I pushed the pencil between my teeth and chewed absently on the pink eraser. Pulling another pencil from behind my ear, I began to scribble on the script in front of me. I wish I didn’t mumble so much when I was trying to write, but it was just a habit I inherited from my father, or so my mother told me since I was young. I also wanted one of those tablets where I could handwrite my scripts, but as my mother kept saying for the last three years, it just “isn’t in the budget this month, Ethan.”
“So then the father should say…” No, I thought, that’s not right. It’s got to be something witty! What can it be? I scratched my head, wracking it for something clever to plot into the place of what I had just erased. “What do fathers say anyway?” I guess it would help if mine was ever around, I thought absently. Then I would know what fathers say to their kids.
“Are you expecting an answer to that?”
I nearly jumped as my mother leaned against the door frame of my room. She was dressed smart, like she usually was every early morning, in a smart pants suit, today it was navy blue, with an open blazer and light blue button up shirt. Her short, trendy hair was already flipped into her professional curls, and she was holding a steaming cup of Earl Gray tea, her favorite. I could inhale the earthy aromas from across my bedroom. That was my mom, Emily Roberts, ready to take on her day and her clients as a small independent publisher from her big office downtown. An office I was sure ate up most of our budget every month, but what did I know?
I both loved and hated her for it at times. She was gone from 8am-8pm nearly every day. Nevertheless, I swiveled my desk chair around to fully look at her. I didn’t want to answer her rhetorical question, and certainly not at six in the morning running on three hours of sleep.
As an author, then inspiration hits, it hits. Even if it’s at three am.
I eyed her sleepily and yawned. “Hey, Mom. What’s up?”
“Working on your script again?”
“Uh-huh.” I didn’t really want to talk to her this morning. As an author, then inspiration hits, it hits. Even if it’s at three am. It was too early for a scolding about sleeping through the night. What teenager did that anyway?
“It’s six-forty-five, Ethan, don’t you have zero period to get to?”
“Oh, crap!” I bolted from my chair and snatched my cell phone from the dresser next to my desk. I didn’t have time to look at it, but I’m sure I had a million messages from my best friend, Maeve, wondering if I had actually died this time. “I totally lost track of time!” I slipped my sneakers on and hopped a leg onto my chair to quickly tie them. No time to shave or do my hair, I just licked my fingers and ran them over my shaggy blond head, praying silently it helped calm the cowlicks.
I shrugged into my coat from the back of my door and hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder. “Yeah, just some last-minute edits before I present it to Ms. Jackson after school today.” My keys hung from a decorative metal octopus plaque near my door, and a flung them into my hand.
“I still wish you’d let me look at it,” she said with a heavy sigh and a shake of her head. Three years ago, just as I was starting high school and Amy was just graduating from pre-school, she’d left a high-profile editing job in the city to move us into the country to attend a little rural school. Ever since then she’d been invested in my education, a little too much at times. Still, it was slightly better than never seeing her around and having to feed myself for dinner.
I could see her slightly smile. I knew I’d have to share my writing with her – eventually. But today was not the day.
“Dad leave already?” I asked without looking up at first, pretending I didn’t hear her last request.
“You know he has to get an early start to get into the city.”
“Maybe later, Mom. I gotta go!” I pecked her on the cheek as I squeezed past her into the hallway.
“Good luck this afternoon!” she called after me.
My phone buzzed in my hand as I shrugged into my green military-style jacket. I briefly glanced at Maeve’s number and the four words she texted: yo are you dead?
I rolled my eyes at my phone and slipped it in my jacket pocket.
Amy, my seven-year-old sister, called me as soon as I made it into the kitchen. She was sitting at a chair much too big for her, swinging her tights-clad legs and eating cheerios. I gave her a quick hug as I hurried past her.
“Don’t forget about my soccer game tonight, you promised you’d come,” Amy whined. She threw her head back and pushed her blonde curls out of her face and dug back into her bowl.
I grinned at her as I snagged my backpack from the bench in the foyer, sitting next to her little shin guards and cleats. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Sissy-Missy!”
With that I let myself out the kitchen door that led to the driveway. I clicked my fob for my little used Honda – Maeve called it ‘Silver Beast’ – and threw my backpack in the passenger seat before firing the car to life on the third crank.
