Summer, hot as hell in Route 6, the sun reflecting off the asphalt. A black car –Chevy Impala, polished, well cared for but obviously not new- races through without looking at the scenery –at that speed it's probably all a blur.
Something flashes in the horizon, and the black car slows down then comes to a stop.
There's another car by the side of the road, a beat-up blue SUV, the hood popped open, no-one in sight.
Silence as the engine shuts off, and a young man leaves the Impala. He's in his twenties, average in height and in absolutely nothing else. He has the kind of looks that make people wonder if God is actually a woman, because his face alone can –and will- inspire lustful thoughts. He's muscular but lean, green eyes and a boyish smile that can charm any woman in a five-mile radius.
He seems wary as he approaches the car –understandable, but he still gets brownie points for stopping to help. Looks through the window of the car, chuckles, and taps the glass.
There's a muffled curse, a yelp, and the door finally opens to reveal a messy-haired girl. Yep, that's me, twenty-two, just woken up by a stranger knocking on my window and getting out of the car before the thought of checking to see if it's a dangerous, axe-wielding stranger comes to my mind. I'm not absent-minded, just not very bright when I've just woken. Promise.
'Hey. You need any help?' Oh god, he has dimples. I'm not awake enough for this.
'Hi! Yes, please, the car's gone crazy and I don't know what I'm supposed to do…' I wish that hadn't come out sounding so dumb. I know how to fix my own car –well, I know how to fix most of the things that usually go wrong with my car- but this is my brother's, and I just can't figure out what everything is, much less how it's supposed to go. I hate that beast he calls a car, but I was going to do the trip and he wanted the thing taken to the other side of the country, so why not kill two birds with one stone? It sounded so reasonable when he said that. This, this is why not.
'Have you tried calling roadside assistance?'
Don't blush, don't blush…
'Well, actually, I was just waiting for it to be a decent time to call my brother. It's his car, and it's probably nothing major, I don't even know his insurance's company and I should call their road help if any, I guess… He'd probably be able to talk me through fixing whatever is wrong with the beast, as long as I don't wake him up before he's good and ready.'
He has a nice laugh, bit earthier –is that even a word?- than I expected.
'Why don't I take look?'
'Sure, help yourself. I'm Cathy, by the way. Thanks for stopping by.'
'Mark.' More dimples, and then his face disappears beneath the hood. Good, I might finally be able kick-start my brain now that there are no handsome distractions in sight. 'No problem. I'm not in a hurry.'
As I try not to ogle too much at his back -muscles shifting, back bent and arms in tension- I run my hand through my hair, trying to get it to behave. It always goes into bird-nest mode when I sleep, but I usually have a comb handy when I get up. It's in my car though, and the one in my suitcase is probably towards the bottom… not worth digging through the whole thing to get it. I can't believe the day I meet an incredibly fit, handsome and friendly stranger is the day I'm not wearing any make-up and my hair is all over the place. At least my clothes are a pass –shorts and a pretty white sleeveless shirt, nothing fancy but it looks good. No heels –still can't drive in them, which doesn't make much sense because I have no problem running in them, but oh well, it's not like I'd risk an accident just to look taller.
He's murmuring as he pokes around the motor and the weirdly-shaped things that go around it, but it's not loud enough for me to figure out what he's saying.
Hope it's nothing serious, because if I have to cut my road trip short because of the beast malfunctioning I'll soon find myself brother-less, and I've become attached to the dork.
'So… beast?' He's still practically inside the car's entrails, so it takes a bit to figure out what he's saying. I am coming across as an idiot, I'm sure, but not much I can do about it until I've had my coffee. I'm just not functional without my sweet, sweet caffeine. And I think he's laughing at me –or maybe at the moniker, but who am I kidding? I know what I sound like when I forget my morning cuppa.
'It's a monster of a car. Breaks down all the time, is heavy and unmanageable, and ugly as hell. It's earned its nickname.' Not that my brother dearest would agree, but that's why it's his and not mine. He thinks the beast is beautiful, bless his soul.
'So, how did you get saddled with it?' He throws the question at me as he walks back to his car. He comes back with a flashlight and a metal hook-shaped…thing, and gestures for me to hold the flashlight. While the sun is a pain in the ass right now the hood leaves part of the motor in the shade, and he must have figured it's an important part. I seriously have no idea how the beast works.
'My brother does this puppy-eyes thing where I forget he's older than me by four years and feel like I'm denying a kid candy. A really cuddly, adorable five-year-old.' More laugher. 'No, really, I was going on a road trip, and he wanted the car taken to our dad's, and since that was my last destination I let him talk me into driving his monster home.'
'Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the problem with your beast is...'
What follows are several words that, in hindsight, I'm sure must belong to the English language. But that doesn't mean I get any of them. They don't even sound like something I might distantly know.
My expression must be pretty telling, because he stops talking, rolls his eyes and smiles again.
'You didn't get any of that, did you?'
'Nope, not a word. So, that thingymaly, is it going to take ages in a garage or is it something that can be fixed right away? Or should I just write the beast off?'
'Nah, a day or two in a garage depending on whether they have the pieces or not, and it'll be good as new.'
'Awesome! You wouldn't happen to know if there are any villages nearby where I might get it fixed?'
'I think there's one a couple miles down the road, they probably have an auto repair shop. How about I give you a ride there and we have them tow the beast in?'
That sounds like a great idea -out of the sun and in an enclosed space with Mr. Sexy in the flesh- but if Dan hears I left his baby alone by the side of the road he'll kill me. Damn you and your cock-blocking ways, Dan! Not that he has any way of knowing that's what he's doing… and if he knew he'd approve. He never likes any of the guys I date, comes with being an overprotective older brother.
'That's really nice of you, but if my brother hears I abandoned his baby they'll never be able to find my body. Could you just ask them to send someone? I'll wait in the car until they get here.'
'Sure, no problem. I'll do that.'
He smiles again and heads towards his car. He's already turning the engine on when I gather my courage and awkwardly shout out after him.
'Hey! Thanks, and, well, if you are not in a hurry or anything, I'll buy you lunch for your troubles, if you don't mind sticking around for a while.'
'I've never been known to turn down free food… But I don't know if I'll be able to, I'm actually waiting for a call and when I get it I'll have to hightail it out of here to make it in time.'
He looks awkward as he says it, and I think he can pull off the puppy-eyes too. I'm doomed.
'How about I check in the local dinner when I get there, and if you are still in town I buy you lunch, and if you are not I'll just get a whole pie all for myself? It's a win-win situation.'
'Not for the pie.' He winks and leaves, and I go back to the beast. At least there's some shade inside...