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Christine Dack was hung over.
It had been a crazy Chicago wedding weekend all right. How could it not be with her old sorority mates? Sure, even though she and Sierra had been besties from back in their AOII days at dear old Ski-U-Mah, Christine hadn’t been selected as one of Sierra’s bridesmaids. And everyone knew the reason why. After all, Christine had dated Brad for nearly half of college—their sophomore and junior years—and she knew Sierra remained a bit touchy on the subject. Evidently, when it came to marriage, it’s not necessarily sisters before misters or whatever the female equivalent of bros before hoes was these days.
But it didn’t matter. Being left out of the bridesmaid parade gave Christine more time to visit with old friends, get caught up on their lives, and, especially, to drink champagne … and, more especially, to dance the night away.
Christine now found herself on her early-Sunday-morning trek back to Minneapolis, cruising at seventy miles per hour down I-90 in her white pearl Miata—she had a training seminar to present with her boss and her boss’s boss first thing Monday—when the nausea washed over her. Christine jerked the Miata into the right lane, thanking God there was no traffic, no one to piss off. She’d just missed the exit ramp for Egg River and figured she needed to get to the shoulder—publically puking on I-90, not the greatest of ways to start the day—but then spotted the blue sign signaling wayside rest and goosed the Miata. She was able to glide the ragtop into the first parking spot in front of the facility.
In retrospect, Christine should have caught more z’s last night, but she wanted to get home with a chunk of her Sunday afternoon to spare. Christine had prep work for Monday’s dog and pony show—a final review of the slide deck—plus laundry to do. Then she wanted to spend the remainder of the day vegged out in front of the TV, eating ice cream, and resting up from the crazy-festive Windy City weekend.
Christine never slept well when she’d been drinking … and Christine had certainly been drinking.
Toward the end of the evening, the champagne had gone down like water.
Thank God it was early and no other cars were at the rest stop. Christine didn’t need the added humiliation of fellow drivers bearing witness if she couldn’t make the restroom in time.
Champagne going down looks far more attractive than when it comes up.
Christine made herself throw up in the women’s room. Actually, she only had to picture herself putting a finger down her throat when her mostly liquid wedding feast came gushing up like an uncapped oil well. Afterward, when Christine was done washing her hands and face and neck, she forced herself to take a long drink from the fountain to hydrate and get her body fluids back in whack.
She hoped the H2O would stay down.
Oh God, Christine thought, am I still drunk?
Could I get a DUI even after six hours of choppy sleep?
Christine bought a 7UP out of the vending machine, twisted the cap off, and sipped as much as she could handle, which was maybe a quarter of a cup. Perhaps she could burp her way back to sobriety. She went outside and noticed a black van that had pulled in next to her Miata was now backing up to depart. Christine figured she must have been indisposed for quite awhile if the black van guy had arrived after her, done his business, and was now exiting the facility.
The driver caught sight of Christine standing in front of the entrance and waved a hand.
Sometimes she got that from guys, but today Christine felt anything but attractive.
Then she spotted a tow truck parked at the far end of the lot. A lone figure sat behind the wheel. Christine couldn’t make out the driver’s features at this distance, but could tell he was staring at his smartphone, probably trying to pinpoint exactly where some stranded motorist was calling in from.
She took another hit off the 7UP and watched as an old-time station wagon pulled into the spot just vacated by black van guy. Four doors opened and a family popped out—a young couple and two kids that screamed early grade school.
Christine stepped off to the side of the walkway—out of smelling distance, although she hoped the 7UP had altered the aroma and fragrance of her breath. She also hoped the air had cleared in the women’s restroom.
She’d been fortunate that there’d been no other vehicles, especially cars full of females, when she’d pulled into the Egg River rest stop. And that none had arrived right on her heels. Christine knew that for a fact as when she’d knelt in her stall before the toilet—between long bouts of disposing of what appeared to be everything she’d ever drunk in her life—she’d peeked under the stall.
No other feet.
Christine, a minor hiking enthusiast, noticed a sign boasting of a half-mile nature walk that encircled the facility. Perfect. She could sip the rest of the twenty-ounce 7UP, breathe in some fresh air—if the air off I-90 could be considered fresh—and belch like a prize sow. No one would hear her and, if her unsettled stomach went into round two, she could always add her biodegradable two-cents to the foliage and shrubbery of this particular area of Illinois. This strolling detour might also help Christine sober up, keep her from being pulled over, and keep her from having to call in from some northern Illinois detox center, absenting herself from her Monday-morning presentation.
Christine bypassed the sidewalk, cut across the lawn to where the trail began, when the memory of what happened at the end of last night struck her with the impact of a freight train.
Oh Christ. Oh Christ. Oh Christ.
Christine cringed. Her heart caught in her throat. She almost threw up again, more from her recollection than from nausea. Christine remembered sneaking out of the Ritz-Carlton banquet room in order to use the ladies’ restroom down one of the hotel’s hallways. On her way out, she’d caught Brad’s eye.
They both smiled as though in on a shared secret.
And when she came out of the ladies’ room, there stood Brad, waiting for her.
“I’ve missed you,” he said.
Without saying a word Christine walked over, placed fingertips on his cheek, leaned up, and kissed him on the lips. Their tongues touched. She felt his breath in her mouth.
After several seconds of quiet intimacy Christine had left Brad standing there, stuttering in her wake, and headed back down the Ritz-Carlton hallway—at the end of which stood her old sorority bestie … Sierra … dressed in white, hands on hips, tears in her eyes.
She had walked past her old friend without so much as blinking or any other hint of recognition, as though Sierra wasn’t even there, and strode quickly toward the elevator atrium, and on up to her room.
Christine felt sick in more ways than one as she began her nature hike. So horrified at the remembrance she didn’t look back, and she didn’t notice the driver step out from the tow truck and follow in a direct line behind her.
Had she, Christine may have noticed a few simple details. The man was Caucasian. Middle-aged. Five-foot-nine or -ten. Maybe a hundred and sixty or seventy pounds. Brown hair, receding hairline. A minor paunch if any.
Average in every aspect of the word, Christine may have observed.
Hell, Christine may have said, as far as I know, he could be everyman.
Christine Dack never made her training presentation Monday morning in Minneapolis.
Two weeks later her Mazda Miata showed up in Milwaukee.
Copyright © 2020 by Jeffrey B. Burton