There was no wind to make the rain more interesting on the drive home from Denver. The fat, thick droplets bounded off the windshield with rhythmic thumping that pounded the drums of the ears and made the windshield wipers seem all the more hypnotizing. The Starbucks coffee cup in the old holder had long since been emptied of its contents; the lifeblood of the working American drained dry by the vampire tendencies of the late shift.
Jodi Helling poured on the cool air conditioning and tapped a finger on her temple to try and wake herself up. This was the third night in a row she’d had to stay late at the office, doing clean up work for her boss. She sneered slightly; the slack-jawed, do-nothing was hunting his third lover in Singapore, she’d scheduled his hotels, his meetings, and the last night he was there he wasn’t, by her records, staying anywhere. When she’d asked him where he’d be, he said a friends house. What a juvenile, lame-brained answer that was. Proves that lackwits can be successful, she thought, that at least has some comfort.
“Maybe I should tell his wife.” She snickered and grabbed the emptied coffee cup, sighed and set it back in its holder. She should’ve stopped at the last convenience store and got a Livewire or a Vitamin Water to keep her fuelled for the drive up the mountain, but something in her didn’t like stopping after nine o’clock. Too many weirdoes in this day and age, too many strange people with bizarre motives, able to convince themselves of anything; she didn’t need to give them a reason to give her trouble.
The curves began to become slippery as she curved up the mountain road, her blue Jeep slowing to avoid any unnecessary slide. She glanced down at her stereo and took out her iPod. A flash of light lit up her windshield and she put on the brakes as she rounded the curve to find a blue VW Beetle, its nose plowed into the rock face as though it had been launched from the neighboring mountain.
Jodi took a deep breath, setting her iPod aside and grabbing her rain coat. Setting the emergency lights and parking brake she got out into the flood and walked up to the Bug. Both right-side tires were flat, and the front window was cracked but not broken, probably just the result of the accident.
“Hello?” Jodi asked, she wondered if she should be walking more timidly but she didn’t like getting wet and she didn’t like being nervous, so moving quickly was what she decided to do. She momentarily wished she had a flashlight and made a mental note to put one in her Jeep for next time. She gripped the handle on the drivers door and pulled with more strength than she thought she needed. The door came open with a slam and she looked at the driver whose head was still against the steering wheel.
“How on Earth did you end up in a mountain?” She asked the unconscious as she hit the dome light. It came on with a flicker and she looked at the man in front of her. Brown hair and blood seemed to be his main features as she unclamped his seatbelt and leaned him back. His car was filled with trash; emptied cups and wrappers from fast food.
“Maybe he’s from Boulder…” she muttered, shaking her head at his unkempt vehicle. Reaching into her pocket she drew out her cellphone. No bars. No service. Figures.
“Got any frozen peas?” she jumped despite herself at the sound of his strained voice as a single bright blue eye looked at her. She straightened as he looked at her. She was tall, her hair was dark, her skin wasn’t pale, but she wasn’t tan either, and her own eyes were almost golden behind long lashes. He reached up to his rear view mirror, now hanging from a couple of strings, and pulled off a long braided string necklace he hooked around his neck before trying to get out of the car.
“Um,” Jodi started, extending her arm to help him out. He took her hand as though he were Queen Elizabeth, expecting his knuckles to be kissed and unfolded himself out of the car. he stood almost a full foot taller than her, and Jodi was not short, being 5’11” unshod. He smiled at her as the rain began rinsing the blood down his face, making him almost ghoulish in the minimum light.
“Not the best night to move, I’d say.” Said the stranger and Jodi raised an eyebrow, taking back her hand and putting her cell phone in her pocket. He slammed the door of his car and she began walking away. Obviously he was fine, let him explain to the State Patrol how he’d crashed his car.
“Oye! Girlie!” She kept walking; he was probably drunk, or stoned, or both, “Can you give me a pull out of the rock?” She stopped at her door and looked back at the lanky man before she nodded and got back in her Jeep.
I could just drive off… she thought but then she was pulling ahead so she could attach the front cable to his car. He didn’t help her, just stood there and watched as she looped the chain under his car and attached it back on itself before marching diligently back to her Jeep and hitting reverse. It took her engine real effort but the dirt was getting muddy and the VW came free with a squelching pop. She looked at it and then nodded before getting out and unhooking the chain.
“My names Brad.” The stranger told her and she glanced up at him.
“Well, Brad,” she told him, “You’re loose.”
“I don’t think it’s drivable.” He told her and she nodded.
