On Valentine’s Day, 2007, a winter storm caused a 50-mile traffic jam
on an icy, hilly section of Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania. Thousands of motorists were stranded in their vehicles for more
than twenty hours. While the events of that day are factual, the motorists characterized in this book are fictional.
2005 Honda Civic
The driver in one of the cars behind Amelia honked his horn.
Yeah, that’ll work. Amelia rolled her eyes.
They’d been sitting in the same spot on Interstate 78 for an hour now. The snow looked lovely when it started, coating the outer branches of the trees, and turning the occasional
farmhouse by the roadside even more picturesque. But pellets of ice had followed
the snowflakes, and reports that a tractor trailer had jack knifed thirty-seven miles down the road had them at a standstill.
The car behind her honked again. Shut up! Amelia thought. Not
only was the honking annoying, Amelia feared the sound would awaken her passenger. Lois,
also known as Amelia’s future mother-in-law, had nodded off ten minutes ago. A
soft whistling emitted from her nostrils. It
was the same sound Ray made when he slept. Amelia looked at Lois and tried to
discern if anything else about her reminded her of her fiancé. Because as much
as Amelia loved Ray, she secretly detested Lois. Or maybe it wasn’t so
secret. Ray had, after all, been the one who suggested Amelia invite Lois along
to pick up the last piece of her bridal attire--her wedding veil. The pearl-adorned
veil had been erroneously omitted from her trousseau when she’d picked it up a month ago. Had she and Ray not posed for professional photographs in their wedding attire last weekend—a
request from Lois so she could send wedding notices to wealthy business associates abroad--Amelia may not have even known
the veil was missing until her wedding day.
“They screwed up,” Ray had said. “Did
they say they’d give you a discount because of it?”
Amelia shrugged. “No.”
“Well, they should. Take my mother with
you. No one drives a harder bargain than my mother.”
“Oh, well, I wouldn’t want to bother her.”
“Are you kidding? She loves a good fight. I’ll call and ask if you’re not comfortable with it. I’d like you to get to know each other better. I know
my mother seems a bit standoffish, but you’ve only ever seen the businesswoman part of her. She has a softer side.”
Ray had the phone in his hand before Amelia could protest further.
Four hours spent with Lois, and Amelia had yet to see her softer side.
Lois jerked awake. “Did I nod off?”
And now Amelia was stuck on this godforsaken road with her.
On Valentine’s Day.
Amelia wasn’t feeling the love. She hit
the horn and held it steady.
2003 Ford Crown Victoria
“What good will that do?” Howard asked,
turning in the driver’s seat to view the green Honda honking behind him. “Never
understand why people caught in traffic think blowing their horns will help. Remember
the time we were stuck in that tunnel in Maryland?”
Marjorie shook her head. “No.”
“Sure you do. We were headed to the University
of Maryland for a job interview. Scotty and Pete were little, probably six or seven. Don’t think Rachel was born
Marjorie stretched her aching legs. “We
considered moving to Maryland once? No, I don’t remember that.”
“Probably because I never made it to the job interview. Once
we finally got out of the tunnel, we just turned around and went home. The
kids were restless and hungry. We stopped to eat,” Howard said. “If I remember right, we had meatloaf. Did you
have the meatloaf at the church luncheon last week, by the way? Grace Keller made
it. You should ask for the recipe?”
Meatloaf! Marjorie thought. Had
he not heard the doctor use the word “terminal” two hours ago? Marjorie
had been given a death sentence, and Howard was talking meatloaf. Avoiding the
elephant in the room, no doubt. So be it. The
doctor said she should go about her normal life as much as possible. Marjorie
sighed. “What’s wrong with the meatloaf I’ve been making you
for fifty-two years?”
Howard shrugged. “It’s a little on
the dry side. That’s all.”
“And you’ve never said anything until now?”
“Guess I didn’t know meatloaf could be better until I tasted Grace’s.”
“I’ll ask her for it.” Though it
seems foolish to start a new recipe now. Marjorie swallowed. How many meatloafs could she reasonably make in the time she had left?
