I’m driving faster than I should through the shitty part of Cedar Hills when I hear a gun shot.

My first thought isn’t to duck and cover.  Save my neck, worry about a bullet to the head or chest.   The fact that, if a bullet does hit me, Emilia may have to grow up not only without a father, but also without a mother.

No.  As usual, it relates to time.

I’m running late, and now I have to deal with this.

It’s only when my SUV starts to wobble, the steering wheel practically pulling from my grasp as it spins wildly to the left, that my heart rate kicks up a notch.  But only a notch.  Because as I struggle with the wheel and my Range Rover careens into oncoming traffic, I’m calm.  The whole experience happens slowly, like time is thick and syrupy instead of fluid, and what should be lasting only seconds suddenly takes minutes to unfold.

I miss a beat-up truck by inches, the driver blaring his horn as I skid past his front bumper and onto the shoulder of the road.  The tail end of the Rover swerves as it jumps the curb and teeters across the sidewalk, bouncing me around in my seat like a rag doll.  The fact that I’ve maintained my composure is probably the only reason I’m not smashing the brake pedal into the floor and causing further chaos.  Remembering my father’s advice about not slamming on the brakes when skidding on ice, I try the same tactic and lift my foot from the accelerator while re-gaining control of the steering.  When I finally give pressure to the brake pedal, the SUV is already rolling to a bumpy stop.

The radio is still thumping through the speakers, a poppy backdrop to the roller coaster ride I just survived.  I abhor silence, but now the music seems almost too loud, needling into my ears as my senses finally start catching up with the circumstances.  I shift into park, jab my finger into the radio dial, and take in my surroundings.  I’m in the half empty lot of a small Asian Supermarket, my Rover taking up two spaces and parked perpendicular to the other two vehicles in the lot.

The sudden silence is louder than the music, and it pushes the needles in deeper.  A swift feeling of irritation sweeps through me, like I have a million tiny bugs dancing just beneath my skin, and I roll my head and shoulders to dislodge the jittering sensation.

When I open my door, I’m immediately blasted with hot, sticky air and the acrid scent of burnt rubber.  Any thoughts of gunshots subside when I step out and take a look at my driver’s side tire.  The front wheel is in sad shape – ragged and deflated, the rubber flat-as-a-pancake where the chrome rim meets the concrete.

“Great,” I mutter.  If I wasn’t wearing new suede sandals, I’d kick it.  Hell, maybe I will kick it, anyway.  I pull my phone from the pocket of my shorts and note it’s already three-twenty – well after the time I was supposed to deliver the damn pies.  I prop my hands on my hips and glare at the tire, as if through sheer focus alone the thing will knit itself back together, fill with air, prop itself on the rim, and I can be on my way again.

The sun is unrelenting, as unrelenting as my mother will be if I don’t get these deserts where they’re supposed to be in ten minutes.  Which will still make them thirty full minutes late.  A trickle of sweat oozes down my temple – partly because of the heat, mostly due to the pressure.  It feels like a spider skittering across my skin, and I swipe it away with more force than necessary.  I absently pinch the front of my peasant blouse, fluttering the thin material in an effort to cool down.

Shit.  Shit, shit, shit…

A flicker of light to my left catches my eye, a burst of sun bouncing off a passing car and reflecting in the plate glass window of a nearby shop.  I squint through my sunglasses, taking in the establishment’s sign and praise whoever the hell is watching out for me because I think I just might be saved.  Tucking my phone back in my pocket, I reach into the Rover, pull out my purse, grab my keys, and high tail it through the parking lot and across the street to what I’m hoping to God will be my salvation.

Wright Auto Repair isn’t a church, but as I push through the door and step into the lobby of the two-story brick warehouse I’m ready to bow to whoever can fix my tire and get me on the road again.  Preferably now.

The first thing I notice is the smell; the entire place reeks of gasoline, rubber and, somehow, burnt Cheetos.  I wrinkle my nose in disgust as I make my way across the small space, the stacked heels of my sandals practically sticking to the grimy floor and giving a soft tug of resistance with each step I take.

The second is the mullet rock blaring from the open door behind the counter leading back to the garage.

I snort, listening as the singer compares the crotch of his ladylove to cherry pie.


Read more of Jen’s story in FOUND IN SILENCE.
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I turn back to the fire, flex my fingers out toward the flames.  With the unseasonably warm weather and the heat in front of me, I’m almost too hot, so I shrug out of from under the blanket Miles wrapped around me and stretch.  “It’s so beautiful out here, though,” I say, my voice wistful.  Then, without thinking, “I used to have land like this.  Not lakeside, but still.”

Miles tosses his empty in the takeout bag and leans back on his hands.  “Used to?”

 I groan, falling back on my own hands and tipping my head back to look at the sky.  “I inherited it from my grandfather.  Well, my brother and I, that is.  He had the land split between us when he died.  But,” I say, drawing the word out, “I was at college in Chicago when he passed, and twenty-seven acres of Iowa farmland wasn’t exactly on my wish list.  And never, in a million years, did I think I’d end up back here.  So, knowing all that, I made an offer to my brother and he eventually bought me out.”  I fold the blanket and flop down on my back, bunching it behind my head. 

 Miles follows suit, rolling onto his side and propping his head up on his elbow.  “And now,” he says, looking down at me, “here you are.”

  I chuckle, my voice dry.  “Yep.  Here I am.”

 We’re quiet for a moment, though it’s not uncomfortable.  The summer night song is gone for the season, and aside from the manmade sounds of the radio and the fire, the night is silent.  In fact, I have a feeling if I walked away from this very spot, out into the woods behind the house and closed my eyes, the silence would swallow me whole.

 “You were right about silence,” I blurt.

 Miles, who has since shifted over onto his back, hands behind his head, looks over at me.  “Huh?”

 I study the stars.  “That day in your kitchen.  You know, back when I first started working for you and…”  I pause, take a breath and release it.  “We didn’t like each other very much.  You said silence was underrated.  Remember?”

 His laugh is deep, throaty.  “Yeah, I do.” 

He reaches down and grabs my hand, pulls me closer.  And when I roll to my side and lean my head against his chest, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

“Silence makes sense of the chaos, doesn’t it?  All the shit that’s happening around us that we can’t make sense of unless we step away from it for a bit.  If we can just manage to let the quiet in, it’s like we’re able to see the bigger picture.  Or,” I say, “At least a bigger portion of the picture than we could before.  It’s like life is constantly screaming at you to listen – disaster, disease, rude people, financial crap, divorce.  But all it’s really trying to do is get your attention, and when you get still and shut up for a few seconds, you can finally understand what it’s been trying to say all along.”

Read more of Jen’s story in FOUND IN SILENCE.
Available NOW on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2mv8wvy

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