She was already late. Some wreck on the highway had cars piled up for miles. Leslie was driving Amy to the airport for no reason other than she didn’t know how to say no to her friend’s request. Amy’s third grader fidgeted in the back seat as they sat at a standstill in traffic. Silence fogged the car while Amy tried to calm her nerves. “Ok,” she said to herself. “What is, is.” She forced her breath to deepen and shifted her thoughts to her memory of the slow-moving Mill Creek behind her parents’ house. She’d shared that creek with the neighborhood, dangling her feet in the cool water with her best friend, avoiding the boys shoving each other with playful abandon. She had taken Ricky to the creek, but it was different for him. He tended to be a loner, the plight of an only child she guessed.
Leslie inched up two car lengths. Amy took another deep breath. “Tell me a story, Leslie. What drew you to grad school?” The two women had met in Dr. Hampton’s poetry class. “Well,” she began, “when I was growing up, only my brothers got to go to college. I was supposed to get married and raise kids instead. I did, but as soon as my daughters left home, I decided it was my time to get an education. After finishing my undergrad work, I just didn’t want to stop; I loved it so much.” As she spoke, she stared at the teal Sunbird ahead of them. The cars were so tight she couldn’t change lanes, and why would she want to? All lanes were inching forward at 5 miles an hour if moving at all. Amy remembered a phrase her Aunt Vi used to say, “I’ve never done a Christian act I didn’t regret.” Poor Leslie was such a dear to drive them the 29 miles to the airport. The trip was always an ordeal and this one was turning into a nightmare.
Instead of flying to Tennessee where she had spent every other Christmas with her parents and sister in the house by Mill Creek, this year Amy was flying to Florida, her new husband already there due to a business trip he’d had in Tampa the week before. She held a box in her lap filled with Christmas tree cupcakes decorated with festive candy sprinkles. The treats were for her in-laws as a thank you offering, hoping they’d see her as a good wife not just some divorced grad student with an eight-year-old who had wriggled herself into their family.
Amy opened the box. “Would you like a cupcake, Leslie?” For the first time in 15 minutes, Leslie turned her gaze from the teal car ahead. “Wow, Amy, those look great.” She grabbed a cupcake without hesitation, getting green icing all over her hands. Surely, she knew they were for Amy’s destination, but Leslie had earned this treat. Amy turned to Ricky in the back seat who was unusually sedate for this type of situation. “Would you like a cupcake, too, Honey?” Amy knew this was a recipe for disaster, all that sugar consumed while confined in a seat belt. But drastic times called for drastic measures; a sweet treat could transform confinement into pleasure, at least for a while.
His eyes lit up as he saw the bright green cakes in the box. Before he answered, Amy looked around for something to clean up the mess that would surely ensue. The mother in Leslie understood and opened the glove compartment stuffed with a stash of napkins saved from frequent stops for fast food on the way to class. Amy smiled a thanks and pulled one out, scooped up a sugary cake and handed it to Ricky. She handed a napkin to Leslie and then scooped up a cupcake for herself.