A wrong number. Not a scam. Just some innocent woman looking for her sister Pearl. Jason assured her that he wasn’t Pearl, hit the end button, and slid the phone across his desk. He dropped his head onto his hand and tried to concentrate.
Even mental sarcasm fell flat. He should be pumped. The holidays approached with days off for leisure time, sleeping in, parties with assorted junk food, and perhaps a chance to head out to the park for a little fun and games. The image of a woman clad in a tight winter sweater and black leggings danced in front of his eyes. Heat licked his body.
The phone chimed. Jason tapped his fingers. Answer? Not answer? Hardly a life or death decision. He tapped the green button and slapped the phone against his ear. “Dad?”
Carol? Cold water doused the flames. Oh heck, anybody but his stepmother. He’d rather have a root canal. Not that she wasn’t a perfectly nice person. It’s just that with a root canal, you know what you’re getting into. With Carol, Russian roulette seemed tame. Besides, he hated it when anyone shortened his name. What? Two syllables asking too much? Ja-son. Oh, forget it.
“Hey, Carol. What’s up?”
“Jas, I don’t want to take up your time, so I won’t beat around the proverbial bush, but your dad’s not doing too well. He’s really struggling, and I just want to give you a heads up before you come visit.”
Very subtle. Okay. It had been a while. A few weeks. Jason rolled his eyes over to the wall calendar—the one his wife had bought for him. Landscapes with hymns scrolled over the top. Oh yeah. Something safe that would keep his mind on celestial matters. Instead of other things.
Pine trees and a little manger scene. Hmmm…that time already?
He leaned back and let his chair fall into the relaxed mode. His head tilted, he considered the state of his office ceiling.
“You caught me, Carol. It has been too long. Waaay too long. I need to get my bu—, I mean, I should get Dinah and the kids and head out your way. Christmas season and all.” He grimaced at the thought of driving through snow and ice into Wisconsin but then the possibility of escaping Dinah’s family…
Carol ran roughshod over his thoughts. “You know, your dad always said that nothing mattered as long as his kids were happy. He still knows who you are. He recognizes me. Most of the time. But if you wait…”
Jason’s feet hit the floor with a slap. “What do you mean? He didn’t have any trouble recognizing me or the kids last time we were there.”
“A year ago.”
Jason smacked his forehead. He leaned in, peered at the calendar, and squinted. Was it? “Hey, you know. You’re right. I need to talk with Dinah and set something in motion. I’ll call you back, okay?”
“You won’t forget, now, will you?”
The snarky tone mixed with anxiety roiled Jason’s stomach. “No. I won’t forget.”
Once home, Jason perched on a stool at the kitchen island and outlined a quick road trip. Dinah listened in empathetic understanding. Such a generous spirit. Of course. She visited her parents every month. Good woman that she was. He couldn’t go most of the time, despite the fact that they lived only twenty minutes away, because, well, you know. He had a hell of a honey-do list and getting older wasn’t a picnic; let me tell you. Hey, I need some me-time, too.
His mind wandered back to the woman he’d met at the park last week. Gorgeous. Funny. Didn’t quote scripture while they strolled along the path. She wore a ring. He wore a ring. But still…
Dinah rattled on. “It’s all settled then. Next weekend, we’ll leave early Friday and be back by Sunday night. I’m sure your dad will be pleased. He loves you, you know.” Her eyes lingered on his face like she was sending some kind of coded message.
Sheesh. Lay on the guilt with a trowel why don’t you?
All evening, images of the park woman meandered through Jason’s mind. In frustration, he cuddled up to his wife in bed, but she was already asleep. Or so she wants me to believe. Great. Now I got nothing but a lousy trip to look forward to. He yanked the blanket to his side of the bed, exposing his wife’s slumbering form to the cold night air. She probably doesn’t even notice. Martyrs never do.
Images of the park woman slithered through his mind. Her perfect form, flashing smile, the teasing glint in her eye. Then, out of nowhere, his dad appeared on the opposite side of a busy street. The old man tried to cross, but trucks and cars whizzed by in city traffic madness. The old man locked eyes with Jason, bewildered desperation peering from the depths. He waved and called, “Ja-son!”
Jason dropped the woman’s hand, his heart pounding. “Dad? Hey, don’t try to cross there. It’s crazy traffic. You’ll get—”
Dinah’s scream ripped through the air as she ran out from behind, shoving the park woman aside. She dashed across the street, stopping traffic like magic. She reached her father-in-law’s broken body. In true superwoman form, she carried the old man across the street, tears streaming from her disappointed, despairing eyes.
Her words shot Jason like bullets. “All yours.”
Suddenly another man, a shrewd well-dressed gent with clever eyes and high cheekbones stepped forward and swept everyone else away. He pointed toward a wide doorway. “If you please.”
Heat flickered through Jason’s body, but he shivered uncontrollably. “What’s this?”
“What you wanted.”
“Wanted?” Jason wrinkled his nose at a strange stink. “I never get what I want! Seems to me that I have to pay a pretty steep price for everything.”
The gentleman chuckled. “Think so? But it’s all free. Free will and all.”
Jason looked around for his father, his wife, his home, anything familiar and comforting. “But I wanted to see dad. I could’ve—”
Laughter rang in Jason’s ears. “The saddest words man ever penned, were the words…”
Jason bolted upright. Sweat beaded across his brow. He shivered. “Oh, God!”
Dinah murmured and rolled over. She reached out. “You okay, honey?”
The Sahara desert had filled Jason’s mouth. He couldn’t utter a word.
Dinah sat up and leaned in, her fingers stroking her husband’s arm. “Worried about your dad?” She cuddled closer, pulling the blanket around them both. “It’ll be okay. He’s a good man. He’s made his life and even if he doesn’t remember now, when he dies, he’ll know the truth. Besides, he’s not dead yet. You still have time.”
Jason hugged his wife, tears streaming down his face. The words, “It might have been…” rang in his ears.
Books by A. K. Frailey
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ
OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI
OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)
Science Fiction Novels
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz
Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l
My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8