“Nope.” I should offer to give him a lift to Conifer…drop him off at Philips or Conoco…but then he’ll bleed all over my car… She mentally slapped herself, a good Samaritan wouldn’t think like that.
“Come with me.” She told him and he followed her with long strides to her Jeep. She reached in the back and tossed him a towel. He peered forward at a swim bag she had and smiled as he looked at the beach towel as though unsure of what to do with it.
“Put it on your head and get in.” She told him, jutting a thumb to her Jeep. He did as ordered, tying to the towel around his head as she climbed in and pulled the Jeep forward so she could hook up the Beatle.
“Hang out, I’ll be right back.” She got out and chained the VW to the back of the Jeep. Conifer was only another five or so miles, the rims would be destroyed, but so was the car for that matter.
She climbed back in to find Brad pulling off his wet shirt, revealing bare alabaster flesh beneath. She blinked for a moment, concealing her surprise as she climbed in and began driving slowly down the road. He tossed the wet shirt onto the floor with a slopping wet squish as he kicked off his shoes and pulled off his socks. Jodi glanced at him and shook her head slightly before she turned the radio back on.
“You know,” Brad told her as she watched the VW behind them following slowly with the low screech of metal on concrete, “Anyone else would be rather bugged with me taking off my clothes with a towel wrapped around my cranium.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” She replied distantly, “How did you end up in that wreck anyway?”
“I needed more Jiggawatts.” He told her and she shot him a glance without smiling.
“You ever see Back to the Future?”
“No.” She answered.
“You in College?” he asked.
“Not any more.”
“How old are you?” he asked, ringing out his socks on the floor. She glanced at his socks, feeling a growing distaste for this person.
“Twenty four.” She replied calmly and he grinned.
“Got you beat by a year then. My name’s Brad.” He told her again and she nodded.
“Yes, I heard.”
“And your name would be?” he pressed and she frowned slightly.
“Nice to meet you, Jodi.” He replied, she glanced at him again, at her towel, and nodded.
“How’s the head?”
“Like Athena just jumped out with a Spear and Shield.” He told her, she smiled.
“ooh, Mythology buff. Was that what you went to College for?” he asked and she shook her head, “History?”
“Nope.” She replied, “What are you in it for?”
“Rocket Science.” He replied, grinning and she laughed.
“You sure it’s not basket weaving?”
“That was my second choice.” She laughed again and then saw the light of Conifer and the lights of the gas station.
“I’m going to let you off here, you can use the phone to get a tow.” She pulled off onto the gravel drive of the Gas station and stopped by the convenience store. He stared at her a minute as she unbuckled and got out to unhook his car.
“I don’t have money for a tow.” He told her, standing shirtless and shoe less in the rain. She looked at him and frowned slightly. Should’ve seen that one coming.
“Besides, where would I tow it?” he asked and she glanced at the destroyed bug.
“Not my issue, Brad.” She told him and he stared at her a moment, completely dumbstruck as she turned and walked into the convenience store. The clerk looked at her as she gave him a wide smile.
“Hey, there was an accident up the hill. The guy involved is outside with the towel, his Car’s totaled, I towed it into town. Would you give the fuzz a holler and get him an ambulance?” She pulled out her wallet and set a fresh Ben Franklin $100 dollar bill on the countertop and gave him another smile as he grabbed the phone and nodded, dialing 9-1-1.
“Hey, Jodi…you can’t just leave me here…” Brad told her as she came back out.
“I just found you, and now, I’m heading out. The guy in there is going to get you some help for that head. Take it easy, Brad.” She told him. He opened the door swiftly and grabbed out his clothes, grabbing off the necklace he’d pulled from his rearview mirror, he tossed it to her. She caught it deftly and looked at it.
“It isn’t much, but I made it myself…” he told her, sounding sad as though he was saying goodbye to a long time friend, “Thanks for helping me.”
“Keep the towel.” She told him, giving him a warm smile that he’d believe she meant. She put her Jeep in drive and pulled out of the gas station. He waved, she threw him a wave and then turned back down the road. She glanced in her rear view mirror; he watched her until she could no longer see the gas station. She wondered if he was still standing out in the rain long after her taillights had disappeared.
The morning came early, the comfortable calm of her warm sheets and thermal blankets making Jodi reluctant to get out of bed even after her sixth alarm had sounded its warning. She sat up and straightened her white tanktop she wore to bed before standing on the cold wood floor of her bedroom and stumbling into her bathroom to turn on the shower. She gave herself a dulled smile in the mirror as she admired her bed-hair.
