The car broke down just outside of White Plains, New York. There was something wrong with the radiator valve because smoke started to steam up from underneath the hood. Thomas had to pull over into a mall parking lot before the smoke could proliferate and obstruct his view. Kristen was asleep until he had stopped. After he reached under the wheel to unlock the hood he opened the car door and Kristen woke up.
“What the hell is going on?” She yelled. Thomas heard her voice cut off when the door met the door-jam as he closed it. He looked at her through the windshield while pointing to the smoke.
“It just started smoking out of nowhere . . .” he waved the smoke away from his face. Kristen exited the car, swinging her jacket across her back and jutting her arms through the sleeves.
“I fall asleep for,” she glanced at her watch, “almost thirty minutes . . . we are going to miss the lunch.” She threw her head back and gasped from a surge of stress. Thomas felt the stress too.
“Relax,” he said. “There is still the dinner.” He lifted the hood above his head and swung the spoke in place to hold it there. The engine was exposed after a large gust of smoke exhumed from the radiator.
“Ugh,” Kristen stepped back coughing, “what do you think it is?”
“I think it’s the radiator coolant valve because I don’t hear the engine giving out.” Thomas leaned around the smoke and peaked at the radiator, “yes, it’s the valve,” he said. It’s not connected to the system.”
Thomas saw the tiny tube hanging off the cooling system. He reached in to inspect the end of the tube.
“The end is split,” he said and lightly tossed the tube back into the front internals of the car. Thomas looked at the parking lot’s asphalt and bit his lip, thinking. He turned to Kristen, “You know I can call my buddy Rich, he’s a mechanic . . . uh, I’m sure . . .”
“I’ll call my dad,” Kristen interjected. She brought her phone out and up against her ear. Thomas’s words drew to a closed silence. He just watched the smoke continuing up into the atmosphere as Kristen looked around the parking lot.
“Wow, there’s no one here,” she said.
“It’s Christmas,” Thomas replied, but Kristen didn’t acknowledge him.
“Daddy!” She practically screamed into the phone.
Thomas winced a bit from her abrupt change in attitude. It seemed superficial to him. He ignored the subtlety and leaned into the radiator again, fanning what was left of the smoke coming out from it.
“We have triple A,” Kristen’s voice was confirming, “Ok . . . Ok, love you too.”
Kristen hung up the phone, placing it in the pocket of her jacket as she turned to Thomas.
“My daddy called triple A – he’s going to take care of it,” she said. Thomas met her glance after he surveyed the parking lot again, biting his lower lip while nodding. His eyes fell off from hers and back towards the asphalt.
“Ok,” he said.
“Let’s wait in the car – it’s cold out here,” Kristen wrapped her arms around herself and pranced to the car’s passenger side. She opened the door and slid right into the seat where she made herself comfortable. Thomas shuffled his feet to the driver’s door and got in. The door clanked against the metal of the rest of the car like a chain hitting cement, falling from a lofty height. He sighed.
“I’m sorry Kristen,” Thomas said.
“Why, this is not your fault,” she turned toward him. The fur lining her hood covered a portion of her face, but both her eyes were visible. “It’s my mother’s if you really think about it,” she smiled, “I told her and my dad not to buy this car for me; it’s a clunker – cheap yes – but it’s gonna have some problems.”
Thomas subtly shook his head and shared in her smile by smiling himself. “Well, yes I know this is not directly my fault, but I am just saying that I am sorry that you missed your Christmas lunch with your family.” He said.
“Eh, my dad will get over it, he’s practical like that and my mom really doesn’t care; it’s more of a thing for my dad.” Kristen moved the coat away from her face a bit and Thomas saw her lips. She moved the hair away from her eyes and Thomas saw them too, more clearly.
“Plus,” she continued, “my dad didn’t seem upset at all over the phone; he was just glad that I was safe.”
“Thomas nodded and smiled.
“Yeah,” he said and looked out into the empty parking lot, “I haven’t even called my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas.”
“Why don’t you just call them?” Kristen said.
“Meh, I don’t know,” Thomas shook his head, dismissing the suggestion.
“Well, I think you should, but that’s your choice,” Kristen shifted around in her seat and leaned it back, then took a deep breath. Thomas followed the air exiting her mouth. It started to get colder in the car.
“When is this tow-truck coming?” Kristen said. Thomas just shook his head. He pulled out his phone and it read 1:45pm.
“What’s for dinner anyway?” he asked.
Kristen kept her eyes on the ceiling of the car. Her eyes glittered in the sunlight that streamed through the windshield as she spoke. “It’s going to be a lot of stuff; mashed potatoes, stuffed shells, chicken and steak. My aunt does this thing with the chicken where she marinates it in this special sauce that’s sweet.”
“Which aunt?” Thomas said. Kristen moved her eyes toward him and the glittering reflection stopped, but he still watched the color of her eyes absorb the sun.
“Well, she’s not really my aunt, but has known my mom for years. They taught at the same school together before my mom went to get her masters.” Kristen turned again toward the ceiling.
“Oh,” Thomas moved away from leaning toward her and rested his back against the driver’s chair.
“You’ll love her; she’s really into that whole oneness thing and holistic medicines.” She smiled and turned back to Thomas. “Like those self-help video’s you listen to,” she laughed.
“Right, hahaha; hey, don’t knock that stuff. It helps when I can’t find anything else to help me relax,” he said.
“Hey, you got me to relax,” she said with a wink.
“Ha, well how about right now aye?” Thomas joked.
A horn rung as loud as a gong behind them just before Kristen could say anything. It was the tow-truck. It rolled up in front of them and stopped with its red lights illuminating the inside of Kristen’s car. The driver stepped out as soon as those red lights flashed to a dull vibrancy. Kristen and Thomas watched the driver walk up to the car.
“Let’s go meet him,” Thomas said. They both exited the car and Thomas, with his hand extended, greeted the driver.
“Hey, I’m Dave. I’m sorry for taking the time that it did to get here,” he said, shaking Thomas’s hand.
“No, please we are thankful you came out on Christmas,” Thomas said, “This is Kristen.”
“How do you do,” Dave said and shook her hand.
“You spoke with my father ,” Kristen said.
“Well, no I got a call from up top,” he pointed his finger up, “and I took it hoping that it’s going to be the last one for the day.” He exchanged glances with Thomas and then back to Kristen. “Let’s get in the cab, it’s warmer in there.”
Dave led the way to the passenger side of the rig and opened the door. Thomas looked at Kristen briefly, then hopped in first. It was a single bench in the cabin and Thomas received the hint to take the middle. After Kristen hopped in, Dave shut the door and walked around to enter the cabin from the driver’s side.
“So, where y’all headed,” he said as he shut the door and turned the heat setting to high.
“Cold Spring, New York; just outside of Poughkeepsie,” Kristen was leaning out in front of Thomas. Thomas just nodded while staring out of the grand windshield.
“Oh my, well ok,” Dave said, leaning into the wheel and turning his head from Kristen to the open parking lot. “Buckle up; we’ll be there soon enough.” Dave exited the cab and began hitching the car to the tow-truck.