He will so regret this, I thought, fuming silently at the offending letters and numbers in bright white paint. The false advertisement had been carefully painted in girly handwriting onto each of the windows of my bright blue Honda Fit.
Needless to say, I wasn't a big fan of this April Fool's day joke. I was going to kill my brother. (Or his girlfriend, since that girly script was probably a result of him convincing her to join in this evil deed.)
As I stood in front my car, plotting different ways to murder my aforementioned sibling and his girlfriend while wiping this graffiti off of my Fit (preferably at the same time, so I could make it to work without being late), my phone rang. I could sense that it was my brother, probably calling to gloat about his handiwork.
I was right.
"Good morning, Renee!" he said sweetly into the phone.
"I know you did this, Trey," I accused calmly without preamble. "Don't think you can talk your way out of this one." I sounded a lot less angry than I felt, which was not very useful when trying to convince my brother that he was likely to die a horrible death for this prank.
"Oh, don't worry; I'm not going to bother," he replied. In the background, I could hear him speaking to someone. That someone giggled loudly enough to be heard through the phone.
"Same goes for you, Melinda," I said. The conversation on the other end halted briefly, and I heard Trey sigh.
"Was it that obvious that she helped?" was his answer. I moaned, setting the purse I was carrying down on the hood of my car so I could rub my eyes with my free hand. Early morning headaches never led to a good day, and mine was very obviously off to a bad start already. I just hoped that the rain that was in the forecast would come sooner rather than later so that it could wash this disgusting paint off of my car. It was pretty cloudy already, so there was a good chance, but it was still up in the air (literally). For now, all I could do was deal with my brother.
"I don't have time for this, Trey. I'm going to be late for work, and I've only had this job for a couple of months. The last thing I want to do is come in with the car looking like this, and I really don't think I can entertain calls at work from people who are interested in buying my car when it's not for sale." Some of my irritation was starting to seep into my words, but it still wasn't enough. Trey remained oblivious to my distress.
"What, don't need the money?" Trey teased. "I thought your shopping sprees put you in considerable debt. I was just helping you out."
I frowned, muttering unflattering words underneath my breath in a voice high enough that I knew Trey would hear, but low enough that I could deny saying it.
"I am not in debt," I retorted, though I knew that was barely true. I had graduated from high school at eighteen, but unlike most of my friends, I had decided to spend a couple of years working at Charlotte Russe before I figured out what I wanted to do with my future. It turned out that I figured out I wanted to go into public relations, and I spent the next three and a half years (and all my hard-earned money) on majoring in communications at the nearby university.
Twenty-four years old and a degree in hand, I started working. However, I also needed an apartment, a car, new clothes…and I hadn't quite gotten the money for it. My parents helped out a tiny bit, but whatever advantage they provided was quickly counteracted by my unhealthy obsession with fashion, evidenced by the Chanel suit, Louis Vuitton bag, and Jimmy Choo heels currently on my person.
"Right," Trey hummed into the phone when he took my silence afterwards as an indication that I was lying. I huffed impatiently and turned to my car. A quick mental scan of my options revealed that I actually only had one choice. I didn't have enough time to wash my car. I couldn't get to work without it, and I certainly wasn't going to get Trey to come and pick me up. I refused to be seen anywhere near my workplace in his obnoxious truck, and besides, Trey would never agree to let anyone other than his precious Melinda near his vehicle anyway.
"I have to go," I muttered gloomily into the phone as I reluctantly slipped into my car.
"Fine. Have fun!" Trey chirped before hanging up. I rolled my eyes and loudly exhaled as I tossed my cell phone into my purse and dumped it in the passenger seat. Trey was starting to pick up Melinda's slightly obnoxious nature, and I regretted the day they had met.
As I started my car and backed out of the parking lot, I checked my appearance in the rearview mirror. Sure, my car looked like a mess, but it didn't mean I had to. I thanked God for smear proof eyeliner as I realized my earlier frustration hadn't done anything to my make-up. I smoothed down my brown hair, checking to see if my golden highlights needed to be touched up. They did. Lovely. What else could go wrong today?
On the road, I tried to keep at least one hand on the wheel as I dove through my purse, pulling out my planner to add Hair Appt. on my to-do list. Trey and I both shared this nasty habit of not exactly paying attention to the road as we drove, and surprisingly neither of us had yet to get into an accident.
Key word: yet. But that was likely to change, because my phone had started ringing with a number I could not identify, and I made the big mistake of trying to attend to it.
"Hello," I said, putting it up to my ear despite the warning in my head that a caller I didn't know coupled with the message on my window was not a good combination.
