The rain fell and the spinning tires of passing cars threw spray from the pavement onto my jeans. A dark, low-to-the-ground vehicle sped past, then slowed ahead of me

and veered onto 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 the waiting car, I was thankful someone had finally stopped.

Chrome letters above the license plate spelled out the word SPYDER. It was a tiny two-seater, black, and when the passenger's side window slid down I peered inside and saw a woman about my age behind the wheel. Her face was lit up by the green glow of the instrument panel. The wipers groaned as they arced, continuing to scrape rain off the cracked windshield.

The driver tilted her head. She smiled and said, "You're drenched." When I didn't reply right away, she added, "Where you headed?"

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?" she asked.

I felt my stomach clench and looked the woman over. Her blonde hair was an uncombed mess of stringy silk and she had mascara stains under her eyes. She wore gray sweats, the shirt hooded and the pants baggy. "Yeah," I said. "I guess I'm running."

The automatic lock released. The woman said, "Hop in and we can run together. Maybe grab something to eat down the road."

When I tugged on the handle and opened the door, she bent over and used her right arm to sweep fast food wrappers and empty cigarette packs off the passenger's seat onto the floor. She straightened, glancing at me. There was something needy in the way she grinned. Alarm bells pounded in my head. It was too similar to the relationship I'd just escaped.

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 without getting in. Shaking my head, I smiled and said, "Hope you don't get offended if I pass on the ride."

She laughed. "You're not afraid of me, are you?"

While I backed away in the rain, I nodded and reminded myself the weather couldn't stay bad forever. The woman behind the wheel said nothing, only kept her eyes on me, never once blinking.

Robert Aquino Dollesin was still a kid when he left the Philippines. He now resides in Sacramento, where he pens short stories now and again. His publication history is here: http://robertaquinodollesin.blogspot.com

2008 Underground Voices