Angels: Bruises on a Broken Heartbycalibeachgirl©
Affairs of Angels: Bruises on a Broken Heart
A Christmas romance from Calibeachgirl
Copyright December 2012
An entry in the 2012 Holiday Contest
...edited by Bill, Deep Blue...
Kevin turned his head to the other side of the car wondering where the quiet tinkle of a glass wind chime was coming from. Unseen, the angel sat next to him watching the traffic which he had forgotten about, making sure the man who had once been her husband was safe. She reached across and kissed his cheek, something that she had longed to do for such a long time, even though she had been watching over him ever since she had to leave him to live alone.
Ahead, she saw the old truck lumbering along, carrying the woman that the angel had been waiting for, knowing that the time had finally come for him to love again. Once, such knowledge would have caused her such grief but now she knew better.
With another chime in the air, she left Kevin as he held his hand to his face wondering where the angelic touch had come from, so like Lucy's as she had kissed him each night before going to sleep, and appeared in the old truck between the two women.
"Oh, no, not again... stupid, stupid truck!" the young woman cried out as the almost ancient Ford pickup slowly rolled to the side of the road, dark brown oily smoke pouring from its engine as it ground to a halt. A moment later, the engine burst into flames, blistering the worn blue paint that shared the truck's hood with three colors of primer.
Two women plainly dressed in tired jeans and faded blue sweatshirts jumped out and ran to the back, frantically trying to unload boxes from the truck's bed as the fire grew. Taking on a life of its own, the fire was reaching at least ten feet into the cool California winter sky surrounding the tall eucalyptus trees. To the few drivers passing by, it was obvious that an explosion could kill them both yet no one bothered to help until a car finally stopped behind them and the driver, dressed in Air Force camouflage, hurriedly limped toward the desperate women who were still trying to salvage whatever they could from their burning vehicle... but their efforts seemed to be more in vain than anything else. The ropes they had used to safeguard their possessions were now guaranteeing the loss of everything they had as the fire continued to slowly spread across the top of the cardboard boxes.
"Leave it!" he shouted, trying to catch their attention but when they continued to ignore him, he grabbed the nearest one by the waist and dragged her back toward his own car as best he could, hoping the other would follow. She fought him every step of the way, her arms and legs flailing as he pulled her from the blazing truck, still favoring his bad leg.
The truck continued to burn, the faded paint peeling away from the darkening metal, the cardboard boxes now on fire also and the black smoke was soon carrying burning remnants of clothing across the road. How they caught on fire, he had no idea; he would have thought they were protected, sitting in the back of the truck. Another car finally stopped, followed by an eighteen-wheeler, its driver running with an extinguisher and a large hunting knife. A few slashes had the ropes cut away and now several drivers amazingly joined to help carry as many boxes away from the fire as possible.
A loud wail cut through the air. As he was finally able to get a closer look at the two women crying next to his car he saw they must be mother and daughter. He didn't know how much could be be salvaged but the truck was definitely a total loss; even the front tires were now burning dark sending sticky smoke into the air. In the distance, he heard sirens approaching. Someone must have called... something he had forgotten to do trying to keep the women away from the fire. All his training had disappeared in a matter or moments. How that had happened, he had no clue as he watched the truck continue to angrily burn.
A long minute passed, broken only by the loud sound of the front tires popping and going flat as they continued to burn, spewing acrid smoke into the air.
By the time the fire truck arrived, the fire except for the tires had burned itself out and some of the boxes had been removed to safety. Enough, he hoped, that they would be able to have enough to start over, wherever they were going.
The mother stood on the side of the road now, no longer crying, but the daughter, her face smudged with smoke, looked at him angrily. "You could have..." she started to say and then stopped, pushing him away with all her strength.
Whatever she was going to say disappeared with her tears. "It's all gone..." she said to herself, pushing the words through clenched teeth, "...all gone." She tried to wipe away the smudges from her face and ran her hand through her dark, sun-streaked copper hair. She sighed as the disappointment rushed over her again, just as it had when they had packed everything they owned and fled north from her mother's abusive boyfriend. All her dreams, all the plans they had made, seemed to disappear in the oily smoke that rose into the now cold sky. Her full lips trembling, she wiped away a tear. They had depleted their savings and were counting every penny and now, this.
