Double Entendre

His wilted fingertips grazed the skin of her belly, a secret space which she once hoped to expand. The sound of boisterous children dissipated to the clouded edges of her thoughts. The last time they stood together in her shower was during an epoch of fervid romance, during an era liberated by music created through two bodies, each finding an irresistible resonance in the other. That was two or three months ago.

She watched his hand press up against her naval, droplets of warm water dripping from him onto her pelvis like tiny rapids vanishing between her thighs. His hand then tensed up before it slid onto her hip and remained still, his other hand following suit on her opposite side. Pulling her into him, he enveloped her and she lunged onto the tips of her toes, wrapping anxious arms around his neck and pushing against his chest. Head upon his shoulder, her thoughts continued to taunt and torment what little piece of certainty she had managed to salvage from the previous evening.

Turning away from her mirror, she tilted her head to put in a second ruby studded earring. He feigned a smile and she looked above his deceitful lips to the sadness buried behind his eyes. He was wearing the shoes she was growing tired of seeing and felt that his slacks were too tight in certain areas, making it look as if he had on a pair of jodhpurs. Buttoning an understated black on black vest he hesitated before his body gravitated toward her. She noticed beneath his vest was a cotton-cashmere long sleeved shirt, the same color as the raspberries she fed him that Valentine’s day.

She swayed in the opposite direction of him and after securing her earring, flipped the straightened hair sweeping down her back.

“Would you like some help with your buttons?”

“No.” She responded, twisting her arms behind her and feeling for the row of diminutive buttons and clasps.

She stared at herself in the mirror. The current distortion of her body brought on by his ignorance. The length of her extended neck, the awkwardness of her fidgeting arms, the protrusion of her collarbone. What was so wrong with her? Was it something she said? Was she really that difficult a person to coexist with?

“Do you want to do something afterward?” His voice like honey. Thick, sweet and slow.

Silence remained undisrupted. Peering at him in her mirror for the shortest moment she then looked back into the vacant eyes of her reflection. The most nominal part of her was trying to frantically keep bitterness at bay but she feared the animosity that bubbled beneath would soon overtake what little tolerance she had left.

With an internal struggle festering she forced herself to look into his eyes. They really were the most gentle she had ever shared  wordless conversation with but today her gaze was met without discussion. Her eyes raced back and forth between his in a despairing search for ease but aside from more insecurity nothing was found. So she continued listening to the hissing noise the mild streams of water were making as they gushed from the shower head. They trickled onto what was exposed of his brawny shoulders and her tightened arms which clung to his neck like unrelenting chains.

Her bottom lip dropped, no longer able to hold the weight of questions that sat still on her tongue. Watching her attentively, his vision slipped from her almond eyes to her defined nose and fell upon her mouth. She felt like she had made a mistake and soon her heart beat at an unfamiliar, erratic pace. The smoldering fire inside of her chest spread into a tightened throat and singed tears into the corners of burning eyes. Despite the throb she held them there and wouldn’t allow the inquiries on her tongue to move, though, her lips quivered with rebellion.

She wanted to tell him. She wanted to let him know and bring the darkness she harbored beneath her exterior to the surface. Why can’t you be the strong one? Why are you so selfish? Why can’t you be here for me when I need you? Swirled in circles within her thoughts. Even as they stood there twisted into one, she could feel him drifting. He was already out of her reach but she turned away from the possibility that sooner or later she’d have to retract her outstretched fingers.

Holding the door for her, he watched as she floated by him and slipped into the restaurant, the moon’s buttery glow glimmering against the ruby earrings he had just given her. The faint scent of her musk teased him before slipping itself around his neck and dragging him in after her. He watched her with the same fascination he had whenever she was in her studio sketching, oblivious to the surrounding world. The romantic strings of some instrument whispering somewhere in the distance momentarily nudged his attention but the sound was quickly drowned out by the vision before him.

He found himself staring at the back of her head. The deep brown tresses that plunged from it and draped delicately over her right shoulder. Noticing how broad her shoulders were, for the first time he was aware of their pronounced strength as they lifted and lowered themselves with her rhythms. Sleek scarlet fabric that adorned her subtle curves exposed the power of her back and the cluster of beauty marks he always found himself drawn to, right below her slender nape.

