Tyler swung his truck off the road and out into the field. “Annewich!” Billy called out, deliberately exaggerating the bouncing and sandwiching me in between him and Jeff. He laughed alone at his tired joke. I dug my elbow into his ribs and pushed him off of me as the truck came to a halt and Tyler killed the engine. George Strait was suddenly replaced by dead calm and the glow of the headlamps against the fog faded to pitch black. Everyone hopped out but me. I stayed glued to the warmth of the truck seat.
The air was freezing and the smell of a dead skunk wafted in the open door to sting my sinuses. “This is really stupid,” I said.
Tyler reached in and grabbed my arm. “Stupid is as stupid does,” he mimicked Tom Hanks’ voice. “And you’re sittin’ on my beer, stupid.”
My small frame didn’t offer much resistance and I nearly flew out the door when he pulled me. He lifted up the seat and pulled out two six-packs of Coors, cracking a can from one pack and handing the other to Jeff. “I thought you said I was sittin’ on beer,” I said declining the can Jeff offered me.
We’d moved here when I was five, and I’d been down the Lake Highway plenty of times. In all those times I’d never once turned down Haller Road. It went for miles, a straight line to nowhere, and nowhere was exactly where we were now. I walked out and looked around as my eyes adjusted to the dark. A collection of trees lined the road on either side just ahead. Behind us, a long dirt drive ran up to a big white house. A layer of fog hung over everything, not quite settling to the ground so you could see underneath it, but there was really nothing to see, just open fields of mustard in the dim moonless light as far as I could see. The temperature was dropping fast and soon the fog would be nothing more than a thin layer of frost.
I wandered out into the mustard, so tall it came up almost to my chest. “You better watch out for snakes,” Missy called out at me. I paid her no mind. Any rattlers out in this weather would be too cold to move. I had boots on anyway. The cats were a bigger worry, but they would avoid our voices. I twirled around a few times brushing my hands across the tops of the mustard plants staring up into the grey blanket. I love grey! A pale glow spreading out on the fog exposed the moon’s hiding place. Above me I heard the sounds of a large owl flapping away, but I couldn’t see it. Turning back, the dark grey images of my friends contrasted the light grey of Tyler’s white four-by.
The sputter of a motorcycle approached us in the distance from opposite the direction we had come. Haller Road led to somewhere. I walked back to my friends and was just stepping back across the road when the glow of a single headlamp appeared in the fog. Two girls were riding. The passenger, a short-haired blonde girl, as grey as everything else in the night, was not wearing a helmet. The bike passed us by and slowed. Billy back-handed Tyler without releasing his gaze. Tyler followed it.
“Got Damn!” he said, pushing his Stetson up with the top of his beer can.
I turned to look. The passenger, in spite of the near-freezing temperature was wearing a pair of tight-fitting white shorts showing off an enviable shape accented by her position on the seat. I heard the slap as Missy’s hand hit Tyler.
“Tyler Hayes, you put your eyes back in your head!”
I watched the bike turn up the drive and stop in front of the big white house. It’s driver took off her helmet and shook out her long brown hair and both girls got off.
“Hey! You missed the party, Ladies,” Jeff called out.
His words fell on deaf ears. They didn’t even look our way. The front porch light turned on. They were still close enough I could see the driver’s face. She reminded me of a picture I saw once of Kelly Clarkson without makeup, only her hair was darker and I could see she had freckles too. The two girls talked for a couple of minutes, but only a murmur found its way across the yard to my ears. When their private conversation was over, the brunette told her friend, “You better get your butt in the house before it freezes off.” She tucked her hair back under her helmet and rode back out the way she came. The blonde girl ran up to the porch and the light went out again.
Missy had been on Tyler, bickering since the girls arrived. She was none too appreciative of his comment. Their arguments always end the same way, so it wasn’t any surprise when Tyler handed Jeff the rest of the beer, and told us to keep it cold. He and Missy hopped back into the truck. They drove off to the sound of some echoing profanity from the other two boys and suddenly I was stuck alone in the middle of nowhere with two beer brained guys.
