A Dark Ride

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Athletic

I was trying to make the best of it. There just wasn’t enough alcohol at the bar to make me forget I was a fish out of water.

It wouldn’t hurt to try though.

“Can I get a vodka and cranberry?” I called to the bartender.

The gruff looking guy shot me a look that should have been enough of an answer.

“Look, man, we got beer and whiskey!” He shouted over the music. “Best I can do is a rum and coke or something!”

I nodded, and the guy pushed himself away from the bar to fetch the drink. The thought of beer made me sick, so whiskey was definitely out. I should have known better than expect anything more from such a shithole bar in the middle of nowhere. It was where Leah had begged us to go. I was still cursing myself for even considering it.

The band on stage was insanely loud. I couldn’t even think straight. The light show was pretty impressive for such a little place. It wasn’t my style of music, but they weren’t a bad band at all. Leah supposedly knew the drummer. It was one of the reasons she’d wanted so desperately to come. I scanned the crowd of dancing bodies but I couldn’t see my sister anywhere. It crossed my mind that the long line for the bathroom across the way could very well be Leah’s fault if she had gone in there with someone and-

“Here you go, dude.”

I glanced down at the drink the bartender had all but tossed on the bar in front of me. Just from the smell I was getting a headache. With a sigh I took a careful sip and watched the jumping crowd near the tiny stage. I looked at my cell phone. We’d been here for well over three hours, though it felt like an entire day to me.

My gaze drifted across the crowded bar. Countless slurred conversations were being shouted across the ruckus of the band. I watched the flirty women drape themselves over the men. Of course Leah liked it here. It was exactly her kind of playground. It definitely wasn’t mine.

I spotted a guy at the other end of the bar, grinning at his friend. They were sitting entirely too close just for a mere friendly conversation. It caught my full attention. All I could do was hope anyway. The two men laughed at some joke, and I felt something flutter in my chest. The blonde I had noticed had an amazing smile. He looked almost as out of place as I was in this redneck bar in his collared shirt. He had the cutest looking dimples. Those eyes… they were just breathtaking. Sure, they were a little glazed, but they were as clear and blue as tropical waters. The handsome guy was the most interesting thing I’d seen in the room full of sweat and beer stains.

It didn’t occur to me that I was staring until the man glanced up and looked right at me. I blinked and turned my head. A wave of warmth washed over my body. I tried my best to keep my eyes on the dancing crowd, even nodding my head to the rock music I didn’t like. Eventually I couldn’t help stealing another glance toward the blonde.

He and his friend were both looking at me, but it was the worst type of look I could hope for. I saw how the cute blonde’s face had soured into a flat glare. I didn’t miss the sheer disgust in his friend’s expression.

It was yet another reminder that I hated myself for agreeing to join my sister on a night out.

I took a generous swallow of the rum-and-whatever and slid away from the bar. Even after walking away, I could smell the putrid odor of the glass. It wasn’t the rum. Probably a filthy glass no one had bothered to wash. I fought down the feeling of sickness and headed for the crowd. Leah was amongst the sweaty heap somewhere. I had to find her. It was well past midnight.

“Leah!” I called.

My voice was lost in the crunch of the guitars. I bumped my way through the crowd as best I could. It wasn’t a huge group of people, but the place was so small that everyone was on top of each other. Each person gyrated or swayed, most of them looked oblivious to where they even were.

I saw a face I recognized at last. Squeezing through the crowd, I came up behind her and took her arm.

“Cheryl!”

The redhead turned. Her face lit up even she saw me. Cheryl had to peel herself off of the man she was dancing with, then flung her clammy arms around my neck.

“Sam!” I could smell the whiskey on her breath. “Hey this is wild, huh? You having a good time?”

It should have been obvious, but I saw the same drunken haze in Cheryl’s eyes that the rest of the zombies wore.

“Not really,” I told her. “Where is Leah? I haven’t seen her in a bit. I need her keys to get in the car!”

The look on Cheryl’s face was all too telling. She continued to bounce along with the guitars, but bit her lip.

“Didn’t she find you?” Cheryl yelled, leaning in close.

“No.”

Another grimace. “Dude, she took off like an hour ago! She was supposed to tell you!”

I stared at my sister’s friend. “With a guy?”

Cheryl smiled sheepishly but nodded.

“And the keys?!”

“She was supposed to find you!”