"Good morning. How are you?" the mysterious caller said. The greeting was clear and bright, unlike the slowly darkening sky outside. I frowned into the phone. However, I decided not to make much of the call. I flipped through pages in my planner to make sure I knew what I had on my agenda before I answered.
"I am doing very well, thank you. May I know who this is?" I was so glad I majored in communications. Even while driving, looking through my planner, thinking about killing Trey, and worrying about my hair, I still could pull off a decent conversation to a stranger and never have him know my true emotions.
"This is Eric Hoffman. Can I know who you are?" the voice replied. Eric Hoffman? I didn't recognize the name.
"Why is it, sir, that you do not know who I am if you are calling me?" I asked patiently.
"Because you didn't really include that information with your phone number on the windows." That's when it clicked. I sighed. I should have expected this, seeing as my car was in pretty good condition and the advertisement was very catching. I wanted to hang up on the man, or at least yell at him, but I knew it wasn't really his fault.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hoffman, but I must inform you that I'm not actually selling my car."
"Really?" the caller asked in a tone that was bordering on cheerful-sarcastic. I was beginning to think that I should have hung up him, regardless of whose fault the whole situation was. But my education paid off, and I remained calm.
"Yes, sir. It is actually a rather unfortunate April Fool's joke played on me by my brother. I am sorry to have inconvenienced you."
"Oh, no problem. I wasn't even that interested in buying your car anyway," he responded. I blinked. Um…what?
"Then why are you calling, Mr. Hoffman?" It was really hard to speak through clenched teeth. I distracted myself with my planner, giving up control of the steering wheel to my left knee.
"Will you cut that Mr. Hoffman crap? My name is Eric."
"Fine. Why are you calling, Eric?" I almost hissed. To hell with being nice to the consumer. If Eric was not interested in the car, I had no reason to pretend to be nice to him.
"I said I wasn't interested in the car. I didn't say I wasn't interested in you." That statement was enough to make my knee jerk in surprise. Of course, that was the same knee that was currently driving my car. I threw my planner into the passenger seat as I scrambled to take control of the vehicle, my hands clenched onto the wheel as I strained to keep the phone jammed between my shoulder and cheek.
"Excuse me?" I asked in an alarmingly calm tone. I heard laughter from the other end, and I wondered if I had made enough noise for Eric to have figured out what happened.
"You looked like you were having a bit of trouble there," he said. I was about to say something back about inappropriate comments, but then I played back what he had said in my mind. Looked?
"Listen, I really do not have time for this, Eric," I calmly stated as I pulled myself together.
"Look to the left, darling," Eric responded. It was not exactly the answer I thought I would get. I rolled my eyes, stopping as my gaze landed on the car next to me.
Then, I freaked internally.
A young man approximately my age, blonde and good-looking, was cheerfully waving at me from the sports car to my left. The door's window glass was too dark to make out anything else about him, but I could clearly tell that he was amused.
I, on the other hand, was not.
"I see." I stopped shuffling around in my seat and sat up straight, keeping one hand on the steering wheel as I stared straight ahead. I should have seen this coming. After all, we hadn't been on the road that long, so most likely anyone who had seen the car close enough to dial the number would have still been around.
"So what do you think?" Eric asked. "Are you interested in me?" What a preposterous question! It was one I couldn't answer, and also one I couldn't purposely avoid. And there were still ten long miles to my workplace! Damn! I needed an escape.
I sneaked a glance at the lane on the right. Empty. After all, this was the stretch of road that almost never had any cars on it, mostly because there was yet to be any residential or corporate development in this part of the city. It was a convenient shortcut to work, and the lack of cars meant I could do whatever the heck I wanted on the road.
And right now, that involved getting Eric off of my tail. If I accelerated fast enough, I would be able to take a right turn at the coming signal before he could try to get into my lane. That way he wouldn't be able to follow, and I could take the long way to my work.
"I find I don't really have much of an opinion on this matter," I lied smoothly. I prepared to make a sharp turn as the traffic light approached in my view. However, and unfortunately so, there was a tiny flaw to my plan. It was April Fool's day. After Trey's prank and that I-don't-want-your-car-that-was-a-joke from Eric, I thought I was done. But apparently even my own car wanted to join in the fun, because just as I set my foot down hard on the accelerator, my Fit did the impossible.
It slowed down.
"You are lying to me," Eric said just as I shot a panicked glance at the floor to make sure my foot was actually pressing the accelerator. It was. My car, however, continued to drift forward even more slowly than before. I anxiously pushed my foot harder, but all I got was a strained sound from the pedal. I looked at the gas tank.
Empty, just like the road.
Great. Just fucking great.