Nearing a podium she noticed a gaunt faced man wearing a tuxedo suit and presumed he was the host. His wandering eye caught a glimpse of her and immediately the hard, stony expression lit up as if he were looking at a long lost lover he had not expected to see again.

“Good evening, miss.” His voice leapt out of him as his entirety appeared from behind the stand.

“Hello.” She responded with electricity in her inflection.

“And how are you this evening?”

“We’re well,” He said sharply as he appeared behind her, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her near.

The host’s eyes lost sight of whatever had just sparked them as they lifted from the young woman to the boyish man who stood by her side, the smile he just put on dwindling to a polite simper.

“Do you two…have a reservation?” The host asked, struggling to find a polite medium in his  tone.

“Yes. Soto, party of two. Nine o’clock.”

“We were running a bit late.” She chimed in, apologetically.

His attention averted back to her and the light came out from hiding. He stepped back behind the podium and lifted up what appeared to be two menus with off black bonded leather cases.

“Not a problem,” He said, “Right this way.”

Tearing her body from his touch she followed after the host who was leading them through a maze of tables decorated with delicate cloth, sumptuous dishes, meticulously crafted tableware, and finely dressed patronage. He trailed behind them, his eyes stalking from face to face of the surrounding men. His eyelids tightened with every movement any of the strangers made in her direction. He caught one pair after another descending upon her as she flowed through the restaurant, buoyant amongst the chaos of trailing conversations, rolling waiters, and grandiloquent presentation. In this moment it seemed as if the aerial symphony being played by the live quartet in a faraway corner was being strummed and fingered for the sake of her entrance.

This was nothing new. Men snatching what they thought were furtive glimpses of her. His woman. His. Assuming he was oblivious to the fact that these were peeks and glances they were storing in their memories for later use. Images they would unwrap like stolen candy and savor in private, sucking the sticky sweet center bone dry and leaving the tasteless shell to shrivel up into a forgotten moment. They thought he had no idea, but he knew all too well and he once again found himself restraining the brutality he was shielding with a demure demeanor and childlike face.

“Here you are, miss,” he paused by a quaint table in a dimly lit corner “Sir.” He added with a nod.

“Thank you very much.” She gave yet another smile to the host and he, in return, pulled out her chair.

She positioned herself on the cushioned seat with a refined poise. She gripped the sides to pull herself forward but the host was already pushing the legs across the glossy floorboards, towards the table.

Releasing an unexpected sound between that of a moan and giggle, she looked over her shoulder and thanked him.

“Not a problem at all, miss. It really–,” His lips remained still the moment his eyes met with those of the man accompanying her. They were glazed over with a reserved contempt and the host was suddenly overcome with a rush of abashment as he took a few steps back and spoke tremulously, which even surprised himself ” Here are your menus. Your server will be with you momentarily.”

Left to themselves their eyes slowly strayed from the candlelit table to the rusty brick walls and hanging oil paintings. And so the search began; The search for something to become fixated on. Anything that would allow them to further prolong any possible exchange of dialogue.

It was his attention that first found its way back to the table and landed on the sharp features of her face. In the wavering blackness of the billowy shadows her striking cheekbones and long chin were somehow softened but the glimmer of the candle exaggerated the pout of her mouth and her arched eyebrows, creating the illusion that she was livid. Or was she?

She doesn’t want to be with me, he thought to himself as he fingered the table cloth. She doesn’t care. She wouldn’t treat me this way if she did. She wouldn’t turn down my visits. She would let people know that she was mine. She’d let me fucking hold her in public!

She was finally looking at him and a torrid heat swept over him. He didn’t want to hurt her but at the same time he did. Just to see her bleed. Just to know that she was a human being like everybody else. Just to be assured that she did have feelings. But as she sat there, blind to her own uncanny beauty and natural presence, unaware of her bladed tongue and the ferocity of her unspoken independence, he couldn’t find the words. What he needed to express to her had to be verbalized perfectly or it would hold no weight in her world, so as he stumbled over colorful nouns and enticing adjectives in his thoughts he got lost before slowly forgetting what it was he essentially wanted to say. Again, he gave up.

“You’re radiant this evening. How does it feel to be twenty-five?”

“You’ll find out…in three and a half years.” She retorted with a sly smirk as she opened her menu.

“You know,” He hesitated “You’ve been…really moody these last couple of months.”

Her head lifted with a look of confusion before she shrugged and returned to her menu.

