Bad Reception

Dallin Baker’s 1999 Ford Focus sputtered to a stop on a dusty highway. “Dammit,” he said with a huff, pressing the brake and shoving the gearshift into park. Gwen Hammond, his girlfriend, stirred from her reclined position in the passenger seat. She wiped sleep saliva from the corner of her mouth as she looked around the desert landscape.

“What? Where are we?” she asked. “Why are we stopping? Did something happen to the car?”

Dallin grabbed the round plastic handle and lowered the driver’s side window. “I don’t know. I think it’s something with the radiator,” he said, popping open the glove box in front of her knees and rummaging for his Leatherman tool.

“It’s really hot,” Gwen said, her large bug-eye sunglasses covering her eyes.

“I know it’s hot, babe,” Dallin said through a forced smile. “I’m going to try to fix it before we call for help.” 

Gwen rolled down her window, flopped back into her seat in her dress, and kicked her heels up onto the dash. “Hurry and fix it. It’s nasty out here.”

Dallin pulled the lever to pop the hood and opened the door to assess the damage. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and went under the hood. He tugged on various cables and shook rubber plastic tubing, doing his manly best to fix whatever was wrong with the engine.

“I texted Stacy,” Gwen shouted from inside the car. “She’s pretty pissed that we’re gonna be late for her reception.”

“Yeah well it wasn’t the plan to have the car break down in the middle of nowhere,” he replied, still fiddling under the hood. “So. . . sorry!”

She thumbed away on her phone as she replied, “Yeah, well it wasn’t the plan to still have this shitty car either, but here we are.” She wiped sweat from under her eyes and wiped it on the seat with an “Ugh.”

“It’s not a shitty car,” he mumbled from behind the protection of the hood. “Maybe if you helped with the rent and bills, we could afford something better.”

“What was that? Did you say something, Dal?”

He gritted his teeth and tightened his fist around his Leatherman. “No.” He hated that nickname.

“Are you going to be able to fix it?” Gwen asked, still texting with the wedding party. 

Dallin replied, “I don’t know. If I were back at the garage, I could.”

“We’re not at the garage, Dallin.”

“I know that, Gwen,” he said, sniping back. “I was just sayin'.”

“Stacy says she’s sending her little brother to pick us up.”

Dallin sighed, slid his Leatherman into his pocket, and walked back around to Gwen’s side of the car. “What good is her little brother gonna do? Does he have a tow-truck?” 

Gwen turned her head toward Dallin, he could almost see her eyes roll behind her white sunglasses. “No. Stacy’s seventeen-year-old brother doesn’t have a tow truck.”

Dallin knelt down to her level and clamped his hand on the door sill. “I can’t just leave my car here.” He cursed as he yanked his hand back, the metal of the door singeing his palm.

“Like it’s going anywhere. No one is going to steal this piece of shit.”

“It’s not a piece of shit and I’m not leaving my car out in the middle of nowhere, Gwen!”

Gwen’s thumbs flew across the phone screen as she replied, “Well I’m not missing my best friend’s wedding, Dal.” She finished up her message and looked up at him with a terse smile. 

“I’ll call a truck.” 

“I’m not pulling up to the reception in a freakin' tow-truck!” she shrieked. “It’s bad enough I was going to show up in your stupid Focus!

Dallin balled up his fists, pulled his lips taut across his teeth, and stood up. He took the tie from around his neck, walked to the trunk, and popped it. He threw the tie inside and sat in the opening. He pulled out his phone and called for help. “Yeah. Route 163.”

They spent the next half an hour on opposite ends of the car. When Stacy’s brother arrived in a silver BMW, Gwen got out of the car and wobbled around to the trunk where Dallin was still perched. 

“Let’s go. Nick’s here. We can still make it in time. He brought their nice car.”

Dallin sat, his shoulders slumped, and looked up at her. “You go ahead. I’ll wait for the tow truck.”

Gwen glanced over at her silver chariot, then back to him. “Are you sure? I’m sure they’ll be able to tow it without your help.”

“It’s fine, Gwen. I need to give them my insurance and information and everything anyway.”

“But—”

“I promise. I won’t have them drop me off at the reception hall. I’ll have the driver drop me off around the corner or something.”

Gwen nodded and smiled. “You’re such a good boyfriend.”

Dallin shrugged and chuckled.

Gwen’s legs wobbled and buckled like a young foal’s as she navigated the rocky roadside in her heels to Stacy’s father’s car. She climbed into the BMW and Dallin watched as the car disappeared over the horizon. 

Dallin got up out of the trunk and closed it. He went around to the front of the car and lowered the Focus’ hood with thunk and a click. He pulled the keys out of his pocket and slipped into the driver’s seat. He plugged the key into the ignition and turned the key and the four cylinder purred back to life. 

Dallin flipped the turn signal on and pulled a U-turn.