Ursa swore quietly and slumped back as the ancient station wagon’s engine died, and the vehicle slowed. Her younger sister, Layla, moaned with exasperation from the passenger seat and the youngest, Vix, began one of her rants from the back seat.
“It’s the alternator, I just know it. Didn’t sound like we ran out of gas. Oh, we might not make it into the parking lot. Can we get out and push? I’m pretty strong, you know.”
“Vix,” Ursa warned. “I’m not in the mood, okay? Shut up. We’ll make it.”
The car slowly rolled into the lot and halfway into a parking spot before halting. Ursa sighed. “Call mom,” she groaned to Layla.
Layla sighed as well and brushed her long, dark-brown hair out of her grey eyes. She reached into the backpack between her feet and pulled out the beat-up old phone with missing buttons. She dialed.
“Just let me take a look, Ursa,” Vix demanded. She’d gotten out of her seatbelt and now had her head between the two front seats. Her amazingly curly, red hair reached her shoulders now. When the girl was thirteen, she’d had a bout of individuality and chopped it close to her head. It had taken two years to grow to its current length. Ursa doubted she would ever cut it again.
“Just wait. We’ll look at it after mom knows what’s going on.”
Now Vix sighed.
“Mom,” Layla complained into the phone. “Ursa’s crappy car broke down again. …the Olive Garden parking lot.” She listened for a moment and sighed. “I know, mom. We won’t. Jeeze.” She ended the call and turned to Ursa. “She’s going on about us not going into the woods again. What is wrong with her?” Layla was eighteen and a senior in high school.
Ursa rested her head against the steering wheel and gazed at Layla. “She has those dreams, you know.”
“Pfff. Yeah, I have dreams too. Doesn’t mean I let them drive me completely mental,” Layla grumbled.
Vix opened her door and hopped out. “Pop the hood,” she told Ursa, and threw her door closed excitedly. Ursa shook her head and glanced at Layla, who shrugged. She reached down and lifted the hood release and watched Vix enter her element. Her uncanny ability to fix things was a little creepy. Their mother, Cassandra, said that Vix got it from her father. This, like many things Cassandra said, made the three girls shuffle their feet and glance at each other from the corners of their eyes. Cassandra rarely said anything about their fathers, so when she did, the information stuck in their heads permanently. Ursa couldn’t remember her own father, and barely remembered Layla’s. She did, however, remember Vix’s father. She could remember his short, curly red hair and his tall, thin frame. She thought she remembered green eyes, but that thought might have been implanted there by Cassandra. Their mother insisted that each of them resembled their fathers and Vix had beautiful green eyes.
Other than the man’s appearance, Ursa remembered little about Vix’s father. She thought he was kind but that was all. Neither Vix's dad, nor Layla's had been around long. Nor Ursa’s, for that matter.
“Jeeze, Ursa! The dipstick is bone dry!” Vix admonished from beneath the hood. “Grab me a quart of oil.” Then the girl muttered. “Damn miracle the engine didn’t lock up.”
Ursa shook her head at Layla, who grinned. They didn’t understand Vix. They didn’t really understand each other. If they were to believe their mother, they were the female doubles of three unrelated men. Ursa reached behind her seat and grabbed a quart of oil, then stepped out to pass it to her little sister. She knew nothing about cars. She didn’t care to know. She loved her sisters, but the three of them couldn’t be any more different.
She watched Vix empty the oil into the engine and check the dipstick again. She cringed when Vix wiped it on her jeans. The girl wore raggedy jeans, but still… “Another,” Vix ordered.
This time Layla eased smoothly out of the car with the oil. She lazily swung her long head of hair down to watch Vix, too. “You’re a freak,” Layla told her with calm certainty.
Vix squinted up at Layla and bared her teeth. “So are you. And at least my freakiness serves a purpose.”
Layla pursed her gorgeous lips and tried to look pissed but ended up grinning. “A hit.”
Vix rolled her eyes.
Ursa sighed. The sun would be down soon. She leaned against the side of the wagon and stared out into the forest her mother feared so much. If she was honest, the dark expanse of birches and pines scared her too. She’d even had dreams similar to the ones her mother described, but again, Ursa believed it was due to her mother’s suggestion. Mother’s gonna put all of her fears into you. She rubbed the goosebumps off her arms and looked back to Vix. “Will it start now?”
“Probly not. I imagine the battery’s dead. Like I said. Alternator.”
Ursa had to trust her. “So what was the point with the oil?”
Vix gaped at Ursa, apparently amazed that anyone could be stupid enough to ask. She closed her eyes for a moment. “We might be able to make it home if we get a jump.”
The girls looked around the mostly-deserted parking lot, without much hope.
Ursa had a delightful thought. “We should call Daughtry.”
Her younger sisters looked at her with disgust and Layla asked, “Why are you so into that guy? He’s old.”
Ursa rolled her eyes. Not this again. “He’s thirty. That’s not old, Layla. That’s prime.”
“Eww,” Layla said. “Eww, Ursa. You’re twenty-one. He’s almost a decade older than you. He’s like, the MC Hammer generation. You want your kid’s wearing hammer pants?”
