I spotted him alone in the forest standing with a rucksack on his bag. Typical student, I mused. I wondered where he was going.
I passed him twice. My sat nav was sending me round in circles through the dense forest.
I suddenly felt guilty about not stopping. The sky was overcast and he might get soaked. I screeched to a halt and reversed up to him. I opened the driver’s window.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked.
‘Oxford Uni’ he replied, stooping his gangly frame to peer through the window, his tawny brown eyes twinkling.
‘Hop in,’ I said.
‘Good of you to stop,’ he said.
‘No problem,’ I said as he fastened his seat belt with slim bronzed hands. I noticed his short clean finger nails.
‘Most women won’t stop,’ he said, peering out as a brightly plumed pheasant bustled into the trees.
I shuddered involuntarily and turned down the air conditioning, wishing my cardigan wasn’t in the boot.
‘I trust you’re not a mad axe murderer?’ I quipped.
‘No, I’m Josh,’ he smiled.
‘M-Mandy,’ I replied.
‘Just hitching a ride back to uni,’ he said.
‘My girlfriend was supposed to give me a lift,’ he added sheepishly.
‘Oh?’ I replied.
‘But we had a bit of a ruck,’ he said flirtatiously.
‘Oh, why?’ I asked lightly.
‘Oh, you know … playing away and all that.’
‘Yes, I suppose you’ve lots of opportunities at uni,’ I said, gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly.
His deep voice and cocky manner were unsettling. I could smell traces of sandalwood aftershave which were chillingly familiar. Perhaps I had made a mistake picking him up. I could feel my chest tighten. He reminded me too much of Theo.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘Oh, a reunion with some of my friends,’ I said evasively. ‘I’ve been away for a while.’
‘You look vaguely familiar,’ he said, scrutinizing my skinny frame and pony tailed blonde hair which needed its roots touching – the crows’ feet around my eyes showing my age.
He quietly scrolled through his cell phone as I navigated the tight country lanes.
‘Do I know you?’ he said with a slight tremor in his voice.
I didn’t answer. I think he knew.
‘There was something in the papers? Y-you were sent to prison.’
I could feel that thunderous feeling in my brain, triggering my anger.
‘Yes,’ I murmured.
‘What were you in for?’ he asked.
‘Murder,’ I said.
‘He deserved it – my cheating husband,’ I said.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve served my time,’ I said coldly as I locked the doors.
‘Er, M-Mandy, the turning was back there,’ he said.
‘I thought we might take a little detour Josh,’ I said, my blue eyes steely with resolve as there was a sudden flash of lightening followed by a low rumbling in the clouds.
Josh gulped, his brown eyes wide with terror as I pressed my wedged sandal hard down on the accelerator.