Writer’s Note: I started writing this last year. Yes, last year in 2017. I finally decided to go back and finish it. I thought about the polar opposites when writing this and how relationships work and don’t work. It was supposed to be a much longer short story, but these are more writing exercises than anything. Okay, onto my other short story so I can then get back to my rewriting and then writing my longer stories.
I bent over and looked at my flat tire. I was officially stranded. I wasn’t about to admit, not yet, I was lost. What I wouldn’t have given for anyone to hear me. Not even the animals showed their concern, but what can a few squirrels do. They didn’t have any special powers, but neither did I. This was just my luck to be in stuck in a state I wouldn’t be caught living in.
I sat down on a log, thinking what I could do, but more hoping the ants wouldn’t come close to me. I hated ants back then. I hate them now. This was the time before cellphones were glued to everyone’s palms. I wasn’t into watches back then and was too angry to check the stereo clock.
I had no idea how much time had passed when a truck came into view. It was one of those trucks with larger than life wheels. You know the one with the stereotype of the driver who wears a cap with a phrase like ‘I’m a redneck and proud of it.’ I imagined the truck had a Confederate flag somewhere, but when it was close enough it was just as bad. It was a decal of a woman holding onto a wrench with one hand with her body positioned in a suggestive pose.
The truck slowed down as it approached. When it stopped, a man about six-foot three got out. His boots kicked up dust with each step. He crossed the road to get to me. It appeared he had a tiny belly, almost not worth mentioning because it might have had to do with the angle of his shirt. His trimmed mustache wasn’t the best option for his face although his large hands complimented his long fingers. Either way, I wasn’t impressed and didn’t like that he had stopped.
He couldn’t have been older than twenty-three when I got a good look of his face. His skin was youthful, but there was a scar on his cheek. His black and blue cap with white stitching hugged tightly on his head. Surprisingly there was no catchphrase on it, but he was getting much too close to me.
“Looks like you’re having trouble,” he said.
His finger ran over the deflated rubber that used to be a functioning tire. I stood up, brushing away the remnants of dead wood from my pants.
“Have a spare in your car?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“You should always carry a spare. You never know when you might need one.”
“I already used it when my tire went flat a few weeks ago.”
“This’s some bad luck you’re having then.”
“That’s why I don’t gamble.”
“Except with tires.”
“Have any ideas on how to get my car up and running?” I asked with an edge to my voice. He probably didn’t mean anything by his last comment, but still. I wanted to ask who the hell was he to criticize me. He might as well have let the air out from my other tires too at the rate he was going.
“If you drove a truck, there’d be no problem. I got a spare in the back,” he looked through my car’s windshield, “but since you seem to prefer convenience, I’ll have to go to my buddy’s shop. Don’t worry, it’s not too far away.” He pointed in the direction he came. “Just around the bend. You can join me, if you want.”
My father’s lecture of not getting into cars with strangers came flooding back, but I wasn’t in first grade anymore. Going with him would break up the boredom of waiting, but my life was more important. I didn’t want to die by the hands of a reincarnated Ted Bundy. His dress style wasn’t refined in any sense, but his face was attractive enough to get by with his looks alone. I could see how a gullible woman might hop into his passenger seat, thinking it was an adventure, but blind to becoming number 78 on some violence statistic list.
“I better stay here.”
“It’s your call. Don’t worry, I’ll get a cheap tire for ‘ya. Good enough to take ‘ya where ‘ya need to go, but you’ll probably want to replace it once you’re home.”
“I don’t have enough to pay you, but if you give me your address, I’ll send you the money once I’m back.”
“Consider it a gift. Besides, you look a little frazzled by the whole thing.”
“I want to get back on the road, and I will pay you. Cash is okay, I take it.”
“No need to pay me. Where you headed?”
“Visiting a friend.”
“I see, catching up.”
“She’s getting married.”
“Ah, the old ball and chain.” He must’ve expected me to laugh because when I didn’t he took a step back. “I’m only kidding.”
“I got that.”
“Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot,” he said, stretching his arm out to shake my hand. When I didn’t reciprocate, he gave a slight nod. “My apologies.”
Halfway back to his truck, I heard him shout, “Last chance. You comin’ or stayin’?”
