Life at 65 M.P.H.
Since I was the one hitchhiking, there was little to do but accept the ride. Who knew the couple seated inside the sedan would be all that drunk?
The odor of alcohol made me want to decline their invitation at first. It had reached my nose as I jogged the last few feet to where the car sat and waited. But I climbed inside anyway. A midsummer night on a lonesome strip of highway can cause some men to do very foolish things.
A middle-aged woman sat next the driver. She had all of her fingers laced lovingly over his right shoulder, but she broke loose long enough to lean over in my direction and push the passenger door open, friendly-like.
Sit up front with us, she told me, so I did.
She slid back in the darkness to snuggle against her man, and I took my haversack and set it out of the way on the floor directly behind me. I felt comfortable having it close by.
Next thing I know, we three are zooming down the highway with all four of the windows rolled down. It felt great to be moving fast. I tried to get a conversation going, but the wind made a lot of noise, so I ended up having to yell. Every time I did, the woman leaned closer to hear what I was trying to say.
After a while, I noticed something odd. She now sat perched half-way between me and him, and our legs almost touched. I stopped trying to talk after that.
The driver acted unsteady at the wheel. He had been muttering to himself the whole time, and he kept staring up ahead where the headlights shined, like they had him hypnotized. I tried to keep a close eye on her, him and the road. We all had a long, long way to go before reaching the next town, and I wanted to make it there whole.
I felt a gentle hand brush lightly against my knee.
You should know that by this time, I sincerely felt grateful as we went at break-neck speed down such a modern but empty four-lane road. No headlights coming at us; no potential carnage or deaths could be expected from head-on collisions, so our erratic driving was not at all troubling to my young mind.
Unlike the hand that had now begun to slowly stroke the top of my thigh.
The driver looked as if he might pass out at any moment.
Kiss me, she whispered hoarsely over the roar of the wind. The woman scooted closer.
No, I answered her. Are you mad?
A younger man has absolutely no business being in a situation such as this. He will be hard-pressed to do the right thing, and even then, it might be much too late.
Come on, she coaxed. He will never know. Please?
I really wanted to believe her. The warmth of her thigh pressing into mine felt good, and I trembled.
But our whisperings quickly came to an end when the man suddenly veered off the road and took an exit leading to a vacant rest area. He stopped the car there, killed the motor and headlights, and then unapologetically leaned his head back and began to snore.
Neither of us had moved. She had lots of room, but I had no place to go but outside. While I considered opening the door and running away, the woman leaned over to nibble on my ear.
Right here -- right now. Let’s do it.
She sounded pretty desperate. I felt pretty desperate myself, but not for the same reason.
Go ahead, I thought. Get involved with her. You know what happens next, right? He wakes up from his pretend nap, and then he kills you, that’s what.
I pushed her away, which was not easy, but I managed it somehow. Then I draped my left elbow on the back of the seat and tried to act cool about it. I am sure I must have talked fast. Frightened people usually do, but I don’t recall any of the words I might have used. I do remember easing my arm down behind the seat and slowly stretching out my hand, grouping around for something that offered me security. Then I felt it: a bayonet I kept clipped to the side of the pack.
Suddenly the man snorted and she tensed.
I almost dropped the knife.
A few unintelligible words came from his lips. She moved away from me. He mumbled again. She leaned against him and began to rub his shoulders. I heard a deep sigh and I kept my fingers on the handle of the blade.
The driver raised his head up to peer outside. He acted disoriented. The woman halted her massage. He then spoke the only words I understood.
I feel better now. Let’s go.
He immediately switched on the ignition and the engine rumbled to life. The headlights came back on. The car began moving forward as we resumed the journey.
Several miles later I saw another green exit sign ahead. I pointed to it and invented a fib.
This is where I have to get off.
The man coasted to a stop at the bottom of a hill, next to the big overpass. I lifted my haversack with one hand and opened my door with the other to step outside. After I shut their door, I leaned down and spoke to the shadowy figures huddling together inside.
Thanks a lot, you guys. I appreciate the ride.
And with that, the car sped away, lurching as it went.
Sometimes being left alone in the middle of nowhere can feel more than fine.