“Have I?”

Attention drifting away, he found himself envious of a young couple seated several tables over. They were exchanging glances and carresses and the laughter that surrounded them caused him to cringe. He lifted his menu and pretended to be browsing the selections as if this would protect him from the war he had just initiated.

“Yes,” His words crashed through the stillness that loomed over the table “As a matter fact, you have.”

The ominous quietude that weaved in between their pauses was overwhelming her and she felt her breathing grow heavy with anticipation.

“And last month you practically avoided me. You were preoccupied every weekend…The conversations we held were so short they might as well have never happened.”

“Well, Jeremías, believe it or not, you aren’t the center of my world. I don’t build my days around your perfect existence,” he felt something jerk inside of him as she spoke, the venom in her voice poorly disguised by her blank expression “and maybe if you stopped thinking that you should come before everything else–”

“I never said that,” he interrupted, “I’ve never said–”

“You don’t have to,” her voice was raising with an irritation now blatant “I can’t say anything or do anything without you dissecting it and prodding the pieces for some cryptic underlying meaning. You’re so– so wrapped up in your self absorbed paranoia that you’re completely unaware of the world around you.”

“Yeah, because you’re so simple. Because everything with you is black and white.” The sarcasm in his statement was more than palpable.

“Oh please,” She placed her menu down before running her fingers through her hair and glancing over her shoulder, attempting to regain her composure “You’re the one trying to be perfect. Trying to please everyone but the people who matter. Acting like you know everything when in reality, Jeremías, you don’t know one fucking thing. And the worst part is, you don’t even know who you are and yet you sit here analyzing every fucking move I make and doubting everything I say. Don’t pin your issues on me.”

“Julia…” The name drifted from him almost inaudibly.

“No,” she said “No! Don’t fucking Julia me. Julia. Julia, what?”

“This is what I mean..I can’t talk to you. You’re always right, you have all of these emotional walls up. What am I here for if you already have all of the answers and if you’re always carrying burdens on your own? You never let me-”

“Real problems are for real adults, Jeremías. Maybe I always carry our burdens because I know you’ll break under the pressure.”

There was a force behind her words that physically threw Jeremías to the back of his seat. He looked at her in pain-stricken amazement. Finally, he had his answer. I’m not enough for her, he thought. And while his world began to crumble around him, sliding down the cracks and cervices of the copper colored brick walls and blowing out any dim sparks lighting the room, she sat there with a detachment that made his eyes ache.

A young man around his age approached the table. He gave a polite expression to the two of them and seemed to be saying something but Jeremías couldn’t make out the words. Everything was muffled and grew hazy. Julia beamed as if she had not just butchered his reality and said something to the waiter before she looked to Jeremías.

I can. You just never let me in…You’re never going to let me in.

“Jeremías…Jeremías, do you know what you want?”


There was frailness to her body that had puzzled him even up until this very moment and would, far beyond it. He watched her willowy, bare frame from the corner of his eye as he stood in front of her mirror, clumsily attempting to brush the wet from his coarse, jet black hair. She was the color of freshly baked bread and her flesh was just as delicate. The tight espresso colored ringlets spilling from her head were dripping and swung languorously as she bent and curled her body, spreading moisturizer onto her ankles and tawny colored kneecaps.

As he watched her body sway and move to some song he would never be able to hear he thought about the conundrum that was her. How could such frailness embody such force and resilience? How could she make him feel so close to her as if they held full conversations with one single glance, yet so distant that no matter how far he chased her she’d never be captured? She was an elusive wonder and she had to be aware of this.

Looking away from her he thought about his next visit, spotting his packed luggage by her bedroom door. He dropped the towel from around his waist and let the cool air slip between his bare thighs before walking to where she stood. He reached for the bottle of lotion she held in her hand and she hesitated before releasing it to him. Dropping it, he looked down at her and gave a wry smile. She lowered her head and reached for his idle hand, their fingers slow dancing with one another before hers clenched his.

He gripped back as his other hand swept across the skin of her pelvis, grazed her hip bone and landed on the small of her back. He felt the tremors inhale her frame and pressed her into his chest, lifting their infused hands to eye level. He looked at their entangled fingers; his deep sable accentuating the yellow undertones of her almond complexion.

