Laura didn’t want to go see Jake’s parents. They were what she would call rich. Rich by her standards because she grew up in the trailer park and his mother always found ways to remind her of that. His father wasn’t so bad. He was quiet and polite but distant. But the mother was relentless in her criticisms. Sometimes it was in the form of underhanded comments or the way she would explain things to her like she was a 5 year old. It was something different every time. She had talked to Jake about it but he would always say that she was overreacting and that his mother loved her. She hated that bitch. But here she was, in the car heading to another dinner.
“What are they having for dinner tonight?” Laura asked.
“Foie gras I think,” Jake said.
“Gross. Why do they always have to have the most disgusting dishes.”
“It’s not that bad. It’s a strong taste but you learn to appreciate it.”
“It looks like wet cat food.”
“I’ll make deal with you. If you try a little I’ll hit the burger joint afterwards and get you a double cheeseburger,” Jake said looking over at her and smiling.
“This is why I love you. You know the way to a girl’s heart,” Laura laughed.
The one good thing about the trip was the scenery. It was nice to watch the buildings fade and be replaced by fields and trees. The farmers were always out this time of year with their tractors. Laura loved to see all the hay wrapped up in big white balls. She would call them cow eggs. She loved to roll the window down and smell the country. The cut hay made her feel warm and comforted like a summer blanket. It was one of those distinct smells that had been stamped into her brain. She was happy when she thought of this smell. But it also had the attachment of his parents which soured her experience.
As the car passed along the fields a figure began to appear further down the road.
“Hey, there’s somebody walking up ahead. Wonder what they’re doing out this far? There isn’t anything out here for miles,” Jake said.
“Should we stop and see if they need a ride?” Laura said.
“Yeah, we can stop and ask.”
The car came closer and they could see the worn backpack with long black hair flowing over it. It was a young woman who turned as she heard the sound of the approaching car, sticking her thumb out. The car slowed and Laura leaned out the window.
“Hi there, where you headed?” Laura asked.
“Just looking to get to the next town,” The girl said with a smile.
The first thing Laura noticed about her was her blue eyes. They were so piercing and bright. She couldn’t stop staring into them. Jake leaned over Laura who was stuck there in an awkward silence.
“Hop in,” Jake said hitting Laura on the arm to break her trance.
“Thanks,” The girl said taking her back pack off her shoulder getting into the back seat.
The car took off as the girl settled into the back. She went through her pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” The girl asked.
“No, go ahead,” Jake said.
“Thanks. My names Ronnie by the way.”
She lit the cigarette and took a slow drag looking into the rearview mirror.
“Where you from?” Laura asked.
“Here and there. I never like to stick around one place for too long. There’s too much to see. I like the road. You’re always meeting new people.”
“Aren’t you scared being all by yourself?” Laura said.
“I used to be in the beginning. Trust me. I’ve met some real weirdo’s and pervs out there.”
“Aren’t you scared they’ll try to do something to you?” Laura said.
“You mean rape me? Yeah, I’ve been in those situations. That’s why I carry this,” Ronnie said pulling out a foldable straight razor from her front pocket. It gleamed in the sunlight. “A girl’s best friend,” Ronnie said kissing the blade.
The car got quiet at the site of the brandished blade.
“You have a lot of rings, they’re beautiful,” Laura said breaking the silence.
“Thanks. I pick them up here and there.”
“Some of those are really nice.”
“What are you saying?”
“I…didn’t mean anything by it. I was just saying they were nice.”
“Poor people can’t have nice things is that it?”
“No, I wasn’t trying to say that I was just admiring them.”
“You have any rings?”
“No, I don’t have any yet. Someone hasn’t gotten up to it,” Laura said looking at Jake.
“Wow, way to put me on the spot,” Jake said laughing.
“You two are cute. I like you,” Ronnie said flicking her ash out the window. “A little advice, girl to girl, you don’t need a man to get a ring. If you want it bad enough nothing will stop you from having it.”
“I’m sure I’ll get one one day. Maybe when someone decides to stop having cold feet,” Laura said looking at Jake.
