Potentially my new vehicle. Nobody said I had to take it. Just because Rick of Odin’s Autos was a fiend of unspeakable depravity and the second-nearest used-car dealer was in Montana. After all, I hadn’t had to take the first house Hayley showed me . . . Oh. Um.
It wasn’t a car—as advertised. It was a pickup truck.
It was a large pickup truck. I thought it might once have been red. It had faded to an ominous pre-thunderstorm sunset color. But it had faded unevenly, and the swirls and blotches looked like they might slide off the truck and come after you. Stop that. Hey, I was a country girl now: a pickup truck was probably totally practical. I could fetch Gus and his lawn-mower with a pickup truck. (Remind me, when I regained the power of speech, to check that Gus came with a lawn-mower.) I could haul the bed that I found in the want ads of the local free paper home in it and then haul the M R James’ refugee bed-shaped objects presently in two of the bedrooms away, before they misbehaved. There was room in the back of this pickup truck for, as well as several beds, the crane I would need to crank said beds up and down from the second-storey windows singlehanded.
It was about ten feet tall and fifteen feet across. I wondered if there was a stepladder that swung down when you opened one of the doors.
I tried to think of something to say. Something besides “aaaaugh.” Something besides, “You’re joking, right?” Finally I thought of something: “I bet it gets half a mile to the gallon.”
“No, it’s pretty good,” said Serena. “One of Jan’s sons is a mechanic, and he rebuilt it some time back. He let me drive it for a while when my last fourth-hand car died.”
“If it gets better than half a mile to the gallon then it’s seriously underpowered,” I argued. As if I knew anything about it. But I’ve seen tractor-trailers smaller than this . . . vehicle.
“Only if it’s loaded,” said Serena. “Hey, I’d rather you didn’t blast across the countryside when you have Gus and his lawn-mower on board.”
“It’s a large lawn-mower then,” I said.
“It’s pretty large,” said Serena. “But it’s also the double-sized toolbox he likes to bring along on jobs. The lawn-mower is kind of old.”
I tore my eyes away from the pickup truck to glare at Serena. “One of Jan’s sons didn’t by any chance sell it to him, did he?”
“Sort of,” said Serena. “Mike told him he could have it if he thought he could keep it running. He said he thought Gus might earn enough to buy a real one before it fell apart. That was two years ago. I think he’s stopped saving for the class trip again and gone back to the motorcycle. The weeks he’s saving for the motorcycle I live in fear of his eighteenth birthday.”
I looked at the Vehicle That Ate Schenectady again. “And you think this is a better bet than Odin’s Autos.”
“I know it is,” said Serena, “because if anything goes wrong Mike will be at your elbow before you can say ‘flying carpet’. Rick would tell you to read the fine print, where it says ha ha ha ha sucker, and if you hold one of his contracts over a heat source three more zeroes appear at the end of the purchase price. I was amazed Mike was offering you Merry but he thinks it’s going to a good home because of your van.”
“Didn’t you tell him I’m a poor clueless city wimp and the van is a rental?”
“He said that Merry will take care of you.”
“You read LORD OF THE RINGS, right? Meriadoc Brandybuck. Merry. Mike says that you drove that van here is good enough.” She turned to me and smiled. “I know you don’t actually know me from—um—Saruman, or—er—Kira Nerys, but being taken on by Jan and his family is a good thing. Mike phoned right after you did and said you could drive it for a few days, get yourself moved in, see if you and Merry liked each other, before you had to decide if you were going to take it. But maybe next time you’d rent your van a few days longer, just in case he wasn’t around.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say again, for entirely different reasons. “Um. Thanks.”
“’S’okay,” said Serena. “They adopted me too. But for your sake I hope your divorce has already gone through and your ex isn’t going to come here and have tantrums. I was totally grateful to be adopted, but I could have done without the liberal free advice, the sense that my personal dramas were more exciting than a football game on TV, or the offers to punch Larry out. The last mainly because they were so hard to turn down.”
“My divorce has gone through,” I said, and even I could hear that my voice had gone flat. “And he’s in San Diego with his fl—his new girlfriend.”
Serena put her arm around me and gave me a quick hug. “It gets better. Really it does.”
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