The car smelled of old vinyl and stale
cigarettes. Molly tried opening her window, but the crank was broken. She sliced her palm
on the butt of it. An empty airplane bottle of bourbon rolled on the floor by her feet.
"Where to?" Randal said, struggling into the
low drivers seat.
Molly made herself small, shoulders hunched, arms
crossed over her chest. "Old Town."
His tongue slid out of his mouth like a dogs.
"You live in one of those big houses?"
The keys slipped from Randals hand to the floor
of the car, and he struggled to retrieve them, grunting as he bent, fumbling to grasp the
scant key chain.
"Do you want me to drive?" Molly asked,
although she possessed only a learners permit and had never driven a stick shift.
She wished she knew what time it was. Had to be after
two, maybe more like four. No way to know. Randal had no clock, not in his apartment, not
in his car, not on his wrist. Shed not worn her own watch tonight, too clunky and
sporty for Adams birthday.
"What kind of music you like?" Randal asked
as the car jerked out of the parking lot.
"Any kind. I dont know."
Out the window, the night passed by in a blur
darkened strip malls, blinking stop lights, occasional cars. She still felt woozy from the
rum, but throwing up had helped, cleared her mind a little anyway. This area of town was
unfamiliar to her, although some of the sights were the same. Walgreens, Amaco,
McDonald's. The same but different. Dirtier.
"This is my favorite song," Randal said,
tapping his finger against the car radio.
She nodded. "I like it too." Shed not
heard it before, hated country.
Mollys friends were at a slumber party. Sort of
a soccer-team bonding thing after their winning season. Shed skipped it for
Adams birthday, but hadnt had the nerve to tell the girls. Feelings would be
hurt over it, but shed come up with an excuse. Parents grounded her. Grandma came to
town. Stomach flu. She pictured her friends now, watching at least the third of five Friday
the 13ths. The goal was all five. While Randal swung his head to the crooning on the
radio, Mollys head filled with images of flannel pajamas and ghost stories.
She thought too about Adam, the boyfriend, lying
curled on Randals carpet, naked except for pale blue boxer shorts, the side of his
head pressed into a puddle of bile. She hadnt told him good night.
"How long you been with Adam?"
Molly could feel the muscles in her back spasm.
"Seven and a half weeks about."
"Long time. Do you love him?"
"Yes," she said, although she hadnt
thought of it before and wasnt sure if it were true. Randals voice was so
strange thats the thing she was thinking about. A thin, raspy whisper. Speak
up, man, she wanted to say, the way her father demanded of her brother when he
"Have you made love to him?" Randal glanced
at her, his droopy eyes circling her face.
Home, she thought. Please. Her parents
would be waiting for her, watching out the window in their bathrobes. She would have to
explain who this strange, scruffy man was dropping her off in his ramshackle Chevy Nova.
Adams uncle? She hoped they wouldnt come out to the car. Maybe shed get
dropped off down the street.
"You didnt answer," Randal said.
Her mind staggered, searching in the dark for the
smart answer. Who did he want her to be? What was safer? An innocent, prudish Catholic
girl, or a loose teen? "I dont know
" She was maybe going to say,
"I dont know if we should talk about that," but was afraid.
Randal exploded in laughter.
Hours ago, Adam had undressed her on top of
Randals unmade bed. It was a moment she hadnt anticipated, but after the
Captain Morgans, shed lost track of things, like she was swimming under murky
water. Details had been blurred, unfamiliar the ceiling light above her, the yellow
stain on the wall, the fuzzy voices coming from the television. As he touched her in
places she hadnt been touched before, it was as if she was watching him from above,
like she wasnt actually there herself. She could see her pale body, skinny and
awkward, not woman but not little girl either. Then he got sick. After that, Mollys
memory thinned out into flashing images: vomiting side-by-side with Adam into a
rancid toilet, a broken record player, a plump, unfamiliar man sitting on the edge of the
bed swilling the leftover rum. When she awakened to find him there, hed said,
"Youre just like Sophie."
Focusing her attention out the window, Molly noticed
how dark it had become since theyd turned onto the two-lane highway back to the
north side of town. She squinted to see the passing trees and small homes lining the road.
Surrounded by the opaque night, Molly had the strange sense that she and Randal were the
only living people on earth.
"Adam didnt tell me you were rich,"
Randal said. "He never told me you were pretty either."
Molly turned her head towards Randal, noticing the
outline of a jagged scar across his nose and cheekbone. "How long have you worked
with Adam?" she asked, knowing already that Randal was on his third week at the Pizza
Barn where Adam bussed tables on Monday nights and Saturday lunches.
"Long time," he said, nodding thoughtfully.
"Hes a good boy. Stick with him. Hed make a good husband." Randal
squeezed his face into a tight grimace.
