Time is everything. How else would we understand sequences, turn present into past and – in the grandest sense – make history?
I stand on the roadside aware of the importance of time on a smaller scale. In seconds. Because in my game, I only have ten of them, and every one counts.
One moment the day sits heavy and still, like a rock on my back. Sun two o’clock high. A short-tailed kite soaring dark in blue space; the white noise of nothing, but something.
And then the countdown begins.
Ten. An approaching throb rises like a curtain behind me. I’ll turn and lift my shades to check.
Nine. Swing that suitcase to grab their eyeballs.
Eight. The car will still be a couple of hundred yards away, but already I’ll know if it will stop. Guys snap their cocks off about how fast cars accelerate. It’s more important to me how quickly they slow down; an engine’s tumbling pitch is a sure sign I got a hook.
Seven. A longer check back. I’ll need a solo male.
Six. Thumb out and eye contact.
Five. I’ll step out and smile. Show that suitcase; it’s reassurance.
Four. A breath of air and a plume of dirt as the car passes and stops. He’ll be looking in his rear-view, saying his Hail Marys. I’ll let him savour the vision: my hips, my belly button under my cropped tee, legs rising out of the dust cloud. It gives me a second to check his car. Luggage on the roof would be good: a sign he’s not a regular on this route.
Three. The passenger window will be open by the time I reach it. I’ll size him up before I speak. Does he look like trouble?
Two. Decision time. The most important thing: does this guy look dumb enough to lose money?
One. ‘Hi, going by Huntingdon?’
This is how it begins.
I’m the smartest fucker I know. Wasn’t always that way.
After dad died, I thought I was as dumb as he’d been. Or as stupid as my brother, Brian, who is slower than pig shit in a six-by-four pen. I skipped school and spent nights in pool halls, snorting candy in the john with twenty-one-button assholes.
Brian is older than me by two years. He worked at a gas station for peanuts which meant between us we had no money. So I shoplifted for food.
Brian and I argued about that. I told him I wasn’t his kid and could do what I wanted. I wouldn’t get caught. And then I got caught.
Brian didn’t find out because Sheriff Wilson arrived while he was at work. The pasty-faced shitmark looked around as he took his hat off – probably checking Brian wasn’t there – and sat on dad’s favourite chair, the one the debt recovery folks hadn’t thought to take.
‘We know you stole,’ Sheriff Wilson said, flicking his badge with his thumb. ‘On camera. Witnesses.’
He sat back. ‘Jessica, must have been tough since that no-good father of yours passed, but you’re heading for a stretch. Unless,’ he said, moving his hands together to caress his belt, ‘those pretty lips can do more than just talk.’
You know the worst thing about the next few seconds? How relaxed the bastard was about unbuckling in front of me and pulling open his pants. How confident he was that I’d crawl over between his outstretched legs and put his half-stiff cock in my mouth.
And he was right, my lips did more than talk.
After he’d shot his load into the back of my throat, Sheriff Wilson suggested next time the sentence would be stiffer. ‘After all,’ he said, zipping up, ‘shame to see that cute ass waste away in jail.’
A week later I made the first smart move of my life. I left behind the town, the sheriff and my brother and took to the road with Dad’s old sales suitcase for luck.
I called Brian to tell him what I was doing and how I was doing it. He said I was crazy; I said he was stupid; he said I’d end up dead or in jail; I said stop trying to be dad. His last words before I cut him off were that I was wrong. He’d show me.
But he didn’t. Within two months, law-abiding Brian was in jail, while I was staying in hotels, making a thousand bucks on a good day. Showing them how smart I am. Stealing so sweetly it might take victims a month to realise they’d been screwed. The richest might still not know.
I bet you want to know how I do it, don’t you?
I’ll tell you. I’m a roadrunner.
It was dad’s idea. He’d told me about roadrunners. As a kid I used to sit up front with him in his truck while he drove from town to town hawking cleaning fluids from a suitcase. My comic-book legs were so short I had to stretch to press my feet against the hot dashboard.
