Scott’s new girlfriend punched his arm and called out Padiddle. He hadn’t even noticed the car with one headlight, but he felt that punch. He was nineteen and hadn’t played that game since he was twelve. It was immature and stupid, but Scott let it pass because he loved having that girl, a high school senior, press against his as he drove the family station wagon. With no car of his own, his choices felt narrowed.
Twilight drifted into full dark as he followed a familiar two-lane road. That girl, as if she could read his mind, said, “You know what? Padiddle is for kids. Ever turn off the headlights when it’s dark?” She slid closer, her right hand resting on top of his where it gripped the steering wheel. “Try it,” she said, breathing the words. Her breasts pressed against his side, and her breath in his ear made him keep his hands still. The road was empty and straight, exactly the conditions Scott hoped would last until she started to talk about something that didn’t bring the sweat up out of his armpits and palms. She put her tongue in his ear, and he stared straight ahead, trying to memorize the highway’s direction. “Go ahead. There’s nobody coming.” He switched the lights off and counted to five before pulling them back on. She sat back against the passenger door, and he thought, for a moment, that she was satisfied.
“This time, wait until there’s a car coming our way. Let’s see how it feels to be invisible in traffic.” Scott checked the speedometer and saw it had slipped to fifty, her voice bringing him under the speed limit, something like his college grade point average plunging below acceptable. When a set of headlights came over the horizon, she rested her hand on his leg, her fingers kneading the inside of his thigh with so much pressure he nodded, watching the headlights until they looked about 200 yards away before he switched the lights off.
“Yes, like that,” she said when, seconds later, Scott had the lights on again just before that car’s horn blared past them. But even as her hand slid higher, he stayed soft. “You were afraid,” she said. “You didn’t get turned on at all.” He thought about telling her it was fear of failure, not this stupid game, but she kept her hand on him as she whispered, “You know what would be really exciting? Driving in the oncoming lane without headlights as a car approached.”
Mute, Scott concentrated on the highway. “I know what you need,” she said as a set of distant headlights appeared. “You’ll know when to save us.” Scott could hear himself breathing as he reached for the light switch. “Do it,” she said, and the road in front of them went dark as he veered into the oncoming lane.
“Yes,” she squealed, her hand pressing on him as he stared at the oncoming lights, leaning forward.
“Scott?” she whispered, lifting her hand, but he hesitated until her silence saved them.