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Detour on Route 66 (Choices: Story Five)

Beth Carpenter

  Detour on Route 66

  Choices: Story 5

  By Beth Carpenter

  Copyright Beth Carpenter 2013


  Detour on Route 66

  Recalculating Route Excerpt

  Other Titles by Beth Carpenter

  Detour on Route 66

  “Try pushing more with the heel of your hand. Good. Knead and turn. Can you feel the elastic strands forming from the gluten in the flour? That’s what gives bread its texture.”

  “This is a lot of work. If I’d known, I would have skipped a set of triceps presses this morning.” Rebecca blew a strand of hair from her eyes. “Isn’t this what bread machines are for?”

  Marsha smiled. “Yes, but I wanted your first time to be hands-on, so you could experience the texture and feel of the dough. It’s important to start you bread-making virgins off right.”

  Rebecca laughed. “That’s very sensitive of you. What is this bread called again?”

  “It’s honey wheat bread. It was my husband’s favorite.” Marsha’s eyes roamed away from the dough for a moment, staring out the window toward the rock formations beyond.

  Rebecca glanced at her friend’s face. “How long has Eric been gone now?”

  “He died September before last.” Marsha sighed. “The longest nineteen months of my life.”

  “I wish I could have met him. He sounds like a wonderful man.”

  Marsha’s eyes kept that faraway look. “He was. We had such great plans. We had finally retired and we were going to travel, to see America. We were just about to start our trip to California. Eric always wanted to see the redwoods. We had everything packed and were spending our last night at home when he collapsed. An aneurysm burst in his head.”

  “I’m sorry, Marsha. You must miss him terribly.”

  “I do.”

  “Have you started dating?”

  She shrugged. “I’d never find another man like Eric.” She gave a little snort. “Besides, who am I going to date? The supply and demand balance for unattached men in our age bracket is tragic.”

  “That’s true, especially on the supply side. Offhand, I can only think of two single men, and I’d never inflict either of them on my worst enemy. I’ll give it some thought. I’m sure I can find someone good to fix you up with.”

  Marsha’s eyes widened. “Rebecca, I know you mean well, but please don’t …”

  The doorbell chimed, interrupting their conversation. The four dogs that had been resting quietly in the dining room raced to the door, barking madly.

  “Who could that be?” Rebecca wiped her hands on a kitchen towel before moving to answer the door. Curious, Marsha stepped out of the kitchen to watch.

  “Quiet.” At Rebecca’s command, the dogs stopped barking but stood behind her, waiting expectantly for her to open the door.

  The man on the other side was tall and lean, a straw cowboy hat resting on his head and a mischievous grin across his leathery face.

  “Ben!” As he stepped through the door, Rebecca threw her arms around him, knocking off his hat. He hugged her back, chuckling. The dogs surrounded them, sniffing his boots and wagging their tails.

  “Come in.” Rebecca closed the door behind him. “What in the world are you doing in Sedona?”

  He bent to retrieve his hat and gave each of the dogs a pat. “I’m on my way to California and decided to take a little detour to see you.”

  “How exciting. Come on back.” She led him to the kitchen. “Ben, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Marsha Davison. Marsha, this is Ben Mayfield.”

  “Hello, Ben.” Marsha held out her hand.

  “Marsha. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Ben held onto her hand for a beat longer than necessary as he looked her over, an expression of approval on his face.

  Marsha couldn’t imagine why. She knew what he saw, a pleasant-looking woman with minimal makeup, her short brown hair generously salted with gray, and her five-foot-two figure on the curvy side. Rebecca, as always, looked as though she should be starring in a cosmetics commercial with her shiny blond hair, artfully made-up face, and slim figure. Even wearing an apron and with a smudge of flour on her cheek, Rebecca managed to look glamorous. It was hard to believe they were the same age.

  “Marsha is teaching me to make bread. She’s a former home economics teacher.”

  The creases around Ben’s eyes arranged themselves into an expression of amusement. “Baking bread? You’re a brave woman. Becca always told me she was allergic to kitchens. I’d have thought she’d be a lost cause.”

