Eighteen Wheels Anchored

Joan Stephens

Squinting through the snow-covered windshieldĖthe snow was coming down faster than the wiper blades could remove itĖDevin searched for a place to pull off the road. He knew that there was a truck pull-off somewhere in front of him. Hopefully he could find it before he ran off the road in the whiteout. Was that the turn-off sign? Yeah, it was. With a heart felt sigh of relief, he turned the semi into the truck rest stop and put the eighteen-wheeler in park, leaving the engine running. Thank god, he had a sleeper cab and could stretch out in the bed just behind him.

Wondering just where he was, he opened the map that he always carried with him. He had fought this sudden snow storm for the past hour, hoping to find the place his truck now sat in. Colorado was noted for its sudden heavy snowstorms, but he had chanced taking I-70, hoping to get home faster. He had kept in constant contact with his dispatcher, informing him of his decisions, knowing that he would let Penny know that he was all right. He was worried about her as she was nine months pregnant and close to her due date. He wanted, so much, to be there when the baby came and that was why he had made the decision to take I-70 instead of going around Colorado.

Checking his meager food supply that consisted of a bag of peanuts and a half-eaten donut, he realized that he would be a little hungry by the time morning arrived. The weather report said that this storm should be east of the mountains by midnight. When the snow plows would run was anyoneís guess. He hoped to be on the road sometime in the morning. Making himself comfortable, he gabbed via CB radio with other truckers stranded by the snowstorm. Soon the voices began to drop off as the truckers, one by one, sought the arms of Morpheus. All alone in the wind-buffeted semi, blinded by the whipping show, Devin radioed the night dispatcher, J.D., hoping to hear how Penny was. Jeff, the day dispatcher, had called her before he went home and had left a message for Devin that she was fine, just worried about him. She didnít need the worry, Devin thought.

Devin cursed the hail that had denuded their corn and wheat fields and ruined their peach crop. He had been forced to find work off the farm and had applied to and been hired by the Intercontinental Trucking Co. It was a good firm to work for, paid well, and tried to find a way to get their drivers home as often as possible. He had been fortunate to find good friends there. Two of them were the day dispatcher, Jeff, and J.D., the night dispatcher. Jeff was tall, well-built with iron gray hair, clean-shaven, and was an exercise buff. He was the kind of guy that would give the shirt off his back to his friends, but heaven help you if you moved a pencil, pen, or anything out of place on his desk. He was the most anal retentive man Devin had ever met; he could blow up one minute, tell you off, and be joking with you in the next second.

J.D., a night owl, loved the night more than the day and was the perfect night dispatcher. Of average height, he was developing a beer belly although he claimed he had never tasted a beer in all his 40 years. His black hair was speckled with silver, and he sported a black goatee and mustache flecked with white. His eyes were so brown that they were almost black, and he had a silly sense of humor, one that Devin appreciated on his long hauls across country.

"Hey, J.D., give Penny a call in the morning; tell her Iím fine, missing her, but Iím fine; and I should be on my way sometime tomorrow. Iíll call her from the next truck stop."

"Will do, Dev. You should get some sleep. Youíll need it driving those snowy roads tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know. Iím about to hit the sack now. Iíll get back to you when I wake up."

"Ok. Tootleloo, Dev."

"Night." Devin keyed the mike off and crawled into the cab bed. He lay there thinking. He was close to Dover. There was a truck stop on the east side of town; he could call Penny from there. God, he missed her; he could hardly wait to get home and take her soft but ripe body in his arms. This would be his last run; they had saved enough money to make the mortgage payment and to pay back the seed money loan. He could have gone to Cathy for the money, but he wanted to prove to the old man and Vincent, too, that he could do it on his own. And, by god, he was doing it.

As he dropped off to sleep, the last thought he had was of Penny. "Good night, Penny-love, I love you." During the night, he dreamed of sitting in their old lumpy couch before a roaring fire with Penny ensconced on his lap. He had brought a bottle of wine home; it was their anniversary. Toasting each other, they were becoming warmer by the fire and by the wine. They made love in front of the fireplace all night long. He woke up clutching a pillow tightly to his chest, Pennyís kisses still tingling on his lips. Burying his face in the pillow, he wished fervently that it was Penny he was holding.