I ran my fingers through my hair. “What the güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri hell, Cheryl? How are we supposed to get home?”

Cheryl’s mouth fell open like she was going to speak, but instead she glanced from the guy beside her to me. All I could do was gawk at her. My heart felt like it was sinking into boiling water. I shook my head and turned to claw my way out of the crowd.

“Sam!” I could barely hear Cheryl as the guitar solo started and the crowd cheered. “Sam, I’m sorry!”

I headed for the exit without looking back.

****

It was relatively quiet outside, though the music could still be heard booming behind me. I shivered at the chill in the midnight air. The gravel parking lot outside was aglow from both the blinking sign of the bar and the brilliant full moon in the sky overhead. I clenched my jaw angrily staring up at its beauty.

“Damn it, Leah,” I hissed.

Scanning the rows of cars in the rundown lot, I easily found Leah’s yellow car. I peered across the lot but I couldn’t see inside the windows from here. There was the faintest hope that my sister wound be in the car, but of course, probably not in the shape I’d have hoped to find her. I started across the gravel toward the car.

I spotted a hooded guy in the parking lot, sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck. He regarded me briefly as I passed, but quietly smoked his cigarette. After the stares I’d been getting the whole night, it actually surprised me that he didn’t at least do a double take as I walked by. I was so sick of the place. The conversation with Leah kept surfacing in my mind. Why in the world I agreed to accompany her to a redneck bar in the middle of nowhere was beyond me. Had I expected it to be different?

Shaking my head, I trudged onward. I could see inside of Leah’s car now. There was no one in the car, back seat or otherwise. I sighed. A spare key came to mind. Leah used to keep one near her gas tank on her old car. Maybe she still did that. I walked around and flipped open her gas tank. I looked. I felt around. No key.

I heard some laughter coming from a few cars over in the lot. When I looked, my heart skipped a beat. The two guys at the bar were walking between the rows of cars. I remembered the awful looks they had given me. I remembered the sharp sting of hurt and fear.

Trying not to draw attention, I turned and checked the doors on Leah’s car. Maybe one was unlocked. Maybe I could just get in and go to sleep or something. When I found that the car was locked for sure, I crouched by the rear wheel, clinging to some hope that Leah had hidden a key elsewhere.

“Oh shit, Neil! It’s that queer from earlier!”

My heart dropped. A solid knot formed in my throat. I didn’t turn around, but kept feeling around for a key.

A voice called from behind me. “Hey! What’s goin’ on man!”

Still I ignored them, but I was out of ideas about getting into Leah’s car. I was stuck. A warm swell of dread started to pulse inside of me.

“Hey, femboy!” I heard laughter. “Hey man, I’m tryna’ talk to you!”

I slowly stood and glanced at the two men. The handsome blonde didn’t look so handsome anymore in the moonlit parking lot. That dreamy gaze of his looked like just another drunken glare. His whole body looked tense now. Once I might have wondered what it’d be like to touch him. Now I wondered how much he could hurt me.

The two men were chuckling, but I could see the cruelty in their eyes.

“You, uh… you trying to figure out how to change a tire, Femboy?” The blonde asked me.

I licked my lips. I tried to think of something to say back to them, but my dry throat only cracked. Again my anger started to build. If only Leah hadn’t fucking left.

“I think he wants you to give him a hand, Neil.”

Neil, the blonde, never took his eyes off of me. I saw the way his body was poised.

“Why the hell was you staring at me in there?” Neil asked flatly.

I licked my lips again and swallowed, hoping I could find a way to talk my way out of this. Again my lip quivered. Again I couldn’t find a word to say.

“Why the hell you dressed like that, huh?” Neil was walking toward me as he spoke. “What was you gonna do, sissy? Buy me a fuckin’ drank?”

My eyes burned. He was just a few feet away, and not slowing down. I clenched my fists, but I knew they’d stay at my sides.

“Or was I supposed ta’ buy?”

I finally found the words, but they were completely wrong.

“Just fuck off, asshole,” I told him.

Neil shoved me so hard I thought I immediately had whiplash. My head snapped forward while the rest of my body went tumbling backwards. The force of his hands actually hurt my chest, but not as much as when the back of my skull hit the gravel.

My heart was pounding. I wanted to jump to my feet, but Neil was still standing over me. His buddy was cackling somewhere behind. I wanted to spit and curse at him, but all I could do was grimace. My face twisted into pain. The hurt was much deeper güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri than my head. My night was officially as bad as it could have gotten. I felt the knot in my throat swell. My eyes started to sting a lot more.

