Sara's Promise(83)

By: Deanna Lynn Sletten

Chapter 1

Eighteen Years Earlier

Danielle Westerly cruised along the Wisconsin Interstate in her royal-blue Grand Am as the radio played softly from the back speakers. The midday sun felt glorious on her arm perched outside the window as the spring breeze whipped at her golden-blond hair. She had chosen to take the extra time to drive instead of fly to Chicago, and as she viewed the lush scenery around her, she was pleased with her decision. Although she had already been driving eight hours, and still had several to go, she felt happy and carefree sailing along the highway on this beautiful May afternoon.

Dani's boss had thought her crazy when she said she was going to drive. "That's too far to go alone," he’d said seriously. Dani had shrugged off his protests. At thirty-seven, she was used to doing everything alone and a drive from Minneapolis to Chicago didn't seem far to her.

She also appreciated the time away from work, even though the trip was work related. As Sportswear Buyer for Chance's Department Store, one of Minneapolis' largest department stores, she worked long hours keeping on top of the latest trends, marketing the purchases, consulting with the department managers and salesclerks, setting prices and everything else her position entailed, that she rarely took time off. And now, since jewelry had been added to her buying activities, she was busier than ever. But she loved her work and all the travel that went with it. After all, it was her entire life.

Seeing that the highway she wanted to continue taking veered off to the left, Dani checked her rear-view mirror and moved into the left lane. She noted a van as it passed her on the right and saw a small face look out at her, then a little hand wave as the van took the road to the right.

Dani smiled at the young child's face until he disappeared from view. Children. She had once wanted children, two, maybe three. But all that was decided for her when she'd made the mistake of falling in love with the wrong man. Because of one bad decision made in her youth, she would never have children of her own. And even though she had accepted that fact many years ago, it still came back to haunt her, especially lately, ever since her friend and coworker, Janette, became pregnant with her first child. Throughout the months, Dani had watched Janette grow large and heard nothing but talk about babies. Janette complained about being fat and clumsy but Dani knew that deep down she was enjoying every precious moment, every kick and wiggle inside her.

Dani was happy for her friend but found she was thinking more and more of what she would never experience, and the thought depressed her. However, Janette had done everything right. She'd finished college, married, built up her career as the Coat Buyer for Chance's and now, when everything was perfect, was having a baby. It wasn't Janette's fault that Dani had made a fateful decision that changed her future. It was only Dani's fault. His fault, too.

Dani turned up the volume on the radio in an attempt to keep her mind in the present and on the road ahead and not on the past. "Hotel California" by The Eagles began playing across the airwaves and Dani had to force herself not to snap the radio off. Another reminder of her past. She had once loved this song and The Eagles like she had loved him. Now the music only reminded her of the past and the man that she wished she could forget. After all, what had happened was another lifetime, back when she still lived with her parents in Northern California. After leaving home to attend college at the University of Minnesota, then landing the position at Chance's upon graduation, Dani had decided never to go back. And now that her parents were retired and living in a small resort town in Northern Minnesota, she no longer had any reason to go back to California. This was fine with her since it meant no chance of ever seeing him again, not even by accident.

Once again, Dani tried turning her thoughts to the trip at hand. As she drove along, reaching the Illinois border, she thought of Catherine, the friend she was going to see tomorrow in Chicago. It had been two years since she’d last seen her former roommate, so Dani was happy the buyers meeting in Chicago had come up. It gave her an excuse to see Cathy and to finally meet Cathy's new man, Michael, who Dani had heard about through Cathy's letters. Dani laughed to herself over Cathy's excited banter on paper. She had always been energetic and cheerful and even her letters could not contain her vivaciousness. In college, Catherine had been the light side to Dani's serious nature. Whenever Dani became depressed or discouraged, Cathy was there to keep her smiling and laughing. Without Cathy's upbeat personality, Dani might never have made it through the rigors of college life. The two helped each other through economics courses, impossible professors and over-eager males. Even now, when things got tense, all Dani needed was to talk to Cathy and she felt much better.

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