“Hey, rings don’t grow on trees. They are expensive as hell. It’s like 3 weeks of paychecks or something like that. It takes time to save up that much dough,” Jake said.
“Oh please, your parents are loaded.”
“I don’t get an allowance. I’m a grown ass adult. I make my own money. It’s not like they would just give me money if I asked.”
“That’s bullshit. When your car broke down they went out and bought you a new one.”
“That was an early birthday present.”
“Yeah, like every parent just goes out and buys their kids a new car.”
“Why are you making this a big deal?”
“Maybe I never thought about it and the more I do the more I can’t help thinking your mother thinks I’m not worth marrying.”
“There it is. It always comes back to my mother. Why is it every fight ends up coming back to her?”
“Maybe if you stuck up for me now and then it wouldn’t come up.”
“Can we talk about this later?”
The couple went silent and only the radio broke up the tense atmosphere.
Ronnie started to laugh.
“I’m sorry, but you two are funny. You’re like some couple on a TV show. “
The sun began to set over the fields and the sound of crickets became louder as the car sped through the open country. The song on the radio was a slow country song. The twang of the guitar fit the mood as the warm air flooded in and brought an end to the day.
“My dad used to listen to music like this,” Ronnie said.
“You still keep in touch with him,” Jake asked.
“I’m not.” Ronnie said flicking her butt out the window.
“Did you run away from home?” Laura said.
“Something like that.”
“You know they have woman’s shelters you could go to.”
“I’m not one for charity or pity. I’ve never cried about my life or the things that have happened to me. What would that change? I’ve learned a lot of things in my short life and the biggest thing is that the world doesn’t care about you so you gotta care about yourself.”
Laura looked at Jake for help with the conversation.
“What’s your favorite place you’ve visited so far?” Jake said looking back into the mirror.
“Why Cincinnati?” Jake said.
“You ever have Cincinnati chili?”
“No. What’s that?”
“It’s spaghetti topped with chili, onions and a mound of cheese. It’s stupid good. Trust me.”
“You a foodie?”
“I guess you could call me that. I always wanted to be a chef growing up.”
“You still could be.”
“It’s too late for me.”
“It’s never too late.”
“It is for me.”
Jake looked at Laura and made a shrug with his eyebrows. A sign came into view that read: Plainview 5 miles.
“We’ll stop there. Running low on gas. You’re welcome to go further with us if you want,” Jake said.
“Thanks but that stop is good enough for me. It’s getting dark and I’ll find a place to stay.”
They pulled into the gas station around dusk. The pumps were empty as Jake pulled up and put the car into park.
“You wanna go in and pay while I pump? Grab some snacks if you want,” Jake said to Laura as he got out. Laura and Ronnie got out too..
“I want to thank you both for the ride,” Ronnie said.
“You sure you don’t want a ride any further? Laura said.
“No, I’m fine. Thanks again. Don’t lose hope on that ring girl. Do whatever you have to to get it, lord knows I have,” Ronnie said with a wink as she slung her backpack over her shoulder and waved goodbye before disappearing into the town.
Laura made her way into the convenience store, grabbing a couple cans of Coke and a bag of chips. She made her way to the counter and suddenly dropped everything in her hands. The soda started to spray all over the floor.
“Hey lady, whatcha doin’?” The clerk said.
On the cork board behind the counter there was a FBI flier of the 10 most wanted. Number 7 on the list was Ronnie. It said she was wanted for the murder of at least 13 people. She was considered armed and extremely dangerous.
“You ok?” The clerk asked.
“I…I’m…yeah. I’m sorry they just slipped.”
Laura paid and made her way outside. She looked around to see if Ronnie was still in sight but she had disappeared.
“Why are you all wet?” Jake said putting the gas nozzle back.
“What?” Laura said.
“I said why are you all wet?”
“I dropped a soda.”
“That sucks. I have a towel in the trunk. I’ll get it for you.”
Laura got in the car and Jake went into the trunk and came back with the towel. Laura wiped herself off and they got back on the road. As they passed through the town Laura looked out the window and thought of what Ronnie had said: you don’t need a man to get a ring. If you want it bad enough nothing will stop you from having it.”