PART 1— The Storm
CHAPTER ONE – Beginning of the Storm
Oh, my God, Andy thought, suddenly concentrating on her driving as she reached over and turned the windshield wipers up to a faster speed. The snow is picking up! Maybe I should have listened to Ken. Maybe I should turn around and go back home. I can always walk at the mall another day.
But she settled down more comfortably in the driver's seat and kept on guiding the car toward the mall. She knew she would be the victim of an endless ribbing from her husband that would follow her for at least a week if she caved in and went back home without walking, all because of a little snowfall. Andy hated Ken's "I-told-you-so" kind of teasing. His joking had ceased to amuse her months ago.
Ken's recent habit of getting under her skin was extremely irritating. She didn't know why. Well, yes, on second thought, she knew exactly why. It started when she became deeply involved in yoga a few months ago. Not only was she embracing a new kind of lifestyle she had never known before, she was experiencing a change inside of her. This was becoming more empowering to her in subtle ways which she had not yet learned to deal with fully. For example, she was becoming more independent and making her own decisions and wanted more privacy in her own study to sort out her thoughts.
Something that was changing most of all over the months—which was actually exciting to her—was being around other women. This was proving to fill an inexplicable void in her life that she only vaguely knew existed before she started taking yoga lessons. Except for one thing that happened in the recent past—which was still raw in her mind—her life was almost perfect.
She never confided to Ken about these changes, though. No way would he have understood! Ken highly resented the fact that he was excluded from some of the things she did these days. He was no longer her only world. And he had begun to assume an air of possessiveness she didn't like. Still, there was no need to add fuel to a fire that was smoldering and ready to erupt at a moment's provocation.
But she didn't want to think about that now. It was too complicated.
I'm not ready to go back home, she decided. It's only 9 o'clock. After I'm done walking and have a cup of coffee, I'll go home and change my clothes and go to my yoga class at noon. She assured herself that this brief storm would come to an end shortly. It always did.
A hobby of Andy's was researching climate change—zealously pursuing every aspect of it. A major component of climate change was, of course, global warming. So as she drove to the mall in the snow, it was only natural that she would think about the weather becoming increasingly erratic in Colorado . The promise of a nice soft snowfall in late fall as it used to be years ago always seemed to fizzle out now and never materialized.
That's what global warming is doing to this climate , she mused. Why don't people pay attention to what's happening and do something about it?
Global warming was the source of a never-ending debate in the news and was all talk, talk, talk. In reality, very little was accomplished and global warming continued with no signs of slowing.
Andy checked her pants pockets for the third time to make sure her wallet and coin purse were firmly in place. She never carried a woman's purse anymore—didn't even wear a fanny pack. It was more convenient now, as she didn't have to worry about her personal belongings being left somewhere because she'd set her purse down and forgotten it—which had happened a couple of times in the past. All the important stuff she needed was in her deep pants pockets: wallet, keys, coin purse, comb, Chap Stick.
She remembered when women wore the traditional dress or skirt because pants were not considered feminine. With the rise of the feminist movement in the not-so-long-ago past and the changing culture, most women wore pants nowadays. That was all Andy would wear. Ken still tried to coax her into putting on a dress when they went out somewhere—a rare occasion—but she wouldn't do it. He would get agitated with her, but to no avail. Besides, she had given all her dresses away some months ago to needy charities, knowing she'd never wear them again. Her easy-flowing transition from dresses to pants seemed a natural thing to her. It went along with her new way of thinking—her new lifestyle. She would buy a dress if there was an important wedding she was invited to or if she was meeting the President of the United States . Fat chance of either of those events ever happening!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, she sang silently to herself. Then she launched wholeheartedly into the familiar Christmas carol, repeating it twice, as loud as she could. She was glad that Ken was not sitting beside her because he would just laugh at her spontaneous outburst and then ridicule her. Breaking out in song like that just for the heck of it was something else she had been experimenting with lately, because she wanted to, instead of holding herself in check because it wasn't deemed appropriate according to traditional standards. To heck with tradition, she often found herself thinking these days.
Andy's car suddenly lurched as it hit a bump and slid on a patch of the wet snow starting to cover the road. Her heart momentarily skipped a beat. But she pulled her vehicle back on track almost immediately, her reflexes trained by years of driving in Colorado winters. She had driven this road hundreds—probably thousands—of times. It was her usual route to the mall, and she had deceived herself into thinking she could drive it blindfolded.