She wondered at his expression, so loaded with
emotion, and found herself gripping the door handle. She hated the sight of emotion,
anyones, particularly a grown man in too-close proximity. She turned her body away
from him, as if something outside the window had interested her and she was twisting to
"I shouldnt do this," Randal said,
shaking his head angrily.
Do what? Molly wondered, but didnt ask.
"Cant afford another DUI. Means jail."
He pounded the horn. "No."
Molly put her fingers to her mouth, pressing her upper
lip against teeth. Half an hour earlier, shed called home from the laundry room of
Randals apartment building. Under the florescent lights of the sour-smelling room,
shed delivered a sloppy excuse to her father about a broken-down car and a cousin on
the way. Randal had stood by, smoking a cigarette and watching her.
"Ill be home soon, Dad," she said,
hanging up quickly as if the receiver was hot to the touch. Shed turned to
Randal, staring into the spot just over his head. "Can you take me home?"
Hed scratched his scalp through his mesh Pizza
Barn ball cap. After taking a thoughtful drag from his cigarette, he touched her elbow and
said, "Why not?"
She should have called a cab. Only now did it occur to
her. She thought of her older brother, always aggravated with her. "How can someone
with so much book smart have so little common sense?" Hed said this after she
poured motor oil through a funnel into his gas tank, thinking she was doing a nice thing
for her big bro, giving him a little extra fuel for his drive back to college. How was she
supposed to know that oil was not what came out of the pumps at the gas station? In the
end, that error in judgment was funny. This one getting herself stuck in a car with
a strange, drunk man on a dark country highway was not.
In a quiet, rickety voice, she said, "Youre
driving really well. You wont get pulled over."
Randal nodded, looking hard at her. "Okay."
In the meantime, hed slowed to twenty-five miles
"Thanks for taking me," she said. "I
He smiled, nodded.
"Ill pay for your gas. And trouble."
"Do you think you should go a little
"Nah." He laughed, turned his blinker on,
and turned onto a narrow lane so inky black that once he turned the lights off, Molly
couldnt see her hand in front of her face, or his hand for that matter, and so when
it landed on her shoulder, she gasped.
She had thought Adam was planning a birthday dinner at
a restaurant for their date. Shed brought money to pay for both dinners, and worn a
sundress, hair curled. Their journey to a strangers apartment on the south side of
town had come as a surprise, as had the Captain Morgans that lay waiting on top of
the TV with a note saying, "Happy Birthday, pal. Be good. Ha, Ha. Randal."
Molly couldnt object, didnt want to seem
prissy or high maintenance. Theyd ordered pizza, watched TV, mixed the rum with
grape soda, and made out on the bed. Molly played cool, pretending to ignore the smell of
mildew in the bed sheets and the stickiness of the carpet on her bare feet. It was
Randals hand slid down from her shoulder. She
wasnt a priss but this was different. His fingers lingered at her elbow and
then traveled lightly over the front to her dress. She froze. She didnt stand a
chance fighting, or giving in. Screaming would do no good. No one nearby to hear. No
breath to scream.
"Do you like this?" he said. He put his
other hand just under her dress, pressing against the inside of her leg. "This?"
Her body trembled. She thought of her parents, wanted
them, but didnt. Who could save her?
"I dont think this is a good idea,"
"Whys that?" His fingers moved higher
onto her thigh.
She didnt know why, couldnt think that
straight, her mind casting about wildly for a reason. She could only think of his fingers,
thick against her leg. "Adam, you know
"I mean, I like you, but .. . Im with
Randal cocked his head.
"I love him," she said.
"And thats why I should stop?" Randal
drummed his fingers. "Out of your loyalty to Adam?"
She smelled a rank sweetness in his breath, his face
close to her. "I dont want to cheat on him."
"So, if not for Adam, my touch
reached his hand down the neck of her sundress, "would feel welcome? Youd let
me turn you inside out? Let me teach you ninety-nine ways to reach the Promised Land,
nirvana, ecstasy?" He prodded her with his fingers.
Mollys gums and the tip of her nose felt numb.
She wished she could see, the darkness intensifying her vulnerability.
"Why do you lie to me, Sophie?" Randal
yanked both hands away and slapped the dash.
Sophie? Molly felt as if another stranger had entered
Reaching toward her again, Randal held Mollys
head by the ears, his face an nch from hers. "Tell me what you want. Look inside and
tell me whats in your heart more than anything else."
His face was fading from her dim vision, its black
silhouette blurring into deeper darkness.
"Tell me." His hands were shaking. Spit
sprayed into her face. Poking her chest with his index finger, he said, "Whats
"I want to go home," she said.
He let go of her ears and sat back in his seat.
She was doomed, she knew it. Now he would rape and
"Okay. What else?"
