Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Out of Uniform

I found the driver of the abandoned car. He was plodding along the roadside toward town. Snow whirled eerily through the night, cutting the visibility almost to zero. He turned and waved frantically, obviously trying to make sure I didn't pass him by.
Pulling off to the side of the road, I push-buttoned my passenger's side window down. He pulled his parka hood off and stuck his head in. "Can I hook a ride?" he asked.
"Are you Christopher Hanson?"
"Yes, yes—how did you know?" He was shivering, his teeth chattering.
"Checked the registration on your car back there—you left the doors unlocked. Hop in."
"Thanks, I'm nearly frozen to death."
He whipped the squad's door open and piled into the passenger's seat. "Cold out there," he said.
"About ten below. What happened?"
He stared at me. I think for the first time he realized he was talking to a lady cop. "Car conked out," he said. "I'm lucky I got it off onto the shoulder. Cell phone's dead. I know your next question: What am I doing out on a night like this?"
"I'm a pediatrician. Got an emergency call from the hospital—the delivery of twins over in Goose Lake. All went well."
I cast a glance at him. He appeared strikingly handsome with wavy black hair worn a little long. Then I chided myself. I was a lady cop in uniform. I had no business even thinking he was handsome.
"Usually in weather like this it's best to stay with your vehicle," I said. "Wait for help."
He shrugged sheepishly. "I got impatient. "
"What do you want to do about your car?"
"Call a wrecker tomorrow. I wouldn't ask anyone to come out on a Saturday night like this. What time is it?"
"Almost ten. I'll give you a ride home."
He said he lived in an apartment above the Delmar Bank. His office was just down the street from the bank. On the way, he asked me if I liked being a lady cop.
I said I did, and he said he liked being a pediatrician—especially in a rural area like this where all the surrounding little towns were in dire need of a physician within driving distance.
His voice was warm and deep, a pleasant sound on a cold night.
We discovered neither one of us was married. Not even going with anyone. Both the same age. Thirty-five. He said I could call him Chris instead of Doctor. And I said he could call me Michelle instead of Officer.
The thought that we were both single made my heart speed up. But again I chided myself. I was an officer of the law, in uniform, on duty. Shame on me! for letting my thoughts wander.
Just inside of town, a Kwik Stop loomed on our right, the convenience store's lights sparkly in the snowfall. "Want a cup of coffee?" Chris asked.
"All right."
I parked in front of the store. Chris dashed in.
When he came back out, I reached over and pushed the door open for him.  He slid in, a cup of coffee in each hand. With the dome light momentarily on, I glimpsed a good look at him. Handsome, indeed. His soft brown eyes met mine. Held. My heart rate spiked. Michelle! Stop! The door closed. The dome light blinked out.
He smiled. "You rescue many strangers on snowy nights?"
"A few." I couldn't deny it: His warm smile warmed me more than the coffee cup I held. We drank, and I said, "How will you get to your car tomorrow to meet the wrecker?"
"I don't know—I'll have to call someone."
"Call Fred's garage. He'll stop and pick you up. "
I backed out of the Kwik Stop parking lot and drove down the street to the Delmar Bank, where I parked in front of the building.
"Thanks for everything," he said. He reached out, and his hand closed over mine in a firm, mittened handshake. "I owe you..."
"No you don't," I said. "This is part of my job."
We said good night. I hated to see him leave. I wished I'd met him while I was wearing a dress. Or jeans.
After my twelve-hour shift that morning, the sky bright and sunny, I drove home, changed, and then stopped along the recently plowed highway just as Fred was getting ready to tow Chris's car away. I pulled off to the side of the road, jumped out of my car, and ambled over to him.
"What are you doing here?" he said. "Where's your cruiser?"
"Finished my shift. Thought I'd check things out. What about your car?"
"Fuel pump, probably. Fred said he'd take care of it. " Then, "Look, I really do owe you. How about a monster breakfast somewhere?"
I don't know why I hesitated.
"Up all night and part of the morning," Chris said,  "you must be hungry."
"All right, I know a place."
Chris yelled to Fred that he was riding with me.
Chris and I tromped through the snow to my car. "You...look different..." He shot me that warm smile again. "Jeans. Pea coat. Stocking cap. Hair down."
"Is that good?"
I smiled back. I couldn't wait to sit across from him at a breakfast table. Chat some more. Out of uniform.

The End