Dad drove hunched against the steering wheel, peering on account of having only one eye. Whenever we approached a pretty girl at the side of the road, his hand would cover the gearstick. But he’d hesitate, his concentrated gaze skittering over to me, and his foot would press the gas again.
One day, after we’d passed another hitcher, I asked why he never stopped. He cleared his throat and told me pick-ups were dangerous. There were girls, he said, who haunted the highways and stole. He called them roadrunners. I was never sure if he was making it up. Maybe he was. But what stayed with me was his trembling hand, and the power of the women who made it tremble.
I’ve learned a lot in six months. Learned to make smart choices, like wearing the right clothes and working dirt roads close to highways. No trucks, and quiet enough to give you a choice yet let you disappear when you need to.
I’ve also learned the safest thing to steal: bank cards and codes.
Two things about cards. One: men tend to use the same code for all of them. Get it for one and you’re fixed. Two: men choose dumb sequences and I have three guesses each card. I like my chances.
Statistically, the most common code is ‘1234’, but usually it’s based on a date like a birthday. I’ll only have been in the car a couple of minutes and I’ll say, ‘You’re a Sagittarius, yeah?’
He’ll think me kooky. ‘Me? No, Gemini.’
‘On the cusp, though, right?’
‘Twenty-first.’ And he’ll look at me as if I’m some sort of genius. And I am. Because without him realising I might just have taken his code – zero-five-two-one.
I'll get another date if I can. Birth year or eldest child’s birthday. The bonus comes if he wants to show me a picture and pulls out his wallet. Now I’ll know where he keeps it.
By the time I’ve leaned back, feigning tiredness, I’ve got three numbers in my head. I just need to use them.
I start by getting the driver off balance. When I sit back to give the appearance of sleep, I’ll let the vibrations of the car ease my legs apart until they’re almost at right angles to each other. I don’t wear anything under my shorts, so he’ll be able to see up the smoothness of my inner thighs, to the stretched sinews at the top and the hint of swelling between my legs. A glimpse won’t be enough. He’ll want more.
Even with my eyes shut I’ll measure his greedy stare. The car will drift until its tires vibrate on the road edge. The correcting yank will stir me. ‘Where are we?’ I’ll say, knowing pretty much where we are. If there’s no place to pull over for a few miles I’ll lean over and my top – nothing under that either – will drop into his line of sight. See, I didn’t waste my time in pool halls. It’s all about angles and I’ll set it up for a good view of the pink.
By this point his brain will have migrated between his legs, so he won’t question why a half-dressed 19-year-old might be showing him her tits. I’ll press home that advantage.
‘I don’t think I’ve said thanks for the lift,’ I’ll say, my voice frosted with syrup. ‘Not properly.’ My fingers will skirt over between his legs and his eyes will gape as I unzip him, ferret for his cock, pull it out and dip down to lick the hole at the top.
This isn’t Sheriff Wilson all over again. Now I’m calling the shots. I know a driver can’t see in three places at once. As I noisily envelope him in my mouth and he pushes his seat back, his eyes will roll between the road and my head. They’ll miss my hand at his side, covering his pocket and palming his wallet. I’ll have time to slide out his cards and drop the wallet in the footwell. Later, he’ll assume it’s fallen out.
Timing is everything. Every so often, my hand will replace my mouth on his slick cock and I’ll steadily masturbate him, asking if it feels good. He’ll nod, desperate for somewhere to stop. But he won’t see straight and I’ll keep him on edge by pushing my tongue into his ear and biting his earlobe. I’ll glance out the window and know when there’s a rest stop coming up, with shops, toilets – and an ATM.
Half a mile before the turn-off, I’ll whisper that maybe we should get something, you know, at the next stop?
Only then will I let his fevered eyes see the sign and with a rictus smile he’ll turn off, thinking it was his idea. I’ll leave him in the car, imprisoned by his lolling erection, while around the corner I’ll be cashing in.
