You haven't missed much. Our story's unnamed narrator just "rescued" a beautiful woman from an overly friendly guy at a truck stop in Iowa, by posing as her husband.
And it's January, 1996.
* * * * *
Ordinarily, I would have walked around and opened the door for her, but my twisted sense of humor said “Hey, we're supposed to be married,” and I threw the keys to her instead. She got in as I said “Lock it.” She did so. My driver's side door was still locked -- with me on the outside -- as Bob approached.
He was a good head taller than I was. Oboy.
“Hey, about what happened in there,” he began, “I didn't mean nothin'. I didn't know she was your wife, dude.” He extended his hand to shake mine.
I braced for a sucker punch (which never came) even as I reached out to accept his handshake. I smiled. “No problem. She's such a doll, she gets hit on a lot.”
He laughed. “I'll bet! You must have your hands full with that one.”
“Nahhh, she's great... except for the smoking thing.” I briefly thought of showing him "my" empty ashtray -- my sister Julie didn't smoke, nor allow smoking in her car -- "proving" that "Sue" wouldn't let me smoke in "my" car, but decided not to push the act any further.
Bob laughed again, and ambled back toward the restaurant.
I knocked on the window, and “Sue” unlocked the door. I got in. “Okay, now what?” she demanded.
“I'm not sure, Sue...”
“And you can stop calling me that,” she interjected, somewhat cheerfully.
“Well, okay then. What's your real name?”
“Hm. Kinda old-fashioned.”
“Like that's your business?” She laughed; I shrugged. “Anyway... My friends call me Eve. Or Evie.”
“And I'm... Woody.”
“Woody?” she repeated, almost laughing.
“Yeah. It's a nickname, obviously...”
“Obviously! Short for Woodrow?”
She thought for a moment. “Are you a musician?”
"What the hell makes you ask that?"
"I don't know. Woody Guthrie, Woody Herman..." She thought again. "Are you a cartoon fan?" I stared at her quizzically. "I just thought, Woody Woodpecker, maybe?"
"I got the name in high school, and I don't really care to discuss it, okay?" I snapped. I wondered if she could see that I was blushing in the darkness of the car's interior.
"Oh. Okay. Whatever. So... now what?" she repeated. "Can I get out now?"
I looked at the restaurant again. "I suppose it's safe, but if Bob sees you drive off..."
"Don't be so paranoid. What do you think he'll do, jump in his pick-up truck and chase you?"
"Maybe it's not me that I'm worried about!"
"I can handle myself," she said defensively.
"Yeah, you look really tough. Lemme guess, you were a lady wrestler back in the fifties?"
She looked offended to the point of being insulted. "How old do you think I am?!?"
"Easy, easy! It was just a freaking joke!"
"Oh, okay." She paused. "How old do I look?"
I snapped the car's interior light on, which took our eyes a few seconds to adjust to, and briefly studied her face. Oddly, she looked younger -- and even prettier -- when close up. I say "oddly," because it's usually the opposite, if you know what I mean.
I judged her to be about thirty, at the oldest. So, typically for me, I shaved a couple of years off of that and replied accordingly. "Maybe twenty-seven, twenty-eight?"
She smiled. "I'm thirty-five."
"Well, you don't look it," I said, truthfully. And for some unknown reason, I couldn't resist adding, "And I'll tell you something else, doll. You're really beautiful."
I figured that would get another smile out of her, but instead, she kinda slid back toward the passenger-side door. Did I say "toward?" Hell, if she'd slid any further away from me, she would have been outside the car!
"Okay, Woody, I'd better get out now."
"Well, thanks again, for running interference for me. That was... sweet."
I smirked. "Sweet? That's a new one for me."
She unlocked and opened her door. "Well, it was sweet. Nice meeting you, Woody. Good night."
As Eve walked to her station wagon and got in, I rolled down my window and finally lit a cigarette, ignoring my sister's "no smoking in the car" rule. I tipped the seat back as much as the two-seater Corvette would allow and closed my eyes, with my left arm (and the evil "cancer stick") dangling out of the window.
I heard Eve's engine turn over... but not start.
It turned over again and again. Her battery was fine, I could tell. Maybe it was the starter, I thought, or maybe the damned thing just needed a tune-up, like my own did (which is why I'd borrowed Julie's car to begin with).
Eve stopped trying to start it for a minute or two, then attempted it again. Same results. No go. Sounded great, but wouldn't kick in.
She tried a couple more times after short intervals of not trying. By then, I'd finished my cigarette and gotten out of the car.
As I walked over to her, I saw that she'd opened her door a bit. Her interior light was on, and she was crying.
"Hey, Eve," I said, startling her for a moment, "Need some help?" She looked up at me with a "what a dumb question" kinda look. "It's probably the starter," I offered. "There's a pay phone inside the restaurant. Why don't you just call your husband?"
She glared at me like I'd just asked her to pose for some nude Polaroids. Okay, bad idea, I thought. "Well, with all these truckers parked here for the night, I'm sure you can find a mechanic."
"I don't need a mechanic. Besides, what about Big Bob? Sure you want to blow your cover with him?"
"Our cover, you mean... And frankly, I don't give a damn at this point. I'm more concerned about you."
She slammed her fists against the steering wheel. "I don't need a mechanic," she repeated firmly. "And it's not the starter."
"Look, I don't know much about cars..."
"Well, I do. Maybe more than you do!" she said defiantly, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands.
"Maybe so," I agreed, shrugging. "I mean, if you know more than how to change a tire and top off the fluid levels..."
