The cataclysmic moment that would prove a turning point in her life had not begun on a dark and stormy night. And while she’d been driving alone after midnight, she was not hunched over the wheel, peering nervously through a rain-spattered windshield while the rhythmic thumping of the wipers attempted to compete with a hauntingly foreboding cello piece on the radio.
Instead, she tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and sang loudly and off-key with a favorite R&B tune from her elementary school days. It was Flashback Friday on K102.6, and Color Me Badd was a welcome distraction from her exhaustion. She remembered singing the tune on the playground with her girlfriends in fifth grade. Granted, she hadn’t then understood what they meant when they sang about sexing someone up, but the beat had been lively and had served as more than one song choice for their pre-teen dance routines.
She blinked her eyes repeatedly, trying to eliminate the dry, grainy feeling that often accompanied eight-hour shifts after an eight-hour school day. Plus she’d been up late the night before studying for a Trigonometry test and a quiz on Hamlet. Her mother had begged her to cut back her hours at the café, but she needed the money for her prom dress that year.
“I wanna rub you down,” she belted out, laughing to herself. She wondered if anyone had found those particular lyrics romantic in the 1990s. Personally, she preferred the honest and forthright words of Bel Biv Davoe’s “Do Me.” No games there.
She rubbed her eyes and cringed at the scent of stale coffee that seemed to have deeply permeated her pores in the past year. She slapped her hand on her leg to keep herself awake. Then she cranked up the air conditioning. But the A/C in her little Chevette left something to be desired. Instead, she leaned restlessly toward the door and rolled down the window, enjoying the feeling of the hot, dry air against her face.
Her parents had bought a new home only a couple of years ago, and it had a great A/C system in it. Her room was always cool and comfortable, even in the hottest and most humid summer days. Even so, she kept an oscillating fan beside her bed so that she could feel the soft breeze while falling asleep listening to the gentle hum of the motor. She would give anything to be in her bed at that moment, finally able to close her eyes and sink into sleep.
A cool sensation caressed her skin, as though she had driven through a moist morning fog that gently misted her face and bare arms. She saw the windshield and road before her ripple slightly, as though a curtain of water now separated her from them.
And then she was staring at the ceiling of her bedroom.
Suddenly wide awake, she bolted upright. What had just happened? Her dreams were never particularly vivid. Certainly not that vivid. She mentally sifted through the events of the previous night, trying to remember the rest of her drive home. She made the trip often enough that she occasionally would pull in the driveway with the realization that the rest of the ride had passed in a blur. But this was different. She couldn’t remember anything from the night before.
There was Color Me Badd.
There was the rolling down of the window.
It had been dark.
She glanced at the window. It was still dark.
She turned to the alarm clock beside her bed and stared at the glowing red numbers. 12:09. That couldn’t be right. It was a twenty-eight minute drive through the country from the café in the city to her parents’ house in the suburbs. She’d been pulling out of the café parking lot at 11:56. Her clock was off. It had to be.
She reached for the lamp beside her bed and held her watch under the golden glow. Even before she could confirm the time, she realized that she was fully clothed on top of her bed. She even still wore her shoes from work.
And her watch read 12:09.
“What the hell?”
He took a deep drag off of the cigarette, holding the smoke in his lungs for a few seconds before exhaling slowly. He studied the curls of his breath and flicked the cigarette automatically. Tilting his head back against the old clapboard barn, he glanced up at the stars. The sky was full of them tonight, but he had never particularly cared one whit about the celestial bodies.
He glanced at his watch in disgust. He had four hours before his mother would wake him and order him to get up and help his dad. Four hours before he had to break his back shoveling slop and shit. Farming was his dad’s thing. He had other ideas.
He was going to be a preacher. The only thing that gave him any pleasure anymore was going to church. He’d look around the room and study all the sinners. Up front would be the Darnells, with him cheating on his wife and her drinking her sorrows away. Their oldest daughter was a notorious slut and their youngest son beat on his girlfriend on Tuesdays and every other Thursday. But they’d sit up front looking proper and singing loud for the benefit of the entire congregation. They weren’t fooling nobody. But Reverend Michaels never did anything but preach the word of the Lord. He never made them confess to their wicked ways.
Mama told him that confessing was for the Catholics in town, but what did she know? She was so ass blind that she worshipped her only daughter, a spawn of the Devil himself.
In the silence of the night, he heard a car approaching down the country highway that ran in front of his house. People took this road straight from the city into the suburbs, driving past at ungodly speeds.
As the car crested the hill and came into sight, he raised his cigarette to his lips again for one final drag. He was still exhaling slowly as he dug the heel of his boot into the dirt beside the barn. Kneeling, he took the time to carefully bury the evidence that would undoubtedly lead to an unnecessary and annoying argument with his mother.
While he knelt, a barely perceptible crackle filled the air around him, leaving him feeling unsettled, as though he had just missed something. He rose slowly, glancing back toward the house, half expecting his mother to come barreling down the front steps and marching across the yard.
The glare of the approaching high beams captured him as the car continued to bear down. Even as it left the blacktop and dipped down into his yard, he began to move. And his quick reflexes had him clear of the path made by the little Chevette that plowed into the side of his father’s barn.
He knew that the cacophony would raise his parents and bring them outside. But he was drawn to the site of the hole in the barn and the small smoking vehicle now parked haphazardly inside.
“Damn drunks,” he muttered, picking his way through the splintered wood.
Standing beside the vehicle, he was astonished to realize that there was no driver. Alarmed, he glanced around the barn for signs that someone had already emerged from the vehicle even while he had to admit that a driver couldn’t have possibly freed himself so rapidly.
The driver’s window was cranked down and a sinful and outdated song was cranked up on the radio. Grunting in disgust, he knelt and reached through the window to turn off the trash, noticing with confusion that the seatbelt on the driver’s side was still buckled. On the passenger seat sat a woman’s purse. Moving stealthily, he reached inside and removed a wallet.
Hearing the front screen door slam shut behind his parents, he flipped open the billfold and glanced at the driver’s license. Eva Sokolov.
Before his parents rushed to his side, he slipped the wallet back into the purse and moved back away from the vehicle. He stood back and surveyed the wreck with bewilderment.
“What the hell?”