June 12, 2004
I had never driven that far before, but I had nothing better to do. It was a hot Saturday afternoon during the summer after I graduated from high school, and two months after I turned eighteen. But my birthday wasn't something I really celebrated. I didn't see the point. I did, however, throw a huge party for my friends… If you could even call them friends. I felt like it had all been done for show anyway. All my friendships felt superficial.
My adulthood meant that my parents could finally file for divorce and not have to deal with custody over me or my brother (who was twenty-three). It was so frustrating though! Everyone knew the divorce should've been five years ago when my mom had her affair, and second daughter. I mean, they hadn't even lived together since then! But they put it off because neither wanted to claim me. My brother had run away from home when everything happened. Wish I'd been able to!
Now that I was legally an adult, they didn't have to bring child custody into the matter. Since my mother's four-year-old wasn't my father's daughter and he certainly wasn't going to fight my mom for her. Even without having to deal with who got the unwanted children, the divorce had still turned ugly and both parents were trying to win me over so that I would side with them.
They had turned juvenile and thought that problems could be solved simply by throwing money at them. It was the only way they had ever shown their so-called 'love' for me.
My father had given me a silver '03 Porsche Carrera convertible for my birthday. Though I knew he did so only to prevent my mother from being able to take it, I was still thrilled to have a Porsche to drive. A lot of my friends were jealous of how nice it was, which made me feel special for having it. While my mother had bought me a $2,000 purse dog, with a $2,000 purse to match, and taken me on unlimited shopping sprees to my favorite stores. While I appreciated the purse and the clothes, I could've done without the dog. It was cute, yes, but I really wasn't up for having to take care of a pet.
I felt like a rag doll being pulled in two directions and I just needed to escape from everything that was going on. I wasn't sure if it was cowardly of me to run, but I didn't care. I wanted out.
As I stood at the pump refueling my father's birthday gift, I contemplated what I should do. The open road seemed to beckon me toward it and I felt compelled to acquiesce. I took off my four-inch heels and threw them on the seat behind me as I brought my car to life and sped away from the pump.
I'm not really sure why I headed the direction I did, I just know I got on the nearest freeway and drove. Before I realized it I had driven through Glendale, passed Pasadena and up Cajon Pass. A feat I had never before accomplished. I was momentarily frightened as it suddenly dawned on me that I'd never been this far from home by myself before. But my fear was soon overpowered by my need to get away from the mess my life had become. To me, my house wasn't really a home, it was just a place I lived. I never really felt like I had a home, which is probably why it was so easy for me to leave.
Traffic was flowing surprisingly smooth and time stood still. My radio blasted the whole way as I forgot all my cares and sang along at the top of my lungs.
I continued driving and barely noticed anything about my surroundings… Except for the trees around Victorville. They looked like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Each tree had multiple branches sprouting out from its trunk in every direction with pointy bunches at the end that looked like a yucca cactus. I contemplated stopping to take a closer look but decided that I still needed to keep driving.
About an hour and a half into my drive I came across a sign for a freeway interchange that gave directions to Las Vegas.
"Ooh, Vegas sounds like fun," I spoke out loud, for no real reason.
Being underage didn't concern me since I had used my fake ID many times before to get into clubs and bars. Once I reached the interchange, I tried to merge left but was unfortunately pinned in the right lane and forced to exit in the other direction.
I thought about turning around to get to The 15, but something kept me going on The 40. I spotted another sign that proclaimed, "Greensboro, NC 2,554 miles". "I guess I could go to North Carolina."
Not exactly my first choice but hey, anywhere away from L.A. sounded wonderful. I mean, it wasn't like I was gonna be missed or anything, so it didn't really matter how far I went. I stomped my foot down on the gas and continued on toward the unknown.
I began to once again sing as loud as I possibly could. With the top to my convertible down, I had to sing pretty loud in order to hear myself. I didn't even care if the people I passed gave me funny looks as I sped by. I was so drawn in by the music that I didn't pay much attention to anything else around me. I spotted a sign that read "Next Services 55 Miles", but didn't put any thought into what that actually meant. I didn't even notice when my fuel light came on about ten minutes later.
About three hours into my drive, I spotted another sign that gave directions to Las Vegas. Since I had wanted to head that direction back in Barstow, I resolved this time that I would exit at the junction. A weekend in Vegas really did sound like just the thing I needed.
No sooner had I made my decision than my Porsche began to buck and lose power. In a panic, I quickly pulled off on the shoulder where my car sputtered to a stop.
It was only then that I realize that my temperature gauge had risen up to the red line. But again, I didn't really understand what that meant.
