Share the RoadbyThucydides©
It was about 4:00 one late spring afternoon and I was driving casually up a country road, on the way back to town after doing a soil stability analysis on a rural site. I was coming up on a bicyclist headed the same way, half watching him/her to be sure I wasn't crowding the rider with my F250. The rider was wearing one of those tight, ugly unisex cycling outfits, and I had given up checking out cyclist's rear ends after a couple occasions of discovering, on passing the rider, that the cute butt at the back of the bike had a beard at the front. I've got no problem with gays, but I'm not and I can't help it if I found the experience disturbing. I stuck to watching them just enough to be sure I was sharing the road fairly after that.
I had just swung out to pass the rider with plenty of space when a black and white blur flew out of the roadside bushes and hit the front wheel, sending the rider ass over teakettle. I slammed on the brakes and turned to see a big, ugly dog snapping at the downed rider as he/she tried to fend it off with the bike from a sitting position. Well, that's ridiculous; I grabbed my hawthorn walking stick from behind the seat and jumped out, waving and yelling. The dog turned to me and got a couple good whacks in the ribs before it put its tail between its legs and ran off yelping. I turned to the rider.
I looked a little closer. Definitely female, even under the eyesore cycling outfit. She pulled off her helmet, releasing a tangled mass of strawberry blond hair, and looked up at me.
"Scraped up but nothing worse, I think. Where did that thing come from?"
"Must belong to one of those hillbillies out here. Let me help you up."
She started to take my hand and then winced.
"Darn, my hands are really scraped up."
"OK, let's try it this way."
I held her upper arm to keep her steady as she picked herself up. She took a couple steps and then staggered, almost going down, and I threw an arm around her waist. Not a big waist, I noticed in passing. She let me take her light weight.
"You hit your head or something?"
"No, I think it's just adrenaline aftershocks. That was scary."
I dropped the tailgate and half lifted her onto it.
"Just sit there for a few minutes and get your bearings. Let me see your hands."
She held them out. Both palms were well scraped up, with a couple fairly deep cuts that looked like they had gravel in them. Nice hands otherwise, long fingers well cared for.
"I need the first aid kit. Sit tight a second."
When I came back I noticed a line of blood running down her leg. Potentially attractive legs under better circumstances.
"Looks like your knees took a hit too. How do they feel?"
She swung her legs a little.
"Just scraped and bruised, I think."
She sucked on her lower lip. Cute gesture on her.
"I'm really putting you to a lot of trouble here. Don't you need to go someplace?"
"What am I going to do, leave you ten miles from town injured and with a busted bike? I work for myself so there's no one tracking my time. I'll take off if you insist but I wouldn't feel right about it."
She smiled. A smile that should be registered as a lethal weapon.
"I appreciate it, believe me. I just hate to be such a bother."
I pulled the Leatherman off my belt and folded out the tweezers.
"Let me see those hands again."
I quickly removed the gravel and applied Neosporin and a bandage, and then did the same to her knee.
"You're pretty good at that."
"I was a Devil Doc years ago. Once you've learned to deal with IED injuries a scraped hand is pretty easy. Ready to walk to the door of the truck?"
"You don't have to do all that."
"Like I said, I can't leave you out here stuck. Go hop in."
She gingerly walked to the door of the truck, keeping one hand on the side for balance, while I tossed her bike in the back and climbed in the other side.
"First things first. Hi, I'm Ben McLoughlin."
She started to stick out her hand and then thought better of it.
"Jill Williams. I'd normally be glad to meet you, but this way of doing it is painful."
"Hope it doesn't happen often- at least the bike wreck part of it. So, Jill, should I take you home or to the doctor's office?"
"Home would be great. I just want to get cleaned up and get some rest. I live over on Decatur Street."
I tried to make small talk on the way, but she was obviously worn out and struggling to hold up her end, so I let it go and finished the ride in silence except for the directions to her house. She lived in a small house in an older but comfortable part of town, and had a Miata parked in the driveway. She lifted herself out of the truck gingerly, and I climbed out my side.
"Where do you want the bike?"
"Just set it next to the garage for now. Look, you've been really great."
