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Authors: J.M. Kelly

Speed of Life (5 page)

BOOK: Speed of Life
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“Why me? Why not Raul?”

“David doesn't speak Spanish.”

“I don't speak rich boy,” I say, heading through the door.

 

Amber goes to a party on Saturday night, but I'm not even tempted. Even if Gil wasn't too wrecked to watch Nat, I'm pretty much done with parties. Me and Gil veg in front of the TV while the baby wriggles around on the couch next to me. I keep one hand on her warm soft belly so she doesn't fall off, the TV flickering in her blue eyes. Mom said they wouldn't stay that color, but so far they have, and she's almost five months old. Me and Amber think if they were going to change to brown like ours, they would've by now.

Amber could probably find a ride home tonight, but if I pick her up, then I know she won't get stuck in a car with someone who's been drinking. Gil's passed out by the time I have to go get her, so I end up trying to get Natalie into her carrier without waking her up. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. By the time I've buckled her in, she's crying, and now I'm kind of pissed that I let Amber go out at all. I get the teething ring from the freezer, and that calms Nat down a little, but she's still whiny. I wish all these damn teeth would hurry up.

Bonehead's already sleeping in the car and he's so excited to see us that I have to yank him off the baby. He wants to lick her face. He learned fast that there's usually something tasty smeared around her mouth that we missed with the washcloth. Also, he's friendly.

“Sit!” I yell at him, and surprisingly, he does. He probably thinks I'll throw him out in the yard if he doesn't, and he's right. By the time I drive the four or so miles to the party, which is at a rundown house on the other side of Lents Park, he's curled up in a ball on the seat, sound asleep again. I wish I could say the same about Nat, who's getting crankier. She's probably cold.

Amber's supposed to be waiting outside, but she's not there. I sit, the engine idling, the heater just now kicking in. I'm hoping to see someone I know so I can send them in after her, but it's pretty dark and it's raining hard. The only kids I see are fast-moving dark shadows running back and forth from the house to the cars.

Crap. I'm gonna strangle her if I have to go in.

After fifteen minutes, I kill the engine and turn on the hazard lights because I'm double parked. I wake Bonehead and tell him to watch Natalie. I doubt he understands, but he does sit up, and when I look back at the car, he's leaning over her like no one's gonna get his baby.

I dart across the yard and into a house that's almost as dilapidated as ours. For a second, I stay in the doorway, scanning the room. Most of the lights are out, and the air's heavy with cigarette and pot smoke. I can't make out anyone I know, so I go looking for Amber myself.

Peering down a hallway, I see a couple of guys who get off by harassing me all the time. Assholes. They're jealous of my car. They go to some other school, but for some reason they always seem to be at the same parties as me and Amber, which is another reason I don't want to be here. I dart out of view before they can see me. I need to find my sister and get the hell out.

I go around a corner and run into Han. He's talking to a couple of guys who are so wrecked I'm surprised they can follow the conversation. “Where's Amber?” I ask. “I thought you were gonna keep her out of trouble.”

“I tried, but she got all bitchy. She's in the kitchen.”

“By herself?”

Han shrugs. “She's with a guy. They wanted to be alone, but I'm standing right outside the door. I wasn't gonna let her go upstairs or anything.”

“Is this your mom?” one of the guys asks, smirking.

“We're friends,” Han says.

“Do you want a ride home?” I ask him. “Because we're leaving, like, right now.”

“No, I'm gonna hang for a while.”

“Okay.”

In the kitchen, my sister's sitting on the counter, beer in hand, and making out with a guy I've never seen. “Amber!” I shout over the throbbing music. “Come on. Let's go!”

She pulls away from the guy, trying to focus on me. “Oh, hey, Crystal. Want a beer?”

“No. Come on. It's time to leave.”

“Already?”

“Stay,” the guy says, kissing her neck.

“Nat's in the car,” I remind her.

She shakes him off. “I gotta go.” She tries to get down from the counter, but he's standing between her legs and won't move.

“Come on,” I say to him. “Let her down. We gotta get out of here.”

