“Yeah, well, I think that’s my question. You okay?”
His thick voice hummed at her, felt like the corner table in a dark bar.
“I’m good. I’m fine. On the road. Almost to 27 and then shooting north. You know the drill.”
“You should double back and pick me up. I’ll protect you from the elements.”
Fitz lived in Benton Harbor, near Hastings but further south and on Lake Michigan. The town was a rarity in the North, the population almost entirely African American. Darla worked there as an ER nurse for a few years when she was in her twenties. That’s how she met Fitz – Ron Fitzgerald. He was an EMT for the city, still was.
“There aren’t a lot of elements in a 32-foot RV, Fitz. You know that, Jeez, it’s a damn house.”
“Yeah, but Darla, you’ve never handled it alone. That’s kind of a big deal.”
“I’ll call you if I get in trouble. You can jump in your super-hot car and come rescue me. Bring me a six-pack and a pack of Marlboros. Like old times.”
“Got it. Watch for those speed traps on 75 – the highway patrol is trying to meet budget.”
Darla laughed, signing off with their customary, “Later, pal.”
Fitz was probably her best friend, well, her best guy friend. John could never figure it out – their inside jokes, all the reminiscing about the good times in the ER treating victims pulled out of burning cars, their gross jokes. Dark humor was a must in their jobs, the only way to survive the daily diet of people crying in the waiting room.
She looked ahead at the Big Mac in the distance. It was an architectural marvel, everyone said so, but it was also really scary to drive over. The outer lane was pavement but the inner was thick steel mesh. And all of it was suspended by enormous cables a hundred and fifty feet over the water. The bridge moved if it was windy, sometimes this meant that big rigs, like hers, required an escort to cross, other times, the bridge was closed to traffic.
There was just a light wind today but it didn’t calm Darla’s nerves. She chose the inside lane, the mesh one, because driving the rig on the outside lane meant she’d actually see the water below. Terrifying. She gripped the steering wheel with both hands, looked straight ahead and drove a steady 35 miles an hour for what seemed like forever.
The bridge, the blue sky, what she knew was sparkling, iridescent water below gave her a freedom thrill. She was really doing this. Taking off, on her own, driving, managing everything, listening to Rachmaninoff so loud that the boats below could hear, this was what she’d hoped for, the big, huge band-aid she needed to cover the horrible wound of losing John.
She heard the pop just as she turned to go west on to U.S. 2. When the RV started to bump along the road, she knew it was a flat tire. Damn! Damn! She and John had probably driven the RV 20,000 miles with nothing bad ever happening and here she was on her first voyage with a flat tire on lonely U.S. 2 in the U.P.
She pulled over to the shoulder, put her flashers on. Her phone rang. Fitz again. Why the hell is he calling now?
“Hey Fitz. I can’t talk right now. I just blew a tire.”
“Yeah, I see that. Look in the mirror. I’m right behind you.”
It’s pretty hard to start in the middle of a story! Start at the beginning with Darla and Fitz: Part One.