The Kindness of Strangers

Some story info...coming.

Chapter 1

Kylee pulled her knees tighter into her chest and tightened the grip of her arms around them. The cold of the cement she sat on was creeping through her worn jeans, chilling her flesh. Cold was seeping through the worn-out tennis shoes as well. Her socks had too many holes in them to hold any of it out. How had she gotten herself into this mess? What was she going to do now? A snow began to fall, gently drifting onto her hunched shoulders.

A car pulled into the parking lot, its headlights playing across the side of Kylee's bent head. Kylee didn't notice it. She remained in her hunched position, shivering. Where could she go? She had nothing anymore. Her car had broken down finally on the freeway several miles away and she had managed to walk this far, but could go no further. This rest stop, somewhere outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, was her last stop.

The muscles in her stomach tightened again, frightening her. What did it mean? Nothing? Trouble? There was no one to ask. Her dad had never been around at all, he had left Kylee and her mother when Kylee had been only days old. Her mother had died three years ago leaving fifteen year old Kylee on her own. She hadn't told anyone at school that her mother had died. She hadn't wanted to go into state programs for underage children and been put into foster care. Bad stories went around about teenage girls in foster care. Kylee didn't want to find out first-hand if those stories were true or not. She had lied about her aunt moving in. She had no aunt. At least none she knew of. Once she had graduated, she had left her tiny town on the Texas/ Louisiana border and taken off across the country looking for work and a place to call home. Six months later, here she was, stranded at a rest stop, watching happy families drive by, cars full of smiling faces and wrapped packages.

Voices drifted around her, but she paid no attention. The headlights played across her face again as the car left the rest stop. Two more pulled in and children, boys from the sound of it, burst from the cars, bodies delighting in the ability to move around and stretch.

“Are you ok?” a gentle voice asked at Kylee's shoulder.

Kylee nodded, but didn't turn around.

“Where's your family?” the soft voice asked again.

“Bathroom.” Kylee mumbled. The feet waited, but when Kylee refused to look up or turn around they finally drifted off.

Another car came in. The two cars full of children left. A semi truck pulled in. Another car. Voices sang Christmas songs as they headed toward the bathrooms. A car pulled out. Two more cars pulled in. A van full of people pulled in, its contents dumping themselves at the tables behind Kylee for their dinner. Kylee hadn't even noticed that it was getting dark. She would freeze here all night. It was getting colder quickly and she had no coat. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since leaving her car hours and hours earlier. The last of her money had put some gas in the car and bought her a bag of pretzels, although she'd been afraid that her feet would swell from the salt. Swollen feet were the least of her problems now. She pulled her arms tighter, hoping that they would somehow provide some heat.

“Oh, help,” Kylee prayed. When was the last time she had gone to church? She couldn't even remember. Would God hear her any more? She had been sure He heard her when she had been much younger, but that certainty had left her years ago and she had quit trying. “Please, help me.”

A car left, then the semi truck, followed by another car. The Christmas Song car left, taking the songs with it. A car pulled in and parked not too far from Kylee. Doors slammed shut and voices moved away. Another car left.

#

Dan noticed the huddled up figure when he parked the car. He didn't pay it much attention, however, and went around the car to help his mom out.

“Thanks, Daniel,” she said, heaving herself out of the car, trying to stretch her travel-weary legs.

“Sure, mom.” He closed the door behind her and followed her up the sidewalk and toward the bathrooms.

“Are you doing ok?” he asked when they met again.

“Sure,” she nodded. It was proving to be a long drive. She had wanted Daniel's grandmother to see him after his mission so she had driven from Mesa all the way to Boise, Idaho. Well, Daniel had really done much of the driving, but it had been her idea to go and visit her before he got a job and began school. Eighteen hours each way was too long in a car, especially when they didn't stop over night. They just left really early.

“We're almost home,” Dan reminded his mom.

She nodded.

“Only about two more hours.”

Another nod.

“Why don't you take a nap?”

“That sounds good.” she agreed. Mary Tyler looked around the rest stop, watching the snow fall.”It sure is pretty.” she commented.

“What is?” Dan asked, not paying that much attention.

“The snow. It sure is pretty.”

“Hmmm.” Dan agreed.

“What is that?” Mary pointed.

Dan looked to see where his mother was pointing. The hunched over person was still sitting there. Snow flakes were beginning to accumulate a small pile on the top of its head and the hump of its shoulders. Dan glanced around to see where its car was but didn't see another car in the parking lot. Had the person been dumped out two days before Christmas?