She had read in the newspaper just two days ago: "Most crashes are caused by distracted driving," and knew she was guilty of inattention on numerous occasions.
I need to quit thinking so much—especially about Ken and how distracting he is—and pay attention to what I'm doing. S he gripped the steering wheel snugly.
Her mind, however, slipped into neutral again. She forgot about concentrating on her driving and focused instead on the fact that Christmas was less than a month away. Thanksgiving was over and people were gearing up in earnest for the Christmas holidays. She needed to purchase a few more Christmas gifts—including gifts for her two sons in California . So, on the spur-of-the-moment while she was driving, she decided to go shopping when the stores opened this morning. Before she went back home. If she watched the time, she would have about an hour to shop after she finished her walk.
Ken's boss and his wife had invited the company's supervisors, which included Ken, over to their lavish home for their annual Christmas party next weekend. Everyone was supposed to bring a white elephant gift. Andy's mind wandered as she thought about regifting something she couldn't stand to look at. It was a gift that had been given to Ken years ago—a ceramic toilet seat with a lid that lifted off. It was supposed to be a gag gift—an amusing and unique candy jar. But it usually wound up being the brunt of dirty jokes when anyone focused on it when Ken was around. Having candy in it didn't make any difference—in fact, made it worse. Wouldn't that be a riot, she thought, if Ken's boss got that? But Ken wouldn't approve of giving that away. He still smiled whenever he saw it in its prominent place in the living room.
Andy loathed going to these kinds of parties where she was required to be the perfect wife when she didn't even want to associate with those people. But for Ken's sake—and the sake of his job, ultimately—she would put on a passable front at the Christmas party. But no way was Ken going to get her in a dress! She wasn't about to buy one just for this event. She had a nice pants suit she was planning to wear.
Turning onto the access road to the mall and bouncing her right rear wheel off the curb slightly as her car briefly slid sideways, she continued to think. Kenneth gets so annoyed when I have plans to do something or go somewhere by myself. It irks me when he thinks I should get his permission first. He always tries to deny me the right to decide for myself what I'm going to do.
She remembered the conversation she had in the kitchen with Ken this morning before she left for her walk.
* * * * * *
"Andrea, the Weather Channel has predicted a really bad storm," Ken said. He never called her Andy, believing that nicknames should be reserved only for men—and between men.
"In fact, it looks like it's already starting," he added, looking out the kitchen window and frowning as he ran his hand through his thick graying hair. "Maybe you shouldn't go walking this morning."
Bad move on his part.
"Look, I'll be all right," Andy replied tersely. She managed to conceal the mounting frustration in her voice. "This weather won't last. It's just a little snow shower. And I really don't want to miss my walk at the mall. Outside of my yoga class today, this is the only regular exercise I get."
As much as she detested it, sometimes explaining every little thing to Ken was the only way to keep the peace. She wished there were more and different kinds of exercises she could do over the winter months. At least in the summer, she could always hike and go on bike rides. But lately—in the middle of this present “supposed to be” winter—she was feeling the need to get away from home more than she did, and there wasn't anything out there that really appealed to her. She didn't ski or ice skate. Though she loved the snow, snow sports were just not her thing.
A new exercise club for 'women only' had opened up in town. Franchises were spreading like wildfire all over the city, and the club was highly rated. One of the women in her yoga class repeatedly told her how fabulous it was and that she should join. Andy hadn't mentioned it to Ken yet, as she hadn't committed herself. Ken would probably blow his stack, just like he did when she joined a health gym several months ago and then quit going after sinking $200 into it. She told him the reason she cancelled her membership was because she felt the people who ran the place were cold and impersonal. He accepted that reason, but never let her forget the money she lost!
Although that excuse was certainly true, she couldn't tell him the real reason she stopped going. He would never understand. Many times when she went into the women's locker room to wash her hands after she worked out, naked women were walking around in there. Women (whom she presumed were members) would come to the gym and take showers, sometimes not working out at all. They never seemed to be embarrassed—never covered themselves with a towel. Andy couldn't help but notice them as they were right in front of her eyes! She was experiencing a sexual attraction that was very disturbing. After a few of these encounters, she decided she needed to get the heck out of there!
So right now, her exercises consisted of yoga once a week and walking at the mall almost every day. She might join the new women's exercise club later, and maybe even enroll in a second yoga class. Then she would cross Ken's anger when she came to it. She told herself she didn't care anymore what Ken thought. She would do what she felt she had to do to take care of herself for a change after taking care of him and their sons for so long.
