For Better or For Even Worse I’m a nervous driver. My hands are always on the wheel, and sometimes I grasp it so tightly my knuckles turn white. I used to have this problem with accelerating way too fast, but after several critiques, lessons, and unhappy passengers, it had for the most part gone away. That is, unless I’m near a large truck.
Then I get really nervous.
At that moment in history, several days past the turn of winter, there happened to be a 16-wheeler beside my little junk car, and my anxiety was tearing apart my composure. I fiddled with the installed radio, but every station was unappealing and annoying, so I stabbed the off button with my finger and clutched the wheel again. The truck rambled on next to me, occasionally drifting a little too close for my liking. We neared a light and he slid into the lane behind me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Out of sight, out of mind, or so the saying goes. My phone vibrated in my back pocket, and I kinda had to wiggle around to fish it out. The screen flashed - I got a message. I’m not proud to say I tapped on the inbox icon, but I did. I’d gotten a text from my brother. JOSIAH: GET HOME. ITS IMPORTANT. I waited for the next stop light to reply, quickly tapping the letters on the little keyboard while keeping a careful eye on the light. ME: WHY? SOMETHING UP? My brother, usually the fastest replier ever, took a full, awkward 3 minutes to respond.
that time, I decided to ignore any other texts for sake of safety. As soon as the green light appeared, my foot slammed the pedal too hard, and I tore away almost dangerously fast, earning myself an agitated honk from the car behind. I immediately eased the pressure and the car jerked forward.
What’s the point of not texting while driving when I’ll die from acceleration? I thought. I drove smoothly from then on, shooting daggers at the road ahead.
The drive was short as I pulled into my driveway. I stopped the engine and tried not to bang the door shut. Dusk was starting to blanket the sky, and I crept up to the front door, sliding the key as slow as humanely possible. Just as slowly, I turned the knob and peered in the door. The hallway was empty so I hastened my step. Gently shutting the door, I slid off my shoes and walked down the corridor with a light step. The TV was on, and all the other lights were off. Unsure of the severity of the situation, I walked behind the couch and tried not to be seen. I failed. I saw the movement of a head, a rustle, and the stench of alcohol wafted from that direction. “Late!” He sputtered. I winced. “I was at a friend’s house, “ I said. “Josiah, are you drunk?” “Whatever. You’re late. You promised, Viv.” “I promised…?” He didn’t say anything for awhile. I started to shift toward the kitchen, and his voice startled me. It had changed from angry to sad in the time span of like 30 seconds. “She promised she would stay and… didn’t. What a liar.”
I walked around the couch and looked down. He’d laid down on his back, head on the arm rest and arms crossed over his eyes. Empty wine, beer and general liquor bottles littered the seat and his mouth was stained red. To the average person, Josiah was pretty normal. Lean but not burly, tall but not basketball-star tall.
His brown hair hung straight down like mine, and he was alright-looking.
Yeah, yeah, okay, I’ve had friends who’ve said “alright-looking” is a horrible understatement, but as his sister, his flaws, not his - *ahem* - charm stand out.
Altogether, we looked like a carbon
copy, only divided by age and gender, though I guess I differed just a little. He was the typical college sophomore who treats alcohol like water, who slacks off until the very last possible moment (like me), the one that spends his time fantasizing over not even God
knows what. “What’s got you so bugged?” I asked, placing the tall bottles on the coffee table. One bottle still had a bit of wine left, and I swigged the ruby liquid down, keeping an eye on Josiah. He had turned sideways, and was staring at me with those uncannily dark-but-still-bright eyes we shared. I stared back, wondering if he’d heard me. “I’m too plain.” He said; his voice was low and raspy. “Huh?” “Kim said… I’m too plain.”
He said, waving his hand in the air like a dismissal.