“Stay here.” He left his mom standing beside the car, holding onto her door handle. He took quick steps to the hunched up figure and touched its shoulder. It jerked, but didn't turn and look at him. “Do you need some help?” he asked.

The figure didn't answer or turn. It didn't move at all.

He tried again. “Can we help you?”

Still nothing. Dan turned to leave, but as soon as he turned around he felt a gentle hand push him around all the way so he was again facing the lump. He took that as a sign that he was supposed to help here somehow. How? Not knowing what else to do he stepped down off the curb and squatted so he could at least talk to its face. He noticed the perpetual shivering. There was no coat in sight.

“You need some help. What can I do?” he asked.

“Nothing.” it mumbled.

“I'm going to do something. I won't leave until you are warm and on your way.”

“Just go.”

“I'm not going until you are ok.”

“I'm fine.”

“You aren't.” Dan stated. “You're shivering, I can see it myself. You are sitting here by yourself at a rest stop without a car or any food that I can see. That is not fine. Where are you going?”

The shoulders moved in a shrug but the movement at least moved off some of the snow.

“I need to know where you're going.” he persisted. “Is someone coming to get you?”

The head shook, shaking off a bit more snow and unleashing a flood of hair that spilled all the way down her back from where she had tucked it up and out of the way. “Great,” she muttered. “It took me an hour to get it to stay that way.”

“Sorry,” Dan grinned at her. At least he knew it was a girl, or rather a woman, now. “So where are you headed?”

“Anywhere.” she said.

“We're driving down to Gilbert. Can we take you that far?”

“Who's we?” she asked hesitantly. She peeked up at him showing her smudged and rumpled face with brown eyes fringed with dark eyelashes. They had to be the only clean part of her face.

“Me and my mother.” He gestured toward the car where his mom still stood waiting for him.

The brown eyes followed his hand to see the stout woman standing beside the car all bundled up in the coat. Dan noticed that his mom's dark hair was beginning to look a bit white from snow.

“Look,” he finally said when she refused to say anything. “My mom is probably getting cold and I know you are. Why don't you come with us and we'll take you to our house in Gilbert and you can decide what to do from there. At least you'll be warm. And we have some snacks in the car.”

He thought she looked tempted but she remained stuck to the curb she was perched on. He stood and felt the joints in his knees complain from squatting so long. “Come on,” he held out a hand to her.

Her head tipped up to see the hand. He felt her eyes searching his face, for what? He stood and waited, hand outstretched. He turned to see his mom watching him and felt a smooth , but freezing cold, hand slip into his. He helped pull her to her feet and stopped, stunned. When she stood she was almost a foot shorter than his six feet, but it was her belly that shocked him. She had to be at least eight months pregnant.

He decided that it might be better not to say anything and instead just put an arm around her to guide her to the bathroom. “Why don't you wash your hands and face with some warm water to start warming you up and I'll get the car started and the heater running so it'll be warm for you.”

She nodded and walked slowly into the bathroom. He wasn't sure if he would ever see her again.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Kylee splashed the warm water on her face rather amazed at how dirty it came off. Her hands had been filthy as well. It was surprising that man hadn't run off when he had seen her face. But she was glad he hadn't. At least she would have a warm car to sit in for awhile. And hadn't he said something about food to eat in the car? Her stomach rumbled just thinking about it. Food would be the best of all. She made a quick cup out of her hands and got a drink before exiting the bathroom.

The car was gone. She had known in her heart that it was too good to be true. So why did her heart sink so far that it hurt?

“Are you coming?”

She hadn't heard him running up to her, but when she turned and saw him standing there relief flooded through her. She really wasn't going to be stuck all night at this rest stop. The car had only been moved closer to the bathrooms.

“Yes,” she said. “I'm coming.”

“Good.” he grinned at her. “My mom is waiting to meet you. By the way, my name's Dan. Dan Tyler.”

“Mine's Kylee.” She didn't give her last name, not figuring that it mattered much anyway.

“Hi Kylee,” he said. “Are you ready to go?”

She nodded and followed after him, not taking the hand he had offered to her. He led her to the running car and opened the door to the passengers side. Kylee slipped in, savoring the warmth that immediately surrounded her.

“Hello.” Dan's mom greeted from the back seat.

“Shouldn't you be up here?” Kylee asked.

“No,” the woman said. “I'm better off back here where I can sleep a little before we get home. It's been a long trip and I'm really tired.” Dan slipped in his seat then and put the car in reverse, pulling out of the parking lot and heading them for the freeway. “We've been driving all day.” she continued.

“Stop complaining, mom,” Dan gently chided. “It was your idea to get up so early and leave.”

“I know,” she grumbled, “but I'm still tired.”

