“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Corri said, mumbling to herself. “Pick up the phone, Rian.”
Corri Sharp stared at the signs as she drove up Interstate 75 heading northbound. The next exit had to be coming up soon. She’d only driven this route once before. But even then, it was in the light. And in the summer. And in the sunshine.
On this night, snow fluttered down onto Corri’s windshield, melting as soon as it made contact with the glass. Though it didn’t appear to be sticking yet, Corri drove cautiously. She hated driving in any kind of precipitation, but snow was a particular dislike of hers. At least she knew how other people would react in the rain. You can’t account for when the car in front of you starts skidding because of black ice.
“Call Rian,” she said, pushing a button on the steering wheel.
“Calling Rian Boykin,” the automated voice from her car said.
The phone began to ring through the speakers. It wasn’t like Rian not to answer his phone. He was one of the few people Corri knew who kept his phone off of silent mode while he slept. Granted, Corri knew he did this for her. Having a long-distance relationship for the past two years necessitated the liberal use of phone and video calls. And Rian refused to miss a chance to talk to Corri if he could at all help it.
But what if something was keeping him from it? Not anything stupid like another girl. Corri knew better than that. No, it’d have to be something much more ominous for Rian not to answer.
Corri pushed the accelerator down, increasing her car’s speed. This was already a rescue mission. But what if she was already too late?
Exit signs began to pop up on the horizon. Exit 157. Ohio State Route 12. Columbus Grove. None of the information was particularly critical to Rian’s whereabouts. But her phone assured her this was the right exit. Ohio 12 would take her to Fostoria. She’d then weave her way around a few streets until she found the house Rian was renting. And then she could save him.
If she made it there in time.
Corri waited a few minutes after getting off the interstate before pressing the button on her steering wheel again.
“Call Rian,” she said. Her voice was more panicked this time than it had been the time prior.
“Calling Rian Boykin,” the car said.
The phone rang through the speakers once. Twice.
“Come on, Rian,” Corri mumbled.
Three times. Four times.
At the end of the fourth ring, just as Corri expected Rian’s voicemail to pick up once again, his voice came through the line.
“Hey,” he said. “Sorry, I ran out to pick up dinner and forgot my phone.”
“Oh, thank god you’re okay,” Corri replied.
“Everything alright? You called like fiv — what? Am I not okay?”
“You seem to be for now. But you might not be soon.”
“Corri,” Rian said slowly. “Have you been drinking?”
“No,” Corri replied. “I’m driving. Of course I haven’t been drinking.”
“Where are you driving to?”
“According to this, I’m 22 minutes out from your house. Which means I’m 22 minutes from you. Assuming you’re home, that is.”
The sound of a paper bag crinkling echoes through Corri’s speakers.
“I am,” Rian said. “But I wasn’t expecting to get to see you until after New Year’s.”
“Are you complaining?” Corri asked.
“Not at all. I just didn’t get dinner for you. We could –“
“What did you get?” Corri asked.
“Chinese,” Rian replied. “Cashew chicken, fried rice, and hot and sour soup.”
“Pack it in a cooler or something. Get a bag together with a week’s worth of clothes. If you’re not ready when I get there, I can help you. It’ll just be a lot easier if you are.”
“Corri. Darling. What are you doing?”
“This is a rescue mission,” Corri half-whispered.
The line goes quiet. Corri can hear Rian moving in the background, but can’t tell what he’s doing. After a few moments, he speaks up.
“Say that again,” Rian replied. “I’m not sure if I heard you correctly.”
“If I say it too loud, you could be in danger.”
“Well, then should I say it?”
“No!” Corri shouted.
“I don’t understand why not,” Rian said.
“Because. Look. I can’t tell you what you’re in danger of. Or why. Or when. You just need to trust me.”
“You’re scaring me, hun.”
“You don’t need to be scared,” Corri said. “But this is a rescue mission. And I need you to trust me.”
“You keep saying that,” Rian replied. “Enough that I’m wondering if I should trust you.”
“Name one time I led you astray.”
“You told me your 20th birthday party was a costume party, so I showed up in a toga only for no one else to be in a costume.”
“We weren’t even dating then!” Corri said. “You can’t hold that against me. But fine, name one more.”
“You went along with my dad when he said he was buying me a new car, making this massive show of things, only for him to give me a toy car.”
“Hey! That was all him!”
“And then you,” Rian continued, “handed me a pair of tiny 3D-printed keys for a car that could fit in my palm.”
“Those came out really good,” Corri interjected. “I was impressed.”
“You don’t see how that counts as your involvement, do you?”
“Name three more.”
“Sorry,” she said. “Fine. What can I answer for you?”
“Why am I in danger?” Rian asks.
“I can’t answer that.”
“What can you answer?”
“Just keep asking and I’ll answer what I can.”
Corri could practically hear Rian’s eyeroll through the silence.
“Fine,” Rian replied. “What do I need to pack? Other than a week’s worth of clothes.”