It occurred to me that he wasn’t the type to take things lightly, and this spontaneous event of drunkenness enhanced that fact. “So, you got dumped,” I said slowly. “And decided to destroy our entire alcohol supply.” “Uh, didn’t know you went blind.” He retaliated, leaving me confused, and then annoyed. He reached his arm out for another bottle, but failed miserably and let his arm hang off the edge. I stripped off my heavy jacket and threw it on the couch. “Don’t come crying to me when you wake up with a nasty hangover. It‘s just a break up.” I said. He grunted and clutched the couch pillow to his chest. “Not like you’d know,” He said. “Your titless ass makes all the guys run away.” He started to laugh. “Do asses usually have tits?” I said, snatching the pillow from him and shoving it in his face. He was laughing hysterically now, though muffled, and I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol, or the insult. Convinced the temperamental danger was avoided, I dived toward the kitchen, my eyes looking for something edible. After awhile I sat on the couch with my controversial plate of bliss, and shoved my brother aside to find the remote to the TV. Alter Ego, our cat, strutted his way across the couch, leaving his white hair everywhere. True to his name and nature, after he was done elegantly stretching his body, he fell asleep on my lap like a log. There was nothing good on most of the channels, and the okay ones were reruns. I settled for the horror channel, where a previously-aired episode of 1000 Ways to Die played. The episodes were all disturbing in some way, but that was the best part. Whenever it was on around Josiah, he’d
usually tell me to watch something else.
“Normal girls watch the fashion channel.” He’d say. “That’s stereotypical and axiomatic.”
“There’s a reason it’s stereotypical.” He’d reply. Just as the unfortunate heroine was losing quite a few of her limbs, Josiah rolled over on his stomach and stole the remote, frantically jabbing the buttons. It landed on a random channel with an even more randomized movie playing, which happened to be some sort of chick flick. It was almost over, but we managed to catch enough of the plot to be irritated at the unsatisfying ending. Josiah’s phone rang, and he ignored it. The excruciatingly antagonizing ring tone wore on my nerves and got louder with each reverberation, so I dug through the couch to find it. I flipped it open, and our mom’s caller I.D flashed brightly across the screen. I clicked the answer button and put it to my ear.
“WHY HAVE YOU BEEN IGNORING US?” The loud outburst made me drop the phone, hitting Josiah in the face and startling Alter enough to make him jump in the air. Josiah grunted in pain and started to shut the phone. Terrified that our mother’s anger would be multiplied, I grabbed the phone from him and held it a foot away from my ear. “JOSIAH E. HAFREY , I SWEAR TO GOD.”
“Mom, why are you yelling? I’m gonna go deaf because of you.” “Vivian? Is that you, Viv? Put your brother on the phone!” Josiah must of heard her, for he shifted away from the phone and refused to take it, turning his head like a little kid when a spoonful of vegetables is pressed to his mouth. Scowling, I put the phone to his ear, but he didn’t say anything, and glowered at me with silent concentration as he pressed his lips together. I made a sound of exasperation, and pulled the phone back, thinking of an excuse to feed my mother. “He’s kinda out of it today…” I said, biting my lip and hoping my mother’s sense of suspicion had withered with age. It didn’t. “Oh, sure. He better damn well have his head out of the clouds tomorrow, because your father and I are on a plane from Colorado right now.” She said, sounding smug. I cringed. “We
haven’t seen you two in forever, your father misses Alter, and I suspect your daily diet has been nothing but cheap dollar store brand food for months.” I remained quiet, and let her drone on. I pressed the speakerphone button, and placed the phone on the top of the couch, listening to her motherly threats. After awhile, she started to say her goodbyes. I turned off the speakerphone and sent my condolences. We hung up, and I threw the phone at Josiah. Still too intoxicated to dodge properly, it hit him square in the jaw. He let out a string of profanity that would be too tedious to repeat. He threw the remote at me, which hit my boob and made me immediately cross my arms in pain. I threw it back aimed for a special place down under, but he closed his legs and lurched to the right, falling off the couch and onto the floor. I started to laugh, and it felt nice to. He mocked my laugh, and grabbed my arm and pulled me to the floor. The plate of food flew out of my lap and landed miraculously undisturbed on the coffee table. I hit my knee, but laughed anyway at our silliness. Josiah’s jaw started to turn pink, but he was smiling too. Alter Ego mewed at us both, pleading to be pet. “So what are you gonna do to avoid the Hawks?” I asked. “Hawks” was our code word for our parents, though clichéd and generic. Josiah shrugged. “Go out somewhere for a couple hours, maybe. I‘m off work ‘til Thursday.” He said, rubbing his reddish, bruised chin. “Well, I have this school thing that’ll take up most of the day.” I said, clawing my hair from my forehead. We were going on a school trip, but it wasn’t really a trip. It was the downtown library. The school decided to give us one last ‘field trip’ before we hightailed it outta there, yet they chose the worst place to drag 60 or so students with extreme Senioritis. Not that I find libraries boring. In fact, there’s no place I’d rather be, but accumulating all the opinions of all the graduates would no doubt result in constant complaining. The ride itself would take about 2 hours, since we live in a bit of a rural area. “Hey, go to the supermarket and buy something healthy tomorrow or something.” I said. “Why, planning to lose the weight you don’t have?” He replied. “No, to make the Hawks think we don’t stuff ourselves with Top Ramen and french fries.” “But we do.” “Yeah.”
… I was right. Josiah did get a hangover the next morning, and a nasty one. I had to wrench the Ibuprofen from his grip, and the space on the counters was occupied by water bottles. He was seated at the kitchen island, with his laptop open to “How to Cure Hangovers.”
He had opened a
pack of saltine crackers, and was devouring them by the handful. Everyone once in awhile he’d moan in pain, and dry heave, making me back away several feet. I decided to be a nice little sister, and make him breakfast, which consisted of a nearly burnt egg, rubbery bacon and buttered, hard toast nearing it’s expiration date. I poured the last of our milk into a cup and shoved the amateur assemblage toward him.
He managed to stop the
plate before it toppled over the edge, and skepticized the breakfast. I shot him a you’re-gonna-eat-it-and-you’re-gonna-love-it glare. He shrugged one shoulder and stabbed the plate with a fork. He’d almost had a bite in his mouth when he let out a heavy whine. It made me flinch; I almost thought he was gonna face-plant the food and start crying, but he didn’t and just put his face in his hands. He reached for the ibuprofen, which I skillfully seized. “Don’t overdose.” I said. He replied with a near-growl and I rolled my eyes. I wanted to tell him “I told you so,” though I figured that would push him overboard. I shoved an apple in my mouth and crunched it down. These days I didn’t have much of an appetite, though it didn’t change my weight at all. It just made it 20 times harder to walk up the stairs. An ailment I then experienced while heading for my room. Panting at the top of the stairs, I heard Josiah call out “Pansy!” I opted out of retaliation only because shouting back down would have taken the last breath I had. My room was lofty, and a little cramped, not that I minded. It had a floor-to-ceiling window that was only about 1 foot wide, and I spent most of my days looking out of it. On the left side, the entire wall had been painted black, and the opposite wall was occupied by a wide chalkboard, and then a long mirror. The chalkboard was my calendar, my reminder, and filled with ideas and quotes I never wanted to forget. On the wall that day was “I fear my love will be as welcome as a lusting
flame to a budding flower.” Josiah didn’t get it. He never got anything. I grabbed my boots, and my thick jacket, making sure I had my keys and school I.D on a lanyard. I stopped in front of the mirror and brushed my hair back with my fingers. I’d not be so vain to say I’m pretty, per se, but I’m not ugly. Well, I don’t think so. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as so that saying goes. I could be very well the ugliest person on the planet. My brown-but-red-streaked hair bothered me, and had gotten too long, past my hips. I planned to cut it, but my friends all chided me against it, saying things like: “Oh, your hair is just to pretty to cut off!” “What, are you gonna get, like, a dyke hair cut?” “That’d be a shame!” It was my hair, not everyone else’s, and I never did anything with it anyway. I made a mental note to make a haircut appointment as soon as possible. Knowing that my hair would inevitably tangle at some point, I grabbed a brush from my bedside table. I happened to notice the clock displaying the time, and I was late. After my shout of an inappropriate word or two, I rushed out with my tote bag, sliding down the stairs’ banister. I called out a farewell to Josiah, in which he responded with an agonized groan. Once again I hopped into my small, ugly, mauve-colored car and drove myself to school.
… I don’t fit in with the cool crowd. Actually, scratch that. There is no cool crowd in my school. There’s just the normals, and the normals who think they’re the shit. I myself leaned more toward the literature geeks and art fanatics, though not to say I wasn’t friends with other people of other
‘cliques.’ Now, most of the seniors at Cedarside High school spent their last days cutting class, smoking pot in the greenhouse and sucking up for teacher recommendations. Not to say, though, that I didn’t do the latter. It was pretty much necessary. Anyway, by the time I get to school, the good parking spaces are already taken. Thanks to the fact that the school’s campus size was ridiculously unproportional to the student body size, and also my lack of stamina as mentioned before, the walk to the entrance doors was long and tedious. I arrived trying to calm down my hyperventilation, as the seniors were herded like sheep to their homeroom classes. The underclassmen stared with jealous gazes, and I rolled my eyes. If they has known where exactly we were headed, they wouldn’t have been so envious. My crowded homeroom class buzzed with the chatter of 34 student’s I never bothered to get to know. Only one person was there to comfort me, Raven, and she beckoned me forward. I sat next to her in an awkwardly small desk. She gave me her famously bright grin and I smiled back, though I’m sure it looked more like a wince. Raven kind of looked like her name. She was tall, had those kind of haunted, sunken eyes, and was a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe, which bordered on eerie. Her countenance drew eyes wherever she went, though I suppose that was mainly because the majority of her hair was dyed a vibrant purple. The teacher called roll by our last names, and after everyone was accounted for, rallied us toward the buses. We stepped onto the bus in record time. Raven took the window seat, and I took the aisle seat. In just a couple of minutes we were on our way. I immediately plugged in my headphones, and let my Ipod shuffle to whatever brooding song it wished. It was an undisturbed trip, mainly because my headphones did a great job of blocking out sound. Raven, every once in a while would show me a funny and/or inappropriate picture on her phone, and we’d snicker. I leaned my head on the back of the seat, staring up at the metal roof of the bus and trying not to move too much.
My Ipod played good musing music, and occasionally even the songs I
forgot I had. I thought of new quotes and ideas that I told myself I’d write on the chalkboard when I got home. About one hour or so in, the scenery flew by in a boring mixture of dirt, bush, trees, and
flat horizons. My music was starting to repeat itself, so I changed the playlist. I was about to put back my Ipod into my pocket when the bus hit a pothole. The bus jolted up, and three dozen gasps and shouts echoed. I put my hands on the seat in front of me and held on. The bus hit another pothole and swerved to the right. The people on the left side of the bus hit their heads on the windows, and the people on the right flew into their companions. The bus tilted dangerously, and I lost my grip, plummeting into the opposite aisle, and the unfortunate person who sat there. My body hit theirs, and they slammed into the window. The person happened to have a thermos to their mouth, and started to choke on whatever liquid they possessed. I gasped, and tried patting their back. The bus jerked still and the chaperons stood. “Stop! Stop! ” I heard from the person. I halted and raised my hands in caution. I turned and looked at Raven, who was gaping at me with a doe-like expression. The chaperons were waving their hands for the students to calm down. The bus quieted only slightly. I turned to my poor victim. So it happened to be a guy. An unusual guy, at that. Not that his reaction was unusual - I would have done the same, if not even more vulgar. His appearance threw me off a bit. Long Rapunzel-like hair, pale, a menacing expression, amplified by the thick eyeliner around his eyes. His lips, though… His lips were coated in glossy black lipstick, and his mouth was curled up in a sneer. But damn, the boy could do his makeup better than half the girls at this school. It was odd of me, to think it attractive, but he worked it. He made me wanna reach my hand out and smear the lipstick all over his face (and maybe mine too). I stopped myself then, before I’d turn into a mush-for-brains whore, and tried to apologize. I didn’t even get the first word out, the bus driver interrupted me. “Sorry for the tumble, folks. Nobody’s hurt too bad, I hope? I’m going to need everyone to stay in their seats while we take roll again.” He said. The chaperon stood with her roster, and called out names. Raven reached across the isle and poked my shoulder. She motioned for me to return to my seat and I got up to move without looking back. “Hafrey, V.” “Here.”
I realized my mistake too late. The chaperon looked up, and caught me crossing the aisle to my previous seat. I stood there, frozen, eyes on me. I flushed. “Please stay in your seat Miss Hafrey, like the bus driver just told you a second ago.” She said, not without a heavy dose of spite. I slowly sat back down in the seat next to the boy who I’d clearly pissed off. Raven gave me a sympathetic look, and the chaperon pulled out another sheet of paper. She read it in a professional voice. “We’re glad to have you all on a trip to Clearwright Library. As upperclassmen, I trust you’ll all behave accordingly. If you so choose to check out a book, there’ll be a bus that will run after school two weeks from now. Please review and follow the library rules. This isn’t time for spitballs and paper airplanes. Keep the conversations appropriate, keep your voices low and don’t go anywhere funny on the computers.” After the first few words, most of the students zoned out. The bus neared the big library, not that anyone was particularly enthusiastic. Even the teachers had to admit it was a boorish choice of trip, considering all the places we could have gone instead. The bus stopped, and the chaperon stood in the front, and raised her arms to grab our attention. “This half of the bus is group A, and will come with me” She said, chopping her arm down the middle of the aisle and motioning to the left half.
“The others will go with Mr. Abraham.” He in
turn waved his arm. I had no idea why the bus’s occupants had to be divided, but it was unfortunate for me that Raven had to be in the right half, and me in the left. The right half got off the bus first, and Raven gave me sad wave, while both my seat companion and I sat quietly fuming. Mr. Abraham stood as the other chaperon departed, and led us off the bus. I walked down the bus’s steps, and noticed that the black-lipped boy stayed on until everyone else had left. He clambered off with a thunderous attitude, and his hair fell in front of his face. Horrified that he might look my way, - which was vain - I tore my stare from him. My gaze fell on a group of male individuals whose impatience was clear. Even clearer was their urge to start a fight, the stereotype etched into their jockish DNA.
The main two obviously hated each other, and puffed up their chests. One had his fist clenched and was on the edge of control. The other had a cruel smirk, provoking the guy, though it seemed more like torment. They shoved each other’s shoulders and were inches apart. They looked like peacocks. The thought echoed in my mind, and in my vision I imagined real peacocks. I tried to hold in my laughter, but like the idiotic little bitch I am, a snicker escaped my lips. That was totally the wrong time to do so. There would have never, ever been a worse time to laugh. The angered one’s face turned bright red, and he started at me. The smile had immediately fallen from my lips, but he seemed to have no doubt it was me. He shook his shock of red hair out of his equally as red face. The crowd around us silenced, and the other half of the bus turned back to stare. The tension was killing me, but I held his fiery gaze, even as butterflies proceeded to have sex, multiply, fart and back flip in my gut. It left everyone in raw anticip… … … -pation. The guy I’d now provoked threw out his fist, connecting with the other jock’s jaw. He was knocked back a few good feet, and cursed out in pain. He was instantly forgotten though, as the redhead turned his violent wave to me. He started to advance, ignoring the arms holding him back. I stepped back, fearing for my life but refusing to look away. The students tittered in excitement, some pushing forward and others back. I put as much hatred into my glare as possible. He was close now, and raised his fist to close the distance. I stood and raised my shoulders, now trying to be the peacock. I gritted my teeth and waited for the hit that’d slam me to the ground. It never came. Mr. Abraham intercepted. He was a big man, and used that to his advantage, though he nearly got a hit to the gut. The stander-bys inched away and tried to look innocent. “ENOUGH. What are y’all? 10 year olds? Sure do act like it!” He yelled. “From now on, I want you all split! Stand with who you were sitting with on the bus!” Everyone stood still. No one moved. “NOW!” That was enough to shock them into moving. I stepped away from the braw
ly redhead, and glanced around. My stomach dropped even further. I slowly made my way to the black-lipped boy, who’d never moved from his spot leaning against the bus. I stood a reasonable length away, and refused to look at him. He snorted in laughter. My eyes widened in surprise. “I’m actually shocked he didn’t kick your ass. Congratulations, you‘ll live another day, half-pint.” He said.
I didn’t look at him, nor did I respond.
… We entered the library in two quiet lines. We almost didn’t go at all, but Mr. Abraham opted for settling with writing two referrals, which thankfully my name was not on. We were banned from speaking, or even sharing a knowing glance. We stuck with our bus partners, though I spent the entire time trying my best to stare ahead. My partner was a full head taller than me, so making eye contact was unlikely.