I don’t hit the jackpot every time, but on a good trip I’ll empty four or five cards. When I return I’ll spin a line about there being no condoms. But I’ll finish him off there in the parking bay with my fingers. And as he comes over one hand, the other lets the used cards fall to the floor. He’ll sigh, totally spent.
He doesn’t realise just how much.
The car now six seconds away doesn’t look like it has a wealthy owner. Piebald with painted repairs, it slowed too early; not a good sign. But it’s been the only one I’ve seen on this stretch since I was dropped off half an hour ago. So when I lean in at the window I’m unsure whether to turn him down – pretend I was looking to go the other way – or get in. But there, on the central console, the lure of a fat wallet in the open. Maybe it won’t even take a blow-job.
‘Going near Huntington?’ I say, brushing my hair behind my ear.
‘Sure,’ he says. ‘Hop in.’
He takes the case from me – ‘what you got in here, a body?’ – and squeezes it in the back.
The inside of his car is like the contents of a little boy’s pockets: wrappers, bits of string, chewing gum. But him? He’s cute: tanned, dark-haired and unconsciously muscular. A tight, olive v-neck t-shirt fits him like skin.
‘What’s your name?’ he says, pulling away.
‘Smith,’ I lie. ‘What’s yours?’
‘Don’t laugh. It’s Dane. Think my parents were drunk.’ He keeps brushing it away, but a forelock of his dark hair is determined to caress his forehead. He’s confident.
No sense in waiting. I go straight into my routine.
‘Dane, I’m hot and tired, mind if I sleep?’
I push the seat back and over the next few minutes my legs reverberate apart, the shaded gap between denim and tanned legs silently calling him. I can feel the air flowing through my shorts; he can see everything. It excites me that he’s looking.
Except I don’t think he is. For the next few miles, the car runs steady. Under cover of my shades I look across to see a poster boy of mixed messages: eyes fixed ahead, yet knuckles white on the steering wheel. My gaze drops from his stubbled jawline, intersected by an old scar, to his arms – a snake tattoo peeking out of his sleeve. Maybe he’s gay. But further down, unless I’m mistaken, he has the biggest boner I’ve seen. The sight prompts me to try again.
‘I like guessing people’s star signs.’
‘So guess.’ He glances over. Steady blue eyes.
‘Nope.’ Dane shakes his head and that forelock tumbles down. He's hard work, but all the more satisfying in the end.
‘We look the same age,’ I say, probing.
He looks at me, airily assured. ‘You think, Jessica Smith? You’re about twenty, yeah?’
A pause. ‘May birthday?’
‘Twenty-first,’ I say, laughing. ‘You’re good.’
I unclip my seatbelt and lean over to give him a lengthy pool-hall view while my hand leaps the gap between our seats, ‘You know, I feel I owe you in some way.’
‘Don’t, Jessie,’ he says. I pull back, startled. This is a first.
I sulk for a mile or two, rejection needling me, before he says, ‘Do this a lot? Hitchhiking?’
‘Is it risky?’
‘My suitcase helps.’
‘What’s in it?’ He flicks his head at the rearview.
Might as well tell him. It’s not like I’m likely to need it.
‘That stops someone hitting on you?’
‘It does when I ask them if they miss the presence of the Lord our Saviour in their lives.’
Dane laughs, low and throaty. ‘I’m getting to like you, Jessie.’
‘Got a gun too. Don’t know if it works. My dad gave it to me on my sixteenth.’
He smiles. ‘Smart dad.’
‘He wasn’t smart.’ Something about Dane makes me want to tell him why he wasn't. His debts; the creditors that circled our house after he died. ‘He was too generous for his own good.’
‘Generosity ain’t a flaw.’
‘He was one-eyed. Couldn’t work out how he got to drive until his funeral when I found out one of the pall-bearers was the county driving examiner.’
‘Told you he was smart.’
