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Lucky Man

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Jake dragged the hangar doors closed and padlocked them, before climbing into the cab of his pickup. The Ford was getting unreliable enough that he’d been considering trading it in for a newer model—there was only so much that even Heather’s talented mechanic’s touch could manage—but he hadn’t really made up his mind yet.

He turned the key, wincing as the engine coughed a couple times before it caught. Yeah, maybe it really was time to start looking for something else.

By the time he pulled out of the access road to the airfield and onto the highway, it had grown almost fully dark, despite being early October, and he switched on the headlamps. As he approached the Tacoma bridge, another pair of blazing lights popped up in the rear mirror. The twin beams advanced quickly; before he’d even reached the other side of the river, a small sports car overtook him, zipping past at high speed and honking its horn at him. Jake watched them go by and chuckled softly: whoever it was better hope Jimmy was at home enjoying supper.

Following the rear lights until they disappeared into the dark night, he sighed a little wistfully. He’d been that guy once, racing over the Kansas roads without a care in the world: the wheel steady beneath his palms and the low purr of the engine music to his ears. But the Roadrunner was gone; he’d sold her—when? He calculated the time: two years ago, almost to the day.

Much as he’d loved that car, it hadn’t been very practical. Each winter, he chanced getting stuck in the mud up the track to the ranch—he chuckled softly, remembering the time Heather had come to his rescue in her old Dodge, Charlotte. She hadn’t said a thing, but he’d been able to tell by the amused glint in her eyes that she felt quite vindicated about ignoring his past teasing regarding the old girl. And she’d been right, too.

So, when the oil baron from Texas that Mack introduced him to offered a good deal for the Roadrunner—he was starting his classics collection anew after the first had been vaporized along with most of Dallas—Jake hadn’t had to think too long about taking it. Cash would be tight for a while: Ant Aviation was only just getting off the ground and the flight school still a dim dream on the horizon; Heather’s earnings from tutoring would dwindle once her pregnancy reached its later stages. The money he could get for the Roadrunner would help tide them over the lean times.

After Jake had given the Texan the keys and signed over the papers, he’d watched the Roadrunner drive off with an ache in his heart, but he reassured himself he’d made the right decision. And since he could hardly deprive Heather of her Dodge whenever he needed to go somewhere, he used a small portion of the large wad of Texan cash to buy Ridley Cooper’s old Ford. The truck was almost as ancient as Charlotte, but he’d reckoned that between him and Heather, they could keep it running as long as he needed it.

And look: two years later, here it was, still chugging along.

Heather had been very surprised, though, when he’d come trundling up the track in Cooper’s Ford. He remembered how she’d come out of the house and stood on the porch, shielding her eyes against the setting sun. “What happened?”

“Sold the Roadrunner.” Jake indicated the rusty truck. “This’ll do for me for now.”

“What?” The faint smile on her face as she’d watched him climb from a car as old and dented as her Charlotte faded, and she started down the stairs. “Jake, why? That car is as much part of you as… as….” She failed to come up with a comparison.

Jake had pulled her close and moved around her so he could rest his hand on the soft swell of her belly while he held her. “No.” He kissed the top of her head, and she leaned back against him. “It was part of who I was. Not who I am.” She’d turned and tilted her head up then, and kissed him, and he’d never regretted selling the Roadrunner.

With a start he realized he’d reached the turnoff to the ranch. Pulling himself back to the present, he hit the blinker. At the end of the track, warm light spilled from the windows, beckoning him home.

In the end, the Roadrunner was only a car, and he’d gotten so much in its place: an amazing wife, a beautiful son, his dream of having his own flight school slowly turning into reality….

No, he certainly had no regrets.

o0o

The next day, Jake got to spend some quality time with his son; Heather claimed she had to go out and “run some errands”. Why running errands required Mary come out and pick her up when there were two cars parked in the front yard was beyond him, but Jake shrugged it off, deciding that whatever they had planned was probably some women’s thing they didn’t want him to know about.

He’d just put JJ down for his afternoon nap, and was trying to scrub the kitchen table clean of crayon, when the deep rumble of a V8 engine vibrated through the house. Jake frowned; he wasn’t expecting anyone. Dropping the rag he’d been using, he made his way to the front of the house to find a bottle-green Camaro pulling up near the porch steps. His frown deepened; he also didn’t know anyone who owned a Camaro.

His eyes widened as Heather climbed out from behind the wheel, grinning from ear to ear at him. She was pregnant again, but still early in her first trimester and she didn’t show at all yet—except that, to him, she looked so extra-radiant he found it hard to believe nobody else noticed.

He hopped down the steps, raising an eyebrow at her and at the car. “What’s this?”

Her smile grew even bigger, and Jake had the distinct feeling he was missing something. He racked his brain for what it could be, and came up empty.

“You like?” She tilted her head questioningly.

He circled the car, giving it a thorough look-over. There were rust spots all over the body, the left rear window was cracked, and the fender on the right was dented. “Mind if I…?” He gestured at the front of the car. When Heather nodded, he popped the hood to take a look at the engine before turning back to her. “‘68, right?”

She nodded, bobbing on her toes with excitement, and again Jake wondered what it was he wasn’t getting. He dropped the hood. “Whose is it?”

Heather dangled the Camaro’s keys in front of him. “Yours.” She lifted herself up on tiptoe to kiss him. “Happy birthday, Jake.”

He drew back with a burst of laughter, certain now someone was playing a joke on him somewhere. “My birthday’s in January.”

Heather chuckled. “I know.” She reached for his hand and dropped the keys in his open palm. “I just got you your present a little early.” She nudged him toward the driver side door.

He resisted, staring down at her. “How…?”

She shrugged. “I heard from someone who knew someone over in Goodland who could get me a good deal. They were willing to hold it for me while I took on some extra tutoring hours until I’d saved up enough.”

He wasn’t sure whether to be upset or not. She was pregnant; she shouldn’t be working so hard. And just because everything had gone well with JJ—.

“Go on, take her for a spin.” Clearly unaware of his reservations, Heather gave him another little push. “Don’t you want to find out how she handles? Just go easy on the transmission, it’s a little shaky.”

Still a bit shell-shocked, he allowed her to jostle him back around the car. She dragged the door open—the old hinges creaked something awful—and motioned for him to get in. The seats were leather, a little cracked and darkened with age.

“But why?” he tried a final time. His old Ford wasn’t much to look at, but it had served him well enough, and the Camaro wasn’t very practical: too small to transport his entire family, especially with the new baby that was on the way.

Heather let go of the door, and her expression turned a little more serious. “You sold the Roadrunner for me. For us. That was—.” She gave a single shake of her head, before brushing some loose strands of hair behind her ear. She glanced up, catching his gaze. “I love you, Jake Green. And I’m sorry I couldn’t get you another….” Suddenly, tears glimmered in her eyes and she hiccuped a laugh. “Will you just go? Before I make a spectacle of myself?”

He reached out to cup her face in his hands. “It’s perfect.” Leaning down to seek her lips with his, he added softly, “I love you too. And thank you.”

She waved as he drove off, cautiously navigating the rutted track until he reached the smoother surface of Route 6. Heather was right about the transmission, but otherwise, the Camaro handled well. Jake cranked down the window and let himself be soothed by the cool October air washing over him and ruffling his hair, and the hum of the tires.

Now that he was driving a real car again, he reflected that maybe he’d had some regrets about selling the Roadrunner, after all—and that his wife knew him far better than he knew himself.

Yeah, he thought, shifting gear carefully, he reckoned he should count himself a very lucky man.