[Continued from “Stars Shine Brighter ‘Round Christmas” (Part I)]
A deep breath later, she managed to control her shaky hand and open the car’s door. Stepping out onto solid ground, Estelle looked up at the clouded sky, “Thank you.”
“You alright down there?” a voice drew her attention.
Estelle looked over to see a man, haloed by lights of a car she couldn’t see. “Um, I, I uh…” she took in the landscape, “I think so. Yeah.”
“Okay. Good,” she heard genuine relief in his voice. “One minute I was behind you and the next, you just disappeared.”
Estelle didn’t know how to respond to the stranger as she silently looked up at him. She hadn’t noticed any lights behind her.
“Well, I don’t think you can get outta there on your own,” he gestured to the icy incline.
“As long as you’re okay, I’m gonna go and call for some help.”
“Please… That would be great,” Estelle called up before remembering her manners. “Thank you. Thank you so much for stopping.”
“I gotta take care of you kids,” he responded. “You got a full tank down there?”
“Um, pretty close.”
“Good. It’s gonna take a while ‘fore someone gets out this way,” he said looking in the direction Estelle had just been headed. He cocked his head to the side listening for something. “Might be a few hours.”
“I think I can find the time,” Estelle managed a weak smile.
“Atta girl!” The stranger broke into a belly laugh as he turned toward the road. “Atts my girl…” Estelle heard the man’s laugh continue after he disappeared over the embankment.
Before getting back into the Honda, Estelle stretched her legs and shoulders. Rolling her neck forward and then side-to-side, Estelle paused as she rolled her neck back. The snow was still swirling toward her, but there was a break in the clouds, allowing a few stars to wink down on her.
“Very funny,” Estelle tsk, tsked the stars before climbing back into her car. “I didn’t take my eyes off of you this semester.”
Within seconds of sitting down, Estelle heard the sounds of sirens swirling through the snowy silence. Oh, great, she thought. How humiliating! As the volume increased, Estelle noticed more than one siren. A moment later she saw lights right above, but they didn’t stop. One, two, three, four flashing vehicles passed. They don’t even know where I am! Estelle thought as they faded back into the chill.
As she waited for them to return, she sang along with Christmas classics on the radio. She slipped into that place between asleep and awake. A horn blared from above waking her.
It had been just over three hours.
After carefully following the tow truck driver’s instructions for hooking up the car, Estelle returned to the driver’s seat to for the trip back up to the highway.
“You’re a lucky lady,” the driver said as Estelle handed over her credit card.
“I know what you mean,” Estelle nodded, noting the name stitched into his jacket, “Mike. I thought I was going into the river.”
“That too,” Mike continued, “but it took so long to get here ’cause just up the road an 18-wheeler jackknifed. Took three cars with it. Right in the river. Couldn’t call to Ariel to tell ‘er either. She’s the one called to me ’bout you being down here. Well, couldn’t call to her ’cause I had to round up three a my boys to help me get those cars outta there quick.”
Estelle followed the tip of his finger pointing in the direction she needed to go, “Is everyone okay?”
Mike handed back her credit card, shaking his head, “No. Not a one. And right before Christmas too. It’s a shame when some folks’ angels take a break.” Estelle thought maybe Mike knew someone in the accident, as he continued to shake his head sadly.
For a moment, Estelle and Mike silently looked up toward the stars, “You know, it’s funny, how ’round Christmas, the stars always seem to shine a little brighter.”
“That’s because there’s less moisture in the air at night during the winter. The colder it gets, the brighter the stars appear.”
“Hmmm… Takes the magic out of it all, don’t you think?” Mike said to the stars.
“Sorry,” Estelle didn’t mean to spoil Mike’s stars. “I just finished an astronomy final.”
“Do you always like to look at things you can’t really see?”
Estelle laughed, “I guess I do.”
“Well, then, I guess you still have a little magic left.” Mike smiled, “Take care, now,” he waved as he retreated to his truck.
Estelle waved back and returned to her car. As she sank into the driver’s seat, she thought about the sirens and felt like an idiot for thinking they had been for her.
She clicked her seatbelt into place and turned the key in the ignition, happy to drive very slowly toward a Christmas at home. Just as the car roared to life Estelle recalled the stranger’s laugh and “atts my girl” again. Did he really say “That’s my girl”? Estelle thought as she put the car in drive.
She pulled onto the highway in silence as another thought struck her: It was a man who stopped. Who is Ariel?