"Well, thanks again."
For the last half of the ride I had been debating whether to suggest that I'd like to see her again. I decided to skip it- she obviously wasn't in any mood to be flirting after the crappy day she'd been having, and it would be sleazy to act like I was expecting something for helping her out.
"Glad to do it. Good luck."
As I drove off I wondered if I was making the biggest mistake of my life.
A couple days later I found an unfamiliar cell phone under the seat of the truck while I was looking for my spare batteries. None of the guys on my crew recognized it, but one had the same model and charged it up for me. None of the names in the directory looked familiar, so I took a chance and pushed the "Home" button. I got a female voice.
"Uh, hello... I'm not sure who I'm calling here but I think I have your cell phone."
"My name's Ben McLoughlin. I found this thing in my truck."
The voice warmed up like the sun popping out from behind a cloud.
"Oh, Ben, this is Jill Williams! Remember you saved me from that dog and gave me a ride home?"
"Of course I remember. You must have dropped your phone. How would you like me to get it back to you?"
"Can we meet up tomorrow?"
"Well, tomorrow's Friday. I have to be out in the field most of the day. How about I buy you a drink after work?"
"Sounds good, but I'm buying. It's the least I can do after you were so helpful."
"You don't owe me anything, but we'll figure something out. Say 6:00 at Anthony's?"
"Works for me. See you then."
Anthony's is a seafood restaurant and bar on the waterfront boardwalk, which makes it a great place to have an after work drink and watch the sunset. I got there early enough to grab a table at the window overlooking the marina and ordered a beer while I waited. As I idly watched a seal in the harbor I heard a low whistle from the next table. I turned and saw most of the men in the bar looking in the same direction. A stunningly beautiful woman in elegant business clothes had just walked in and appeared to be looking around for someone. Some guys have all the luck. Her strawberry blond hair was in a neat braid- wait, strawberry blonde? I looked again and she saw me, smiled, and strode toward my table, making me the target of all the envious looks for once in my life. I stood up and held her chair.
"Jill? Wow, you clean up well!"
"Thanks. I really wasn't at my best the other day."
"No surprise given the kind of day you were having. How are your hands?"
"No problems, just waiting for them to heal."
She showed me her palms, which did look better. Graceful gold bracelet, no hint of a ring- this was looking better all the time.
"What did you say you were? A Devil Dog?"
"No, a Devil Dog is a Marine. I was a Devil Doc- a Navy corpsman attached to a Marine unit. That was a long time ago, though."
"Not really. I got out before 9/11. Actually, I spent most of my service in Korea. Sometimes I thought that every new Marine had to learn the hard way not to fight Korean civilians. I patched up more drunk jarheads on Saturday nights than I care to remember."
There actually had been some pretty scary nights along the DMZ, but why bring up a downer like that?
"You in medicine now?"
"No, I'm a civil engineer. The Navy was more a growing up experience than a career choice. So what do you do?"
"I'm a lawyer with the state Department of Justice."
"How did you get into that?"
The waitress came by and Jill ordered a glass of wine for herself and another Red Hook for me. The conversation never slowed down, and before we knew it the sun was all the way down.
"Want to order some dinner? Any other plans tonight?"
"Dinner sounds great. All I was going to do tonight was read a bunch of work files."
"Sad thing for a pretty woman to be doing on a Friday night."
"Thanks. I'm too busy for much of a social life outside of work and I learned the hard way that dating other lawyers is a dead end street. The legal community gossips more than my college sorority. This is the closest I've come to a date in months."
"So is this a date or a friendly dinner?"
"Depends. Are you going to try to kiss me goodnight?"
She rolled her eyes.
"Never ask a woman's permission to kiss her. Just try it if it feels right and see what happens."
"So we'll know if this is a date or not at the end of the evening?"
Her eyes twinkled.
"I guess you'll have to try it and see what happens."
Dinner was good, although I don't remember a bit of what we ate. I was too busy talking with Jill about anything and everything to notice.
"You always carry a big stick in your truck?"
"I got out of the military partly because of a knee injury. It usually doesn't bother me but sometimes I have to cover some rough ground for my job, and it helps. Not to mention it's useful for some other things, as you saw."