No-one’s ever called my dad smart. Not twice. Dane smiles again, an open, white smile. He’s a willing listener and I can’t stop telling him more. After a while he shares his stories – funny ones about his pa being a wrestler and running away with a circus. Sad ones about not seeing his family any more. I tell him about Brian and how he tried to look after me, but ended up in the state pen.
‘Aggravated assault. Caved in a sheriff’s face with one punch.’
‘Why’d he do that?’
I shrug and look out the window. ‘Haven’t seen him to ask.’
‘We’ve all done dumb things,’ Dane says. The way he says it warms me again. Talking to him feels natural, different to other guys. I talk, but look at his Adam’s apple, the little string bracelet on his wrist. He listens and laughs when I hope he’d laugh and I imagine his arms circling me each time he does. I don’t notice the miles or look for my stops. Talking, until he interrupts.
‘Sorry, Jessie, brakes are playing up,’ he says. He pulls over and I follow him out, standing behind to watch him work under the hood. His t-shirt, damp down the centre, rises to expose back muscles shadowed by golden, evening sun. I follow the meandering path of a bead of sweat into his jeans.
‘Ain’t gonna fix this tonight,’ he says at last.
I look around for my bearings. ‘There’s a hotel a hundred yards up.’
He pauses. ‘You ok with that?’
I nod. There’s something about this guy. His indifference an aphrodisiac, but I like him too. It’s crazy, but I want to spend the night with him.
Still one problem: how to get him interested.
Luck’s with me. To Dane's dismay, there’s no question of separate rooms at the hotel. Only a double available. So we check in and head to the bar. It’s quiet, just a few travellers dotted around.
He buys me a beer and sits next to me. He doesn’t say anything for a minute. The silence is taut. I don’t even know if I’m thinking anything.
‘Why don’t you visit your brother, Jessie?’ he says.
I can’t think of what to say. There’s something about Dane, but I can’t put my finger on it. And rather than think about it, my hand goes under the table and glances against his knee.
‘I’m not interested in him right now,’ I say. I rake my fingernails over his jeans and into the inside leg, moving upwards relentlessly.
‘I think,’ he says, jerking his leg away, ‘You might be happier if you were.’
He’s driving me nuts the way he’s holding back. But I won’t give up. Not yet. My fingers reach again, touch his zipper and sense a wooden hardness underneath.
‘Really want me to stop?’ I ask. His eyes close. I press harder and my fingers spread, clawing the outline of his blossoming erection. My fingers run up and down either side of his sheathed cock and he doesn’t pull away. For the first time since he picked me up I sense he’s wavering. I’m getting control.
‘You’re very long,’ I whisper.
He gulps. ‘Let’s go upstairs,’ he says.
By the time we’re outside our room, he’s kicking the embers of self-control. I know it.
‘I’ll sleep on the floor,’ he says. ‘You take the bed.’
He slots the card into the door and as it sighs open, he turns back.
‘Jessie, you should know something.’
‘I’ve been inside too, and –’
‘I don’t care.’ I put my finger to his lips. I love this frailty in him, want to kiss it better.
As we enter the room, I keep my body tight behind him. There is a heat between us, imagined or real. He pauses and turns to face me. Then, decisively, he lowers his head and kisses me, softly at first, then hungrily, mouth open. His arms circle my waist. His kisses send an impulse to my hand to slip under his t-shirt and swivel, following a thin tail of hair under his belt. I unbuckle him with my free hand. His jeans fall to the floor and I tug his shorts down.
He pulls away, ‘I promised…’
But I’m not listening. I’m in control. I lower myself, kissing his belly and then his hip bone.
‘Promised what, Dane?’ I whisper, ‘To be a good boy?’
I move down to the side of his cock, already erect and brushing my cheek. I kiss between his groin and upper thigh. My other hand pulls his cock to the side while my lips turn to kiss its base. My tongue’s pointed tip drags upwards over its gossamer skin until it snags under the head, and then upwards, where the sheen makes my tongue overshoot its fragile tip, already leaking clear liquid. His cock swings like an metronome.