"Great!" I yelled as I threw my hands up and took my frustration out on my steering wheel. Could my day get any worse? I turned on my emergency flashers and tried to remember what I should do in a situation like this. Which was hard, because it had never happened to me before. It wasn't like I could call any of my friends to come get me. They were all a good three hours away, at least. Though none of them really seemed the type to come rescue me even when I was twenty minutes away… Perhaps it's time to look for new friends.
I thought about getting out and walking to find the nearest town, but I had no clue where I was and therefore, no idea how far I would have to walk. All I could see for miles around me was desert, and walking anywhere in the summer's heat didn't exactly appeal to me.
I sat dejected as I desperately tried to think of what I could do. I attempted to start my car again, but it was unwilling to comply. It wasn't long before I was reminded of the scorching heat and, to my utter dismay, I realized my air conditioning didn't work when my car wasn't running. At least I was able to get the top up to shade me from the blistering sun.
"Well, even though they won't be able to come get me, I'm sure one of my friends can help me figure out what to do," I thought aloud as I reached for my cellphone. Horrified, I realized that it was dead. Though I knew it was charged before I left. In frustration, I threw my phone down on the seat. It bounced and fell underneath. "Great! Just great!"
Now I was completely helpless. My day had gotten worse. My eyes watered slightly with my frustration. What am I doing out here anyway? Why didn't I just drive to the beach or to the nearest mall?
These were questions I already knew the answers to though. I didn't go to any of those familiar places because I was trying to escape from everything. I didn't mean to leave all sign of civilization though! The only thing that made me realize I wasn't totally in the middle of nowhere was the occasional car that would pass me. I knew the only thing I could do was sit and wait in hopes that someone would stop and help me. The likelihood of this decreased as I sat and waited for what seemed like hours.
"You really are stupid, aren't you?" A familiar voice jeered.
"Getting yourself stuck out here in the middle of nowhere," A second voice joined in.
Oh, shut up! No one asked for your opinion! I shouted back in my head. I was in no mood to deal with the derisive voices, I knew they would only make me feel worse about the mess I'd gotten myself in. Instead, I did my best to block them out as I searched for some way to pass the time.
My stomach growled loudly as I saw a McDonald's truck drive past me. Curse the fact that I don't keep food in my car! I hunted for something to keep my mind off my empty stomach and found a book hiding under my passenger seat instead. I guess it'll have to do.
Once I began to read I was able to distract myself quite a bit more. Books had always been such a great escape from my overly melodramatic life. I would often imagine myself as the heroine in the novel I was reading. Everything always went well for the girls in books. They always got the hot guy, and the happily ever after ending. For once I just wished my life could be like that. But knights in shining armor were a thing of the past, and no man took the time to sweep a girl off her feet anymore. The hopeless romantic in me wished that it wasn't true though.
I had left off in the middle of chapter two and at the start of chapter three a tow truck pulled off on the shoulder in front of me. I wasn't sure what to make of it, so I stayed in my car and watched. When the driver got out, I was a little surprised. When I picture to myself someone who drives a tow truck, the young man before me didn't match up in any way. For starters, he couldn't be more than twenty! He almost looked like he could be younger than me. How could this guy be a tow truck driver? I looked at him again. Even though I could tell that none of his clothes were designer labels, he seemed more the type of guy that was better suited to be in a boyband rather than drive a tow truck.
But what did I know really? The only tow truck driver I had ever seen was when my dad had needed one when I was seven. He was overweight, middle-aged and balding, so I had just assumed that it was what all tow truck drivers looked like. Boy, had I been wrong! But it was a silly stereotype that I'd come up with anyway, and I was glad. Had this driver looked like the one from when I was little, I would've preferred to stay stranded.
He peered at me through my windshield and I peered back in a stupor. He cocked his head and waved; I did the same. He smiled as he walked toward my car. Well, I suppose a tow truck would help fix my predicament, and I could tell the driver wasn't some freak, but I decided to stay in my car nonetheless. At least it was out of direct sunlight.
"Have you called for help?" He asked as he stopped at the front of my car.
"Can't, dead cell," I replied, leaning slightly toward my open window.
"Bummer. Why didn't you just use the Call Box?"
"The Call Box. They're set up for stranded motorists to use to call for help." He turned to point at a pole with a yellow box and blue sign labeling it "Call Box".
"Oh, I didn't know what that was for." Actually, I hadn't even seen it until he'd pointed it out.
"Ah, no problem. Some of them don't even work anymore anyways. So," he clapped his hands together, "is there anything I can do for you then?"
Teleport me back to L.A. I thought to myself, "My car died."
"Well, if it hadn't, I'd be questioning why you were pulled off the side of the road in nearly hundred-degree weather." He gave a head nod that indicated he had winked.
"Do you know why it died?" He inquired further, a smile creeping its way onto his face.
"No, but I can't get it to start again."