“Hell, don’t lay down and cry, pretty boy,” Neil taunted me. “You was’ justa’ smiling it up at me earlier, wasn’t you?”

Something in the atmosphere changed right then. I heard the laughter stop, and I watched Neil turn around confused. Propping myself on one forearm, I watched as another stranger walked up between the cars.

I recognized him… where… the guy in the hoodie. He was smoking earlier on his tailgate. What was he doing?

I heard him speak from the shadow of his hood.

“Turn around, and go back inside.”

His voice was bored, flat, and almost raspy. The hooded guy was talking to Neil.

“Hey, won’t you mind your own business man?” Neil said scoffing.

Petrified on the ground, I watched the man sigh and take down his hood to reveal his a head full of straight dark hair. He spoke again, leveling a dead glare right at Neil through the strands of his hair.

“Turn around. Walk away. Go back inside. Buy a drink. Just get away from here, now.”

The finality in this man’s voice was chilling. My widened eyes darted between the three strange men. I couldn’t see Neil’s face, but I could see the pause in his body language. The expression of his friend was a clear one. I saw recognition, and fear.

The friend spoke. “Alright, c’mon Neil. Let’s just go chill inside.”

Neil still seemed to hesitate for several moments. The stranger that had interrupted them seemed… unconcerned. He simply stood patiently, biting on his bottom lip wearing a bored expression. I watched them all, hardly breathing.

At last, Neil grinned and put up his hands harmlessly before straightening his collar.

“Alright,” Neil said. “You wanna’ put up for this sissy, that’s fine by me, Killer.”

Both Neil and his friend started toward the bar again. I didn’t move. It shocked me that the two had immediately lost interest. It was because of this guy. My eyes darted over to the man in the hoodie. I could see his shoulders settle when he sighed. His head turned toward me. I couldn’t see his eyes. Fear crept back inside of me. I could only stare up at him as he slowly walked over to me.

My whole body tensed. Something made me want to start crawling away.

The guy ran one hand through his black hair. He offered me his other hand.

I hesitated.

The man scoffed and grinned. “Dude, c’mon get up.”

I realized that I hadn’t taken a breath for quite a while. Without thinking I grabbed the guy’s hand and allowed him to pull me to my feet with incredible ease. He swept his hair over one of his ears again, and I was afforded a look at his angular face. For some reason, I thought his black hair framed his features in a mysterious but alluring way. I still couldn’t clearly see his eyes, but for a glimmer in the moonlight. It made me feel odd… unsafe in some way.

For a moment, neither of us said anything. I felt like it was my place to speak first. Clearing my throat my eyes flitted from the man’s dark face to the gravel and back.

“Um, th-thank you, I um…” It was difficult to find make the words come out right. “I don’t know what I would have done, if… I mean, they-“

“Don’t worry about it,” the man said with a wave of his hand. “They’re assholes. And posers. They wouldn’t bother anyone bigger than them.”

I expected the man to turn away, but he stood there with me. He even pulled out another cigarette and struck a match. I was able to catch just a glimpse of those eyes. The guy blew out a plume of smoke into the cool night air. His hood was down, and yet his black hair seemed like yet another shroud. I couldn’t stop staring at him. There was something…

“You, uh… lock your keys in your car or something?”

It took me a few seconds to realize he had spoken.

“N-no… no it’s not my car and the keys aren’t in it.”

I immediately realized how strange it sounded. The man raised his brow.

“Shoppin’ for one you like?” The guy said with a chuckle.

I waved my hand at the car. “It’s my sister’s. I came here with her tonight. I was hoping she left a spare key. She took off sometime earlier.”

The man stared at me. “What, she left you here?”

I nodded.

“Wow,” he said. The man pulled out his phone and glanced at the screen. “Do you need a ride? It’s late as hell. Pretty sure the band is about to stop playing.”

“I wasn’t really into them anyway,” I told him, managing the tiniest smile.

He continued to study me. I licked my lips and crossed my arms over my chest. It was hard to meet his gaze. A full minute must have passed before he spoke again, and I realized I hadn’t answered his initial question.

“I could give you a lift if you want,” the man repeated. “I mean… it’s kinda messed up, your sister leaving you in the middle güvenilir bahis şirketleri of nowhere. It’s like twenty minutes to anywhere, unless you are trying the interstate or something.”