Actually, he thought, not so much. True, there was damage but it seemed to be much less than even he originally thought. It could be worse. "Don't cry," he tried to say, realizing how inane it sounded and thought she looked so beautiful. Too beautiful for someone like him...
The angel watched, satisfied that she had chosen well and with another sounding of chimes, disappeared into the smoke that still lingered.
Following a quick call, the next hour was filled with watching the firefighters washing down the area and waiting for the tow truck to arrive. He handed over his AAA card to the middle-aged, ponytailed man and got directions to the lot where the truck was being taken.
"I'm sure," he told the two women, "that you'll be able to have your insurance cover this..." But, as soon as he said it, he knew that that wasn't to be the case. Insurance on such an old truck would be negligible, if at all. And, how to cover whatever had been in the boxes? No, he thought, their loss would be heartfelt and severe. The way things were, he thought ruefully, whatever dreams they had were now up in smoke along with their belongings.
"Look, do you have some place to stay? There's a Motel 6..." He stopped talking as the two women stared at him, almost as if what he was saying was foolish. "Say, I've got a room at my house if you want... you know, to spend the night... until someone can... uh, come for you."
"Thank you, mister..." Soft silky hair, the color of copper gleaming in the California winter sun, framed her delicate face. But it was more than the soft swell of her breasts, the slender indentation of her waist, curvy hips and long legs that caught his attention; it was the sad look of her eyes as she saw what was left of their truck being pulled onto the flatbed tow truck.
"Colonel... Kevin... just call me Kevin." How could he become so tongue-tied?
By that time, as many as possible of the boxes had been piled into the back seat of his car and trunk and after a quick trip to his house, they drove over to the impound lot to get the rest. He wondered how long it would take to get the smell of smoke and damp cardboard out of his car. Just something to worry about... or, was it? Did it really matter, he wondered.
It was early afternoon before everything had been taken care of and he wondered how the lack of insurance was going to affect the situation. For the moment, he decided to be silent about it. Bad news just a few days before Christmas wasn't anything he wished on anyone, especially the young woman standing before him.
"Well," he started, "where were you going?" Where, indeed?
The daughter looked at him quietly, as if wondering what to say, almost as if she was afraid to say anything to him and hesitated before finally speaking. She thought back to the man lying on the floor in her bedroom, blood flowing from his head surrounded by the broken glass vase, its pieces scattered across the room. It had happened so fast, she remembered, hitting him as he came into where she had been sleeping. It had been hard enough, she knew, pretending to ignore what he had been doing to her mother but when he finally set his eyes on her...
"We were heading toward Portland, you know, Oregon... from Texas. My uncle Joseph lives there. He's my mother's cousin but we call him 'Uncle.' We were hoping to live with him... for a while, at least." She wondered if the bleeding man had called the police... or, if he was still alive... not that she cared too much.
"Just in time for Christmas in California..." Kevin said, trying to smile.
"We were tired of the heat." She still saw the blood in her mind's eye.
"You'll like Oregon in early summer... the wildflowers are in bloom. Do you want to call him?" Kevin pulled his cell out from his pocket, figuring that they didn't have one of their own to use.
"Thank you, uh, Kevin. Yes, please," the older woman said, reaching out.
He gave the mother the phone and went into the kitchen, looking for something he could offer them to eat. Living as a bachelor had its good aspects and its bad aspects and the unexpected arrival of two guests highlighted one of the bad aspects... the lack of food fit for guests. He glanced over at the kitchen trash can filled with many empty frozen food containers... could it really be a week's worth, he wondered. His gaze continued over to the microwave over and embarrassed, he knew at the very least, he'd have to wait until the woman was off the phone before he could make a decision on what to do. He sighed and put the dish he carried onto the table, giving up the idea of eating any dinner at the house.