"What's wrong?" Eric asked as I nervously shot a glance outside my window, willing a gas station to appear out of the empty landscape.
"I seem to be out of fuel," I responded softly. There was no point in lying to him. He would have found out himself in a few minutes when my car coasted to stop by the side of the road. Which was exactly what happened, and just as I had dreaded, Eric pulled over as well.
I think life won in the Best April Fool's Joke Ever department.
As soon as I milked every last foot of distance from my car, I gave in and took my keys from the ignition, angrily throwing them and the cell phone (I had disconnected Eric once I knew there was no way I could avoid talking to him in person) onto the purse on the seat next to me. In my rearview mirror, I could see Eric getting out. Before he could come over here first, I grabbed my cell phone and scrambled outside, shutting the door behind me. By the time the automatic lock kicked in, Eric and I stood face to face.
"Unlucky, huh?" he asked.
"You think?" I asked calmly, glaring at him. He was only a couple of inches taller than me, probably just under six feet tall, and I had no problem looking him in the eye. They were a nice shade of blue, much brighter than my dark brown ones, and they held the same level of amusement as his voice had the entire car ride.
"Well, so now what are you going to do?" Eric asked. I held up my cell phone and started dialing a number as an explanation. "Ah," he remarked. I looked away and hoped that my brother was not busy. I was sure there was still an hour before his school started.
"Hello?" Trey asked after two rings.
"Hey, Trey. I know I'm supposed to be angry with you for this morning and all, but I have a bit of an emergency. I just ran out of gas and I need you to come by and give me some," I explained. I knew I sounded in control, even though internally I was panicking. This was the one stretch of my commute that had almost no buildings flanking the side of the road. Life was outdoing itself with this particular joke. And as I was about to find out, it wasn't even finished yet.
"Wow, it took you that long to notice? Why didn't you check as soon as you got in the car? Or at least while you were driving?" Trey commented. I remembered being preoccupied with my hair and my planner, and I almost blushed.
"I have no idea," I replied, giving no indication that I was at fault. I also didn't want to mention that there was a certain someone who had been bothering me most of the time, but Eric went ahead and did the honors.
"There was also me!" he said cheerfully, running a hand through his blonde hair. "A ridiculously attractive young man who took a fancy to you and your not-for-sale car."
I rolled my eyes and hoped that Trey did not hear Eric, but of course, things did not go my way.
"Who is that?" my brother asked suspiciously. I glared at Eric.
"Who is what?" I asked, feigning ignorance. It usually worked.
But of course, not if Eric had anything to say about it. "Why are you acting like I'm not here?" he complained loudly.
"Okay, there is definitely someone beside you," Trey concluded. I sighed.
"Fine. Some guy saw the fake ad you painted on my car window. He called. He's here now because he is concerned about my lack of fuel. A concern you can quickly alleviate if you just come over here and give me some gas."
"Are you sure that's what he is concerned about?" Trey asked. Did I mistake it, or did he sound a little sly?
"And are you wearing one of those Chanel suits you always wear to work. With the above-the-knee skirt?"
Really, Trey? "He couldn't have seen my legs through the car door," I responded before I realized Eric could hear what I was saying as well. He raised his eyebrows, obviously understanding what I was talking about. Awesome…not.
It was too late to repair this damage. Trey snickered and told me to 'enjoy the moment' before he hung up, only giving me a quick one-second 'no' to my request when I tried to interrupt. Eric was waiting for me when the call ended with an expression that indicated that he was going to pester me about the whole legs issue.
"Now, who was that, and what does me looking at your legs have anything to do with…anything?" he asked. "Which, by the way, they are incredibly sexy." The blonde followed the comment by very obviously checking my legs, and the rest of my body, out.
I was not amused.
"My brother refuses to help me out here," I said, ignoring the way he was visually molesting me. Now how many times have I hidden my true feelings behind my calm dialogue? I wasn't sure. All I knew was that I was too good at it. "Can you help?"
"Me?" Eric pointed at himself. "I'm not good with cars."
"Of course," I said with fake cheer. I crossed my arms and leaned against my Fit, looking up at the sky and the dark clouds silently. Eric was strangely silent as well. Probably because we both knew the next option was to call for some sort of roadside assistance, and we had no idea why I wasn't doing it.
The answer came literally two seconds later with a slight beeping noise. I looked down at my phone: Low charge. Really? Really?
I showed the screen to Eric, and he laughed and held out his phone. Dead. Apparently it had gone cold seconds after I had hung up with him.
"Our lives are just miserable today," Eric stated. I glared at him.
