The Road Not Taken
(Sequel to Taken For A Ride)
Dayna had typed the address into her phone GPS and she followed the verbal instructions until she found the house which was pretty much the way she had imagined it from Saunder's description all those years ago.
He said it was a nice house and he was right – a modern two story Colonial with an attractive yard, two car garage and some attractive flower beds. If memory served, there would be four bedrooms and two baths inside.
Dayna had never been there, of course, but she hadn't forgotten Saunders' description of his home or his invitation and now, five years later, here she was, against all odds, pulling her car to the curb in front of the house she used to fantasize about.
What she was about to do was crazy, of course, but it wouldn't be the first crazy thing she had done in her life. This was one of her last 'closure' exercises she wanted to accomplish as she continued to rebuild her life and recover from the past.
She nervously climbed out of the car and walked up the front walk on the pleasant Saturday autumn afternoon. She hesitated just for a moment before ringing the doorbell. A dog barked and a few moments later the front door opened and Dayna found herself looking at a very attractive middle aged woman with long brown hair staring at her.
"Yes?" The woman asked politely when Danya realized she wasn't saying anything. "May I help you?"
"Are you Mrs. Saunders?" Dayna asked. "The florist?"
"Yes," the woman replied, slightly confused. "But this isn't my business."
"You have a son who is – or was – in the Navy?" Dayna wanted to know.
"Joseph?" Mrs. Saunders asked. "You're looking for Joseph?"
"Yes, Joseph," Danya confirmed, although she was trying to remember if she ever referred to the guy by his given name.
"Who are you, Dear?" Mrs. Saunders asked.
"I'm sorry," Dayna said awkwardly. "My name is Dayna Andrews. I met your son about five years ago…"
"Dayna?" Mrs. Saunders asked with surprise.
Dayna felt her heart leap. Was she in trouble? Did Mrs. Saunders know all about her scandalous life?" The woman was staring at her with wide eyes.
"Should I go?" Dayna asked nervously.
"You're late," Mrs. Saunders remarked.
Dayna was confused. "Excuse me?" She asked nervously
"Didn't my son invite you here five years ago?" Mrs. Saunders asked.
"Well, ah, yes, as a matter of fact he did," Dayna confirmed with a bemused smile.
"So, what took you so long?" Mrs. Saunders asked with a slight smirk on her face.
Dayna relaxed a little. "It's been a long journey," she admitted.
"Would you like to come in?" Mrs. Saunders asked.
"Thank you," Dayna replied, following the woman into the house.
The inside of the house was attractive, well maintained and furnished, and impressively decorated with a comfortable homey feeling to it with all the family photos and other signs of American life throughout the rooms.
"I was hoping maybe you could give me Joe's e-mail or mailing address," Dayna said when Mrs. Saunders gestured for her to have a seat on the living room couch.
"I could do that," Mrs. Saunders replied. "But wouldn't you rather see him in person?"
"Is he nearby?" Dayna asked hopefully. "I just assumed maybe he stayed in the Navy or something."
"Would you like something to drink?" Mrs. Saunders offered.
"Oh, whatever you have would be fine," Dayna replied. "I don't want to be any bother."
"I have some apple cider," Mrs. Saunders said warmly.
"That sounds good," Dayna smiled.
"I'll be right back," Mrs. Saunders let her know.
But instead of going into the kitchen for the refreshments, Mrs. Saunders went up the stairs to the second floor.
Her son was lying on his bed in a pair of sweats watching Netflix on his laptop.
"Do you believe in miracles?" His mother asked as she stood in his doorway.
"Is that supposed to be your Al Michaels impersonation, Ma?" Saunders asked.
"Do you remember the story you told us after your car got stolen coming home on leave that time?" Mrs. Saunders asked.
Saunders glanced up from the computer screen. "Was that the doorbell I heard before?" he asked suspiciously.
His mother nodded her head affirmatively. "I think maybe you should come downstairs," she suggested.
Saunders could tell from the look on her face that his mother wasn't pranking him or playing games.
"I'm supposed to be getting her cider," Mrs. Saunders said. "Would you like something?"
"A coke is fine, Ma," Saunders replied, his head spinning slightly as he turned off the movie and put his lap top on his nearby desk. "Are you for real?" He needed to know.
"She said her name is Dayna," his mother told him. "Isn't that the name you told us? I remember because I thought it was such an unusual name, spelled in a peculiar way. That's how it was spelled inside her hat. D-A-N-Y-A."
"Okay, Mom," Saunders replied in amazement. "Let's not freak out about this."
"I'll get the refreshments," Mrs. Saunders said with excitement, disappearing from the doorway.
Saunders slowly pulled himself from the bed and stiffly walked across the room with a limp to the closet door, which he opened. He struggled reaching for the top shelf but he had little trouble finding, pulling out Dayna's ball cap. He smelled it, convinced it still smelled of her. And sure enough, written in black magic marker on the inside of the cap was DANYA in cursive.
Holding the ball cap in his hand, Saunders slowly made his way toward the stairs, trying to walk with less than a limp than usual although that was hard to do. He had to be careful on the stairs, his stiff back and bum leg making it hard to negotiate the steps with ease even now.
Saunders was feeling surreally nervous as he made his way down the stairs thinking about the kid he met so long ago, it seemed now. Five years might as well have been fifteen years considering all that had changed since she abandoned him in a motel room outside of Raleigh North Carolina that fateful morning.
Dayna didn't notice him standing in the doorway. She was seated on the couch leafing through a Photography Book of New England that was on the coffee table. He could hear his mother making noise in the kitchen.
Dayna had grown up in the five years since he last saw her as a sixteen year old runaway. Her hair was a long golden brown, parted in the middle. She had put on some weight and although it was hard to determine how tall she was sitting down she somehow appeared bigger to him. That teenager had grown into a woman and he realized that Dayna was twenty-one now.
"Did you come for this?" Saunders asked, holding up her red ball cap.
Dayna glanced up and her eyes went wide – Saunders wasn't sure if it was because she was seeing him for the first time in five years – or her ball cap.
"You kept that?" She asked with surprise, setting the book down and standing.
"It was about all I had to prove any of that actually happened," Saunders acknowledged.
She blushed slightly and they both stood awkwardly looking at one another until Mrs. Saunders entered the room with the cider and soda, along with some cheese slices, crackers, and orange slices.
"Sit," she ordered and Dayna immediately did what she was told.
She watched as Saunders slowly limped across the room and carefully took a seat on the couch next to her as if his spine had been replaced by a metal shaft. She had the good graces not to say anything about his physical limitations but it was hard not to hide her surprise and concern.
"Your mother asked me what took so long," Dayna said sheepishly.
"Better late than never is okay with me," Saunders replied. "But how in the hell did you find me?"
"It wasn't hard," Dayna shrugged. "But I didn't start looking until I was ready to face you."
"She's had a long journey," Mrs. Saunders explained as she handed Dayna a glass of cider and Joe his glass of coke. "We would have taken you in, by the way," she added, looking at Dayna. "If you really needed a place to be. If you really didn't have a place to go."
"I didn't believe him," Dayna admitted sadly.
"So that's why you took off," Saunders said.
"It's what I did best."
"Did you have to ditch the car in the causeway?" Saunders asked.
"That wasn't my idea," Dayna said with shame. "I'm really sorry about that."
"It's all water under the bridge now," Mrs. Saunders noted ironically.