Greg said goodbye to his last student at 8:15 PM, locked up the studio, and got into his car. He always looked forward to his evening rendezvous with Bonnie—his nickname for the Bonneville. He liked to put her top down, and drive her around town in the moonlight. Their route varied from night to night, but the ultimate destination was never in question.
“May I help you?”
The worn-out speaker was crackly, but he still recognized the particularly twangy East Texas voice of Fontana Fry.
Over his six years of vocal training, he had become acutely aware of accents. This is true of all classically trained singers. Great emphasis is placed on precise pronunciation and enunciation. It is mandatory that the singer’s repertoire include works written in English, Latin, Italian, German, and French.
So, by the time Greg finished his graduate degree, his accent had been all but eliminated. He sounded somewhat like a network news anchor instead of an East Texan.
“I would like a large—”
“—a large dipped cone, the usual. Right?”
The Dairy Queen drive-thru ordering station was located out in front of the restaurant, on the right side. He looked up, and saw the 19 year-old waving at him. She looked so cute in her little Dairy Queen outfit. Fontana was in her first year at Kilgore College. She planned to be an elementary teacher. He knew she would be a good one.
Greg had met Fontana a few months earlier when she brought her 13-year-old brother to the studio to enroll for guitar lessons. The boy was holding a U.S. made, 1968 Harmony acoustic guitar his uncle gave him. The body and the frets were badly worn, but the instrument still played beautifully. It looked somewhat like a large violin, with arched top and f-holes. That shape produces a more mellow sound than flattops. And the guitar’s age contributed additional warmth to the tone.
Hi, I’m Fontana, and this is my brother, Montana. Greg had almost snickered. As it turned out, Montana was musically gifted. He learned faster than Greg could teach him.
Fontana probably wondered why he never came inside to eat. He always opted for the drive-thru, and then parked behind the building, in the back corner of the parking lot.
She gave Greg a tall stack of napkins before he could ask. He parked, and began his nightly ritual—spreading out the napkins meticulously in layers across his lap. Drips would be contained. A chocolate stain on his shirt or pants would, of course, be upsetting. But the slightest drip or crumb on Bonnie’s pristine interior would be tantamount to desecration.
Just as he bit off the tip of the chocolate covered mountain, his cell phone rang.
Unknown Name. Unknown Number.
Greg figured it was some misdialing drunk. It could be handled quickly. His ice cream was already beginning to melt. He made no attempt to hide his irritation. “Hello?”
It was a woman whispering frantically. The sound was so distorted he couldn’t understand her at first, and was about to hang up.
“He’s doing it again.” She sounded terrified. “He hit me and threw me into the wall. I’m sorry, Greg, I shouldn’t be calling you, but—”
Greg heard a man shouting in the background, then a commotion. The phone went dead. He felt sick and helpless, like a kid who had just been spun on a merry-go-round at breakneck speed until he flew off. And the dizziness would not soon go away.
Greg wanted to call the police, but what would he tell them? And why did she call him instead of 911? He would call her back. No, he couldn’t—he didn’t have her number.
Then he felt something on his leg. The ice cream was melting beneath the chocolate shell, and it had collapsed under its own weight, and fallen onto the bed of napkins in his lap.
Still dazed, he sat for a full minute studying the ice cream as it dripped down the sides of the cone onto his hand and arm. Gradually the streams of white turned to pink, then to red— running down Cynthia’s face! A cold chill ripped through his body, and jolted him back to reality. He dropped the cone onto the gooey pile, bundled the entire mess, and threw it out of the car, as though it was toxic.
Suddenly Greg felt exposed sitting alone in the convertible, in the dark. He put the top up, locked it in place, and drove home as quickly as he could without attracting local law enforcement. There was nothing to tell the police.
Why had she come to him? He wished he had never met her. Yet he wanted to help her.
It was quiet on his street. Most of the neighbors were retirees, and were already in bed. He turned into his driveway, parked, and hurried toward his back porch. Just before he reached the door, his cell phone rang.
A drunken man yelled back at him. “Who is this?”
Greg snapped the phone shut, and started to throw it into the woods behind his house. But throwing the phone away wouldn’t help. Fear began to flush through his veins, from head to toe.
Greg looked all around, and saw nothing but darkness. Then he thought he sensed movement in the distance. He fumbled with the keys. Why wasn’t the porch light on? Office keys, church keys, car keys. Where was the house key?
Finally, he got it opened, and darted in. He slammed the door, and double-locked it. The light switch was on. What a time for the bulb to burn out.
He moved quickly throughout the house, turning on every light, and all three TVs.
The electric bill was the least of his worries.