David was thankful to have past through Statesville. The unusual Christmas snow had left the western North Carolina interstates in a mess. There was only one lane on each side of the highway clear enough to drive on. Even those lanes had started to develop a slick slush despite the constant barrage of tire tracks. David was able to release the death grip on the steering wheel as traffic lightened significantly north of interstate forty.
A long jagged breath escaped David’s lips and got his speed back up to forty-miles-per-hour. There were now fewer cars on the road, but more snow. The Nissan Rogue’s all-wheel-drive kicked in, and the car easily traversed the snowy path in front of it. The further north he continued up interstate seventy-seven the deeper the snow got, both on and off the road. By the time he turned off the interstate to highway four-twenty-one, all black tire tracks in the white powder had disappeared.
Normally, he would have preferred to stay in Charlotte and hunker down. The city was expecting only a few inches wet snow, and it would likely melt in less time than it took for it to fall from the sky. He smiled as he thought about his best friend Hank and their work associates at Southend Brewery bringing in the Christmas season. He wished he was there, but he had a promise to keep. No other woman had loved David the way this woman had, and he would not leave her alone on a cold, snowy Christmas in Boone.
David started to descend a small hill not far from the old Wilkesboro speedway when he saw a young woman on the side of the road. Her white, older Cadillac sat with its hood up and steamrolling out. David wanted to press on, but he knew her small frame wrapped in a purple shawl would not fair well with the temperatures expected to drop below twenty degrees as the day wore on. He pulled over and had barely gotten the car stopped when the young woman appeared at his passenger door.
The passenger window lowered with a hum. David was astounded by the young woman’s beauty. Her auburn hair, bright blue eyes, and attractive smile enraptured David, and yet, there was something familiar about the beautiful stranger. “Do you need any help?” asked David.
“Oh, heavens, yes please,” responded the woman. “Do you mind giving me a ride to my home in Boone? I’ll have a tow truck retrieve my car later.”
David nodded, “Sure, hop in.” With a flick of his finger, the door locks shot up, and the young lady quickly got into the passenger seat and shut the door. She looked around his SUV and then at David. “It’s so warm and clean. Where is your wife?”
David blushed, “I’m not married.”
“Then who cleans your truck?” asked the inquisitive young lady.
David shrugged, “I do. I like to keep my belongings in good shape.”
The young woman nodded, “Such a catch. Oh, where are my manners? I’m Minerva. I know it’s an odd sounding name today. My parents named my siblings and me after our dead relatives. Some names didn’t age as well as others I’m afraid.”
Before he could stop himself, David asked, “Do you have any sisters like you?”
Minerva laughed, and then replied, “Careful, young man. You never know who you’re talking to.”
David faced the road and nodded his head, but then turned back to Minerva, “Wait, you’re my age. I’m hardly a young man compared to you.”
Minerva cleared her throat, placed her hands in her lap and patted the seat, “Well, you were acting like a young rascal, but I forgive you. Shouldn’t we be on our way?”
David nodded and eased his car back on to the empty highway that was rapidly changing from a snowy trail to a flowing blanket of white. The thirty-miles-per-hour he was now cruising still left his knuckles white in a death grip around the wheel.
“My, you look tense,“ said Minerva. “What brings you out here on such a nasty day?”
“My grandmother,” answered David.
Minerva reached over and gently touched his right hand. Her cool fingertips felt familiar, and his grip eased on the steering wheel. “Tell me, why is she so special to you?”
With only a momentary glance away from the snowy road David quickly answered, “She raised me.” He looked back towards the road and continued. “Mom and dad divorced when I was in elementary school. I was caught in the middle. Having my parents fighting all the time was more than I could take, and I sort of gave up on life. Grandma and Grandpa took me in and raised me. I don’t know what I would have become without my grandparents. We lost grandpa a few years ago, and now it’s my turn to take care of grandma.”
The touch of Minerva’s young lips on David’s cheek made him jump in his seat. Her friendly kiss lasted only a moment, but it made him feel warm and welcomed. “That’s for being a good grandson. You’ll make some woman very happy one day.”
Looking at Minerva and back to the road, David was not sure what to think. She was certainly beautiful and kind, but she was different. Unlike other women he had met, she seemed more like a sister than a possible date. Before he realized it, Boone was coming into view. “Where should I drop you off?” asked David.
“I live on Delmar Street,” said Minerva.
David nodded, “That’s the same street my grandma lives on. I’m surprised we’ve never seen each other.”
Minerva smiled and said, “Oh, I bet we’ve seen each other before. Perhaps we were both too busy to speak.”
“I wouldn’t be that busy,” muttered David to himself.
A few minutes later Minerva pointed to the side of the road in front of a seemingly empty house a few hundred yards from David’s grandmother’s house. “Drop me here dear.”
“Here? You don’t want me to accompany you up to the door?” David’s voice was tinged with disappointment as he eased his vehicle on to the snow-covered shoulder.
Minerva let a small chuckle escape her lips before replying,“Oh, no. You’re far too young for me. Thank you for the ride. I know your grandmother really appreciated your visits and loves you very much.”
With that, Minerva quickly glided out the opened passenger door and shut it behind her. David wrestled with his seat-belt; he wanted to ask her over for tea later at his grandmother’s. She would love to meet Minerva. After a few seconds, he finally freed himself of the vehicle. Looking around Minerva was nowhere to be found.
He dashed around the vehicle, and then stopped short and reached out for the car’s hood to steady himself. Minerva seemed to have vanished, and there was no sign of any footprints in the snow near the vehicle. A cool breeze hit David’s body, and the chill shot all the way through him. He rushed over to the driver’s door and scrambled inside the SUV. David checked the back seat and then roared the engine to life and hurried to his grandmother’s house.
David burst through the front door and hollered, “Grandmother, you won’t believe what just happened to me!”
The house was strangely still after his outburst. Only his grandmother’s old cuckoo clock ticked. David took a few steps into the family room and saw the familiar gray hair of his grandmother. She appeared to have nodded off for a nap. He walked around the corner of the chair and found a picture frame in each of her hands. Her eyes drooped half open. He gently reached over to wake her up, but she we cold to the touch. For several seconds, nothing moved.
David’s fingers fumbled to unlock his cell phone. His actions ceased, and the phone fell to the floor. The pictures inside their frames took David’s breath away. In his grandmother’s left hand was a picture of the two of them last Christmas. They smiled and were wearing their silly Santa hats in front of the fireplace. It was an unusually warm Christmas, and both had on short sleeve shirts under the Christmas sweaters they immediately removed after the photo. His grandmother even cracked a window to let out the hot air caused by the fireplace.
In her right hand, she held a picture of a young man about five years older than himself. Next to the man was a young, auburn-haired woman with bright blue eyes. The bikini she wore fit her perfectly. Both had broad smiles on their faces and no daylight between their bodies as they held one another. His grandfather’s writing was in the corner of the photo. “To my Minerva, you make Myrtle Beach beautiful.”
David leaned over and kissed the top of his grandmother’s still head. “Thank you, grandma.” He reached down and retrieved his cell phone. David walked over to the couch with tears in his eyes, sat down, and calmly dialed 911.