I was 18 and the front desk clerk in a remote hotel. He was in his 30s, leaning on the counter, telling me about the car he’d driven down to the conference in this godforsaken corner of the mountains, a new Mustang. I had a thing for muscle cars, but didn’t let on.
He, self-assured, drunk with his own magnificence, asked, “When do you get off work?”
This happened a lot. There is something about serving staff that certain people on vacation, or worse, a work trip, cannot resist. One had even kissed me on the mouth once, through my little window, without invitation. So the question didn’t surprise me.
"Oh, it’ll be a while," I said, not interested in giving him any confidence. "I think you’ll be in that dinner meeting."
He winked and walked away.
I was leaving town in a few weeks and felt lighter than air, and anyway still held onto the last wisps of teenage immortality. When I clocked out a few hours later, he was outside with his work buddies, laughing, and looked over as I padded by in my stocking feet, heels swinging from one hand.
"You ready for that ride?"
He was several drinks the worse for wear, but didn’t seem particularly dangerous, in my naive estimation. I smiled and tipped my head to one side. “How about if I drive?”
He grinned. “Works for me.”
We walked out into the dark. A gleaming silver fish swam into view, and he tossed me the keys over the hood.
I got into this strange man’s car without much thought, and he got in beside me. The engine roared to life, then purred at idle. I’d never sat behind the wheel of a new car, or even a decently maintained car. I felt like a millionaire.
We peeled out of the parking lot and onto the winding mountain roads.
"Where’re you from?"
"Vermont. Hey, how old are you?"
I downshifted and held the line into a hairpin curve. A stick shift: bonus. “Handles nice.” He was silent in the passenger seat, watching the road. His eyebrows went up and a hand gripped the smooth leather seat as we barrelled around a high curve overlooking a vine-choked ravine. Damn, the thing handled like a dream.
We took the straightaway at an even 75, the engine rumbling beneath us, the steering wheel an extension of my body, the road a map of the land that loved me. I could go anywhere.
But not like this. I braked and spun the wheel, pointing the car back the way we’d come in a low fog of rubber on the empty road. The man next to me smiled weakly in my direction, hands in his lap, not meeting my eyes. We roared off, back down the twisty mountain path, known to me since birth, his only briefly and less benevolent than he’d imagined.