"I'm out of gas!" she exclaimed, laughing bitterly.
"Well, for cryin' out loud, Eve, they must sell gas here..." I thought for a second. "Hm. Maybe only diesel. Anyway, we could ask."
She started crying again, soundlessly. "I... can't pay for gas. I'm broke. I'm totally broke." I noticed that a few fresh snowflakes had hit her windshield. Terrific. "That's why I only had coffee in there," she continued. "I couldn't afford anything else, not even toast!"
It occurred to me that I'd ended up paying for my "wife's" coffee, but I didn't correct her, of course.
I thought about my own finances. They were low, sure, but not that low. "I could buy you a few gallons, enough to get you wherever you're going."
She looked at me suspiciously. "And why would you do that for me? What would you expect in return?"
"Are you kidding? For three or four bucks worth of gas? All I'd 'expect' is a 'thank you.' Wow, give me some credit!"
"Sorry. But... I couldn't let you do that anyway."
"Yes, you could. Just enough to get you to wherever you're going, like I said."
Eve rested her head against the steering wheel and whimpered something.
"I'm sorry, Eve, but... What did you say?"
She raised her head and looked up at me plaintively. "I don't even know where I'm going!"
"Oh! Well... Truth be told, neither do I. I don't have a hell of a lot of money on me. I was going to sleep in my car, in this lot tonight! You could do that, too."
"You'll freeze to death! And so would I, if I tried something that silly!"
"Nonsense. Whenever I got really cold, I'd just run the heater, and so could..." I stopped right there. A car's heater will only blow cold air, unless the engine itself is warm. And you can't warm up an engine that won't start, no matter how good your battery is.
Eve stared at me with a grim smile that told me she was reading my mind.
"Okay, here's your choice, doll." I pointed toward the restaurant. "You can -- that is, we can -- go back inside and ask for help, which would probably mean that someone else will give you the hand-out you wouldn't accept from me..." I regretted the use of the term "hand-out" the instant I said it, by the way.
"Or, you can sleep in my car, with me." Her eyebrows rose slightly at the implication of "sleep with me." I laughed. "Oh come on, now, Eve, you know what I meant! Besides, Corvettes themselves may be chick magnets, but there's no way in hell to get laid in one of them!" She laughed and nodded. "We'd both have to sleep sitting up, actually. But it's better than nothing."
Eve nodded again. "Okay, okay. Just give me a couple of minutes, and I'll be over there soon."
That was weird, I thought, but I just nodded and went over to start Julie's 'vette, figuring that Eve and I should start the night off with a warm car. There was already a thick layer of snow on the car when I got inside.
I couldn't start the heater for a couple of minutes anyway, so I lit another cigarette. I almost had time to smoke the whole damned thing before Eve finally came over and got in. I'd already rolled up my window, after extinguishing the Winston in the snow on the windshield, and started the heater.
I frowned at her. "What on earth took you so long?" She didn't answer. "Did you want to fix your make-up, so you'd look pretty for me?" Eve's eyes narrowed. "Lighten up, doll, it was just a joke."
"What is it with this 'doll' bit? Who do you think you are, Bogart?"
I put the soggy cigarette clincher in my mouth, and in a passable (but not great) Bogart impression, said, "Whatever you shay, shweetheart!"
She rolled her eyes.
"Is my Bogart that bad?" I asked, smiling.
"Well, it's not terrible, but... Maybe the mustache hurts the look. You resemble William Powell more than Bogart."
Hm. I was liking this Eve more by the minute. She was beautiful, quick-witted, and evidently familiar with classic movies. She also used my "comparison with a celebrity" short-cut for descriptions! And she apparently knew more about cars than I did. I liked a lot of her qualities, I realized... except for one, of course.
The big one. The "married" one.
We were both quiet for a while. Then, she broke the silence. "Well, if you must know," she began, as if I'd been nagging her, "I had to take my bra off!" I blinked. "I can't sleep with my bra on. I never could. Too darned uncomfortable."
"But you can sleep wearing everything else that you have on right now?" By that, I meant the frilly blouse, the brown jacket, and her winter coat.
"I don't know whether to believe that you took off your bra or not," I teased. "Prove it."
This time, finally, she knew I was only kidding. "Yeah, sure, like I'm going to flash my boobs at you? Dream on, Woody!"
I smiled at her and said, "Speaking of dreaming, you should get some sleep, doll."
"What about you?" she asked, with a touch of suspicion in her voice.
"I'm waiting until this damned car warms up, so I can shut off the engine, and the heater. Why, do you think I'm gonna wait until you fall asleep so I can sneak a peek at your beautiful braless boobs?"
Half-seriously, she replied, "Well, stranger things have happened." I don't know what kind of look she saw on my face just then, but she shrugged and added, "Sorry." She took a pair of mittens out of her coat pockets and put them on. "How long does it take for this stupid car to warm up?"
"You mean, you don't know?"
"Well, it's not my car." Her eyes got wide; maybe she was thinking I stole the freakin' thing! "It belongs to my sister, Julie."
"Get some sleep, doll." I thought for a second. "Hey, does it actually bother you when I call you that?"
"What, 'doll?' Oh, no. In fact, I kind of like it. It's cute. Good night, then, Woody." She did her best to get comfortable, and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, she was asleep.
I sat and waited for several more minutes before I realized what was, by then, obvious: The heater in Julie's Corvette sucked. It was totally useless!
Now what should I do?
TO BE CONTINUED