Angel's Last Dance A short story
A short story by Bonnie Ramsey
It was the summer of 1960 when Jimmy Black met and fell in love with Paulette Johnson in Richmond, KY. He was now 20 and she was 18. Jimmy had recently received his commercial drivers license and had just been hired by a trucking company based out of Lexington, KY., less than an hour away. He wouldn't start his new job for four more weeks so he figured he would spend some time with some friends before leaving town.
He took off to The Cove, which was a small, local diner where they had all hung out together through high school. He'd also worked there himself since graduating two years earlier. The usual crowd was there and Jimmy was ready to celebrate his new employment with his friends. Being a Saturday, the diner was packed, as usual. It was a small diner that only seated about 50 people but that didn't matter to the regulars as most of them were teenagers and in their early twenties. Most of them sat in the picnic area outside or on the hood of their car or tailgates of trucks just to hang out.
Tonight was exceptionally beautiful outside so there was an empty table or two inside the diner. Jimmy met up with his buddies and grabbed a table. There was Tommy Hansen, the wise guy in the bunch, with his red hair and freckles. He was always laughing and making others laugh with him. Then, there was Ken Bradley, the heart-throb jock that all high school girls are familiar with. He was the kind nobody wanted on their bad side because of his enormous size. Of course, there is always a negative sourpuss in every crowd and Jimmy's gang was no exception. Jesse Coleman was probably the most negative, grouchy human being you would ever meet but when it came to his friends, he had a heart of gold.
Jimmy was 6' 3", muscular build, dark brown hair and brown eyes. Despite his handsomeness, he had not dated very much in high school because he was just too shy to ask a girl out. The only dates he had were a few that Ken had arranged which normally did not end very well. The girls would usually become bored with Jimmy as all he could talk about was 18 wheelers, what kind he wanted, what engine it should have, how it should operate and how he wanted it painted. As most young high school girls would not be interested in the mechanical mind, they would normally make excuses to go home early. But Jimmy knew and he understood. He had just become content working and hanging with his buddies.
Jimmy was enjoying the conversation, filling the gang in on all his latest accomplishments when he heard the bell over the diner door clang as the door swung open. It was something that was heard so often that you'd hardly notice it after being there awhile. But something made Jimmy hear it louder than he had ever heard it before, almost echoing in his head. Tonight, he stopped in mid-sentence to look up. What his eyes saw before him made his heart leap with amazement. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever dreamed of! She had long, flowing auburn hair that made him yearn to touch it. Her eyes were crystal blue, like the clearest sky he had ever seen. She was 5'10" with the most perfect figure you could put on a body.
Somehow, Jimmy knew that this was one lady that he would never forget. He just had to get the courage to talk to her. He stood up, never taking his eyes off her, oblivious to his buddies inquiring as to his intentions. He never looked back, never said a word as his buddies called out to him. He walked over to the booth where she had sat down alone. "Excuse me", he said, his voice slightly quivering, "Could I buy you a soda or something?" She looked up at him with her gorgeous blue eyes and smiled. She seemed almost as lost in Jimmy's eyes as he was in hers. "Sure, why not?" she said with a voice that captivated Jimmy from her first word.
Jimmy wasted no time sliding into the booth across the table from her. "By the way, I'm Jimmy Black", he said almost feeling confident now. "I'm Paulette Johnson. Nice to meet you", she said as she extended her right hand across the table toward him. Jimmy reached out and gave it a gentle shake, feeling as if he was outside his own body looking down at what was transpiring. Her hand was as soft as a newborn and he savoured the feeling of her warm touch. "Are you new in town?" he asked. "No", she replied, "I moved here at the beginning of my senior year last year but I have been so wrapped up in studies that I haven't gotten out much. I graduated last month so I figured I could take some time to take a walk on the wild side for a change". They both laughed and Jimmy began to feel more and more comfortable with her as the time flew by.
