Originally published in Underground Voices
The rain battered the ground and the passing cars hurled spray from the pavement onto my jeans. A dark, low-to-the-ground sportscar sped past, then slowed suddenly before veering to a stop on the shoulder. Its trouble lights started to flash.
I looped the straps of my backpack through my arms and shrugged it into place. Trotting across the gravel to where the car waited, I felt relieved that someone had finally stopped.
Above the car's rear license plate, chrome letters spelled out the word SPYDER. The passenger's side window slid down and I peered inside. It was a tiny two-seater, black interior, and the driver was a woman about my age. A green glow coming off the instrument panel lit up her face.
She tilted her head, smiling, and said, "Look at you. Drenched." The windshield wipers groaned as they arced and scraped rainwater off the cracked glass. "Where you headed?" she asked.
I shoved a clump of wet hair out of my face and tried to blink the rain out of my eyes. "I guess I'm just on the move," I said.
"Running from something?" she asked.
For no reason, my stomach clenched. I looked the woman over. Her blonde hair was a disheveled mess of stringy silk. Mascara stains coated the skin beneath her eyes. She had on gray sweats, the shirt hooded and the pants baggy. "Yeah," I replied. "I guess that's what I'm doing. Running."
I startled when the automatic lock released. The woman said, "Get in. Let's run together. Maybe grab something to eat down the road."
I tugged on the handle and opened the door. But I hesitated, didn't get in. She leaned across the center console and used her arm to sweep fast food wrappers and empty cigarette packs off the passenger's seat onto the floor. She straightened and smiled and kept staring at me.
There was something needy in the way she grinned. Alarm bells pounded inside my head. Everything felt too similar to relationships I'd spent my life escaping.
Just then, bright headlights from an oncoming car hit the cracked windshield and cast floating web patterns across the woman's face.
I slammed the door shut. Shaking my head, I told the woman, "Hope you don't get offended if I pass on the ride."
She chuckled. "You're afraid of me, aren't you?"
As I backed away in the rain, I reminded myself the weather couldn't stay bad forever. The woman behind the wheel said nothing. She simply kept her hungry gaze on me, never once blinking.