"Well, it's getting colder out there," Ken was saying. "The outside thermometer says it's twenty degrees, and the snow is sticking on the grass already. The roads could get nasty pretty quick," he cautioned. "I'm glad breakfast this morning with the guys was cancelled. Those storm clouds are getting dark. I really think you should stay home."
Another bad move on his part.
Andy had been dressed and ready to go by the time Ken was supposed to have left for his usual Saturday morning breakfast with his buddies. But one of the foursome was vacationing in Arizona and another one came down with the flu, so Ken and Oscar decided to cancel. Since he didn't go this morning, Andy took time to have a cup of coffee with him. Now she was impatient with the delay his breakfast cancellation was causing her. He might be genuinely concerned about her safety, but this was happening far too often. He was starting to subtly lay a guilt trip on her again. Because he didn't go somewhere, he figured she didn't need to go, either, but should stay home and keep him company. She wasn't buying into his argument. Again, he was taking the decision on what she was going to do out of her hands.
Andy answered with all of the cheerfulness she could muster, trying to not let her exasperation show. "I'll be back before it gets too bad, and if it turns out that it's getting worse, I'll just come home after I walk and won't go to yoga today. Okay?" She was trying to allow him some sort of concession, to ease the tension between them.
"I really need the exercise of walking, at least," she continued. “But it probably won't amount to much. You know how the weather forecasters are usually wrong with their predictions. Although I wouldn't mind if it snowed a couple of feet. We hardly ever have snow anymore. But...I gotta go—"
Andy hurriedly slipped into her jacket and grabbed her woolen knit hat and thick, lined leather gloves. She didn't want to stay a moment longer and listen to Ken's continuing opposition. She was dressed warmly enough with brown cord pants and a fleecy, long-sleeved shirt over a T-shirt she always wore in winter. Her brown cord winter jacket was plenty warm. Fleece-lined winter boots completed her outfit. Although it had been a long time since it was as cold as it was this morning, dressing properly for outdoors in the winter was one thing Ken couldn't fault her for. He complained about everything else she did! She carried her walking shoes in a baggie and would change into them when she got to the mall.
"Well, just be careful," he finally said to her, resigning himself to the fact that she wasn't going to change her mind. He closely watched her as she stepped out the back door and pointed the garage door opener toward the two-car garage, which was set twenty-five feet back from the house. Just before Andrea got in her car, she turned and waved.
* * * * * *
Ken knew better than to push his wife these days. She must be going through the mid-life change, he thought. He heard from some of his friends that women going through menopause did all sorts of weird things, and he was warned by his well-meaning buddies to stay out of her way and let her do what she wanted. They assured him that eventually she would settle down and be over the drastic ups and downs of hormonal changes. He hoped it wouldn't take too long. It bothered him that she was taking on new challenges—like yoga, for instance. At least, she finally switched from the Monday evening class to a day class. He didn't like her going out at night by herself. He had bowling that night with his company league, and he went by himself. But that was different. Being a man, he could take care of himself at night if anything were to happen. It was different for a woman.
Andrea used to be quite a homebody, he reminisced, but in the past few months, she had changed. He was quite unsettled about his wife's whole attitude toward life, and toward him in particular. It bothered him that they didn't have sex anymore. Andrea had told him she was a dried-up old lady now, and didn't want sex—could do without it. He had to give in to her wishes, as he really had no choice in the matter—if he wanted to stay married. But he didn't like it one bit. She even slept in a separate bedroom now, saying that he was pestering her too much in bed, he snored too loudly, and he twitched all the time, so that she couldn't sleep. He didn't like the changes. He wished she were like she used to be. Life was so much simpler and happier for him then. Maybe after she was over her menopause—her midlife change—life would get back to being like it used to be.
* * * * * *
The snow was coming down heavier as Andy parked her car as close as she could to the south entrance of the mall. Thinking about the invigorating walk she would have and then the prospect of buying Christmas presents afterward had helped pass the time it took her to drive the four miles to the mall. In fact, time had passed so quickly that after her initial reaction when she first left home, she had not paid that much attention to how intense the snow had become until she actually got out of the car.
The snow was swirling furiously, and visibility was deteriorating quickly. Andy could barely see the glass entrance door by Hooters , less than forty feet away. She pulled her woolen hat down over her short, dark-brown hair until it covered her ears. Then with her gloved hands in her pockets and the baggie with her tennis shoes dangling from her wrist, she made her way to the mall entrance—thankful that she wasn't facing the brunt of the fierce wind on the north side of the building. She pulled the door open with difficulty, however, as a sudden strong gust of wind viciously whipped up and tried to keep it closed.
