Cradle Robbing

It’s hot. Cussing hot. In the five minutes it took me to reach my car, I could feel the sweat on my back; beads of perspiration formed on the tip of my nose. I started the car, grateful that my workday was finally done. I could hear the Moscato calling my name all the way from my fridge 15 miles away.

A few moments later, I eased onto the highway, grateful that I was in front of the Friday traffic. I turned the music up a little higher and increased my speed. I finally began to relax and wonder about what food would accompany my sweet dinner wine.

Just as I was deciding between Italian or Thai, that’s when I heard it. The chug of my usually quiet engine. “What the hell?” I muttered as I stared at the dashboard. My eyes widened upon falling upon the bright orange light next to my gas gauge.

As the car began to slow, I quickly turned on my hazards lights so I could pull over.

This cannot be happening, I thought as the car came to a complete stop. How did I let my tank get to beyond empty? I leaned back in the seat and remembered. I meant to stop last night, but I forgot. I could’ve gone this morning, but I was running late for work.

And just now?

I was testing the angels and I lost. I’d pushed their limits by not getting gas. My mind was on one thing. Maybe two. Food and spirits.

I attempted to restart the car several times, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. As the humidity swirled around my car to replace my cool air, my hair began to swell, coming out of the neat bun I had spent ten minutes pulling it into this morning. It was no use trying to keep it tame; I pulled the ponytail holder out, the curls spilling over my face. I shook my head and let them fall wherever they wished. I reached for my phone so I could call roadside assistance.  Just as I unlocked the keys, it beeped loudly.

The battery icon flashed red.
The Samsung logo flashed across the screen and sang its goodbye song to me.

Then the screen went black.

Well, ain’t this about some shit?

I put my head against the headrest once more. Sweat made its way down the side of my face. Those angels I was testing? Now they were laughing at me. I grabbed my purse and my keys and stepped out of the car. I looked down at my four-inch heels and sighed loudly. These shoes were not made for walking to the nearest gas station, but today, they would have to. I said a quick prayer that I would make it to the gas station in one piece and that my car would not be crushed or flattened by a careless driver or another idiot that forgot to get gas but couldn’t stop their car in time when I returned. I sighed once more and began my journey to the nearest highway exit about a quarter mile away.

Just as I’d walked a few hundred feet away from my car, a black SUV pulled in front of me several feet and stopped. I tightened the grip on my purse; I pushed the button to release my car key from its hiding place.

If it’s going to go down and I’m snatched in broad daylight, I’ll need a weapon.

The driver’s side door opened and my pulse quickened. My stomach formed knots as I stopped walking. A tall, brown-skinned man, dressed nicely in black cargo shorts, a top that gave just the slightest hint that he worked out regularly, and sunglasses stepped out and began to approach me.

From first appearances, he looked like a decent guy.

Then again, this scenario just may be the beginning of a Lifetime movie.

“Hey, is everything okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I said quickly.

“So, you’re just enjoying a leisurely stroll in 90 degree weather on the side of the highway at the beginning of rush hour?”

Then he smiled, his teeth perfectly white and straight. And for a split second, I forgot that he was potentially dangerous.

“And what would be wrong with that?” I replied, straightening my posture.

Look, I just saw you walking, and thought you might be in trouble. Is there any way I could help you?”

“I appreciate it, but I’m good. Thank you,” I said as I began to walk past him and around his massive truck.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay? It’s pretty hot out,” he called behind me.

“I’m fine,” I said.  “Have a good weekend.”

I could feel his eyes on me as I walked around the car, however it took up the entire emergency lane, and I was forced onto the grassy field. As soon as my heel sunk into the earth, I felt my ankle give way and the strap of the shoe loosened, causing my foot to come out of the shoe. Which nearly caused me to go headfirst onto the ground, but I recovered. As I bent down to pick up the shoe, I could hear the man quicken his pace to get to me.

