Excerpt for Take a Chance, Romance! by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Take a chance, "Romance"!

Written by: A. Foster

Dedicated to my sister Joy.

It was a cold winter day in February. Nothing really special as days go. In fact it was the kind of day that you might even skip by accident in your daily diary. If you did remember to write it down, it might simply have been to state the day was cold and cloudy. However, that was to change unexpectedly. It was unasked for, unrequested, and no one signed up for anything to get it. It just happened. The letter. It came in the mail. It was not in a fancy envelope or even in a card sized one. Just a plain white, envelope like the kind bills come in. That is to say except that there was no window in the front. It was simply addressed to the lady of the house. In fact, it was almost missed among the other brightly colored ads for groceries and the ever-present "occupant" sales promotions.

Karen was tired again this morning but trying to get things done anyway. If she could finish quickly, she might even go back to bed. That was a hard cot in the master bedroom. She had to buy that as the furniture was all gone. So when Karen tossed the mail onto the table, she did not notice, that the letter slid off to the side, again not drawing too much attention to itself. She walked to the coffee pot and poured a quick cup. It would be nice to find a little strength in the magic black brew. Ah, that first taste helped Karen gather herself and push thoughts of her bed further from her mind. Thinking ahead about her errands and what could be put off, Karen sat back down at the table. Normally she was a taskmaster about things in general. But today and for that matter, the past month, she had settled into getting only what needed to be done, done. A small voice tried to remind her that she should take better care of herself, but it was only a small voice. Setting in the kitchen at half-past 10:00 am in her pajamas, hair un-brushed, and no makeup, was a testament to her unwillingness to do what needed to be done. Whatever that was, she was still unclear anyway in her own thoughts. Death does that to you. She missed Tim very much.

Karen was fifty years old. She stood all of five foot two inches high. Her hair was soft brown with only a sprinkle of gray strands and her eyes were green-blue. By most standards, you would think she was nice looking. By her own standards, she dared not show her face. Too many years of being put down, and belittled, left scars that don't usually ever go away. The cost and baggage we all have from bad relationships.

Karen sat quietly in the kitchen. The house had belonged to her big brother. It had passed to him from their grandfather. In fact, it had been in the family for many years even before that. Tim had died about a month ago. It had been an accident on the main highway just outside of town. Karen was passed the house in his will. Everyone had flooded the place for a whole week, for the viewing and funeral services. Thankfully, they were all gone now. All the family, good friends and "mourning" well-wishers. Yes, mourning. People that came, that wanted you to think they were close relations, and how sorry they were, but were really trying to pick over the carcass. You know the items, collected in our lifetime. Stocks, bonds, pots, pans and anything of value was the target. Actually, by the time Karen arrived all the small stuff had already disappeared. Of course, whoever helped themselves figured, she did not need the living room furniture, the bedroom beds or dressers upstairs and basically everything else except the kitchen table. All that other stuff was in the way of course, to them anyway. The only thing of value was the house itself, and her brother had made very sure her name was on it. Mentally Karen wanted to hug him a thousand times over. He had given her a home when she had been otherwise between or rather completely without one.

Karen had been through a long rough patch and Tim's death was just icing on the cake. After numerous bad relationships, two actual marriages within twenty years and two divorces she had reached a limit. The only saving grace was her daughter Julie. She had been the real treasure of her second marriage. Everything else that could go wrong did for sure. Yet, Julie was going to graduate community college next year with honors. Julie might even go on to a university after that. She would have a real life. That was what every parent hoped for. Having overcome being autistic and unable to talk at three, to a young woman about to go out into the world. That was a past full of good and bad memories if ever there was one. Funny, Karen thought to herself. I guess if I had to do it all again it would be worth that one blessing alone. Julie. Hindsight is 20/20 for sure, Karen realized.

The house itself was a small farmhouse. It was nicely placed exactly forty-nine feet back from the small dirt road, off-highway eight. There were only three other farms on that same road. They, of course, were much farther down, however. Behind the house was one hundred and forty acres exactly of fields, tall trees and the "Wild" as Tim called it. Tim, that was her brother that had passed away. He had died somewhat unexpectedly in a car accident.

