She broke down on a lonely road. Night was coming, maybe a storm. A truck pulled up behind her on the shoulder. She squinted against the glare of the headlights as the driver walked up.
She could smell the rain coming as she rolled down the window. A man, harshly lit by the dashboard lights, bent down to look in the window.
“Need help?” He had faded eyes, and was older, but trim, strong.
“Yeah, my damn car died.”
“Open the hood.” She groped for the release in the dark but couldn’t find it. He reached in beside her leg for the lever, and his hat fell in her lap.
“Sorry about that,” he said, popping the hood and grabbing the hat. He disappeared around the front of the car. She bit her thumbnail.
“Try it now,” he said.
The rain started but the car did not. “Might be your module. No way to fix that on the side of the road.
Anyone you can call?”
“No, not locally.”
“Want a lift?”
He opened the door of the truck for her, not out of gallantry, but to clear out the trash from the seat.
“Don’t normally have passengers,” he said.
He gently gripped her elbow as she climbed in, then shut the door.
“Where to, ma’am?”
“I don’t know. The nearest phone, I suppose,” she answered.
“There’s a motel up the road. Nothing fancy, but clean. I’ll drop you there.”
“Are you sure it’s not out of your way?”
“It’s just about a mile from my place. Next little road on the right, then about a half mile on the dirt road.
Just a shack, really.”
“I sure do appreciate it,” she said. “What do you do out here? It’s so lonely.” She glanced over at his profile, outlined against the rainy window. His eyes never left the road.
“A little farming, some fix-it-up work.” They pulled up to the motel.
“Wait.” He turned to reach behind the seat, almost brushing her shoulder, and retrieved a worn denim jacket. The fleece lining was redolent of hay, animals and clean air. “Here’s a coat.”
She stepped out. Rain ran down the motel canopy in streams. “What about your coat?”
He leaned over the passenger seat. “Tell Darlene you know me. She’ll take care of you. I’ll call over in the morning.”
She watched him drive off. One of the tail lights was out on the truck.
In the room, she called her husband back in San Francisco. No answer—poker night.
She turned on the television but the reception was terrible. She lay on the bed. There was a picture of generic mountains over the dresser. She looked over at the jacket draped over the chair. She pulled it to her face and inhaled deeply.
The rain was coming down sideways by the time she found the turnoff, now a sheet of mud. A tiny yellow light flickered down the way. She stood a moment, face buried in the fleece, then headed down the road. She saw his truck with the cracked tail light. She knocked. A dog barked. A horse snuffled and snorted in the darkness nearby. She pulled the jacket tighter and knocked again. The door opened. He was shirtless.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey, what brings you out here in the rain?”
She was dripping on the step. “I don’t know.”
“Come in, then,” he said, shutting the door. “You can’t stay here, I don’t have anywhere for you to—“
She grabbed him, hard, her face in his chest. He lightly held her shoulders. “You all right?”
“I am now.” She smelled him, the salt-sweet tang.
“Hey,” he said.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I want to be here. Tonight.”
The jacket fell to the floor.
She lifted her head, met his faded eyes. “Now.” After a second, “Please.”
The bedroom was tiny. He slipped off his pants, looked at her. Then he reached over and placed his rough hand along the side of her neck. Fingers tangled in her wet hair. His thumb stroked her ear. “Take off your clothes,” he whispered.
She undressed as if she were under water. Naked in front of him, unafraid.
He reached for her. “Just tell me when to stop.”
“I don’t think I ever want you to stop.”
It was slow, deliberate, a lazy conversation, a low rumble of thunder. They found its rhythm, the ebb and flow, the song of themselves.
By morning, the rain had stopped.
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