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Road Queens - First Chapter

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By Catherine MacDonald
Diana Shaw arose early that December morning. She showered, and sipping her coffee while dressing, kept one eye glued to the morning news. “A snowstorm will hit the Sierras by noon. Stock up on candles and food,” the talking head warned. “This storm has the potential to drop at least half a foot in the valley and several feet in the mountains.” She smiled. In her life that would mean that she’d have to shovel the walkway to her shop, shift her car into four-wheel drive to get up the driveway, and perhaps, if Chuck wasn’t home, haul in a load of wood and light the fire.
“I’m going into the office for an hour, and then I’m heading up to Mount Rose,” Chuck said. He kissed her lightly on the cheek. “I’ll be back by five. Where do you want to go for dinner? It’s your turn to choose.”
“Are you sure you want to go up skiing? The weatherman says there’s a nasty storm coming in.” She studied her husband. “I saw you limping yesterday. Is your knee still sore? Be honest with me.”
He lightly touched her cheek. “And when has a little snow or pain stopped me? Relax. You worry too much. Besides, the weatherman is usually wrong. Remember the big storm they predicted last weekend? We got all of two inches. Besides, my knee feels much better since I started taking those chondroitin tablets.” His tone grew serious. “How are you feeling today? You’re staying away from those pills, aren’t you?”
She coughed. “Of course. A promise is a promise. And you promise me you’ll come down the mountain if it gets bad. I don’t plan on being a widow.”
He reached for his parka and gloves, leaned over, and kissed her firmly on the lips. “Nor do I plan on making you a widow. We have too much living to do. Just think, in a few weeks you’ll have me underfoot all day.”
“Your retirement will be interesting.” She still felt unsure about having him home, but she didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm.
He slid his bulky parka on. “We’ll play all day.” His tone grew serious. “We’re going to beat your problem—together.” She nodded. She didn’t want to talk about it. He had been nagging her enough. “Smile, Diana. This will be fun. I’ve worked six days a week for the last thirty years and I’m burned out. Besides, when I get on your nerves you can always go to your little shop. See you tonight, honey.” He closed the door and headed out to the garage.
She heard the sound of his diesel pickup and glanced at the clock. It was just after eight and she didn’t have to be at the shop until nine. She poured another cup of coffee and took it over to the windowseat that faced the front lawn and peered out the window. The wind blew, and the remaining leaves shook violently on the branches. She felt the temperature drop and prayed that Chuck had enough common sense to stop skiing if the storm arrived. She sipped her coffee and thought about the day.
Diana owned a small specialty store with her friend Sara. They sold one-of-a-kind furniture, jewelry, and art objects, all made by local artisans. Christmas was the busiest season, and while she was looking forward to the post-holiday slowdown, Chuck’s retirement scared her.

But he was excited about his new direction. Recently, he had purchased a new motorhome. She spied "the monster," as she called her, sitting in the driveway, all thirty-eight feet of her. She hated to admit it, but she was beautiful, and equipped with every modern convenience. She smiled as she remembered walking into the motorhome and telling her husband that she wouldn’t travel without a dishwasher. Chuck grinned and opened the compartment that showed the tiny appliance. “There’s even a washer and dryer,” he pointed out. “Now we can take off for a year and travel wherever the road leads us: Mexico, Canada, Alaska. You’ve always wanted to see Graceland.”
“But my shop,” she had protested. She didn’t want to travel in that thing, much less sleep in it. Where was room service? She’d have to launder the sheets and towels. Her stomach lurched at the thought of speeding down the highway, with him behind the wheel.
They had argued back and forth, finally agreeing on a two- month trial trip. If they liked it, she would sell her interest in the shop and they would travel. If not, he would sell the motorhome and that would be that. But she had already made up her mind.

* * *

The wind shook the shop. By two p.m., six inches had already accumulated. “Chuck must be in heaven with the fresh powder,” Sara said.
Diana glanced out the window. She could barely see across the street. “I hope he has the sense to come off the mountain. I’ve tried his cell phone several times, but he’s not answering.” She and Sara were unpacking a shipment that had arrived that morning.
“He probably has it turned off,” Sara said. She reached into a box and retrieved a bubble-wrapped vase.
“I’m worried about his knee,” Diana said. “The doctor advised him not to ski, but Chuck won’t listen. Maybe it will be a good thing to take that monster for a trip. Then I won’t have to worry about him skiing.”
Sara stood and stretched. “I’ve got to hand it to you. You’re brave to go on the road for two months. Tom and I have difficulty spending one week together.” She sighed. “I guess that’s what I get for marrying a Type A personality.”
Diana wiped a Raku-fired bowl with a rag. “I promised him. I just hope he gets tired of being on the road after a few weeks and we can come home and sell it. He’s got this stupid idea of wanting to be a snowbird and spend the winters in Arizona. Did I tell you he even went out and bought me a set of golf clubs? He’s going to teach me how to play.” She made a face. “I could break a nail playing that sport.” She glanced at her French manicure.
Sara grinned. “I tried golf with Tom a couple of times, but he thinks he’s a master at the sport and tells me how to play.”
The bells on the door jingled as two women entered the shop. “Can I help you?” Diana asked.
“We’re just browsing, dears,” said the woman with the white pageboy. She took off her scarf. “It’s quite nasty out there. Oh, look at this, Ellen,” she said, dragging her friend over to a tiny wooden box.
The phone rang. “I’ll get it,” Sara said. She hurried to the back office. She emerged a few seconds later, her face pale. “It’s for you, Diana. Someone from Mount Rose.”
Diana’s eyes widened. “Chuck’s on that mountain.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Sara said. “Maybe he left his wallet at the counter. You know Chuck.”
She picked up the phone. “Hello.”
“Mrs. Shaw?”
“Yes. Is there anything wrong?” Her heart skipped a beat.
The voice on the other end stammered. “Your husband has had an accident. He’s on his way by ambulance to Saint Catherine’s. Because of the storm, he couldn’t be air lifted.”
Her knees buckled. “Did he break his leg?”
“Mr. Shaw hit a tree on Diamond Run. That’s all I know.”