Finally, Jimmy's buddies approached the table and Ken broke their stare. "Excuse me, Jimmy. We're gonna catch you tomorrow. Looks like you are a little busy right now". Jimmy looked down at the table and realized that he still had Paulette's hand in his resting on the table. He couldn't help but think of the fact that she hadn't pulled away so that had to be a good thing. "Sure, guys, thanks", he said, throwing a big smile at Ken and the guys. "No problem, man", Ken said as he shot a wave and headed for the door. As they reached the door, Jimmy looked back just in time to see Tommy shoot him a "thumbs up", being the normal silly guy that he was. Jimmy just smiled, nodded and refocused his attention to Paulette.
Before they realized it, the sun was peaking over the horizon in the most beautiful sunrise either of them had ever seen. They had been talking all night and by now, knew almost every detail of each other's childhood. They would meet every day at the diner until Jimmy left for his job in Lexington. As it turns out, Paulette's Dad was a truck driver, so she not only knew everything about what Jimmy wanted from a trucking career but she understood and encouraged him. Although hearts broke the day he left, she promised him that she would wait. He promised to return to her as quickly and as often as possible.
Jimmy was home every weekend and she was always anxiously awaiting his arrival. In the summer of 1962, they were married on June 15th in a beautiful back yard ceremony. Jimmy had given Paulette the pet name "Angel" because he said when he looked back on the first night he saw her, she looked as if she had a glow around her like an angel from heaven. They settled in Lexington, where Paulette began her career as a legal secretary. Jimmy continued his trucking career and in the fall of 1965 they purchased a brand new Peterbuilt, the dream truck that Jimmy had always wanted. About every 3 years, Jimmy would trade the old one in on a new one. They lived in a world all their own and Paulette would take care of the home and personal business while Jimmy was away.
Although Jimmy was unaware of it, Paulette had been paying the bills from her own income and putting away most of his in a separate savings so that one day, they could pay cash for a new truck and use the income from it toward adding a few more trucks to form his own trucking company. She never wanted much for herself. She was happy and content in their two bedroom home which sat on a ten acre tract and allowed plenty of running space for their two horses. She had simple desires and had fulfilled them with the life she had. Neither of them ever had a major desire to have children, although they both dearly loved children. They were Godparents to most of their friends' children and occasionally, they both took off and did volunteer work at several children's homes in the area. They felt as though they had many children that grew in numbers over the years.
On their silver anniversary, they took two weeks off and had plans for a long vacation together in Jamaica. Instead, at the last minute, they decided to contact all the children's homes and make arrangements to take all the children on a week long camping trip. This was an anniversary to remember forever! They had a total of 84 boys and girls from ages 6 to 18 but with help from their friends they were split into groups and everything went great! They both agreed that it was the most fun they had ever had.
In the summer of 1996, Paulette found herself tiring easily and sometimes just feeling plain puny. She never mentioned anything to Jimy thinking he'd be worried and make a big deal out of nothing. After all, she was no spring chicken anymore and it was probably just menapause. There were over-the-counter medicines she could get with no hassle.
At the beginning of 1997, she decided to retire from her job and become a full-time homemaker. Besides, this would probably help her feel better and have more energy since she was probably just overworked most of the time. In February, Jimmy came in for a few extra days since he was having his 57th birthday and they had made reservations at a hotel/casino.....or so he thought. When he arrived Friday afternoon, Paulette was waiting to meet him at the doorway. She'd spent most of the day getting ready, applying an extra touch of makeup to cover her now paling complexion. As usual, to Jimmy, she was still the most beautiful sight on earth.
Paulette informed him that she had changed the plans. She had a surprise she thought he'd like better. She led him to the stable where the horses were saddled and ready to go. She'd retrieved a picnic basket from the bar on their way out the back door. Jimmy was a good sport, not pressuring her for answers that he knew she wouldn't give about where they were heading. Besides, he couldn't care less where she was leading him as long as she was doing the leading him to time with her. He would follow her off the side of a mountain if she asked him to.
