Melinda and her husband Mike used to go all out at Christmas time, decorating every inch of the house, inside and out. It was her favorite holiday. One of the traditions Melinda brought from her childhood was the family setting up the tree the first Sunday of December. Nowadays it was not just their kids, but grandkids as well. The sounds of children giggling, a serenade of Christmas melodies, make that day extra special. This year however just wasn't the same, because her husband divorced her and married a woman half her age. Now all she does is grumble and say,"Bah humbug, and to hell with Christmas!"
However, the coming Friday was Christmas. Instead of celebrating, she would spend the day sleeping late, enjoying a TV dinner while watching one of her old taped movies, like "Gone with the Wind." Or so she thought, up until the phone rang. When she answered it was her mother. She was calling to invite Melinda to come home for Christmas, after all she was only forty miles away. As usual, mom wouldn't take no for an answer.
"But Mom, I don't feel like celebrating, it brings back too many painful memories."
"I know dear, but it doesn't do you any good to sit alone in that big house and sulk. You must come and spend a few days with us, after all honey, it will do you good. Now tell me you will come, please."
She frowned and spit out her tongue, knowing dang well her mom would gripe forever if she didn't. "Okay, Mother, if it will make you happy, I will come. I start my holiday time this Wednesday, and could leave after supper, that way I should miss most of the heavy traffic. Now I don't want you to plan anything special just because I am coming to visit, Mother!"
"Oh, I won't dear, it will be a joy just to see you again. You know it's been over two years since we spent Christmas together. I hate the idea of you spending it alone because of that damn husband of yours!"
"Ex-husband mother, his choice, not mine, so I do what I can to move on. Please don't say his name out loud, in my book he will remain nameless."
"Okay honey, see you Wednesday."
Melinda and her mother bade each other goodbye. She then went into the bedroom and began packing and planning. One big suitcase would be all she needed. She'd pack the car early, eat a bite, check the weather, and leave there around six p.m. After all it shouldn't be that hard to make the journey home, weather permitting. Following that she went shopping to buy presents nevertheless as she didn't want them to think she was a scrooge.
That Wednesday she slept late, mainly because it would take all her energy to endure her mother's busybody attitude and yapping voice. She chuckled to herself, "Oh I just know she could play the wicked witch in the movie 'The Wizard of Oz' and win an Oscar."
She made a last minute check to make sure she hadn't forgotten something, and then loaded up the car. Next, she fixed a bite to eat and sat down to watch the weather channel. She almost bit her tongue when she heard the weatherman say there was a forty percent chance of snow that afternoon. Dang-it, if it were up to her she wouldn't go anywhere with a forecasted storm front moving in. Maybe she could leave a little earlier and get home before it came through. She did up the dishes and headed out, hoping she could miss the storm.
She had only traveled about ten miles when it began to snow, lightly at first, then within a few minutes, heavier. Not the kind of wispy gentle snow often portrayed in images of Christmas, but heavy with flecks of ice beating down heavily on the windshield, making it very hard to see.
She grumbled, "Goddamn weather! I should've known I couldn't drive home without something happening."
Melinda thought about turning around and heading home, it wouldn't hurt her feelings at all to do so. On the other hand she knew she would feel as guilty as hell the rest of the day and through the holidays, because she always told everyone, "Family was important, and they need to be happy especially at Christmas time."
She sighed, shook her shoulders, and prepared for the tedious drive. To keep her spirit up she put "Trisha Yearwood's The Sweetest Gift" CD into the player. Music always calmed her troubled spirit.
Luck must have been sitting in the front seat with her because there wasn't much traffic on the road. Nevertheless the nasty weather had slowed her car down to a crawl at thirty-five miles per hour.
She began thinking about her own life. For a woman of fifty-six Melinda still considered herself sexy. A five-foot-four full figured vivacious woman with long red hair and emerald-green eyes. Her shape was a turn on for most men. They desired a woman with a little meat on her bones, not a skinny one that slipped through their fingers like a bar of soap.
She glanced at the car clock, five p.m., and it was already growing dark. That was okay, if she was careful, she'd make it home by nine.
Melinda traveled about another mile down the road and saw a car pulled off to the side with its emergency flashers on. When she got closer there stood someone waving their arms madly, trying to flag someone down for help. Every time a car passed they got drenched with the slush. At first she hesitated in stopping, because it might not be a safe idea. After pondering things awhile, she decided why not, it was Christmas and no one should spend it stranded. Slowing down, she pulled off the road behind the vehicle and noticed the person was a man.
He approached her car and she rolled the window down. His sapphire-blue eyes were alluring and his smile lit up his whole face. "Thanks lady, I was beginning to think no one would stop!"
"You're welcome, looks like there isn't much of the Christmas spirit around nowadays."
"I hear yah, I've been standing her for fifteen minutes."
Melinda eyed him up and down and noticed that due to the sleet, snow, and slush, he was drenched. Yet, she could make out that he was tall, muscular, had piercing blue eyes, and jet-black hair. She hadn't seen a man this good looking for eons, and it made her tremble with desire. She hoped he didn't notice it.
"What's wrong with you car?"
"It looks like I either have a dead battery or my starter went out. I was going to call a tow truck, but I have no cell phone signal here."
"Well I don't know a thing about cars, but I do have On-Star, and they can connect me with triple A. By the way, you look soaked to the bone, why don't you get into the car and get warm while I make the call."
"Thanks, you must be my Christmas angel!"
She rolled her eyes, giggled to herself, and then unlocked the passenger door. He slid inside and waited patiently for her to make the call.
"On-Star, how may I help you?"
"I found a stranded motorist, and he needs a tow truck."
"I see you're location is on I-55. Want me to call triple A for you?"
"Thanks, I'd appreciate that."