His hands lower, but don’t push me away. They rest on my shoulders as if poised to play the piano.
‘We shouldn’t do this,’ he says. But his own body rebels: he crosses his arms and pulls up his tee so he’s naked. His hips buckle to press himself into the warmth of my mouth. In and out he goes, through my teeth onto my tongue. And then he pulls me up, one hand creeping under my top as he pushes me back and pulls at my clothes at the same time. By the time we fall on the bed we’re both naked and his mouth has moved to one nipple, biting. His breath hisses out of him.
His hands slide down my sides and one moves in to cup the top of the inside of my thigh. The tiny hairs on its back brush against my wetness.
I’m craving for him to touch me there. But he holds his hand still as he licks over me. It sends me wild with need. Soundlessly I implore him by opening my legs – and at last I feel the length of his finger at the centre of me, resting between my lips. When it begins to run up and down I sigh, and inside me a warmth builds, like I’ve swallowed neat whisky.
I’m so wet that later, when he brings his arms up either side of my head, I glimpse in the half light a honeyed finger glistening.
But soon there is no sight for me other than that of the mushroom head of his cock, framed by my legs. No other sound, but the gentle wet noise of his entrance and the rising, unmodulated moan that escapes me as he sinks into me. I’m losing control.
His mouth moves to mine, his saliva sweet on my tongue. And as he thrusts, his chest stays an inch above me. The action of his pelvis is separate from the rest of him, his hips the point of inflexion between us, pushing deep inside. I raise myself to him, giving myself, my hips cradling his.
At one point during the fuck I try to regain control by climbing on him, my legs hurdling his torso. My hair reaches to his chest, its ends darkened by sweat from his body. I gyrate around his erection as his hands cup my ass. I lean down; my tongue flicks over his button nipples. But even on top, I am lost. He feels incredible. I feel filled, then empty, then filled. I rise again, my head tilting backwards, jaw slack. His hands cup my breasts, his thumbs stroking my nipples.
And then he swings me round again so he’s on top, pressed to the hilt. I'm already coming as he licks me in broad swathes, across my breast, up my collarbone, my armpits and my outstretched arms. I’m feral, rudderless, clueless, washed over by what feels like a hundred tiny spasms. I could die now, like this, and it would be ok, because nothing has felt more right.
He does not speak, but I know he’s close from the rising cadence of his breathing. He pulls out and my hand greets his hot cock as it floats between us. I wank him feverishly – how long he is – as our mouths press against each other. I glance down and my fist is jerking so fast it appears motionless. He rises and then spurts in a gushing string that shoots up between my tits.
‘That wasn’t meant to happen,’ he says.
Later, in half-lit heat we’re spreadeagled across one another as one giant spider; my legs over his, his arms across mine. He holds my hand.
Is there anything like these small night hours with someone new? The ball of excitement, the possibilities? But it’s a feeling irritated by a knot still insisting I steal Dane’s money. And as I think it, the chance arrives like an unwanted guest. Dane says he needs to cool down, so he pulls on his jeans and opens the door to the hallway.
As his footsteps fade, I lift my head and slap the wall searching for the light switch. When I turn it on, there’s his wallet, right by my hand. This guy is easy after all.
Still lying on my front, I flick through the cards, but pass them over to pull out till receipts – one stained by a coffee ring – his gym membership, dentist appointment card. All parts of the person he is. I sigh, because I know why I’m doing it. I want him, not his money. I put the wallet back and lay down again.
He wakes me when he returns. Leans over and in a voice as soft as the darkness around us says he’s brought a tub of ice cream and do I want some?
I shake my head sleepily into the pillow, then yelp as I feel raw cold stinging my neck. His tongue is chasing a blob of ice cream down the top of my spine. He laughs and I curve my back to counter the tiny tsunami that preludes the warmth of his tongue.
