Seeing the cop walk toward me immediately sets me in panic mode. He has one hand partially concealed as if he is about to reach for his gun. I turn around in search of Daniel, wondering if he’s disposed of the two joints that are in his pockets. But Daniel’s not looking at me. He’s staring straight ahead, completely mesmerized by what is transpiring.
I turn back to the cop. He has closed in on me and is peering down into my face, as if he might have seen my likeness before on one of those Wanted: Dead or Alive posters back at the police station. With the sunlight in my eyes, I squint a little, and I swear he bears a striking resemblance to Detective Joe Friday from the Dragnet series.
Now, I’ve seen enough gangster movies to know what I have to do next. Reach for the sky. Slowly, I drop the tote bag I’m carrying, filled with beach supplies, and begin raising my arms over my head. Daniel must’ve awoken from his stupor for he immediately catches up with me and grabs my hand, in mid-air, pulling it back down. The other arm instinctively follows suit.
He whispers, “Let me do the talking.”
Relieved, I give in, certain that I am that we are on the verge of getting arrested and thrown in the slammer. And because I like Daniel so much I can’t blame him for our predicament, even though hitchhiking was his idea, not mine. No. I blame myself. It was my thumb, after all, that got us into this mess.
The man from the gas station was nice enough to give me a ride. Frankly, I was in no condition to wait around for my parents to pick me up, what with my knees and legs still smarting from all the scrapes I’d gotten in the nasty spill. But as I sat in the man’s car, I worried. Counting the minutes till I got home, I kept looking for signs that we were headed in the right direction. Yet, in my growing anxiety, I wasn’t seeing any. Meanwhile, my head kept wandering back to my now dented bike, which was still at the gas station. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to use it again. We soon passed a Friendly’s ice cream parlor.
“Hey, I bet you could use an ice cream,” the man said spontaneously. “Let’s stop for some. It’ll make you feel better.”
I learn something new about Daniel. He is adept at talking himself out of anything, and by anything I mean he gets us out of trouble with the law. My nerves are on edge as I can smell the residues of pot on us. If that cop smells it too, we’re toast. He’ll tackle us to the ground and throw handcuffs on our wrists. But somehow that doesn’t happen. Instead, Daniel without any indication of being freaked out by our troubles, is calm and composed. Though, what has he done with the extra joints?
“I don’t want any ice cream,” I said emphatically. “Please take me home.”
“Are you sure, Hon? My treat! I bet your parents wouldn’t mind. As long as I’m driving you home, what’s the harm?”
What’s the harm, he asked? Well, he didn’t know my parents. Or that my father would whip me with his belt for accepting a ride from a stranger. Or that my mother might blame me for ruining my bike, and make me pay for getting it fixed by taking it out of my allowance, except for the fact that I DIDN’T have an allowance! Or maybe I’d be barred from bike riding for the rest of my life! What’s the harm? Oh, I don’t know.
The man pulled into the Friendly’s parking lot. “Here we are, and it doesn’t look too crowded. I bet they’ll seat us right away.”
Daniel squeezes my hand. He then smiles at the policeman, as if we were just out for a stroll and happened to run into him by chance.
“Good day to you, Officer. How’s it going?”
I stare quizzically at Daniel, whose smile seems extra radiant in the sunlight. I watch as he goes full throttle with his charisma, and proceeds to conjure up a plausible explanation on how we ended up where he’d found us, because some friend was giving us a ride but was late for work and for some reason had to drop us off there. In the middle of nowhere. Even I’m buying the story, and find myself hoping our “friend” made it to work on time.
Daniel then assures the officer it’ll never happen again. The policeman takes it all in, with nary a hint on his face of what he’ll do next. But then I see his face soften. Perhaps he’s thinking that we don’t look like troublemakers at all, but good kids who made the wrong decision. He gives us a lecture on the dangers of hitchhiking, and lets us off with a light warning.
“You’re good kids,” he says sincerely. “But next time, just take the bus!” He then gets back into his car and takes off, leaving Daniel and me exactly where he found us. Smack in the middle of nowhere, with no choice but to continue trying to bum a ride.
This is when I remembered, you’re not supposed to accept candy from a stranger, and I figure that adage includes ice cream. I looked him in the eye.
“I don’t want ice cream,” I said firmly. “Really, I just want to go home, but if it’s too much trouble, leave me here and I’ll see if a policeman can help me.”
“Wait, no need for that. If you want to go home, I’ll take you.” And with that, he pulled out of the lot and back into the traffic.
Now that we’re alone again, I ask, “What did you do with the joints?”
“Nothing,” Daniel blithely replies. They’re in my pocket.”
Facing no alternative but to resume hitchhiking, Daniel once again retreats and I stick out my thumb.
“Just so you know,” I call to Daniel over the traffic din, “No matter what, we’re taking the bus home!”
Daniel reluctantly agrees, and I know he thinks taking the bus is beneath him.
A few minutes later, a car stops. This time, it’s two women who appear to be in their 30s. They tell us that they’re on their way to the beach, too. Relieved, we climb into the back seat and soon are on our way.
When the man finally pulled into my driveway, I wanted to throw up. My mind was reeling from everything I had endured since crashing my bike at the gas station.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. I could tell he was impatient for me to get out of his car. I was, too, and practically threw myself onto the street.
My mother must have heard his car pull up. She opened the front door. I looked back, to see if the man had left. Thankfully, not a trace. Awash with relief, I then ran toward my mother, and wrapped my arms tightly around her waist, no longer able to hold back the torrent of tears.
To be continued.