They took off on the horses, Jimmy following right behind her. Soon, they came to an open field in the southwest corner which had a small access road that lead in from the highway through a gate onto their property. There was a beautiful small pond where they had gone many times over the years for picnics, fishing and to camp under the stars. As they rounded the last bunch of trees and the field came into sight, Jimmy stopped his horse dead in its tracks and stared, tears welling up in his eyes. "Happy birthday, Sweetheart", she said as she handed him a set of keys to his new truck. "No payments on this one. It's the first one of a fleet for your new trucking company". Jimmy still sat, staring, still in shock that she pulled this off. "Go, on, take a look", she said as she looked over and smiled.She didn't have to tell him twice as he slapped the horse and bolted into the field toward the truck.
Paulette galloped over to the pond in front of the truck and began to set up the picnic as Jimmy marveled at the interior that included all of the bells and whistles he had ever dreamed of in his new "Pete". It was perfect. And so was his life with his "Angel". He looked up as she was beginning to spread the blanket on the ground beside the pond for the picnic. He jumped out, ran around the front of the truck and picked her up, swinging her around as he gave her a bone-crushing hug. "Thank you, Angel. Oh, my precious Angel!" He sat her back down and began to help her unpack the food from the basket as he asked her for all the details of how she had done all this without him knowing. She explained everything as they sat beneath a tree on the bank of the pond and had their picnic, complete with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne.
Afterwards, they crawled into the truck and took a long drive. The next morning, Jimmy awoke before Paulette and he eased the drapes back on their patio doors off their bedroom slowly as to not wake her. He sat in a chair that she had next to her side of the bed for her nighttime reading when he was on the road. He sat watching her in the sunlight as she slept so peacefully, almost smiling as her head lay so softly on her pillow. She was so beautiful, yet he noticed something strange in the sunlight that he hadn't noticed last night. Her skin was so pale it was almost white! She had made sure that the room was lit only with the bedside lamp when she took off her makeup last night. Jimmy was immediately worried but did not want to wake her to question her about it. He just sat for a while wondering if she was ill and not telling him. He knew she hated when he worried over her.He decided to go into the kitchen to make coffee and let her rest. Maybe she had just not been sleeping well lately with the anticipation of the new truck and such. He'd talk to her about it after she woke.
It was almost lunchtime when she finally emerged into the kitchen, fully dressed, makeup on and ready to greet the day. She had no idea that Jimmy had already seen her without it since he had closed the drapes before leaving the bedroom. After she had a few sips of coffee , he just couldn't stand it any longer. He had been worried all morning and he just had to know if she was ill. When Jimmy questioned her, Paulette tried to play it down to being menapause but he stirred such a fuss that she finally agreed to call and make an appointment with the doctor early next week, which she did. Jimmy left on Tuesday night after much discussion with Paulette about going with her to the doctor. She wouldn't hear of it, still convinced it was nothing serious. Besides, her appointment was Friday afternoon and he would be home Friday night.
Paulette was not prepared for what she would hear from the doctor Friday. After an array of tests and blood tests earlier in the week that she had not told Jimmy he prescribed, she was relieved that the ordeal was finally over. Now maybe Jimmy would stop worrying and things would get back to a normal routine and she could return to work on the plans for the trucking company. The doctor entered the room as she sat in a chair facing his cluttered desk in front of the window, the sunbeams shining through the wooden slats of the blinds. He had a very serious expression on his face as he sat on the top of his desk facing her and opened the file in his hands. "Mrs. Black, have you seen any other physicians lately?" His question seemed odd to her but she figured it was a routine question he asked all new patients. "No sir. I haven't been ill. Why would I see a doctor if I am not ill?" Puzzled, he asked "You haven't been ill at all?" "Just tired is all, maybe a little weak at times. Some days I feel nauseous but it usually goes away after some Pepto or something. Why do you ask?"
"Mrs. Black, I am afraid you have an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer. You've probably had it for quite some time now judging by the test results and the stage it has reached." Her heart skipped a beat. "And what stage is that, doctor?" She wasn't sure if she even wanted him to answer. He studdered for a second, closed the folder, removing his glasses and touched her shoulder as if to brace her for his diagnosis. "I'm afraid it is in the final stage." His words echoed in her head as if she were inside a large barrel. "Final", she said, "As in no hope for recovery?" He stood and walked around his desk and sat in his chair, opening the file again. "I'm afraid so, Mrs. Black. We can start radiation"...
