A short story by Jonell Cash
“Ella, how long has it been since we’ve stopped for a cup of coffee before we head home?”
Judy’s voice cut through Ella’s excuses with a reality check. After all, Judy and Ella were best friend and they had made a pact that they would always be there for each other—and that meant they’d have time to visit and share.
“I wish I could, Judy, but Scottie’s waiting for me.”
Masking her emotions with the subterfuge of an addict, Ella kept her gaze level. Her mind raced with the thought, ‘If I were as honest as Judy I’d have blurted out, keeping everyone happy is making my ‘big day’ one I wish I could forget before it happens!’
Ella watched as Judy unlocked her car door and pitched a bag lightly into the back seat. She sighed with envy at Judy’s self-confidence and felt she was somehow cheated. She blamed her plight on a weakness not of her making, “If I had Judy’s good judgment I wouldn’t be in the fix I’m in now.”
‘That’s a leap’, Ella scolds herself. ‘Because when I told Judy that Scott Billing, Sr. had proposed to me, the first thing out of her mouth was, “You’re too young to take on a ready-made family. You’re not . . .”’ ‘She never finished the sentence, but she didn’t need to. I heard Judy’s advice but I chose to ignore it,” she sadly admitted.
“Sorry, Ella, that you need to get home. I know your hands are full—working full time; making time for Scottie-- and Brad, too. Becoming an instant family, no time to be a couple, is a big order to fill. But if anyone can do it, you can!”
Ella didn’t respond. She felt Judy watching her as she slide behind the wheel of her Toyota. Glancing up, their eyes met. She threw Judy a kiss and watched her car pull out of the parking lot. Ella remained still for a moment; her shoulders droop. She was in no hurry to face her husband-to-be…and his child. Ashamed, Ella shook her head with self-loathing; she tried to withdraw, or at least, cover over her thought, “After all Brad is only seven and he’s a nice kid and he deserves a mother he can count on—not a woman like his birth mother who left home without a word. What kind of attitude will Brad have about women if I don’t show him love and steadfastness? “
With that question, silence hung in the air mockingly—then, suddenly, Ella notices an object on the pavement.
“Shoot! Did I drop that?” Ella said aloud as she stepped out of the car to retrieve the manila envelope that caught her attention.
The envelope feels chunky and is surprisingly heavy; Ella frowns and then peeks inside. Confused, Ella dumps the content on the front seat and stares.
“Wow! Money! Lots of money!”
After moments of indecision, Ella decides she must return the lost money to its rightful owner and hope for a generous reward. But try as she will she can find no clues to its origin. Defeated in her efforts, she starts the car and pulls out into the traffic.
“I bet Scottie can help me figure out what to do with this money. It’s not marked. It was in a public parking lot—no clue-- Nine thousand dollars! Wow, Scottie will insist that we put the money on a down payment for a house. He’ll say, ‘It’s ours; a wedding present from the Giver of all good and perfect gifts.’”
Imagining a tug-of-war over the money, Ella needs time to think. She slows her car and moves cautiously to hug the guard rail of the emergency lane. Feeling unstable, she brings her car to a stop. She reaches up and pushes her wet hair from her forehead; her breathing is short and heavy. She reaches for the envelope beside her and presses it against her face; then emptying the money into her hands, she inhales the dankness of the bills: and for a moment she smells the haystack, that last day with Joey, both of them nineteen and full of dreams and love. In a flash Joey was “Gone to a better place,’’ Reverend Fuller said--but she was left with empty dreams and loneliness.
“Miss, anything wrong?” Sheriff Deputy Poole speaks kindly but authoritatively as he shifts his flash light from Ella’s face to make a cautionary inventory of the belongings inside the vehicle. Ella controls her urge to grab the brown envelop and slip it under her butt. She takes a long slow breath for voice control, “Officer, thank you for checking. Having a little trouble with my contact lens—blasted aggravation!”
“Drive safely, you hear!” Office Poole says as he pats the top of my car and walks away.
‘That lie was quite convincing,’ Ella smiles at the thought--and a plan begins to form in her mind. ‘This money is mine…it’s my ticket to a new life. If Joey can go to a better place, just like that,’ Ella says as she snaps her finger, then I can go on to a better life here on earth—and stop with the make-do love named Scottie and living other people’s dreams. I’ll reinvent myself!’