By Ben Sumner
Rain smacked her face like she was kissing a spraying shower head. Matching lights blasted from over the hill, fading up on her as she waved her hands and screamed.
“Stop! Stop please!”
The car sped by, splashing more water onto her already soaked legs.
“Fuck!” Tears came down but she couldn’t even tell because of the downpour. The curls of her short strawberry hair practically straightened from the wetness.
This is the worst it’s ever been.
. . .
“Weeeee!” Julie sat on the swing as Craig pushed her. The high school sweethearts played in the park like elementary school children. “Not too high, Craig. I’m wearing a skirt!”
“All right.” He stepped away and let the swing slow down, then sat on the one next to it. Julie got off the swing and sat on his lap.
“This is fun,” she said.
“Nice makeup job,” he said, staring into her eyes. Blue eye shadow and mascara lined her lashes, blush reddened her cheeks and dark-red lipstick puffed right to him.
“You finally noticed! What do you think?”
“Beautiful, with or without the makeup.”
Then the make-up almost transferred faces completely.
. . .
Another car passed. Julie wiped the water out of her face, getting lipstick on her soggy hand.
. . .
“Dammit, you got lipstick on the bong!” Red circled the rim of the clear tube.
“So wipe it off. Jeez.”
“The only thing I want your lipstick rubbing off on is your drinks, my lips and my dick.”
Julie’s jaw dropped as she stared at him in disbelief.
“Damn it,” he said, looking for a napkin. “Now I gotta wipe this shit off. Forget that. You wipe it off.”
“Fine. Why’re you acting like an asshole? I thought this stuff was suppose to make you happy…”
“Just wipe that shit off.”
She paused, seeing that he was serious. She wiped. “Okay, I’m wiping.”
. . .
Son of a bitch I should kill him. I should kill him then kiss him one last time before he goes to hell!
“Help!” Again she waved her arms at a passing car. She almost felt like standing in the middle of the road so the car would have to stop. But it wouldn’t. It would hit her and she would go flying over the hood, flipping like a gymnast and cracking her skull on the wet pavement, blood washing down the hill with the rain into the overflowing sewer.
. . .
Craig called. “Julie?”
“Why haven’t you called? I haven’t heard from you in a few days!”
“This is difficult to say, but I gotta say it.”
Her heart rate doubled as soon as he finished the sentence.
“I’ve been seeing someone else.”
“What difference does it make? I gotta break up…”
She slammed down the phone so hard it broke the holder.
. . .
The next evening…
Julie walked into the party, alone (her best friend was busy), smiling, knowing she could pick up any single guy she wanted (but probably wouldn’t because she’s no slut). No problems here. She’d get more numbers than a phone book, more obsessive stares of lust than a super model, more can-I-get-you-a-beers than a waitress says on St. Patrick’s Day in an Irish pub. Walking in with her makeup freshly painted and her hair salon-done the day before, smelling of her mega-bucks perfume and wearing her short black skirt and puffy red blouse… Craig!
And there he sat, on the sofa, sharing a mixed drink with her best friend. And no need for a scene. No need to scream and yell and throw a fit in the middle of a party but the tears came and her heart beat faster and Craig saw her and so did her ex-friend and out the door she flew into the coming storm.
. . .
Someone help me. I need someone to help me!
Another set of headlights approached over the hill. Again, she waved her arms. The car passed her but slowed, pulling to a stop on the side of the road.
Please be a nice lady who can drive carefully… Please be someone I can trust… Please be someone who won’t rape and kill me…
She ran to the two-door sedan and opened the passenger side, climbing in as lightning struck.
Oh God, Julie thought. She saw the silhouette of a young man behind the wheel and right then she nearly got out as lightning lit the sky in strobe-like blinks. Oh no… He might rape and kill me then dump my body on the side of the road in the rain…
“Hey…” he said like a long-time friend giving a casual greeting.
“Thank you so much,” she blurted as she closed the door, expecting a hungry growl of I’m-about-to-make-you-prey-for-the-erect-one instead of ‘Hey.’ “Oh shoot. I’m getting your seat wet.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Where you headed?”
“North Landon.” Get me there as fast as possible and don’t talk to me or touch me.
“I know exactly where that is.” He turned the heat to the maximum level, blasting out like warm fans.
He reached under the seat.
Oh God he’s got a gun!
“Here’s a towel,” he said, and she took it. “What’s your name?”
“Julie,” she said with the towel in her face, wiping away the water but keeping her eye on him. She looked into the towel and noticed her makeup smeared in it. He started driving.
“What happened out there?”
“I was driving home, and suddenly my car stalled, and I couldn’t start it.”
