Ticket to Nowhere

(A Magical Midlife Librarian prequel story, told from Rosalind's point of view.)

The flashing blue and red lights coming up behind me was the cherry on top of the cowpie that had become my life.

I dutifully pulled over the cheap sedan I’d bought last week to the side of the highway. As my fingers turned down the volume of the audiobook I’d only barely been listening to, I caught a glimpse of my tired eyes in the mirror. At least they didn’t look puffy anymore. It'd been weeks since I’d cried about Mike because hey, why shed a tear over a guy who cheated on me?

And honestly, the final tears had been more relief than shock. My former husband and I had been on the rocks for more than a year. Just like every other man I’d dated, Mike had become more interested in his political career than our relationship. Not that being a city councilman took up much of his precious time. He’d had time to bang his “political consultant” Bella after all. Still, we’d been on a downhill slide for a long time before his affair.

That didn’t make the divorce—and my subsequent move back to my childhood hometown in Oregon at 40 years old—any easier.

A stocky police officer with sunglasses and a permanent frown strolled up to my driver’s side window. I rolled it down.

He didn’t bother with pleasantries. “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”

No, but I didn’t want to tell him that. “I may have been going a tad over the limit.”

“You were doing 80 miles per hour in a 50 zone.”

I winced. I forgot how bad the speed traps could be on this stretch of highway toward the coast. “Oops.”

“Oops is right. That’s a Class A violation. I could fine you for up to $2,000.”

My hands strangled the steering wheel. “Two grand?”

His mouth tightened. “Can I see your license and registration?”

I fumbled around in my purse as my mind whirled. I didn’t have $2,000, and I didn’t have a job lined up where I could earn that kind of money. I’d barely thought past driving up to my brother’s house and crashing in his spare bedroom.

“I can’t believe I was going that fast,” I said, more to myself than the officer.

“My radar gun doesn’t lie,” the cop said, his tone offended.

Heat flushed my cheeks. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to wriggle out of anything.”

“Could have fooled me.”

Every word that came out of my mouth was just digging me deeper into the hole.

I found my license and handed it to him, but when I opened the glove box, it was completely empty.

The officer noticed. “Is there a problem with your registration?”

“No problem.” I tried to remain calm as I faced him. “It’s just that I bought this car recently. I left the registration in my file box.”

The officer took a slight step back from the window. “Ma’am, I really need to see that registration. If you don’t have it on you, I'll have to ask you to step outside of the vehicle.”

“Great,” I said, pushing down my rising panic as he reached for the cuffs at his belt. “Because my file box is in the trunk.”

His fingers hesitated. “You carry your file box around with you?”

“I do when I’m moving.” I gestured to the backseat stuffed with various garbage bags and boxes. “My vehicle doesn’t always look like this.”

“Oh,” he said, sounding surprised. “I guess I just thought…” his voice trailed off.

For some reason, his assumption that I was homeless sliced through my fear, leaving only raw anger in its wake.

“No, I’m not living out of my car. And if I were, it would be awful to threaten me with a $2,000 fine.”

He shuffled backward as I opened the driver side door and stalked back to the trunk. He kept his hand near his gun holster, but that was likely out of habit since he sheepishly looked down at his shoes.

“I’m not like that,” he said as I shifted through more boxes and bags in the trunk.

“Not like what?” I yanked a duffle bag and placed it on the gravel. Of course, the file box had to be stuffed near the back.

“I don’t terrorize the homeless.”

The vulnerability in his voice made me pause. I gave him my full attention. He took off his glasses to expose troubled eyes. His face was also a lot more youthful than I expected, putting him in his mid-twenties.

“My uncle lived on the streets,” he said. “I knew how hard it was for him. That’s partly why I became a cop.”

He reminded me of the community college students I’d tutored years ago during one of my many career shifts. Just a kid trying to find their place in the world.

I gave him a sympathetic smile. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have implied that you’re that kind of cop. I broke the law and you’re just doing your job.”

His expression hardened. “Why were you going so fast anyway?”

I suppose the truth couldn’t hurt at this point. “To be honest, my mind’s elsewhere.”

“You should be paying attention to the road.”

“You’re absolutely right. I should have, but it’s been a rough couple of months. I just finalized a bitter divorce. I’m moving back home without a job. I only have this car full of junk to my name. I guess I’m just distracted.”

He looked chagrined. “Yeah, that does sound like a lot.”

“It is. But it’s also life. Sometimes things don’t go the way we plan.”

He snorted. “Tell me about it. I thought I’d have made detective by now or at least be a beat cop for the city. But right now, this highway patrol gig is the only job I can snag.”

“You’re young yet. You’ll work your way to a better position.”

He raised a suspicious eyebrow. “How would you know?”

I shrugged. “I have a feeling about these things. I can tell when people want something badly enough. You seem like the type who’ll keep trying until you make it.”

“I will,” he said with conviction. Then he shook his head, as if confused by the whole conversation. “Weren’t you supposed to be getting your registration?”

“Oh right.” Shoving aside a few more bags, I found the file box, riffled through the folders, and pulled out the car registration.

The officer took both pieces of identification and asked me to return to my vehicle while he ran them through his system. I slid back behind the wheel, wondering how I was going to pay that stupid fine. I hated asking my brother for yet another favor on top of everything else he’d already done for me.

The officer returned not long later, writing down in his booklet and ripping off a carbon copy form.

“You promise to drive more carefully from here on out?”

“Yeah, I learned my lesson.” An expensive lesson, I thought as he handed me the slip of paper.

“Good.” He took a few steps back before adding, “I hope you land on your feet soon.”

“Thanks. Same to you.”

He gave me a weird look, then nodded and retreated back to his patrol car.

I pulled back onto the highway first, well under the speed limit, of course. The police cruiser quickly passed me in the left lane and sped off. Probably over the speed limit. Typical.

I didn’t bother to look at the ticket until I stopped for gas a few miles down the road. I finally got the guts to check out the fine as I cut the engine near the pumps.

The entire form was blank. He hadn’t given me a ticket. He’d only written a note under inside the “Total Due” box.

“Be more careful. And thanks for the encouragement.”

I let out a sigh of relief. Off with just a warning. How lucky was that?

But as my car filled with gas, I realized I felt more than gratitude toward that police officer. He had the kind of compassion that people needed nowadays. I sincerely hoped he would make detective someday.


Read Curse of the Fae Library to read more of Rosalind's story.