Written last March, when I was still married . . .
I thought today would be ordinary, but it took a strange turn. Something happened that I'll never forget.
Cade and I sat waiting for the verdict on our van's safety and emissions inspection. I nearly bit my nails, worrying because our van is a clunker. The radio's fuses are messed up--so every time I turn off the van, I have to disconnect the battery. The heater on the driver's side no longer works; the left sliding door won't open and the carpet smells like crayons. I laughed in the waiting room, thinking how just because I'm an author, people assume we're loaded, livin' the American dream. Even though money can be tight and we've put all of our saving into Wayman Publishing, I love our clunker house and van--they make life interesting for us and our four kids.
A mechanic opened the door--breaking through my thoughts--and waved Cade and me toward the computer. "Your vehicle passed. It'll be seventy-seven dollars and twenty-nine cents."
I smiled wide. "That clunker passed!" I elbowed Cade. "I knew our baby would pass."
As the mechanic typed, looking confused by my statement, I asked him how his day was.
"Terrible," he replied. "People have been so mean today. The last guy who came in here was a real A-hole. I hate people like that."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I've been dealing with mean people all week, too. I wish they'd be more appreciative and understanding."
I gave him my credit card then, but right after paying, I looked out the bay window and realized our van hadn't even been checked yet. "Corvette" flashed on the screen in front of me.
"Ummm . . ." I cleared my throat. "I think we just paid for the wrong vehicle."
"You're the corvette, right?" he asked.
Cade and I stood a little straighter. He thought we looked like "corvette people"? That was flippin' awesome!
"Nope, I wish," Cade said. "So we paid the wrong bill?"
The guy nodded, obviously worried for our reaction. "I thought that was strange you called it a clunker."
Cade and I looked at each other. "Cade," I whispered, "do you think this happened for a reason?"
So I looked at the mechanic and said, "We'd like to pay for the corvette owners' bill." Cade and I knew we'd just have enough in checking to cover the corvette bill and ours.
The mechanic turned, stunned. Another mechanic came up and said, "No, you don't want to pay that. The guy who owns the corvette is a creep. He's the biggest jerk who's been in here today, so is his wife--and that's saying something."
I second-guessed myself. But Cade didn't. "We'll still pay it," Cade said.
I thought for a minute and agreed. "Maybe they need to see some kindness. I don't know why this happened, but it did."
So we even paid for the safety and emissions after that, on top of the registration fee. "Just don't tell them we paid," I said and the mechanic agreed.
The guys in the first bay were still dumbfounded, either thinking we were stupid or maybe trying to make up for a huge sin.
We went back into the waiting room, passed the rich couple who owned the corvette, and sat down. I didn't say a word to them and neither did Cade.
I couldn't help glancing at the rich couple before the mechanic called them to the other room. Both the young wife and her middle-aged husband puckered, like they'd eaten wasabi candies by the fistful. I wondered what went on in their lives to sour them so. Were they just bored, or truly sad?
I remembered then, times in my life when I'd been depressed beyond anything--when kids in high school spread terrible rumors about my virginity . . . when I'd been homeless . . . when Zeke--my son--had died in my arms. People probably thought I was a jerk because I wasn't always sociable; they had no idea.
Cade and I waited in that room for a long time. The Chinese lady across from me went out to smoke. The cigarette looked so elegant in her slender, pink-nailed hand. A kid next to me joked about the groundhog being wrong this year. And the whole time the corvette didn't leave and no one pulled our van into the bay.
Suddenly the door opened. A wind flew through the waiting room, smelling of gas and strong cologne. The rich couple came inside, peered around and then smiled warmly at Cade and me.
"What an awesome gesture, you guys." The man shook Cade's hand and looked at me like we deserved a damn medal, just because we'd been decent human beings. "What a nice thing. Why would you want to do that for complete strangers?"
I didn't want to say that I had a "feeling"--that something greater was at work than us spending all the money we had, on a whim. "Everything happens for a reason," I said, smiling at both the man and his wife. "It wasn't a big deal, not really." Tears lined the woman's eyes, and I wondered again, what she was going through.
"Well, we can't let you do it." He shook my hand then. Something rustled in between our palms, like a sacred secret. That man--who the mechanics said was such a jerk--had paid us back all the money and then some.
They left, and I can't explain what emotions went through me. The mechanics had us pay our own bill after that--we paid in cash. The main guy kept shaking his head and typing. "He paid you back," the kid said. "Here I thought he was such a jerk, but he paid you back. I'll never forget this. That really showed me something about people."
Cade smiled and put his arm around me.
"Me too," I said. "That was really somethin'."
And I realized, we weren't supposed to pay that bill just so the rich couple could see a simple kindness; we were supposed to pay it so all the mechanics in the shop could see the kindness that shone from the couple who just left in the corvette.
Closing: Regardless of all the "feelings," the failed attempt to pay someone else's bill, and after all the magic of the moment, the van still didn't pass safety and emissions. One miracle down, one to go!
Posted for the writing exercise: