Babs is trying not to laugh. I'm shoving her out the back door and she's trying not to laugh. Trying to hold it in.
My car's blocked in. Daffy parked her little subcompact right up against my back bumper—probably intentionally. Nowhere to go but forward, straight into the garage, and the garage door doesn't open. But that's okay.
Babs, pretending to cough, climbs in on the passenger's side. I start the car.
"Shit," she manages, still snickering, "how're we gonna get outta here?"
There's a little bump as I downshift and roll back into Daffy's front bumper. Babs fumbles for her seatbelt. I crank the wheel all the way to the right, ease forward, shimmy back the other way, then turn and, just mounting the grassy curb, pull nose-first out of the driveway.
"Plucky?" Not laughing anymore. "Are you okay?"
I dunno, am I?
Turn left onto West Main, cutting between two cars. Probably should've waited. Once we straighten out I sneak a glance at Babs, and she's looking right back at me.
Plucky, what's wrong?
Told you we shouldn't have gone to my place.
I like your place.
Suuure you do.
Your sister's hilarious.
Yellow light. Gun it.
Babs grabs hold of the armrest below the doorhandle. "I don't get it. Are you, like, embarrassed or something? I wasn't laughing at you."
I'm not embarrassed.
Zuh? Yes you are.
Without signaling I veer into the right lane and speed around a big burgundy minivan.
Plucky, will you pleeeeease slow down?
Embarrassed? You'd be one to talk. On the run from your own boyfriend…
What's that s'posed to mean?
Big fucking deal's what it means.
Jutting out from one of the sidestreets is a long dark car with what looks like a pushbar fixed to the grill. I stomp on the brakes, flinging Babs forward, the speedometer plummeting below forty-five as we roll past. But it's not the cops, just one of those old decommissioned police cruisers. I hate those fucking things.
You want me to drive?
You've been driving all day.
Oh, and now you're in charge?
Taking you home.
You don't even know where I live!
Fifty-four twenty-two, North Parkview.
Wrong! I live right here, now stop the car!
As if on command, the light up ahead turns red. She shuffles off her seatbelt, shoulders her purse and, as we reach the curb, heaves open the door.
"Hey, wait!" But she's already on the sidewalk, already slamming the door in my face.
And I'm frozen.
Shit. How'd she do that? How'd she do that so fast?
When traffic clears I hang a right onto Nichols. She's cutting across the grass toward what used to be the parking lot of an exotic pet store. Somewhere on the other side is a bus stop, one of those little glass booths. I zip into the parking lot and, pulling up next to her, slot the window down.
"Babs, what're you doing?"
She wheels around, walking backwards now. "It's okay. I don't wanna be a nuisance. Don't wanna waste any more of your precious Dark Souls time."
"It's okay." She flicks her wrist, as if to shoo me away, then swivels back around. "Ees okay, Plucky."
I let my foot sit flat on the brakepedal, watching her go. Suddenly I feel like a huge jackass. Feel like banging my head on the steering wheel. How'd she fucking do that?
And so fast…
She's almost to the bus stop when her phone rings. I can't hear it, obviously, but I can see her jump, tent her elbow, lift her shoulder, glare down at her purse… or is it more of a conflicted look?
Slowly the car rolls toward her. She stands staring at the hood for a while, then reluctantly clambers back in, sinking deeper into her seat than I thought was possible.
Did he leave a message?
There's a couple messages.
But you didn't listen to them.
I already know what he's gonna say.
What's he gonna say?
Blah blah blah, where are you? Shirley told me fucking everything…
Shirley doesn't know about me.
Doesn't know what about you?
Good question. "Y'know, that we, like, hang out and stuff…"
She eyes me just long enough to inspire doubt. "Doesn't matter. I lied."
"Not about where you were, just who you were with."
She snorts. "And why is that?"
I dunno. Maybe you were embarrassed.
If it helps.
Shrug. "Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees."
"Please tell me you did not just say that."
Shrug again. "I'll have to come up with something better." Hand back on the steering wheel. "What're you gonna tell Buster when you see him?"
"I'll just tell him I'm on my period. Usually works."
Sun's all the way down now, headlights a dull green on the newly blue road. Babs sits watching the trees whip darkly by. For a while she had her feet up on the dash, but she took them down when I didn't say anything.
At this point I don't know what to say. Gotta be careful. Gotta be political.
Just drive, Plucky. Shut up and drive.
"So, like, how do you know where I live?" she asks, finally.
Buster showed me.
Right when you guys, uh, first started dating.
He thought it was cool. Like, how big your house was. And stuff.
It was pretty big. Greek columns out front, windows everywhere, bright red siding, swimming pool, hot tub, three-car garage. Spacious Mattawan Township. Those undulating country roads, the way your stomach feels bobbing up and down, bobbing up and down.
I can feel it right now.
Just promise me one thing, Plucky.
Promise me you won't say anything.
About what we did today.
What did we do today?
So did you. To your sister, remember?
I don't care what she thinks.