"Okay, open 'er up and I'll see if I can find the problem." What does that mean? I wondered as I gave him a puzzled look. He saw my face and added, "Open the trunk so I can look at your engine." At first, I thought it was silly of him to say he was looking for my engine in the back of my car, then I remembered that the engine was in the back. I felt a little ignorant for not remembering this as I hit the switch to open the trunk. He walked passed me to the back of my car and opened it up. I became curious as to what he was looking at, so I grabbed the spare pair of flip flops I kept under my seat and got out of my car so I could stand next to him as he inspected my engine.
Holy crap! He's hot! I squealed to myself once I was standing next to him. Perhaps dreams do come true. This guy could be my storybook fantasy. I became lost in a trance as I watched the sun play on the highlights of his caramel hair. My own blonde hair seemed dull in comparison, though I had never thought it was before. He had a beauty mark below the right corner of his lip and a small soul patch not far from it. Even with a pair of cheap sunglasses covering his eyes, the boy was drop-dead gorgeous! In fact, they added a mysterious allure to him. He seemed pretty tall, at least six-foot, and his frame was lean and toned. My heart began to race and I had to remind myself not to drool as I pictured him without his shirt on.
"What?" I snapped back from my trance.
"I said, you're out of coolant."
"What does that mean?"
He gave me an astonished look as if to say 'you don't know?'.
Yeah, sorry, cars have never been something I knew a lot about.
"It means that your car most likely overheated. Without it, there's nothing to cool your engine. Did you notice any smoke coming from your car?" I shook my head. I didn't want to admit that I hadn't noticed anything. "Well, that's one potential problem." He stared at my engine for a moment, thinking. "Why don't you try and start your car again."
"I told you, it won't start." My voice took a frustrated tone. Didn't he hear me the first time?
"I know. I just want to listen to your engine to see if I can figure out what's wrong with it by the sound it makes."
"How will that help?"
"Just trust me, it will."
"Fine." I rolled my eyes and trudged back to the driver's seat. I flopped down and turned the key. Nothing happened, as I knew it wouldn't. "See, it doesn't start."
"Hmm." The young man peered around to where I was sitting. He suppressed a laugh. "You know, it would help if you had your foot on the clutch."
"Ah, dammit! Stupid car!" I took my anger out on the steering wheel again.
"Woah, easy there! It's okay."
"Sorry, I'm just not used to this stupid car."
"I take it then you normally drive automatics?"
"Don't worry about it. I forget the clutch sometimes too." I could tell that he was just trying to make me feel better, so I fought back my frustrations and bit my tongue to prevent a rude retort from escaping my lips. I brought my feet into the car, slammed the clutch to the floor and turned the key again. My car sounded as if it would start but still refused to come to life. He cocked his head inquisitively. "Hmm."
"Here, let me sit there for a sec." He came around to where I was and motioned for me to stand so he could take my place. I complied and we swapped places. "G'ah! How do you fit in here?" He remarked as he tried to squeeze in the space that I easily fit in. It was my turn to laugh at him.
"Well, I am smaller than you ya know."
He paused for a moment. "Good point." He moved the seat back a ways so that the space wasn't as tight. "Okay, let's see here." He sat sideways in the seat with his right foot inside the car as he looked at my dashboard panel. "Well here's another problem."
"Great! Just what I need!"
"This one's not a big deal really. I just think you're out of gas."
"I am?" I replied in disbelief as I perched my sunglasses on top of my head and leaned in to check. I glared at the gauge that proved him right.
"It would certainly explain why your car's turning over and not starting. Did you start off with a full tank?"
"Yeah, I just filled up." Well, I guess now I know how far I can go on a tank of gas!
"Where'd you start?"
"Wow! You made it quite a ways! What is it, like four hours away?"
His jaw dropped. I guessed that I had made the trip in a much shorter time than most. "Dang! How fast were you driving?!"
"I don't know, about 90 maybe," I admitted sheepishly. I really wasn't paying attention to my speed, and I wasn't using cruise control either, so it wasn't consistent.
"Well no wonder you ran out of gas! Speeds like that aren't very fuel-efficient. And I take it you had your AC running too. No wonder you overheated." Gee, thanks for rubbing it in. I lowered my head, averted my eyes and backed away from the car. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like I was making fun of you." He got out of the car and stood in front of me. He really was tall.
"It's okay," I muttered.
"No, I just, forget sometimes that not everyone knows as much about cars as me."
"Don't worry about it. I'm used to it."
"Used to what?"
"Being treated like a stupid blonde."
"I wasn't implying that you were stupid. And what does hair color have anything to do with intelligence?"
"People always love to judge me by it."
"Look, just because you don't have the same knowledge as me, that doesn't make you stupid. I'm sure there are plenty of things you know that I don't have a clue about."
I scoffed at his remark. "Like what?"
