a short story by Jeremy C Kester
He considers himself the utmost professional in his job, never inserting himself into the lives his job intersects him with. Then he gets a fare for a ride he can’t help but to break his rules for…
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“Can we talk?”
Before I was able to answer, I looked into the rear-view to see her hand adjusting an earbud into her ear. Instead of opening my mouth, I turned my attention back forward, trying to remain the courteous driver.
It would be nice to say that it was more common. She was a rare fare. Beautiful. Stunning even, with the dual strike of a face and body that stole away my sense of time and reason. It had taken me a few seconds to respond to her when I picked her up, confirming that I was the correct vehicle and driver she summoned.
“No, it has to be now,” she said, her voice strained and anxious.
Normally, it was easy to ignore the conversations of passengers. Years of practice helped, listening only enough to catch the right words and tone that signaled they were talking to me. The rest of it simply faded to the background noise of the drive. You learn to ignore whatever’s being said back there. Most of it is meaningless anyway — people talking simply to fill the void. And really to avoid talking to me.
I consider myself an easy guy to talk to. I’m not some crazy extrovert. Nor am I crazy, really. Just a simple guy earning a living and enjoying it… mostly. I mean, how many people are totally into their job?
“No. I don’t want to wait until I get back, Jerry,” she said.
At the same time, the GPS chirped its directions. Luckily, I caught it still, even though my attention kept getting drawn to the woman in the back seat. I moved the car with no trouble as she sighed. That kind of disgusted sigh.
“Because it’s bullshit,” she said. “Even then you won’t talk to me. You won’t even listen to me.”
All my thoughts of keeping ignorant of the conversation, you know, that professionalism that we drivers all pretend to have, it all flipped out the window like a loose receipt while driving with the windows open. She was too damn gorgeous. Almost a driving hazard if you ask me.
I was able to keep enough focus on the road, but damn it was hard.
Surely, given enough time with her I might’ve been able to see past the looks and all — as though I’d ever get that chance. Guys like me, scraping by a living driving cars, we didn’t get those opportunities.
“No, you don’t,” she continued. Her voice was edging on forgoing calm, like she was going to cry or something in that realm. “You don’t listen to me and then you push me out the door before your wife comes home.”
Shit. I almost missed the turn. The GPS chirped at me. The car moved a bit too hard to the side. My hope was that whatever happened, she was focused on the phone and didn’t notice.
Once I got myself and the car leveled out and on track (mere fractions of a second in real time), I looked into the rear-view mirror. She looked right at me.
It was as though that little mistake told her everything she needed to know about what was going on. Her driver was a piece of shit and listening in on her conversation.
My eyes shifted back from her and then back to her again. She still stared at me through the mirror. There wasn’t any anger there, though. It felt like… like sadness.
“Why do you always have to bring that up? I don’t care about the money… So? Why do I care? The money was never why I did it, Jerry. And fuck you for thinking that it is!”
After being caught, I really had to concentrate to keep my eyes on the road. I tried to let myself fall into a trance with the GPS. It didn’t work. All that could be said is that I tried, and I still got her where she was going safely.
“Because I love you, Jerry!” Her voice fell over that cliff. She was crying. “Oh god, fuck you! Why would I tell your wife, you piece of shit?”
The profile of this Jerry guy was coming together nicely in my head. Married. Probably had a few kids. Was a lousy husband and father, always working. And if not working, out finding young, gorgeous women who he could easily manipulate. I know too many guys like that. Guys that think that because they’re tough shit that they can treat people like disposable things.
Fortunately, I know more guys who treat people really nice and respectfully even though they are also rich and powerful.
Too many guys of that first type, though. And this Jerry was one of them.
Something in the way that the girl changed, how she drew in and cried more told me that this Jerry guy changed his tactics. He was groveling. He knew what was happening and realized that he couldn’t bully her into staying.
Reflecting back on this, I think that she knew that he’d try this shit. She knew he’d plead and beg, and if she had to look him in the eye and hold her ground, she’d’ve crumbled. Better over the phone so she at least had a damn chance.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice weak from crying. “I just can’t keep living like this. I have to leave.”
Those words must’ve lit a fuse on the bomb that was Jerry’s temper. Even I could hear his yelling over the phone. Words like bitch, cunt, and whore flew from his mouth as though he was a toddler who just learned those words.
I felt myself growing hot with anger. Something in me wanted to spring up and reach through the woman’s phone and punch the guy. It was more frustrating having to sit there and listen to it. Yet, I could do nothing more than drive. Damn I never thought I’d have this much trouble focusing on following directions and driving.