“Come on baby,” I whispered, patting the dashboard. I knew I should probably tell my mom my car wasn’t starting lately, but I didn’t want to bother her with anything else – she was already busy as hell, and well, it was a car. More than most other seventeen-year-olds in this town had. As soon as I pulled out of the driveway, the first flakes of snow hit my windshield, and I turned on the wipers absently. The Silver Beast was probably just cranky in this cold weather, which was unseasonably cold for November.
Warner High School was only six blocks from my house – an easily walkable distance, but I didn’t walk. Chubby boys never walk. It was just easier to throw my car into drive and cover that distance in half the time. I thrummed my fingers on my steering wheel as I passed the local elementary school where Amy went with a long line of anxious parents waiting to drop off their minions, and then swung to downtown, past one of only three grocery stores and the local drive through coffee shop. After a brief stint at a red light, I turned behind a small plaza of shops – laundry mat, cash store, and an ancient chines place – and down a row of suburban houses until I pulled up front of a one-story bungalow.
Not for the first time I marveled at how odd and out of place the flecked-green façade appeared: nestled between two-story houses owned by people of clearly a higher income level. This little house was as bright as could be expected, however, with yellow daffodils peaking through the ground in the planter with a fresh coat of cream paint that sat right outside the matching white railing on the front porch. Even with my windows rolled up I could hear the din of the myriad of wind chimes that hung from nearly every surface of the porch ceiling: from butterflies to seashells and even dinosaurs, I knew from experience approaching the front door was a cacophony of cascading tin sounds.
Unlike the festive spring-theme of the little house, the teenager that flung the screen door open didn’t seem to match any of the bright colors or swinging wind chimes. Her hair, pitch black and streaked with purple and pink, flew behind her as she ran to my car and yanked my door open. She threw her backpack to the floor first and slid in next, pulling her skirt over fishnet stockings that ended in chunky boots topped with spikes. I wasn’t surprised to see she’d torn her Misfits shirt above her midriff, exposing her bellybutton ring.
I often thought if people at school thought we were the oddest pair. Maeve had been my first friend when I moved here, passing me a note in French class that had sealed our friend with the most moving line: “hey, you new here?”
I had laughed out loud, and nearly got detention for it. A month later, we were best friends. A year later, inseparable.
“Fuck this snow,” she muttered as she slammed the door and pulled at her seatbelt. She shifted lightly to look at me. “I’m so glad you’re alive. I thought I’d have to walk my happy ass to school today in these majestic-ass heels if you died again.”
I rolled my eyes. She knew I hated it when she swore, but that was just Maeve. Her parents were religious fanatics, some pastors or something at a local church. She’d started swearing last year just to piss them off, I knew.
“It’s not like you haven’t hoofed it before, Em.” I didn’t look at her, but I could almost hear her rolling her eyes back at me. She punched me in the arm and I stifled a smile and a chuckle.
“Cheer up, buddy. We’ll still make it in time, as long as Jackson takes forever to get class started like always.” She cracked her window and pulled out a half a cigarette, lit it with a flick of her lighter, and tucked her lighter back who knows where. She knew I hated when she smoked in her car, but sometimes I did, too, so fair was fair. I just hoped my mother never found out. May God have mercy on her if her mother found out. That was, if He was even real. I wouldn’t hold out hope.
I tapped the green clock on my dashboard. “We have five minutes to get 2 blocks, park, get to our lockers, and then on stage. Think we’ll make it?”
“Well, I will, but I’m not sure about your chubby ass.”
“Jesus, Maeve.” I wanted to punch her back this time, but instead I took the corner down the road from the school a little hard and flung her a little in her seat. She gasped. I laughed.
Her, the goth chick, and me, the bookish nerd, breaking speed limits and teenage smoking. If that didn’t sum up our friendship, I didn’t know what did.
I just wonder if she saw the little glances I snatched of her, lounging in the front seat of my car as she tossed the butt of her smoke out the window, or sitting up straight and peering in the flip-down mirror when she graced a bright red brush of gloss across her lips.
Lips I stared at more than anyone would ever know. I was certain of that, because I’d die before I told anyone I how I really felt about Maeve.
Just as she predicted, she beat me to our zero-period class – an optional class my mother had called “crazy but sane at the same time.” Maeve was my reluctant participant I had dragged into this. As I trailed behind her, both of us speed walking down the empty high school hall at seven in the morning, I chuckled as I remembered her scrunched up, skeptical face, even more serious with the big rings of kohl around her eyelids, when I’d proposed this crazy idea in the first place last summer when we were talking about what classes to take our Junior year.