Nestling her head into his chest she found herself lost amongst the swirl of their skin, interwoven like a delicate tapestry. She thought to herself, this is what it would’ve been…both of us. This is how it would’ve looked… breathtaking, and then lifted her head, allowing the avalanche of thoughts in her to come down with force. She thought back to the fight they had during the first days of summer.

Jeremías had come up to visit and something had rubbed him the wrong way, causing him to desert his diffident nature. She tried to remember what it was. Perhaps she had said something to him in a brusque manner or he misinterpreted her intentions. But whatever this wave was that caused a stir in their relationship, it had now become a forgettable ripple she could not find in their sea of disputes. Despite this it had granted him a self proclaimed right to get a few things off of his chest.

Roaring through her apartment he cornered her in the small studio room. She did what she could to remain unruffled but her air of equanimity was easily penetrable and her body was, for the third time that week, growing fatigued.

“And of course it’s okay for Julia Cassini to go M.I.A for a week without letting anybody else know!”

“Jeremías, I told you I had a family emergency.” She said, standing behind her easel and fiddling with a charcoal pencil to avoid eye contact with his distorted, tight face.

“You didn’t say anything about it being an emergency. You just up and left as usual and you knew I took off of work that week to come and visit you and–”

“Look, I said I was sorry! I didn’t expect to be there as long as I was,” She walked in the opposite direction of where he stood “It turned out to be more serious than I thought.”

“No te alejes de mi!” He snarled, following after her.

“Don’t start, Jeremías,” She spoke low at first before her fists clenched “Don’t start with me. Not with that Spanish bullshit! Okay?”

“It’s like going in circles with you! It’s like– it’s like nothing I say matters because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway. Do I even matter to you, Julia?”

She was motionless, her back to him, as she covered her face with cold, damp palms, digging the tips of fingers into her hairline.

“I can’t, Jeremías..I can’t deal with this. I have too much on my plate.”

“Oh, really? Too much on your plate?”

“The deadline is coming up, my family is falling apart…and I really need to talk to you about something very important. I’ve been waiting for an appropriate time to present itself but–”

“Oh, stop being dramatic.” He brushed off her sincerity as if they were crumbs on his lap.

“I’m not being dramatic, Jeremías,” she retorted in disbelief “I found out that I’m–”

“What did I even come here for?” He shouted as he turned from her, tossing wild arms into the air.

“…Jeremías, I–”

“To waste your time, huh? I’m just some big joke that you and your girlfriends laugh at behind my back. You think I don’t know? I know that your friends don’t like me!”

“What? What does that have to–”

“How do you think that makes me feel?” He shouted.

“Well, it’s not like your friends are the nicest to me and–”

“I know they think this won’t work, that you can do better! I’m just some passing phase; the little kid who caught your eye.”

“Jeremías, please, not tonight. I…I can’t. I’ve been having stomach pains, my head is throbbing, and I have to tell you…I have to tell you–”

“And I’m the selfish one? Me! This has got to stop, Julia. I fly here every other weekend to make this work and how do you acknowledge that? You go off to Syracuse to be with your family when you knew damn well I was trying to come see you the very same week. You sit here in your little, your little design room, ignoring me! Hiding behind your deadlines and your family and what’s this now? What? Your cramps! Cramps, Julia? Why don’t you just say it, Julia! Just say it!”

Her breathing was intense and the lingering, burning throb in her abdomen became more frequent. She let one hand drop to her side and placed the other on her forehead, inhaling deeply and exhaling as slowly as she could. She heard Jeremías but his voice was gradually being submerged by the thick silence that was gathering in her ears. She tried to piece together the choppy bits perceived; “I,” “doesn’t,” “not,” “waiting,” “me,” “I,” “and I,” “to me,” but it proved to be futile.

Icy fingers landed sharply on her exposed shoulder and she turned around with urgency. There he stood, looking at her with his innocent eyes; Innocent, even with the contempt and hate and jealousy floating inside of them.

“I’m done. I’m leaving…Call me whenever you have room for me in your life.”

“No,” she said in a light airy tone but it was either too late or swallowed in the ardent heat smothering the room.

She grabbed his wrist but he yanked away and continued walking. Placing her hands on her pelvis and pressing against it, she wondered if  this would dull the pain, but as the front door slammed shut a sharp twinge carried through her.

