The raindrops that collected between the arcing swipes of Beth’s windshield wipers blurred the lights on the four-lane highway; red lights from brakes and the traffic signal streaked across the dark glass. Her breaths were shallow and quick; her eyes danced back and forth between the car braking in front of her and the rearview mirror. The large Ram pickup was so close that its headlights only showed as an intense glow at the bottom of her rear window. She could even make out the silhouette of its driver.
James. Her husband.
Well... one way or another, by the time this night was through that would no longer be the case.
Beth's minivan sped towards the intersection that was now within a couple hundred yards. Three cars in the right lane were already waiting at the light. The turn lane on the left had a line as well. Her eyes scanned back and forth, searching for a crack, a gap, any lane to pass through so she wouldn't have to stop at the red light.
Veer over off the right side of the road?
No, that wouldn’t work. With no shoulder on the back country highway - just a drop off into the mud created by a three-day downpour that seemed to flow from an open spigot in the sky - her little van would end up in the ditch. In the dark. With James right behind her. She shuddered at the thought.
What about the left side?
No, the left turn lane sat adjacent to a steep ditch; she’d flip the van if she tried.
Maybe she could squeeze between the braking car in front of her and the cars in the right lane? She’d hit them, but at least she’d be moving. And James’ unhealthy love of his truck might just prevent him from following through the small gap. Then there was his fervent adherence to the law – well, traffic laws. His family held multiple positions in the town's police force; as such, he always made sure that he and Beth always obeyed traffic laws – not even doing 5 over the speed limit.
If only his adherence to the law extended beyond traffic laws. Her life might not have been the hell she’d been living the past seven years. The hell she was escaping tonight - either way.
Ramming through the gap seemed her best option. And if not for Katie in the backseat, she would have gone for it too.
Was it too much to hope for that the car in front of her would run the light? She’d run two lights already hoping to put some distance between the van and James’ truck. She'd had a head start on him, grabbing Katie and sprinting out the door when he took the Sunday paper into the bathroom. She’d have 20 minutes, she thought. She overestimated by at least 15 minutes.
There was only one highway in or out of town, one of the downsides of living in the small Georgia town. She hoped he would guess wrong about the direction she headed, thinking she went North to her family.
Unfortunately, he'd guessed correctly.
She hadn’t moved her foot from the accelerator, still looking for a way out. Maybe the car in front of her would decide to barrel through the light too, somehow connecting with her sense of urgency through some cosmic bond between a fearful soul and a kind Samaritan. She willed her terror, her urgency, into the driver’s consciousness in front of her.
The red brake light didn’t falter, maintaining its streaky blur across her windshield. The driver didn’t get her message.
Time was ticking; she’d need to brake soon. She snuck another quick glance in her rearview – though, she knew what she’d see. The blackened silhouette somehow seemed less ominous than the man she knew was concealed by the visage of darkness.
She couldn’t wait any longer; she needed to brake. Now. The drenched asphalt only worsened her situation; she was already flirting with disaster. At long last, Beth lifted her foot from the accelerator.
A yellow light streaked across her windshield then vanished. Then another. And another.
The car in front of her began to drift into the right lane behind the three stopped cars, its right turn signal flashing periodically to indicate its driver’s intent. Maybe they got the message after all. Her heart soared, a huge weight suddenly lifting. The left lane was empty; the only things in her way were traffic laws and a red light – both of which paled in comparison to what would happen to her if she had to stop.
Decisiveness, born of fear and desperation, smashed her foot back down on the gas pedal. The four-cylinder engine whined as it kicked back into action at full throttle, trying to keep up with Beth’s demands. A second later, the van responded by lurching forward, approaching the intersection at an ever-increasing speed.
This was it; she’d make it through this light as well. What came next, she had no clue. She was sure that Katie’s presence was the only thing preventing him from running her van off the road. How long could she go before she had to stop, though? Her getaway wasn’t planned; she didn’t fill up before she left. A quick glance told her that her countdown was at a fourth of a tank and ticking.
Looking up from her gas gauge, a blue glint caught her eye. She hazarded a glance to the left turn lane.
A police cruiser.
Her first instinct was to panic. Running a light in front of a cop? Years of conditioning taught her to slam on the brakes, come to a stop before she got in trouble.
For a moment, her foot left the gas pedal yet again.
Her mind worked quickly, though, forming a plan in a split second.
One of two outcomes would occur, either one preferable to continuing this game of cat and mouse. The least likely? James stopping at the light after she ran through. James’ insistence on following traffic laws might still win out over his rage-fueled pursuit; she wasn’t banking on it, though.
More than likely, the cop would pull her over. A ticket was a minor risk compared to the alternative; she voted for the option that resulted in her being linked up with a cop against her crazed spouse. Her mind made up, she pressed the gas pedal to the floor.
The front bumper flew past the rear of the car that had moved out of her way just moments before.
This was it.
Past the third car in the right lane.
Next to the police cruiser. She took a quick glance to see the blurred face of the officer looking over at her.
Make sure you’re paying attention, officer.
She looked back at the light in time to see a green streak across her windshield. The light changed. Legal to drive through. No laws would be broken.
The minivan raced past the intersection. Beth looked in her side mirror, her stomach sinking when the cop didn’t pull out behind her. Why would he? There was no crime committed.
No, wait. She was speeding, wasn’t she? Wasn’t she?
She stared at her driver’s side mirror, begging the cop to pull out in her mind. She watched as the cars in the turn lane began to move, waiting to see her last hope disappear onto the side street. The officer began to drive…
…only, he didn’t turn at the street. Blue lights came on; the siren wailed. The sound pierced the night as well as the fear building in her chest. She never thought she’d be ecstatic to be pulled over. She activated her turn signal as soon as the blue lights kicked on.
Only… so did James. He stayed right behind her, pulling over to the side of the road along with the officer.
Beth wondered if the cop meant to pull both of them over; after all, James was speeding right along with her. It would make things easier to explain to the officer and even easier for the officer to apprehend her maniacal husband.
As she stopped, she watched her rearview mirror to see if James was crazy enough to get out with the cop there. He hadn’t moved yet; that was good. She breathed a deep sigh of relief.
The officer pulled his car canted in front of the minivan. Beth was a bit uncomfortable; it was so close that her car was essentially pinned between the cruiser and James’ truck. The chase had her constantly looking for ways out, but the cop’s presence eased her mind.
He opened the cruiser door. At the same time, she noticed the truck door open as well.
Something wasn’t right.
As the cop approached her car, she thought she recognized his gait. No…
“I told you one day she’d give you trouble, Jimmy. You’re lucky I was on shift tonight.”
That voice. No… God no.
She couldn’t see his face as she raced past the cruiser at the light. If she had, she might have known better than to stop. As he reached her window, the officer turned to her.
“Hey there. Beth.”