Great, now I’m that chick in the movie that trips and falls while trying to get away from the man that’s trying to kill her.

“Hey,” he said once he reached me. “You okay?”

My car won’t start.
My phone is dead.
I’m hot and sweaty.
My hair has swollen to massive proportions.
And the strap of a very expensive shoe was now broken.
I looked at the man who was looking at me, his eyes filled with concerned.
His eyes. He’d removed his sunglasses. Almond shaped brown eyes stared back at me.
Damn, he’s handsome.
And I looked a damn mess.

I gave him the only answer I could think of. The truth.

“No,” I admitted. “I’m out of gas and my phone is dead.”

“Not your day, huh?”

I shook my head and held up my broken shoe. “Not really.”

“Well, I’ve got cold AC in my truck,” he said. “Look like you could use it.”

“Do I look that bad?”

“Not at all,” he replied, smiling that perfect smile once more. “Just hot.”

“Thanks for sparing my feelings,”

He chuckled then said, “And you can borrow my phone to make your phone call or I can run you to the nearest gas station.”

He held the door open and looked at me.

“No funny business,” he said. “Just trying to help out.”

“Thanks,” I said, taking the olive branch. I slid into the black leather seat as he went over to the driver’s side and leaned into the air vent. I let out a long sigh as the air blasted into my face.  I craned my neck backwards and closed my eyes.

“Feels good?”

“Mmm-hmm,” I moaned. Realizing I’m in strange car with a fine, yet strange man, I opened my eyes and sat up straight. I began to smooth out my skirt as my face flushed hot. I cleared my throat then glanced at him. He looked at me, saying nothing. I could feel my stomach tense up again. It was something about the intensity in the way that he looked that made me nervous.
And not in a bad omen, ‘you in danger, girl’ kind of way.

Like in a schoolgirl crush, spine-tingling, heart-racing way.

I looked away from his gaze and down at my skirt.

“You look familiar,” he said. He squinted his eyes slightly. “You’re a professor, right?”

“Yes, literature,” I replied.

“That’s right,” he said, snapping his fingers. “My boy had your class sophomore year.”

“You’re a student?” I asked, my eyes widening.

“Was. Just graduated.”

I sat back and did the math in my head. If he went straight to college from high school, then he was about 22.

22. Just barely past the legal drinking age. Still considered to be a high-risk driver by his auto insurance. Unable to rent a car without a surcharge.

Damn, 22. When I was twelve, he was still shitting his pants and watching Barney or Teletubbies on the regular. His mother probably had to throw some elbows to get him a Tickle Me Elmo for Christmas.

“So, professor, now that I’m an alum, could I get your first name?”

I decided to go ahead and tell him, “It’s Cora.”

He repeated it slowly, with a nod of his head indicating his approval. I liked how he said it.

“I’m Alexander,” he told me.

“Wow,” I said. “A heroic name. How fitting.”

He removed his cell phone from its holster and handed it to me.

“Here’s my phone. I suppose you’ll want to call your husband.”

Well played, young man.

“I’m not married, so there’s no husband to call,” I told him. “Or boyfriend.”

As soon as I added that, I immediately wondered why I said it. It was too much information. Way more than some one who was helping me get my car situated needed to know. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to cause any trouble with any jealous ladyfriends that might go through your phone.”

“I don’t have any ladyfriends, jealous or otherwise, to go through my call log.”

I gave him a crooked smile and blinked a few times before I caught myself.

Oh my God, am I flirting? The heat must have affected my brain. No way I’m batting my eyelashes at a boy.
Tickle Me Elmo, remember?
This has to stop.

I cleared my throat and turned my attention to the front of the car. I pushed a humidity-infused strand of hair behind my ear and said, “I think if I just got some gas, I’ll be good to go.”

“Okay,” he replied, reaching for his seatbelt. “Easy enough.”

“I’ll have to pay you back for your help. I mean, this is ridiculous, I usually keep at least a half tank of gas and an operable phone.”

