In honor of Ground Hog Day, here’s a repeat of my romantic short story set during that “holiday”. This is the first of five parts. Enjoy!
Never Judge a Book – Part One
My father’s voice came back to me as I tried to maneuver through the blizzard. He hated snow and having grown up in northeastern Pennsylvania, I did, too. Of course the exception to that rule had been snow days off from school.
But now I was a grown-up reporter for her hometown daily paper on her first out-of-town assignment. There were no such things as “snow days” when you’re working for a living. That was also Pop’s philosophy. He’d trudge through two foot drifts to open his hardware store.
I peered through the falling snow that was out pacing my windshield wipers. I was going about fifteen miles an hour and could tell I had a semi on my butt (another Pop-ism). I saw the green exit sign ahead of me and decided to get off Route 80 and try to find a motel for the night. By morning the snow plows would have done something to this mess.
It was a mess, one that hadn’t been predicted for western Pennsylvania. Actually the storm had dumped more than a foot on the Midwest and was supposed to have been heading for the Great Lakes region. Believing that forecast I’d headed out in my rental car for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Yep, it was January 31 and my assignment was to interview the most famous ground hog in the country: Punxsutawney Phil.
Since I was the low man on the newspaper totem pole, I was given the story. No one else wanted to drive across the state for a two column story on the front page that would mostly be pictures and probably no byline. But I couldn’t turn it down. For some reason this year they decided not to use wire stories but to send one of their own. I wanted to show the managing editor what I could do. And I had an ulterior motive. I was hoping to grab an interview with Damon Franklin…The Damon Franklin, the latest in the short list of bestselling authors under thirty.
I could make my name with just one interview, if it was an interview of the reclusive writer of five three-million-copies-sold books. Franklin actually lived in the town of Punxsutawney. If I could pull off the interview coup of the year…heck, maybe even the decade…
With thoughts of interviewing a famous author playing through my head I tried to make the exit. Suddenly the road felt like it wasn’t there, probably because it wasn’t. I was skidding on the shoulder and within moments I was nose-first in a snow bank.
I turned the engine off and sat there, thinking, “This is a fine mess. I’m going to need a tow-truck.” While I was trying to dig out my cell phone and AAA card, hoping that I’d renewed the membership, I heard a tap on the driver’s side window. I looked up to see a bearded face with a deer-stalker hat on top of long curling hair.
“You okay?” I could hear the man saying through the glass.
I nodded, not wanting to open the door or roll down the window to a stranger. I glanced in my rearview mirror and realized that the semi was parked behind me. This must be the driver, I thought while I heard Pop’s voice saying, “Cross-country truck drivers have been thought to be serial killers, Mandy, so stay away from truck stops on this trip.”
I made the “okay” sign, smiled and nodded again, hoping the trucker would get the hint. But he still stood next to the car, then turned and pointed down the exit. I heard him say through the glass and the howling wind, “Motel down there…call tow…will help if you…”
That’s when I finally rolled the window down a crack. “Thanks for the offer. I have Triple-A. I’ll make it down there…” I also pointed to the shadow of the motel in the distance. It was the kind you only see on two-lane roads…a large house with cabins in the back.
He nodded and went back to his rig. I got out of the car into the almost knee-deep snow and went to the back to pull out my laptop case and my overnight bag. By the time I’d managed to open the back door and drag out the bags, I was exhausted and I still had to trudge down the exit and out onto the road toward the motel. I silently blessed my heavy boots and the coat that made me look as if I weighed two hundred pounds. Comfort trumped fashion in a Pennsylvanian blizzard. I could see the light of the motel in a distance off the exit. It was going to be a freezing, exhausting hike, especially with overnight bag and computer case.
“Here let me take that,” a voice said as the truck driver came from behind me, taking hold of my small suitcase.
“Th—thanks,” I said, hoping that he wasn’t an axe-murderer. Pop would be very mad if I got killed after he’d warned me. “Are you stuck, too?” I asked through chattering teeth.
“Nope. I heard that there is a jack-knifed semi and a load of stuck cars up ahead about two miles. I ain’t going nowhere.”
I winced at the “ain’t”.
“Dave,” he said. For a minute I was confused. It had to be the numbing cold that was turning my feet and my legs to wooden stumps making my brain dull, too.
I finally got it and said, “Mandy.”
“It’s not a fancy motel but it’s clean. I’ve stayed at it a couple of times on a long haul. And there’s a small coffee shop inside the lobby so we won’t starve.”
I wasn’t in the mood for conversation but the information made me realize how hungry and tired I was. “Good,” I said. “I hope they have rooms.”
And I hope it’s not the Bates Motel, I thought.