* * *

Sara led Diana into the crowded emergency room and up to the front desk. “Where’s Chuck Shaw?” she asked the woman behind the counter.
The woman glanced up. “I can’t give that information out.”
Sara hugged her. “This is his wife. He’s been in an accident and the ambulance just brought him in. This is an emergency.”
The woman stared at Diana. “Let me see some ID” Diana fumbled in her purse for her wallet and showed the woman her license. The woman glanced at the photo, studied her, then punched several keys on the computer. “Go through those doors. He’s at the end of the hall. Room 7. But I don’t think they’ll let you in.”
“Thank you,” Sara said. She ushered Diana down the hall. “Here’s the room.” She opened the door and they peered in. Several doctors were huddled over the bed. One of the doctors turned around, and seeing them, motioned for them to wait outside. Sara quietly closed the door. “Let’s sit over there,” she said. “Can I get you some water?”
Diana shook her head, her hands trembling. “Oh, Sara. Do you think he’s going to be okay?”
Sara clutched her hand. “I’m sure he’s going to be fine. You know Chuck. He probably broke his leg. They’ll cast him and he’ll be home by dinner. You might even get lucky and have to postpone your trip.”
But Diana wasn’t so sure. She had a feeling in the pit of her stomach, the same feeling she had the night her son had been in a car accident and rushed to the hospital. She stared at the beige walls. How would she go one without Chuck? He was her world. She listened to the P.A. system announce the arrival of ambulances, calling doctors to floors and phones. Men and women, clad in white coats, scurried down the hall. She held Sara’s hand tightly and waited for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally the door to Chuck’s room opened and one of the doctors emerged. He walked over to the two women. “Mrs. Shaw?” he asked Sara. She shook her head and pointed at Diana.
The young doctor looked concerned. “Your husband has regained consciousness. You can see him for a few minutes. He’s suffered multiple fractures and we think there’s internal bleeding. We’re taking him into surgery shortly.”
Diana clutched her heart as Sara helped her to her feet. This couldn’t be happening. “I’ll wait here,” Sara said.
She let the doctor lead her to Chuck’s bedside. She gasped when she saw her husband. His face was bruised and his eyes swollen. She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek. “I’m here, honey. Is there anything I can do?”
He groaned and struggled to open his eyes. “Is that you, Diana?” The next few words were inaudible.
“Don’t talk, honey. Save your strength. Everything’s going to be fine. I bet you’re home tomorrow.” She stroked his battered face and held back the tears. She had to stay strong for him.
“I should have listened to you and not gone skiing. That damn knee stiffened and I hit a patch of ice. I don’t remember anything after that.” He groaned.
“Shush. Don’t talk. You’ll be as good as new in a few days. I promise.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, praying for a miracle.
“I love you.” He closed his eyes. “I’m so tired.”
Tears filled her eyes as she touched his battered cheek. “You’re going to be fine, Chuck Shaw. The doctors will take care of you and you’ll be out of here soon. Besides, you have to get well. We’re going on that motorhome trip. Think positive.”
But he didn’t respond. His breathing was heavy and labored.

* * *

The door opened and several nurses entered. “We’re taking him into surgery. You’ll have to go to the waiting room.”
Diana watched as they wheeled him out of the room. She followed the gurney down the hall and to the entrance of the operating room and stopped. They wouldn’t let her enter. Sara raced towards her. “Let’s get some coffee, Diana. It’s going to be awhile.”
Several hours later, a doctor came into the waiting room. “Mrs. Shaw?”
Diana stood. “I’m Mrs. Shaw.” She didn’t like the look on his face.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Shaw. We did our best. Mr. Shaw died in surgery. There was nothing else we could do. There was too much internal damage.”
Her body shook. She grabbed the doctor’s hand. “He can’t be dead. He can’t.” She felt Sara’s arms encircle her body.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “Is there someone we can call?”
“I’ll take care of Mrs. Shaw,” Sara said.
Her world went blank.
The doctor shook his head. “I am sorry.” He turned and left the room.
She screamed, “How do I do this? How do I go on without Chuck? I can’t believe it.”

* * *

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