The Girl In The Road

Woman with intense stare, grey velvet background with superimposed stars, the girl in the road

A mysterious figure gives Carrie pause for thought…

There was something about driving along on a starry night on your way to a first date. Something magical. All that possibility and anticipation.

Carrie turned on some music as she headed out on quiet roads to a trendy out-of-the-way restaurant to meet Alex.

Alex – tall, handsome – ran his own personal training business, went sailing at weekends on his own boat…

He’d been on her mind ever since they met two weeks ago at a friend’s party. Maybe he’d be The One.

So… where was the excitement she should be feeling? Despite the starry night and the memory of Alex’s broad shoulders, she felt quite flat. Not at all as fizzy and psyched as she should be.

More like she wanted to turn around and head back to the old café where she usually spent Friday nights, where her friend Janey was the manager and would pour them each a glass of wine when the other diners said goodnight.

“It’s been a long week,” she said aloud to herself, “you just need to get into the right mood.”

She reached to turn up the volume of a peppy pop song and glanced up again.

She saw the heart-stopping sight of someone in the road ahead.

Her headlamps flashed over the woman, who was standing right in Carrie’s path – as if she’d just stumbled out of the hedgerow.

Carrie slammed on the brakes. The car juddered – squealed to a halt – throwing her against her seatbelt.

She heard a thump and winced – but it was only the woman’s hands against the bonnet. That was how close she’d come.

She was inches from knocking her over, but the woman, steadying herself against the car, was still standing.

Carrie’s heart raced a mile a minute, but the shock wasn’t over yet, because the face looking in at her from the other side of the windshield was her own!

Two weeks ago, she’d been sitting at Vince’s kitchen table complaining about the rude woman at the bank she’d just been unfortunate enough to have a meeting with.

“But she could have given you enough money to get your website really off the ground.” He was managing to listen to her even as he did something really complicated with a fennel bulb and a lethal-looking knife.

“But I’d have to deal with her all the time,” Carrie said. “And she was so obnoxious…”

“Who cares? You’d have been able to give up that data entry job you hate and put all your time into doing what you really want: focusing on your Social Petworking website.”

He placed a plate of scallops with lime and coriander in front of her, beautifully arranged. Carrie’s mouth watered as she reached for her cutlery.

“It’ll happen,” she said confidently. “And when it does, it’ll be on my own terms. This is delicious, by the way.”

Vince just shook his head.

“You know your problem?” he said wearily. “You just can’t get out of your own way.”

Her mum used to say the same thing. Carrie had refused her offer to help with her website too. She was a bit bossy, was Carrie’s mum, and she’d want to take over entirely, Carrie just knew it. So no thanks, she said, I’ll manage.

It was taking off, her site and app for people who wanted to chat to others with similar pets – to share advice, or perhaps to meet up with them for dog walks or pet shows.

Carrie wanted to manage it on her own, so she’d know when it was a success that it was all down to her own hard work.

Clearly, both her mum and Vince found it an infuriating character trait in her. They would have got on famously if they ever met.

Not that that was likely to happen, since Carrie had broken up with Vince, and since she barely saw her mum after that row they’d had…

Vince would have liked her, though, Carrie thought. Vince got along with everyone.

It was one of the first things Carrie fell for – the charm and ease he had with the customers he cooked for, and the passion and interest he had in the food he made. He was so appealingly enthusiastic.

The next thing she fell for, was that he’d asked her out by spelling You’re beautiful in vermicelli, which was baked, dusted with icing sugar and utterly delicious – no mean feat.

At first everything seemed so wonderful. They spent hours together at food markets and vintage fairs, or walking her dog, Ronnie, in the countryside.

It seemed they had so much in common. She even liked the goofy way his strawberry blond hair stood up from his head after a shift in a steamy kitchen, like a cartoon character’s hair.

Then he began to get serious.

Serious about his work, spending more time in the kitchen or on training courses, trying to improve his skills – and some weeks she barely saw him.

He got serious about her, too. He started making plans for them far in advance. He bugged her about meeting her family. He even mentioned marriage!

Vince always had an eye on the future, was always thinking long-term. But that just wasn’t Carrie’s style at all.

That was when she started to wonder… was this really what she wanted? Was Vince really the one?

That was around the time that Alex caught her eye. He was graceful where Vince was clumsy – Vince always had a million blue plasters on his fingers. Alex was sophisticated where Vince was goofy. He was a breath of fresh air.

They’d only chatted, but Carrie couldn’t deny her attraction to Alex.

The next time Vince cancelled a date to work late – yet again – she suggested they give it a break between them.

“I need some space,” she said.

There was a long silence at the end of the phone before Vince said quietly, “Whatever you like,” and hung up.

For days she ignored the slightly queasy feeling in her stomach, the sense that something awful was about to happen. When Alex called to ask her out, having got her number from her friend, she said yes.

So here she was, on her way to meet him, when the girl stepped into the road.

The shock of the near miss, and then the shock of seeing her own face, had her so electrified with tension that she could only stare.

But it wasn’t her own eyes that stared back at her through the windshield – it was a terrified-looking young woman’s.

“Sorry,” the woman mouthed, appalled.

Carrie rolled down her window. “Are you all right?”

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear you coming, and your lights were hidden by the curve in the road…”

Carrie took some deep breaths. The girl did the same, clutching her chest.

“My car broke down…”

“Do you want a lift into town?” Carrie offered.

The girl smiled gratefully and came around to the door of the passenger seat and climbed in.

“Thanks. It’s kind of spooky out here.”

“Yeah,” Carrie muttered. “You start imagining all kind of weird things.”

She remembered the phrase Vince and her mum had used. You just can’t get out of your own way…

What an idiot she’d been!

Alex wasn’t a patch on Vince. She’d just been afraid – like she was always afraid – of getting what she wanted, and the chance of it not living up to its promise.

Every time she got close to the possibility of a dream come true, she ran in the opposite direction.

She was only glad that something had stopped her this time.

Janey was busy serving customers when Carrie arrived at the café. She just grinned at Carrie and pointed back towards the kitchen.

Carrie went and stood inside the kitchen doors for a few moments until Vince noticed her.

She watched as he finished plating up a dish of seafood pasta before wiping his hands and coming warily towards her.

He looked defeated and sore, not like his usual self at all.

Carrie was going to tell him all about her strange evening. Instead she found herself saying, “I was thinking of going to see my mum tomorrow. I owe her an apology. Will you come with me? I think it’s time you two met.”

Vince gave her a searching look. She waited, heart racing again.

“You’re both very important to me,” she said.

He must have seen something in her – some change – because he smiled at her, just like he used to.

“I’d really like that,” he said.