Beethoven’s Ode to Joy began to play. By the second bar, Rebecca Mayfield had snapped open her cell phone.
“Rebecca? Hey! Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“Oh, Midnight! No, it’s not a bad time.” Rebecca tried to calm her voice so Midnight wouldn’t detect her stressed-out state.
“Okay. Well, I tried your apartment and no answer, so I thought maybe you were out.”
“Hoped. You hopedI was out. On a date. With some tall, dark, handsome, eligible bachelor-type guy destined to be the next Mr. Rebecca Mayfield. Well, no way. I’ve told you that.” She began twisting the back of her diamond stud earring.
“Ugh. You’re at work, aren’t you? You need to cut your hours, my dear.”
“Midnight, I’m the boss. I set an example by working hard.”
“Right. We’ve had this conversation. You’re extremely good at what you do. I can attest to that. Without you on my side, Jeffrey and his attorney would have ruined me. But Rebecca, you need to give yourself a rest once in a while.”
“Okay. Fine. I will.” She leaned her head back, tried to relax, but the movement strained her tense shoulder muscles. “It’s the holidays, after all. I’ll be taking some time off.”
“Great! Exactly what I’m calling about. Martin and Daniel and I want you to come down to Legend and spend Christmas with us. The entire town is decorated for the holiday. There’s even a little bit of snow on the ground, which is unusual for around here. Seriously, it’s prettier than a greeting card. This is the perfect time to make your first visit. So just grab a flight and head down. The apartment over The Emporium is available, and it’s partly furnished, so you can even have your own space if you’d rather not stay with us. How does it sound?”
“Oh, Midnight, it’s sweet of you guys. Martin hasn’t even met me in person, so I can’t imagine he’d want me there. Let alone Daniel. He’s fifteen now, right? I remember Blaine at his age. An extra adult around isn’t what he wants for Christmas. And I wouldn’t want to horn in on your holiday.”
“You’re not horning in. We’re inviting you, stupid. We want you here. So, it’s all set, okay?”
“Why not? What could be better than a small town Christmas?”
It did sound interesting, but at the moment Rebecca felt old and tired. Not at all merry. Her doctor had recently told her she was pushing her luck on her health with the schedule she kept and the constant stress—especially since she’d turned forty this year. He’d given her a prescription for anti-depressants, told her to take some high-powered vitamins, eat healthier, exercise daily, and get more sleep. The man obviously had no clue what it took to be the best divorce attorney in New York City.
Her staff and associate attorneys respected her, and wisely kept their distance. Occasionally she heard herself referred to as The Dragon-Lady, but that was part of being at the top. The firm was her livelihood, her career, and since Stephen had died and Blaine had gone to college, it had become her life. Rebecca Mayfield was respected and successful—at times, even feared. Her suite of offices was beautiful, with expensive, tasteful décor. Mayfield & Associates had become the embodiment of Rebecca Mayfield.
“Midnight, you’re railroading me. This is not like you. I have work.”
But work was all she had, for the first time in what seemed like forever. There was no one in the entire city she really wanted to spend Christmas with.
“Um, let me think about it, okay? It sounds great, of course. Just let me think about whether or not I can manage it.”
“Well. Okay, Rebecca. The invitation is open. You come on down to Legend. We hope you want to. I’ll e-mail you the directions, because cell reception is spotty sometimes. And hey—I don’t mean to be pushy.”
“You’re an organizer. It’s just your way. Mine, too. That’s not a bad thing.” Rebecca absently straightened the items on her desk. Stapler here, paper clip dispenser here, two-hole punch here. “I appreciate the thought, and the fact that you really do want me there. Just let me think it through. Don’t expect me. But on the other hand, I might show up. Can we leave it at that?”
“Sure, Rebecca. No pressure. Um. One tiny thing. There’s someone we’d like you to meet.”
Rebecca’s eyes rolled. Oh no!
“It’s not a big deal, really. We haven’t said anything to him. Just a casual meeting here with lots of other people around. You like him, maybe it’ll go somewhere, you don’t, nothing’s lost. But I thought I’d mention it, because once you got here you’d figure it out, and then you’d probably rip my head off. Tactfully, of course.”
In spite of herself, Rebecca smiled. “You know me too well. But I am really not looking right now. Just had something end rather poorly, and, well, it’s definitely too soon. So please don’t get your hopes up on that, okay? It’s good of you, but still.”
“All right. Understood. But think about Christmas. No pressure. Just show up Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Sooner if you want.”
“If I do come, what can I bring?”
“Just yourself, and a sense of adventure. Martin’s family is huge, and they love getting together at holidays. Very festive. There’s also a Christmas Eve candlelight church service we can go to in town. It’s non-denominational, and really nice. Just about everybody goes.”
Rebecca imagined it. Small town Christmas. Picturesque. Hokey. But somehow, surprisingly tempting. Midnight’s life had turned around when she moved to Legend, Tennessee from the City. Perhaps there was something special there for Rebecca too. “I’ll think about it. Thanks, Midnight. Maybe I’ll see you.”
Maybe a quaint little snow-covered mountain Christmas was just the tonic she needed.
A lifetime later, Rebecca hated Christmas. Hated the tiny white rental car she’d had to settle for. Hated, hated, hated snow. It was blowing hard, coming at her in waves it seemed, as she gripped the steering wheel for dear life and stared in what she hoped was the direction the road was headed. She wished now that when she’d exited the Interstate eons ago, she had just pulled up to the entryway of a friendly motel and asked for a room.
