The gray sky and chilly mist set a sullen mood for car trouble that left Carolyn stranded on the shoulder of Highway 14. As if an impending holiday dinner with extended family weren’t enough, the car dying made her even more uneasy. She glanced at her watch and swore, “Damn, I hate Daylight Saving Time. It’s gonna start getting dark any minute now.”
She drummed the steering wheel with her fingers and kept her gaze fixed on the rearview mirror to watch for a tow truck. Her patience dissolved in direct proportion to the minutes ticking away in wait. Mom expected everyone before 7:00, and Carolyn would never hear the end of it if she arrived late.
An older blue Impala or Malibu, covered in enough rust to almost make it look red, pulled up behind her car. She wondered, “Who the hell is this guy?” Maybe it was the shit-eating grin on his face as he sauntered up to her driver’s door. Maybe it was the worn out blue jeans he held up with one hand on his waistband as he flicked a cigarette into the ditch with the other one. “Sure, asshole, start a grass fire,” she mentally accused. “You’re lucky it’s raining.”
She couldn’t quite place why, but Carolyn didn’t like the looks of the guy. “Hey, there, little lady,” he crooned. “You got troubles? Pop your hood, and I’ll see if I can help.” She rejected the offer for help outright.
Even opening the window only a crack, an overwhelming waft of cheap cologne assaulted her senses. No red warning light came on when the car quit, but an alarming caution went off inside Carolyn’s body, a sharp yellow glow that rushed through her. She’d learned to trust the feeling over the years. It construed a seemingly well-intentioned gesture on this man’s part into a manipulation.
“No, thanks,” Carolyn responded flatly. “Harold’s Roadside Service is on the way.” She shot the guy a blank glare but revealed no sign of the dread building in her stomach.
She didn’t want to feel beholden to him for anything. In fact, she resented feeling like she owed anybody anything. That just wasn’t her style. “How dare he act so familiar with me,” she thought. “I don’t know this dude from the man in the moon.”
Mom’s voice rang in her ear, ”Oh, Carolyn – you are so suspicious. When are you going to let go of all those preconceived notions about people?”
Realizing and even admitting her prejudice, Carolyn wouldn’t try to explain it away. She felt strong in her convictions and just felt how she felt. Some people shouldn’t be trusted.
The man lingered at her window, the rain sliding down his pock-marked forehead. “I could give you a ride wherever you need,” he said. When she shook her head, he waggled his eyebrows at her and asked, “You sure ‘bout that?” Carolyn looked up only far enough to notice pimples nested among the facial hair creeping down his neck into the frayed and yellowed collar of his dirty white t-shirt.
Carolyn shook her head again, vigorously now, and screamed, “No, I don’t need help! Please go away!” The man shrugged and backed slowly to his car. A menacing half-smile rested on his face, a glare locked on the side mirror where she peered sideways at him and, with each step, he glowered at her there. He got in his car, reversed down the shoulder and onto the side road from where he’d first come. She noticed no license plate on the crumpled front bumper.
Harold delivered Carolyn and her ailing vehicle to her mother’s home within the hour. She wanted to forget the scene and the creepy fake Samaritan as quickly as possible. The discord of her family’s loud dinner conversation presented the prefect opportunity to do so. Her nerves repaired by that time, she ate and quickly retired to her warm bed without relaying the earlier events.
The young woman woke late to a similar drizzle outside her window the next morning and returned to the dining room table where everyone else’s dishes revealed she’d overslept. Glad to miss their unruly breakfast time, she was happy to find only a mug of coffee and the day’s newspaper there to greet her.
Carolyn blew on the steaming liquid before taking her first sip. She shook open the paper to read the morning headlines, not expecting much from such a small-town periodical.
She instead gagged on her mouthful of coffee, and its remnants dripped down her chin as she choked when she read the main header. “Victim of Carjacking Missing,” it said. The first line of the paragraph below read, “The driver of a late-model Chevrolet is wanted in the kidnapping of a young woman late last night from a suspected bump-and-rob accident along North Highway 14.”
Carolyn’s hands shook so violently she spilled her remaining coffee on the newspaper and couldn’t read the rest of the article.
*Studio 30+ writing prompt – beholden
Photo: Owen Iverson via Flickr