She stopped him, standing from her seat, leaning over his desk and propping up on it. "Will it stop it?" He couldn't lie to her. "I'm afraid not but"... "No buts", she said. "I've seen what those treatments do to people. They usually end up feeling worse than they did before. I don't want them. How much time are we talking, roughly?" "I'm afraid not much, three, maybe four months tops." Paulette gathered her things. "Thank you, doctor. That's all I need to know." She turned to leave the office. The doctor stood, telling her he could give her some prescriptions for the nausea and discomfort. She thanked him and treaded off to the receptionists desk. Paulette knew she would need the medication at least since it would surely get worse. She took the prescriptions, signed all the paperwork on the insurance and prepared to leave. The receptionist informaed her that the doctor would like to schedule regular check-ups. "Not necessary", she said. "I won't be staying in town. Thanks anyway".
At home, she packed a few bags and sat them inside the walk-in closet. She sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee, a thousand thoughts running through her mind. She was glad she had the good sense years ago to buy plenty of life insurance. With the two policies she had, Jimmy would have no problem starting the trucking company. She was glad she had almost finished the plans. She shouldn't have any problem getting the final estimates on paper in the next week or so. She thought of Jimmy and their lives together. It had been a perfect life for her but now she had one more thing to do before.....The air horn sounded as Jimmy wheeled the big rig into the driveway. He was anxious to get home to his Angel and see what the doctor had said.
Paulette hardly had time to reach the door before it burst open and Jimmy yelled, "Angel!" just as she stepped around it to meet him. They hugged for the longest time and Jimmy got a sinking feeling in his stomach when he stepped back to look at her. He could see it on her face, despite her wide smile at the sight of him. "Angel, it's not something I want to hear, is it?" His voice was crackling as he swallowed the lump in his throat. "Sit, I'll get you some coffee and give you the details." He sat, knowing it wouldn't do any good to argue with her. As she sat down, she took his hand and without a quiver in her voice, told him exactly what the doctor had said.
He stood, pulling her into his arms and sobbed. "No, Angel! We can get treatment." She pulled away quickly. "No, Jimmy! I want to be able to enjoy the time I have left and I want to enjoy it with you full time." Jimmy wiped his cheek. "Sure, Angel, no problem. I'll quit tonight. We have savings and the truck"..."No, Jimmy. That's not what I mean." He looked at her puzzled through his tears. "Jimmy", she said as she motioned for him to sit. "I mean I want to go on the road with you. I want to see the beauty you have told me so much about over the years. I don't want to spend my last days in a hospital with tubes everywhere. I want to be with you, living the dream, seeing the dreamland. Do you understand?" "I do, Angel, and nothing would make me more proud than to show off my angel to the world. I love you so much. How could God let this happen to us?"
"Jimmy Black!" she snapped, "How could you say that? God has blessed us with so many years of happiness and success. Remember, everything has a reason, although it isn't always obvious to us immediately. Your blessing from this will come some day. Maybe even sooner than you think." "I know, Angel. I should be thanking him for giving us so many wonderful years together. It's just....." "I know", she said, "But we won't be defeated by this thing. We'll make the most of our time left together. Agreed?" "Yes, Angel, anything to make you happy."
That night was long and punishing. Paulette heard Jimmy about 2 a.m. on the patio off their bedroom sobbing like a broken child. She could hear his pain clearly through his sobs and she wanted so badly to comfort him but she knew she couldn't. He needed his own time and space to relieve some of his pain and anger without having to worry about upsetting her.
The next couple of days, Paulette was gone most of the day. She had told Jimmy she was taking care of some personal loose ends before leaving town. Later, he would learn what those loose ends were. She saw to it that Jimmy didn't have to deal with anything at all for the funeral arrangements when that time arrived.