Walking out of the feverish room she headed towards the living area. Her apartment, despite the furniture, pictures, aquarium, pots, pans, bookshelves, toaster, history; now seemed barren. She called for Jeremías, half hoping he would hear her wherever he was and return and half expecting the name to echo back to her. Neither happened. She made her way to the bathroom.

Water surged from the faucet and she listened to it in hopes that it would calm her nerves. Why did he leave? She needed to tell him about her nephew; about what happened to him. She needed to explain to him why her two day trip turned into a hellish five day ordeal. To apologize, to tell him what she was hiding inside. She needed but he never seemed to give. Give patience. Give understanding. Give time.

I need you…I need you now, Jeremías. I won’t be able to do this without you.

An intense pain made her eyes water and she felt fear roll down her face. ” Jeremías!” She screeched as her deep panting overflowed into a throaty sob “Jeremías, please!”

Breathing was becoming difficult and her logic couldn’t control the panic twisting inside of her. Sweat beads forming on her brow, she wiped them away, leaning against the closed door. Thinking about her nephew, hysterical, as he told the policewoman what the older man had done to him. Wondering if her work would be good enough even if it did meet the deadline. But as the twinge started to dull she recollected her trip to the women’s hospital two weeks before. She thought about the hope the doctor had given her as he smiled and told her the test results. About how she had entered that office with such uncertainty and left with a definite answer. How this answer would alter her and Jeremías’s life forever.

Pushing herself off the door she hovered above the toilet and turned to sit down, unbuttoning her jeans and slowly pulling them down along with her underwear. Levitating a bit before sitting, she paused a moment, realizing she didn’t quite feel the need to alleviate herself. Her eyes darted around the bathroom, to the clear shower curtain, the white cotton towels hanging, the off white tiles and then to the crumpled black jeans around her ankles and the white panties mashed into them. That’s when she noticed the crimson droplets that were not supposed to be there.

Julia pulled up to the curb of the airport entrance and put the car in park. An elderly couple walking through the automatic doors caught her attention and she watched them slowly make their way further inside until they were lost in a stew of strange faces.

Once, she held a lot inside of her and she wondered if he knew that. Something told her that he did. She looked to his side profile and thought about what he was thinking. The silence stretched across the car, violently knocking Julia over the edge and she reached for her purse, placing it on her lap and fumbling around inside of it.

“…I,” She started, her eyes shifting from the depths of her purse to him “…Remember last month? You wanted to know why I was so vacant last month. During dinner last night you–”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your weekend. I know how important your birthday is and–”

“You didn’t.”

She found the envelope she was looking for and peered over towards him.

“…Do you ever wonder if,” He hesitated and Julia watched his Adam’s apple rise and fall several times before he continued “Do you wonder about us?”

She was solemn, “Sometimes.”

“You’re stunning, Julia…you really are. You’re artistic, you’re witty, you’re sensuous… You’re striking. You could have anyone you wanted… Anything you wanted.”

“Yes…No…Maybe…” She looked down at her hands in the depths of her purse which concealed the envelope to which she clung “…but what I want isn’t necessarily what I need.”

“I start my new job the end of next month, you know.”

“I know…are you excited?”

He nodded.

“Yeah…” was all she could manage.

The area where her neck and shoulders met grew tense and started to hurt. Her skin was on fire and she was regulating her breathing to keep her chest from trembling.

She lifted her head and looked out of the front window just as two children, a teary boy, a pensive looking girl, and their parents walked in front of the car. The daughter looked older, perhaps seven or eight. She had the face of a sleepy cherub and it reminded Julia of an old checkbook her mom used to have, with a picture of two ivory angels napping on a cloud as the background. The girl was a smaller, softer, feminine replica of the father. They both shared round rosy cheeks and strawberry blond locks that draped over their foreheads and swooped behind identical ears.

The son was very petite and teetered behind his sister, holding the father’s hand. Globs of tears poured over his flushed red face and his thin pink lips were on opposing sides of his head as he screamed for something Julia couldn’t quite make out. The father seemed to be scolding him and the mom stopped and turned, looking down at the boy. Julia watched her lips move with an assured ease and she knelt down in front of him, holding his delicate face between her hands. He paused, huffing and sniffling and like the dramatic wailing had never occurred, laughter sprung out of him and the mother kissed his nose and arose, turning around and resuming her lead.

“Do you want them?” The question ran away from her lips before she could give it a second thought.