After crawling into the driverís seat, he turned on the windshield wipers to clean the windshield and stared out at a wonderland. He was surrounded by a sea of white. The wind had sculpted the snow, and it looked like frozen waves of alabaster. The mountains on either side of the interstate poked snowy white teeth into the stark blue sky. Nothing was stirring, not even the wind. Opening his door, he scooped a cone of snow into an empty cardboard cup. Heíd have drinking water in a short time.

The radio squawked, grabbing his attention. "Dev, howís your 10-20?" Jeffís voice echoed in the enclosed truck cab.

"Iím stranded in an ocean of white; I canít even tell where the road is. Itís beautiful, but I want to get on the road."

"Iíve talked with the Colorado DOT. The snow plows are running. They should be out your way some time this morning."

"Oh joy! I get to sit here all by my lonesome."

"Hey, would you like me to tell you some of J.D.ís stupid jokes?"

"Ah . . . no, I think Iíll pass. Your delivery just isnít as good as his."

"Your loss," Jeff chortled. "And Iíve been practicing too. I guess youíll have to talk with your trucker friends then. Got a deck of cards?"

"Yup. Always carry one of those."

"Well, solitaire is always a good game to pass the time. Sit tight." He chuckled sympathetically. "Youíll be out of there in no time."

"Yeah," Devin agreed half-heartedly. "Have you talked with Penny this morning?"

"Sure. Sheís fine. Said to tell you that the sun is shining there and itís in the 50's."

"Huh!" he grunted. "You really know how to cheer a guy up."

"I do my best." Devin could see the big grin spread over Jeffís face as he congratulated himself on not being on the road any more. "Gotta go and check up on the others."

"Ok. Iíll let you know when Iím ready to roll."

"10-4." The radio went silent.

Reaching under his seat, Devin snaked out a gym bag, unzipped it, and then dug out a book. Ah, one of his favorites: ĎThe Education of Hyman Kaplan.í Deeply immersed in the antics of Hyman Kaplanís pursuit of English to become a citizen, he failed to hear the snow plow scraping down the highway until it stopped beside his truck. A blast of cold air hit him as he rolled down the window. Stepping from the snow plow cab, a short, barrel-chested, bushy bearded man bundled against the cold approached the semi. "How long ya been here, buddy?"

"All night," Devin answered, already chilled from the frigid air pouring into the cab.

"Well, follow me; Iíll get ya to the Country Kitchen truck stop."

"Thanks, man. My wifeís about to give birth to our first child, and I need to get home."

"Weíll see you get there."

With a wave of his hand, the man climbed back into his truck and took off. Devin put his rig in gear and followed in the cleared lane. At the truck stop he blew his horn, thanking the nameless driver, who flashed his lights in response.

*****

"Hi, Penny-love, are you all right?" Devin had headed for the payphone as soon as he entered the cafť.

"Iím fine, honey. A little tired but thatís all."

It was so good to hear her voice. God, how he loved her. Heíd begun to think that he would never find someone to love him like his brother, Vincent, had. But he had. He had literally knocked her off her feet as he rounded a corner in Manchester. After picking her up from the sidewalk, he had offered to buy her a cup of coffee as a way to apologize. From that inauspicious meeting had come the happiest years of his life. He was so content with his life that he had even gone back to the tunnels and reconciled with his father. Now he was about to become a father and make the old man a double grandfather.

"Well, donít overdo. If anything should happen, be sure to call Sadie; she knows what to do."

"Yes, dear," she said patiently, "we went over this before you left. But I donít want Sadie; I want you."

"Iím trying my best, honey, but this snowstorm really slowed me down."

"Did you get any sleep last night?" She worried when he drove with little or no sleep.

"Sure did; I got eight hours. Iím good until tonight."

"Promise me . . ."

He cut in, "I promise to sleep tonight."

She noticed that he didnít specify the number of hours.