“Go to sleep then.”

“I'm trying.”

“That's my mom, Mary,” Dan said. Kylee nodded. “We're on our way back to Gilbert from Idaho. Where are you from?”

“Little town in Texas,” Kylee answered. Where was that food he had offered? She was starving.

“Going to visit family?” he asked.

“Sure,” she agreed. Anything. Just give me some food. She looked around but didn't see anything she could swipe and sneak to eat. Her stomach rumbled loudly in protest.

“How long has it been since you ate?” he asked.

She shrugged. “This morning?”

He clucked his tongue disapprovingly. “The food is in the cooler behind me. You'll have to get it yourself. Just take anything you want.”

Kylee couldn't get to it fast enough. She had to squirm around in the car, but managed to reach the little cooler and pull out the first thing her hand touched. An apple. She crunched into it immediately feeling juice run down her face. She wiped it away with her wrist hoping that Dan wouldn't notice.

He seemed to be happy just driving, not paying her too much attention. Kylee felt free to study him a little as she ate her apple quickly. He had dark hair like his mom, nearly black. His dark eyes were warm and friendly, that she remembered from talking to him at the rest stop. And he was tall, much taller than she was. That wasn't hard, though, as she was only five feet, three inches tall herself. He had a nice voice, soothing. He sang along with the songs on the radio as they drove and Kylee found it oddly comforting to be with a man so secure with himself that he could sing along without being self conscious of the way he sounded. Of course, Dan could sing fairly well, so maybe that was why. She liked his hands. He had nice hands, long and slender fingers with a firm grip when he had helped her up. They felt strong, like they could take on the world and keep her safe.

The apple was gone. “Where do you want the core?” Kylee asked.

Dan interrupted his song to glance over at her. There's a sack we've been putting the garbage in around here somewhere.” he said. “Just see if you can find it and then get yourself some more to eat.”

Kylee was only too happy to do as he requested. The garbage sack wasn't too difficult to find so she shoved the apple core in it rumbled around the cooler for more food. She pulled out a sandwich. Bologna. Not her favorite, but she was still too hungry to care. She bite into it and felt the tang of the mustard.

“I hope you like mustard,” Dan commented. “I hate the stuff, but my aunt in Idaho made the sandwiches for us.”

“It's good,” Kylee mumbled around the sandwich in her mouth.

“Good.” he nodded.

The sandwich didn't last very long either. Kylee felt much better after eating it though and leaned back in the seat to get some rest. It had been a trying day with the car breaking down and the long walk to the rest stop. Well, she was supposed to be exercising each day and she had certainly done that.

“Are you full?” Dan glanced at her again.

“I'm ok.” Kylee closed her eyes and before she knew it she was sound asleep. She didn't know how long she had been asleep when she woke to the low sounds of voices quietly talking.

“You're awake!” Dan grinned over at her.

“Hmmm?” Kylee raised her hands over her head to stretch but hit the roof of the car instead.

“Are you feeling better?” Mary asked.

It took Kylee a moment to reacquaint herself with where she was and why. “Hmmm? Yes. I'm doing much better now.” She smiled at the older woman. “I guess I was really tired.”

“We'll be home soon.” Mary said, meaning to soothe.

Kylee panicked instead. Home. Their home. What would she do then? She still had no where to go and no money to get there. Maybe she should have just stayed in Holly Springs. At least there she'd had a job even if it was just working in a diner.

“Do you have some one to call?” Mary asked. “If they can't come and get you, Daniel will take you home.”

Kylee wasn't sure how to answer that and so said nothing.

“Are you going to be staying in Gilbert?” Dan asked.

Kylee shrugged. She had no idea where she was going or where she would be staying. “Is it much further?” she asked instead. She wasn't sure exactly where they where and had never been in this part of the country anyway, but there were street lights along the freeway now and some buildings so they had to be getting closer. Right?

“We're just getting to the outskirts of Phoenix. It'll be about forty-five minutes until we get to our house.” Dan said.

Forty-five minutes to decide what to do next. Maybe there was a nice park she could sleep at. Wasn't Phoenix supposed to be warm in the winter? She should have paid more attention in school instead of just passing until she graduated. Maybe then she would know a little more about Arizona.

“Are you hungry?” Mary asked. “Or would you rather have dinner with your family?”

There was no family. “Is there anything left to eat?” she asked.

Mary opened the little cooler and looked inside. “There's a couple more sandwiches and some cookies and apples.”

“Can I have a sandwich?”

Mary handed the baggie to her and watched Kylee rip it open and wolf it down. “Would you like another? Or maybe some cookies?”