“Who? Them?” He pointed at the children entering the airport with their parents.

“Yes…children. Do you want children?”

“Someday. I don’t know about right now. I’m not ready to be a father.”

At once a tidal of relief and angst overpowered; trickled into her fingers which dug into the envelope. The envelope the doctor had given her after her unplanned return to the hospital. The days bled into one another in the solitude of her dreary apartment as she read the inside contents over and over again. Coping With Your Loss, the words on the cover of an accompanying pamphlet were now permanent fixtures in her brain.

And now her eyes were violent and wild as they crashed into him. The bulbous tip of his nose, the protrusion of his overbite, the pierced lobe of his ear; all of this made the face of a man, a man who still knew so very little about everything.

“You’re not listening…you hear, but you never listen.”

“I do listen. I’m listening to you right now.” He looked over towards her.

“Forever with you would be beautiful. It’d be magic. But how would we get there if our now is so turbulent?”

“It’s not turbulent,” He insisted “We just have communication problems we need to work on.”

“And how long are we supposed to work on them before they at least begin to subside?…even just a little.”

“I think they have…we’ve gotten better. Much better.” He sounded like he wanted to convince himself more than her.

Looking into the darkness of her purse a faint ray of light hit the corner of the envelope she still clung to. She read Prentice Women’s Hospital, in the left hand corner, transcribed in chunky, bold, royal blue letters and once again thoughts about the night he abandoned her crept in.

Her train of thought bounced from the first time they were introduced, to the first time their bodies meshed into one, to the nights she wandered down hallways wondering about him, to the first time he visited her at her new apartment. A blur of laughter, screaming, bright eyes, faces stained with tears, interlaced fingers, bedroom wrestling, and embraces that were supposed to outlast the stars, banged from side to side within her head. Finally she looked at him and saw what she had been trying to ignore for so long. He didn’t look like a child to her anymore. He was a child. His recently acquired college degree, sexual stamina, and serious demeanor couldn’t hide the roundness of his cheeks or inexperience that gleamed through his ripening face.

“You should go before your plane leaves without you.”

There was a brief silence and he looked over to Julia who was looking into her purse.

“What are you looking at?”

She read the words Prentice Women’s Hospital in her head, repeatedly, and tried to pinpoint the moment that caused her to lose their possibility of magic before it had happened but it didn’t matter now. The hope had died.


It took a moment but she forced those claw-like fingers to relinquish the envelope and she closed her purse, placing it on the back seat. Turning towards him she unbuckled her seat belt and hesitated.

“You have to leave… it’s too late.”

“What’re you talking about? I have an entire hour before the plane boards.” He said, adjusting his collar.

She shook her head and the most effete of smirks temporarily took up residency on her lips.

“I wonder if I have time to grab something to eat first.”

“I’m going to miss you,” She said as she leaned over and slid her arms around his neck, closing her eyes and placing her head on his shoulder “…so much,” she whispered.

He chuckled while he held her in his arms and succumbed to the sudden urge to say “I love you.”

Savoring the musky scent of his hair and soft aroma of cedar and cocoa that lifted from his flesh she reminded herself she couldn’t keep him there forever.

“You’re perfect.” Was all she could think and so she said it aloud.

Julia felt Jeremías slowly pulling away from her and she held on to the shoulders upholding her fantasies for as long as she could before falling victim to what was real. The reality she had been denying for months and quite possibly years. She let go.

Jeremías opened his door and climbed out of the car. Pulling out both pieces of his luggage from the backseat he set them on the edge of the curb, closing the door gently. Leaning over he looked at Julia who seemed to be in a daze and said “I’ll give you a buzz when I get in, cariño.”

Suddenly she felt very alone. She forced her clandestine grin and said “I’m going to miss you.”

He chuckled and shook his head before giving an exuberant “Bye, babe,” and pushing the passenger door shut.

Julia sat there watching Jeremías roll his luggage in through the entrance and somehow become another lonely stranger amidst the thousands of bustling people. She did everything she could to remember that moment. To remember him as someone who wanted to build a future with her and at the same time, to forget what they would never have and what he would never know. She wrapped her seat belt over her lap and buckled it before putting the car gear into drive. Looking down to the dashboard, her eyes drifted from the speedometer to the gas gauge. The needle was barely above “E.”



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