Right. And I don't care what Buster thinks, but—
'Course you do. You're afraid he'll think you're—
What? Cheating on him? With you?
Why else would you lie?
I dunno. Why lie to your sister?
What about all that SL1 PVP bullshit?
You started that one!
"Ugh," she groans. "Should've taken the bus…"
So much for being political.
When I make that final sharp turn onto Parkview it's with a sort of deadness in my shoulders. Maybe that's why the rearview mirror seems so much higher than normal.
Part of me can't wait to drop her off, can't wait to get her out of my face and my head and my ears. Too much teen drama. Too much for one day. Feelings. Boyfriend-girlfriend stuff. Popular kid stuff. Stuff I never wanted to be a part of, either because I'm too mature for my age, or because deep down I'm still a baby.
Probably the first one…
But the deadness in my shoulders, that's something else entirely. The air between us, the unspoken weirdness of today.
Already I'm picturing tomorrow. Picturing her avoiding me. I don't want her to avoid me. Don't want it to end like this—whatever this is—realizing too late that it might mean something to me, and to her almost nothing. Something she could just bury under another wimpy, uninspired lie. More bullshit.
Keep on shoveling…
Rearview mirror's gone now. Slouched so low in my seat, I can barely see over the steering wheel. That's probably why I don't notice the deer until it's already cracking the windshield.
Head hits the wheel. Horn blares. A loud crunching sound. Airbags explode outward, punching my ribs into my hips. Then it's over.
Somehow the car stopped. I never touched the brakes, never even reacted, but somehow the car stopped.
Dust everywhere. Smells like talcum powder.
Babs is coughing. I wave a hand around to clear the air. She's holding her head, and there's blood squeezing out between her fingers. I can just see it in the dark.
"You're bleeding," I tell her.
She opens her eyes, closes them, opens them, blinking me into focus. "So are you."
Front end's all fucked up. Windshield caved in, hood spread with huge branching indentations, blood and clumps of brownish-reddish hair. There's a big mushy pile of something under the bumper, but I don't want to look at that. I don't want to look at that right now.
Babs stumbles out on the other side. We're stopped in the middle of the road, but no one's coming.
"You okay?" That's me.
She closes the door, wobbling slowly around the back of the car, one hand palming the trunk to steady herself. She almost loses her balance.
"You okay?" Me again, touching her arm.
She leans back against the car, squinting dizzily up at me. "I should, like, be asking you."
"Is it bad?" Drag a hand across my forehead. Too dark to see any blood, and it doesn't hurt, but I can feel something there.
"Could be worse," she shrugs.
Then, as if to prove her point, rain starts pelting the roof of the car. Dense, noisy, furious rain, flooding the wells under my eyes. Like a faucet turned on full-blast.
"Me and my big mouth," she mutters, bowing her head. She looks so sad bowing her head.
"I guess we should, like, call the police, right?"
She nods into her chest.
"Somehow I don't think your period excuse is gonna work."
She looks up again.
I point to where the cut is on my forehead, then to hers, streaming thinly in the rain. "Not this time, at least."
"It's okay. He'd connect the dots sooner or later."
"He's not stupid."
Shaking her head, "He's a good guy. I should be happy."
"You should be happy."
Still shaking her head, "He'll probably hate me. I wouldn't blame him. But whatever."
"We play the hand we're dealt."
"I don't want a boyfriend, Plucky." She stands up straight, folding her arms around me. "I just want a friend."
We play the hand we're dealt. Did I really just say that?
She kisses my cheek, squeezing tighter. I hug her back.
"Sorry for being such an annoying little ditz," she says. "I didn't want to drag you into all this, but then, like, at the same time, sorta I did," resting her head on my shoulder. "Guess that means I owe you one."
"Actually, you owe me two."
The next day at school she crams a twenty dollar bill into my jacket pocket. Money for gas, and for the spicy chicken sandwich she never finished. She's wearing a yellow headband to hide the cut on her forehead, but she can't hide the bruise below her left eye. Not even with makeup.
She looks miserable. Looks like she probably didn't sleep last night.
"What happened to you?" Buster asks when he sees me.
I tell him about the deer because I have to, but I don't mention Babs and he doesn't either. By the end of fourth block he's still talking to me, which must mean he's still oblivious, which must mean that, for once, Babs spun a decent lie, or at least a complicated one.
When my sister picks me up in front of the flagpole, I make sure to tell her thanks for the ride and sorry for backing into her car. Her response is, "Don't mention it, fuckstain," followed by, "I hadn't noticed," and then something about karma. Karma working in cycles, the world moving by contradiction…
She's got the radio on. Some chintzy pop-rap song. Jazzy drums and piano. "Are we livin in vain? Are we livin in pain? Girl, remember my name. And whatever remains…"
"Wait, what's this song called?" I ask her.
I know this song. It's Babs's ringtone. The one that plays whenever Buster calls.
"I Hate That You Love Me," she says. "Cheesy innit?"
Dedicated to RB, with much laughter. *kiss*