Craig Emerson would turn over in his grave if he could see her now. Rolling down the Highway 22 toward Myrtle beach, windows down, radio blaring a classic rock station, the wind blowing through her short hair, with a three-inch, wedge sandal pressing down on the accelerator. No one—not even his wife—ever drove his orange and black, 1970 Plymouth GTX. The same one that was in original condition and had been passed down to him by his father, the original owner.
“Craig, are you seeing this?” Vivian Emerson had been talking to her husband this way ever since his death a little over a year ago. She had already decided these little talks would be coming to an end as of this long weekend. There had been plenty of things for her to get off her chest—things she had wanted to say while he was alive, but he wouldn’t listen.
So many times in the past year, she would go out to the garage, sit in Craig’s car, and pour her heart out. Sometimes she would talk quietly while tears streamed down her face, and other times she would yell. This was the first time she had actually driven the car though. Her one-sided conversations on this trip so far had been backed with laughter. This trip to the beach would be her last act of letting go. She was ready.
Vivian smiled at her reflection in the rearview mirror as she ran her fingers through her dark brown hair. Craig had wanted her to keep her hair long, and she had. At her first stop for a bathroom break, she had tried to brush through the long tangled mess caused by driving with the windows down. She had decided right then it was time for a change and had searched for the nearest hair salon on the GPS on her phone.
The car drew attention when she pulled in front of The Cut and Curl. After everyone made over the GTX and she finally sat in the angled chair, she told the stylist that she didn’t care how she cut it, as long as it was shorter and easier to manage. She had stepped out less than an hour later with a slightly longer version of a pixie cut. It suited her, she thought, and it definitely showed off her green eyes. Why hadn’t she had this done years ago?
She crossed over Highway 17 carefully turned into Walmart’s parking lot. With each maneuver, the muscles in her upper arms tightened in response to the lack of power steering. No wonder people were in better shape back when this car was made. As she searched for a spot closer to the door, she started making a mental list of things she would need to purchase to get her through the next four days.
Her ankle twisted a little with her first step. Since Craig had been only an inch taller than her, she had not worn heels in over twenty years. She was determined to get used to wearing them again. In fact, she had bought herself a whole new wardrobe just last weekend. Gone were the drab clothing that now hung loose from her frame due to the thirty-five pounds she had lost in the last year. No diet or exercise had been necessary. The junk food Craig had loved so much was no more. Plus, she had lost her appetite for a while after his death
She tugged the bottom of her orange sweater down in the back. It was a warm day for mid-March, but the wind whipping through the open windows of the GTX was still cool. She was extra thankful for the layers of clothing when the air-conditioned breeze greeted her as the automatic doors slid open. In less than fifteen minutes she was headed back out into the warmth of the sun.
She carefully made her way through the parking lot in the tank-like car. Thankfully there was a stoplight that would make it easier for her to get back onto the busy highway. The light was red and she had almost come to a complete stop when the brake pedal dropped to the floor suddenly. The car rolled past the line until the frontend was completely blocking the first lane of the road in front of her.
She gripped the steering wheel and her whole body tightened as she prepared for impact. She jerked her head to the left at the sound of screeching tires and a blaring horn. A huge burgundy Suburban stopped just a few feet from her, close enough for her to see the scowl on the face of its curly-haired driver.
She looked in her rearview mirror to see a man getting out of the car behind her and walking toward the car. Fear had her wanting to roll the window up before the stranger got there. But that was silly. He would not do her harm with so many witnesses. Another horn blared as the angry woman’s SUV finally moved around her, tires squalling once she got past the nose of the GTX.
“What’s the problem?”
Vivian jumped at the sound of the man’s voice but the tension in her shoulders eased when she looked up at his smiling face. “The brakes won’t work. The pedal went down to the floor.”
“Have you got it in park?”
Why did she feel like she had done something wrong? “I didn’t want it to roll any further.”
“That’s good. Do me a favor and pump the pedal a few times. Does it feel like you have brakes now?”
The pedal didn’t go down all the way this time but it felt softer than usual, like it would give with enough pressure. “It’s better than before, but it still doesn’t feel right.”
“They should work well enough for you to get it off the road. I’ll back up so you can.”
She watched in the rearview mirror as his car backed up a good distance away from her before putting the car in reverse. As soon as the road in front of her was clear, her helper moved around the GTX and left the parking lot. He didn’t even look back as he passed by. The only person he had been trying to help was himself.
What was she going to do now? She needed a wrecker but had no idea who to call. Craig had always been the one to take care of things like this. Even before him, her father had done it. According to them, a mechanic couldn’t wait to see a woman come into his shop because he could charge whatever he wanted and she would be none the wiser.
A car pulled up behind her and blew the horn. She hunted around on the steering column until she found the switch for the emergency blinkers and then waved the car to go around her. She was alone now. Craig was gone and her parents were in Colorado. She didn’t even have a son she could call on. There was nothing left to do but handle this the best she knew how. She slipped her phone from her pocket and began scrolling through her options on Google.