I’VE GOT NINETY-NINE PROBLEMS, AND one of them is that I just used my one phone call to ask the tow truck driver I met in a ditch yesterday if he’d be willing to bail me out of jail.
It was the only phone number I could remember off the top of my head because 555-TOWR is kind of lame. I probably told him so at the time, too, but in retrospect, I guess it works as intended. After all, I did remember the dumb phone number.
An hour later, the tow truck driver and I exit the county jail together, and the sunlight is jarring. Like when you get out of a matinee movie and you expect it to be dark but it’s still afternoon. But I bet to people already outside, the sight of the Hulk-sized muscle man in greasy coveralls next to the pint-sized sorority sister in an Amour Vert romper is equally discombobulating.
I thrust my hand out to him in goodwill, my jail-issued paper bag clutched close to my body in my other. “Thank you, again, for everything. I’ll pay you back.” Somehow.
He stares at my hand, then brings his hands to his hips and glares down at me. My tow truck driver, if you remember, is very large, and this pose is intimidating. Or it would be if I were not now a seasoned criminal with a rap sheet.
Okay, he’s still intimidating, and I’m probably more “lightly” seasoned than anything. Though sometimes my language is salty.
He’s glaring at me, so I pull my hand back. “You mad, bro?”
Why I said that? I don’t know. I’m going to blame spending too much time on Greek Row. Or something like that. Because that was over-the-top dumb.
I’ve never much thought about the word “seething” before, but that is what the tow truck driver is doing. He is seething at me. And it makes my heart race a little. A lot. Okay, I’m freaking out now. He is really big but so far just surly in all my dealings with him. But he’s the kind of guy whose button you probably can’t unpush once you’ve set him off into his gamma radioactive rage. Something I now wish I’d considered before calling 555-TOWR. And certainly before I’d asked him you mad, bro?
I take a step back, and he takes a step forward. His dark eyebrows slash menacingly above his eyes, his dark beard not hiding the grimace on his face. “Thank you very much? That’s what you have to say?”
“Would you rather I didn’t thank you?” I huff indignantly. Because how else does a person huff? “I appreciate you coming to my rescue. Twice in two days. So, thank you for being a friend.” I flash my pearly whites. That usually works on men.
“A friend?” He looks to the heavens for support. He doesn’t find his answer there, but he does seem to calm after a breath or two. “Do you even know my name, Layna?”
“Yes,” I scan his coveralls for the badge I’m hoping is there, “Rogan.” He’s glaring harder. “Wait, is that your real name? Is it your first or last? What kind of name is Rogan anyway?”
Rogan yanks the paper bag of my belongings away from me. “You’re coming with me.”
“Um, no. Please give me back my—”
“Look, you have been a pain in my ass for two days, and I’d love to sever all ties with you. But I just paid a bail bond, and if you cut and run, which you are likely to do, then I’m out the money and the reputation I staked on getting you out today. I promised Sheriff Brand you’d be a model citizen. So, until your court appearance, you and I are stuck like glue.” He palms my shoulder. “Truck is that way.”
I don’t really want to bring Rogan into my problems, but it’s not like I have anywhere to go just now, so I smile sweetly and head for the tow truck. Maybe he will take me to a diner because…oh my God, am I famished. This town is super small, but they have to have a diner, right?
While we are eating, I will need to figure out my next step. I’ve never been on the run before. I’ve never crashed a stolen vehicle before, either. It would all be very exciting if I weren’t screwing up my entire life with every ticking minute.
Rogan, or Mr. Rogan, gets in the tow truck after securing me in the passenger side for the second time in two days, and as soon as the door closes, he starts with, “What the fuck is even wrong with you?”
“Do you need a translator?”
“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“So help me, princess.” He does the breathing thing again and wrings the life out of the steering wheel. “Why are you like this?”
Well, there’s the question we’d all like an answer to. But I’m not sure his this is the same as my this. “Be more specific, please.”
He hardly even knows me, after all. Our dealings yesterday were not long and involved. It’s not like we traded life stories. He towed me out of the ditch. I pretended I was getting ready to pay him, but since I didn’t have any way to do that, I took off in the car that didn’t really run very well anymore. Well, it ran, but it didn’t steer the way it used to pre-ditch, so I ended up wrecking it for the second time on the first corner. Hence the police involvement and my evening in the pokey.
But really, that’s not enough information for him to judge me about. I don’t really know what he thinks is so wrong with me. And I tell him so.
You know how guys get that weird veiny thing in their forehead? Yeah. He gets that and says, “You stole a car.”
“It was my car!”
“Not according to the guy on the title.”
The guy on the title is my stepdad, and we’re not going to talk about him. “I’ve been driving that car for three years. It was given to me by my father before he died.”
“Where were you going?”
“North,” he repeats.
“Yes. North.” That was the extent of my plan. My now derailed plan. My need-a-new plan hasn’t shown itself yet, but I hope it is better than the old plan.
“What is north?”
“It’s a direction on a compass.”
What would happen if that veiny thing exploded? It’s looking pretty close. “Have you ever been spanked?”
“Oh my God, pull over and let me out.” Why did I not realize getting into a truck with an unknown dude was a bad idea? It’s like the first thing my parents probably taught me. Now, I’m trapped with a pervert who’s into who knows what.
“Relax, if I ever spanked you, you’d be on board.”
“Um, no thanks.” I shudder. Oddly, though, I do relax. I am beginning to worry about my state of mind. It’s not like me to be so cavalier with my safety. Also, it’s not like me to imagine, even for a teeny tiny little second, what it might be like to be bent over some man’s knee while he … okay, I need to stop this right now. Obviously, being in jail has poisoned my mind.
“Why north?” he repeats.
“North is further away from home.”
I didn’t mean for my voice to crack there at the end, but when it does, Rogan’s head swings toward me, and I’m subjected to a very long look.
You know what? I’m not the only one acting out of character here. I bet Rogan doesn’t bail strange women out every day. “Why did you come to the jail today? We aren’t friends. We aren’t really acquaintances. And technically, since I didn’t pay you yesterday, we’re not even in business together.” He nods as he’s making a left turn, but doesn’t answer. “So, why did you come to get me out?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. You’re trouble. I feel like I walked into the middle of a movie scene and have no idea who the characters are or what the story is about when I’m around you.”
I settle into my seat. “I’m pretty sure the movie we are watching is one of those straight-to-video deals with a convoluted plot and really bad actors.”
Nothing makes sense. I’ve been trying for three years to turn my life into something that does. But since my dad died, it’s just been one horrible thing after another. At least before today, I thought I understood myself, even when everything around me seemed surreal. But now, sitting next to this stranger, I don’t even have a grasp on my own self anymore.