Tim used to call the place the forty "Mysterious" acres, and the rest was the "Wild". That was everything just beyond the cleared land. That encompassed most of it by the way, as Grandfather Thomas had given up farming years ago. The story went that he came back one day from trying to farm up near the "Wild" and something happened. He just changed his mind about clearing the trees. People here around thought he was a funny old bird anyway, so it was not talked about much. His current wife at the time named Leslie, up and left that same day. That was okay really as she was never happy on the farm. Karen's real grandma had died a few years before and Grandpa had tried to find happiness with Leslie, but it was never right. Leslie was a city girl her whole life. Word, was that she just never adapted. Whatever happened to Grandpa that day was not okay with her. Bad enough he was a farmer, but when he refused to farm, that was it. Nothing was said, Leslie simply left. Tim told Karen once that Grandpa was happier after that. In fact, until the day grandpa died, he would simply walk all around the Mysterious acres, but never went beyond the edge of where the Wild began. It was just another quirky thing about Grandpa.

Karen had spent a few good times visiting the place as a young girl. Now, it was just hers. The laughter and tears shed were, in the walls of the home, echoing back and forth everywhere. It made Karen happy and sad all at the same time. It also took all her energy. Perhaps it was just the weather that pulled at her, to be quiet. There was no storm as yet on the horizon, only a few grayish clouds. The radio news said there was one on the way. It would come in later at night, sometime after the dinner hour. Karen liked storms as a rule, but alone, now? It did not feel comforting, but foreboding.

Clearing the table off and straightening up a little, Karen finally came across the plain white envelope. Absently she fumbled with the paper and opened it. It was an advertisement. Well, no not really. It was, an invitation? Well, yes in a way. It read:

Dear Lady of the House,

You are hereby formally invited to "Take a chance!". Don't worry about responding, we already know that you are interested and want to hear more.

Karen was thinking that whoever it was that wrote this was very sure of themselves. Then she continued to read:

This very evening, Wednesday the 14th of February, at 6:16 P.M., our driver will pick you up. Please dress to impress. Consider this an opportunity, a new job, a better tomorrow, or if it helps, like winning the lottery. You do want to win, we know you do. So, take a chance and be ready for anything and or everything!

The bottom of the crazy letter read:

Sincerely yours, Arnie McOver of Human Resources

RSVP is not necessary.

This must be some kind of joke? Karen did not really know very many people around the area. She had been gone a very long time. It was more than ten years she knew. That was the last time Karen had seen the old place. Tim had wanted her to stay with him way back then, but as always Karen had said no. Tim was the one person she had truly cared about. He had just been trying to take care of her. At the time, however, she was still trying to save her second marriage. Truth was that lost causes are just that. Karen had spent her life around, people that did not even matter. Trying to make them happy, when the reality is that they were just unhappy people. It was not all their fault. They were who they were. Karen had picked them for all the wrong reasons. Freedom from living with her screaming parents, always at each other throats. That was the story behind the escape to husband number one. Well, in the end, he screamed too, even louder at her. It never mattered why by the way.

The second husband was convenience. Her maternal clock was running and pressure to settle down was running high, too at that time. By the way, those are both bad reasons to get married. In the end, his clock was running a bit too fast. He wanted a family, but also wanted everything else to boot. So that ended like a house built upon sand. Washed away with the tide. However with the waters went her hopes and dreams as well. "Too old to change much about anything", she thought to herself. Sadly, years had passed and Karen found that the person in the mirror was a stranger. Karen missed Tim so much. Half-heartedly she daydreamed about having stayed when he had asked her to, so long back. What would that have been like? She wondered.

Starring at the letter, her hand shook just a little. The last thing she needed was some kind of game show or whatever the letter was about? Karen was not in the mood. In a sudden angry fit, she ripped the letter into little pieces, jumped up and tossed it into the kitchen trash can. Just as it hit the bottom the bell at the front door rang. Karen brushed her long hair back out of her face and headed to the living room to answer. Peeking through the little window she saw a tall blonde man in a postman's uniform. Karen turned the knob and answered the door. "May I help you?"

"Hello. Wow, it really is you? You don't even remember me right? I am William. You know, Will from forty years ago. We played together in the summertime when you came to visit." Will was clean cut, six foot high, medium build with dark gray eyes. The uniform he wore was pressed stiff and showed a great deal of respect for the job.

After a moment or two, the old memory came rushing back to her. "Yes, I do remember. Wow, it has been so long." She smiled and blushed just a little. Karen had not done that since she could remember. Blush I mean. Why would she be nervous around, this guy? Her heart was beating way too fast, and her breath was a bit shallow. Was she sick? No, she thought. Not sick. William had been her brother's best friend. Oh, and by the way, she had a huge crush on him as a girl way back then. Karen remembered that clearly because it felt like it happened just yesterday in her heart.