There was a whining and ticking in the engine.
Crickets screamed outside. Molly wondered if anyone even lived on this street, or if it
was simply a place for murderers and their victims.
"What else?" he said again.
She didnt know what he meant.
"Why didnt you say so?"
Her skull hummed and tingled.
Randal turned the engine over, backed up, and turned
the car back to the main road.
Molly wasnt sure what had happened, had no idea
whether she was safe now, whether the Nova was pointing home or toward a better place for
Randal turned the radio up. An ad for a dating service
blasted from the speakers. He pressed it off.
He was driving north that was a good sign.
"Im sorry I did that to you," Randal
His strange whisper was different now deflated,
sweet. Who was this person? Her hollow understanding of him made her feel ungrounded,
"Its okay," she said.
"Really? Its okay?" He laughed, licked
his lips. "So I could do it again? I could pull off on the next dirt road and squeeze
your little titties again?"
Satan. She hated him as much as she feared him, tired
of his riddles, his lunatic questions. "I need to get home. My parents are
"Now thats the reason? What about your
undying devotion to Adam?"
She held her elbows in close to her chest.
"Why dont you say what you mean?" He
turned the radio back on. It was the same crooning country song theyd heard half an
hour ago. "Its my lucky night. Twice now." He stopped talking and drove.
Two lanes became four after the blinking light that
signaled the end of the county highway. On the left, they passed her church. In the fog of
the late hour, the Gothic structure looked eerie. Shed be back there for mass in
only a few hours assuming she wasnt mangled in the woods at Wagner Park or on
some other abandoned dirt road. Molly thought to pray but was too distracted, worried
about Randals intentions, and, as they neared home, about what shed tell her
parents should she make it. She wished shed gone to the slumber party.
At the red light just past the train tracks, Randal
stopped, leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes.
"This is a long light," he said. It was
true. Her parents both complained about it every time either was stopped here. Should she
get the nerve to jump out, this would be the place.
She pushed her hair away from her eyes. Her mother had
insisted she grow her bangs out, said the weight of them on Mollys forehead was
causing acne. It was a pain, the awkward clump of hair always hanging down in her face,
worse than the bangs which shed actually liked.
The light turned green, but the car remained still.
Molly turned to Randal and saw his chest rise and fall, the streetlight illuminating his
pale, jaundiced face, his whiskers black and oily. Was he asleep, his mouth half open, his
Seeming to sense her eyes on him, Randal raised his
head. "I know you," he said.
His lids still closed, Molly feared he was talking in
his sleep. She didnt want to shake him, didnt want to touch him. She gripped
the door handle.
"Trying to be all things to all people. Your
parents must be very proud. Sweet, well-mannered, agreeable. Teachers eat you up. Good
student, Id bet." He looked at her with a sudden sharpness. "Am I
"The lights green," she said.
He didnt move. "You do your homework every
night, raise your hand in class. Polite and eager. Am I right?"
"I guess," she said. "The light
Not true, she thought to herself, her jaw
tight. Shed read Emerson and Thoreau in English, and she knew all about stamping out
conformity, marching to the beat of her own drummer. Maybe hers wasnt much different
from the crowds, but that didnt make her any less real or alive.
"Popular with your friends," Randal
continued. He accelerated through the cross street, still looking at her rather than the
road. "Boyfriends will love you. Youll put out without being a slut. Cold and
stiff as a dead fish though, fighting inside yourself rather than feeling what youre
supposed to feel."
He was speeding now. Be quiet and watch the road,
she wanted to say. They were nearing her house. This would be over soon.
"Adam," he said. "You love him?"
"Really? Are you worried about him? Unconscious
on the floor of my apartment? Have you thought of him?"
Asleep, she thought. Not unconscious. Hed be
okay. Maybe it wasnt "love love," like the real thing, but she liked Adam.
She didnt dislike him anyway. He was more like an experiment in having a boyfriend.
"Do you know what love is?" Randal spoke
Molly nodded, thinking of her music appreciation
teacher. She loved him most, but he always blanked on her name. She was the only student
he could never get right. Hed finally stopped trying and just said, "Yes,"
when she raised her hand.
"How could you know love?" Randal said,
shaking his head. "Twenty years from now, youll be married, kids of your own,
and youll be miserable without even knowing it because your whole life, you never
learned to say what was on your mind. You never even knew your mind."
She wanted to tell him he didnt know her at all.
"I feel sorry for you," he said, turning the
radio off again, another commercial.
She tried not to look at him, but the silence got to
her, and glancing toward him, she was frightened to see his face wet, his eyes puddled.
Out the window, the trees were becoming mature and
manicured, the houses and lawns bigger with each passing block. Her pulse pounded at her
temples. Please dont cry.