“Video games and chargers would be a good start,” Corri answers.
“That was assumed when you said a week’s worth of clothes. What kind of clothes will I need?”
“Nothing dressy. I mean, I guess you could bring a nice shirt and dress pants if you want. But mostly casual. Pajamas. Or not on the last one. I have body heat to spare.”
“Alright,” Rian said. “I’ll start packing. You’re probably 15 minutes out now?”
“About,” Corri replied.
“I’ll hurry up then.”
“We should really get you a Go Bag for emergencies.”
“Hurrying up means I need to go if you want me ready when you get here,” Rian insisted.
“Fine,” Corri said. “See you soon. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The whirring sound of tires on blacktop fills the void left by Corri’s conversation. She hoped she’d be in time. She felt confident she would be. Hearing Rian’s voice and his willingness to trust her plan gave her that belief. But until he was safely in her car and they were making their way back to the interstate, Corri’s nerves would be in an ever-present state of flux.
The snow began to pick up, flakes growing in size and coming down faster. Corri increased the speed of her windshield wipers, cringing a little as she did so. At least it wasn’t ice, she reasoned. If it was ice, then her wipers could freeze to her windshield like Rian’s the night of their second date.
Of course, that ice started the chain of events that let their relationship to be where it was today. If it wasn’t icing out, they don’t choose to see a second movie. If they don’t see a second movie, Rian’s car doesn’t stay stationary long enough to have the wiper arms get ice in them. If that doesn’t happen, Rian’s wiper arm doesn’t explode on the way back to Corri’s apartment. And if the wiper arm had still worked, Rian wouldn’t have stayed the night that night, which turned into staying for the whole weekend, which turned into the two of them deciding to try things out as a couple.
Seven years later, Corri still feared her wipers icing up and exploding all over the road. She couldn’t afford such a stroke of bad luck. Not now. Not until she and Rian were safe.
A small green sign with white letters slowly came into view on the right side of the road.
Only a few more minutes now. The plan was simple. Get in. Get Rian. Get out. Corri had practiced handling for every possible objection Rian could conceivably come up with for the duration of her drive. She was ready.
Upon pulling into Rian’s driveway, Corri noticed three lights on in the house. One was for the living room in the front of the house. The second was the kitchen, which Corri could only identify thanks to the living room blinds being wide open. The third was one of the upstairs bedrooms. Corri was fairly certain it was Rian’s office rather than his bedroom, but she could never remember which was which from the outside.
She parked her car and hurried to the front door. She turned the doorknob, expecting it to be unlocked, only to find that wasn’t the case. Corri pounded on the door frame.
“Let me in, Rian!” she shouted. “It’s fucking freezing out here!”
The sound of Rian clomping down the stairs from the second floor echoed through the house, making its way outside well before Rian reached the front door.
“I thought you said we needed to go?” he said.
“I did!” Corri replied. “But I’m cold.”
Rian handed Corri an overstuffed black backpack that had previously been slung over his left shoulder.
“Go put this in your backseat,” he said.
“How long are you going to be?” Corri asked.
“I have three bags left. My food, my clothes, and your Christmas presents.”
“Leave the presents. They’re not that important.”
“Corri,” Rian said, his eyes pleading, “why is this so urgent? Can’t you wait the two minutes it’ll take me to pack up your presents?”
Corri shook her head. Rian pulled her in the doorway, closing the door behind her, then held up a finger as he ran off. Corri impatiently checked her phone as she heard Rian running through the living room and kitchen. The wheels of his suitcase clattered across the tile floor as he arrived back in the foyer. He handed a paper bag full of food and the suitcase handle to Corri.
“Take these then,” he insisted. “By the time you have everything loaded, I’ll have my coat and your presents. That okay?”
“Just hurry, please?” Corri said.
She had an extra spring in her step as she made her way off Rian’s porch and to her car. She tossed the suitcase in the trunk, then placed the bookbag and paper bag of Chinese food carefully on the floorboard behind the passenger seat. True to his word, Rian was locking the front door. He carried a pair of presents wrapped in sparkling, reflective, green wrapping paper to the trunk of the car, tucking them in beside his suitcase.
“So can you tell me now?” Rian said as he shut the car door.
Corri carefully checked all of her mirrors then backed out onto the side street, making her way back down the road she came in on.
“It’s a rescue mission,” she said. “We’re only half done. I’ve still got to get you back to safety.”
“And where is safety?” Rian replied.
“My house. It is Christmas after all.”
“Makes sense. But you still didn’t answer the important question. What were you rescuing me from?”
“Oh, right,” Corri stated. “It’s supposed be a blizzard tonight and to get below zero here next week. I came to save you from the cold.”
“Corri,” Rian replied. “You’re insane. But I lov –“
Rian’s sentence was cut short by the sound of an explosion ringing out through the cold December air behind them. Rian turned around to see a fireball engulfing his house slowly getting smaller as they drove away.
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