"I am so sorry to hear about your brother. I can not tell you how much I am going to miss him." Will smiled warmly. "Oh, I have this special delivery letter for you. Please sign here." Will produced a green paper for her signature. "I know you have a lot to do so I won't keep you. Here." The postman produced another plain envelope. "I see you got one too. Not that I am nosy but are you going?" Will grinned.

"You know what this is?" Karen felt a little surprised.

"Why yes, and no, I guess. I deliver them every now and then from place to place. I just know they are important letters. Some people like to take chances and others do not. Then there is a small percentage of people in life that really do, take a chance I mean. In the end, I understand that sadly most people do not. That does not mean to say they are sorry for not having answered the letter. Life is full of choices. We just miss the cues now and then." Will grinned. "Hope you take a chance. Well, I have to go, lots of letters to deliver. It is Valentines Day after all. I will be around from time to time if you ever want to go get a cup of coffee or something." He did not give her much time to answer. Mostly because he was afraid she would say no. If she did not get a chance to respond, he could just fill in the answer for her in his daydreams. That meant he might have a chance at that coffee.

Karen stood gaping as Will nearly skipped across the front walk to his truck and hopped in. Then he drove off. At the last minute, she thought to wave goodbye from the front step. Suddenly she was very conscious of how she looked. "Wow, that was impressive." Karen admonished her self. "Get it together girl. Life is moving on. No time to weep your day away." Then Karen realized she had a letter in her hand. Looking at the face of the envelope it read:

"Take a chance."

Karen opened the letter quickly, excited and angry at the same time. Was this a good thing or was someone trying to harass her? The facts were unclear. As she unfolded the single white sheet of paper inside, she found once again a letter that went over, the date and time, same as the first. How had someone known she would toss the first letter? Was this a gimmick or something for a sales promotion?

Karen closed the front door and headed back to the kitchen. On the wall, there was a pharmacy free calendar. You know the kind they give away every year. Checking quickly, she was right. It was February 14th, just as Will said. It was Valentine's day. Karen had been so caught up in her brother's death, that she had not noticed the silly holiday. Will sure was happy. You would think it was like the second busiest holiday for the post office. Valentines Day after all. All those lovesick people trying to put their false feelings into words they don't mean. "Wow." Karen thought loudly to herself. "I need to get a better view of the world." This time she spoke out loud to no one but the kitchen walls. Obviously, she was still down about Tim and tired from all that went with that. Karen went into the bedroom to get dressed and start the day. She lingered a moment as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. There was a funny smile on her face. "Will"? Push that silly thought right out of my head, she mentally instructed herself.

In half an hour Karen was ready for the day. No surprise it was nearly noon, and half over. Well, half is better than a whole day lost. Time to get moving was her focus. Karen went back into the kitchen. After rummaging through the junk drawer she came up with a pen. No paper, in site. That is except the second letter on the table. Throwing it out did not seem to make it go away, so she thought to herself, I will just make use of it. A few minutes later and Karen had a quick "Do" list written out on the back. Shopping for a few groceries. That was at the top of her list. The house was low on everything. Get there and get back before the storm does come in, that was the plan.

Karen climbed into her little, beat up Ford Escort. It was still a pretty good car in general. It did not look like much but ran well. To her, usefulness was important. Dependable was a word she liked. It was also a word she seldom got to use. If the whole world would just be a bit more dependable. Karen knew it would be a better place. Daydreaming thoughts about nice things. Surprisingly, the visit from the postman had made a change in her mood. It was good. Funny thing, Will, being the postman. She would get to see him almost daily. That was also a nice thought.

Starting the car, Karen put it in gear and headed toward town. It was exactly eighteen miles down the main road. Not a big place. It was on the map with only 1,218 people in the population, clearly listed on the roadside sign. That was seriously about 200 more people than last she visited. In ten years, two hundred people. That was not much of an increase. No more visiting, she thought. This is home. The sign just at the front of main street read: "Welcome friends to Last Stop." There was a story about the founder. Jay Jackson and his family started the town in the late 1800's. It was named Last Stop because it offered food, water, and fuel to customers before they made the long trip to the next possibility. That was a good hundred plus miles down the road. Seriously a long way in the 1800's to go without food and water for sure. Yet in all those years, the town had barely grown at all. Maybe it was because it was a stopover. That was its only claim to fame. Not like other places that led to tourist attractions, famous spots or special scenic parks. Nothing like that. This was just a rest and supply place, before a larger adventure ahead.