“Good morning, Missus T.” She told herself with a wink as she pulled off her shirt and underwear and climbed into the all-ready steaming water. It felt good, like she’d climbed back into her warm sheets and she let the heat pass over her bare skin before she began her routine. Shampoo the hair, wash the face, rinse, scrub the skin, condition the hair, rinse…
When she got out she clipped her towel around her and began drying her hair with her blow dryer. She glanced at her clock. It was closing on six o’clock. With a sigh she grabbed her clothes for the day. By the time she opened her bedroom door to go collect breakfast, she was dried and dressed, her hair curled neatly in smooth ringlets tied back in a thin string tie. As she came down stairs the lights were on and a smell of bacon and pancakes was wafting up from her kitchen. She came down the last few steps slowly and walked around her living room to look inside her kitchen.
He had cleaned up. A large bandage covered part of his forehead and one of his eyes was black and blue, but other than that, his clothes were clean, jeans a simple t-shirt under a red cooking apron, and he was flipping pancakes on a skillet.
“Excuse me…” Jodi said softly, how did he find my home? How did he get in?
“Good Morning, sleepy head!” He greeted cheerfully and she crossed her arms, leaning against the door post of her own kitchen as she glared at him.
“What are you doing here?”
“The folks from the Hospital asked me where I live and when I told them I didn’t have a home they seemed baffled. So I left and came back to the gas station and asked the nice man there where you lived. He gave me your address and the hundred dollar bill you’d left so I could get some clothes and I hitched a ride up here, hiked up your driveway, and slipped through the sliding door downstairs.” He told her as though his behavior were so normal and simple that she should’ve all ready known the story herself.
Jodi stared at him several long moments as he tossed the most recent of pancakes onto a growing stack as he hummed an unfamiliar tune, seeming completely at home here.
I should be bothered, I should be calling the police…this man was in a car accident, he could be a nut, for all I know, a wanted man…and he found me, broke in, and here he is in my kitchen cooking me breakfast as though he’s always been here. And I’m not feeling the slightest bit of discomfort or fear…why is that? Jodi stepped forward into the kitchen and looked at the last pancake he was frying that he had made to look like Mickey Mouse.
“Do you have a last name, Brad?” she asked him, he looked at her with his one eye and smiled that same smile.
“Yes, but you couldn’t pronounce it.”
“Try me.” She replied, now wasn’t the time to be secretive. He should at least know that much…he was lucky as it was that she wasn’t all ready on her phone screaming in panic that some weirdo had randomly shown up in her house and made her breakfast.
“Bradley Martin Velasquez Deelasourey.” He told her and the way he spoke the last two names was so strung together and swift that it took her brain a moment to catch up.
“Hyphenated?” She asked and he shook his head, flipping the last pancake and watching it calmly. She watched him for several long moments and then managed a small smile.
“You realize I appreciate the food, but I don’t appreciate you showing up randomly like this…”
“Well, you didn’t give me your last name or a phone number…” he replied simply, shrugging as he tossed the Mickey Mouse flapjack through the air to a waiting plate on the counter.
“There we are.” He turned off the heat and took off his apron before balancing the bacon, pancakes, and plates on his arm to her small dining room table where he’d all ready set out the place settings.
“And I know it doesn’t seem very natural for this sort of thing, but I really don’t have anywhere else to go until my car’s fixed so I figured I might press a nice person like yourself for a favor I’ll never be able to repay.” The way he said this made her smile. He was carefree and sure of himself, and in some way, reminded her of her self.
“You really are a neat freak.” He told her, pouring honey on his pancake and she turned, grabbing her own off the stack and setting them on her plate.
“I like things to be organized and clean. If a person see’s that your car is clean, your house clean, and your clothes clean, they’re more likely to assume you have things under control and deserve their respect. It saves time.” She told him. The response seemed rehearsed at this point but it was also true. Her parents had always taught her that respect and honor mattered. Cleanliness was just one step in that circle. I need to put a flashlight in my Jeep…she reminded herself.
“ You must’ve been a real packrat in a past life then.” Brad told her and she smiled.
“I used to be.” She replied honestly and he glanced up at her from a fork oozing honey off of one of Mickey’s ears.
“Did that change when your parents moved away?” he asked. She glanced at him, minorly concerned. How could he know that? But then she stepped back, like she had taught herself to do years before, and analyzed everything he’d just said and all he’d been doing.
