Hayter’s Christmas short story this year is a two parter.
“Charlie and the Baseball Man”
“It’s nine more miles to the rest area. Can you hold out that long?” Lorne kept glancing at the lump in the passenger seat. It was wrapped in a maroon blanket on which was emblazoned the image of a giant, growling grizzly. Quite appropriate, he thought, considering the low toned groans and snorts that kept surfacing from beneath the blanket.
“Azphloot!” -- “Bless you,” Lorne responded. “You’ve been making some odd noises under there, but I’m assuming that was a sneeze. So, can you hold out for a few more minutes?”
A corner of the blanket was slowly withdrawn, just enough to uncover the face of a young lady with a complexion just a whiter shade of pale… as the song goes. “I’ll try not wet on your precious seat covers,” Charlie said. “But, step on it, would you?” Then her face sank again beneath the bear.
“I hope you realize I would’ve never agreed to this venture had you mentioned having a bladder the size of a grape.”
Her face appeared much quicker this time. “I can’t help it. I sometimes get this way when I’m nervous. It has nothing to do with my bladder size. And that was a rude thing to say to a sick person, Mr. Uber Man.”
“I’ve got nothing to do with Uber. I’m just a guy with an old pickup who’s trying to get you to Tacoma. You’re the one who asked ME. And, if you recall, I did not sound the least bit excited about the notion? Did I?”
He did not. Before she contacted him, he was prepared to spend the remainder of the Christmas holidays alone in Mrs. McNatt’s garage apartment. He would walk around downtown Missoula, and observe all the Holiday hoo-hah in one of the most festive locales in the country.
Then came the call from a Charlene Sandal. The young lady had a proposition for him. Asked that he meet her in the lobby of her dorm. There was the sound of desperation in her voice… mixed with just a tad of enchantment. She said she knew him from church. She was the girl with the short black hair cut in a bob; usually wore plaid, and sat on the left side of the auditorium mid-way down. Sat next to Jayden and Maxie. – Lorne didn’t have a clue.
Charlene (goes by the name Charlie) hated philosophy. Had no idea why she majored in a subject about the thoughts of people who pretended that what they had to say was soooo important. For a year and half she’d been studying philosophy. Hated her minor nearly as much. Psychology.
Charlie had decided to cut and run. Quit the University of Montana and move back home to Tacoma. Take the remainder of her college funds that had generously been provided by her parents, rent an apartment in the city where she could bide her time searching for a job that paid a lot and was fun to do. She was upset she hadn’t thought of the idea during her first semester.
So, she needed someone to haul her and her stuff to Tacoma. She’d pay $500, the gas and include a $20 a day food allowance. Once there, the driver could drop off her stuff and leave. Lorne had stopped listening after hearing “$500.”
That was two days ago. They were now just outside of Spokane on a dark desert highway. Charlie had a cold and a spastic bladder. Lorne was not sure if the two ailments were related. “I know you can’t help it, Charlie. If I thought you could, I would’ve left you back at McDonalds. The one three miles from your dorm.” Charlie’s laugh caused her to shoot a stream of snot into the blanket. What did she care? She had left every shred of her dignity back in Montana.
“Here’s the exit!” Lorne said. “Hold on, L’il Missy! I’m taking this on two wheels.” Charlie was out and running before the truck reached a complete stop. Lorne got out to stretch his legs. What a day. What a last couple of days. What a last couple of years! After having to give up his baseball scholarship due to a shattered elbow, he had to take out a college loan to make it through the remainder of his Sophomore year at UofM. He was going to sit out his junior year to raise money for school, but that would mean he would have to save money while paying off his college debt of $10,000.
Then, out of the blue, an old lady, Mrs. Vera McNatt, pulled him aside after church service and told him that she had learned about his scholarship problem and knew that he had to be short of funds. She suggested he move into her upstairs garage apartment. It would need refurbishing, but it was his for as long as he needed it. She’d furnish the materials, if he would take care of the labor involved with fixing the place up.
What a Godsend… for the both of them. Over the past several months, Vera McNatt and he had become close friends. Early on, Mrs. McNatt suggested that since he had a pickup and was already driving a few friends back and forth to campus, that maybe he should start up a taxi service to help with his expenses. He was well respected among his peers, so word of mouth would be all he needed for advertisement.
Well, word did get around, and before you could say “Taxi!” He had more fares than he could handle. He wasn’t getting rich, but he was getting by. More importantly, he returned to UofM for his junior year.
Lorne was staring at an assortment of canned drinks inside a caged vending machine on the porch of the rest area, when a lone figure sidled up to him and delivered a hip bump. “Okay, I’m good to go, Mr. Antsy Pants. You want I should drive?”
Lorne did not want. Charlie was obviously feeling a bit better. She began talking more. A lot more. She was getting worried about what her parents would think of her quitting college. Lorne suggested that the news might go over a bit better if she didn’t mention the part about collecting her college money so she could move to an apartment and look for a fun job that paid a lot. Charlie acted hurt that he didn’t realize that she was joking when she told him that. What did he take her for?
When asked if she was joking about hating philosophy, she informed him that part was true. The lie was about her having majored in philosophy. She was a geology major. And she had just failed chemistry. A geologist has to know about minerals and the periodic table and atoms and stuff. How could she be a geologist if she couldn’t pass chemistry. Her mom would be so disappointed. And, her daddy would kill her.
Lorne told her that she didn’t have to lie to him about all that stuff. That he didn’t care one way or the other. She had the money and he had the truck. That’s all that mattered to him. That confession won him a good elbow to the ribs.
The next town of significance had a small motel with a flashing vacancy sign. Charlie told Lorne to pull in. She needed a hot shower, hot soup and a warm bed. Lorne informed her that the Maggie’s Motel likely didn’t offer complementary soup. Then he told her to go check in and he’d procure himself a room after unloading some of her cra—stuff.
Upon getting Charlie’s suitcase situated in her room, he told her good night and instructed her to be ready by eight in the morning. She walked over and gave him a hug, and whispered in his ear, “Nine works better for me.”
He said, “Yes, boss, and headed for the door. She told him that if he checked his left back pocket he’d find a key to the room next door. He told her that he intended to sleep in his truck.
“I knew that,” she said. “I’ll see you shortly after 9:30 tomorrow morning. By the way, you need a shower, Baseball Man.”
Baseball Man? He never told her about being on the baseball team. If he hadn’t been so tired, he might’ve tried to get her to tell him what was going on. Instead he, put the contents of his pockets on the night stand, slipped off his shoes and fell across the bed. It couldn’t have been more a than minute or two, there was a knock on the door. Sure enough, it was Charlie. She was wearing a terry-cloth robe that had a tiny gap that indicated she was not wearing PJs.
“There’s a spider in my shower,” she said.
End Part I
scroll down for Part II