“No, you don’t. Everybody has an off day.”

I leaned back in the seat as Alexander, the young and handsome hero, shifted the gear into drive and headed towards the freeway exit.

The gas station was on the corner when we exited the highway, so it only took a few minutes to get a five-gallon gas container and fill it. However, the traffic had picked up and the return trip to my car took fifteen minutes. Once we reached my car, he emptied the contents of the container into my gas tank while I got back behind the wheel.

“Try it, now” he said, tapping the roof of my car. He then leaned over, resting his arms on the open window.

I held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition. When the engine revved up, I let it out and placed my hand on my chest. I looked over and he was smiling. I returned the smile and for a moment, no words were said.

Just two people staring and smiling.
Trying to figure out what to do with all the tension.
At least I was trying to figure it out.
“It worked,” I said quietly, not taking my eyes off of him.
“I see,” he nodded. “I think you should take it to the shop and get it checked out. Make sure nothing was damaged from not having any gas.”
“I’ll do that,” I replied.

He stared at me for another moment before he smiled again, letting out a short chuckle. “Alright, Cora. You’re all set. My work here is done.” He stood up and tapped my hood again. I then opened the door and got out of the car. I held out my hand to shake his, “I can’t thank you enough, Alexander. I’m not usually this damsel in distress.”

He took my hand and shook it firmly. “No worries. Like I said, we all have our off days.”

“Yes,” I laughed. “And you got me when I’m all the way off.”

I noticed he hadn’t let go of my hand yet.  It had been a long time since my hand had been held. I’d forgotten how nice it felt. Especially when the hand was connected to a handsome face and a good demeanor.
Stop going there, Cora. Tickle Me Elmo.

I gently pulled my hand from his grasp and said, “Are you sure I can’t pay you somehow? I’d still be trying to get to the gas station in heels if you hadn’t pulled up.”

“I don’t want your money, Cora. I’m just glad you got your car started.”

“Dinner?” I offered.

He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak, but I quickly interjected,

“No, I mean, I can cover your dinner tonight. So you don’t have to cook. You know, call it in and I’ll pay over the phone.” I was now blabbering like a fool, trying to cover my slip of the tongue.

“Okay, I’ll take a free meal,” he said after a moment.

“Good,” I replied, reaching for my purse that sat on the passenger seat. “Call up your favorite spot.”

“I would, but my favorite spot doesn’t take cards over the phone. I’ll have to go and pay in person.”

“Okay, I’ve got some cash to give you then,” I said, as I retrieved my wallet.

“I’d like it better if you’d join me.”

The wallet slipped from my fingers and I stood back up to face him. He grinned as he said,  “Maybe after you finish filling up your tank first.”

“But, my shoe is broken,” I stammered.

No, Cora, you’re supposed to say no to the baby, not give him an opening to persist and have you cross over into cougar territory. Why is it that my brain and my mouth are not in sync?

“Not a problem. You fill up your tank, go home and get another pair of shoes, and join me for that free meal.”

He smiled again and that illogical part of me, the part that missed having her hand held, began to melt a little.

I decided that going to dinner would not make me a cougar. Though I’m convinced the state of my hair made me a lioness.

It’s just one meal.

A thank you for saving the day.

Nothing more.

I took another deep breath and said, “Okay.”

 © 2013 — Dahlia Savage

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2 comments

  1. Oh my dear God if you don’t finish this I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is TOO good! I love the voice, the humor. Everything about this is right. If this were a novel I’d gladly plop my seven bucks or so on the table, honey. I don’t know if you plan for this to be something long but it’s so very good. What are you going to do with this? Inquiring readers want to know:)

    Like

    1. Thanks…I don’t have a plan for it yet. It was another one of those archived pieces that was part of a story. Of course, it was like four computers and fifteen notepads ago so I lost the rest of it, and that was the only portion I remembered enough of to recreate…oh, how I wish dropbox existed back then.

      Like

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