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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man drives away from the life he knew. Everything and everyone he loved is behind him. Everyone except one person.

The bright headlights pierced through the thick darkness in front of the lone car speeding along the highway. Yellow lines appeared from the encroaching blackness, flashed by, then ended their short existence in a red flare before they were again taken by the dark. Only about one of five reflectors remained to light up the center line, and at times disappeared altogether, making it more difficult to see the road lines. A sign lit up, informing drivers that the speed limit was 55. Ethan glanced down at his speedometer, which read 67. He pressed down harder on the accelerator.

Ethan’s heavy eyelids threatened to close over his tired, bloodshot eyes, and the road became blurry in his sleep-deprived state. A shaking hand shot up to rub the fatigue from his eyes, then reached for his gas-station coffee. He brought the cup to his lips and felt the lukewarm liquid hit his tongue before his trembling caused the coffee to spill onto his shirt. He cursed as he gripped the steering wheel harder to quell the quivering in his hands, which had little to do with his lack of sleep. 

“Daddy?” came a tired voice. Ethan glanced down at the young girl sitting in the passenger seat, her head resting on a pillow.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, did I wake you?” Ethan said. 

She rubbed at her eyes and said, “Yeah, kinda. What’s wrong?”

More than you know, child. “Nothing, I just spilled my coffee is all.” Ethan cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the stretch of road that was currently visible. “It’s late, honey,” Ethan said, glancing at the clock on the dash board, “you should get some sleep.”

His daughter produced a drawn-out yawn, as if to support his statement. “I can’t sleep, my neck hurts and it’s too bumpy.” Ethan looked back at his daughter. In the dark it was difficult to see the features that made her his beautiful little girl, but her small form was still discernible. So small, so fragile. The shoulder strap of her seatbelt was behind her back; otherwise it would have gone across her face. Ethan smiled.

“You should really try, Ella, tomorrow’s going to be a long day,” Ethan said, reaching across to stroke her hair. 

“Are we going home tomorrow, Daddy?” Ella asked.

Ethan’s smile disappeared. “No, Ella. We can’t go home tomorrow.” For the first time that night Ethan welcomed the darkness. Anything to keep him from seeing the disappointed look on his daughter’s face. 

“But Daddy.” The hurt in her voice was nearly as bad as seeing it on her face. “I wanna go home. I don’t like being in the car.”

Ethan tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but only succeeded in tightening the knot in his stomach. “I know, honey, but we can’t,” Ethan said.

“Why not?” Ethan knew without looking that Ella had on her pouty face, the one she reserved for when she didn’t get her way. It almost made him smile again.

“Because, Ella, there’s—” Ethan paused to compose himself. “There’s nothing for us at home anymore.”

“What about Mommy?” Ella said. The innocence of his daughter and her loaded question brought his sorrow and pain bubbling up to the surface again, which, admittedly, had not been buried deep. A sob caught in his throat as he felt a tear streak down his cheek. 

With a deep, shuddering breath, Ethan said, “Mommy is gone, princess.” 

“Gone where? Will she meet us tomorrow?” Ethan wiped the tears from his eyes. How to explain this to a child? 

“No, sweetheart. We won’t be seeing her again.” This time a sob escaped his lips. 

“What?” Ella asked. “But how will she give me my bedtime kiss if we don’t see her no more? Who will make cookies for my lunch? Who will—”

“I will,” Ethan blurted. “I’ll do all those things, don’t worry. I’ll give you as much as I possibly can.” His voice broke on the last word. 

“But it’s not the same, Daddy,” she said, her tone almost matter-of-fact. “Mommy had a special way of doing everything. Can’t you please ask her to come back.”

“No,” he said, teeth gritted in an attempt to hold back the tears.

“I wanna see Mommy. I wanna go back.” Ethan pulled to the side of the road and slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a squealing halt. He doubted that another car would come upon them on the remote highway at this time of night, but he didn’t want to take the risk. He shoved the stick-shift into neutral and pulled the parking brake. Flicking on the overhead light, he turned to Ella. 

Grabbing Ella by the shoulders, Ethan said, “Listen to me, Ella. We cannot go back. Mommy is not at home, she will never be at home again.” He gave up on trying to contain his tears. “There is nothing there for us but bad memories and death. They got her and it’s my fault, but I will not let them get to you, too. That is why we can’t go back. Because I can’t lose you like I lost your mother.” By the end he was almost shouting, and the look on Ella’s face was hard to bare, but she had to understand. 

Her expression was a mix of fear, shock, and sadness, and tears were glistening in her eyes. He wouldn’t blame her right now for hating him. He’d torn her from her bed in the middle of the night, shoved her in a car and drove for hours, and to top it off he had just screamed in her face. Ethan figured she would start bawling, screaming, kicking and punching, anything other than what she did. With a tenderness that only a child can pull off, Ella wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed. “Okay, Daddy. I’ll try to get to sleep.” 

Weeping, Ethan hugged his daughter, thanking God that he at least still had her. 

Within the blackness of the night, the full moon finally started to peek over the distant mountains.

Submitted: January 10, 2018

© Copyright 2021 J. R. Merrick. All rights reserved.

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Brilliantly done. From the struggle to stay awake night-driving, to the loss of control when a child won't stop asking, But Ethan managed to keep his cool and explain things. A complete story in a 'Flash'.

Thu, January 11th, 2018 6:58pm

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