Jimmy had made hundreds of friends on his dedicated weekly runs. Everyone from truckstop owners down through the drivers that frequented them. He was so proud to have the love of his life in the cab as he drove into the parking lots, the bug shield and the sides of his truck proudly displaying the name of the truck she had bought him. He had chosen Angel's Sacrifice since he felt she had done without a lot of more expensive luxuries she could have had in order to give him such a precious gift that took years to achieve.
Everyone loved Angel when they met her, most of them feeling as if they had known her for years because Jimmy talked about her so much. They could see that he was not exagerrating about her beauty, kindness, strength or their love once they saw them together. Over the next few months, Jimmy and Paulette would feel as if their family had grown a thousand fold as word got out about her illness. Everyone was always so courteous and helpful to both of them. They could all see and feel Jimmy's pain, although no one ever talked about any of it around Paulette.
It wasn't long before the cancer began to really take its toll. The sickness became more frequent and more violent with each passing day. Jimmy knew his Angel was suffering sever pain but she would never complain or let it keep her down. She would take her medications and keep going. She soaked in every small detail of the sights along the way. It was like she made a snapshot in her head of every inch of scenery. She was like a small child when they took a day off in Orlando so Jimmy could take her to Disney World. He will always remember the child-like glow in her eyes despite her pale, now-thinning face. He made sure that time was taken along the way to let her marvel in the wonders that lay before her. She loved it and they both loved seeing it together.
It was June 14th, 1977, the night before their 35th wedding anniversary. Jimmy had wanted to rent a car and take Paulette to a nice, ritzy restaurant and hotel. She wouldn't hear of it. She so enjoyed their visits inside the truckstops they frequented and this trip put them at one of her favorites... the Paul Bunyan in West Virginia. She loved the original design, the regular customers and the atmosphere that was always present every time they stopped. She could feel the love and compassion as soon as they stepped through the door. Besides, they knew most of the truckers that were in there on Saturday nights and she really wanted to be there.
Jimmy knew it wouldn't be long now. Paulette was a walking skeleton, sometimes so weak, he would have to assist her to the ladies room door where, most of the time, there was a lady clerk or waitress eager to lend a hand from there. They were like family supporting them by this time. Tonight, as one of the waitresses assisted her in the ladies room, Jimmy pulled a few strings with the owner to set up something special for Paulette. By the time she returned to the little booth they were in, the entire corner had been abandoned of the few customers that had been dining there before. The corner was slightly dim, there was a boquet of tiny daisies, Paulette's favorite flowers, in the center of the table and a candle on each side glowing brightly in the corner. She smiled as much as the pain would allow as Jimmy took her arm and led her to the booth.
He could hear the weakness in her voice as she asked, "Jimmy, what are you up to?" "You'll see", he said with a sheepish grin. Just as they sat down, the owner came over to the table, his arm folded inward toward his torso with a kitchen towel folded neatly across it as if to hide the grease stains on its once-white color. She glanced at it, looking back at the owner a bit strangely. "Well, what did you expect in a truck stop, Red Lobster? Give me a break!" he said jokingly as he giggled. Paulette tried to laugh but it came out more of a gasp behind her smile. The owner pretended that he was their waiter and took their order, although Paulette knew she wouldn't bother eating tonight. He returned to the table pushing an old bus cart with a picnic patterned tablecloth covering the top. On it sat a black plastic bucket full of ice. From inside the ice, he pulled a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne and poured each of them a glass into a set of plastic champagne glasses that had somehow made their way into the stockroom.
Paulette knew that Jimmy had told him about their anniversary and she lay her frail hand on his as he finished pouring and said, "Thank you." The owner smiled with a certain sadness in his eyes and said, "My pleasure Mrs. Black". Then he made his way back to the kitchen. One of the waitresses made a quick dash to the grocery store bakery and bought a beautiful cake with dainty little flowers on it and had them print on the cake "Happy 35th The Blacks" Paulette gave her a weak hug and the waitress had tears in her eyes as she looked over at Jimmy across the table. It was as if everyone knew, not just Jimmy, that this would be their last celebration together.