"Kevin... I mean, excuse me. Here's your phone." It was the daughter, her hand out with his phone. She looked miserable, even more so than before, as if she were thinking of something distasteful, something horrible to remember.
He put his phone back into his pocket. "Were you able to reach your uncle?" he asked, knowing the answer from the look on the face of the mother.
"No. The number doesn't work anymore. I called information but there was nothing. I don't know what we're going to do now." The woman moved from one foot to the other as if unsure what to do next.
"Well, right now, I think we need to get something to eat. Is your mother, it is your mother, right? Is she OK?" It had to be her mother, he thought... who else could it be?
"I don't know. Mom is still in shock, I think. That truck was all we had and now it's gone." She felt her whole life was gone. Were the police looking for them? For her?
He looked at her, feeling there was something else... "Anyway, let's get something to eat after you wash up. Time is going by way too fast and I'm sure you're both hungry."
In desperate need for some rest from what turned out to be a very different, busy day, Kevin drove to the nearby Red Lobster. After all that happened, he somehow felt he needed to have some of the cheese biscuits they had and he began to wonder when was the last time the two women had had a decent meal... or, at least, a filling one from a restaurant.
Several police cars quickly passed them, sirens blaring and both women moved lower in their seats, as if to hide, quickly looking to see if he noticed.
After their drinks had arrived, the women ordered tilapia dinners while he had the stuffed sole. "Remember, my treat," Kevin said, taking a long, well-needed drink of his iced tea and then wiping his wet fingers on his napkin. He looked at the server. "I would like butter with my biscuits, please, and more sugar for my tea."
Turning his attention back to the two women sitting across from him in the booth, he finally asked, "So, maybe it's time that I formerly introduce myself. I'm Kevin Calavese, Colonel Kevin Calavese, U.S. Air Force. Uh, mi casa es su casa."
The daughter was much more outspoken than her quiet mother who still had a tired look about her. "I am Mary Ellen Carlson and this... this is my mother, Florence . We've come north... well, we were supposed to be with Uncle Joseph but now..." She became quiet and looked at her mother as if wondering whether she should say something more... wondering if her mother would say something and give away her secret.
Kevin took another drink, the wet glass dripping onto the tabletop. "What do you want to do about the truck?" he asked, wondering about it himself.
"I don't know," Mary said. "I guess it's a total loss. We certainly can't pay to fix it." Her wide eyes sparkled and he saw that she was near tears again. She looked at him, wondering how with everything that had happened, she was finding herself attracted to him, unlike her mother who must be working hard to control her nervousness. It had to be the stress, she believed, that was it, even if the impossible happened and they became friends, more than friends. The day had become so traumatic. How could she think of him as more than a friend? It was just a question of moving on, wasn't it?
"I've an idea," he ventured, looking at the mother, trying to bring her into the conversation. "I'll have it towed over to the local high school and see what the boys in auto body can do with it after the holidays. At the very least, it'll be somewhere safe and we won't be paying any storage fees."
"You've already been too kind to us," Mary said, trying to smile at him. How, she wondered, was such a good-looking man still single? Perhaps, she thought, he was 'gay.' What was she thinking? Why did it matter what the man was? In a few days, he would be just a memory, that's all, as soon as they moved on...
The food arrived just then, stopping conversation for a while. He didn't realize he was as hungry as he was and he could tell from the way mother and daughter started on their salads that they were famished, convincing him that they had probably not eaten well in at least a day or two... probably longer than that if their truck was any indication of their finances.
"With your... that is, with Uncle Joe unreachable and your truck out of commission, you're going to need a place to stay and a job. Tell you what... if you want, you can stay with me, be my housekeepers, so to speak. Room and board, some spending cash, at least until you can figure out what you want to do. How's that?" He became silent, somehow hoping they would accept his offer.
The two women put their heads together and conversed quietly but rapidly for several minutes, the daughter doing most of the talking. Once in a while, one or the other would look up and watch him. Kevin, for his part, buttered another biscuit and slowly chewed it between taking drinks of his iced tea. What had he been thinking, offering them a place to stay?
