The two things she hated most about driving—white trucks riding her tail and narrow, winding roads that went every which way in the form of curve and hill. And she was dealing with both at the moment.
When Anne had first been learning how to drive, she'd watched her rear view mirror more than she'd watched the road in front of her. It had been a bad habit that had made her a nervous driver and gotten her into a few scrapes. Even though her dad's constant attempts to get her to look in the direction the vehicle was moving had been relatively successful, she still watched her rear view mirror. A lot.
Hence, her ultra-keen awareness of the big-ass pickup riding her tail along roads that twisted impossibly. Him being so close pushed her mentally to go faster; she felt the pressure, almost like a voice in her head: "Come on! Speed it up or get out of the way!"
Instead of the usual timid fear that drove her to please the other driver, today she felt irritation that itched up and down her spine. She surmised that it was the stress at work, and the uncertainty of her current relationship, but in truth the cause didn't matter. This guy was pissing her off.
Smirking as she reacted to an idea, she let slowly off the gas so her speed bled away. 55mph…47…42…35. She crawled, acted like she knew her turn was coming up, right here, but not sure where it was among the many roads and driveways that appeared and disappeared with the rolling road. He couldn't pass her either; to even think about crossing to the other lane would be contemplating suicide. Watching her rear view mirror, she fancied she could see the scowl on his face, but really the tint on the truck was a shade too dark to see anything but a hulking figure of a man.
Creeping up and cresting a hill, she instantly saw a problem. The passing zone had a hill on both sides, making it completely blind, but it started on the downhill in the direction she was going. She heard him hit the gas, the engine roar. She glanced up as he stepped on it and started to come around her. Instantly her foot was lead—she threw it into a racing speed in seconds. He came up along side her and they vied for the leading nose. Her arm was straight with her fist clenched hard around the top of the steering wheel, her other hand on the automatic stick, like fondling it like a manual would somehow help her go faster. Her Mustang was meeting the challenge of speed without a problem though. He wasn't passing her. She turned her head to the left and could see him watching her and a chill went down her spine. Anger was obvious on his face, maybe mixed with a little excitement. Her own anger had been driven away, shred on the wheels of her car when she'd sped up, leaving her now with only excitement.
As she came up the hill, realizing that what had seemed like several movie-slow minutes could really have only been a couple of seconds, he backed off. He was out of the passing zone and it was at that point very dangerous to remain in the oncoming. And as he slid back in behind her, he wasn't on her tail anymore. He did stay close.
She tried to ignore him. It was easier since he had backed off; her radar wasn't beeping like crazy with a freaked-out tempo. But he was still there and she was still aware of him.
The road was long from beginning to end. Not many went that far; she was expecting him to turn off at some point. Every time she glanced in her mirror, though, he was still there.
It took a good many more miles before she got to one of her destinations, and some of her excitement at the race had ebbed away. The small gas station was in the middle of no where, and she always made a point of stopping to gas up here. They could always use the business. It seemed to her like the little place was always only a step from bankruptcy.
In pulled the white pick-up, coming to a stop at the pump behind her. Coincidence? Maybe. It was the only place to gas up for miles and miles.
She climbed from her sports car, wallet in hand, and went about her business, and the man in the white pick up jumped down.
He acted like he was doing a usual chore, but really it was a charade. His tank was mostly full since he'd filled up before hitting the long road. Subtle like, he was watching her as intrigue bubbled inside him. He whistled and busied his hands with the gas but his entire attention was on her.
"So I guess you don't know these parts very well?" he asked, in a way that was a soft challenge.
Slowly, more slowly than the leisurely pace she'd been moving at, she put the nozzle to her car tank and pulled the lever, setting the switch.
"I drive it occasionally," she replied lightly, all innocence.
"Wouldn't have guessed it," was his curt reply. He was turned to face the pump but his sideways glances were obvious, and the heat that rushed through her body was unwanted.
"I like to take my time."
"Some people have schedules to keep."
"Yes, well…you should plan for traffic."
"And annoying women drivers who can't decided where their turn off is?" he asked in a direct attack on her earlier driving.
"It is a hard to navigate road," she answered, leaning on her car and putting a hand to the roof, almost as if she was stroking it.
"Locals know it. You must not be from around here," he said it again, hoping to get a rise out of her.
"I drive it occasionally, but not enough to get a good feel for it."
"Yeah…" He shifted slightly to lean on his truck in the same way, facing her, his dark eyes focused on her, ogling almost in how they trailed up and down her body and flitted from feature to feature. "I'm sure you missed your turn."
"On the contrary, my turn isn't for a long ways."
"Oh." He said, with a slight raise of his chin and in a tone that suggested full understanding. "Need a map?"
"I have a GPS if I need it, thanks."
"GPS," he grunted. "Never thought to trust one of those things."
Her pump kicked to a stop, and she turned her attention back to it, noting but not saying anything about how he was still standing there with the nozzle in his hand and hadn't as yet gassed up.
Screwing the cap back into the tank and clicking the lid shut, she tore the receipt from the machine and turned to toss it into her car, along with her wallet. Then she stood back up, tossing her hair out of her face and stared at him.
"Look, you shouldn't ride people's bumper, okay? Not all drivers are made of nerves of steal."
"Apparently not you," was his easy reply.
She crossed her arms and turned out her hip, like he had finally stung her into a big of anger. Her eyes blazed a slightly brighter brown now, but with amusement rather than irritation.
"You don't know anything about me."
He gave her a lopsided grin, giving up the gas pretense and putting the nozzle back where it belonged. "That's true."
She smiled, the first real smile their whole conversation, in part because of the smile on his face. She was beautiful when she smiled, he decided, a simple beauty that made a man want to hold her and grow old with her. His grin grew.
She turned to look back out at the road, squinting against the sun, then she turned to look at him. "I should get going. I have a schedule to keep," deliberately she used his words, a little laughter in her voice.
He nodded easily. "Of course. Drive carefully."
"You too. And watch that tailgating." She opened her car door again and started to get in.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, watching her easy movements. She smiled back at him, and then she was gently pulling out of the station and back onto the road. She glanced back at him once, smiling, and then she was gone.
Much later that day, Kyle was laughing with this older brother, tucked away in a cabin hidden deep in the woods. His brother ribbed him with an elbow and Kyle laughed, taking another swallow of his beer, then made a stinging reply to the comment. Then his attention was snagged on the TV as it went to a breaking news story, a live crew at a crash site on a very familiar road. A blue Mustang was torn and mangled, laying on its roof, police lights blinking rapidly and the night around the edges of the scene. The big, bold, white letters of the headline blared at him, making him numb. "One woman dead in single car crash."