It was a while before I realized that the phone had gone silent. Maybe she hung up or maybe he did; I had no way of knowing. All I know is I was wrapped up in my own anger over the whole situation that I hadn’t noticed the car go quiet.
I dared to look into the rear-view mirror. She was gazing sadly out the window, the phone sitting in her hand on her lap. She was crying. Softly. Only an occasional sniff would come as she wiped her eyes.
The GPS chirped another direction. I allowed myself to settle back into the routine of a normal fare. Only a few turns — a few minutes were left in the trip.
“He’ll try again,” she said, breaking the quiet that had taken over the ride. It took me too long to realize she was talking to me.
“Huh? I’m sorry?” I said like some damned fool.
“He’ll call me again. Jerry will. Trying to get me to come back. At least until some other girl falls for him…”
“Look,” I said, trying to backtrack since I felt like shit for listening in on her tragedy. “I’m really sorry for listening in on you. I — I don’t normally listen in on a fare’s conversation.”
She gave me a weak smile that I caught as I split my attention between finishing her and fare and now talking to her. “It’s OK,” she said. “I think it helped knowing you were listening — I felt like I couldn’t disappoint you and give into him. It helped me keep my promise to myself.”
A strange feeling washed over me. Some mix of pride, shame, humility, and joy. I really didn’t know what to think in how my being an asshole and listening in — in eaves-dropping on her — helped her in the end. It felt uncomfortable to me, but strangely worth it.
All I could think to say is, “don’t feel bad. That Jerry guy is an asshole. I’ve seen too many guys like him. You’re better off without him.”
She gave another weak smile as our eyes met.
Honestly, it was a stupid platitude, telling her that. Of course, she knew the bastard was a bad guy. Why else would she break it off with him?
That’s the problem with love, lust, and everything in between. There is no rhyme or reason for anything we do for all of it. I’ve known myself in plenty of spots where I made bad choice after stupid decision all in the hopes it’d please a girl I was with. None of it ever worked, but we just keep trying anyway, hoping that this next time will be the thing — this next dumb choice will make it all worth it.
We’re like gamblers hopelessly losing against the house hoping the next bet will set us ahead.
“I guess I always knew…” she said, her voice trailing off toward the end.
The last few turns, those last few minutes were all spent in silence. Neither of us said anything else.
When I pulled up to her stop, she sat there for a moment as I told her we were there. As though she couldn’t tell.
A deep sigh later, she thanked me, lingering for what felt like too long. “I hope you have a really good life,” I said, with as much meaning as I could put behind it.
“Thank you,” she said sadly as she stepped out of the car.
Like all fares, I eventually forgot about her. Not totally, but her name and all faded into memory.
Life continued on much as it had. Some day’s were harder than others. Other days passed in a blur. Either way, I kept driving.
A month later, I got a ping for a new fare. Without thinking, I acknowledged it and moved on. Since her, I had grown far more capable of blanking out and focusing on the task at hand. Although, I wouldn’t say that my fare with that woman had been good or bad, it was simply that I remembered feeling guilty for intruding in her conversation like that.
I drove up, but as I pulled up, I dropped something, and bent down to pick it up. As I reached for it, I heard the door open and the person get into the car.
As the car door shut, “sorry. Hold on a second, please” I said hoping I didn’t annoy my new fare with the obvious delay. “Just trying to grab something I dropped.”
There was only silence in reply. It was normal. Amazing the number of really introverted people use ride shares and never speak.
When I got up and looked in the mirror — it was her. Only she looked happy.
“Hi,” she said, a smile broad on her face.
“Uh, hi,” I replied, unsure of what to say. All the memory of that car ride came flooding back. “Uh, did that Jerry guy ever try getting you back?”
As soon as I asked it, I could feel my insides twisting. It was a dumb question and certainly not the first thing you ask to a pretty girl — hey, how is that douchebag of a guy you were trying to get away from? Stupid, really.
“Or course,” she answered politely, as though I didn’t just commit a conversational foul. “But I stayed firm. Turns out though that some other girl he was seeing at the same time told his wife. He’s getting what he deserves, but I feel bad for his wife and kids — and the part I had in it all.”
A slight drop in her eyes and smile and I could tell she was really serious about that. I reached back and touched her hand. “We all make stupid decisions in the hope it finds us love. Don’t blame yourself for his problems.”
She smiled as I sat back up and accepted the destination, acknowledging I had my fare.
“So you know how many rides I paid for to find you?”
I laughed. “What’s it been? A month? Probably quite a few. You’d gotta be crazy to do that to find one… driver…”
The realization only came to me too slowly.
“Did you want to grab some coffee or something?” She asked, smiling as she played with her hair.
Did I ever mention she was gorgeous?
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