The rain came down so brutally that the fastest wind shield wiper level did very little to help. The headlights shone only on the thick waterfall, so he drove slowly.
“Bummer.” He glanced over to her, but she still could not see what he looked like. “Is that pepper spray?”
She hesitated. “Yes.” Julie had it on her key chain, pointing it in his direction with her thumb on the trigger.
“Why are you pointing that at me?”
Lightning struck, briefly giving light to his face but she couldn’t make out the details.
“I’m… just nervous,” she said, tucking it away.
“Don’t worry… Don’t worry. I understand if you’re nervous. If it makes you feel better, keep it pointed at me. I know you’re not trying to rob me, but just trying to feel safer.”
Julie put it in her jacket pocket. “I’m sorry… I’m paranoid.” I’m damn lucky. Any other driver would have kicked me out of the car on the side of the road in the rain.
“Anyway, if you sprayed it, you would get a dose of the mist, I’d wreck the car and we’d probably die.”
“I’m so sorry…”
“For pointing the pepper spray at you.”
“Don’t be sorry. I understand how you feel. On the news, you hear stories about women getting stalked on the highway, picked up, gagged, raped and killed. You’ve got every right to be nervous. Of course, it’s the other way around, too. I’m the one who should be nervous because you have the weapon.”
Uh… Julie wanted to say something but couldn’t think of anything. Finally, she found some words. “I’ve never hitchhiked before.”
“I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker before, so we’re both new to this. I guess I don’t trust too many people, so I can understand if you don’t either.”
No words worth saying.
“I’ll tell you what. I’m glad you have pepper spray, but I noticed you have one of those small bottles on your key chain, and you’ve probably had for a year. Get yourself a new one every 6 months with a 10 foot spray, not the measly 6 foot. Your attacker will grab you at that distance, even if you spray him. And make sure the pepper content is the highest you can get, otherwise you might as well spray him with water. Don’t be cheap about it.”
Words… Should say something. “My boyfriend bought it for me.” My ex-boyfriend. Why the hell did I say that anyway?
“I know a few girls who have to use it to defend themselves from the guys who bought it for them. Their stories are all similar. A guy meets a girl. They fall in a temporary mental state called idiotic love. He gets her into some bad habits. He tries to control her every movement. They fight. She gets pregnant and he leaves, but they get back together after the abortion. Idiotic love. That’s what it is.”
As long as you’re not generalizing all relationships…
“I’m sick of seeing girls fall into it.”
“Not too many good guys out there,” she said somewhat sarcastically but believing it nonetheless.
He said nothing.
And still nothing.
I insulted him. “I mean, none who I’ve met.”
“Then it’s obvious what kind of crowd you hang out with. I can probably guess. A bunch of drinkers and pot-heads, right?”
Then, with a cracking voice, she said, “Not anymore.”
I’ve should tell someone… “You don’t wanna know,” she said hoarsely.
“I don’t have to know but it seems it’s a lot deeper than what’s on the surface. If you don’t feel comfortable telling me, that’s okay.”
I should tell. I need to tell. There’s no one left to tell.
Breathing… spit it out. “Back in high school I was… a geek. I always got good grades and only had a few friends. I’d go on dates every once in a while but nothing serious. Then I met Craig. He was a lot of fun and before I knew it I was partying a lot more. A few years later, even though I had a lot of fun, I realized I was being someone who I wasn’t and it was only dragging me down. I became friends with a lot of people who I shouldn’t have been friends with… did things I shouldn’t have been doing.”
“Drugs and alcohol?”
“Yeah. I don’t even like beer but I drank it like water. I wouldn’t have ever started if it weren’t for Craig. I had a lot of good times with him but he didn’t treat me as well as he could have, and I became someone I wasn’t just to be with him. It all backfired.” Please understand…
“I understand. Sometimes we all have to be someone else in order to be accepted. It’s hard for some people to fit in, and if nothing works out they can get really lonely… desperate.”
Uh… maybe you… not me…
“Who broke it up?”
“How’d you… He broke it up.”
“It seems like you would’ve been the one to break it off. But I guess it’s better that he did. Less chance of him calling you, or even stalking you.”
I should’ve broke it off years ago.
“Ever been stalked?”
Julie jerked her head toward him. “What?”
“Ever been stalked? You can be honest with me.”
She hesitated. “Sort of.”
“What do you mean, sort of?”
. . .
On the phone…
A hoarse whisper. “You don’t know me, but I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been watching you and I really admire you.”
“Who is this?”
“I’ll tell you later. I’m a little embarrassed right now but I think it’s important that I tell you this.”
“Tell me what?” One threatening word and I’m hanging up and getting a restraining order if I find out who he is.
