ma’am, is everything all right? This isn’t a safe place to park your vehicle,” the officer said.
The officer’s voice was firm but professional as he addressed her, but Elizabeth’s mind was elsewhere, caught in a moment of grief and longing. A lump formed in her throat as she tried to hold back the tears. The officer’s authoritative demeanor only reminded her of how much she missed Michael, who had been the same way and such a beacon in Elizabeth’s life.
Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. She knew she had been driving erratically and felt ashamed to have drawn attention to herself and her daughter. But she refused to show any weakness in front of the officer. Elizabeth took a deep breath and tried to steady her nerves. Striving for a polite but businesslike tone, she answered, “I’m fine, officer. Thank you for checking on us. We just had a brief scare from a near collision and we’re also a bit tired from a long road trip.” Her voice was steady and firm, but a bead of sweat trickled down her spine.
The officer nodded and looked over the car before giving Elizabeth a stern warning to be more careful on the road and about the hazards of driving while exhausted. As he walked back to his car, Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel a sense of abandonment and loneliness, which was utter bullshit. She didn’t need anyone’s help to take care of herself and her daughter, and she was determined to prove that to the world.
Emily, who had been silent and scared during the encounter, spoke up once the officer was out of earshot. “Mom, why didn’t you let him help us? He seemed nice and concerned.”
Elizabeth sighed and turned to her daughter. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate his offer, sweetie. It’s just… I don’t want to seem weak or incapable in front of anyone. It’s important for me to show that we can take care of ourselves.”
Emily shrugged and put her earbuds back in, but Elizabeth could see the doubt in her daughter’s countenance. She made a mental note to show her daughter she could take care of both of them.
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