"Youll be turning left at the
round-about," she said.
"Youve got everything going for you,
everything a person could ever want, but still, I wouldnt take your life for a
million bucks." He licked his lip. Tears dripped off his chin. "Its no
"Down here on the right. Or, you can stop here.
Ill walk the rest of the way."
Her house was just three away. She could see her
parents standing on the porch, arms crossed over their chests identically, not in their
bathrobes as shed imagined, but fully dressed.
Randal stopped the car, and Molly yanked at the
handle, relieved that in the end, it was easy. Take one step out of the car, shut the
door, wave, walk home. Her parents would think it strange she was dropped off down the
street. Shed make an excuse maybe Adams mom drove her home in her
nightgown and, seeing Mollys parents on the porch, was too embarrassed to meet them.
"No," Randal said, slapping his hand over
her arm as she stepped out, his thick fingers just above her wrist.
Molly tried pulling free, but Randals grip
"Shut the door," he said.
Her parents had seen her and were mobilizing,
deliberating, she could see it in their gestures should they both go, should they
bring the mace, a golf club?
Randal turned off the lights.
The neighborhood, her family included, had fought
streetlights, said they cheapened the aspect of the street. Now, for the second time that
night, she sat with Randal in blackness.
"I said I would take you home," Randal said,
"And I will. But listen to me." His whisper was liquid and sticky.
"Im not a bad guy."
"I know," she said.
Randal pounded the steering wheel. "One true
thing. I just want you to say one true thing before you go. One. Can you?"
She could hear his breath catching. His grip remained
tight enough to bruise her arm. A minute might have gone by. She couldnt think. The
silence, his breathing, weakened her.
"Thank you for the ride," she finally said.
"You cant do it." He shook her arm.
"One true thing."
"Ow? Thats all the truth you have?
Ow?" He let go of her, and placed his palm on his forehead. "You are in so much
The interior light shined a dull yellow when the door
opened. Mollys father stood at athletic stance, as if preparing to return serve,
wearing his summer khakis and a red plaid shirt. Her mother stayed ten feet back, her hand
in the pockets of her Bermuda shorts.
The crickets bleated absurdly, their grand finale
before daylight would silence them. Somebodys dog barked, probably the
Nobody moved. Randal only half looked at Mollys
father, his head pointing down and slightly to the side. Her fathers eyes shifted
back and forth.
"Dad, this is Randal," Molly said.
Her father stood taller, leaning onto one foot.
"He took me home."
isHHis hands fell to his side, sliding awkwardly into
the pockets of his slacks.
"Hes Adams uncle."
Molly moved her gaze towards Randal. A grimace passed
across his face.
"We dropped Adam off already." Molly spoke
quickly about the late movie and Adams car that wouldnt start despite the many
labored efforts. Friends with jumper cables, etc
Randal nice enough to come in the
middle of the night to pick them up.
Her fathers shoulders loosened, and her mother
took steps toward the car. They reached to shake Randals limp, plump hand through
the car door. Mollys dad apologized for his aggressive entrance. "You can never
be too protective when it comes to daughters," he explained.
"Of course." Randal nodded and looked at
Molly with a sad sideways glance.
"Please let us give you something for gas,"
Mollys mother said.
Thumbing through his wallet, her husband removed a
twenty, having nothing smaller, and gave it to Randal, who crumpled it in his hand and
stuffed it into his pocket.
Molly watched this exchange, wondering at her
parents insincerity, recognizing it as her own. There it was one true thing.
She stepped out of the car, and for a moment, all
parties remained frozen, as if reluctant to end this affair. Her father put his arm around
Molly, and her mother linked elbows on the other side. In a strange flash, it occurred to
Molly that she was closer to her soccer coach than to her parents. She wasnt very
close to her soccer coach. Another true thing.
"Thanks again," Molly said, and Randal
stared at her as if trying to remember who she was.
Finally, he smiled, his stained teeth gleaming yellow.
"You bet," he said and winked.
She considered what it meant to be turned inside-out.
When hed pressed her inner thigh, it tickled in a way that felt more good than bad.
Her father coughed.
"Great kid," Randal said. "Must be
Mollys parents nodded vigorously, in unison,
like they always did at soccer games and music recitals.
Molly didnt like soccer. She didnt like
piano either. She did like bangs.
Randal smiled and shook hands again before driving
away in the wrong direction. Hed come to a cul-de-sac soon and turn around.
"Hes got a broken tail light,"
Mollys father said before turning to her, his hands back inside his pockets.
"No more Adam."
Her mom nodded apologetically behind him.
"Okay," she said. She thought of Randal,
filled with rum, driving the dark neighborhood, sleepiness in his eyelids. He was
still with her, in her bones, weighing her down as if with warm cement, thick with gray