Here is 14th Contest entry #7:
It was almost midnight, and Modesto was hopping. The nights stayed warm in August, and the local kids planned to enjoy summer right up until the day school started.
Lance Barlows brand new 1959 Buick convertible made a U-turn in front of the Yosemite Drive-In, completing its twentieth circuit of K street that night. Beside him sat Marla Perkins, the prettiest cheerleader at Modesto High, her arm draped comfortably around his broad shoulders. The watching crowd of teenagers whistled and hooted with admiration.
On a bench near the back of the crowd, a heavyset young man pushed his glasses up his nose and frowned. Quarterbacks, Terrence Jones mumbled through a mouthful of french fries. They get all the girls. Hes lucky his father is rich enough to buy him a car like that, because I happen to know that Lance Barlow hasnt earned a dime in his life.
Terrence sighed, stuffed the last of his fourth serving of fries into his mouth, and walked to his own battered vehicle. Before he climbed in he rubbed its hood affectionately. Humble though it was, hed paid for the car out of his own earnings.
* * *
Two years later, Terrence was Best Man at Lance and Marlas wedding. Theyd grown up on the same street, and been friends all their lives. Everyone expected it, and Terrence wasnt about to disappoint anyone. Hed even asked one of his Professors at San Jose State College to postpone an exam so he could make the long drive to Modesto.
For their wedding present Terrence gave the happy couple a gift certificate for one hundred dollars, from Draegers Department Store on L street in Modesto. He knew Marla would need it to furnish their new apartment, as Lance didnt have a job.
Lance had been recruited from his star position as Modesto Highs football quarterback, and given an athletic scholarship at Sacramento State. However, faced with tough competition from across California, hed washed out in just a year.
Some people claimed that Marla was already pregnant when theyd married, but if so, Lances father had been able to hush it up.
After the wedding Terrence drove back to San Jose and buried himself in class work. He still didnt have a girlfriend. No one else could compare with Marla.
* * *
Marla Barlow finished the last of the dinner dishes and turned on their new Motorola TV. It helped fill the silence in the little house, one that should have been broken by the sounds of lively children. Shed miscarried twice already, and couldnt quite believe her husband when he told her that he didnt mind.
Lance was out, having gotten an emergency call about a big-rig that had broken down on Highway 99. He could charge double for evening runs, and that was how theyd bought the new TV.
Lances father had given up on supporting his son financially, but still used his influence to direct a lot of tow truck business their way. Hardly a day went by when the Modesto authorities didnt get half a dozen calls about breakdowns on Highway 99, a busy cross-state thoroughfare. The town was even starting to get tourists from foreign countries, on their way to see Yosemite National Park.
The telephone rang. It was Betty Sue, Marlas best friend, who worked the swing shift at the Modesto Police department. Marla, youd better come quick, she said. Theres been an accident.
Marla felt the cold clutches of fear. What happened? Is it Lance?
Yeah, Betty Sue said, almost sobbing. He was hooking up a big rig out on the highway when somebody swerved and hit him. Theyre taking him to the hospital now.
Ill be right down there, Marla said.
Should I send a patrol car to get you? Betty Sue asked. The tow truck was the only vehicle the Barlows owned. Lance had sold the Buick to pay off a gambling debt.
Its only five blocks, Marla replied. I can get there faster on my bicycle. Tell me straight, is it bad?
Betty Sue was a professional, and she told Marla the truth. Its bad all right. The ambulance radioed to have all the doctors called in to operate.
Okay, Marla blurted, then rushed out the door. The TV continued playing, to an empty room.
Marla pedaled furiously through the streets, every thought focused on her injured husband. She never even saw the old woman in the DeSoto, on her way back to her farm house from a bridge party in town.
* * *
Marla woke up on a glowing, white plain. She seemed to be floating, as shed only done before in dreams. But somehow she knew it wasnt a dream this time. All she had on was a loose white robe, but she felt warm and comfortable.
She stood and gazed around, but nothing broke the featureless expanse. Kind of like the wheat fields outside of town in September, she said to herself, but with no Sierras on the horizon. Not even a telephone pole in sight. My goodness, could this be Heaven?
A dot appeared in the distance. Someone was walking in her direction, white mist swirling around his feet. It was a kindly, gray haired man, dressed in the same kind of robe.