"Our lives? No, Eric, your life is just fine and dandy. My life is not doing so well." A cold gust of wind blew by, nearly swallowing my words and thankfully making my outburst less severe.
Apparently it was getting harder to stay composed. Eric smirked. I strangely found myself wondering whether he was serious about the sexy legs comment, and I realized I was wondering that because Eric's smirk was a bit on the cute side. Damn.
"Well, I am going to hope that Trey regains his senses and comes to help me," I announced, reclaiming my sanity. "In the meanwhile, I will sit in my car and you will do the same in yours. And we won't speak to each other anymore. In fact, you have a working car. You are free to drive and go to work or wherever else you were going before you decided to call me."
I turned around and reached for my door's handle. I could hear Eric chuckling beside me.
"I almost thought you were going to snap there," he said. "You've been far too calm for someone in your position."
I smiled wryly. "I majored in calm." I jiggled the handle of my vehicle, ready to get inside and away from Eric. But the door refused to budge. I realized it was locked and I reached into my pockets for my keys. Eric tapped me on the elbow to interrupt the search. He then pointed to the inside of my vehicle, to the passenger side, where my keys lay in plain sight on top of my purse.
Damn. I could feel Eric's stare on the side of my face, wondering whether this was maybe the moment in which he would see me snap.
I wouldn't give him that satisfaction. My heart was beating wildly with panic. My head was throbbing, and I was starting to worry about what my boss would say about my extreme tardiness. But my voice, when I finally chose to spoke, conveyed none of that.
"Wow. I left my keys in the car. I guess I will wait for Trey outside then. However, Eric, nothing's stopping you from going back to your car and driving away. Please, go ahead."
I resumed my arms-crossed-with-back-leaning-against-car pose, placing one leg gracefully over the other just because I knew Eric had called them sexy. And he decided to respond by sheepishly grinning at me and stuffing his hands in his jeans' pockets in the perfect imitation of guilt.
I knew I was in for some bad news.
"Okay, so, I actually purposely locked my keys in my car so that I'd have an excuse to maybe get in your car if you were going to wait inside."
Wow. He was a bit blunt, but he had been so all this time. I wasn't too surprised. Instead, I took a deep breath and smiled.
"Why didn't I expect something like that?" I asked calmly. Eric shook his head lightly with an amused smile.
"Still unfazed?" he asked. I nodded. I don't know when this had suddenly become a game between us, but it was clear that I was still winning. But the game still didn't take away the fact that the two of us were stranded by the side of the road where almost no cars passed, both locked out of our cars and without working cell phones. Eric was mostly a stranger to me, and I was late for work. Yup, definitely not my kind of day.
"What's your name, anyway?" Eric asked suddenly, coming over to lean against my car. We stood shoulder to shoulder, and this almost-companionship was starting to look like it needed to be added to my things-that-annoyed-me-today list.
"Renee Johnson," I answered regardless in my trademark calm voice. Eric nodded. We stayed silent for a few more moments before he decided to speak up again.
"Well…should I say it?" he asked. I narrowed my eyes. Say what?
"What is this you plan on saying to me?" I replied. Eric shrugged.
"I was just going to mention that it's been getting really cloudy and dark, and I think that it means it's going to rain. And to guarantee it, I was going to say the fatal words."
I frowned. I think I knew what he was hinting at, but I couldn't really think of anything to say that would stop him. I should have known this would happen, seeing as I had been noting the worsening weather all morning.
"So, Renee, our situation couldn't really get any worse, could it?"
I winced as a clap of thunder sounded around us. Two flashes of lightning, and all of a sudden we were swallowed in a torrent of rain. I didn't even know what to say about this, besides stating that for the thousandth time that day, I was not amused.
But of course, I put it across very calmly, even though I was soaked to the bone in just one minute and my hair was sticking to my face. "It is unfortunate that it has started to rain like this when we are stuck outside our cars with no cell phones." I heard Eric start to laugh beside me, and I looked over at him.
Seeing Eric in the rain was, um, for a lack of a better term, nice. His hair looked darker, his eyes looked brighter, and the water made his light tan shine. I didn't notice he was so athletically built until I saw him with his drenched clothes clinging to his body.
"Are you checking me out?" he asked, interrupting my casual glance in his direction. I looked away quickly.
"Of course not. Unlike some people here, I am not that rude." I was flustered for sure, but I am pretty sure my voice did not show it.
