I watched it happen as if it were a slow motion movie playing in my rearview mirror. I couldn’t even be sure where the car came from or how it had managed to come so close to mine in such a short amount of unidentified time but there it was. I expected the impact to be worse but it wasn’t much more than a jolt. My seatbelt locked keeping me safe but poor Charlie lurched from the backseat and crumpled to the floor, still half asleep and hardly responsive. As soon as he realized what had happened, he jumped back onto the seat and began barking maliciously at the great steel invader that had connected itself to my back bumper like an Erector set.
“Charlie, SHUT UP!” I cried, reaching behind me and swatting his backside. He retracted and sat back on the seat, letting out an indignant sigh. I realized then that my cigarette was still clutched between my two fingers and I pressed it between my lips as I fumbled with my seat belt.
Outside the car, past the steaming engine of a now-useless Honda I was pleasantly surprised to find three girls about my age, all wearing different expressions and each one assessing the situation in their own unique way. The first girl, who I assumed was the driver, was a bit rough around the edges – her eyes slightly bloodshot and struggling to find focus. Maybe she’d been asleep. Or maybe she’s just high out of her mind. Either one would explain the accident. But she smiled at me so that was a good sign. The second girl seemed a little high strung, pacing pack and forth and muttering under her breath as if her anxious incantations would bring the car back to life or, perhaps, magically summon a Triple A crew. The third girl was eerily quiet, hidden behind the shadows, but her tattered dress and disheveled demeanor invoked the most interest. These three girls couldn’t be any different from one another. What the hell were they doing going to Vegas together?
I looked between the driver and our tangled vehicles.
“Well, ha. Where you headed?” she asked me.
“Funny thing,” she responded. “So are we.”
It was then that I let out a heavy sigh which turned into a breathy laugh. This was too good. I half expected a psychopathic inbred farmer to come running across the desert in our direction. I realized quickly that I was still clutching my cigarette and I suddenly felt an extreme need for nicotine. My lighter was somewhere on the passenger seat, hidden beneath layers of Taco Bell wrappers and directions to a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Vegas.
“Got a light?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
The edgy girl produced a lighter out of her pocket and stepped forward. She lit it effortlessly and offered it to me. I pulled in a drag and then exhaled, handing her the cigarette in turn. She looked like she could use it.
“Do you have a cell phone we could use?” the antsy girl asked me. She looked worse for wear – in fact, all of them did.
“Karen, who are we going to call?” the edgy girl asked, looking back at her friend. “We’re in the middle of the fucking desert.”
“There’s no reception out here, anyway,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “I haven’t had any bars for about two hours now.”
“Wonderful,” Karen groaned and she pushed past her friend and circled the two cars, surveying the damage for herself.
“Don’t mind her. She’s going through a quarter-life crisis and she needs to get laid. Horrible combination if you ask me,” the edgy girl said to me. She extended her hand. “I’m Darcy. This is Sophie.” She jabbed her thumb in the direction of the shadows.
“Cia,” I smiled and shook her hand and then nodded to Sophie. “Hey.” She offered me a small smile but I could tell that she was trying to decide if she trusts me or not. I have a feeling she does. “You guys want a ride into the city? You can get a tow truck once we’re there.”
“We run into your car and you offer us a ride?” Darcy asked, eyebrow raised.
“Honestly, I’d love the company. There are only so many hours that can pass before I start expecting my dog to talk back to me,” I smiled. “Plus, I could really use a split on a hotel room. You in?”
Surprisingly, Karen is the one who responds first. “We’re in,” she said, reappearing at her friend’s side, her demeanor a little less rabid than it was a minute ago. “And thank you. It’s really nice of you to do this.”
“No problem. I’m a big fan of karma.” I said, giving them a collective smile. “Now you three figure out how to get your car to the side of the road and I’ll figure out where I’m going to put you. I hope you don’t mind a little unconditional love and some overwhelming enthusiasm because someone’s riding double with my dog.”