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Christmas Wish by Wilder, Chiah (1)

Chapter One

Headlights illuminated the fog like two glowing eyes.

Savannah Carlton nervously looked in her driver’s side mirror and noticed another car fast approaching from behind. She took a deep breath, hunched up her shoulders, and leaned into the steering wheel. She quickly glanced down at the speedometer, which read forty-five miles an hour, then back to the side mirror as the car loomed closer.

Gripping the steering wheel tighter, Savannah’s eyes darted to her son’s reflection in the rear-view mirror, who was safely secured in his booster seat, and back again to the side mirrors. The other vehicle was rapidly approaching her SUV.

Savannah pressed down on the gas pedal, willing the SUV to move faster; unfortunately, the trailer in tow kept her car from gaining very much speed. Seconds later, the other car’s high beams practically blinded her as they glared in all the mirrors. While Savannah readjusted them, sweat beaded along her hairline as a sense of uneasiness wove through her.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Timmy asked.

“Nothing. It’s just a little icy,” she answered, her eyes still glued to the mirror.

The car fell back and Savannah glanced at Timmy and flashed him a quick smile. “We should be in Pinewood Springs soon, sweetie.” Shifting her gaze back to the road, she estimated they were about forty miles away from the town. I wish this jerk would just pass me. When we get to Pinewood Springs, I’ll splurge and have us stay in a hotel. Ever since Savannah took her son and ran away from her husband two weeks before, they’d been staying at campgrounds or wherever she could find a spot for the night. Her plan was to get as far away as possible from Bret and his controlling mother, so she kept driving west.

Once again, the headlights of the car grew brighter. Savannah let up on the gas pedal and slowed down, hoping the driver would pass her, but he didn’t—instead, the vehicle slightly fell back. What the hell? A chill flowed through her in spite of the heat blasting from the vents. I wonder if that car is following us. She pressed her lips together in an attempt to calm down her chattering teeth. The image of a car parked in the far corner of the diner’s parking lot flashed in her mind. A couple of hours before, she and Timmy had stopped at Chubby’s Diner off the old highway to stretch their legs and get a bite to eat. As they ate, she’d noticed a car pulling into the parking lot without its headlights turned on. It looked like an Oldsmobile from the 1970s—big, vinyl top, and painted baby blue. The odd thing was that no one had gotten out of the car. It pulled into a space in the darkest corner of the lot and just stayed there. Even though it sounded silly, Savannah could feel the driver staring at them. It had unnerved her, and as hard as she tried to ignore the car, her eyes kept gravitating back to its direction.

When they’d finished their meal and walked back to their trailered SUV, she forced herself not to look at the parked vehicle. About fifteen minutes after she’d driven out of the parking lot, she noticed a car behind her. The vehicle had kept the same gap between their cars for more than an hour, but now things had changed. Is it the same car from the diner? Savannah couldn’t be sure. The hazy darkness shrouded the car in anonymity, and she couldn’t make out the make or model of the vehicle, so she wasn’t sure if it was the creepy Oldsmobile from the diner.

Her paranoia kept whispering that the driver was a hired man with orders to drag her and Timmy back to Boston where Bret and Corinne would determine the appropriate punishment for Savannah’s embarrassing behavior. That’s just crazy. How would anyone track me? I haven’t left any type of paper trail. Cleaning out her safety deposit box and selling a good portion of her jewelry had helped Savannah live a cash only life on the run. Maybe the car following us has nothing to do with Bret. Maybe it’s a serial killer. Oh God … no. Okay, Savannah, calm the hell down. Think of Timmy. Don’t freak out.

“Are we almost there, Mommy?”

“Just a little bit farther. Do you want a snack?”

“Uh-uh,” Timmy said as he stared out the window.

Savannah looked in the mirror again and the car was still there. As the darkness swallowed up the road, fear crawled through her. Suddenly she spotted a small road to the right, and from the map, she knew there weren’t any roads leading to other highways or back streets. It must lead to a house. Hope sprung up inside her. She accelerated a bit and the car behind followed suit.

“Hang on, Timmy.”

Without braking, Savannah turned sharply and the trailer swayed madly as Timmy cried out. Struggling to maintain control, her hands clutched the steering wheel, holding so tightly her knuckles were white. Snowdrifts, pine trees, and evergreens whipped past, and a flash of panic tore through her as the SUV veered to the right. Shit! Tapping slowly on the brakes, Savannah used every bit of muscle power she had to keep the car steady and on the road.