"Any good stories out of the injury?"
"It was just a dumb accident. They didn't even give me a Purple Heart for it."
"The unit was taking our turn patrolling the DMZ. One night some dumbass lit a smoke in the open, and of course some North Korean took a potshot at the light. The guy started screaming for a corpsman, and I came running and stepped in a hole. Turned out later the round bounced off his helmet and didn't even draw blood, but the way he was screaming we thought he was dying. I was the only one actually injured."
Jill shook her head.
"What happened to him?"
"The gunny told him that he was too stupid to be out on patrol and made him the permanent shit burner- excuse me, latrine orderly- for the rest of the rotation. It was summer and he was a lot smarter by the time we rotated back to Seoul. Look, when I start talking about the service I unconsciously start talking like we did back then. Sorry."
"Nothing I haven't heard before. Don't worry about it."
About the third time the waiter asked if we wanted anything else the hint sank in.
"I think they want this table back. Want to go for a walk on the boardwalk?"
"Sure. Let me go grab my coat."
I settled the bill and met her at the front door and we strolled out toward the point. About the third time our hands bumped our fingers got entwined and stayed that way. This was going better than I would have thought possible. Jill was smart and enthusiastic about life, making her a real kick to hang out with quite aside from her remarkable looks. No idea what she wanted with an average guy like me, but she seemed to be having as good a time as I was.
We paused at the end of the boardwalk, looking back at the lights of town.
"Kind of windy out here, isn't it?"
Jill shivered slightly and moved in front of me out of the wind, leaning back a little against my chest. I wrapped my arms lightly around her slim shoulders and looked down to find her looking back and up at me. I remembered something one of my professors used to say about "a tide in the affairs of men, which, when taken at the flood..." Oh, the hell with that; I leaned down and captured her lips gently. She didn't resist, thank God. In fact, I felt a slight smile as the initial wind chill faded against my mouth. She rotated in my arms enough to reach up and run one hand through the hair behind my ear, cupping the back of my head slightly. The spicy, flowery scent of her perfume was faint but still nearly knocked me out. I kept it light; she wasn't the type to appreciate being groped and mauled in public. By the time we broke, though, it was clear that she had absolutely no problem with a public kiss. She still had a smile on her face.
"That was nice."
"You're the master- or maybe the mistress- of understatement. I'm not sure I can feel my toes. I guess this is officially a date?"
"Well, to make it official, you're going to have to walk me to my car and see what happens when we say goodnight. This has been a lot of fun, but it's really late and I do have some things to do tomorrow."
I checked my watch.
"My God, I never realized it was this late. That car of yours doesn't turn into a pumpkin, does it?"
"Not in the five years of so I've had it. First time for everything, though."
We turned back toward town and her hand naturally fell into mine. Neither of us was in any great hurry to get back to her car. I knew the evening was going to end there, which didn't bother me, but I was really enjoying her company. Eventually we got to the parking lot. She unlocked her car, opened the door, and looked up at me.
She glanced around at the empty lot.
"Don't ask, Ben, just try it and see what happens..."
I slid my arms around her waist, and her arms locked around my neck. This was a far deeper, more passionate kiss than the first time, and our hands were starting to wander by the time she pulled back. She smiled at me.
"I think that officially makes this our first date. You wrote down my phone number before you gave that cell phone back, right?"
"Give me credit for some intelligence. Of course I did."
"Good. Call me and we'll make plans to do this again."
"I can't wait."
"Neither can I. Good night."
With a quick final kiss she was gone.
It took me a few seconds to figure out why I woke up smiling Saturday morning. Then I spent the next half hour or so reliving the previous evening in glorious detail before I got up and started my regular Saturday bachelor chores. It seemed hard to believe that such a beautiful, classy woman would be interested in an average guy like me, but her actions spoke louder than words.
I waited until Sunday afternoon to call her, and she sounded happy to hear from me.
"Ben! What's up?"
"I was just thinking about you and wanted to see how you're doing. I also wanted to say thanks for going out with me the other night. I haven't had that much fun in a long time."