Last Stop, had only one small grocery market, a barber shop with an antique striped pole out front, a gas station at either end of the main street and a sprinkling of "stuff" shops. It boasted a couple tiny antique stores, an appliance warehouse the size of a small barn, and even a hardware store. Nothing that really pulled at anyone to get out of the car and buy a postcard, if they even had the time. Most people did not have the time. They just stopped at one of the stations and drove on. The town served it's purpose, just like the founder had intended.

Karen drove to the market and parked in the space right out front. Good timing. A few people were coming and going as she went inside. Last week when she made the same trip, no one would look in her direction. Karen guessed they did not know what to say after all. Was she going to be part of their world or sell the farm? 1,218 people were the closest you get to family size without being blood-related, to Karen's way of thinking. Karen did the math on that in her head and wondered just a little about the blood-related idea? But quickly let it pass. The people of Last Stop, were unusual to be sure, but the reason, who knows? Since Karen had decided to stay, from that moment on, she knew it was her town. That sign back at the entrance to the town was going to remain unchanged. Karen figured that Tim would have liked that. She was simply taking up his number.

There had been a guy at the funeral home which had made a real jerk of himself. Karen did not do any of the inviting to the funeral. The tiny newspaper properly named, "For Your Consideration" shortened to "Consideration", printed the when and where of things and people just came. Tim was well liked. Karen was sure of that. Even after her furniture had disappeared. She did not seem too mad. In fact, she did not remember caring at all really. It was just stuff. Tim was gone. That was the important part. Anyway, this creepy guy kept coming up to her and saying what great friends he had been with her brother. Karen could not now even remember his name. His breath, now that was unforgettable. Yuck. Terrible bad breath. Otherwise, he was just a vague figure in an old blue suit. Repeatedly Karen remembered having to get away, in as polite a manner as possible to the man. He just kept on, with very loud and pressing offers to buy the farm. In the end, he had left her alone. Wait, she remembered. He had pressed a card into her hand and said to call him. She did not remember what she did with it. Obviously, it did not matter.

Quickly Karen moved through the aisles finding the items on her list. Why was she in a hurry. Perhaps it was the sky outside. The day had moved by and the promised storm was not far off. By nightfall, it would be right on top of the town. Earlier, the newsman on the old radio in the kitchen had promised at least an inch or more of rain. Karen headed to the checkout. The line was short and moved quickly.

"Hello. Your Karen right? My name is Sally. Sally Homes. So sorry to hear about Tim." The checker was a tall redheaded woman with a bright, warm smile. The lights flickered in the store suddenly. "Oh my, the electric is going again. That happens around here when the storms come in. Especially at this time of year." Sally, began to ring up Karen's order. It was just to the two them, as no one else was in line waiting. "I love February. I see you got the letter. You are going, right?"

Karen was a bit surprised. She looked down at her grocery list. It was clearly visible to Sally. "You know about this?" Karen's voice was a bit shaky.

"I have seen a couple in my lifetime. No one told you?" The younger woman's voice dropped lower. "I am not one to boast but I have been to two events in my lifetime. They are great." Then for some reason, the woman's face turned very sad. "Well, not always great for everyone I guess." A dark shadow seemed to pass by outside. "There are a few that I have heard don't go. I say, take a chance. But that is just my way of doing things. We are not all the same for sure." Sally smiled brightly bringing herself back from a nostalgic thought from her own past. "I hope you take a chance."

Karen half smiled back at her and handed over the money to pay her bill. Grabbing the two bags, she headed for her car. Placing the bags in the back, she got in and started the Escort. The sky overhead had changed dramatically. The clouds had moved in swiftly and the day had definitely turned dark.

Karen noticed as she glanced at her dashboard that her tank was on "E". She drove on down the road to the gas station just on the edge. The place was empty of cars so Karen drove straight to the pump. Before she could get out of her car, a young man was standing beside the pump. "Hi. Your Karen right? Tim told me all about you. Don't get out. I am Kevin. I run the place. It was my Dad's place, but he is gone now too. I got it like you got the farm." Kevin talked so fast, he seemed to use up all the oxygen around the area. He was not very old really. Maybe in his early twenties. He was an average guy except for his nose. Which was just a bit larger than one would expect for his face. However, his smile was genuine and stood out, overpowering everything else. "Oh. That sounds funny. Sorry. I am a bit tactless. I get told that from time to time. My father passed away and the station came to me." Kevin continued a bit slower.

"Yes. I am Karen." She smiled. "Thank you regarding Tim, I mean. I just need to fill up the tank."