Are you an angel? Marla asked him. You look very familiar.
Yes, I was your doctor when you were a small child. Ive been watching over you ever since.
Dr. Hamilton! Marla exclaimed, and embraced the old man. But you passed away years ago. So this must be Heaven.
The old man smiled. Not exactly, Marla. This is a waiting room. Everyone comes here first. Sometimes their family meets them, or someone else they knew on Earth.
But then where is? Suddenly she remembered Betty Sues phone call. Lance! How is he? Why am I here and not . . .
Just a moment, my child, the angel said. All will become clear shortly.
As he spoke, another dot appeared in the distance. Soon Marla could see that it was Lance, walking their way. His white robe had a few grease stains on it.
Lance, youre here, Marla said. Betty Sue told me you were hurt real bad. Guess you didnt make it, huh? Im glad you look okay now. She turned to the angel. But how did I end up here? I wasnt out on 99 tonight.
Im afraid you were in too much of a hurry to get to the hospital, the angel told Marla. Riding your bicycle down the middle of the street in the dark like that. He shook his head sadly. Luckily the woman driving the car wasnt injured, just shook up a great deal.
Marla turned to Lance. Well, at least were still together. She moved to embrace him, but he held up both hands and stopped her. Whats wrong, honey?
You know how Heaven is a place of revelation? Well I have one for you. Lance took a deep breath and continued. You were quite a hottie in that cheerleader outfit of yours. You cook a pretty decent meat loaf, too. I was glad to catch you, but thats all you were to me, a catch.
What? Marla couldnt believe her ears. But then she thought about the wolf whistles the football squad used to give the cheerleaders. Lances was always the loudest. Once hed been escorted home by his coach after theyd caught him sneaking into the girls shower room after a game.
Only a month later shed shown that same view willingly, and the next day overheard him bragging about it to his friends. Even so, shed felt all grown up to have caught his attention like that. But that cant be all, Marla cried. We were building a home together.
Youre well built all right, Lance said.
The angel shot him a warning glance, and Lance made a but what can I do? gesture with his hands. Frowning, the angel remained silent.
With those bodacious ta-tas of yours, Lance bore on. And no kiddies to put them to decent use! Go on, Marla. Dont bother me up here. Ill be fine playing harps and what all. Heck, maybe Gods chariot needs a tune up, who knows?
Do I have to go? Marla asked the angel. Lance is the only man Ive ever known. Really, he has been good to me.
You werent hurt that badly, the old doctor replied. My young colleagues down there might just patch you up yet. Its your decision.
Marla glanced imploringly at her late husband, but his face was fixed in a hideous scowl. Okay, then, Id better get out of here.
* * *
Marla opened her eyes to a blur of light and shadow. She blinked, and gradually made out the smiling face of a nurse.
I knew you would pull through, the nurse said quietly. The doctor will be back in a few minutes. Ill leave you two alone now.
Whos here? Marla croaked.
Why, he hasnt left your side all day, the nurse said, and nodded to someone sitting in the corner of the hospital room. You can talk to her now, the nurse told the man, but be sure not to strain her at all.
Of course, the man said.
Marla recognized Terrence Jones. He was now a successful insurance agent with an office in the new part of town, along Oakdale Road. He was holding a bouquet of slightly wilted flowers.
These are for you, Terrence said awkwardly. I ran out and bought them this morning while you were in surgery.
Why, thank you, she said, her voice growing stronger.
I came here just as soon as I heard about the accidents. Im so sorry about your husband. They say he didnt suffer.
Oh, hell be all right, Marla said. Hes busy spiffing up Gods chariot right now, I should think. She was torn between resentment toward Lance and gratitude for seeing Terrence at her bedside.
Terrence looked so surprised that Marla couldnt help but grin. Ill tell you about it later.
Just then the doctor walked in. The man looked familiar, and well he should, Marla understood as she read his name tag. He was old Dr. Hamiltons grown-up son.
The nurse said you were awake, the doctor said. Your recovery has been remarkable. We were also able to save the baby.
Baby!? Marla said it just a moment ahead of Terrence.
You didnt know? the doctor said. You are three months pregnant.
Only then did Marla realize what Lance had done for her, in sending her back to life on Earth. She reached out and grasped Terrences hand.