While she waited, she turned to him and introduced herself. "Hello, my name is Melinda."
"Hi Melinda, the name's Jackson, but you can call me Jack."
"Glad to meet you Jack."
On Star interrupted the conversation. "I have triple A on the phone, go ahead, and talk."
"Hello ma'm, this is Charlie, BJ's Wrecker Service, how can I help you?"
"I found someone stranded on the northbound lane of I-55, he thinks his battery or starter is acting up because his car won't start."
"That's a shame, especially in weather like this. I'm afraid all my trucks are busy right now, and it looks like they won't be able to get there before one a.m., that's if the snow lets up. Otherwise, it won't be till late tomorrow morning."
"Oh my, what are we going to do?"
Jack interrupted, "Excuse me Melinda."
She told Charlie to wait a moment while she talked to the owner of the car.
"What's wrong, Jack?"
"Well with the snow coming down this heavy, I doubt if they will find us tonight. May I suggest we find a diner, get something to eat, and then we can decide what to do?"
She agreed with him and then turned her attention back to the tow truck driver. "We have an idea. Since this is not an emergency, why don't you wait until tomorrow? There's no use for you to try to make it out to here in this crazy weather. I'll give you my cell number, and you can call us tomorrow when you head out."
"I hear you, it's coming down pretty hard out there. Now, give me your cell phone number, weather permitting, I should be able to head out of here by eight a.m."
She gave him her cell number and then told the driver goodbye. Turning her attention back to Jack, she was about to say something when he spoke up and said, "Well, that takes care of the car. What are we going to do about tonight?"
She then told him, "Well, I'm headed for Springfield to spend the holidays with my parents, where are you headed?"
"Elkhart, it's a little up the road from there, I was planning on spending Christmas with my aunt and her family."
"Hey, I know where that is, because I grew up in the area. I can take you there if they cannot get your car fixed. After all, it's not that much out of my way."
"You really don't half to do all that much, lady."
"Let's just say I'll do it in the spirit of Christmas."
He reached out his hand and said, "I'd be honored to accept."
His blue-eyes pierced right through her, and she had this overwhelming desire to kiss him. Instead, she shook his hand and then said, "Why don't you get your things. We can keep them in my car for safety reasons."
It took only a few minutes to transfer his things to her trunk. She looked at her watch, six-forty-five p.m., then looked out the window. It was already pitch black, with the snow and sleet still coming down in buckets. She took the CD out and turned on the radio so they could listen to the weather reports. They heard the announcer say that it was still storming heavily and, if possible, to stay at home.
She turned to Jack and chuckled, "Maybe we can be one step ahead of this storm. Instead of looking for a place to eat, why don't you look for a motel? I'm not driving any further than I have to."
As they drove she told Jack a little about herself, adding that this year she was having a terrible time adjusting to things because she just went through a divorce.
Jack was apologetic and began telling her about himself, his place of employment, adding that he'd made director of marketing is less than four years. At thirty-five, that was not an easy task.
She liked his personality and sense of humor. It made it easy for her to forget the problems in her own life. Fifteen minutes passed as they crept along, but it felt like hours. The road was beginning to get slippery, and after they saw a couple of wrecks, she knew they should stop for the night as soon as possible.
Before she could say anything Jack piped up, "Hey, I see a Denny's, we can stop there."
She spoke up and said, "Jack I also see a Holiday Inn Express, and since the road is really getting dangerously slippery, I think we should stay there for the night."
"I was just wondering about asking you if we should just find a motel for the night, but didn't know how to approach you."
Melinda laughed, "I think you have been reading my mind."
Jack smirked and said, "Since you were nice enough to stop and help me, don't worry about the expense. I can put it on my company's charge card."
"Thanks for the gesture, it wasn't needed, but I appreciate it."
She smiled politely, but in the back of her mind she was screaming, "Sure beats spending a boring evening traveling in this bleak weather or listening to mom's gossip."
After she pulled into the parking lot he touched her shoulder. "I'll go in and get us a couple of rooms, okay?"
"Sure, it will give me time to calm down from the ride."
It wasn't long before he came back out to the car with a troubled look on his face.
"Uh-oh, what's wrong?"
"They only have one room available, with one bed, they said they can bring in another roll away bed if we want. I'm sorry, but that's all they have."
She blushed, batted her eyes, tried to sound calm, and said, "Don't worry, under these circumstances, we can make due. I'm too exhausted to drive down the road for something better."
"Okay, well here's your key, tell me what to get you from the trunk and I'll bring it to the room, there is no need for both of us to stand out in this weather."
She went to the trunk, opened it, pointed out the bag she brought and asked, "Sure you can handle things?"
"Yes, now go inside and get warm, and make sure you turn the heat up in the room, I'm freezing."
Melinda turned around so he couldn't see her naughty expression and walked toward the motel door. She whispered, "I have ways to warm you that are better than that heater."
The first thing she did when she entered the room was kick off her shoes. Next she called her parents. Of course, omitting the details about the stranded male motorist she picked up. Her mother would have a conniption fit if she knew.
"Hi Mom, I'm afraid I won't be there tonight, I'm stranded in the storm. I've checked into the Holiday Inn Express."
"Oh my, are you okay my dear? I wondered if you decided to drive here. I seen the weather and thought you might not."
"It wasn't doing anything when I left home, Mom. Tell Dad I'm okay and not to worry. However, it looks like I might be here a couple of days too. I'll call you when I leave here. Goodbye."
"Thanks for calling honey. Your dad said to say hi, and that he will save some eggnog for you. Bye dear."
She had just hung up the phone when someone knocked on the door, "It's Jack, let me in, my arms are full."
"Okay, give me a second."
She helped with the luggage then turned to Jack and suggested, "Better get out of those wet clothes and maybe take a hot shower to warm up."