What if they accepted?
What if they didn't?
He wondered if introducing them to his friend, the high school campus priest, would be enough to assuage their misgivings. If they didn't trust him after that, he didn't know what to do and they would be on their own. God and country... what else could he do?
The fish plates arrived and he squeezed lemon on his, waiting for their answer, absentmindedly wondering if he should have started with some tartar sauce.
"We will trust you, Kevin... thank you for dinner." The mother finally quietly spoke. He was so surprised he almost asked her to repeat herself.
"My pleasure. Before we go home, we'll have to remember to take care of the truck."
As he left the parking lot, he changed the station to the oldies station and was greeted by the Ronettes... "...do I love you?" It was an age-old question that drove every human emotion and would that question ever be truly answered? As he listened to it, he remembered how much his wife had loved the Ronettes. It had been years since he had heard the song. Why now, he wondered.
That early evening, following grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, the two women were busy hanging clothes outside on the line after washing the smoky smells from their clothing salvaged from the fire. The late evening's breeze quickly dried their clothing and Kevin showed them the two rooms they could have... the two rooms he once thought were going to be filled with children, at least one. Now, they had visitors. How his life had changed... changed in just a few moments, once again.
The angel went down the hallway, visiting one room after another, something that she had done each night for years, wishing that things had been different.
The kitchen was empty when Mary entered early the next morning, zipping up her sweatshirt. There was no coffee, no sign of life, and she wondered where her mother was. Kevin was going to be up soon and there should be some kind of breakfast waiting for him. She looked out the window through the darkness at the orange trees in his backyard and stepped out the back door to watch the setting moon in the southwestern sky for a moment before the crisp morning air pushed her back into the house. She found the coffee jar on the counter next to the coffeemaker and removing the lid she inhaled the dense aroma and scooped out enough for a full pot.
She heard a sigh and turned to look but never saw the angel hovering near the corner of the kitchen, watching her hopefully.
Mary leaned back against the counter as the dark brew began to perk. Like the rest of the house, the kitchen reflected its 1950s origins, so unlike the sad apartment they had fled in Phoenix. Her gaze traveled around the room, missing nothing... the light colored walls, the white cabinets, the copper pots hanging on the wall above the dinette... it was homey, solid, comforting... everything she had been missing in her life. What was she willing to give in order to keep something like this, she wondered. What a difference from what they had left behind, especially the fear.
She looked at the small, lonely cactus sitting above the kitchen sink by the window, always amazed how plants like it could survive neglected and gave it some water which quickly soaked into the dry soil. Its small yellow flower seemed to smile in thanks. She decided to find it a companion.
Mary opened the refrigerator door, listening to its swishing sound and pulled out the gallon of milk inside to fill her coffee mug halfway. After putting the milk away, she filled the rest of the mug with coffee, sighing with contentment as she began to mix up some pancake batter.
Kevin quietly walked in, still buttoning his un-tucked shirt and seemed to startle her with his presence. "Good morning..." he said, taking in the unfamiliar scene. For some reason, he felt something he had missed ever since his wife had died and he was content to accept Mary's presence.
"Sit down and I'll fix you some pancakes," Mary said, hesitantly gesturing to the batter waiting next to the stove. "I couldn't find a waffle iron but I could look again if you want." The angel smiled, knowing his answer.
"Thanks. Two are plenty," he replied, sitting down at the table, watching her work at the stove.
Florence walked in, still pulling her robe tightly about her. She slowly went to the refrigerator, opened the freezer and pulled out an ice tray, dropped three cubes into a glass on the counter and then poured orange juice into the glass. Putting the juice away, she moved toward the table and sat as far away from Kevin as possible and still be at the table.
"Come," Mary said, "and have some pancakes, Mom."
"Pancakes? All right..." Kevin could tell there was still a hesitation in her manner. "Good morning, Kevin. I hope you slept well." She took a paper napkin from the lopsided pile on the table, laughing as it fell over. It seemed almost forced to his ears as he watched her straighten up the pile.