"Whew!" she exclaimed out loud to no one in particular as the gust of wind then pushed her in the door and slammed it shut behind her. "It's really coming down out there!"
She looked back through the double-door entrance and couldn't see where she had parked her car.
CHAPTER TWO – Passing Time
Andy rode the escalator to the second level, shedding her outer clothes as she went and tossing them onto the customer service desk near the Food Court . Several other coats were piled there, as it was a convenient and safe place for mall-walkers to leave their jackets. A Security guard walked by periodically, and other than a couple of fast food places which opened early to accommodate walkers, other stores didn't open until 10 a.m.
She hurriedly changed into her walking shoes, looking around at the Christmas decorations embellishing the mall. She thought how appropriate the snowfall was at this time of year. It just seemed to 'fit in.' She had seen the same decorations in the mall year after year and never tired of them. However, she noted this year that 'Santa's seat' was more visible and accessible. It had been moved from the upper level of the mall to the entertainment center of the Food Court on the lowest level. There was more room, and Santa could now sit in a glass-enclosed 'castle' of sorts where little kiddies sat on his lap and had their pictures taken with him. Everything was covered in artificial snow in this area and designed to look like the North Pole. She stopped to admire it for a while, thinking of her childhood at Christmastime. She'd never had her picture taken with Santa! She looked wistfully at the setting and sighed deeply at what could never be recaptured. She wasn't a child any longer.
As she started her mile-long walk, a vague uneasiness crept over her. She looked out through the skylights and the various mall entrances as she walked past them, watching the snow fall outside. Other people were walking, also, as this was the gathering place of the Happy Walkers Club , made up mostly of senior citizens. They, too, were gazing outside with apprehension.
The shop windows were filled with showy, brilliant displays of Merry Christmas scenes. Seasonal bargain signs were just inside shop entrances ready to be set out in the corridors when the stores opened: 50 percent off; 30 to 40 percent off; buy, one, get one free —all enticing customers with current and last-minute savings.
I'm going to enjoy the Christmas spirit here, Andy thought , and have a great time shopping when I'm through walking. Neither the snow falling outside nor her unhappy conversation with Ken earlier was going to dampen the warm feelings she was experiencing right now.
Andy had moved from Southern California with her husband and sons fifteen years ago when Ken was offered an excellent job as a sheet metal supervisor at an expanding shop in Colorado Springs . They bought their very first home here and had lived in the same place ever since. Andy figured this would be as close as she would ever come to having her 'dream home,' and tried to decorate it accordingly. They had a beautiful view of Pikes Peak from their kitchen window.
She had fallen in love with the snow in Colorado , and the very first snowfall they experienced was a winter wonderland. Ken had been raised in Minnesota before he moved to California and married her, so snow was old hat to him. But Andy had never seen snow like this! They both went outside and frolicked in the two-foot-deep snow with their young twin boys and built a snowman, pretending they were kids, too. It had been so much fun!
They had been married for 30 years now. Their sons had spent their teenage years in Colorado Springs and then decided to go back to California after high school. They cited it was easier to work outside in the rain than in Colorado 's cold and snow. They both worked in the residential and commercial building industry as carpenters, following in the footsteps of Andy's father. Neither son had shown an interest in college. Andy wished they would come back to Colorado now, as snowfall—along with the extremely cold temperatures—had decreased dramatically in the wintertime during the ten years they had been gone.
Andy glanced out another entrance as she walked. The snow is simply beautiful! It's been so long since it snowed the last time. In fact, last March—which was nine months ago. And it was only two inches then. A chill ran up her spine as she thought, What if this time it's not just....Nah. She shrugged, and the answer to what she was thinking hung suspended on a hook in the back of her mind.
Half an hour later, Andy picked up her winter outerwear at the customer service desk, changed back into her boots, and then stopped at McDonald's for a cup of coffee. She decided there was no urgent reason to swerve from her usual routine, even though she'd had coffee with Ken before she left home. She'd been walking at the mall for almost four years and usually bought something to drink afterwards—either a cold Diet Pepsi in the hot summertime or hot coffee when it was chilly.
Andy sat down with her coffee at a wooden table on the upper level of the Food Court near the waterfall setting. There was a fountain shooting water ten feet or more into the air right behind and above the waterfall. The waterfall itself was surrounded by large, deep-green, flowering, live plants and was close to the entrance on the north side of the building. She wanted to watch the snow falling outside, so didn't sit at her usual place on the Food Court 's lower level.