After the meal was served, Jimmy walked over to the jukebox, dropped some coins in, made a selection and returned to the table. The music started. It was their favorite dancing song and Jimmy stretched his hand toward Paulette. "Angel, may I have this dance?" Paulette looked at him with tears welling up in her eyes. She had never refused him a dance in all their years, anywhere. "Jimmy", she said weakly, "I don't think I..." He interrupted, "Oh, yes you can." He smoothly reached down and scooped her frail body into his arms as if she were an injured child and walked away from the booth onto the open floor, as onlookers began to slide tables out of their dance area. He held her close to him and swayed to the music as she looked into his eyes. "I love you, Jimmy Black", she said softly. Jimmy's heart fell quickly to his feet as his thoughts returned to the local diner in 1960 with that first look, that first feeling of love with every heartbeat. He could see that same look in her eyes, even after 35 years. "Not as much as I love you, my sweet Angel".
They danced, staring at each other, oblivious to the crowd that had gathered at the edge of the room along the wall, watching, crying because they, too could see the love they shared and feel the pain in Jimmy's heart at that moment. Very few were strangers. Most were friends that had now become like family. When the song ended, the onlookers erupted in applause, not a dry eye to be found. Paulette looked around almost blushing through the paleness of her face but knowing that all of this was done from love, not teasing. Each one walked to the table to wish them a happy anniversary. And so it was. As painful as it may seem, they were both very happy that they had been so blessed by God and each other.
Paulette died peacefully in her sleep that night. When her body was returned home, Jimmy following proudly behind in Angel's Sacrifice, he found that she had left no detail unattended. She knew how hard this would be for him and she was right. The day of the funeral, there were people everywhere...store clerks, waitresses, fuel attendants, truck stop owners and of course, drivers. As the service ended at the grave site, airhorns sounded for miles as truck after truck rode slowly by, each portraying a banner that read "Fly high, Angel" on each side. Through his tears, Jimmy smiled as he thought how lucky they were to be so loved.
Jimmy took some time off to adjust and get his thoughts together. A few days after the funeral, a strange man drove into the drive. He met the man at the door and the man introduced himself and explained he was from the insurance company. Jimmy hadn't even thought about insurance. Paulette always took care of all that sort of thing. He didn't even know that she had a policy other than the obvious policy he insisted she get on him. As it turned out, she had several different policies that totaled just over two million dollars. Jimmy was in total shock as the insurance man handed him an envelope with his name on it that was clearly in Paulette's handwriting. "Paulette brought this to me before she left town on the truck and asked me to give it to you upon payment of these policies. Now that all the paperwork is signed, I can leave your check so that you can have some time alone to read your letter. Jimmy thanked the man and walked him to the door, still in total shock.
He returned to the table and slowly opened the envelope. It was clear to him that this was one of the "loose ends" she had to take care of the weekend she told Jimmy of her illness. He sat and read through his tears how she wanted him to take the insurance money and start his trucking company. It had been her life's goal to make sure that he had his own company one day and she made sure of it, even in her death. As he lay they letter on the table, he noticed a big brown envelope lying there that he hadn't noticed before. Assuming that the insurance agent had left it, he pulled the large stack of papers from inside and it was perfectly clear what he had to do. Inside was the completed plans that Paulette had created for his company. He knew that he had to honor her wishes.
With the policies she had and the investers that she had already aquired, he was able to donate a nice check to the children's homes and get his company off the ground. He named the business Angel Transport. Most of the drivers were young adults that had come from the childrens homes, which he sent to training school himself. Others were some of his friends from high school, one of which, was Tommy. The old sourpuss himself, Jesse, who had finally started to see a little sugar in his life, was one of his best dispatchers.
Jimmy misses his Angel every second of the day but now, because of the passion she had for his success, she will be remembered by many people for many years to come. He still insists on keeping one of the banners in a shadow box on the entrance wall of the terminal. The first sight you see as you enter the door is the company sign that reads "Fly high, Angel"
© 2002 Bonnie N. Ramsey