  “Not at all. Rebecca is one of the most engaged students I’ve ever had. Just because she got off to a late start doesn’t mean she can’t learn.”

  “I’m glad to hear that. Maybe there’s hope for all us old dogs.”

  Marsha laughed.

  “Ben, have a seat. What can I get you to drink?” Rebecca asked.

  “I’d like a glass of iced tea if you have it.” He settled onto one of the stools at the granite-topped island where they had been working, resting his hat on the next seat. “So, how about if I take everybody out to dinner tonight?”

  Rebecca looked up from pouring the tea, an expression of regret on her face. “I wish I’d known you were coming. Dan and I are leaving for Prescott for the weekend as soon as he finishes work. His grandson is in a soccer tournament there.”

  “Soccer tournament? I thought he was still a baby.”

  “Zach’s five now. Believe it or not, they’re starting that young these days. I’m sorry, Ben. I really can’t break these plans.”

  “Don’t worry about it. How about you, Miss Marsha? Will you take pity on a lone traveler and have dinner with me? And your husband of course,” he added hurriedly.

  Marsha looked up in surprise. “I’m a widow.” She paused, and then took the plunge. “Yes, I’d enjoy having dinner with you. Thank you.” She smiled at Ben. She glanced at Rebecca and thought she saw a tiny frown pass over her friend’s face, but before she could be sure, it was replaced with a smile.

  “How nice,” Rebecca said. When she turned to Ben, there was a subtle warning in her voice. “Ben, Marsha is one of my very best friends.”

  Ben gave a look of wide-eyed innocence. “Then I’ll be sure to take very good care of her.”

  “Of course you will, darling.”

  As she witnessed this exchange, Marsha felt like a child whose parents were debating whether she was old enough to be allowed on an outing. She wasn’t sure if she should be insulted or amused.

  Rebecca continued, “How long do you plan to stay in Sedona? Will you be here when we get back on Sunday afternoon?”

  “My plans are wide open. This is my Route 66 road trip, and I’m taking life however it comes.”

  Marsha perked up her ears. “You’re driving the old Route 66?”

  “I am. I even drove to Chicago so I could start at the very beginning. I couldn’t recreate the whole route, but I’m taking my time, looking at all the landmarks. Did you know the parks service has an itinerary of historic sites along the route? I’ve been checking them off. Believe it or not, I spend last night in the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona.”

  Rebecca laughed. “You’re kidding. That motor court with the concrete teepees for rooms?”

  “That’s the one. I spent the morning going through the museum and looking at the vintage cars. The sad thing is I owned a lot of those models. I’m getting to be a little vintage myself these days.”

  “I like that term, vintage,” Marsha said. “It sounds much classier than old. Vintage implies a superior style.”

  “Absolutely.” Ben took a drink of t
ea. “You ladies go on ahead with your bread making. I’ll just sit right here and watch. Maybe I’ll learn something.”

  “Actually, we’re almost to a stopping point. Rebecca, just shape the dough in a ball and put it in this oiled bowl. Now, turn it over to oil the other side. Good. Now we just cover it with a damp cloth and set it in the slightly warm oven to rise for about an hour.”

  “Let’s go into the living room to hear more about Ben’s adventures,” Rebecca suggested. “You and Ben go ahead. I’ll bring us tea.”

  They spent the next hour hearing about Ben eating doughnut holes while waiting for a table in a diner in Chicago, crossing bridges of all shapes and descriptions, and watching movies in historic old theaters. He pulled out his phone to show them pictures of everything from giant milk bottles to obelisks to a pueblo in New Mexico.

  “Here’s the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo.” He showed Marsha the photo of a long line of Cadillacs, all buried tail fins up, marching across the pasture. Layer upon layer of colorful graffiti covered the cars. He turned to Rebecca. “Do you remember when we saw them on that trip west?”

  She smiled. “Yes. You wanted to stop and buy some spray paint, but I wouldn’t let you.”

  He flicked to the next picture and turned to Marsha. “This is a picture series of Burma-Shave signs outside a museum. Do you ever remember seeing those billboards?”