Wasn’t it obvious that a 24 year old girl wouldn’t be able to afford such a nice house in the mountains? Wasn’t it obvious that she was keeping it clean not only for herself but for her parents unexpected return? He was saying what anyone would’ve deduced at this point and she let herself relax again.
“Bit by bit. Things are easier when your organized; you can manage your time better, get more done in a day.” She replied, and she resumed eating her food. He popped Mickey’s ear into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a few moments before swallowing it down.
“You must not like lazy people very much…” he told her, and she detected something in his voice that made her wonder if he resented her for that. What do I care? He’s an uninvited guest…
“Do you have a place to go? A girlfriends house or something?” Jodi asked and he shook his head.
“No, I just got here.”
“You said you were in College.”
“No, you asked and I told you ‘Rocket Science’. I’m not actually in school.” Brad told her, “You assumed I was.” For a moment Jodi stared at him and then raised an eyebrow.
“Where are you from?”
“What state then?”
“Dunno. One with water.” He replied, shrugging.
“You don’t know?!” Jodi asked incredulously. He shrugged again.
“The people at the hospital called it amnesia and since I don’t have a drivers license…”
“No license…” her frown deepened, “and you were driving.”
“Technicalities,” he replied, flinging his fork around as though it made little difference. “You’re only concerned because you didn’t find me driving…you found me crashing.”
“Having crashed.” She corrected. “So no I.D. whatsoever?”
“Nothing save the necklace I gave to you…” he replied, and then he leaned forward craftily towards her and his eyes went wide as a smirk lit his face in an almost malicious, insidious way. “You know,” he added, “I think it might actually be my warp drive…”
“Warp drive…” she repeated, staring at him with genuine concern and he nodded seriously.
“I think some how it got damaged and shrunk back into a harmless form. That’s why you should hang onto it.”
“Warp drive…” she repeated again and he went back to his pancakes.
“Maybe something as special as a warp drive…maybe a family heirloom, maybe something I picked up at a garage sale in Purdue. Impossible to tell.” He replied, and again he waved his fork at her, “I don’t remember.”
“Well, remember to lock up when you leave.” She replied glibly, grabbing her plate and heading for the kitchen.
“Hey!” He was on his feet like he was made of rubber, lankily charging after her, “What are you going to do? Can you drop me off near where you work?”
“Whatever for?” She asked, looking at him, “You don’t have a job, nor a class to attend…”
“Nor? You actually used the word Nor in a sentence?!” Brad seemed thoroughly shell-shocked by this and just stood there, staring at her, hands akimbo, with an expression that made her laugh.
“Who are you?” She asked him, crossing her arms in front of her and straightening into a tough-guy pose, “What do you want?”
“To know why in the hell you would use a term like nor? I mean GAWD!” His head rolled back on his neck as he gawped at the ceiling, “No one does that!”
“I do that.” She replied simply, releasing the swagger as she headed out of the kitchen to grab her stuff for work.
“You must really hate your job…” Brad muttered, watching her go. She glanced back at him and he saw a real smile light up in her face yet, it did not manifest completely on her lips.
“Ya think?” She asked sarcastically and he shrugged.
“And do what?”
“Live in your mansion in the mountains or sell it for a better one in Honolulu.” He said this as though it were the simplest thing in the world and she let out a contemptuous laugh.
“Yeah, I’ll do that…right after everything else.” Brad raised his hands defensively in front of him in a flamboyant manner; as though he was going to transform into a valley girl and snap his fingers with an “uh uh, no you didn’t!”
The display was enough to get her to stop where she was and laugh at him as he turned around, hands still raised, back into the kitchen.
“OK, no need to go poo-pooing about it. It was just an idea.”
“What are you going to do in town?” She asked, following him back into the kitchen as he began doing dishes.
“Don’t know, something spontaneous, fun, definitely off-menu.” He replied, looking thoughtfully at his fork. Jodi wondered for a moment if he was thinking of stealing the utensil but then he turned on his hips as though a contortionist ready to permanently dislodge their vertebrae.
“Care to come?” he asked, staring at her expectantly. Jodi watched him a moment as he grinned and went back to doing dishes and, for a moment, she felt a thrill of fear. Was he even remotely normal? And why was she so okay with all of this? He had broken into her house, he was an unknown, unidentified character…who might be half crazy, fully crazy, or otherwise deranged.
“I’ll give you a lift.” She told him softly, her smile gone as she headed back upstairs to get her things…anything to get him out of my home…
“Thank you very much.” He replied from the kitchen after her.