Updated: Jan 26, 2022
SEPTEMBER 6, 1966
I was standing in the rain in front of his car as he was fixing the flat. I noticed his high cheekbones, and watched the way his lips moved as he talked. I thought getting a flat in the rain in the middle of nowhere was romantic., but he was a little edgy.
“God! You’d think that these damn tires would last a year without blowing! I don’t think I’ll ever trust that Larry again. Real good deal he got me. You don’t know Larry, but last year I bought some tires off him and…shit!” he got up quick and kicked at the black rubber, leaving a messy smear of mud against it.
“You know, if you want, we can wait to do this when the rain clears.” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t.” he said simply. At first, I didn’t know what he meant, but then he looked at me and a cold, hateful look passed over his face. It was as if something had taken him over; something evil. I found myself shivering, despite the warm weather.
I let go of him, and stepped back, until he finished changing the tire. I didn’t say a word.
When we got back into the car, he started to smile again, as if nothing happened to spoil his mood.
“You know, I’m really excited about going camping next weekend. You’ll have lots of fun. I’ll try to keep the bears away. He laughed, and turned to look at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I tried not to look at him. I felt better, almost to the point of not remembering how his stare made me feel so icy. Almost.
“No, something’s wrong. I can tell. You can tell me.” and he reached to take my hand.
“When you were changing your tire…you gave me this look.”
He looked at me curiously, then turned back to the road. “What kind of look was that, Nora?”
“Like you hated me.”
“Oh, honey! Forgive me, I was just angry at the tires, and at Larry for selling the junk to me. How could I ever hate you? I love you.” I foolishly forgave him, not realizing that Jake could never love anyone. Not ever.
So, I can tell I’m trying to make this creepy. But it falls flat. Why? For one thing, it’s full of “telling the reader information” instead of “showing it.” Second, I think I was trying to make Jake seem jumpy and dangerous. But instead he comes off as nuts and angry. So, I have to work on his delivery and her response.
I also noticed that I again tried to build suspense by ending the scene on an ominous note: Jake could never love anyone. But I have already set that up earlier, so this is redundancy. Ending each scene with a hint of “Watch out, I’m setting up Jake to be evil” is a little much. As a reader, I want to yell, “When am I going to find out why???” As I writer, I’m saying, “I’m just stringing you along so you keep reading.”
So, instead of stringing, I’m going to focus on creating tension and increasing conflict between the two characters. I won’t NEED to tell the reader Jake is some kind of monster. It will be apparent through what happens.
September 6, 1966
Rain pelted the windshield, the wipers sloshed side to side in rhythm. Even though Jake had the defroster turned up full blast, it didn’t do anything for my foggy passenger-side window.
“You know where to turn off, right?” I looked for street signs, but between the rain and the poor visibility out my window, I saw none.
“How late do you think we’ll be?”
He glanced at me. “Really, Nora? You’re going to start this again?”
“I’m just asking.” Don’t press his buttons, I reminded myself. Just shut up.
“It’s not even one of your close friends. You’re just there for the dinner. That’s what you told me. So why do you keep making a big deal out of this?” He peered through the windshield and slowed down the car.
We rolled past a street sign, but I couldn’t make out what it said. “I’m not. But…it’s a wedding reception. It’s not like we can just waltz in any time we–“
“That was the turn,” he said. “Crap.” He maneuvered into a driveway and turned around. “And calm down, will you? You’re messing me up.”
“Sorry.” I glanced down at my rhinestone clutch. “I don’t want to show up late and come off rude.”
“You don’t want to be rude to some people you barely know, but you’ll mouth off to me, your boyfriend? Makes a lot of sense, there.”
“I’m not trying to mouth off…” Shut up, Nora. My stomach twisted. I licked my dry, cracked lips. The car lurched to the right and my side of the car seemed heavy and unstable. “Did we hit something?”
“Shit.” He pulled over, his jaw hard. “No. But the car’s driving funny. I’m gonna go check it out.” He opened the car door. The whoosh of heavy rain rang in my ears until he slammed the door shut again. I peered through the windshield. He bent down in front of the car, then popped back up. His mouth had become a firm line. He opened the door again. “We got a flat. Dammit.”
“Can you change it? How long will it take?”
“Nora, seriously, stop with all the time checks. I’ll change it. I got a spare in the trunk.” He slammed the door shut again. Seconds later, the trunk flew open, jolting the car a bit. I looked down at my nails. They’d been bitten to the quick.
He appeared on my side of the car, a hazy shadow. I wiped the condensation from my window to get a better view. He bent down and started working on jacking up the car. With every twist of the jack, I rose a few inches.