  “I do,” Marsha said. “They were usually along the highway out in the middle of nowhere, six signs in a row. Something like ‘A shave, that’s real, no cuts to heal, something, something, Burma-Shave,’ right?”

  “Exactly. This series says ‘Does your husband misbehave, grunt and grumble, rant and rave? Shoot the brute some Burma-Shave.’ Say, speaking of signs, I kept seeing signs in Sedona about vortex tours. What exactly is a vortex?”

  Rebecca shook her head. “Supposedly, there are certain places around the world, several conveniently located here in Sedona, where magic energy is supposed to swirl up from the earth and permeate the people there with good vibes and creativity. The tours take you around to all those places. I suspect the concept was dreamed up by a committee to increase tourism.”

  Ben laughed. “You’re such a cynic.” He checked his watch. “Well ladies, your dough has probably risen, and unless I want to sleep in another motor court, I’d better go check in to a hotel. Becca, I believe I’ll plan to stick around for a few days, so I’ll see you when you get back from Prescott. Marsha, when and where shall I pick you up tonight?”

  She gave him her address. “Maybe around six-thirty?”

  “I look forward to it.” He retrieved his hat from the kitchen and wrote something on the pad next to Rebecca’s phone. He tore off the top sheet and handed it to Marsha. “Here’s my number just in case.” He bent to kiss Rebecca’s cheek. “I’ll see you Sunday. Give Dan my best.”

  “I’ll do that. Goodbye, cowboy. Be good.”

  He winked at her and turned to go. She shook her head with a smile on her face as she watched him clap the Stetson on his head and stroll out the door.

  “Well.” Marsha gazed after the cowboy. “Is Ben a relative of yours?”

  Rebecca laughed. “I’m sorry. I forgot you didn’t know. Ben is my ex-husband.”

  Marsha raised her eyebrows. “Your ex? That’s the last thing I expected to hear. I thought he was a favorite cousin or something. Why would you ever want to get rid of such a charming husband?” Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that.”

  “It’s fine. Yes, Ben is a charmer. We had been married seven years when he decided to turn his charms toward another woman. It’s the story of his life. I was his third wife, and he’s been married, let me see, three more times since then, and I’ve lost count of the number of relationships that didn’t make it to the altar.”

  “Oh, my.”

  “I know, he makes my four marriages look reasonable.”

  Marsha’s eyes opened wider. “You’re remarkably friendly with him, considering.”

  Rebecca nodded. “Ben and I understand one another. He’s a good friend. He encouraged me to marry Dan, and that’s the best decision I’ve ever made.” Her blue eyes focused on Marsha. “It’s you I’m concerned about.”


  “Yes. As I said, Ben’s a charmer, and he’s got his eye on you. Be careful. If you’d like a little fling, he’s the perfect man for it, but don’t give him your heart.”

  “Rebecca, I agreed to have dinner with the man, not marry him.” Her tone was sharp.

  “Of course. I’m sorry.” Rebecca looked a little abashed. “You’re a grown woman, and if you want to go out with Ben, good for you. He’s fun.” Rebecca pulled the bread dough out of the oven and pulled off the towel. “Why don’t you just tell me the rest of the steps and I’ll finish this bread myself. You can go home and get ready for your date.”

  “A date.” A look of panic passed over Marsha’s face. “I haven’t been on a first date in, oh my goodness, thirty-four years. What do I wear?”

  Rebecca gave her an appraising look. “Does bread dough freeze?”

  Marsha cocked her head. “Yes. Why?”

  “Good. Let’s put this in the freezer and I’ll come over to your house and help you choose your clothes and do your makeup for you.”

  “Really? Don’t you need to get ready for your weekend?”

  “I’m all packed. I just need to be back here by five-thirty. It will be like high school, when my friends and I would give each other makeovers.” A playful smile crossed her face. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

  Marsha gave a little giggle. “Why not? Let me divide up this dough and wrap it for the freezer. I’ll write down directions for how to thaw it and I can come back to help you with the next steps whenever you’re ready.” She looked at Rebecca. “Thanks for supporting me.”

  “That’s what friends are for.”