My answer should’ve been obvious. I should’ve stayed put and waited for the tire. The only thing nagging at me was what if he didn’t come back. I might not get another chance to get my car working again. I certainly didn’t want to spend another minute longer in this place.
I followed him, my pace quickening and thinking of all the ways the ride could go wrong. His door could be rigged where once it closes, it never opens again unless he wanted it open. The inside smelled somewhat fresh, but not as if he had cleaned all the evidence of his last victim away. I searched for a warning inside, one that told me this was a dangerous man with dangerous intentions, but there was none. His truck looked about as normal as could be, but everything looks normal from a certain angle.
“Don’t be shy. She doesn’t bite,” he said.
A man who refers to his car as a she doesn’t make him a serial killer but it doesn’t reassure me, I thought, as I got into his truck. I prayed that in my moment of weakness I didn’t just give him the easiest path to his next victim.
“I hate to sound like a father, but buckle up.”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
“No need to be sorry, just safe.”
I wasn’t sure why I said that because I wasn’t sorry. I purposely left the seatbelt off in case I needed to make a quick getaway. I didn’t want to jump out of a moving truck, but if it meant not dying, then I would do it. I strapped in, and kept my finger on the release button. He glanced at me more than once during the ride, probably wondering why I wasn’t looking around.
When the truck slowed, I looked up and saw a plain-looking building. It was in the shape of a rectangular box. The sign on the post wasn’t hard to miss. It read Timothy’s Tires in red and white, and below it Expect the Best in blue and white. It reminded me of the American flag.
This time he turned off the engine and got out. I watched him circle in front of the truck and open my door. He put his hand out. I thought he had gotten the hint I didn’t want to touch his hand or any part of him. I said as politely as I could muster. “Thanks anyway.”
“Just trying to be the gentleman.”
“Again, thanks, but no thanks.”
He backed up. “Want me to get you anything to drink before we get to business?”
“I doubt your friend will have what want,” I said as I got out of the truck.
“Ever heard of Voss?”
“Sparkling or plain.”
“I don’t joke about water. Not when it’s this hot.”
“Coming right up unless you want to look at magazines.”
“I’ll stay here.”
He nodded and disappeared into the tire shop. I tried to see what was happening through the window, but there was too much glare.
He came out with my water, with his friend trailing behind him. Timothy was shorter, but not by much, maybe a few inches. He was a bit heavier, and had tattoo sleeves on both arms.
“Here’s your water.”
I took it without touching him and took a long sip.
“Yes, the sign.”
“Heard you’re tryin’ to get somewhere in a hurry,” Tim said.
“Just trying to get to my friend’s place before nightfall.”
“Can’t fault a woman for that.” Tim winked at his friend. “Once Jer pays me, I’ll give him the tire, and you’ll be all set.”
“You know I’ll pay you later.”
“That’s what you said the last time.”
“Quit holding us up. Get the tire.”
“Hold your damn horses.” He took a swig from his Coke and looked at me. “I didn’t catch your name?”
“Katy,” I said, reluctantly.
“That’s my sister’s name. You spell it K-a-t-i-e?”
“How’d you spell it?”
“With a y.”
“Well, I better go get that tire for ‘ya.”
After Tim left, there was awkward silence between us. I expected him to say something, but he never did.
“Your name is Jer?”
“Great-great granddad. Not the best name, I know.”
“I’ve heard worse.”
“Try Katherine Alexandra.”
“Well, Katherine Alexandra, it seems you got a yourself a tire.”
I looked up and saw Tim carrying a tire. I felt a twinge of guilt for thinking less of these people. This is all they would know in their lives: tires and tattoos. I took another sip of water, wondering if I should say something in the form of an apology. Instead, I watched Tim and Jer say their brotherly goodbyes.
Jer pulled up close to my car, removed a jack from the back, and traded my flat tire for the new one. The whole process from start to finish was quick. I thought how foolish I had been to think he was out to hurt me. He gave me his address, but I didn’t look at it until I got home from the wedding. This is when I noticed he had written his phone number beneath it. I never called him although I did send him cash the following week without a return address. I’m not sure he ever got it. I hope he did, but if not he must’ve realized by now some things are meant to go only so far.