He looks over at me for the first time. “Whoa! I'm seeing double.”

“Yeah, you are,” I tell him. “You better sleep it off.”

He squints at me. “You look the same, but you're meaner than her.”

“Yep. Let her down.”

He stumbles back, and Amber hops off the counter, which is a relief. I don't want to get into it with a drunk. “Do you have a coat?” I ask her as we wind our way through the party.

“I don't know,” she says, laughing. “Do I?”

I think back to when I dropped her off. Nope, no jacket, even though it's freezing outside. I'm so busy steadying her on the way out that I forget to keep an eye out for those jerks. We're almost to the front door when I come face-to-face with two of them. If I'd known they were here, I wouldn't have come in. Now I need to get us out. I look around for Han, but he's disappeared.

“Oh, hey, dude,” the tall one says to his friend. “It's that slut and her tease sister.”

“She ain't no tease, man. She's a dyke.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”

I push past them, which probably isn't the best idea. The wide one jumps back and yells, “Oww! She touched me. I got fucking frostbite now.”

“Ignore them,” Amber says, as if I don't already know. I pull her out the door and we run across the yard through the rain, me holding her arm so she doesn't stumble and fall. The two guys follow us, jeering and laughing all the way.

They're just a couple of wusses who get off harassing me because I drive a cool car. Ever since that night last summer when I bitched them out for sitting on the hood of my Mustang, they've been total assholes, calling me a dyke and frigid.

By the time I get the car door unlocked and Amber in the front seat, we're soaking wet and Bonehead's barking at the guys, who're still calling me names. Natalie's shrieking at the top of her tiny lungs. Sometimes I wish I was deaf. I try to go around the back of the car to get to my door, but the stupid jerks are blocking the way. The rain's coming down in sheets now and we're all getting drenched, but they're too drunk to notice.

“Let me by, dickheads,” I say.

“Oh, talk dirty to me, Ice Queen.”

“Fuck off.”

One of them reaches out for my arm, and I take a swing at him with my free hand, but the other guy blocks it. And then Bonehead's between us, growling and baring his teeth. The guys let go of me quick, and I reach down to grab the dog's collar so he doesn't attack them. He pulls hard, though, and I have to plant my feet on the slick pavement. Bonehead lunges forward and my thumbnail tears on his choke chain, but I don't let go. The jerks are backing off fast, and I drag the dog around to the driver's side and shove him into the car.

Amber helps haul him in. “I'm sorry—”

“Just shut up.” I fire up the engine, and as I do, there's a loud crash as something hits the back of the Mustang.

“Shit!”

“What was that?” Amber asks, craning around in her seat.

“Sit down and put on your seatbelt.”

I hit the gas and we peel out. Natalie screams louder, which I didn't think was actually possible. In my mirror, I can see Bonehead standing on the back seat with his front paws in the rear window, barking his head off.

“SIT DOWN!” I yell at him, and as we turn the corner, he loses his balance and falls over. I go about three blocks at top speed, and then I find a place by the park to pull over. I kill the engine. My hands are shaking so hard, I can only keep them steady by holding on to the steering wheel.

Amber reaches over the seat, trying to get Bonehead to sit. “Leave him,” I say. “He's fine.” After a few minutes he settles down.

We can't do anything for Natalie, though. She's tired and crabby and probably wet and hungry, too. Amber keeps apologizing for letting the dog out of the car.

“I thought he was gonna break the window,” she says, “so I opened the door, and I was holding on to him but—”

“Forget it,” I say. “It's fine. It's over.”

I don't start driving again until my heart rate goes back to normal and my hands have stopped shaking. It's almost two in the morning, and all I want to do is get home to bed. We're halfway there when we get pulled over by the cops.

“Don't say a single word, Am,” I tell her. “Act like you're sleeping.” The last thing we need is another “minor in possession by consumption.” She's already had two. They'll make her go into rehab if she gets another one.

Amber leans her head back against the headrest and closes her eyes while I roll down the window and wait for the cop to amble up to me. “Hello, ladies,” he says. “We meet again.”

I sigh. Our favorite officer of the law.