Suddenly the car stopped, and Savannah rested her forehead on her hands and gulped in air for several seconds. She slowly lifted her head and turned to look at Timmy. The six-year-old had a huge grin on his freckled face.

“That was fun, Mommy. Do it again,” he gushed.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she laughed and shook her head. “One time is more than enough, sweetheart.” Dread pushed down on her as she glanced in the mirror. Nothing but darkness.

“The car didn’t turn,” she said, relief sailing through her.

“What car?” Timmy asked, looking from side to side.

“The one behind us,” Savannah said softly, but then apprehension crept in. What if the driver double backs? Inhaling and exhaling deeply, she took her foot off the brake and drove forward. She had to find a place for them to pull over for the night. As she drove forward, she saw a clearing on the right. Gritting her teeth, Savannah turned the car and it bumped and bounced over the terrain while Timmy squealed with delight. She pulled into a wild secluded spot nestled amid tall evergreens, and turned off the engine.

The snow had been falling faster and heavier, and the white powder quickly blanketed the entire area. Large flakes covered the trees, which glistened like diamonds in the night. A soft stillness descended around Savannah and Timmy as she carried him into the trailer.

“Do you want something to eat?” she asked, running her hand through his mop of dark hair.

Yawning, Timmy shook his head.

She kissed his cheek and pressed him tightly against her chest. “I love you so much,” she murmured. Tears welled in her blue eyes, but she blinked them away. “Come brush your teeth, and I’ll read you a bedtime story.”

Timmy wiggled out of her arms and went over to the window and peeked out. “The snow is really coming down! Can we make a snowman tomorrow?”

Smiling, Savannah bobbed her head. “Sure, if it isn’t still snowing. Now come over here and put your pjs on.”

As Timmy changed, she pulled down the sofa cushions and made the bed. Timmy brushed his teeth quickly then jumped on the bed, laughing.

Savannah leaned over and pretended she was one of the monsters in the books he loved. Timmy roared in laughter as she bestowed kisses on his face, his neck, both arms, and his chest like she was eating him up. He threw his arms around her neck and kissed her cheek. “You’re funny, Mommy.”

“You’re pretty goofy too,” she replied as she pulled down the covers. “Climb in.”

Timmy slid between the sheets and she wrapped the comforter snugly around him. “So you want me to finish the monster story from last night?”

“Uh-huh.” Timmy stared at her with big brown eyes.

Savannah opened up one of the cupboards and took out the book, then she switched off all the lights except for the one over the bed. She had no idea how long the snowstorm would last, so using the lights sparingly helped to conserve energy. She was glad that she’d refilled the water tank at the last dump station. From the way the wind howled, it sounded like a strong storm was brewing.

Timmy fell asleep by the end of the fifth page, so Savannah quietly put the book away and then leaned down to kiss the top of his head. She went over to the small refrigerator and took out a cup of coffee, which she heated up in the microwave. She padded over to a short stool by the window and sat down, the mug of coffee nestled between her hands. Pushing up the blinds a bit, she stared out the window: The shrieking wind piled up snow in drifts, blinding the night with white ice-like dust. Clumps of large flakes hugged the trees as they loomed before her then vanished as the swirling snow swallowed them.

We should be in town instead of hidden on someone’s property. Savannah took a sip of coffee, the dark liquid warming her as it slid down her throat. Maybe the car wasn’t following us. I probably just overreacted, but I wouldn’t put anything past Bret or Corinne—especially Corinne. Her mother-in-law was a piece of work. Corinne never accepted Savannah as part of the family, and she never thought Savannah was good enough for her son.

Savannah lightly massaged her right temple and pushed back all thoughts of Bret and Corinne. Her first goal was to settle somewhere far—maybe Alaska. She glanced over at Timmy and her heart swelled. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her precious son. Her eyes darted around the small trailer, and as she shook her head, blonde wisps of hair fell across her face. It was unbelievable; they’d gone from a 7000-square-foot house to a nineteen-square-foot trailer. How am I ever going to get us through this? She took another gulp of coffee. You will. You’re a survivor. You just need to take it day by day and forget about all the what ifs.

Timmy moaned softly as he stirred in his sleep. Savannah closed the blinds and turned toward the bed. For a long time, she watched her sweet son sleep, knowing in her heart that she was doing the right thing. She wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill and walked over to the sink and set down her empty cup. Then she slipped between the sheets and burrowed under the comforter, letting all tension seep out of her as her eyelids fluttered closed.



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