“That I’ve never seen anyone so perfect before you.”
“Perfect?” The hell is he talking about?
“You’re smart, nice, beautiful…” He breathed heavily. “Everything any guy can possibly want.”
Hang up on this freak!
“I realized that as long as there’s people like you out there, which there seems to be so few, life just might be worth living…” She could hear the tears in his voice. “I almost committed suicide last week. Had a fist full of pills and I was ready to swallow them but I couldn’t stop thinking of you…”
Oh my God…
“Now I know I don’t have a chance, but I wanted you to know that you’re simply amazing, and I hope you’ll always look out for your best interests, and I’ll look out for you too. I promise I’ll look out for you.”
“Who is this?”
“I’ll tell you eventually. Take care.”
. . .
“And then he called me about once a week, always making small talk but I hardly said anything. I guess he was trying to make me like him and care for him but I really couldn’t, and I didn’t want to be mean and just hang up on him. I felt sorry for him, a little, so I just sat there and listened to what he said. He didn’t talk long, and it only lasted a month or so.”
“Did you ever find out who he was?”
“Yeah, his name was David, but I hardly knew him, and I haven’t seen him around since high school.”
“So he wasn’t really a stalker, just some depressed loser who fell in love with you, called you on the phone and said stupid things.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure he was watching me. I’d look over in his direction sometimes and see him tilt his head down as if he weren’t watching.”
“He had some major problems, but at least he didn’t threaten you.”
“Thank God he didn’t. He insisted that he just wanted to talk. He never asked me out, not that I would have gone out with him anyway…”
“I’m not saying you were desperate but you did say you changed into a person you didn’t want to be, only to regret it later on.”
Why’d he change the subject? “I wasn’t desperate but I was trying to have a bit more fun…”
“And you paid the price, didn’t you?”
“Regret,” he said almost with a laugh. “You regret some of the things you did.”
Head hung low, she whispered, “Yeah.” I regret.
He continued. “Don’t worry. A smart, beautiful girl like you has more potential than anyone. Things will get right back on track.”
…Thank you! That’s so sweet! She still had much going for her in her life, but those late night beer and bong-fests with Craig were dragging her down. But that’s over with now…
“How about some music?” he asked.
“Sure,” she smiled but it hurt because her cheeks hadn’t been in that position for a while. He stuck a tape in the cassette deck and turned the volume low. Classical music played that Julie recognized though she could not remember the composer. Very familiar. It had been a while since she appreciated classical music. Any other guy would have put on the radio, listening to the same overplayed songs.
“Nights like this draw into people’s emotions. Some feel right at home,” he said as if speaking with experience. He spoke slowly and confidently, as if he rehearsed these lines.
Julie knew exactly what he meant, more at that moment than any other time. She looked over at him again, not getting a clear view of his face. He wasn’t like anyone she imagined would pick her up. Not the strange, creepy rapist or even a guy constantly trying to pick up on her, but someone she could talk to, someone she could trust. She sneezed.
“Thank you,” she whispered through chattering teeth.
“You better get to a doctor first thing in the morning,” he said. “He’ll help you get better.”
I don’t need a doctor… I need… someone. Would you like to go out sometimes?
He turned toward her neighborhood.
“Make a right,” Julie said, but he already had his blinker on.
They sat for another moment before he approached her street. Would you like to go out? Would you? Say it!
“It’s this house on the right,” she said, and he pulled over. I need to get his number…
“Nice meeting you, Julie,” he said, sticking out his hand. She shook lightly, looking him in the eye, but could not make out clear details.
I need his number. I can’t let him get away. “Thank you so much,” she said. “Can I have your phone number to send you money for your troubles?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
Don’t give up, she thought. Don’t let him get away. “What’s your name, anyway?” Julie finally asked.
“That doesn’t matter. Focus on what does. Goodbye, Julie.”
What? Why didn’t you tell me? Why won’t you let me call you? Julie wanted to ask this out loud but couldn’t find her words.
“Bye.” Julie’s voiced cracked and new tears emerged in the corners of her eyes. Her heart sank. She felt as if she could have won the lottery but the ticket was just out of reach. She gently closed the door, then ran straight through the rain to the porch, unlocked the door and entered. She wanted to look at the license plate number and try to track him down, but the rain stung as it splashed down, not letting her take the time.
. . .
Later that night…
Looking in the vanity mirror, washing away the last bit of makeup…
Wipe away this face… those tears… that life…
He’s right, and I was being foolish. There’s several great guys to meet- there’s gotta be- I was just with one, even if he was lonely, depressed and desperate back in high school. I know how he feels. No harm done. Thank you David. You looked out for me after all. Just like you said.