"Sure thing. Oh, I see you got the invitation. Are you going?" Karen noticed that silly letter, which she had turned into a grocery list, laying on the seat beside her. Kevin popped the cap off her car and placed the nozzle in to start the gas. He stepped back to her window to keep talking. "It is a real blow out and it does not happen often enough. The chance part I mean. I have to close up early. Good thing that you came in when you did. You will think about it right. Going?" Kevin put a lot of emotion into that one word. He sort of stood there demanding an answer.

Finally after a long uncomfortable pause, "Um, I am not sure yet." Karen passed her money out the window to Kevin.

"Hope you think about it." Kevin continued and waved good-bye as Karen drove out of the lot and back onto the road.

Karen thought about the funny letter again. A party? An invitation to an event? Whatever the letter really was, it was welcomed around town. Perhaps she would go? Then there was the dark sky overhead. Rain and more rain coming soon enough. Karen drove back to the little farmhouse. She parked her car close to the side door and carried in her groceries. It was only 5:00 pm by the kitchen clock on the stove. Where had the day gone? The sky made it feel much later. Going out on a night like this was silly, or even dangerous. Karen was not going to take a chance.

The good mood she had before she left, was quickly leaving her. It felt like a year had passed since Will had knocked earlier that morning. Karen moved slowly and made a fresh pot of coffee. She sat back down at the kitchen table. The dark thoughts returned tenfold. Tim was gone. Another knock on the door. This time a pounding knock. It scared Karen at first. She jumped up thinking that whoever it was needed help. They were seriously abusing the bell, pushing it again and again.

Karen almost answered without looking. But something stopped her. Right at the front door. Like a great hand that held her from turning the knob. Instead, she peered out through the little peephole. It was that awful man from her brother's funeral. Bad breath and all to be sure. Of course, she could not smell it from her side of the door, but it was not the kind of thing that went away easily. He also wore that same ugly blue suit. As if gripped in fear, she stayed very quiet. Finally, he stopped pounding and ringing the bell. There was a long silence. Then he twisted around, back toward the road and stomped off out of her view. Moments later she heard a car start and retreat down the road. A few long slow breaths, then she finally relaxed.

Slowly Karen turned and was going to go back to the kitchen. Inside she was more than a little thankful the man had left. She took one step and a new sound caught her attention. It was very small. Karen nearly missed it completely. But then. "Meow". Very slowly, very carefully, Karen returned to the front door. She peered out the little hole again. The man was definitely gone. That was good. "Meow". Her hand shaking, she turned the knob. There on the front step was a tiny little kitten. It was snow white except for a black spot on the right ear. "Meow".

"Well. Welcome. Who do you belong to?" Karen found herself smiling.

The little animal strolled right in like it owned the place. Carefully it circled her legs until Karen bent to pick it up. She closed the door. Before she got two feet the doorbell rang again. It was like the grand central station. Out in the boon docs and yet more visitors then if she lived right downtown. This time, however, there was no bad feeling. Karen opened the door one handed while cuddling the little kitten close, in the other.

"Oh, I am so glad. I was worried there would be no one to take care of my cat. That shifty younger brother of mine won't do it. He wants to make sure I don't go at all. He must be bothering you a lot to sell this place. The old woman at the door was dressed to the hilt. She was easily in her eighties. The silver hair on her head was carefully curled and held in place by small, rind stone pins. Her dress was soft blue and came to just below her knees. It had a slightly oriental design to it. Karen was not good at history generally, but the overall look reminded her of a woman in an old WWII war movie. You know the kind of a girl would wear going to the USO for the troops perhaps.

"Tim and I talked about it often. He said the only way to get a second chance was to be unexpected. He died unexpectedly right?" The bold, woman continued. "In my mind, this is a window of opportunity. I want to go to the party with you." There was a hushed silence between them. The sky outside still threatened rain to be sure. A bad night to go out. Karen stared at the stranger.

"I don't have anything to wear." Karen finally responded. Why she said it and not "No" outright, was unclear.

"I thought that might be an issue so, I brought something for you as well." The old woman produced a large silver box. "Are you going to invite me in? Look, my name is Nellie McOver. We are going to be fast friends I assure you." Then without much a due, Nellie pushed past Karen and closed the door. She marched straight back into the little kitchen and placed the box on to the table. No mention at all regarding the empty living room, or the missing furniture. "I have been saving it for a long time, but this is a once in a lifetime chance. Perfect occasion. Well, in my case, perhaps twice." Nellie had tossed off the lid of the box to produce a lovely, if vintage, 1940's green dress. There were even shoes in the box to match.

