Heather stood at the edge of the road, her silk dress getting ruined by the rain. Her once-white shoes were stained and now a dull gray. It had been a long evening and now she was alone, beaten, and miles from home. She had a choice either to walk down the road back to town or she could take the shortcut through the woods. She stood there trying to decide when the sky made it for her. The rain was cold, now coming down in sheets. The shortcut it was.
She stepped off the road and into the wet grass. “Ugh.” The word escaped on a puff of air. She continued to walk, avoiding as much of the standing water as she could. A few minutes later, she reached the road that crossed the woods. Stepping from the leaves and dirt to the gravel of the road, she paused, listening. Under the sounds of nature, she could just make out the sound of a well-tuned engine. She turned her head to determine which direction it was coming from and felt relief fill her when she realized the car was headed toward town, not away from it. She made sure she was standing at the edge of the road on the side heading out-of-town knowing she wouldn’t be easy to see in the dark.
Heather watched as the headlights appeared on the horizon. The engine grew louder and blessedly the rain was slowing. She wiped away the rain from her eyes as she waited. A few minutes later, the car’s headlights flashed over her, nearly blinding her. She waved her arms, hoping whoever was driving would stop. Luck was with her as the car slid to a stop a few feet from her.
The window went down and a voice spoke from the darkness of the car. “Do you need a ride?” The voice sounded her age, somewhere around eighteen or nineteen.
“If you wouldn’t mind.” She answered.
“I can only take you back to town.” the man’s voice was friendly but remained cool.
She walked across the road and up to the other side of the car. The door opened slightly; she reached out and pulled it open far enough to climb in. She closed the door behind herself and settled into the warm leather seat. “Thank you so much. It’s a nasty night out there.”
“No worries. How did you end up out here all alone?” He asked.
Heather noticed he didn’t give his name and figured it was cool with her. After all, it was just a car ride. “A made a mistake. I trusted the wrong person,” she said, watching as the trees flew by when he put the car in gear.
“Okay, so going back to town is okay with you?” he asked.
Heather smiled. “Yeah, you can drop me at the city limits sign. I live close to there and it looks like the rain is stopping,” she said.
He kept his eyes on the road as he spoke. “By the way, the name’s Danny Zee.”
“Heather.” She took her eyes from the road and looked at him in the dim light of the moon. He looked about the same age as he sounded, not a day over nineteen. “What are you doing driving this beautiful machine on a night like this?”
His eyes seemed sad to her. “On my way home from a mistake of my own,” he said.
The road the remaining few miles in silence. As the city limit sign came into view, Heather felt the car begin to slow. “Thanks for the ride,” she said.
Danny pulled the car to the edge of the road. He smiled at her. “Stay safe.”
Heather climbed out of the car, letting the door fall closed behind her. “Will do. Keep yourself safe too,” she said, turning back toward the road. She blinked. The car was gone. Looking both ways, she didn’t see headlights or taillights. Tilting her head, she listened, finding only silence.
She shook her head to clear it. A glance at the sky told her the storm wasn’t over, and she quickened her pace to the sidewalk. Racing down the street the two blocks to her house, she didn’t notice anything was different. The front door was open when she stepped into the driveway. Something was coming from the house. She couldn’t tell what it was, but it called to her.
Heather moved up the drive to the path that lead to the door, music floating gently in the air. It was something from the seventies. A smile touched her lips – that was the kind of music her mother listened to when she was painting. “Hey mom? You painting again?” She called out as she stepped through the front door.
“In the studio.”
She walked into the house; the music getting louder as she got closer to her mother’s studio. “What are you working tonight? It’s not the kind of night you usually paint.” She asked, finishing as she reached the door of the room.
Her mother stepped away from a canvas she was working on and turned the music down. “Heather, why are you soaked?” She asked.
Heather let out a bark of humorless laughter. “Because I trusted Jacob. Asshole left me out on Old Markus Road.” She said.
Her mother’s eyes focused on her painting as she spoke. Her voice shook with what sounded to Heather’s ears like fear. “How did you get home then?”
Heather looked at her mother, not wanting to admit she hitched a hide with a stranger. She held silent for too long.
“Danny picked you up, didn’t he?” her mother asked.
“How do you know his name? He dropped me off at the city limits sign,” Heather said.
Her mother finally raised her eyes from the painting to look at her daughter. “Actually, I bet he dropped you off about ten to fifteen yards before it. Well, far enough in front of it for a car to pull a u-turn in the streets without reaching it.”
Heather moved across the room and looked at the painting. Her breath caught as she took in the image her mother had put to canvas. It was the car she had been given a ride home in, or at least it would have looked the same if the one in the painting had been new. Her mother had painted the car after what must have been a serious accident. It was smashed along the driver’s door and the front end was badly crumpled. But the part that had Heather holding her hand over her mouth was the body of the teenage boy lying beside it on the ground in a pool of blood. The broken body looked an awful lot like the young man who had driven her home out of the woods. “Mom?” She asked.
Her mother looked at her. “It’s okay. This was long before you. This was the night of the big dance when I was a senior. We went to the dance together, but only I made it home. Danny was killed when the drunk driver hit us that night.”
“You mean I just rode in a car with a dead kid?” The words felt strange to Heather even as she spoke them.
Her mother wiped away the tears as they began to fall. “Actually, you were driven home by your father’s ghost. I had told him that night that I was pregnant and he promised you would always be safe.” She looked back at the painting. “I guess he kept his word.”