Home > Reunited on Sugar Maple Road(5)

Reunited on Sugar Maple Road(5)
Author: Debbie Mason

The man yanked the woman in front of him. Brad didn’t have a clear shot, and neither did Em. But one of the men in the white sedan did.

A warm tongue licked Em’s cheek, dragging her out of the memory, but not fast enough that her screams weren’t still echoing in her head.

“Thanks, boy,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. She wondered if she’d screamed out loud and glanced at the fogged window. If she had, no one appeared to have heard her. No one but Gus. Resting his head on her thigh, he looked up at her with sad eyes. “You miss him too, don’t you?”

The courthouse hadn’t allowed dogs or they would’ve brought Gus with them that morning. It was another scenario she’d played over in her mind. If Gus had been there, he would’ve rushed the carjacker, and Brad would’ve had a chance. Same as if she’d stepped out from behind the door and distracted the gunman.

A truck’s high beams lit up the interior of the Camaro, and she ducked her head, her fingers white-knuckling the steering wheel. She had to get out of there before someone noticed her sitting in the car with bloodshot eyes and a tearstained face. She pushed the vestiges of her memories back in the box and pulled away from the curb.

She lived fifteen minutes out of town in a small Craftsman bungalow on an old country road. She liked the quiet and the reasonable rent. If there was one drawback, it was driving the winding road along the river when the weather was bad. She’d have to trade in the Camaro for an SUV a couple of months from now.

As the lights from town disappeared behind her, Em reduced her speed. A gray mist snaked across the dark, twisty road that was bordered by woods on the right and the narrow, fast-flowing river on the left. Her headlights illuminated the yellow deer crossing sign and the taillights of a vehicle up ahead. She noticed the out-of-state plates and the stick figures of a man, woman, and child on a sticker in the back window. She checked her speedometer. They were driving over the speed limit. Not by much but enough that it warranted a warning. The driver might not be aware of how dangerous this stretch of road could be.

She pressed the gas, about to turn on the light bar to alert the driver to her presence, when out of the corner of her eye she caught movement. She had no time to react before a deer darted out of the woods and into the path of the SUV. She braked hard, her car fishtailing before she regained control.

Up ahead, the SUV swerved to the left, hitting the shoulder and then losing control. Em watched in horror as it barreled toward the guardrails. She was out of her car and running for the rocky shore as the SUV flew through the air and into the river, the beams from the Camaro’s headlights illuminating the driver’s panicked face.

Em called it in, yelling their location into her shoulder mic before screaming at the occupants in the SUV. “Get out! Get your seat belts off and lower your windows!”

They had minutes before their vehicle was submerged. The water was already lapping midway up the doors. There was a little girl in a car seat in the back. Em kept yelling, repeating the same instructions as she pulled off her boots and tossed her jacket and radio on the shore.

Gus danced in and out of the water, barking. “Stay!” Em ordered as she jerked the glass breaker off her utility belt and ran into the cold water.

The man frantically pounded on the window while the woman beside him leaned over the front seat to get to her crying child in the back. The SUV bobbed in the middle of the river, the current carrying it downstream. As Em swam after it, there was a loud thunk, and the SUV shuddered to a stop. It must’ve hit a rock. By the time Em reached the vehicle, the water had risen to the base of the still-closed windows. “I need you to stay calm. Throw the blanket over your daughter.”

“Okay, okay.” The mother nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks as she did what Em asked.

The second the blanket landed on the little girl; Em punched out the window with the glass breaker. “You need to get out now. I’ll take your daughter.”

“I can’t swim,” the woman said at the same time the man said, “My seat belt’s stuck.”

“Okay. Don’t panic,” she said as much for herself as for them. They wouldn’t get out of this alive if she let the fear making her heart race win out. “I need you to climb over the seat and come out this way,” Em directed the woman as she cleared the glass with the blanket, ignoring the water seeping into the vehicle. She leaned through the window to hand the father the glass breaker. “Flip the switch. There’s a utility knife.”

As the woman climbed into the backseat, Em smiled and unbuckled the little girl. “I’m going to take you and Mommy for a piggyback ride, okay?” She eased the child through the window, fighting the current and the numbing cold as she put her on her back. “Wrap your arms around my neck and hold on tight.”

Treading water, Em put an arm behind her to hold the little girl in place while grabbing the door handle with her other hand to keep from being swept away. “Okay, Mom. Your turn now.”

The car creaked and groaned, shifting on the rock. Water gushed through the window. Em looked toward shore, using a dead pine tree to mark the SUV’s location.

The woman cast a frantic glance over her shoulder. “Steve, hurry! You have to hurry.”

“I’m trying. But I can’t—”

“I can help.” The woman ducked her head back into the SUV.

“Jenny, no. Go. You’ve gotta go now. I love you. I love you both.”

Em gritted her teeth at his emotional plea, the look of terror on his wife’s face, and the little girl crying for her mommy and daddy. She reached for Jenny. “I’ll come back and help him. But we have to go now.”

Silent tears rolled down the woman’s cheeks as she got onto Em’s back, their combined weight nearly taking Em under.

“Jenny, I’m going to need you to kick and loosen your grip on my neck,” Em said, pushing off the car and swimming toward shore. She fought against the current and the cold, shouting encouragement to the terrified woman and little girl on her back. She had to keep them calm. There was another loud groan and then a sucking sound. She didn’t look back to confirm the SUV was now submerged.

“Look, we’re almost there,” she said in hopes of distracting Jenny and her daughter. “There’s my dog. His name is…” A wave smacked her in the face, and she choked on a mouthful of water. “Gus. Do you see him?”

Headlights appeared on the road, and Gus raced toward the vehicle, barking. The car stopped, and an older woman and man got out. Gus grabbed the man’s hand, tugging him toward the water’s edge. “Mabel, call 911!” the man yelled, running into the water.

“I’ve got her,” he said, helping Jenny off Em’s back. She hadn’t realized how close they were to shore. The water was at his waist. Em struggled to stand as she peeled the little girl’s arms from her neck, bringing her around to her front. She carried her to shore, about to collapse on the rocks when Jenny broke free from the man screaming, “Steve! Steve!” She whirled on Em. “Please. You promised. You promised you’d help him.”

Em nodded, wearily pushing herself to her feet.

The man reached for her. “Miss, you can’t. You can’t go back in there. Listen. Help is on the way.”

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