"Iíve got to go, Penny-love, if Iím going to be there when junior arrives."

"Ok. Be careful, honey. I love you."

"I love you, too. Bye, sweetheart." He hung up swiftly. If he hadnít, heíd have kept on talking with her just to hear her sweet voice.

After eating a substantial breakfastĖone to last him until he stopped for the nightĖhe took his cup of strong coffee and hit the road, heading east as fast as possible. Driving gave him time to think, and he started to wonder: did he want a boy or a girl? They had never tried to find out the sex of the baby, wanting to be surprised. A boy would carry on the Wells name, but Vincent had already seen to that. Devin decided that he wanted a girl. A little replica of her mother with raven black hair and dark brown eyes. Yep! Thatís what he wanted: a miniature Penny-love. But if he didnít get a girl this time, he would keep on trying until he succeeded.

Forty-one hours later, he pulled into the Intercontinental Trucking warehouse, finished his road log, and tossed the keys at Jeff, saying, "Donít call me; Iíll call you with the big news."

"Itís been good working with you, Dev. Let us know how things go with you."

"Sure will."

"Give my best to Penny," Jeff shouted after the hastily retreating figure of the expectant father. He had two at home and was glad he didnít have to go through the nerve-racking hours that awaited Devin. "Good luck, Dev," he muttered as he keyed the microphone.

*****

"Penny!" Devin yelled as he dropped his gym bag on the kitchen floor. There was no answer. His head jerked up as he heard her returning from the barn, singing. Suddenly she stopped and cried, "Devin!" He could hear the crunch of the gravel under her shoes as she ran to the house. The screen door slammed shut behind him as he hurried to meet her. They met under an apple tree that grew beside the back porch, hugging as if they had been separated for years. Stepping back from a passionate kiss, he appraised her. She was blooming, more lovely than he could remember. "Penny, youíre beautiful."

"I look like a beached whale," she protested, even as she was pleased that he still thought she was lovely.

"Yeah, but think of whatís inside that whale."

"Well, thank you very much, Mr. Wells," she said in mock indignation, "you could, at least, have demurred a little."

"Ah, you know I love you no matter how big you get."

"You better; itís all your fault, you know."

"Yeah, and Iím proud of it," he boasted, rubbing her belly intimately.

"Enough of this folderol. Are you hungry?"

"Now that you mention it, Iím starved. But Iím cooking. I want you off your feet."

"Oh, my poor stomach," she cried, clutching her abdomen. Then laughing merrily, she opened the screened-in porch door and preceded him into the kitchen.

*****

For the following seven days, Devin settled into a state of watchful waiting.

"Devin! Wake up! Devin!" He was roughly shaken out of the first good nightís sleep heíd had in a week. Heíd worried himself sleepless. "What is it?" he grumbled, his brain still fuzzy with sleep.

"The babyís coming."

"The baby? The baby!" he shouted as he sprang from the bed. Frantically, he started to put on his clothes.

A chuckle emanated from the bed behind him. "Slow down, honey. We have plenty of time. Iíve called Sadie and told her itís started. Sheíll come when the contractions are about two minutes apart."

"Oh right," he replied sheepishly and sat down on the bed to put on his slippers. Much calmer, he gathered all the paraphernalia they would need.

Penny had wanted to have the baby at home and had asked Sadie Jorgenson, the local midwife, to assist in the birthing. For the next five hours, Devin fetched and carried, walked Penny around the room, and coached her with her breathing, pleased that he had something to keep him occupied. He didnít think that he would make it if he had to wait in the living room while someone else tended to his wife; heíd go crazy.

"Devin, I think you better call Sadie." Penny had sunk onto their bed and was panting heavily.

"Yeah, the contractions are too close together now." Hurrying into the kitchen, Devin heard a car pull up by the back porch steps and heard Sadieís cheerful whistle. She loved to whistle; said it kept her relaxed and ready. Devin flung the door open just as she started to knock. "Come on in, Sadie."

"Hi, Dev, howís Penny doing?" she asked, removing her shoes. It was customary on farms and ranches to take off your shoes when you entered the house. "Figured it was about time."