Kylee nodded eagerly and quickly ate the cookies as well. Mary watched the girl consume the food, nearly inhaling it. She had to be half starving. What kind of family did she come from? And what was she going to? Mary studied her carefully noticing her well-worn clothes and the beaten look she had about her. Her light brown hair was long, very, very long, although Mary couldn't tell just how long in the dark car. It looked as though it hadn't been brushed all day and the girl hadn't taken any luggage with her. Did she even have anything? Her thin, oval face was pinched, as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders. She had nice eyes, though. Pale brown like her hair. Mary had noticed them when she had turned for the food. And she was really pregnant. Or maybe it just looked that way because Kylee herself was so very thin.

“Maybe you would like to eat with us while you wait for your family?” Mary suddenly invited.

Kylee shrugged, not knowing what to say.

“That would be nice,” Dan said.

Kylee turned her face to the window and watched the buildings increase in number. More and more and more buildings. The traffic had picked up amazingly as well. Dan switched the car onto anther freeway and continued driving. Lights blazed from everything, green and red blinking all over, reminding Kylee that she wouldn't be having Christmas yet again. “Dinner would be nice.” she suddenly suggested, long after the invitation.

“Good.” Mary agreed. “I hope my husband has cooked something good.”

“He cooks?” Kylee asked.

“Pretty well,” Dan said. “Better than Mom.”

“Hey!” Mary protested, lightly tapping Dan's shoulder with her fist.

Dan chuckled, a very pleasant sound to Kylee. “Just kidding, Mom.” he said. “No one cooks better than you.”

“That's more like it, son.”

Kylee felt her stomach turn, the familiar feeling of motion sickness over taking her. She turned to face the front and look out the windshield, hoping the feeling would go away.

“Are you ok?” Dan asked.

“No,” Kylee grunted.

“Need to stop?”

She shook her head. “It'll go in a minute.”

“What's wrong?” Mary asked. “Morning sickness?”

Kylee shook her head. “Car sickness.”

“Oh dear,” Mary murmured. “If you need to stop, just tell Daniel and he'll pull over.

Kylee nodded, but the feeling was passing. She got motion sickness so easily it was embarrassing.

“Have you ever been to Phoenix before?” Dan asked.

“No.”

“Well,” he said. “That's BOB, over there.” He pointed out his window toward a couple of tall buildings, one of which looked like it had a dome on top. It was hard to tell in the dark.

“That rounded one?” Kylee asked.

“That's the one.”

“What's BOB?” she asked after a second.

Dan glanced at her, incredulous. “BOB - Bank One Ball Park. The baseball field for the Diamondbacks.” Kylee still didn't look impressed. “You know,” he pressed. “It's where the World Series was played. In 2001.”

“OK.” Kylee said.

“You aren't a big baseball fan?” Mary asked.

“Not really.” Kylee said. She hadn't even owned a TV to watch any and know if she liked it or not.

“You ought to go and see the Superstition Mountains while you are visiting,” Mary said. “They're beautiful. We go hiking at least once a year up them. And there are some fun touristy things up there. Like Gold Field Gold Mine.”

“I'll have to think about it.” Kylee said, but she turned away from the window. She had no money to go anywhere.

Mary gave her strange look. “You do that.”

Dan switched freeways again. Kylee looked out the side window to see more lights flash by until she started to feel car sick. It was easier than trying to talk about things there was no way she could do. She had no car to take her to the mountains, no money to do the touristy things, no way to reach BOB or anything else. Maybe she should have stayed with her car. At least she could have slept on the seats and had a change of clothes. Surely police would have come by sooner or later and rescued her.

“There's Tempe Town Lake.” Dan pointed out the window again.

“Funny looking lake,” Kylee commented. Instead of being a large, rounded lake like she was used to seeing this one was long, looked more like a river than a lake.

Dan laughed. “It's our excuse for a lake.” he explained. The town dammed off part of the Salt River bed and filled it up and now it's a lake.”

“What about the river?” Kylee asked. “Where does it go?”

“There was never any water in it anyway.” Mary explained. “We don't get much rain around here.”

Kylee had to admit that the lake did look pretty with all the lights shining on it. There were even some boats out on it. Nice. Maybe this would be an ok place for awhile. She had to stop somewhere and have the baby.

The baby. Another scary thought. What would she do with a baby? Where was she going to keep it? What could she dress it in? She shook her head, not wanting to add that headache to her worries tonight.

“I know,” Mary said. “It seems silly to fill a river with water and call it a lake, but it's the only one we've got around here.”

“No,” Kylee began to explain what she had actually been thinking, then thought better of it. “It's not so silly,” she finished.