Karen somehow felt that if she asked about the event being a costume party, she might actually offend the old woman. Suddenly realizing she still held the little kitten in her arms, Karen asked. "You said this was your cat? You're a friend of Tim's?" Wow, there were a bunch of questions that came to mind. Nellie was so friendly, like Will. Her presence had changed Karen's whole mood again. Back, from the dark, sad place. Karen could see Tim being friends with this old lady, easy. They were both talkers. Or Karen thought, had been in Tim's case. It some funny way Karen felt like she had known Nellie her whole life. There was no basis for it, but that did not change anything.

Nellie glanced at the clock on the stove. "You have just enough time to slip this on. The car will be here soon." The woman held out the beautiful dress in one arm and her empty hand in the other. "I will take care of Spot for now. Oh, and you will be a doll and keep him after the party?" Nellie smiled.

Karen was not getting out of this. She really had been trying to put the old woman off, with the "nothing to wear" response. Now she had walked herself right into going. "Take a chance." Does that mean that I am taking a chance by going? Or, does it mean something else? Not wanting to ask herself too many questions, Karen reached across the table and took the dress, handing over the kitten."

"Terrific. Now get dressed. The driver will be here soon." Nellie smiled. "Just between you and me, that is how I knew, I had to try. I was at the station garage earlier. I saw Kevin getting it ready. We are going in his Dad's pride and joy. It is a 1939 vintage Ford Deluxe, convertible. He will leave the top up tonight, but class is class. Up or down, convertible says something." Nellie grinned. "Now hurry. It is not too far, but we don't want to be late."

Karen went into the bedroom. She looked at the dress in her hands and wondered how she had come so far in one day. There had been the lady at the grocery market. The gas attendant, who Karen now knew to be their driver. The odd, persistent man at her door and now Nellie. The best was Will. How had she put him last? Funny how the butterflies in her stomach batted around, just thinking about him. Was she a little girl? No. A grown woman. Relationships were not her thing. All her experience to date could be summed up in one word. Bad. Well, what would it hurt? She could get dressed up, go to this odd party and take a chance or not. Nothing was holding her back, except the storm outside.

"Don't worry about the car. Everything will be just fine." Nellie called back to the bedroom. It was like she knew what Karen had been thinking.

A few minutes later, Karen was all dressed. Starring in the mirror she was amazed. The fine old dress fit her beautifully. Quickly, Karen sat on the cot and slipped on the shoes. "Tim. This is crazy." No answer. Karen was just talking out loud. She had not expected an answer. Something had just made her feel like saying the words out loud. Then there was a knock at the door. It was followed by a single ring from the bell.

"Come on girl, our ride is here." The old woman called from the front room.

Karen walked in to find Kevin waiting just inside the door. He was dressed very handsomely in a full chauffeur's outfit. "Ladies, I will be your driver tonight." It has just started to sprinkle, so I will walk you out to the car separately. Then he promptly stepped to the door and produced a large black umbrella. "Ms. McOver." Kevin extended his other arm and waited. Nellie did not hesitate but grabbed his elbow swiftly and off they headed to the car. Only a few moments passed, and Kevin was back. "Not to be too out of line, I am so glad that you decided to go." He winked happily at her and waited.

Well, she had come too far to go back now. Maybe that is what taking a chance was all about? "Let me get my jacket." Karen turned back to the bedroom and swiftly retrieved her coat. Back to the front room, she crossed the small space and wordlessly, took Kevin's arm. It was cold outside, but not freezing yet. At the car, Kevin opened the door and Karen slid right in. He quickly closed the door and moved to the front. Once behind the wheel, the engine purred to life.

The car began to move forward, things were in motion. Funny, instead of turning the car around in the drive and going back out to the main road, Kevin drove straight on, right through the Mysterious Acres and into the Wild. Straight ahead. He took the tractor road grandpa had always used when he worked the place. It was a bit overgrown but surprisingly smooth. All things considered. Nellie was bubbling over about some kind of dance and a second chance at hand. Whatever, that meant? Karen tried to lean forward and speak to Kevin about where they were going when a light far ahead caught her attention. It was bright like a town only just over the hill. Where did that come from? Karen was shocked to silence.

Kevin drove on like he had been on the road many times. As they got closer, there were more and more buildings until they were in a small town. One that Karen never knew existed just outside the Mysterious Acres and into the Wild? Her mind raced. Maybe Tim dying and all the bad things that had happened to her had finally taken her right over the edge. That was a valid guess. However, Karen hoped not.