As he worked, I admired his strong hands. The way his cheekbones stood out. His mop of rain-soaked hair. He was my hero in this moment. Changing our tire so we could still make Fran’s wedding reception. Maybe he was an ass every now and then, but he loved me.
I closed my eyes and imagined what our wedding would be like. Baby blue decorations. We’d serve pot roast, his favorite. Neil would be his Best Man, Susan would be my Maid-of-Honor. We’d write our own vows, of course. Write about the romantic way we met. “He paid my tab,” I’d tell the congregation. “If that’s not love at first sight, I don’t know what is.” And everyone would laugh and cheer.
A knock on my window startled me. I dropped my clutch bag. Jake’s face stared at me, and he made a motion for me to roll down my window. I complied.
“Are you falling asleep while I’m changing this damn tire?”
I chuckled. “No, just daydreaming.”
“I’m almost done.” He bent down again, and I shut the window. The inside of my door had become wet. I used the edge of my coat-sleeve to wipe it dry. Jake wouldn’t want his car smelling like mildew.
It wasn’t completely true, what I’d told him. Fran and I had been close once. But now it seemed like most of my friends had drifted away into better lives. Grown up. Become adults. And I was left behind.
But at least I was attending a life-changing event for her. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t stayed in touch, she’d invited me. I’d accepted. And Fran would understand when I explained why we were late. I relaxed a little and picked my clutch up from the floor where it had fallen.
The driver’s side door opened and Jake jumped into the seat. Rainwater dripped down his face. Dotted his eyelashes. His now-translucent dress shirt clung to his pecs. Sexy. He started the car. “This sucks. Your friend’s wedding is costing me a new tire.”
“Maybe your tire was flat before we left.”
“Do you know how stupid that sounds?” He passed the turn we’d missed earlier.
“Wait, that was the road.” I pointed behind us.
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“We need to turn around.”
He scoffed. “Seriously? Look at me. I can’t go to a reception looking like this.”
“But if we go all the way back to your place so you can change, we’ll be ridiculously late.”
He glared at me, then stared back at the road. “Nora, let me put this in a way you’ll get it. We’re not going to the reception.”
“What? Why not?” Although I knew why. But I wanted him to say the words. If he was going to play this game, I would make sure it was played to the end.
His hands gripped the steering wheel tighter. “You’re already complaining it’s rude to be late. Why would we show up even later? This mishap set us back at least forty minutes.”
My face torched hotter than a bonfire. Speaking up would make things worse, but he was being unfair. It wasn’t my fault his tire blew. “They’re paying for our meal. We can still make the dinner.”
“Frankly, I don’t feel like going anymore. I’m freezing, my fingers are numb, and all I want to do is go home, sit under a blanket, and drink a beer.”
The wipers slashed through the rain and the car bumped along on its doughnut tire. I contemplated driving to the wedding by myself. I could show up at Fran’s wedding alone. “Jake came down with a cold,” I’d explain. “I’m late because he wanted me to run to the store for aspirin.”
Except I knew Jake wouldn’t want me driving in the rain. He’d be concerned I’d get lost. Or drive into a ditch because visibility was so bad.
So, I seethed in silence all the way back to the apartment. When he dropped me off at my front door, I wouldn’t even look at him. I wanted him to know I was upset. That this was unfair to me.
As I opened the car door, he said, “What? So you’re just going to ignore me because of a flat tire? That wasn’t my fault, y’know. If you wanna blame anyone, blame yourself. Why were we late in the first place, Nora, huh? Why? Since you’re not talking to me, I’ll tell you why. Because you couldn’t decide what to wear. And then you didn’t like your hair, so you had to do it all over again. And then you misplaced the invitation and didn’t remember where we had to go, so you had to call someone. So, if anyone’s to blame for us not getting there tonight, it’s you.” He reached over, pushed me out of the car, and shut the door. “Call me when you want to apologize.” He revved the engine and took off.
He was right, of course. I’d been indecisive. Anxious. I’d probably thrown out the invitation when I cleaned off my kitchen table last night. And he was out in the rain changing that tire all on his own, he didn’t make me help him. I never offered.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so angry and defensive. Besides, Fran would understand when I called her tomorrow to explain why we didn’t make it to the reception. If I called her. Which, maybe I wouldn’t bother doing. She’d be on her honeymoon. I doubted she’d even notice I hadn’t been through the receiving line or whispered congratulations to her on the dance floor.
Meantime, I’d made an idiot of myself tonight. I didn’t know how to keep my mouth shut.
Still, something in the pit of my stomach didn’t feel right. Something felt as off-kilter as the car had when our tire had gone flat.
But the tire had been replaced, we’d made it through that issue. We could make it through this one in my heart, too.