Still I balked at his offer. I glanced toward the desolate highway. I was not interested in walking down a desert road in the middle of the night. Something gave me pause about this guy though. The way those two assholes had just walked away from him. Would I be better off calling someone? Anyone? Maybe a cab? The fare would be ridiculous. I could always demand Cheryl find me a ride somehow.

I licked my lips and blew out a steady sigh. As much as the man made me uneasy, he did so in a way I wasn’t used to feeling. I was at my wit’s end. At this point I just wanted to get the hell away from the disgusting bar. I was ready to try something new.

Like riding with a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night. Right?

“Uh… you’d do that for me?” I asked. “I mean, I knew it’s really late, and really far, I just-“

“Don’t worry about it,” the man said. He glanced toward the blinking sign of the bar. “I think I’m done with this dump, anyway. C’mon. Truck’s over here.”

I watched him casually walk away. With one more breath to steady myself, I followed the stranger to his truck.

The air was getting colder. There was no wind, but the chill was starting to gnaw at my skin more with every passing minute. I started to regret wearing such tight clothing, both for the unwanted attention it had gotten me and because I could feel goosebumps all over my skin. I could only hope this stranger had a strong heater in his truck.

It didn’t look promising.

The truck was an older model, and was flat black with no shine or polish. I couldn’t see into the side windows. They were tinted apparently. It didn’t make me feel any better about riding with this guy. The thing looked more like I’d find it barreling across the open desert rather than driving down any highway.

I followed the man to the passenger door. He was already sifting through the keys in his hand.

The guy stole a glance at me over his shoulder.

“Sorry. Gotta’ unlock it from this side,” he told me. “The knob is broken off inside.”

Great, I thought. Even more comforting news.

He pulled the door open with a loud clunk. Turning toward me, the man paused to study me. I stood patiently, but held my breath. This close to him, I realized how much taller and larger he was compared to me… and how frail I must have seemed.

“You cold, man?” The stranger asked.

The question took me by surprise.

“Uh… a little?” I licked my lips.

“Oh, shit. Here.”

I watched as he pulled the dark brown hoodie over his head. Before I could even decline the offer, he’d already tossed the sweatshirt toward me. I had to catch the thing or rudely let it hit the gravel.

“Probably doesn’t smell the greatest, but that thing’s a beast,” the man said.

He was already making his way around the front of the truck. I caught a glimpse of the tight green t-shirt he wore, and the way it hugged the smooth arch in his back. It was too dark to completely make out the markings on his arms, but they traveled from his wrists all the way up into the sleeves of the dark green shirt.

“You’ll probably need it,” the stranger said. “I have a heater, but I’m not saying it’s the greatest in the world.”

I sighed yet again and stared into the open passenger door. It was like a deep cavernous pit, beckoning me to my doom. Why was my heart racing? Was it the danger that I sensed? A thousand alarms sounded off in my head. Was I fearful of riding with this strange dark man?

Or was it the smell? God, just holding that hoodie in my arms made me want to melt into the rocks beneath my feet. I couldn’t pick it out… cologne? Maybe, but it was mixed with a myriad of other odors, both natural and not. There was the obvious musk of cigarette smoke, but there were other things, richer, and sweeter than I’ve ever known. I felt the warmth of my own bloodflow in places I couldn’t control.

I nearly jumped when the truck roared to life. It rumbled and shook like a poised lion. I glanced again at the bar and the highway, weighing my options once more. My hands tightened on the pullover in my arms.

Climbing up and into the truck, I pulled the heavy door shut and accepted the dark within.

****

For several moments after we’d pulled out onto the empty highway, we rode in silence. Well, almost in silence. The roar of the truck’s motor was endless, though after it settled into a higher gear, its constant rumble was actually very soothing. I stared off into the dark desert and let it lull my thoughts into nothingness.

I rarely looked over at the stranger. For some reason, it had only occured to me after the bar was long out of sight that I didn’t even know this guy’s name. I stole a glance at him a few times, pretending to stare out the windshield near the driver’s side into the night. The full moon overhead cast a pale glow through the windshield, right onto the stranger’s arm which was resting on the top of the steering wheel. I didn’t have much time to study the tattoos, but I saw no color there. The markings were too busy to distinguish any kind of detail. Still, they looked very… exotic.

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