Unless she made meatloaf for Howard every day, she figured two or three, tops. How
much longer would she even be able to prepare Howard any meal before the disease weakened her to the point of uselessness? Marjorie didn’t fear death as much as she feared helplessness.
Howard grabbed a rag and wiped at the ice building on the windshield. “We’ll freeze to death sitting in this car.”
Marjorie’s eyes met his in a flash. “Want
Tears brightened Howard’s eyes. “I
heard once people killed by hypothermia simply fall asleep.” With shaking
fingers he turned the ignition key and shut the engine down. He looked at Marjorie,
and without saying a word, clasped her hand in his. “Remember when Scotty
had chickenpox, and I bought him that book of riddles?”
A chill raced through her. Was it wrong to ask Howard to join her in death? She nodded. “You two sat there for hours testing my riddle-solving skills.”
Howard chuckled. “Still remember some of
them. What’s black and white, and red all over?”
2000 Dodge Caravan
“Wow, look at the ice building on their back window.” Georgia pointed
to the Crown Victoria directly in front of them. “Think they turned their
“Looks like,” Father Ed Conner said without glancing at his auburn-haired
“They’ll freeze to death without the heater.”
“Probably just turned it off for a while to save their battery.” He stole a nervous look at her. “I’m
going to do the same. Get out and stretch my legs a bit.” He opened the van door and stepped out into the biting wind.
“But it’s freezing,” he heard her protest. That’s the idea, he thought. He hoped the cold would diminish the stirring she was causing in his
loins. They’d told him twenty-two years ago in seminary that his sexual
urges would never cease, but would diminish over time. Still, at sixty-one years
old, Father Ed never saw this coming. It had been years since a woman had awakened
his desires like Georgia did. And he didn’t know what it was about her
that was doing it. She was quite plump by today’s standards, and her bulging
eyes were reminiscent of a frog’s. Yet the pouting lips that trembled as
she told him of the crisis in faith she was having hadn’t gone unnoticed. Nor
had her exotic aroma of must and strawberries. Did she dab perfumed oil behind
her ears to make her smell so fine? Or was it just her natural scent? These were the kinds of questions that had kept him tossing and turning at night; insomnia that wasn’t
abated by fervent prayer.
Thick ice crackled under his feet as he paced the length of the van. He should never have offered to pick her up from her mother’s in the church van. He fingered the white cloth of his clerical collar, and pulled it away from the heated skin of his neck. Indeed, he was having a crisis in faith of his own.
57 Passenger Luxury Tour Coach
Riff pointed out the window and laughed. “Look. Divine intervention.”
Amanda glanced outside at the priest walking up and down the pavement before returning her
attention to the acoustic guitar. She strummed the two chords she’d put
together and sang, “The icy patch he placed in her heart never melted away.”
Riff pulled her toward him and nuzzled her neck. He
hadn’t shaved again and his rough whiskers scratched her cheek. “Quit.”
She put her fingers on his chin and pushed his face away. “I’m trying
to work here.”
“Jesus, Amanda,’ he complained. “Second
time this week you rejected me. Could give a man a complex, you know?”
“We need another ballad for the album by next Tuesday. And besides—” She
tilted her head toward their drummer. “Nate’s sitting right over there.”
Riff scoffed. “So what? It’s not like he spared us watching him screw a hot number in every city on this tour.”
“Did you talk to him about that like I asked?”
“No, because it’s none of our business.”
“It is our business. Our band has an image
to maintain, and him screwing around while his wife’s home pregnant with twins is not something I want Amanda’s
Boys associated with.”
“We’ve been touring non-stop for five months.” Riff shrugged. “The
road gets lonely.” He put
his arm around Amanda and gave her a sheepish smile. “Unless you have your
wife with you.” He brushed his lips across her cheek. “Come on. It’s boring just sitting here.”
Amanda pulled out of his embrace. “I said
Riff stood in a huff. “And they call you
the sexiest woman in rock and roll. If they only knew.”
Yes, if they only knew, Amanda thought, how much I regret marrying you. The press had dubbed her and Riff couple of the year for the last three.
The first year, Amanda believed it. The love she shared with her bass
guitarist seemed magical. So, when was it she started thinking of that
magic as black?