The wonderful old car stopped in front of a busy warehouse style theater. It was huge. Turned into a USO club overnight by the town people. There was a great band playing inside and people coming and going at the grand entrance. Happy people. Gathered together to make the best out of hard times. Kevin had swiftly moved to help the ladies out of the car. Opening doors and holding his giant umbrella high, Kevin gave them safe passage from the persistent drizzle to the overhanging marquee. "I will be here to leave when you are ready."

Nellie grabbed Karen by the hand and never looked back. Karen could not believe how the whole town appeared to have received a memo. "For a good time, come to the town party and don't forget to dress 1940's. On top of everything else, there were giant hearts everywhere. 1940 and Valentines Day? Just as they entered the ballroom area, Nellie released Karen's hand. The band stopped playing. All eyes turned to Nellie. She spoke low under her breath. Tell my overbearing brother to get his own life."

The band leader rushed across and greeted her personally. Leading Nellie firmly but gently across the main dance floor, through the crowd and up the steps he handed her a microphone. He leaned in close and whispered something in her ear. A huge smile crossed her features, "Yes, I will marry you." The crowd went wild and the band began to play again. Nellie's voice broadcasted through the mike. It was beautiful. It was sweet, It was romantic. Best of all it sounded just like a second chance.

Back in the car, the old woman had told Karen that she had once been asked to marry a bandleader and refused. She had been afraid that her parents would not have liked him for one reason or another. It did not matter. She had always regretted it. Nellie had also gone on about second chances and how one decision or action changes everything. So when faced with moments that take your breath away, live in those moments as long as possible. A whole lifetime can pass in a single heartbeat and be missed and gone forever.

Everywhere that Karen looked, people were having such a good time. "Hello. I was sure hoping that I would be at the right place, at the right time. Would you like to dance? Are you hungry, I could get a table?" Will, was right there. Dressed to the 9's. "I guess in the end you were meant to come tonight. Nellie talked on an on about it when I delivered her envelope earlier today. I thought she was going to faint right there on the step when I handed it to her. It was the first time I had ever done that twice in one day to be sure." Will smiled and gave Karen time to pull herself together. A lot had happened in only a few minutes to be sure.

"Is there some kind of back road into Last Stop from the farm?" Karen finally asked.

"Well. No. How about that cup of coffee I asked about at the house. There is a small cafe just down the street. I brought my umbrella. We can talk a bit. Karen found herself shaking her head yes and being led back outside. Will produced another big black umbrella and they started walking slowly, closely, like people that could be mistaken for a couple.

"It is more like a bridge." Will, began to explain. "Have you ever wanted to mark down and try to remember a place in time? You know, tell yourself not to forget, no matter what? A good moment, when something about your life changed forever. There are plenty of bad moments like that too, but with effort, we try to forget those. Funny thing is they are sort of together. You can not appreciate the good unless you know what bad is. So learning the difference can be very painful but useful as we go through our lives. Regret is a powerful emotion." He stopped in front of Joe's Cafe. "You will like the coffee here. I promise." Then he pushed open the entrance door. Inside the warm smell of comfort foods pleasantly filled the air. "Two coffee's table six Rosa." There was a small noise in the back and cups rattled. "Let's sit down."

"Tim never told you about this place? He had the best stories. I think he lived most of the time in someone else's life. I know he was sad when your grandfather died. He was going to ask you to stay on. Did he ever ask?" Will smiled warmly. Maybe he was moving too fast he thought.

"Yes, he did ask me once. I was busy with my life at the time. I was always trying to fix lost causes. I should have stayed when he asked." Karen felt a slight pang of guilt.

"Tim knew you had a life. It was one that you chose. Maybe not because you meant to but because you did. Now is different. I can tell that you have all grown up, but the little girl I remember with the bright eyes and curious nature is right here. That is why you have not run off into the night. Oh and no, you are not crazy." There was a long silence.

"I waited." Another long silence. "I had the chance to take a chance, change my life forever. Just like Nellie. But I was hoping and even praying that you might come again into my life. Tim never stopped talking about you. I fell in love with you and barely knew you. Now I have a chance to get to know you for myself. I never believed in second chances, but after Nellie I do."

"Wow. You really know how to take your time and get to know a girl." Karen smiled warmly. "Not too much pressure, right?" She giggled a little.