“Dance theater? Are you insane? It’s a seven o’clock class! I don’t do zero period classes. I like my sleep.”
“It’ll be fun,” I had protested, shoving the flyer at her. “Come on.”
“Maybe but think of what this will look like on our Broadway resumes.”
“I don’t dance,” Maeve had protested. “Like, I’m straight up fucking terrible at it.”
“Don’t swear,” I had chided her as I did a dozen times a day. “But I’m not doing this without you, so let’s try something new, shall we?”
She had linked her arm into mine. “Fine, let’s do this. Brat.”
I had stuck my tongue out at her, and in true Maeve fashion, she did the same.
If my mother had seen us that day, she would have chided us about acting like other seventeen-year-olds. And Maeve, who my mother secretly loved, would have smiled and nodded as if she was the epitome of perfection and I the one given to slovenly disrespect, but such a thing was far from the truth.
It was a good thing both my parents were always at the office – from sunup to sundown – and didn’t really see much of Maeve or I.
A really good thing, because today after school I had plans with Maeve that I hoped no one was around for.
And eight hours later, when we were finally free at three-twenty-five, Maeve and I rushed from the entrance of our high school threw the heavy snow to my car, which I had to stop and brush off. We’d gotten a few inches during the school year; nothing to worry about, really, but I was new to driving in it. We never had snow in the city, but it wasn’t up here in the mountains in the middle of nowhere I wasn’t that worried as I got in and turned on our seat warmers; we only lived a few miles away.
“I still can’t believe Jackson is letting you direct the production of your very own play,” Maeve blurted before I even had time to buckle my seat belt. She’d said it a dozen time in the last two weeks since the announcement, but part of me still loved hearing her brag about it. She didn’t share much with people, just me. I loved that. My script, still untitled – and unfinished, but our teacher didn’t know that little detail – was going to be an actual play. I was planning on making Maeve the lead. Despite her saying she couldn’t dance; she was a natural at it. I worried she’d turned down the lead, especially if she caught the hint I’d written it for her.
Nah. Maeve was awesome, and she’d probably just nod to me she’d do it, then later freak out about it.
I gripped the steering wheel tighter, running the plan over in my head and wondering how I would keep the items in my locker a secret from Maeve, who never left my side lately.
“Holy shit, is that Uptown Coffeeshop? Turn that shit up!” Maeve squealed at the pop-y crooners on the radio. For all her goth-ness and dark tastes, Maeve had a special place in her heart for Korean pop bands. That was Maeve, alright, filled with contradictions.
I loved every bit of it.
She reached out to spin the dial on my radio, so did I, and our fingers brushed against each other briefly. I immediately withdrew and wiped a hand across my forehead. Jesus, why was I sweating? It had happened a hundred times, yet today something was different. What was it?
It was slicker with slushy snow than I realized as we pulled out of the high school parking lot. She laughed as we slid and joked about me not killing her, which I laughed to, too.
I stole another glance at Maeve to see her smiling brightly and bopping her head to the music. Her short skirt was hiked a little above her knees, and I don’t know what it was about seeing her white legs under those stockings, but it sparked something in me. My eyes roamed up her mesh shirt and over the delicate curve of her jaw and to her sharp black eyeliner ringing her eyes. It perfect as usual with sexy little swipes at the end. She tucked her short, black hair over her ear, an ear studded with no less than ten silver rings, from lobe to cartilage. She was every bit as gorgeous as the day I met her. We were freshmen, and back then she’d just been a gangly girl in sweatpants and oversized hoodies and ponytails. Somewhere between our freshman and sophomore year, though, Maeve the little girl had left and returned Maeve the sexy woman.
Why was I thinking such spiciness about my best friend? I gulped at my own terribly risqué thoughts and snapped my attention back to the road.
But it was too late.
I will forever regret and cherish that last look of my best friend, because I never saw the guy who slid right through the red light the highway intersection.
Isn’t it funny how our brain blocks certain details?
I don’t remember the color, make, or even shape of the car.
I don’t even know if it was a guy or a girl, a young man or old woman.
I don’t remember any of that.
But I will forever remember the way Maeve screamed as she clutched my arm right before the driver’s SUV slammed directly into the passenger side of my car.
I’ll never forget that sound as long as long as I live.
Silver Beast crumpled like tin foil, throwing us both against my window, as the car tipped precariously on two tires and finally landed with a crunch, pinning us to the roof.
Maeve stopped screaming.
Coming November 15th!