"Seriously?" Clare eyed the shiny black hearse, "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Nope. Meet Morty. My pride and joy," Eli used the sleeve of his jacket to polish a speck on the hood, "Isn't he great?"
"You drive a hearse?" Clare was still trying to gather her thoughts. Eli Goldsworthy was by far the strangest person she had ever met, "I-I don't really know what to say to this."
"Then don't," Eli shrugged and held open the passenger door for her, "Just get in."
"When you asked me if you could drive me home…I was expecting something more like a…station wagon or something."
"Edwards, you insult me," Eli feigned a look of horror, "What do you take me for, huh? A normal person? Gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon before you ever call me normal."
He shut the door then walked around to the driver's side and slid in beside her, "I've had Morty for a few years now," he explained, "He's my pride and joy. How many kids can say they drive a hearse, huh?"
"Not many," Clare answered, honestly, "Are you…going to drive to some dark alley and…and kill me?"
Eli shrugged, "Haven't decided yet."
"Oh," Clare folded her arms over her chest and stared out the tinted window, "That's reassuring."
Eli grinned and turned on the radio, "What should we listen to? Please tell me you have good taste in music, or else I might really have to start considering that dark alley thing. Metallica? Everyone likes Metallica."
"I have never really listened to them," Clare admitted.
"Wow. Alright, well I guess there's a first time for everything," Eli popped a CD into the player, "Enter Sandman. One of my favorites, but a little too commercialized. Everyone recognizes this song. I prefer songs that go a bit…overlooked."
Eli turned up the volume and the hearse began to vibrate. Clare had never listened to her music so loud, and she was uncomfortable, but didn't want to say anything, "I like it."
"There's some hope for you yet," Eli grinned, "Okay, where am I taking you to?"
Clare gave him the address, and the hearse violently peeled out of the parking lot. Clare was shocked at how reckless he drove – weaving in and out of traffic, honking at everything, flipping practically every other car off, and not to mention speeding. He must have been going at least twenty miles over the speed limit.
"Scared, yet?" Eli raised an eyebrow.
"No," Clare lied, causing Eli to smirk, "Should I be?"
"Of course," Eli slammed on the accelerator. Clare felt her stomach lurch as she glanced over at the speedometer.
"We're going one hundred and fifteen miles an hour?" She shrieked.
"Ha," Eli chuckled, "You are scared."
"And you are crazy."
"You got that right," Eli grinned, touching the break ever-so slightly, bringing the speed down to eighty, "Is this better?" He asked.
"A bit," Clare sighed, "How many wrecks have you gotten in?"
"None," Eli shrugged, "Surprising, I know. Not that I haven't tried."
Clare felt her stomach do a summersault, but she decided not to press the matter, "And how many tickets have you received?"
"Seven, my lucky number."
"Seven?" Clare exclaimed, "What is wrong with you?"
"Lots of things. This your street?"
"Yeah…the third house on the left is mine," Clare pointed to the two-story, redbrick house, "Yup, that's it. Home sweet home."
"Well, it's not so bad," Eli shrugged, "You made it sound more like the dungeon of Elizabeth Bathory."
Clare chuckled, impressed that he knew of the woman who was the most fascinating historical figure to her, "It may not be that bad," Clare rolled her eyes, "But it still is pretty awful. It'll never be my home."
"Aw, that's no way to think," Eli squinted at the house, "There's got to be something good about it."
"What about that rosebush?" Eli's eyes landed on the scraggly pink-budded rosebush, "That's kind of pretty, I guess."
"Eli, a rosebush isn't going to make me like living here," Clare sighed, and swept the yard with her eyes, "I suppose I should head inside and help Mom with fixing dinner. Thank you for driving me home."
"No problem," Eli shoved his hands into his pockets, "Do you want me to drive you to school tomorrow?"
"Um…sure," Clare was taken aback by the offer, "Thanks."
"No problem. I'll pick you up tomorrow. See ya, Edwards."
"Bye, Eli," Clare gave a small wave.
She headed up the porch steps to the front door. Again, Eli surprised and impressed her – he waited to make sure she had gotten inside before peeling out of the driveway, the tires screeching down the street.
Clare headed upstairs first. She needed to call Ali and tell her about the strange and exciting boy she had just me, and found herself falling dangerously hard, and dangerously fast, for. Clare tossed the backpack onto her bed, and dug around in her purse to find her cellphone. Just as she was about to call Ali, her mom knocked on the door.
"Clare? Can I come in?"
Clare rolled her eyes, but said yes. Her mom came in and folded her arms over her chest, "Clare, who was that boy? You told me one of your new friends was going to bring you home this afternoon. Then, you arrive in a hearse with rock music blasting? This is so unlike you Clare."
"Mom, you were spying on us?"
"I just wanted to see who this friend was. Clare, he drives a hearse."
"I know, Mom."
"And that music was way too loud. And don't even get me started on how he was driving. I don't want you in a car with that boy again, Clare Edwards. He is far too reckless and far too dangerous for you."
"Mom, he's taking me to school in the morning."
"Well you just call him up and tell him you already have a ride."
A thought flashed through Clare's mind, and she quickly said, "Aren't you happy for me, Mom? You drag me away from my friends and all I have known! I am actually making friends here, and you're trying to take them away from me too?"
"Clare…" her mother shook her head, "That's not what I am trying to do…"
"I know what I am doing, Mom. Eli…he's like no one I have ever met before."
"Mom! Just give him a chance. He's just a friend. He's super smart and he wrote last year's school play and is going to NYC in the fall on a scholarship because of the play. He's really smart, Mom. And he's nice too."
"Invite him over for dinner Friday night. Then I'll judge if I want you to be around him or not."
"What? It's a reasonable request."
"Fine," Clare gave in, "I guess I can ask him tomorrow."
"Good! I am looking forward to meeting him, Clare."
Clare rolled her eyes, not quite believing what her Mom had just said, "If I don't die of mortification first!"