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When the car fluttered, and seemed to be making a clunking sound, the next thing I knew, I was pulling over. My heart was racing.
As I steered the car off to the side of the road, I bit down on my bottom lip. I allowed it to decelerate before I brought it to a complete stop. By the time I jumped out, the car had started smoking. I didn’t know if the thing was gonna blow or not.
“Dammit! Now what?” I sighed.
I glanced around in both directions and could barely see a few feet in front of me. The hiss from the engine had me completely spooked. It was pitch-black outside and besides the sounds from the engine, the only other sounds I heard for miles were crickets and grasshoppers. What little I could see was only visible because I didn’t turn off the headlights.
I shivered from the cool February night air, but trembled at the thought of becoming road kill. Here I was on a deserted, two-lane road out in the middle of nowhere!
Since I had to get Mona there before eight, it was already dark and I didn’t feel good about being out here all alone. I wasn’t sure if I should try to walk back toward Hempstead, where I thought I remembered a convenience store, or take my chances and walk up toward Prairie View University.
In the hour or so that I’d been trying to make up my mind, only two cars had passed along on Highway 290. During that time, I tried to flag them down with no luck and I was trying to see if the car might cool off. When it didn’t, I was more than pissed. Brendon would be fussing by the time I finally made it home. Whenever he was home alone with all three kids, he acted like he forgot how to father.
Suddenly what looked like a familiar car came swooshing past me. I shook thoughts from my mind; no way that was who I thought it was. I had only been stranded for a little more than an hour and I was already getting delusional. Only in my dreams would someone I know be way out here just when I needed them.
I looked back at the car that was still smoking and decided to leave it. Since it hadn’t exploded, I walked back over, removed the key from the ignition, and put it near the middle console.
“Oh, well, guess I’ll send a wrecker for it when I make it to the university.”
I flung my purse over my left shoulder and started walking toward Prairie View University. With my luck, I’d make it before sunup the next day.
Less than twenty minutes later, the candy-apple 1964 Chevy Impala on spinners that first zoomed by going east was now headed west and slowing as it pulled up alongside me.
“Q, that you? What you doing way out here?” I asked, feeling so happy I could kiss him. For the first time since the breakdown, my night didn’t seem as bleak.
“Whassup, Ma?” Quenton said.
Quenton Tolland and I went to Yates High School together. He had been up to no good since he could walk and talk, but at this very moment, I was so glad to see him and his sidekick, Trey, I didn’t know what to do. It’s not like I was about to marry the guy. I needed a ride, and he had wheels.
“Looks like you need a lift,” Q said.
“Do I! Mona’s car broke down on me a few miles back. Did you know it was me when you passed the first time?” I asked.
Trey looked uneasy, but I never liked him anyway, and I suspected he didn’t care for me too much either. Knowing him, he probably tried to talk Quenton out of turning around and coming back for me.
“Girl, I’d know you anywhere,” Q joked.
I really didn’t care whether he realized it was me or some chick he was about to try and pick up. I was simply glad he turned around.
“Believe me, playboy...this ain’t the business,” Trey said with his creepy-looking self.
“Aw, dawg, chill. Hope is the homegirl from the neighborhood,” Q said. He turned back to me. “C’mon, hop in; we kinda in a hurry.”
“Well, I’m real glad you stopped then. What’s the hurry, and what y’all doing way out here anyway?” I asked.
“Whassup with all these damn questions; you working with the Feds or what?” Trey asked. He looked at me like I’d stolen something from him.
Trey, whose last name I didn’t care to know, had big, dark eyes that made him look like he was always surprised. Other than that, his face never had any expression. He was chubby with fat cheeks and had a massive scar that ran from his left ear to the edge of his mouth. It looked like he was on the losing end of one too many knife fights.
I ignored Trey and quickly shuffled into the backseat of Q’s car. I was glad they’d come along when they did.
“So Q, how’s your mom and your sister?”
Quenton was cute. He was small, but growing up he was known for his quick temper and being short on patience; most times if he had trouble, it was because he started it.
“The fam’s good.” Right when he was about to turn the radio back up, three police cruisers whizzed by with their strobe lights flashing and sirens blaring.
“Dang, where’s the fire?” I looked at the cars through the back window. “I’m glad we’re going away from the drama; whatever’s going on.”
I turned my head in time to see Trey exchange an odd look with Quenton, but that was none of my business. I figured Trey was probably still salty about them turning back for me.
“Yo, Hope, what’s up with your girl Stacy? Why she act like she all too good and shit?” Trey said.
I started to ignore him, but didn’t want to start anything after they’d helped me out with a ride. I wanted to say, “Really, Trey, are you serious?”
“Stacy’s married,” I replied instead.
Two more cruisers swooshed past us. I noticed Q’s eyes glance up to the rearview mirror, and it looked like he watched until the cruisers were only taillights and strobe lights in the dark night.
At that moment, my purse toppled over and most of my stuff spilled onto the floor. “Dammit!”
“What?” It was Q.
“No biggie; my stuff spilled out of my purse.” I quickly started feeling around on the floor of the car. I found my compact, my tube of lip balm, and the dead cell phone. I tossed them back into my purse, then felt around for the rest of my stuff.
“Oouch! What the hell is that?” I pulled my fingers to my mouth.
“Whassup?” Q asked.
“I don’t know. What’s under your seat, Trey? Something burned the heck out of my fingers.” I tried to examine my fingers, then sucked them again for relief.
Trey looked at Q and Q looked at me in the rearview mirror, but neither one said anything.
I went back to examining my fingers when suddenly Trey’s next words snapped my eyes onto the road ahead.
“Damn, dawg, what the fuck!”
My body jerked forward violently when Q unexpectedly stepped on the brakes. The tires screeched and it felt like we skidded to an abrupt stop. I didn’t know what was going on, but it didn’t look good.
Suddenly, my heart felt like it was also about to stop. I struggled to catch my breath while staring ahead with wide, worried eyes. There were at least three police cruisers blocking the road with their strobe lights on. If that wasn’t enough, officers stood behind open doors with their guns drawn and pointed directly at Q’s car.
The very car, I was riding in!
“Q, wh-what in the world is going on?”
“Shut the fuck up!” Trey turned and hollered at me. He had a menacing expression on his face. All of a sudden he bent down and started to reach under his seat.
Q held his arm out and stopped him. “Nah, big homie, just chill!”
“I told yo’ ass we ain’t had no business turning around for this chickenhead; now what?” He was fired up and I was confused.
“Who you calling a chickenhead?”
Now sirens were blaring from behind. One quick turn and the strobe lights were so bright it no longer looked like night outside. That’s when I realized how crucial the situation was, and I was petrified.
I swallowed the massive lump in my dry throat. My heart felt like it was about to give out on me, and my body went from dry to drenching wet with sweat in no time.
Suddenly, I got the eerie feeling that maybe I should’ve taken my chances alone on the side of the dark, rural road. There was no way for me to know how much of a grave mistake accepting that ride would turn out to be.