The conversation was one of their typical Saturday-at-the-mall sorts of talks, but this wasn’t Saturday, and it surely wasn’t at the local, financially languishing mall.
Justine was driving her beat-up old Chevy carefully down the gravel road while she chatted with her best friend in the whole world, Melanie. The two girls had gone to their high school’s football game, for homecoming, then had gone on to the dance afterward. Now, at one in the morning, the girls were finally headed to Justine’s house for the night.
Melanie was telling Justine all about how she’d seen the quarterback of the team, Brett, snuggled up with someone other than Cassie, his head cheerleader girlfriend. Gossip was the bread and butter of their girl time and there was no better gossip than a cheating boyfriend, especially if that cheater was a popular jock.
Justine was ooh’ing and gasping, paying more attention to the story than the road, when her friend stopped talking, mid-sentence.
Justine glanced over at her raven-haired friend. Then she looked again, closer, her foot letting up on the gas in her distraction.
Melanie’s eyes were wide, wider than Justine had ever seen them, and they were glazed over, making her friend look almost like the guys at school everyone called stoners.
She reached for the other girl. “Mel, talk to me,
“Mel, talk to me,” she pleaded, worried her friend was having some sort of medical emergency.
Melanie’s blue eyes suddenly cleared, the teenager snapping back from wherever she’d gone. She picked up her sentence from exactly the place she’d left off, only to trail off when she noticed their slow speed and her best friend staring at her.
“What?” Melanie’s voice cracked faintly, a small clue that she wasn’t back to her normal, happy self.
“What happened, Mel? You were talking then you weren’t. I thought you were having a stroke or something,” Justine’s words rushed from her mouth.
Melanie shook her head, forcing a laugh out at the same time, “Silly. Of course, I’m not having a stroke. I think my brain just froze up. You know, from too much going on in there and not enough sleep.”
The dark beauty smiled brilliantly at her concerned friend.
Justine wasn’t so sure, but when Mel winked at her, she shrugged off her concerns, pushed on the accelerator, and continued on their journey to the comforts of her house.
Melanie, however, looked over her shoulder at the tattered man still standing beside the dark country lane. Even in the dimness of the half-full moon, she could make him out, with his moth-eaten khaki pants and shredded, dingy, yellowed button-up, and the faded, low-brimmed hat pulled down to obscure his face.
The man who always appeared just before she blanked out and someone died.