Dan switched onto yet another freeway. “How many freeways are there around here?” she asked, amazed at the complexity of getting home.

“Not that many,” he laughed again. “This is the circuitous route, but it's quicker.”

Kylee nodded, making a mental note to look up “circuitous” the next time she saw a dictionary. It was nice to hear that the trip was almost over. Maybe they would even let her take a sandwich and some apples or cookies with her. It would give her something to eat later.

“Almost home,” Dan announced as he finally turned into the lane to exit the freeway. Val Vista Road the sign said. What kind of name was Val Vista? He turned right at the stop light and passed more businesses before they reached some housing. Kylee kept expecting them to turn into one of the nice housing developments but they kept going until they went over some railroad tracks. Finally, he turned onto a dirt road with houses spaced well apart. The road curved around to the left and a garage door ahead began to open.

Dan pulled into the open garage and stopped the car. “Here we are!” he announced. “Wait!” he said as Kylee began to open the door. “Let me help you out.”

“I can do it,” she protested.

“Sure you can,” he agreed. “But a little help isn't going to hurt you.”

Before she could say anything more he was out of the car and around to her door. He helped his mom out first and then opened Kylee's door. He held a hand out. She stared at it for a minute then slowly reached her hand out and placed it in his. His hand was warm and soft and gentle and encompassed hers completely as he tugged a bit to help her out. Kylee found that she needed the help after her legs had been still for so long.

“Oh!” she gasped.

“What?” Mary asked as she pulled things out of the car. A pile was accumulating: the cooler, jackets, a small tapestry bag.

“My feet feel a little strange is all.” Kylee explained. She placed a hand under her swollen belly and peered around it to look down. “Holy cow!” she groaned.

Mary steeped over to look. “Honey,” she laughed. “Your feet are swollen!”

“They sure are!” Kylee tried to laugh as well, but it sounded more like a small sob.

“It's ok,” Mary gave her a one-arm hug. “It'll go away once you rest a little. Here, come with me. Daniel will unload the car and we can get you settled down and resting so your feet will feel better.”

Kylee allowed her to steer her into the house, Mary's arm still around her shoulders, and away from the offensive car. The house would be warmer anyway.

“Mom!” a girl screeched as she plowed around the corner to fling herself into her mother's arms. “Oh!” she stopped suddenly when she saw Kylee.

“Janie, this is Kylee. She caught a ride home with us and will be staying for dinner.” Mary introduced the two. “Kylee, my daughter Janie.”

“Hi,” Kylee shyly said.
“Hi. When's your baby due?” Janie asked. She was twelve years old and very curious about everything. She had the same dark hair and Dan and Mary and the same good looks;dark eyes, pleasant face, smiling mouth.

“A few weeks, I think.” Kylee said.

“You think?” Mary asked. “You don't know? When did you last visit your doctor? And what is he thinking allowing you to travel at this point in your pregnancy?” Mary was quite indignant at the thought of this lovely young girl not being properly taken care of.

“I don't have a doctor,” Kylee quietly admitted.

“No doctor? Well, who's looking after you then?” Mary demanded. Dan pushed by them with his first load of luggage.

“How about some help, Jane?” he asked.

“In a minute.” This conversation was far more interesting.

“Well?” Mary was still waiting for her answer.

“I am.” Kylee said.

“Where is that baby's father?”

Kylee shrugged, having absolutely no idea and not really wanting to know anyway as he was the reason she had left her little Texas town, but wishing that she could sit. Her feet were killing her and she was feeling very tired and worn out again.

Mary muttered something about irresponsible youth as she hustled Kylee away from the door, through the kitchen, the family room, and into a cozy living room and with overstuffed chair that she was promptly pushed into with her feet propped up on an ottoman. “You wait here,” she ordered in such a voice that Kylee wouldn't dream of moving.

“Rachel! Nephi!” she called as she moved out of the room. “I'm home!”

More people crowded around Mary, hugging her and asking about her trip. One was another dark-haired girl, a couple of years older that Janie. The other had to be her husband as he was an older man, also with dark hair, though his was graying at the temples. He was obviously where Dan had gotten his looks from.

Dan moved back into view, arms laden with bags and suitcases. “Next time I want to go, too.” Rachel pouted.

“Here, start practicing,” Dan pushed some of the bags into her arms.

“That wasn't what I had in mind!” Rachel called over her shoulder as she walked down the hallway and disappeared.

Everyone moved into the kitchen and out of Kylee's sight. Without the noise and excitement around, she quickly fell asleep again.


Story © by respective author(s)
Licensed under the Creative Commons License