“How can they do this to us?” Gert fumed as she climbed into the truck. “After all we’ve done for them? A home, Harlan? Really? That’s all they think of us? They want to put us in a home?”

Harlan reached over and patted her hand. “It’ll be alright, Gertie.” He backed out of the parking space in front of Styles by Babs, where Gert had her hair fixed every Tuesday. He nearly choked on the hairspray when he went inside, but he knew when to keep quiet. She had picked up the conversation right where it had stopped when he dropped her off.

Gert pressed her lips together. They can’t make us. She and Harlan weren’t frail. Just because she’d had that fall. Just because she sometimes forgot to take her pills. That didn’t give the kids the right to tell them what to do. “Assisted living,” Carlie had called it. “Someone to help you, but you’ll still be independent…they have bingo!” Gert wondered if they’d be allowed to share a room. They’d slept like spoons in a drawer for 52 years. And, the morning coffee—she wasn’t sure how she could make it through a morning without seeing her mug next to Harlan’s. And, the house—they’d been in that house, their house, over 40 years.

Gert had always thought one day they’d move to the beach. How she loved the Gulf Coast. She thought about all the summers they’d piled in that old station wagon, the kids counting cows on the side of the road and looking for the “Jesus Saves” billboards. Didn’t those family rituals mean anything?

“It’s that girlfriend of his. She’s poisoned Ron against us. That boy never could think for himself,” Gert snapped. “I warned him about taking up with a bossy girl.”

***

“I told you, Gert, you should’ve cut the apron strings years ago. You always did for him. Now, he depends on that girl to tell him what to do. I don’t like her. She’s all sharp and bossy. All that vegetarian diet and running. She’s run all her curves off. Nothing soft about that girl.”

Gert sighed. “And, Carlie? What about Carlie? She’s in on this, too. She thinks we’re in the way of her freedom. She’s never gonna get married and settle down.”

“I hope not. Not with that urchin of a boyfriend she’s got. He’s never gonna marry her. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

Harlan pulled in at the Jumpin’ Johnny Quick Mart and put the truck in park. “Come on, Gert, it’s scratch-off time.”

“You sure, hon? That’s Ron and Carlie’s inheritance you’re spending.” She rolled her eyes, but she grinned as she followed him inside.

“Three scratch-offs,” Harlan told the clerk, placing a five on the counter. The hot wind slapped them as they made their way outside. Gert patted her hair back into place, and Harlan handed her 2 of the scratch-off cards.

“Well, here goes nothin’,” he said, leaning on the side of the truck. He scratched with the side of his pocket knife, wiping the gold dust on the leg of his jeans. Sorry, you are not a winner this time.

“Your turn, Gert.” Harlan handed her the knife. Gert scraped until she saw Sorry. She handed Harlan the knife again.

“One left,” he said. “You hold it. I’ll scratch.”

Gert held her breath as Harlan scratched, scattering gold dust all around them. You are a winner!

***

Gert’s eyes went wide. Harlan smirked. He hadn’t seen that look on her face in ages. “See all those zeros, babe?” He gave her a little squeeze around the shoulders. “Come on! Let’s blow this town.”

“Leave the kids? Oh, Harlan!”

Harlan pulled Gert along by the hand. “They grew up, Gert. They didn’t wait for us.”

Harlan helped her up into the truck. They headed down the road toward the highway.

They drove in silence for hours. Harlan floored the gas when he saw the “Welcome to Florida” sign. Right above it, a “Jesus Saves” billboard.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gert give him that half-smile he loved so much.

 

Tonya Calvert enjoys writing and watercolor. She is the author of Saylor on the Seashore (2017) and The Origami Elephant (2018), Clear Fork Publishing. She has a B.S. from Columbus State University, and a J.D. from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. She paused her legal career to home-school her 3 boys and has never looked back. She’s married to her high school sweetheart, living a blessed life in the Deep South. Find Tonya here: tonyacalvert.com, Facebook, Twitter.