LYING WITH STRANGERS
Chloe closed her eyes and swayed to the beat of the music blasting from the car's stereo. It was louder than she liked, but every time she turned the volume down, Trace turned it up again, higher than before. It was his car, he said, and he paid for the gas, so she didn't have any right to complain. Chloe wasn't in a complaining mood anyway. For the first time in her life—well, in a really long time—she felt almost happy.
The late September sun beat through the old Camaro's windows and warmed her skin. She stretched her legs out in front of her and tried to pretend she was at the beach, at a warm beach somewhere nice, like Hawaii or Tahiti. The only beach Chloe had ever been to was Ocean Beach in San Francisco and it was almost never warm there, even when the sun was out. Chloe's dream—one of her many dreams—was to someday lie in the sun on a tropical beach. White sand, blue water, gentle breezes, and maybe one of those fancy drinks they served with a teensy umbrella. Chloe went to movies and she read books. She knew there was a whole world out there waiting for her if her luck ever changed.
Trace slammed on the brakes and hit the horn. "Asshole," he screamed as he swerved around the car in front of him and gave the driver the finger.
Chloe gripped the armrest. "Slow down."
"Are you driving?" Trace shot back. He sped up.
"'Please, Trace,' " he mimicked. "Pretty please with sugar on top."
"For the baby." Chloe put her hand on her abdomen. There was a small rounded mound there that pleased her. Finally, she was beginning to show.
"Hell, he's gonna take after his old man and love going fast." But Trace slowed to a mere seventy-five.
"She," Chloe whispered under her breath. If the fates were listening, she wanted to keep the odds even, maybe even tilt them in favor of a girl.
Chloe closed her eyes again, but she'd left the beach behind. Just as well. No point wishing for what she'd never have. And she couldn't really complain. She'd been scared to death to tell Trace she was pregnant. She knew he wouldn't be happy about it, and he hadn't been, but at least he hadn't asked her to get rid of it. Well, once or twice, but only when he'd been drinking or was angry with her. And now he sometimes seemed almost tickled about having a kid. Chloe wasn't sure Trace had any idea what having a baby was actually like, but he sure liked to boast about it with his buddies. It made him feel like a man.
Not that Chloe knew any more about babies than Trace did. But one of her other dreams was of having a family of her own. A real family, not like the one she'd grown up in. A normal family with a normal life. And here she was now, expecting her own, sweet little girl. Okay, maybe it would be a boy. But they'd have a girl next.
Trace slowed further and pulled off the freeway.
"What are you doing?" Chloe asked, suddenly wrenched from the serenity of her dreams. They were nowhere near their apartment. They hadn't even crossed the bridge into Oakland.
"What I'm doing is driving the fucking car."
"I meant why are we getting off here? This isn't the right exit." It wasn't even a good part of town. Chloe could tell by looking. A lot of the storefronts were boarded up and the rest had iron bars across the windows. The street reminded her of some of the pictures she'd seen from the Iraq war.
"We're just going to be a minute, okay? So shut up and sit tight."
"What's going on?"
Trace's muscled arms tensed as he gripped the wheel. Then he looked over at her and patted her knee. "Everything's cool."
He pulled into the QuickStop lot and parked. The storefront was covered in graffiti and the grimy windows were plastered with faded advertisements for booze and cigarettes.
"Don't go anywhere," he joked, getting out of the car.
As if, Chloe thought. Where would she go? She might have her dreams, but her realities were pretty limited.
A dark-haired man with a green gym bag slung over his shoulder came out of the store. He gave her a friendly nod, then got into the only other car in the lot, a shiny new Lexus. It seemed like an odd place for someone who could afford a Lexus to shop, but Chloe knew if she put her mind to it, she could come up with plenty of reasons why he might. If Trace was here they might have started a game of "Maybe." Maybe he needed cigarettes, or a soft drink. Maybe he was the landlord. Maybe he was scouting out locations for a movie. The explanations usually got so preposterous that Chloe would wind up with the giggles. Without Trace, the game wasn't the same.
She closed her eyes but the magic dreaminess was gone. The building blocked the sun, and besides, she felt uncomfortable sitting in a car alone in this neighborhood. It wasn't like their own block was so great, but it was a whole lot better than this.
Chloe was thirsty anyway. She grabbed her purse and headed into the store. The man in the Lexus was sitting in his car, looking at a map spread out against his steering wheel. He had to have been really lost to end up in this part of town.
The door triggered a little bell that jangled as she entered. Both Trace and the clerk jumped and turned toward her.
Trace glared. "I told you to stay in the car."
He hadn't, not really, but Chloe wasn't about to argue. "I'm thirsty." She spotted the refrigerator case across the store. "I'm going to get a soda."
"Get the hell out of here, Chloe."
She turned. She hadn't seen the gun in Trace's hand until now. Her body went cold. She hadn't even known he owned a gun.
© Jonnie Jacobs. Web site by interbridge.