"You need to know you can get out of the car. I have to tell you. This is Nellie's chance but on the way back to the farm. You could jump. It will be your life. Only yours. You could get out anywhere along the path. Find one of those moments that you wanted too truly remember and get out. Right there and then. Re-live it and even change it. A pivotal moment that would allow a completely new path." Will was extremely serious. "Even if it was a painful moment you could avoid. Then think of that, and the world will slow down and let the memory fill you up. You could change an event. I just want you to know that it changes everything that happened after that moment as well. That is the downside. You simply get to change once. To go back and take a chance on a new life. Whatever it may be. But you will lose whatever you had. Both good and bad. Second chances like Nellie's are rare to be sure."

The cafe waitress came out from the kitchen doors to the front counter area and poured two coffees. Quickly she came to the table and set them down. "What will you have?" Her apron was crisp white and the uniform bright blue. Her pen was ready and her pad in hand as she waited.

"Just coffee, thank you, Rosa." Will smiled.

Quickly she closed her pad and slipped it into her apron pocket. "It is going to come down hard shortly. You might want to head home soon." The woman moved off to clean counters and keep busy.

"Rosa is right. We should go soon. I would like to ask you out some other time. Not just a chance meeting." Will smiled. He took a large sip of his coffee. "You have to try it at least. It will want to make you come back, maybe?" Again he smiled only bigger than before. He got up, put a five spot on to the table. Karen rose and followed him out the little door. The storm was close now. The drizzle had turned colder. To her surprise, however, it was not far to walk. The beautiful, old car was parked at the curb. Kevin was waiting with his big black umbrella held high. Will turned to look Karen in the face, there on the sidewalk and say goodbye. "I hope to see you for that date soon." Before she knew it, Will bent down and kissed her. It was a warm, soft brush of his lips on hers. "Happy Valentines!" said the postman as he turned and left her standing in the rain.

Kevin moved in quickly. "How did it go? I thought you might be ready to leave. This storm is fierce. The road is nice, but it will take me a week to get the mud off my father's car." He gently grasped her arm and led her to the door of the car. Safely inside he moved to the front and got in. The car roared to life and off they went. Back down the same way they had come.

Something was important. The fog that filled her head from that kiss was hard to dismiss. But Will had told her something, extremely important. If she was not out and out crazy, she had the chance to change her own life. Here and now. All she had to do was think and jump. That is what he had said. Think about moment she remembered clearly and jump. But then she would lose something else. What would she lose? The car kept moving and time slowed down. Karen could feel her heart pounding in her ears, listening to her parents scream, listening to her first husband scream louder. A series of bad mistakes then married again. This time even worse. Changing all of that? Wow! That was tempting indeed.

Slowly she reached for the car door. Will said all I had to do was, jump. To change everything. Just jump. Carefully glancing forward to see if Kevin were watching her or the road. She would not want him to stop and try to go back for her. Karen could just choose a different path, take a chance. The sound of her own heart thundered in her head. Her hand clutched the handle tightly and ever so slowly lifted upward.

"No more nightmares. No more bad things to remember even when she tried to forget. No bad memories at all. New possibilities." Karen mumbled under her breath. She wanted to believe it. She wanted all of it to be real. There was a sharp pronounced click, the door was open, she pushed hard and looked out at the countryside rolling past. It was like images in a lake surface that the wind would shift back and forth whimsically. The view gripped her, a moment never to be forgotten. A moment to choose. Julie! Yes, she would be free but would lose Julie. Karen watched the changing, shifting scenes of memories. There were plenty of reasons to jump. But that one reason rooted Karen to the seat. She pulled the door closed. Karen looked up at Kevin. He appeared not to have heard a thing. He was still driving as if nothing had happened at all.

The car came to a stop just as the rain began to come down in earnest. Kevin helped her out of the back seat and up to the front door. "I was sure glad you did not jump." Kevin smiled. I was going to have a bad time telling Will he waited for nothing." Kevin began whistling as he turned and walked back to the DeLuxe. A moment or two later he was inside the car, the lights came to life and he drove out the front. He continued back toward the main highway and vanished in the distance.

Karen turned to enter the house and get out of the rain. She opened the door and, "You know. You sure were cutting in close. I kind of thought you were not even coming back. Did my sister have a good time? I let myself in since you were going to be gone so long. The cat and I just waited." The man in the blue suit from earlier stepped out of the doorway to the kitchen. However, instead of being menacing and angry he was cheerful. "Everyone deserves a chance. A second chance is even rarer I suppose." My name is Tom McOver. I am Nellie's little brother. Well, I guess your going to keep the cat? I don't want it anyway." And the man abruptly walked out the front door. Karen wondered what had changed in his life in only one night on the town?


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Author and Copyright by: A. Foster

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