DOES THIS STRAITJACKET MAKE MY BUTT LOOK BIG?
When Hannah gets into the car she leans forward to grab her coffee, and the smell of her perfume-raspberry body spray she still buys for the past three years-is so real and sharp and familiar I have to close my eyes, overwhelmed by everything. Closing my eyes turned out to be a bad idea. With my eyes closed I see the beautiful warm lights of Josh's house receding in the rearview mirror and the sleek black trees crowding on either side of us like skeletons. I smell burning. I hear Dakota yelling and feel my stomach bottom out as the car lurches to one side, tires squealing-
I snap my eyes open as Dakota swerves to avoid a squirrel. She clucks her cigarette out the window and the smell of smoke is strangely double: I'm not sure whether I'm smelling it or remembering it both.
"You really are the worst driver." Hannah giggles, flicking her hair out of her eyes.
"Be careful please." I whispered, my fingers clutching on to the seat without meaning to.
"Don't worry." Dakota chuckles, leaning over to lightly pat my knee. "I won't let my best friend die a virgin."
And in that moment, I feel my smile fade and a cold sweat break across my skin. I'm desperate to spill everything to Dakota and Hannah, to ask them what's happening to me- to us- but I can't think of any way to say it.
We were in a car accident after a party that hasn't happened yet. Oh yeah, I also thought I died yesterday. I think I'm going to die tonight.
Hannah must think I'm quiet because I'm worried about John. She loops her arms around the back of my seat and leans forward with a large grin. "Don't worry, Hayles. You'll be fine. It's ust like riding a bike."
I try to force a smile, but can I barely focus. It seems like a long time ago that I went to imagine being side-by-side with John, imagining the feel of his cool, dry hands. Thinking about him makes me ache, and my throat threatens to close up. I suddenly can't wait to see him, can't wait to see his crooked smile and his Yankees hat and even his dirty fleece that always smells like a little but like boy sweat, even after his mom makes him wash it.
"It's like riding a horse," Dakota corrects Hannah. "You'll be a blue-ribbon champion in no time, Red."
"I always forget you used to ride horses." Hannah flips open the lid of her cofee and blows steam off the top.
"When I was, like, seven," I say, before Dakota can turn this into a joke. I think if she starts making fun of me now I really will cry. I could never explain the truth to her; that riding was my favorite thing in the wotld. That I loved to be alone in the woods, especially in the late fall when everything is crisp and golden, the leaves the color of fire, and it smells like things turning into earth. I loved the silence-the only sound the steady drum of the hooves and the horse's breathing. No phones. No laughter. No voices. No houses, No cars.
I've flipped the visor down to keep the glare out of my eyes, and in the mirror I see Hannah smiling at me. Maybe I'll tell her what's happening to me, I think, but at the same time I know that I won't. She would think that I'm crazy, they all would. Instead I keep quiet and look out the window. The light is weak and watery-looking, like the sun has jjust spilled itself over the horizon and is too lazy to clean itself up. The shadows are as sharp and pointed as needles. I watch three black crows take off simultaneously from a telephone wire and wish I could take off too, move up, up, up, and watch the ground drop away from me the way it does when you're on an airplane, folding and compressing into itself like an origami figure, until everything is flat and brightly colored-until the whole world is like a drawing itself.
"Theme song please." Dakota says, and I scroll through her iPod until I find the Mary J Blige, then lean back and try not to think of anything except the musisc and the beat.
And I keep my eyes open.