She buried her chin in her left hand, her elbow on the table, and pensively gazed out the north entrance. God, I didn't think it would snow this much! She took another sip of coffee. Well, as soon as the stores open in a few minutes, I'll go shopping and worry about the snow later. It can't be all that bad, can it?
Her reverie was broken as she heard her name being called. "Andy Lee! Andy Lee, is that you?" Someone was shouting above the piped-in music of the mall.
Who could that be? Andy wondered. I walk by myself and never see anybody I know. There's only one person who calls me Andy Lee! She turned around to see if her hunch was right.
"Jess!" Andy exclaimed, as she saw her friend Jessica Sessions coming around the corner and heading her way from where she had gotten off the elevator on the Food Court's upper level.
"What in the world are you doing here?" Andy said, giving Jess a big hug, noticing the thinness of her body.
If she'd put on a little weight, she thought, it would give me a little more substance to wrap my arms around instead of just bare bones!
Andy envied her friend, though, because Jess could eat rings around her and not gain a pound. All Andy had to do was smell food, and on came the weight! Even with the regular exercise she was doing! She contributed some of the problem, though, to getting older.
"Well, now I wish I wasn't here!" Jess said. "Do you realize how bad it is outside?"
Releasing her, Andy asked, "It's not really that bad, is it?" She was a little skeptical, although reality was swirling around and looming just a few feet away.
They sat down at the table, and Jessica pulled her gloves off and placed a package on the chair beside her along with the small handbag she carried.
"You better believe it is!" she said. "I had second thoughts about coming, because it was snowing so hard when I left. There was about six inches of snow on the ground at our house!"
"Really? Why did you even bother to come, then?" Andy asked. "And just look at you. You're hardly dressed for a snowstorm!" Why didn't Jess's husband Bob stop her from going out dressed like this?
Jessica was wearing a black, hooded, light nylon windbreaker over a silky, collarless, pink blouse, and her black, almost sheer pants hugged her legs like leotards. She wore dirty white Nikes , hardly the proper footwear for snow. Her only saving grace was a light pair of gloves. But then Andy remembered Jess wore gloves most of the time, anyway, saying that she wanted to keep her hands looking beautiful .
"I know I probably should have stayed home,” Jess replied, “but I wanted to exchange a bad DVD I got yesterday at SunCoast Video. We don't live very far from here, you know, Andy Lee, and I wanted to have this movie to watch in case we had to stay home because of the snow that was coming down this morning. It's the best movie ever , called Vertical Limit . You ought to see it! I've seen it advertised on TV. I came just a few minutes ago, but wouldn't you know the store isn't even open yet. Bob said I should stay home, that we could watch one of our old movies. That went over like a lead balloon! And then he said maybe—"
"Yeah, I know the feeling," Andy interrupted. "Ken said I shouldn't come to walk, either. But we probably won't get more than a few inches from this. Are you sure there was that much snow at—?”
Andy stopped in mid-sentence. She noted Jess's wrinkled brow and her puppy-dog hazel eyes looking at her anxiously. Her long, straight, and thin blonde hair was hanging over her eyes, giving her a scraggly, rag-doll expression. Andy reached over and valiantly, but unsuccessfully, tried to brush the long strings of hair back behind Jess's ears.
"Stop worrying," she said. "It's almost over already. You want a cup of coffee? I'll buy?"
"Sure. Why not?" Jess sighed with relief. "Like you said, the snow probably won't amount to much. You haven't been wrong yet!" She was referring to Andy's weather expertise.
Jess had met Andrea Lee and Kenneth Tavanaugh at a company picnic. Her husband Bob worked with Andy Lee's husband. She was proud of the fact that even with the unpredictable weather scenario in Colorado Springs , Andy Lee was more accurate in her predictions than the local weather forecasters.
* * * * * *
Andy had shown an intense interest in weather and climate change when she first moved to Colorado . After she met Jess, she would sometimes share her views with her who, unfortunately, was less than enthusiastic about the whole thing.
She confided to Jess one time that when she was growing up in Southern California , she had always wanted to be a meteorologist. That was a strange career to want to pursue, since that part of the country didn't have many weather deviations outside of the Santa Anna winds that brought fires and heavy rains—sometimes with accompanying mudslides. But her dreams never panned out because her family was constantly moving. Her father worked in construction. "Have to go where the work, is, sweetie," he would tell her. Her mother never had enough gumption to tell him that he could go and work where the jobs were, but to leave her and the kids—Andy and her brother—in one spot so she could raise a family that had 'roots' somewhere.