"Jeez, Renee, what can I do that will tick you off?" Eric muttered in frustration. He was lucky that at this point, this was his only preoccupation. I, on the other hand, was worried about my ruined hair, the expensive dry cleaning bill I would now I have to foot for this suit, the fact that my car was locked and my phone was dead, and oh yeah, I was stuck in the rain, ten miles from work. And yet, all I could do was stand here, trying not to be too obvious as I (fine, I admit it) checked out Eric. After all, my PR friends and I enjoyed partaking in this activity at work, and just because I was frustrated at Eric didn't mean I had to ignore the fact that he fell under the good-looking man category.
"See, I knew it, you are checking me out!" Eric accused a few moments later. I rolled my eyes.
"I most certainly am not." This was ridiculous. Instead of going out and trying to find some way to get us out of this mess, we were both stuck here saying the most unnecessary things to each other. I don't know why I didn't move. Eric went back to staring me down, trying to break that invisible wall that he was so determined to tear down. I think he had a better chance of stopping the rain than trying to faze me.
The rain, of course, was not stopping anytime soon. There was little thunder or lightning, but there was definitely a lot of water. Too much, in fact, and if I hadn't been trying so hard to keep calm in front of Eric, I think I would have started to hyperventilate about the damage it was doing to my appearance. The water was cold despite the warmth in the air, each new drop creating its own snaking path down my face that I could feel uniquely despite the fact that I was completely soaked through.
And then, the way Eric was looking at me…I could tell what part he was focused on because that section of my skin blazed hotter than the rest. Right now he had settled on my left cheek. I turned to give him my best annoyed look, but the water splashing on my face significantly dampened the expression.
"What?" I deadpanned. Eric's eyes shot up to mine, and he gave me a twisted smile.
"I think I've figured out what I can do," he said.
"To get us out of this mess?" I asked to clarify. I hoped that was what he was referring to, but his mischievous expression said otherwise.
"No. I think I figured out what I could do to push you over the edge," he replied. Just as I feared. But since I knew whatever he had planned would likely not work, I decided to humor him.
"Really?" I asked, turning to face him. My arms were still crossed, hoping to convey the message that I was not exactly in a good mood. Eric's smile was starting to grow into a full-fledged grin, something I did not take comfort in.
"Have you ever been kissed in the rain?" he asked me suddenly. At first, not yet cued to what that hinted about his intentions, I reflected back to the many kisses I had experienced in my lifetime. Bar kisses, office kisses, couch kisses, bed kisses, car kisses, movie theater kisses, party kisses…nope, no rain kisses. But then, my breath halted in my chest, and the monotonous pattering of the rain faded instantly into the background.
"What?" I asked, but apparently, that was good enough for Eric, because the next thing I knew, he literally pounced on me. He grabbed my waist with one hand and one of my wrists with the other, pushing me back and following me as we fell against the side of my Fit. If I had even thought of verbally protesting, the option was soon gone as he pressed his lips firmly against mine, eliciting a small whimper from me that was completely unintentional. His hands left my waist and traveled up to my back as he pressed himself into me, and if I wasn't so distracted by the circular dance his tongue was now performing with my lips, I might have been able to count every chiseled muscle that was flush against my stomach. His hands continued their journey by returning back downwards, caressing my thigh and other parts slightly above. Surprisingly, my hands were somehow intertwined with his hair, which only served to pull his head closer to mine, deepening the kiss that, for some reason, I was returning.
Even when his lips parted from mine, the kisses didn't stop. His mouth traveled downwards, making stops at my cheek, throat, and collarbone as his fiery kisses competed with the chill of the raindrops. I moaned – I couldn't help it. His hands were molded to my waist, massaging me as his tongue swept to my now exposed shoulder.
And then, all of a sudden, he stopped. He pulled away, panting hard. I was just as exhausted, unable to pull myself off of the side of my car. I let the rain take over my senses, feeling the small rivulets run over the skin that was still burning from his touch. One thing was certain. Eric had just completely stolen my composure.
"What the hell?" I screamed. "That was the most ridiculous and inappropriate…you did not just do that!" Eric beamed.
"I knew I could make you lose your cool! Sorry about the kiss. It just had to be done."
I opened my mouth and then closed it. Strange. Without Eric's lips, it seemed mine didn't know what to do. I did, however, manage to choke out a few words.
"Come back here!" I whimpered. I did not recall when exactly my dignity had fled the situation, but Eric didn't seem to mind that I had been reduced to this state. He willingly brought himself down on top of me again, and we stayed that way for a good while after, all thoughts of the rain, the locked cars, and the dead cell phones long banished from our minds.
Until Trey showed up, of course, minutes later, having had enough sense to figure out that maybe I did need some help after all. Eric and I broke apart, and I wasn't sure whether I was overjoyed or completely disappointed to see my brother. But one thing was definitely certain.
I will never, ever forgive him for the triumphant look he had on his face.