They had teased about it often, but Sophia chickened out. Alone, I stand on a dirt road that hasn’t seen traffic for miles. I curse myself for not sticking around long enough to learn how to drive.
One thumb up is not as great as two. Sophia and I learned that together. We used to sift through movie ads looking for two thumbs; little inkblots stained in the corner of every movie review. She would show up to my house, no words, and only two thumbs up. A choir of SHHHH would sing our way each time we belly-laughed at a scene, but we never cared.
This is what I am thinking as I hold up my thumb, picturing the glint in Sophia’s eyes each time she showed up at my door. After awhile, there are headlights like cat’s eyes in the dark. The truck approaches and I’m waving my lighter in the air like I pretend to in my room when I’m listening to Janis Joplin. I am just a flicker flame to these wild lights coming toward me.
The driver’s overheard light illuminates the glean of his balding head. My legs shift, my eyes shift. My discomfort is noticeable. He smiles slightly, but it’s strained.
“I feel like you’re smart,” he says.
“It’s dark out here.”
His eyes travel to my backpack. He seems like he’s contemplating this scenario, but he doesn’t know that I am also thinking about what Sophia used to say. “Never a truck, Mer, that’s where they hold all the girls they’ve kidnapped.”
There wouldn’t be cars for hours. Maybe days. I have been walking a long time. This man’s truck doesn’t seem big enough to hold kidnapped girls. It doesn’t seem as if I am being recruited to a flock waiting to be herded off into the night.
The man says he is traveling west and I accept his invitation. I am desperate and ignoring Sophia’s voice in my head.
The first moments in the cab are filled with my side-glances and his drumming fingers. Tap tap-tap tap tap-tap. The awkwardness is palpable, but he begins to speak.
“I am actually on my way to see my daughter. She is around your age.”
I turn only a fraction of an inch, feigning interest, but being polite. “Is that so?”
“I haven’t seen her in years, but I know she has yellow hair like you. That, I know. Wouldn’t it be funny if you were her?”
“I guess,” I say after a few beats.
The man licks his lips in thought and shakes his head. “Wouldn’t be possible though. Her mom took her to Utah. I’m not supposed to know that, but I’m smart too.”
His laugh isn’t comical or soft. It’s startling so that the hairs on my arms bush up and my body reacts, looking for danger. He hits his knee once and abruptly stops. “Funny that God would send me an angel along the way.”
I don’t respond to this. I am confused and rather exhausted. I very much want to close my eyes and lean my head against the cool window, but I am too aware of this stranger and feel too vulnerable.
We never exchanged names. It doesn’t make sense to get personal. Yet, somehow, before I know his name, I know what breaks his heart. I also know that I am suspicious, but uncaring. My own problems loom before me.
Some time goes by and my eyelids lose their battle.
I am startled awake to the man opening my door. His tobacco breath dances over my chest as he undoes my seatbelt for me.
“This is your stop,” he says.
My Converse hit the pavement and reality doesn’t set in until his truck has peeled away. I look around. I do not know how far we came, but I know I am not lost. To my left is a café in the middle of the desert. A newspaper kiosk is against the building. I take out a quarter, retrieve an edition, and have a seat inside at a booth.
This paper is two months old and brings me back to a memory. I am searching for our next film venture while Sophia is on her bed painting her nails. She stops me in the middle of a description. “A life without you is only one thumb’s worth, Mer.”
Often, we joked about running away together, but Sophia chickened out.
One meal later, I continue to walk.
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