"I had a lot of fun too."
Next step was obvious, and I had to take it.
"You said something about doing it again."
"I'd like that."
"You like sailing? I have a sailboat, and I was thinking we could take it out next weekend. Maybe run out to Johnson Island, have lunch, and bring it back."
"I've never done much sailing but I'd like to learn. Saturday?"
"Saturday would be good. Let's plan on it."
We agreed to talk later about specifics, chatted a while, and rang off. When I looked at the clock I realized that we had been on the phone for a solid two hours. That girl was so easy to talk to that I constantly lost track of time. Strange feeling, but I enjoyed it.
The next week was a busy one. An old college friend was now a lawyer in town, and he was involved in a lawsuit over the failure of an earthen dam back in the hills. A couple farms had been flooded out, and now the lawyers were arguing over who was going to pay for the damage. Ed had called me for help understanding the failure analysis reports. Before I knew it, I was listed as an expert witness and had to sit for a deposition. I met Ed the day before to get ready.
"Remember, you're the guy in the room who understands the science here. Be ready to justify your conclusions, but don't go beyond what the data and analysis will support. Whatever you do, don't let them make you mad."
"I'll be fine, Ed. What are a bunch of lawyers going to come up with that's worse than what I dealt with in the service?"
I was thrown for a loop, though, when I walked in and saw a familiar head of strawberry blonde hair on the other side of the table. Ed did the introductions.
"Angus McLoughlin, this is Jill Williams, the attorney for the State Water Division."
Jill stood up and extended a hand.
"Glad to meet you, Angus."
She had a strange look in her eyes, and I quickly decided to follow her lead and not expose her private life in front of all these other people. We sat down and got started.
Some lawyers try to intimidate witnesses with word games and snotty attitudes, but the better ones make sure they know their stuff ahead of time. Jill was one of the good ones; she hit every point where there was room for a difference of opinion and made me acknowledge it, while I explained why I thought my opinion the stronger one. It turned into almost an academic discussion instead of a cross examination. She had obviously been studying the engineering issues thoroughly, and by the end I was about ready to offer her a job as a trainee if she got tired of practicing law. Once we got through the facts she started the personal questions.
"How much of your work is as an expert witness?"
"This is the first time I've done it. Ed's an old friend and asked for help."
"What are you charging for your time?"
"Nothing. I got involved as a favor to Ed, as I said, and wasn't expecting it to go this far."
"So you're working for free?"
"Ed's clients are decent folks who didn't deserve to get their house and livelihood wiped out because someone else was careless. I don't need to make money off them."
I looked at Ed and shrugged.
"For the record, though, Ed owes me a bottle of Laphroaig when this is all over."
"It's a single malt whiskey from the part of Scotland my grandfather came from."
"You're doing all this work for a bottle of whiskey?"
"I think you lawyers call it pro bono. The Scotch is just a guy thing."
She looked surprised, and possibly impressed, and quickly wrapped up. When it was done Ed and I went back to his office to debrief.
"So what was that odd look you and Ms. Williams gave each other at the start?"
I sighed. He didn't get where he is by missing much.
"I had dinner with her Friday night."
His jaw dropped.
"Dinner as in a date?"
"Well, yeah. It didn't start out that way but that's how it ended up."
Ed banged his forehead on the desk a couple times.
"I don't know whether to be outraged that opposing counsel would date my expert witness or impressed that you got that iceberg to go out with you."
"Iceberg? She's the warmest woman I've met in years! And the case never came up once. I don't think she realized I was involved until we walked in this morning."
"I have to believe that. She's tough, but she's never been less than totally honest. She's not the type to play around with my witnesses behind my back. You know how many men have tried to flirt or get a date with her and run into a brick wall? She's gorgeous, but she keeps every man I know at arm's length."
"She did say something about how getting involved with other lawyers is nothing but trouble professionally."
He glanced at his computer monitor.
"Here's the e-mail already. Hmm... Letting me know that she had dinner with you, purely social, the case never came up, and of course it's not going to happen again while this case is going on. Sorry, man, I guess you're not going to be seeing the bar's hottest pair of legs outside of court until this is over."