I think he's pulled me over about six times. He's never given me a ticket, but he's made me do the sobriety test every time. I don't know why. I'd never chance the Mustang by drinking. Or, you know . . . risk Natalie's life.

“License and insurance?”

I hand both over, and he goes to his car to run them. A few minutes later he's back. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No, sir.” Gil taught me to add the “sir” when talking to the police. There's a little quaver in my voice tonight—​probably leftover adrenaline from fighting with those assholes at the party—​but I think it works in my favor.
Please, please, please don't give me a ticket.
If he does, our insurance is going to go way the hell up.

“You've got a broken taillight,” he says.

“I do?” Those goddamned guys.

“You didn't know?”

I shake my head. For half a second I consider turning them in, telling the cop where to find them, but I'm no narc. Besides, everyone at the party would get busted, and I definitely don't want to be the one responsible for that. “Someone must've hit me in a parking lot.”

“Where're you headed?”

“Home.”

He nods at Amber. “She been drinking again?”

“She's tired,” I say.

He knows I'm evading the question, but I guess he's having a good night—​he doesn't push me on it. “You been drinking?”

“Nope. Want me to blow into the thingie?”

“If you wouldn't mind.”

I start to get out, and Bonehead tries to follow me. “Sit.” I palm his face, pushing him back. I get out of the car and we go through the whole routine.

“Okay,” the cop says when the device proves I'm sober. “Fix that taillight tomorrow.”

“I will.” He knows I work on it myself.

Before he walks away, he says, “Man, I love this car.”

It's probably the only reason he doesn't give me a ticket: Mustang admiration. I watch him in my rearview mirror as he gets into his cruiser and waits for me to drive off. I make sure to signal before pulling out.

“Shit. I can't believe they broke my taillight.”

“Can't you fix it?” Amber asks, magically waking up.

“Yeah, of course I can. But it's gonna cost us for the part. I wanna kill those bastards.”

“They're not worth it. Forget them.”

I know she's right. I always let them get to me. But tonight it's not what they said. They messed with my car. If I could run them over without anyone knowing—​not really kill them, maybe just break a couple of legs—​I totally would. But if I did and I got caught, it would really mess with the plans me and Amber have, so except for a little fantasy on the way home—​where both jerks end up in traction for about a year—​I try to put the idea out of my mind.

Chapter 7

We spend Sunday out in the driveway, since David has my shift at the garage. It's sunny and even kind of warm for October, perfect for working on my car, but I'm pissed that I have to. Once I checked out the taillight in the daytime, I wanted to run those sonofabitches over even more. They managed to break the bulb and take a chunk out of the lens on the right side. It's probably gonna cost me more than a hundred bucks to replace it. And that's
if
I can score a deal on eBay or at a swap meet. At the parts store, I ended up getting that red plastic tape that's supposed to be temporary. Hopefully it'll be okay with the cops.

The way the engine's been surging when it idles is annoying me, so when I picked up the tape, I got some throttle valve cleaner, too. The baby's in her car seat in the driveway, and Amber's sitting in a raggedy lawn chair next to her, reading me beauty tips from a magazine she found in the bathroom at the Glass Slipper, while I work on the car. Neither of us brings up last night.

“Check this out,” she says. “Revitalizing eye cream with moisturizing beads . . . only a hundred and ninety-six bucks. Gotta get me some of that.”

“I'm the one who needs it. Too many late nights doing your homework.”

“Don't talk about school. It's the weekend.”

Unfortunately, I've got school on my mind. I can't stop wondering why Ms. Spellerman had to talk to me about college. It's not like I want to go, but now that she's brought it up, I can't seem to forget about it, either.

“Do you know the new guidance counselor?” I ask Amber. “Ms. Spellerman?”

“Nope. Why?”

“She called me to her office.”

“What'd you do?”

I spray the cleaner into the valve and wipe out all the black gunk with a paper towel. I don't know if this is the problem, but it's gotta be part of it—​it's really gross in there. When I'm done, I sit down on the cement next to Amber's feet to let the engine air-dry for a while.

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