Redemption Road - John Hart

YESTERDAY

The woman was a rare beauty in that she knew nothing of her perfection. He’d watched her long enough to suspect as much, but only in meeting her had his instinct been proven true. She was modest and shy, and easily swayed. Perhaps she was insecure or not very bright. Maybe she was lonesome or confused about her place in this difficult world.

It didn’t matter, really.

She looked right, and that was all about the eyes.

Hers flashed as she came down the sidewalk, the sundress loose around her knees, but not inappropriate. He liked the way the dress shifted, and how neatly she moved her legs and arms. She was pale skinned and quiet. He’d have preferred her hair a little different, but that was okay.

It really was about the eyes.

They had to be clear and deep and unguarded, so he watched carefully to make sure nothing had changed in the few days since they’d agreed to meet. She looked about in an apologetic way, and from a distance he could sense the unhappiness born of bad boyfriends and a meaningless job. She hoped life would be more. He understood that in a way most men would not.

“Hello, Ramona.”

She shied unabashedly away now that they were so close to each other. Her lashes were dark on the curve of her cheek, her head angled so that he lost sight of her flawless jaw.

“I’m glad we decided to do this,” he said. “I think it will be an afternoon well spent.”

“Thank you for making the time.” She blushed, the eyes still downcast. “I know you’re busy.”

“The future matters for all of us, life and the living of it, career and family and personal satisfaction. It’s important to plan and think things through. There’s no need to do it alone, not in a town like this. We know each other here. We help each other. You’ll understand that once you live here longer. The people are nice. It’s not just me.”

She nodded, but he understood the deeper feelings. They’d met as if by accident, and she was wondering why she’d opened up so readily and to such a stranger. But that was his gift—his face and his gentle manner, the way they trusted. Some women needed that: the shoulder, the patience. Once they knew his interest was not romantic, it was easy. He was steady and kind. They thought him worldly.

“Are you ready, then?” He opened the car door, and for an instant she looked unsettled, her gaze lingering on cigarette burns and torn vinyl. “It’s a loaner,” he said. “I apologize, but my usual car needed service.”

She bit her bottom lip, muscles tightening in the back of one smooth calf. Stains marred the dash. The carpet was worn through.

She needed a push.

“We were supposed to do this tomorrow, remember? Late afternoon? Coffee and a chat?” A smile creased his face. “I would have had the other car if plans had stayed the same. But you needed to change the day. It was kind of last-minute, and we’re really doing this for you.…”

He let the words trail off so she’d remember that she’d suggested the meeting and not the other way around. She nodded a final time because it made sense and because she didn’t want to look like the kind of person who cared about something as meaningless as a car, not when she was too broke to buy her own. “My mother’s coming in from Tennessee in the morning.” She glanced back at the apartment building, new lines at the corners of her mouth. “It was unexpected.”

“Yes.”

“And she’s my mom.”

“You told me. I know.” A little frustration was in his voice, a little impatience. He smiled to take out the sting, though the last thing he wanted was to be reminded of the girl’s hillbilly roots in some hillbilly town. “It’s my nephew’s car,” he said. “He’s in college.”

“That explains it, then.”

She meant the smell and the dirt; but she was laughing now, so he laughed, too. “Kids,” he said.

“Yeah, right.”

He made a mock bow and said something about chariots. She laughed, but he was no longer paying attention.

She was already in the car.

“I enjoy a Sunday.” She sat straight as he slid behind the wheel. “The stillness and the quiet. No expectations.” She smoothed the skirt and showed the eyes. “Don’t you love a Sunday?”

“Of course,” he said, but couldn’t care less. “Did you tell your mother we were meeting?”

“Not a chance,” the girl said. “There’d be a million questions. She’d