Marcy peered through the truck’s wipers at the steady snowfall. Nice touch for Christmas Eve, she thought. Might not make the family gathering if the storm worsened. A mixed blessing. “I Dreamed A Dream” blasted full volume from the truck radio. Yeah, she thought as she listened to the lyrics: I dreamed that love would never die. That’s what love was—a dream. For her, a fantasy. “No more tears,” she shouted.
A loud rap grabbed her attention. She turned the radio volume down. More rapping. She smelled burning oil. A heavy cloud of exhaust smoke was visible in the rear view mirror. “Oh, no.” Relieved to see an exit ahead, she crawled off the highway, and into the parking lot of the nearby truck stop.
Marcy slumped back. She pulled out her cell and hit speed dial. Her Uncle Bob answered on the first ring. “New York stops are done, but the engine’s losing power.” A loud groan pushed through the phone.
“Sheesh. Those toys were a donation from the Acme Company. We promised to get the toys to the Boxburg Children’s Center. If we want to keep that account, we’ve got to pull it off.”
“I know.” She drummed her fingers on the wheel. What else could go wrong?
“I’ll get the tractor towed and a rental to you ASAP. Hang tight and stay warm. And, hey, kid, are you okay with everything else? Jeff is a big jerk. He did you a favor like I’ve said. Back soon.” A favor? Dumping her the day before their wedding?
Marcy opened the Diner door into the brightly lit space. She plunked down in the nearest booth and ordered coffee. She covered her face and groaned.
“You okay?” Marcy looked up. An attractive man in need of a shave stared from the next booth.
She grimaced, pushing fingers through curly black hair. “I’m okay, but plenty of kids won’t be.”
“Why’s that?” He reached for his coffee mug.
“My tractor’s engine is having problems and there’s a load of toys that need to be at the Children’s Shelter in Boxburg before the evening is out. If not, there’s going to be disappointed kids and we’ll lose the Acme account.”
“So everybody loses,” he said. “You look familiar. Related to anyone at Daley Trucking?”
“My Grandfather started it.”
“I knew it. Worked there as a trucker, and you hung out at the terminal a lot didn’t you?
“You’re Brad Ritter. I had a wicked crush on you ”she blurted. Practiced writing Mrs. Brad Ritter, in my diary. Should have written Marcy Daley is an idiot.”
Dimples pushed through Brad’s five o’clock shadow as he grinned. “Nah, and I’m flattered. You were what? Fifteen, sixteen at the time?”
“I was an old man of twenty-one. Big difference then but no longer.” They both chuckled.
“Been driving tractor trailers for long, Marcy?”
“Four years. Must be in the genes.” She laughed. “Never drove this route, but the scheduled driver was sick. Had nothing going on.” She shrugged.
“Tell you what. I’ve got a tandem trailer with a fifth wheel. I’m driving empty. I’ll hook my tractor to your trailer, and drive you to Boxburg. Bet it takes longer than the usual four hours. Snow is piling up.”
“You’re on. I’ll let my uncle know there’s a change of plan.” After she called home, they made the switch as wind swirled snow around the parking lot. The truck made its slow way to the turnpike.
“Thanks for helping out, Brad, but won’t your family be worried?”
“My wife died from cancer two years ago. Never had kids, so I’m a free agent.”
“I’m sorry. Life is so unfair,” Marcy said.
“You speaking from experience?”
“My situation is nowhere near as bad as yours.”
“My boyfriend called off the wedding yesterday. Said marriage wasn’t on his radar after all. We were supposed to be married tonight.”
“You’re kidding. So last minute?”
“Yep” Marcy strangled a sob.
“A jerk. You lucked out.”
“You sound like my uncle,” she said, her laugh shaky. “Can’t believe I’m telling you about the most humiliating experience of my life.”
“Better humiliation than marrying an idiot. You got the best end of that deal.”
“Somehow hearing it from a stranger makes it feel better. Don’t know why.”
“Sometime it’s easier.” He reached out and gave her hand a squeeze. Marcy enjoyed the comfort and returned the pressure.
They followed the plows, and sand trucks, making slow time. Marcy looked at her watch for the umpteenth time. 11:00 P.M. Didn’t’ look good.
“Oh, no. Hang on. That guy’s going to hit us.” Brad gunned it, getting out of the way of the Lincoln sliding across the median toward them. The car bounced off the back wheels, just missed going underneath the trailer, then spun, sliding down a small gully.
Brad pulled over. He grabbed a handful flares from behind the seat and thrust them at Marcy. “Put these behind the truck and call the State Police. I’m going down there.” Using a flashlight, he picked his way to the car. The driver, an older man, was shaken, but okay.
“Thought I was doomed,” said the man.
“Saw you coming, so I speeded up to get out of your way.”
“Your quick thinking saved my life. I’m grateful.”
A police car arrived. Together, the trooper and Brad stayed with the driver until the ambulance came.
“You’re in good hands,” Brad told the man. “Got to deliver a load of toys to the Children’s Shelter.”
“Wait.” The man reached for his wallet and withdrew a wad of bills and handed them to Brad. He added a business card. “You ever need anything, call me. Merry Christmas.”
“You must be Santa. Thanks.” Brad patted the man’s shoulder then made his way back to the highway where Marcy waited.
After they had climbed into the truck, Brad handed her the money and business card. Marcy counted 3000 dollars. “Wow. The Shelter lucked out. Those kids will have one great Christmas” She squinted to read the card in the dim light. “You’ll never believe this. That guy is the owner of Chester Appliance. We’ve been trying to get his account for years. It’s weird. Nothing has gone right, yet everything somehow fits together.”
It was breakfast time when they pulled into the Shelter parking lot. “Shall we tell them that Santa had a tough time and needed our help?” Brad asked.
Marcy liked the sound of we. It felt good – right even.
“Hey, Brad. If you’ve got nothing on, why not come to Christmas dinner with my family.”
“I’d feel strange being the new guy at a family gathering.”
“I think, Brad, you were sent into my life for a reason. You saved Christmas for the kids, and you saved the Acme account for us. Everyone will be happy to meet you.
“Okay, I’m convinced. This is going to be one great Christmas.” He reached for her hand. “C’mon. We’ve got toys to unload.” He jumped out to open the truck. Marcy followed.
“Merry Christmas!”Brad shouted to the world.
Marcy couldn’t stop grinning.