Drive

The remainder of her work day was business as usual. She’d calmed down, though she was still kicking herself. Regardless of the circumstance, regardless of how lucky she’d been that nothing had been stolen, she’d still brought a stranger into her home. She’d still abandoned all sense of reason for a night of passion. She’d still let her control over her own life and actions slip, and she was angry. Sure, it had been — well, pretty damn great, all things considered, but it wasn’t her. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t — well, it wasn’t worth losing her job over. Focus. Untangle the thoughts later, she told herself. The customers are here now.

Still, throughout the day, Megan felt that same shame and guilt brewing in her mind. She felt betrayed; she wasn’t sure if she blamed herself, or Delphine, or anyone. It didn’t matter who she tried to put that on, the net result was the same. Focus, damnit. Watch where you pour the coffee. Smile. She’d always had a natural charisma that helped her rake in tips, keep light conversation. Today was a struggle. The ease with which she strolled from table to table was gone; she felt stiff, almost robotic, trying to force out pleasantries. She strained to conceal it all, but the more she struggled, the more she was sure it was painfully obvious. Nobody said anything, of course — this was a diner, not a damn therapist’s couch — but she could see concern, sense the curiosity at her unusual behavior. They knew.

As her shift ended, Megan found herself feeling uncertain. Normally, on a day like today, she’d head home and putz around, looking for small chores to keep her busy until she felt satisfied enough to rest. Today, she wasn’t feeling it; the very thought of going back to her empty apartment, of plunging back into the earthy smell and the blur of recent memory, knotted her stomach. She pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the highway. A long drive to nowhere might help clear her thoughts. She cranked up the music as loud as her crappy stock speakers would allow, rolled down the windows to let in the freezing winter air, and drove.

It wasn’t long before she was out of town, out among the woods and hills and emptiness. There wasn’t much traffic out here on a Monday afternoon, and she took full advantage of the open road. The landscapes around her became a blur, the trees and telephone poles blazing past her, the sky rolling above. She felt her thoughts, her worries, blowing away in the icy wind that tore through the car, carried off like so many falling leaves. She felt free, not just from the pressures of life, but from her own internal walls that she’d spent all day building up. She felt unburdened from every distraction; all, of course, but the sudden flash of red and blue behind her.

She spat profanities to herself as she pulled over to the side of the road. Of course. Of fucking course. I let go one goddamn time, and this has to happen. Goddamnit. Why the hell am I such an idiot? Why the hell would I- Her moment of reflection was cut short when she caught his face in the side mirror. Harris. Of all the possibilities, it had to be him.

“Miss Adams! What a pleasant surprise.” His voice grated on her, like someone dragging a bag of rocks across a marble floor. “I’m sure ya know why it is you’re bein’ pulled over. Let’s see that license an’ registration, if ya got ’em.”

She fished out the paperwork and handed it over, trembling with a mix of embarassment and fear. What were the chances that the cop to pull her over would be the same she’d found on her doorstep? That the same cop she’d run afoul of, who never seemed to join his colleagues for breakfast, would be here now, so far outside of town? He had to have been following her, waiting for her recklessness to provide an easy excuse. She stewed in thoughts of calling him out as he went back to his car, presumably running the numbers to make sure there wasn’t some other infraction from her past for him to drag out.

Hours seemed to pass, and Megan regretted her decision to leave the windows down as she drove. In the rush of tearing across the countryside, she hadn’t felt the bite in the air, but as she sat in festering silence waiting for Harris to come back, it seemed to rip into her flesh and gnaw at her bones. Her face ached. Her fingers could barely grip the steering wheel. The swirl of clouds above had yet to make good on their threats of rain, but the scent was on the breeze. She hoped this would be done before it came.

She didn’t notice Harris leaving his car until he was again standing at her window. “All looks to be in order, miss Adams. I’m sure it’ll be no trouble, comin’ up with the fine. You know I don’t like doin’ this, right? Might be a lot easier for ya if there was anything you remembered since the last time we talked…” he let these last words fade. The implications of his pressing were obvious.

“All due respect, officer,” she offered in a tone that suited the icy weather, “I have no idea what you mean. I don’t know those kids, and I don’t know where they went.”

“Well, darlin’, you figure it out, you lemme know, alright?” He handed over her license, registration papers, and significant ticket. Over a decade on the road, and she’d never been given one until now. She knew she’d earned it, but still — it couldn’t have been coincidence. She rolled up her windows and waited until he’d curled off behind her and back towards town before following suit.

Still fuming over everything that had happened and entirely unsure of what to do, she headed home as if on autopilot. Rain had begun to fall in a light patter that was just enough to secure an overnight freeze that would wreak havoc on the roads come morning. Cold, wet, miserable, and clutching her costly prize, she made her way inside.

The earthen smell hit her like a ton of bricks. It had been there before, but somehow it seemed to have grown. She tossed the ticket on the coffee table, next to Delphine’s note. I’ll see you soon; it seemed like a mockery, somehow. Like she was just supposed to agree that they’d meet again, and everything would be fine. They could sit by the window and tell fanciful tales again and she could forget the bullshit of the day, or the week, or however much time would pass before “soon” came around. Like she was supposed to think a night of lacking inhibition had meant anything at all; who knew how many other women or men had been swept up in Hurricane Delphine, their lives left forever altered in her wake.

Megan remembered her burrito, left hours ago in the microwave. She’d normally just toss it straight into the trash and find something else; but then, she’d normally not bring god-knows-who to her bedroom. She’d normally not have spent her afternoon pushing her poor, aging car to its limits on the highway. She’d normally not have a bottle of whatever the hell that was on the table, or the scent of wet dirt permeating her home, or — well, what was one more terrible decision to round out the bunch. She started the microwave up again, telling herself this was enough to kill anything truly harmful.

Burrito in hand, she flicked on the TV and plopped heavily onto the couch. It felt empty; hell, she felt empty. She still couldn’t remember the last time she’d properly eaten, but something more was weighing on her as she bit into her latest terrible life choice. The familiar tune of the local station’s evening news program played from across the room, and the droning voice of the same anchor she’d seen there for years began its daily recitations.

Exhausted and hardly interested in the same hum-drum bullshit blaring from the screen, Megan felt her eyes grow heavy. The room began to dim as she slipped towards sleep, too flustered still to bother moving from the couch to her bed. As the flickering pulse of the television began to fade behind eyelids that were barely still open, Megan nearly missed her opportunity to see a familiar face; framed to the right of the anchor’s stoic gaze was Celia. Beneath the photo, a one-word question: “Terrorist?”

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