As a result, Andy was shifted from school to school all over the Southern California area and was never in one school long enough to advance herself in the weather sciences. The family was always uprooting and packing all their belongings in a rented trailer with every move they made, leaving behind what wouldn't fit in the trailer. She was sad that her parents were now deceased, but she had never formed much of an attachment to them. Their three-year separation when she was five years old had left an indelible mark on her.
But she had been close to her brother, who died in an auto accident five years ago. He had broken away from their unpleasant home environment by joining the Marine Corps when he was 17 years old. She, being three years younger, had to live with the constant family moves. There were no other siblings. Andy had relished the letters from her brother over the years about his travels in the military and the different climates he would encounter. He made the Marines his career and was always open for overseas tours. He never married—saying more than once that the Marine Corps was his life, and he couldn't devote himself to anything else. She read with intense interest when he would mention a torrential rainstorm of "four inches an hour!" She had never experienced weather like that and thought how wonderful it would have been if she could only have gone to college and fulfilled her dream of becoming a meteorologist.
A couple of years after high school graduation she met Ken and married him. He made enough money so that she didn't have to work anymore at her low-paying clerical job, and her thoughts turned to raising a family. Then they moved to Colorado , and she was thrilled with the various weather anomalies that occurred in the state—from snow, to drought, to floods, to high winds, and the occasional tornado. After their sons went back to Southern California , she began teaching herself the basics of meteorology and climatology, delving deeply into the subjects.
She studied the weather and climate constantly now—focusing specifically on global warming—reading after well-known climatologists and other weather scientists who agreed with her own findings. She became an amateur volunteer weather spotter. Then when global warming started being scientifically investigated, Andy made strides in her investigations right along with the experts in the field, framing new theories. She felt she was part of an elite group of people who kept abreast of the latest developments on global warming. She often contributed her views in support of rapid and catastrophic global climate change to the city newspaper.
* * * * * *
Jessica continued to talk, brightening as she did so. "I guess I don't need to hurry and get home that quick. It's been ages since I've seen you! So what's been happening in your life? Mine has been so dull, I don't think I can even sharpen it anymore. I think I might eat a muffin, too. Do you mind getting me one? Andy Lee, it's so good to see you again! Wait till I tell you—"
Andy abruptly stood up and pushed away from the table, interrupting Jessica, and muttered, "I'll be right back, Jess, with our coffee." She was grateful to be away from Jess's already constant prattle, even though they hadn't seen each other for over a month. Under her breath, Andy called her motor mouth , although Jess was a good friend. That is, she was the only friend she had been able to make and keep in this town—for whatever reason she hadn't figured out. If it weren't for the changing seasons and Ken's excellent job—and now her love of yoga and the inner changes happening to her— she would have longed to be back in California ."
Andy had a refill of coffee, and dutifully bought Jess a cup of coffee and a muffin from McDonald's. She felt a little hungry herself, but refrained from thinking about it. She would indulge in a bite of Jess's muffin. Jess will be talking so much she won't even notice when I snitch a bite! She wouldn't eat more than that because she had a yoga class today. She performed much better on an empty stomach.
As she made her way back to their table, she looked out again through the entrance doors by McDonald's. I hope this ends soon, she thought.
CHAPTER THREE –- No Exit
Andy glanced down at her watch. It was half past noon. "Oh, my God, Jess!" she gasped. "Look what time it is!"
How could she have let the time get away from her? Jessica had been doing most of the talking, of course, while Andy politely listened. It was such a relief to get away from Ken for a while. She had turned inwardly to her own thoughts from time to time, only halfway hearing what Jess was rattling on about. Usually she was gossiping about a neighbor or the parents of a child she was babysitting. Andy was starting to get a headache.
"Jess, we both need to get home. We've been here far too long," Andy said, rising and pulling on her coat. "Our husbands are probably worried about us."
Worried, my foot, she thought. Ken is going to explode because I've been gone so long! And I haven't even thought of buying Christmas gifts!
Jess slipped on her windbreaker and wafer-thin gloves. She had taken her DVD back to SunCoast Video and traded it for what she hoped was a good copy. She now picked up the package with that DVD inside, plus another DVD she couldn't resist buying.
