“Being rejected isn’t exactly the end of the world…just feels like it.” Gertrude heaved a long sigh. “Silly of me…to think that…but, you know, it’s…life. Beginnings…and endings.”
She launched herself from her partitioned, tan and grey workstation, pulled on her heavy winter coat, and plodded to the check-out counter.
Dressed in a blindingly white parka with a fake fur fringe around the hood, her friend, Kamila, smiled as they punched in their work numbers and timed out. “Got plans for the weekend, Gerty?”
Gertrude closed her eyes, sighed, and then straightened her shoulders. Focusing, she met Kamila’s teasing gaze. “Nope. But I’ll make some. And you?”
Kamila grinned. “Timmy is coming over for the weekend. We’re going out on the town and have some fun!” She did a little arm shake with a hip wiggle and laughed.
A stab of pain made Gertrude wince. Her stomach clenched. “You be careful, Kammy. People get hurt…driving around and partying…you know.”
“You’re such a worrier!” Sauntering out the main exit, Kamila shivered in the cold blast of winter air and linked arms with Gertrude. “You need to have more fun. Besides, people get killed sitting at home too. Heart attacks, cancer, random acts of violence—no one’s safe.” She tugged at her zipper. “Might as well live while you got the chance. Can’t stay at home all the time.”
Her plaid coat buttoned to the top, Gertrude pulled her keys from her purse and punched the unlock button as she neared her Cruise. “No safe place in this world, I agree. But it’s just plain dumb to beard the lion.”
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” Kammy waved as she scrunched into her tiny sports car. “Get a life, girl, not a proverb.” The engine roared and the tires squealed out of the parking lot so fast passersbys had to scurry aside.
Gertrude shook her head and murmured under her breath.
When she got into her apartment, Gertrude tugged herself free from her coat and peeled off her work clothes. She stood under a hot shower for a full five full minutes and then dressed in her comfortable well-worn jeans, fluffy socks, and a long shirt. It had a tear at the neck when she had caught it on the latticework reaching for a hard-to-reach cluster of grapes last summer, but she figured that no one would see her and who would really care anyway?
Just as she settled down on the couch wrapped in a knitted blanket, a hot cup of tea near at hand, and a mystery novel on her lap, the buzzer rang long and loud. She glanced up, a thrill of fear racing through her. It’s just someone looking for a donation…or some lady looking for a friend…or—
The buzzer insisted.
Frowning, she set the book next to her teacup, tossed the blanket aside, and jogged forward. The buzzer raged for the third time. Irritated, she swung open the door. “Hey, unless someone’s about to be murdered, you can lay off the buzzer.”
Short and stocky, Ben stood before her in a crumpled EMT uniform, his brown hair disheveled, and a wild look in his eyes. “You’re okay?”
Gertrude scrunched her face like she was looking at a pink armadillo. “Yeah. You care?”
Passing through the doorway, Ben tromped to the couch and flung himself down with a long sigh. He ran his fingers through his hair, standing it up in a scattered array. “Good Lord. You know what you’ve put me through?”
Gertrude blinked. “I. Put. You. Through?”
“When they reported the accident, I recognized the vanity license plate. I called your office, and they said you’d just left. I thought you were with her!”
Gertrude slapped her cheek, all warmth draining from her body. “Kamilla?”
“Burned beyond recognition. At least her car is…it’ll take time to sort through the mess…”
Swaying on her feet, a roar swelled into Gertrude’s ears. Strong arms grabbed her and led her to the couch. Ben crouched at her side and stroked her hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to shock you like that. I was just so worried. There’s been one emergency after another… Crazy days. I’ve been working overtime…” He shook his head. “But when that call came in…I didn’t even ask. I just ran out the door.”
Before she knew what she was doing, Gertrude was sobbing on Ben’s shoulder.
By the time she had a fresh cup of tea, the blanket wrapped over her legs, and Ben’s arm around her shoulder, she had wiped the last of her tears off her cheek. “I must look awful.”
“Not to me. You look just fine. Alive. The way I like you.”
Gertrude dropped her gaze and tugged a loose yarn string. “I got the impression that…you know. You were tired of me. Too busy all the time. Working.”
“You do realize that I save lives, right? That I work hard to earn a good living…so that maybe one day we can…”
“So you’re not avoiding me?”
Ben grinned. “You know, it’d make things a lot simpler if you just ask me next time.”
“You didn’t return my messages…”
“Yeah. There is that. My fault. Sorry. Just so blasted busy. You know…I see it all the time. Misunderstandings. Couples going at each other. Kids wanting to kill themselves.”
Gertrude felt her throat tighten. “It wasn’t a misunderstanding today. Kamilla is dead. I tried to warn her…but…”
Ben harrumphed and clapped his hands together as he sat forward. “Kamilla drove like a speed demon. She was on the track to self-destruction long before you met her.” He dragged his hands over his face. “I can’t save everyone. And neither can you.” He pulled Gertrude into a tight embrace. “But I’m here now and…you know…we might make a life together. Despite this crazy world. Despite misunderstandings…”
Gertrude snuggled into Ben’s arms, her heart aching yet comforted. “Kamilla was going out on the town today…and I thought something in me had died. Guess it shows…we don’t really know. Life. Beginnings…and endings…and everything in between.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy
A delightful collection of short stories that draw you in, wanting more. ~Discovery, Gale Kaufman
“When I found out she had a new collection out, this volume, I grabbed it immediately and started reading it that day.” ~Steven