She was trying very hard not to look scared. Scared was
dangerous. Scared had gotten her married, gotten her beaten, gotten
her raped in her home and on the road. If she’d learned one thing
in the last three weeks it was this: sexy was a whole lot more
useful than scared.


It was a short run from La Porte to Champaign, but it was the
last run of a long day of contract hauling. Mike was tired and wanted
to get some sleep, so he almost didn’t stop for the slim figure in
white, holding out a pitiful thumb. The glare of headlights was
unforgiving, picking out every detail of tired skin and soiled
clothing. But there was still something desirable about those curves,
and it wouldn’t be human to expect a lonely man to turn down a shot
at them. He pulled over.

“Where ya going?” she called up, hand over her face to shield
against the glare.


“Is that anywhere near Chicago?”

Mike shook his head, bewildered. “Lady, where are you coming

“Connecticut. But I lost my map, and my last ride wasn’t
going any closer than this. This is the best I could do.” She
sounded stubborn. Like she was gonna get to Chicago if she had to
go through Austin, San Jose, and St. Paul to do it.

“Well, I’m not going to Chicago, but you’re not likely to get
another ride tonight. Why don’t you come to Champaign with me and
maybe we can find you someplace to sleep?” Mike smiled at her, the
smile that had won over a hundred waitresses from La Porte to

She didn’t hesitate a minute. As he pushed open the passenger
door, she swung a small hand up to the handle and hauled her body
inside, landing with a muffled thump on the padded seats. He’d
gotten them covered in fake fur a couple of years ago. They were
starting to wear through, but they were still a whole lot kinder
to bare skin than the original vinyl.

She had nothing with her. No purse, no backpack. Mike had
picked up a lot of hitchhikers in his time, and every single one of
them, no matter how down and out she looked, had something to carry
that last photo, that small hoard of cash. Judging by the tightness
of her jeans, this lady wasn’t hiding much of anything in them either.

She swung the door closed, and settled back with a deep sigh.
Mike glanced over at her. In the gentle moonlight she looked a whole
lot better. Soft curves were outlined under a thin lace top, curves
shielded only by a fall of pale wheat hair. Not quite your typical
blue-eyed blond, though. Her eyes were ice blue, her skin ghost-pale.
She looked like she’d blow away in the lightest breeze, or melt in
a summer storm.

“What’s your name, lady?”

She stiffened. “I’d rather not tell you. Do you need
a name? The lady suddenly looked almost dangerous. Cornered. Terrified.

“Nah, that’s okay. Although you could have made something up
and I would’ve believed you. How ’bout I just call you ‘lady’?”

She laughed softly, relaxing again. “That’s fine.” Mike
glanced over to catch that smile, and suddenly realized that she
wasn’t really relaxed. Her hands were clenched into tight balls,
her fingers digging into sweaty palms. She lifted her head,
watching him watching her. She smiled. Mike’s breath caught at the
sexiness in that smile. Suddenly he didn’t want to start the truck
again. He wanted nothing more than to peel off those tight jeans, and
shred that lace top.

He wanted to dig his fingers into those soft breasts, to
squeeze the hard nipples he could see stretching the fabric. Funny
how after so many women the curve of a full breast could still
drive him crazy. If he didn’t start moving soon, he’d take her
right now. Mike preferred his women willing, though, and this one
still looked scared. Maybe in a couple of hours she’d be a little
more willing. Maybe in a couple of hours, he wouldn’t be quite so

Mike took a deep breath and started the truck again, heading
back onto the highway, going west. She was silent beside him for a
long time, maybe an hour or so till they hit I-57 and started
heading south. The moon hid behind a cloud and the only light was
from Indiana stars. Then suddenly she started talking, opening her
mouth and letting the words pour out.

The lady told him why she ran, the man behind the story.
Mike listened to her dry-eyed, making the appropriate noises. It was
a story to break a heart, if you’d never heard one like it before.
Unfortunately, too many of the waitresses told the same tale.

She was beautiful in pain, thin and drawn taut under the
tension. As they pulled into a deserted rest stop, half an hour from
Champaign, she had just finished telling him about her journey. The
truckers who’d offered her a ride in exchange for a bed. The ride
before last had taken her bag, her money, her clothes.

She might have died that night if a hooker hadn’t taken pity
on her and given her something to wear. Naked women didn’t last
long on the streets. The flood of words dried to a trickle, then a
halt, in pace with the motion of the truck.

“You’re beautiful.” he told her. It was a line that had
worked many times before, perhaps because he meant it every time. All
Mike wanted was to treat her gently, to kiss away those lines on
her forehead. He wanted to taste the salt at the back of her neck,
to give her pleasure she had never known. Mike wanted to run his
hands down her long limbs, to tilt the soft seat back as far
as it would go, and go down on her until she screamed. To treat the
lady better some of the bastards on the road.

The line worked this time too, it seemed. Her body softened,
lips tilting up to smile at him, to beg for a kiss. She closed her
eyes then. Mike leaned across to her — only then did he notice
the hands still clenched, fingernails digging bruised crescents
into her palms. At that moment, he knew what else she’d gotten
from the hooker; she’d learned how to convince the johns that she
was enjoying what they did to her. And, being such a lady, she’d
learned to do it with grace. Mike pulled away abruptly, painfully.

“I gotta go. There’s a ladies’ room in back.” Mike said, as
he swung down out of the cab.

When he came back, she was still sitting there, looking
slightly stunned, slightly scared.

“Hey, listen –” he said as he gunned the engine, “I gotta
friend who lives in Champaign; runs a trinket shop in the plaza there.
She’s a little crazy, and doesn’t answer to her real name anymore,
but she’s a good kid. Why don’t you stay with her tonight? You
oughta be able to find someone going up to Chicago in the

“That…sounds good,” the lady replied hesitantly.

“Do you have somebody to stay with up there?” Mike asked.

She still looked surprised, and her eyes were dead, but there
was a bit of a smile in her voice as she said, “Yes, actually. A
girlfriend from high school, working on the Sout Side now.”

“Good,” Michael said. He started whistling then, some tune he
didn’t remember the words to. She didn’t say anything and he didn’t
stop whistling until they pulled into the driveway of a large house
at four am. He left her there at the door, his friend small and
sleepy-eyed beside the lady.

M.A. Mohanraj