"I hope Bob won't be mad at me for buying a second DVD," she said. "You know how he gets when I spend money, Andy Lee."
"Don't worry, Jess. He'll enjoy both of them. What if I call Ken and ask him to phone Bob and tell him we're both on our way home? Okay?"
Jess nodded and picked up her handbag.
"Wait here for me," Andy said, as an afterthought. There was no sense in dragging Jess along when she was just going to make a phone call. She could hardly listen to her and talk to Ken at the same time.
Jessica took her jacket off and sat back down and clutched her coffee cup, which was still half-full with her umpteenth cup of coffee. She was almost floating and had to go to the bathroom again, but she didn't want to be gone when Andy Lee returned. She wouldn't know where she was and might think she had already left. So she continued to sip at her coffee, bladder bulging to the hurting stage. I hope she hurries, she thought.
Jess wouldn't think of being wasteful by pouring even a half cup of coffee down the drain. "Waste not, want not," was one of her favorite mottos. That was why she refused to buy winter clothes anymore. With warmer temperatures almost all year round now, and hardly any snow, why buy winter clothes she would never wear? It would be a waste of money. Of course, her husband Bob agreed with her. If it turned too cold, she would just stay inside. She had better ways to spend her hard-earned money.
I wish I could get another couple of kids to babysit besides being a nanny, she mused. Or that Bob could get a better position at work.
She envied the fact that Kenneth and Andy Lee were doing so well, while Bob was still stuck on the lowest rung of the ladder at work.
Andy made her way to the pay phones by the restrooms on the lower level, pummeling herself over the head that she had let so much time get away from her while she and Jess were talking. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! she told herself. It was hard to believe they had been sitting here for over two hours. What was I thinking? I even forgot about my yoga class today at noon!
Where is everybody? she wondered, noticing her surroundings as she walked. There's not many more people here now than when Jess came. She noticed a scattering of teenagers rather than the droves of them who usually hung out at the mall on Saturdays. Many of the people she saw were subdued, sitting around a few tables, hunched over, shaking their heads and mumbling among themselves.
This is really strange, she thought. Why isn't anyone eating lunch? It's lunch time—
She thought about the snow and wondered if that was keeping a lot of people away today. She knew from past experiences that when there was just a bare dusting of snow, people had a tendency to stay at home. Andy learned to drive in snow during the first five winters after they moved here, and it became second nature. It was like riding a bike. Once you learned how, you never forgot, even though you might be away from it for a while.
Actually, many motorists now didn't know how to drive in snow, as Colorado snows in the past few years had been rather sporadic and considerably less than normal. The snow didn't stay on the ground long enough to get accustomed to driving in it. The city had even sold much of their snow removal equipment because they rarely used it. Most of the winter snow fell in the high mountain passes, and temperatures were way above average in the lower elevations. For the temperature to fall below 32 degrees was rare, and the growing season for produce had extended into December in many parts of Colorado .
Andy slipped a quarter into the coin slot and hoped Ken was home. He answered the phone on the first ring, as if he were standing there waiting for Andy to call.
"Andrea! Where are you?" he asked, obviously upset. "Didn't you go to the mall? Don't you have yoga today? You're not stuck somewhere, are you?"
"Not exactly," Andy replied, upset with him in return. And why would he ask if she was stuck somewhere? Her head was starting to pound fiercely. "I ran into Jessica Sessions here at the mall, and we've been talking. But I didn't keep track of the time. I called to let you know I'll be home shortly. Would you call Bob and tell him that Jess is on her way, too?"
"Okay," Ken said, grumpily. "But just get home. There's already over a foot of snow on the ground here. Take your time."
Twelve inches of snow? Andy thought incredulously. That's a lot more than what Jess was saying. But we live in a different part of town than she does—
She told Ken, in as calm as voice as she could muster, "I'll be careful. Bye."
* * * * * *
"We need to get going," Andy said to Jess, taking a last swig of her coffee. "Ken says it doesn't look good out there. He's going to call Bob. Where did you park?"
"Over by Hooters. "
"So did I. I'll walk out with you. Come on." She grabbed Jess's arm.
Taking one last look out the north entrance, where visibility was down to almost zero, Andy steered Jess in the other direction to go to the lower level and out the south entrance. They dropped their empty coffee cups in a trash can.
"Wait a minute," Jess said. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"Yeah, I guess I should, too," Andy told her.