“You see that babe checkin’ me out?” Billy asked.
Jeff pushed him into me. “That was me she was checkin’ out, Loser. You can have Annie.”
I threw him a look of disgust. “Whatever. You both can have your horse piss,” I said. I walked away in a huff.
Down the street, the boys’ jocularity growing quieter as I left them further behind, I turned up the drive and walked along it to the porch. Beyond the screen at the top of the steps was an enclosed anteroom for changing in and out of rain clothes. It looked a lot warmer than where I stood, so I climbed the steps and went in quietly. I turned and looked back out. Billy and Jeff were still standing out by the road. I watched their gestures trying to guess what they might be saying.
A soft voice in my right ear startled me. “You don’t smell like beer.”
I jumped and turned. The blonde girl from the back of the motorcycle stood in back of me. She was barely taller than me with a frail frame, and a kind face. Long lashes blinked over dark eyes. She was wearing pants and a coat now.
“Excuse me?” I said, wondering how she had managed to get behind me without a sound.
“We saw the beers when we drove up,” she explained. “I expected you to smell like beer.” I shook my head. “I don’t like beer, especially that beer.”
She looked out at the two boys by the street. “Did you get in a fight with your boyfriend or something?” Her voice sounded almost flirtatious.
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said, “And if I did, it sure wouldn’t be one of them.”
My unexpected hostess moved around in front of me, almost touching me. “I knew that,” she said. Either her breath or lip gloss smelled faintly of mint. In the frosty air it reminded me of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
“How did you sneak up on me like that?” I asked backing away from her a little.
She ignored my question. “Genie,” she introduced herself in a seductive whisper. Was she flirting with me?
“My name’s Annie,” I said.
She smiled and winked at me. “I knew that too. What are you doing on my porch, Annie?”
I looked down at my hands tucked under my arms. “I thought it might be warmer in here.”
She stepped closer to me again. “Are you sure you’re not trying to steal my stuff?” The words were an accusation, but the tone in her voice was playful, her movements gentle and smooth and she was so close, I thought she was going to kiss me. I tried not to seem nervous, but I could feel my heart starting to pound. I wrinkled my forehead at her looking casually around.
“Um, it’s not like there’s anything here to steal.”
She didn’t bat an eye. “You probably snuck into my house and stole something,” she said in the same soft whisper. Her body touched up against me briefly. She was flirting with me. A visible shudder ran through me and I knew she noticed it.
“But I’m sure you just had to unlock the door. How would I have gotten through a locked door?” I tried not to let my voice waiver. I could feel her minty breath on my face.
“Who knows?” she answered. “Maybe I let you in.”
I was sure I saw it. The angle of her head changed ever so slightly. Her lips pursed just noticeably. Her face started agonizingly slowly toward mine. She was going to kiss me! Suddenly I wanted her to. The mint smelled sweet. I could feel my heart pounding against my chest now, no longer with nervous angst, but with eager anticipation. I closed my eyes but there was nothing. I couldn’t feel her close to me anymore. I opened my eyes again and I was alone.
Puzzled, I looked around. There was no place for her to have gone. For a second, I wondered if I had imagined her, but why would I have imagined all that? No, the boys had seen her ride up on the motorcycle. I knocked on the door and waited.
After some time with no answer, I knocked again. Just as I was knocking, an old man answered the door. He was very tall, and hunched down to peer through the doorway. He said nothing.
“Um, is Genie home?” I asked nervously.
He peered down his nose at me. “No one here by that name.” He shook his head and looked down at a wristwatch. She must have given me the wrong name.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “She said that was her name… a thin blonde girl about my height… kinda pretty…?”
He stretched up straight and his head disappeared above the top of the door. I strained my eyes through the darkness to see his face. “You’ve made a mistake, Miss,” he said. “There’s no one here but me.”
The rumble of Tyler’s engine coming back up the road caught my ears. I looked over and saw the lights. “I… I have to go…” I stuttered. “Tell Genie it was nice meeting her.” I raced through the door and down the steps.
© 2010 Anne Schilde