Taking her coat as he followed the plump, blond Norwegian woman into the bedroom, he answered, "Fine, her contractions are coming faster now."

Sadie nodded, satisfied. "Hi, Penny. Itís about time this youngun decided to join the human race," she joked as her expert eye took in the condition of the woman lying on the bed. She noted with approval that Devin had put a plastic sheet on the bed. "You look pretty good . . . consideriní . . ."

Making a face at her, Penny said, "Yeah. Well, I donít feel pretty good right now." She tensed as another contraction racked her with pain.

"Thatís what Iím here for," Sadie said cheerfully. "Let me check and see how dilated you are. Hmm, not too bad for a first one. Youíre already dilated 8 cm. Shouldnít be too much longer."

Now that Sadie was here, Devin was able to concentrate on his wife. He took her hand, which he immediately regretted when another contraction began. At its conclusion he had a few deep, red impressions on his hand from Pennyís fingernails. Heíd never known her to have such a strong grip.

In two hours he was standing by the bedside, stunned, holding a squalling red-faced baby girl. He felt his heart open up and expand to make room for the second most important female in his life. He knew that all fathers thought their baby girls were the most beautiful in the world, but this child truly was. Black hair covered her head, and her eyes, when they were open, were a deep obsidian. Lying in her crib, she looked like three lumps of coal lying in a snowfield. She enthralled him, and he pledged himself to watch over and care for her as long as she needed him. "Hello, baby girl, welcome to the world." She opened her eyes and blearily searched for the sound of his voice. "Iím your daddy, baby girl. Youíve made my life complete."

"Devin," Pennyís tired voice cut in, "letís name her Cassandra Grace after your mother and mine."

"Anything you want, Penny-love," he answered distractedly, still held spellbound by the miracle in his arms. "Oh Penny, sheís so beautiful." The baby had not cried much and was fast asleep, spent from the difficulty of her birth.

"Uh huh." Penny was struggling to stay awake but was rapidly losing the battle.

Devin laid his firstborn in her cradle and turned to his half-awake wife. Bending down he kissed her. "Thank you, Penny-love," he said sincerely, "for our daughter, for loving me, and making my life worthwhile. I love you more than words can say."

"I know." Her words slurred together as she slipped into an exhausted sleep.

Kneeling by the cradle, Devin thought, Wow! Wonít I have something to surprise the old man. And Vincentís an uncle.

*****

Surrounded by his friends and family, Devin proudly held his daughter. Penny was at his side, still a little confused and overwhelmed by the tunnel world and its most distinguished member. Stealing a look at Vincent, she thought, Heís so strange but so beautiful. And Devin is devoted to him. Her eyes slid to the face of the woman standing beside him: Catherine. Now there was classic beauty that the world would accept, but whenever she looked at her husband, her eyes flashed with pride and adoration. Jacob caught Pennyís attention, trying to get from his fatherís arms to the floor. Vincent whispered in his ear and the child immediately subsided. There was a bigger miracle than the one that Devin held in his arms. Vincent glanced at her and smiled, revealing the tips of two large canines. He was a mystery, but she found that she liked him . . . immensely. She was glad that sheíd had the privilege to meet him and his family. She understood that he could not live Above, but surely, there had to be some way they could get him out to the farm. Devin, and if she knew her sister-in-law, Catherine would find a way. Suddenly Devin nudged her with an elbow. "What?" she whispered, but the silence was so deep that several members of the community chuckled at her answer.

"The name, Penny."

"Oh right." She glanced her patiently waiting Father-in-law. "Her name is Cassandra Grace." She looked up at her husband to find him nodding approvingly.

"And we welcome the child with a name: Cassandra Grace." Father added a new element to the Naming Ceremony; he placed a gentle hand on Cassieís head. "Welcome, Cassandra." Locking eyes with his son, he let his pride and love shine in his eyes. Tears gathered in Devinís eyes as he realized that the woman standing proudly by his side and the tiny child he held in his arms had brought him home to the contentment he had searched for all his life. The itch to see what was over the horizon was only a memory.

Fini