It was only four miles to her house, but what if her car quit on her or something? She had learned from past experience that there is nothing more disastrous than starting out to drive somewhere, only to discover she should have used the bathroom before she left—and then desperately trying to find a place to stop that had a decent-enough restroom. So she tried hard to always be prepared for the unexpected.
As they made their way to the restrooms, Andy noted a crowd of people now lining up to use the pay phones there. She's seen only a couple of teenagers with cell phones.
* * * * * *
Quite a few people were gathered at the Hooters entrance when they got there. Andy held on to Jess's arm and started to go around the uniformed Security guard who was in front of the doors. The guard stepped in front of them, barring their way.
"I'm sorry, ladies, but I can't let you leave the mall."
"What do you mean?" Andy asked.
"Sorry, ma'am. Can't you see what's going on outside? It's a raging blizzard! You can't go out there." The burly guard was insistent. Much too big for his britches, Andy decided.
"So what! You can't keep us in here just because it's snowing out there! " Andy retorted. "We're going to go to our cars and go home!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we've got orders from the State Highway Patrol, the Colorado Springs Police Department, and FEMA, to keep people who are currently in public buildings from going out into the storm. The State of Colorado has issued an emergency proclamation that no one is to be out driving on the roads. They don't have the resources to try and rescue every foolhardy person who takes it upon themselves to drive in this blizzard."
The guard looked more seriously at them. "That means you have to stay inside the mall. We can't let anyone out. The only people who are allowed into the mall are emergency personnel—if they're lucky enough to get here."
Andy refused to be swayed. "But why?" she asked. "This is just a little snowstorm. I've driven in dozens of snowstorms over the years. What's the big deal?"
The answer to her question was trying to float to the surface of her mind. She shook it off as she waited for the guard to answer.
"This isn't an ordinary snowstorm, ma'am," the guard replied. "It's come down to us that this is really bad. They don't know exactly how bad it's going to get yet, but they're calling it 'the storm of the millennium'."
"Well, you can't stop us, you know," Andy said, her voice rising. "Your so-called emergency proclamation means that you're holding us hostage. We haven't done anything wrong. That's unlawful detainment and an invasion of our privacy. And no storm can be that bad!"
"Sorry, ma'am, but I can't let you out." The guard looked at the crowd. "No one," he said, raising his voice, "and I repeat—NO ONE—is allowed to leave the mall at this time." There was a stirring in the crowd of the two dozen or so people who had been listening to their conversation.
"I'm telling you, ma'am, this is the safest place for anyone to be in this storm." The guard was almost pleading. "You wouldn't even be able to get to your car, let alone drive out of the parking lot."
"Well, we'll just see about that!" Andy said angrily.
By this time, she was livid. Her breathing had become rapid. Ken had pushed enough of her buttons this morning, and she wasn't about to allow this overbearing Security guard push any more!
"Come on, Jess," she said, grabbing her friend's arm again, oblivious to Jess's feeble protests that maybe they should listen to what the guard said.
They started to go around the guard, pushing him aside, and then Andy abruptly drew up short as she looked out the glass doors. The snow was almost three feet deep, right up against the door! Andy thought at first it was just an anomaly, that the wind had piled up a snowdrift at the door on the south side of the building unrealistically, even though it was a natural occurrence with the wind coming from the north. The snow isn't really that deep, is it? she thought.
She looked a little closer and could barely see the shadowy tops of cars in the parking lot. Her car was buried under at least a foot of snow on top, plus the two to three feet of snow on the ground around it. The same fate, presumably, had fallen on Jess's car.
What is happening? How has this much snow fallen this quickly just since we've been in the mall? When Jess came two and a half hours ago, she said there was six inches on the ground at her house. When I called Ken just a little while ago, he said there was over a foot on the ground at our house. And here at the mall there is almost three feet? That's ridiculous!
Suddenly Andy was aware that Jess was clinging to her anxiously. She slowly turned around and shook her head hopelessly at the Security guard. Subdued for the moment, she said, "I guess you're right. We aren't going anywhere. So what do we do now?"
The Security guard, relishing in his role as the responsible party in charge, said, gesturing to the whole crowd, "I suggest you all go back to the Food Court and make yourself comfortable. There's nothing we can do about the snow right now. We'll let you know developments as they come in. If you're all gathered in one place, it will be easier to pass on information to you."
"Free coffee?" someone yelled out.
"That would be up to the individual food establishments. But I think they'll do their best to accommodate everyone. We're all in this together."All in what together? Andy thought. What in the world is going on? God, I wish my head would stop pounding—
To be continued...
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