The Passenger

I manage to get a grasp on the door handle, timing my steps as I run along to keep pace with the car’s impatient crawl. I jerk the door open and toss my backpack to the floorboard. With a quick prayer, I leap into the front seat.

“Go Robbie, go!” Anna cheers me on, slapping the steering wheel and swerving as I get the door shut approximately two seconds before it would have been removed by a utility pole.

I throw my head back, heaving and thankful for the plush bench seats. Scalding heat blasts my face, as always, even though the knob is only slightly in the red.

Anna thumps the gas and the car swallows down some unleaded. She pats the dashboard of the old beast. She’s the only girl I know who can pull off sexy in a Ford LTD. And she’s not even trying.

My hands dig into the seat. I don’t speak until I feel the satisfying click of the seatbelt buckle. Click.

I check my phone.  “We’re not going to make it.”

Besides the cheering, Anna has yet to acknowledge me, even as I’ve already appreciated the dazzling tangle of her sandy blonde hair, how a frayed, thrift store t-shirt grips the chill bumps of her driving arm. My eyes haven’t yet sojourned to her legs, from fear of getting caught. Besides, I know that Anna’s legs are perfect. Curved, tan, and even a little nicked up around the calf.

She hits me with the aviators, flashes a world-healing smile. “You doubt me?”

My head shakes vigorously. “No, I just…”

The desperation reflected in her shades is appalling. I look away. At traffic, trees, the blur of the passing scenery. At anything so I won’t be gooey-eyed in love with a girl who is painstakingly gorgeous at 7:55 in the morning.

The light ahead flips green and Anna squeals, like she’s just earned bonus points in a game only she is playing. We tear off for the next block. Anna leans into the turn and the tires struggle to grip the road. She does all of this while cranking the tape player in to max volume so that a warbled David Bowie rattles my brain as he croons about Golden Years or Glory Days or whatever in the hell he’s trying to convey here.

Anna taps the wheel. Her smile falls. “As long as Josh has his shit together we’re fine.”

“Okay, because if I’m tardy anymore I’m going to get detention. If I get detention I get grounded so…aghhh.”

We barrel ahead, shot out of the cannon that’s attached to Anna’s Chuck Taylors. We miss the business end of a garbage truck by an antenna width as we haul ass down to the cul de sack. Anna shoulder leans into her door and the boat lurches, screaming around the circle and we blast back up the road. The garbage guys are amused.

Then boom. My hands find the dashboard. Unlike me, Josh gets a complete stop. He starts for my door but Anna waves him off, “Get in the back, no time.”

Josh rolls his eyes and does as he’s told. Before the back-door shuts were off and running.

Sounds of a struggle in the back. Anna eyes the rear-view and covers her mouth. I turn to find Josh’s New Balance sneakers caught in the drooping tapestry that is the roof of the Ford LTD.

“What the hell?”

When Josh has his feet out of the roof he leans up, his head between ours, close to Anna’s cheek. “We’re not going to make it.”

Anna swats him away. She shakes her head. I can always tell when they’re fighting by the way she grips the wheel. Both hands, two and ten, a different girl than the one who picked me up.

The song fades out, giving way to a hiss until a blast of something seriously eighties makes me flinch. I know I’ve heard this mix before—Anna only has four or five tapes in the glove box that she found in her basement, mostly her parents’ mixtapes they made for each other in high school—but the recording levels never match so that one song sounds like it was recorded underwater and the next like its being fired into your head from a cannon.

Anna turns to me. “Time.”

I check my phone. “8:02”

Anna grins as we approach a string of brake lights. She guns the car towards a line of traffic. Josh cursing in the back. There’s no way, but then, just as the light goes green, she weaves into the left lane, fires the engine to the brink of explosion and then back over to the right where we screech into the parking lot. I’m sure her grandfather never drove his car this way.

No one sees Anna’s stuntman/getaway driving maneuvers because everyone is either in the school, or nearly in the school. We have exactly two minutes to get in the door. The sprint is on.

Anna and Josh in front, me in the back. My bookbag pounds my lower back until I swing it sideways. I don’t look at Anna as she runs. Nope, not me. Not the curve of her back or the way her wavy hair bounces all over the place but still stays impossibly tied up in the back. I’d be a real creep to watch her waist, or lower, down to how her perfect thighs curve back in at her shorts. Nuh-uh.

Anna’s mother is Israeli, I think. Not that it matters, whatever Anna genetic makeup it’s like a gift from God. It’s so perfect, so utterly lovely that I have count down and spread out my gawking.

We bust through the doors, to the lobby, I’m reminded that Anna is also one other thing.

“Hey,” Josh says to her, his voice taking on a charm mine will never have. Anna shakes her head, her glasses off and her hazel eyes softening. Josh does that goofy smile thing and Anna melts into him, craning upwards so that her jaw and neck stretches tight. They kiss, quickly and discreetly, but meaningfully. Then it’s over. they look at me and smile—their little pet. Then they split apart and go their own ways.

Yep. She’s taken.





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