“Layla, there are so many things wrong with what you just said. Besides, he’s sexy.”
Vix groaned with disgust. “Can you not say that word?”
Ursa sighed. “Fine. But let’s call him. I’m sure he’d jump us for free.”
A devilish smile crept over Layla’s face. “He’d jump you for free.”
“Ugh, Layla!” Vix cried.
“What? You don’t even know what that means.”
“I’m fifteen, not an infant,” Vix mumbled.
Ursa was becoming impatient. “Give me the phone. I’ll call him.”
Layla passed the phone and shivered a little. The night was cooling off.
Ursa cleared her throat and dialed. She held the phone close to her ear, and, instinctively, her pose changed to a more seductive one. Her sisters laughed and she walked to the back of the wagon so they couldn’t watch. The phone rang for a while and she was beginning to fear he’d already gone home.
“Daughtry’s,” a tired and rough voice answered.
“Um, hi, this is Ursa. Ursa Rehmert?”
“Oh, hey kid. What’s goin’ on?”
“Well, our wagon broke down, and Vix guesses that we just need a jump to get us home,” Ursa absent-mindedly looked at her reflection in the back window and fluffed her blonde pixie cut. “So, it’s kinda deserted around here…”
“Where are you? I was just about to close up anyway.”
Ursa’s reflection in the dirt-caked window smiled.
The three girls were all sitting on the back bumper when Erik Daughtry pulled up in his blue, tow truck. His last name was printed tastefully in grey on the side of the door. He pulled the giant thing around and nosed it right up against the front of the station wagon. Ursa tried not to watch too intently as he opened the door and hopped out. His brown hair poked out from under his blue Daughtry’s hat and he had streaks of oil and grime on his elbows, clothes and face. He had a beard and moustache that weren’t out of control. In fact they were very clean cut now that he’d started his own business. When he’d worked for Henry Showalter, he’d let it get scruffy.
He was rough-looking and muscular, and, though he worked hard, his blue eyes were merry. They’d known him almost all their lives, and, while Layla and Vix gave Ursa a hard time, they all liked him. The three of them walked, side by side, toward his truck.
“Hi girls,” he said with a smile. “In some trouble?”
“Alternator,” Vix asserted. “Prob’ly make it home on a jump.”
Daughtry grinned at the girl. He was one person who didn’t find Vix’s talent the least bit odd. “Alternator? Well, in that case,” He opened his truck and pulled out his portable jump box. He passed it to Vix. “I’ll let you borrow this, but you’ll have to bring it back to me tomorrow.” He looked at Ursa, who nodded.
Vix excitedly ran to the engine, hooked up the box and said, “Okay, Ursa. Start her up.”
“I got it,” Layla said, sending Ursa a cool smirk as she sauntered past.
“Thanks Daughtry,” Ursa said, rubbing her arms against the cool night.
Layla tried the engine but it didn’t turn.
The man gave Ursa an amused look. “You can start calling me Erik any time now. I never understood why you don’t. Your mom does.” He scratched the rough skin of his elbow with his keys.
That was exactly why she didn’t call him Erik. Ursa was determined to steer the conversation away from her mother. “So when’s a good time to bring the wagon in… Erik?” She stood as tall as she could and tried to seem mature and in control. She wanted to close the age gap. He’d never really talked to her as an adult. He always treated her like Cassandra’s daughter. A child.
“Hmm. The earlier the better, really. We get busy in the afternoons.”
Early morning didn’t seem ideal for a romantic rendezvous in Ursa’s opinion. “I have a class in the morning.” She emphasized the singular “class” so he was sure to understand that she was in college now, not high school.
He gave her that amused look again. Ursa couldn’t help noticing that he still saw her as a child, despite her efforts. “When’s it over?”
“Okay, try again,” Vix called to Layla.
“Ten-thirty,” Ursa said.
“All right, well, I tell ya what. Bring me some lunch and I’ll schedule you for eleven.” He grinned pleasantly.
The wagon roared to life.
“That’s great, Daughtry. Thanks,” Ursa said. She tilted her head and gazed up at him trying to look coy.
Daughtry looked utterly confused. He looked around and said, “All right girls. Take care. Call me if anything else happens.”
“Thanks, Erik!” Vix called.
Daughtry nodded humbly. “Come work for me when you want a job, alright?”
Layla waved lazily from the driver’s seat but didn’t get out, and Daughtry bent his knees a little and waved back. He looked at Ursa a bit uncomfortably and then climbed back into his truck.
Ursa sighed and watched him drive away. She guessed that he’d suddenly understood her intentions and was entirely freaked out by them. Vix closed the hood and rushed to the back seat with the charge box. “We have to hurry before the battery dies again!”
Ursa climbed into the passenger seat and didn’t bother buckling her seatbelt. Layla was the wrong choice of driver if the plan was to hurry, but Ursa couldn’t really care about that. She was experiencing the sickness of rejection. As the station wagon slowly pulled out of the parking lot, she stared into the forest, wondering gloomily what her mother had that she didn’t.