I never picked up a hitchhiker before, but technically, this wasn't a hitchhiker. Her thumb wasn't out. Shelly was a pregnant girl walking on the shoulder of I-95 in the freezing rain, without even a winter jacket. I'm 42 and I still hear my dad's voice telling me to never stop for anyone, especially not in my condition. Fuck you, Dad. I signaled and pulled over.
"Where you headed?"
She was just starting to show. Probably about a month ahead of me.
"So I see." But I didn't remember seeing a broken-down car. "You gonna be okay? Got someone you can call to help you out?"
"Yeah, somebody. Just got to get into town. Then I expect it'll all work itself out."
She laughed a short, crisp laugh and slammed the door hard. I looked at her, maybe for too long a time. She stared at me, never breaking eye contact. I blanched.
"You sure you want to do this, lady?"
Why? Did I seem scared to her? Did she think I thought she was dangerous? Was that what she meant? Either way, she didn't seem to care, now that she was out of the muck and in my car. She stared at me until I broke her glance, then she closed her eyes and her head lolled back. A sigh escaped.
I turned to face forward, put it in gear and pulled out onto the turnpike. The road narrowed just ahead for construction, but only a few other cars were on the road today, so I had no trouble merging back into the flow. We swerved a little. I adjusted the steering wheel, and my tires found the grooves through the slush. I fished around in the ashtray for toll money as we came up on it. Her hands never left her pockets.
"Where did you say you were headed?"
"I didn't, really," she said without moving her head or opening her eyes. "But I'd like a ride to the Irving station, just off the next exit, if it's not too much trouble for you." She leaned forward and cranked up the heat. I must have flinched a little. "You mind?"
"No, no. Do what you want to."
We rode in silence for a mile or so.
"So, what's your story?"
"What? You think because you give me a ride, I owe you something? I'll get out here, thanks," and she reached for the door handle.
Impulsively, I flicked the child safety switch and the doors locked. She stopped, turned, looked at me.
"What is this about?”
"Nothing, nothing. I'm sorry. I was just being friendly. Honest."
"Yeah? You call locking me in your car, 'friendly?'"
"No, no, that was just instinct. A mistake. I'm sorry. Look, can we just start over? I'm Lily Morton," I said and I extended my hand.
"Shelly." She didn't take my hand. It was left hanging there until I withdrew it.
"Yeah. Well. Shelly. Can I get you something? Some hot tea? A mug of soup?" Oh great, I pick up a pregnant teen and I snap into full mother mode. Like I even know what that's about. "This is my first time," I say, and point at my stomach. "I'm a single mom."
Shelly just looked at me, studying my face for something. I'm not sure what. I saw her glance at my hand, no doubt looking for a wedding band, a rock, but, like I said, there was not going to be anything there. She looked me in the eye. "Shouldn't you be watching the road?"
Yeah, I really should have been. We were at the exit, and I signaled and pulled off the main road onto the ramp. Shelly tap, tap, tapped on the armrest on the door. She fidgeted with the lock. We came to the bottom of the ramp, and the light was red. Shelly broke free. "I'll just get out here, thank you, Lily Morton," the words tumbled out of her mouth as she sprang from the car and ran for the gas station. She slid once and a car blared its horn at her, but she made it safely across the street. I watched her go in.