Denise tightened her grip on the steering wheel as she turned left at the green light. There was absolutely no way that Charles was going to beat her to the restaurant today. She started getting ready for their date a full hour earlier than usual. Even with the extra special care she took with her hair and makeup, she still left nearly forty-five minutes earlier than she normally would have.
The problem was that there was no problem. Denise just ran into new and different problems every time she left the house.
Take last week, for example. How was she to know that she was going to turn down a one way street blocked by a broken down garbage truck? It had just happened, and it wasn’t even on the traffic report later, so she honestly didn’t have any way of knowing.
And last month, when those protesters decided to let the monkeys loose from the city zoo. Nobody could have predicted such a thing, nor that two orangutans would set up shop in the middle of the very street that Denise chose as her best route to the library.
The next light was red, and Denise toed the brake, adjusting the collar of her denim jacket as she slowed. She hummed along with the melody whispering from the car stereo, then reached for the volume knob to turn it up enough to hear the words.
But when she lifted her eyes back to the road ahead of her, a tank. A tank? Cruising down the street in the middle of a major metropolitan area? Denise threw the car in park and threw her hands in the air in defeat.
“I’m just going to stay home and write my poetry from now on. Charles is just going to have to survive on takeout and home cooking, that’s all there is to it.” She dug through her purse until she found her cell phone, and called Charles to repeat herself.
“A freaking tank, Charles. It’s unbelievable, I know. I’m not sure if I should even try to turn around and drive back home. I might get trampled by a brontosaur stampede,” she was beginning to sob. “What did I do to deserve this, Charles? For crying out loud, I can’t even go to the grocery store without a freak hailstorm destroying my windshield.”
That one happened three weeks ago.
Charles did his best to calm down his beloved, but she grew more and more hysterical with each passing second. Finally, he interrupted her long enough to state firmly that he was going to come and pick her up, and he would park her car somewhere safe nearby and come back to get it the next day.
Denise agreed, snot dribbling down her upper lip. She got off the phone and leaned over to open her glove compartment for some napkins to clean up. She straightened in her seat and blew her nose, and sat calmly and quietly, waiting for Charles to show up.
It only took him about ten minutes. With a shock of guilt, Denise realized how close she was to his work, and that he must have skipped out early to come and help her in her hysterical state. She got out of her car and threw her arms around his neck.
“You’re my hero, Charles,” she exclaimed, kissing him. “I don’t know what I would do without you. I’m so sorry for the drama and making you leave work and…”
He interrupted her for the second time, before she broke down again. “It’s perfectly okay, sweetheart. Come on.” He escorted her around to the passenger side of his car. “Now, just wait here a moment, and I’ll go park you right over there,” he said, pointing at the Chipotle across the street. “I won’t be but a few minutes, okay?”
Denise nodded, and as she waited for Charles to return, suddenly wondered where everyone else was. A tank was blocking the road before her, yes, but surely at least one other driver should have come up behind her at this light while she waited for Charles.
The thought occupied her mind so thoroughly that she didn’t even notice Charles come back to his car, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when he opened the door and got into the driver’s seat. She swiped at her nose once more with the napkin and cocked her head at him.
“Where is everyone else today?” The genuine confusion in her tone took Charles by surprise.
“They’re all gone, Denise,” he answered, now feeling as puzzled as she looked. “Don’t you remember? The city closed yesterday. They’re evacuating all of us in two days.” His grew more concerned by the second as he realized that none of this was ringing a bell with her. “Denise, are you even packed yet?”
“But where are we going? And why?” The tears were back in her eyes, the napkin forgotten in the loose fist that lay in her lap.
“Wherever there is room for us, my love. Because of the war.” Charles reached out a hand to comfort her, but Denise flinched away.
“None of this is making any sense, Charles. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just let me out! You’re lying!” The napkin tumbled from her hand as she scrabbled at the door handle, struggling to work it without unlocking it first.
Charles returned his eyes to the horizon. The last time Denise was like this, it took her a full six weeks to come back to him. He pressed his lips together and continued to her house, where he tucked her into bed and packed a bag of essentials for her before falling asleep on the couch.
LRose asked for a prompt; I gave her one, but I fell in love with it myself.