"How to be a girl for example." He smirked.
I laughed in spite of myself. "Okay, that's a really stupid one."
"I dunno. Name something you're good at."
"Nothing." The declaration brought on a sudden depression. Really, there wasn't anything I was talented at… Was there?
"Oh come on. That can't be true."
"It is, and can we please stop talking out here. The heat's unbearable!"
"Sorry." He raised his hand to his shoulder. "Desert boy, I don't notice the heat half the time."
"Whatever." I leaned against the side of my car.
"You can sit down in the shade of your car, that would help a little."
"So would dumping a bucket of ice water on me. But you wouldn't happen to have one of those, would you?" I added sarcastically as I rolled my eyes.
He snorted a laugh. "Not here I don't. Sorry."
"Glad to see I amuse you," I replied flatly as I slumped down on the asphalt. It was rather warm against my bare legs, but I didn't care at that point.
After a brief period of silence, the guy spoke up again.
"Well, it doesn't really seem like there's much I can do to help you get back on the road."
Great! After all that he's not gonna help me! What a crappy day this is certainly turning out to be! My fantasy of being romantically rescued crumbled as tears formed in my brown eyes.
"Didn't we tell you it was foolish to dream?" The cruel voice scoffed. I was too despondent to reply.
"No, I mean, there's nothing I can do for you here," The young man quickly clarified. "I can tow you back to a gas station in Needles."
"Needles?!" Hearing our location snapped me out of my depression. How on earth did I make it that far? I took a moment to finally take in my surroundings.
It was a far cry from the lush green and palm trees I was used to in L.A. Everything around me was brown, except for the sparsely scattered vegetation. Short scraggly bushes, that let off a rather pungent aroma, dotted the landscape. The vast expanse around me was so open compared to the city. It felt odd to be able to see so far.
"Yeah, we're about 10 miles west of it."
"I didn't realize that's where I was." I at least knew that Needles was on the border of California and Arizona, but it had always been a place that I'd just heard of. Not a destination I ever planned on visiting. Especially on an unplanned trip.
"How do you not know where you are? This car has a GPS." I looked at him and shrugged. Truthfully I didn't know how to use it. I had only had this car a few months and even then hadn't familiarized myself with all its features. It got me from point A to point B. What else did it have to do? Though I was thankful to not drive a lemon. "Gosh, you really weren't paying attention were you?"
His constant ridicule had gotten on my last nerve. Why won't this guy just shut up and stop teasing me? This day just keeps getting worser and worser by the minute. My tears spilled over my eyes and I broke down crying.
"Hey, hey. Woah, woah. It's okay. Don't worry. I'm not just gonna leave you here stranded in the desert."
"Could you just stop talking, please?" I barked.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry, honest."
"Then why do you keep teasing me?" I shot him a tear-stained glare.
"I'm sorry. I take it too far sometimes. I know. I'm only trying to lighten your spirits a little."
"Well, you failed." It was looking less and less like a scene from a book, and that didn't help much with my mood.
"I'm sorry. Really, I am. Most of my friends know that's how I am and they're not sensitive to it. I forget that when I'm around new people they're not used to it. They don't let me out too often so I'm a little lacking in the social graces of talking with strangers."
A small chuckle moved my chest. "You could say that again."
"They don't let me out too often so I'm a little lacking in the social graces of talking with strangers," he repeated.
I gave him a bemused look. "You're really a dork aren't you?"
"And totally proud of it!" He flashed his smile and again my heart skipped a beat. As much as I was annoyed by him, I was grateful that he'd come to my rescue. And who knows. If I hadn't been in such a sour mood, due to the extreme heat and lack of food, I might've found his quirks to be more endearing. "You thirsty?" He asked after a moment.
"Dying!" I groaned. His smile widened at my reply. G'ah, was this man gorgeous! Irritating, but gorgeous. I once again entertained the thought of being rescued by a knight in shining armor… Well, more like faded denim. And instead of a white horse, he had driven up in a flatbed tow truck... Okay, so it wasn't a picture-perfect scenario, but at least he had rescued me.
He wiped his hands on his pants and offered me one to help me up. He hoisted me to my feet with ease, and I had to resist the urge to fall into his arms.
"I'm Charlie by the way," he said as he shook my hand that he was still holding.
"Nice to meet you, Celeste." He smiled warmly and somehow I felt better. "Go ahead and sit in the truck and I'll get your car on the bed. There's a full water bottle on the seat."
"Don't mention it."
I walked to the truck and climbed into the passenger side, where I quickly searched for the water bottle. Upon finding it, I drank greedily until there was less than half left. I felt refreshed and relaxed into the seat as I waited for Charlie to finish with my car. I closed my eyes.
Perhaps this day's not gonna so bad after all.
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