He’s astride me now, knees beyond my thighs. As his tongue continues down, he lowers himself, thumbs pressing into the crease between my ass and the top of my legs. Then they move up and across, separating my cheeks, just as the ice cream reaches the top of my crack. The melting ball slips down my cleft until it rests against my asshole. I clench my teeth. Dane’s tongue catches it there. The ice cream stays, softening, as he wriggles his tongue noisily into me.
It’s as if he’s a puppet master: my hips defy gravity to rise against him as his tongue works around. Outstretched knees hold my weight as I push my ass to his mouth. His tongue moves beyond my asshole towards my pussy. He’s lapping like a puppy, swallowing. If he stopped now I’d kill him. He doesn’t; he works down until at last his tongue reaches my lips. It was as if they were waiting for him, because the unstoppable feeling has already started. I tremble and hold myself there as a second wave of warmth crashes over me.
Afterwards, I lie in the crook of his arm, aware of my own tiny page of history. In fifty years maybe I'll look back on this night as a pivotal, the one where things turned. When I stopped running, met someone I really liked.
‘Dane, you’re right. I should see Brian.’
His fingertips brush my fringe, comforting me. He doesn’t speak.
‘I feel so guilty,’ I say. And just like that I’m weeping into him, tears falling onto his arms, unsure whether I’m happy or sad.
‘Don’t cry,’ he says. ‘Jesus, you don’t make this easy.’
Those are the last words I remember him saying before I fall asleep, my cheeks damp on his arms.
A thin dawn is seeping through the drapes when I jerk awake from a dream where Dane is running from me. But he’s still beside me, awake, cupping me in his arm.
‘Hey,’ he says. ‘Bad dream?’
I smile. ‘I like being with you.’
I want to fuck him again, the way you always do on the first night, but I’m dirty with dried ice cream and come, so I push myself up into the bathroom. I know he’s watching my ass and I like that. He says he’ll join me in a minute.
‘Jessie,’ he says, ‘I like being with you too.’
Under the shower, I look down at the red patches on my skin where Dane’s stubble has sanded me. I turn my head up and smile up into the water. I’ve never felt like this. Dizzy, in suspension, unable to think clearly. I mean, I haven’t even asked what Dane was inside for. Or where. And that though triggers ten tumbling others into order.
Ten. I mean is there a chance he knew Brian? Dane did talk about him a lot.
Nine. And Brian wants to prove me wrong.
Eight. But how would Dane know who I was?
Seven. Maybe by finding out my birthday?
Six: And Dane was so keen to pick me up.
Five: And that wallet was so obvious and the breakdown so close to the hotel.
Four: And what did he mean this wasn’t meant to happen?
Three: And – the way Dane spoke – called me Jessie.
Two: Everyone else calls me Jessica or Jess. Apart from one person.
I slide the shower door open so fast it smacks against the frame.
I step out, water dripping off me onto the tiled floor.
I scamper through to the bedroom, but I know before I get there that Dane’s gone. My suitcase lies open on the floor, stripped of its gun and five hundred in cash. He’s left the clothes and the bible and there’s a piece of paper on top. I pick it up. He’s scrawled on it:
‘Jessie. I wanted to tell you – sooner or later you’d have guessed. Your brother Brian was my cellmate. He thinks the world of you – and did what he did for you. Made me promise to show you could be fooled to put you off this life. He’s smart – told me how to do it.
‘I promised to take only money – hurting you wasn’t part of it. I’ve let you down. I want to be with you, take you somewhere else. You don’t deserve another guy treating you like this. I like you so much. Sorry.’
Time is flexible, the way seconds expand and minutes contract. I don’t know what I do with the paper – scrunch it or cling to it – I’m not thinking straight. Still naked, I move to the door then halt, unsure how much time has passed. I double-back to the window and pull the drapes open, in time to see Dane opening his car door below. I am a witness to the present becoming the past.
But Dane pauses. Then shuts the door. He stands for a moment, looks up and sees me. He hesitates, then waves.
All this has proved I am dumb. So dumb that for a second, through the tears, I think he’s waving goodbye, not beckoning me to come with him.
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