The People We Never Know
Illustrated by Lakshmy Mathur
After driving for the last nineteen hours, the only thing keeping Darrin’s eyes open were the lights over the interstate as he passed through Des Moines. His truck rumbled as he looked through raindrops before the wipers smeared them. As the last exit went by and the last bright light with it, Darrin worried that the steady rain sounding on the cab would lull him to sleep at seventy miles an hour. Rolling his window down hoping the fresh air would help to keep him awake, he saw a figure beginning to emerge in the head lights. Slowing down and noticing the outstretched thumb he pulled over.
“No one should have to walk in the rain at night, hop in,” he shouted. The figure nodded as it opened the door and climbed in. Once the door and windows were shut they once again headed into the darkness.
“So, where you heading?” Darrin asked.
“Mason City, I need to see a friend in the hospital.” The girl said as she pulled her hood back. Darrin took a long look at the young teenage girl sitting in his passenger seat.
“Family?” he questioned.
“No, just a friend. My name’s Vanessa, thank you by the way.”
“Glad to do it, I’m actually heading to the hospital myself. My wife was supposed to be induced this morning and I was hoping to be there but I didn’t get out of work in time.”
“Yes, I’m pretty nervous, actually, and really glad you were out there. I was falling asleep on the road, almost put it in the ditch before the city lights back there.”
“Well, I’m just thankful you found me. So, is it going to be a boy or a girl?”
“We are going to be surprised. So long as Mom and Baby are healthy, that’s all that I care about.” Darrin said as he kissed his fingers then placed them on a photo of his wife he had pinned to the visor above him. “Mind if I smoke?”
“What are you smoking?” she asked.
“Cherry pipe tobacco, if it will bother you…”
“No, actually I would really like that.” Vanessa interrupted. “My Dad used to smoke cherry tobacco.”
“Oh, what made him quit? Cancer?”
“No. He died in a car accident before I was born. My mom kept some of his things. I used to sneak into her room to look them, made me feel close to him.”
“Sorry, I’m sure it wasn’t easy with out him.”
“All I know was that he loved pepperoni pizza, and his favorite movie was Star Wars.”
“Well he must have been pretty cool, I like those things and I think I turned out alright.”
Darrin turned to smile at her as she smiled back. Taking her coat off Darrin noticed scars on her wrists.
“Mind if I ask?” he pointed to her wrists. “You know sometimes it’s easier to tell a perfect stranger something than it is somebody you know. If you need to talk, I can listen.”
“Life wasn’t easy. My grandma said Mom took the easy way out, so I figured I would try it too when Gram passed.”
“So who do you live with? Who takes care of you?”
“Myself, I wish everyday I had a dad, Gram said after he died, mom lost her will to live. If he was alive my life would be different.”
“Life is never what we expect, tell you what, why don’t you stay with my wife and I after you visit your friend. That sound okay?” Darrin offered.
“Yeah, I would like that. You are what I always expected him to be like.”
“Well I think he would have been proud to see his daughter travelling this far to visit a sick friend. Why don’t you climb into the back seat and get some rest, we aren’t that far away from the hospital now.” Vanessa tossed her coat into the back seat, smiled at Darrin, gave him a gentle half hug, and climbed in back. Darrin watched in the rear view as she closed her eyes and smiled as the cherry smoke filled the cab with it’s aroma.
“We’re here.” He said as he pulled into the parking lot. He turned around to wake her but there was no one there. Dumbfounded he went into the hospital.
“We were worried about you,” the nurse said. “After your baby girl was born your wife was afraid you would fall asleep on the road.”
“Baby Girl?” Darrin said, tearing up. The nurse escorted him into the room where his wife lay sleeping with a bassinet next to her. Picking up the baby and looking at her with tears running down his face Darrin sobbed. “Thank you, Vanessa, Thank you.”
“Honey, that is a beautiful name.” He heard his wife say, “I think that’s what we should name her.” Then Darrin realized, Vanessa got her wish.