Most Eligible Baby Daddy(5)

By: Chance Carter

She shook her head. Now was not the time for sentimentality. She had less than a hundred dollars in her wallet, a few bank cards that had probably already been cancelled, and not a person in the world she could turn to. She was alone.

Moving is what keeps me safe, she told herself. If I know no one, no one can hurt me. If I have nothing, I can lose nothing.

That was the kind of thinking that had brought her this far. It was what had protected her through poverty, loneliness, and abuse. She let no one in, not even the people who’d thought they owned her.

She drove on into the mountains, refusing to turn back even when her wheels skidded. She’d die getting up that mountain if that’s what it took. She wrapped herself in the old blanket she always kept on the back seat. The clothes she’d worn when she left Gris’s place were no match for the mountain cold. The gas light was on, the sky darkened, and to make matters worse, it began to snow. The wind whipped up the snow into ferocious little flurries and she realized a blizzard was coming in.

She knew she should have been keeping her cool but as the panic, and impending sense of doom, mounted inside her, she put her foot down harder on the gas and sped up.

Fuck it, she told herself. No one ever got where they needed to be by being light on the gas pedal.

She almost cried in relief when she saw the yellow glow of the town in the distance, high above her, nestled into the rocky peaks.

The first building she passed was the gas station. She knew she was running on fumes, but to fill up would cost her half of the hundred dollars she had in her wallet. She needed that money for more important things, like food and shelter. Elle wasn’t the kind of girl to balk at sleeping in the back of her car, but in a blizzard high up in the Rocky Mountains in winter, that wasn’t really an option. The next building she passed was a motel. She breathed a sigh of relief at the red Vacancy sign that was lit up over the parking lot. The price posted for a night’s stay was forty-nine dollars. She made a note of the price in her head and drove on. She stopped at a set of lights and looked to her left and right. She was at the center of the town. There didn’t seem to be much to it. The street she was crossing was Main, and it was lined with stores that seemed to cater mostly to tourists, skiers and hunters. At the very end of Main Street was a luxurious looking lodge, built of timber, with gaslit, flame lamps at the entry. It was like a magnificent, medieval castle overlooking the town. Even from the distance, she could see the flames of a massive open fireplace through the windows. She smiled to herself as she wondered what it would cost to stay in a place like that for the night. Her hundred dollars probably wouldn’t cut it.

Across the intersection was a brightly lit diner that seemed, miraculously, to be packed with people. It’s light and warmth called to her.

Elle parked outside the diner, pulled her light jacket tightly around her, and ran through the driving snow for the door.

“Welcome to Gracie’s,” the waitress said as Elle pulled the door closed behind her. “Come in and get warm. It’s a whore out there.”

Elle laughed. The sound of her own voice surprised her. She hadn’t laughed out loud in quite a while.

“It is,” she said.

“Just grab a seat anywhere,” the waitress said. “I’ll be right with you.”

Elle sat at the counter and observed her surroundings. The waitress was run off her feet, bringing coffee and beer and classic diner cuisine to the people of Stone Peak. She watched the men mostly, who seemed rugged and capable, dressed in practical snow boots and warm plaid shirts. She counted. Of the fourteen men sitting in the diner, fully thirteen of them wore full beards. Many of them sat alone, men in their forties or fifties who no doubt lived off the land. The few women she could see were definitely wives. None were as young as Elle herself, apart from the waitress, who introduced herself as Kelly. She was about Elle’s age and wore a pretty waitress uniform. Her hair was sensibly tied back from her eyes.

“So, what brings you to Stone Peak?” Kelly said when she brought Elle her burger, fries and coffee.

“I guess you’d say I’m running away from something,” Elle said matter-of-factly.