Pat realized he was heading for home, and changed directions. He’d go to the movies, he thought. He hadn’t gone to the movies for a while.
It was so strange at the house when Jane was out of town. He always thought he’d enjoy doing whatever he wanted – watching whatever he wanted, staying up late, eating junk food for dinner – but in the end, it was just too quiet. And boring. The last time she had gone to her sister’s, he had spent the whole week sorting his dresser drawers and cleaning the barbecue grill, not one piece of junk food had been eaten, and the only reason he had stayed up late was that he couldn’t sleep without her next to him.
This time, he would at least mix it up by going to the movies. He’d get popcorn and candy and soda and a hot dog, and he’d eat it all by himself. And he’d sit wherever he liked. Yeah. That sounded good.
Instead of staying on the dirt road that led to their rural home, he turned the car around and headed back into town. It was still light out, but the sun had gone down, so the long, empty highway was shrouded in shadows. It was a little eerie, actually. And dangerous – people walking along the side of the road were almost invisible in the dusk.
That explained why he didn’t even see the young woman until he was almost next to her.
She was walking at a leisurely pace, almost a mosey, really, but something about her said that she was on a mission … or more properly, that she had been walking for a really long time and was only moving now out of sheer determination to reach her destination. She was wearing ordinary clothes but no jacket, and since night was falling, he was sure she’d be too cold. His heart went out to her, and he decided to pull over and offer her a ride. Since he was a solitary man, he imagined she would refuse his offer out of safety concerns, but he couldn’t in good conscience leave her there; he could bring her to town, at least, and make sure she wasn’t stuck on a deserted road.
He stopped on the shoulder of the road and rolled down his window. The woman was only a few yards from the car. She neither paused nor sped up when she saw him, but came directly to the window and stared at him through dark sunglasses, her face devoid of any particular emotion.
“I just wondered if you needed a ride?” he said hesitantly, not sure what to make of her demeanor.
“I need to get into your car,” she said in a quiet, monotone voice. “Can I get into your car?”
For no reason that he could understand, he realized suddenly that he didn’t want her to get into his car. “I just pulled over to see if you needed anything,” he said, amending his earlier statement; he was embarrassed to have offered something that now seemed very important not to give.
“I need to get into your car,” she repeated. Her eyes, black behind the sunglasses, never blinked that he could see. “Can I get into your car?” She took a step closer to the car, so that she was pressed up against the door. “I need you to let me in.”
He reached down and began rolling up the window. “I’m sorry,” he said. He really was. She looked so tired, and she certainly could have used a jacket, and she was a young woman walking alone at night in the middle of nowhere. He didn’t want to leave her there.
But something told him not to let her in to the car.
“I’ll let them know you’re out here,” he said. “They’ll help you.” He carefully drove the car around her and back onto the highway; a moment later, he looked in the rear-view mirror for her, expecting for some reason that she would still be right beside the car.
She was walking along the road, right where he had left her.
He couldn’t say in words what had disturbed him about her, but he felt overwhelming relief to be putting distance between them. When he got to town, he would go to the sheriff and tell someone there that she was out on the road all alone; if she needed anything, they’d be able to take care of her.
He checked the mirror again: she was where he’d left her.
After telling the sheriff about her, he would go to the movies. Maybe two movies. And a late supper somewhere. And maybe when he came home, he’d take the back road.