If she saw a motel now, she would do it, no question. But Rebecca hadn’t seen one in a long time. She hadn’t even seen a house in quite a while. Or another car. Or even one of those dratted SUVs that had towered over her and sprayed the little rental car with snow and road salt for so many hours. During her flight from the City to Ashville, Rebecca marveled at the fact that she was on her way to Tennessee for Christmas. She’d never been in the state before. And except for the fact that it was generally shaped like a parallelogram, and had a famous mountain range, she knew little about it.
Midnight Shelby had moved there after the ugly divorce Rebecca had represented her in. Midnight had been done with men, done with the corporate life, and had wanted a major change. She found the little town of Legend, Tennessee on the internet by way of a realtor’s web site. She bought a building sight unseen, moved there and started a business, The Emporium, selling locally made arts and crafts.
Not long after, Midnight had fallen in love with her realtor, the handsome Martin McClain. Now she was Martin’s very happy wife, and step-mom to Daniel, age fifteen. What a difference two years had made! And now, finally, Rebecca was on her way to her friend’s new hometown. At least she had been on her way, while she’d been able to follow the printed directions and see road signs. Now…who knew? Finding Midnight’s idyllic town was turning into a stress-fest all its own.
She was definitely in a mountain range, on a small road or highway. She didn’t know which and couldn’t see enough outside to know if there were road signs or not. It was just one big white blur all around her, and further out was the darkness of night. The little white car was invisible in it, even to her. There wasn’t a working radio so she could hear meteorologists tell her she was in the middle of a blizzard.
Which she definitely was.
The only thing that kept her going was the set of tracks she’d been following. She hoped the person ahead of her was going somewhere she’d be welcome, too. She knew better than to try to catch up with the vehicle, as the snow was slippery. Was there ice underneath? She’d never seen whatever had made the tracks. It seemed forever since she’d seen another human being. Any human being would be such a welcome relief to her right now.
What about Gerald? Tall, blonde, handsome, successful Gerald with the amazing kisses and talented hands. She wondered if she would be glad to see him. It had been a few weeks now since the text message.
Dprtr chngd. Thx 4 evthg. G.
He’d changed the departure date on the romantic cruise Rebecca had planned and paid for, and had taken another woman. Rebecca phoned his cell from the doorman’s desk at her apartment building, to fool Gerald’s caller ID. When he answered, Rebecca confronted him and asked point-blank. He admitted he’d found someone else. He did, however, offer to remain Rebecca’s friend. At least she had the satisfaction of hanging up on him.
Maybe Gerald was looking for something more. Something like happily ever after. Rebecca, in her vast personal and legal experience, knew it didn’t exist.
No, even as lost and weary as she was, she knew she’d cheerfully run Gerald down in the road if he’d had the misfortune to be there.
Without taking her eyes off the tracks in the snow, Rebecca reached across to her little tapestry handbag perched on the laptop case in the passenger seat. She pulled her cell phone out of its exterior pocket and flipped it open. No tiny light shone up at her. She’d left the phone on during the drive when its battery had already been low, and now it was totally dead. The charger in her suitcase wouldn’t do any good—it was for a wall outlet. Rebecca didn’t own a car charger, since she didn’t own a car.
“Great!” She snapped the phone closed again, slipped it into its pocket. “But who would I call anyway? And what would I tell them? Hey Midnight, I’m on the way. But I actually have no clue where I am. Can you come and get me? I’ll be the one in the invisible white car in the giant blizzard. See you in a sec, girlfriend. Bye.”
Earlier, if she’d called to ask Midnight if she was taking the right exit, that would have helped. But Rebecca had the printed directions and tiny map. She’d been too sure of herself to ask for help. Self-assurance was a plus in her line of work. You don’t take a client into divorce court if you’re uncertain of your abilities. Rebecca had always been self-assured, self-confident, self-reliant.
She found it difficult to be glad for those qualities at this moment, however.
Having a harder time seeing the tracks, she wondered whether she was falling further behind, or if the snow was coming down faster. The term snow-blindness entered her mind. The way it swirled in her headlights was hypnotic. She just wanted to lay her head down and sleep. Her eyelids drooped time and again, and once they stayed shut for a fraction of a second too long.
When she opened them, the little car was sliding off the road into a very soft, white ditch. The sound of metal against metal told her that somewhere along the right side of the car there was a fence.
She wasn’t hurt, had been traveling too slowly and come to such a cushy stop, there hadn’t seemed to be much of an impact, except for the scraping of the fence. Plus she always wore her seat belt.
Rebecca sighed with relief.
She knew it was ridiculous to be glad she was stuck in a snow bank, but in a way that was fine. She didn’t want to drive anymore. How long would the little car have traveled on the most recent tank of gas she’d bought? It had been too long already! She painfully removed her shaking fingers from the steering wheel. Should she let the car run or turn it off? Not knowing, she let it run and left the lights on, hoping someone would come along and notice her. Preferably someone in one of those four-wheel-drive SUVs with lots of room, and the ability to get where they were going.
She looked at her watch. Eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve night, sitting in a rental car in a snowstorm. Not her cup of tea. But no way was she going to get out of the car and try to walk to shelter. Her stomach growled. She’d stopped at a fast food place when she’d filled the car with gas, but that was hours ago. Drinking the last of her cold coffee from the Styrofoam cup, she settled back into the seat to rest…and wait.
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