A Sunday Drive
a short story by andrew shane autry
There's nothing quite like feeling the wind blowing through your hair and the sun shining brightly on your face as you drive down the highway on a Sunday afternoon in early Spring. I can't remember ever feeling this alive in my entire life before today. The very atmosphere itself feels absolutely charged with some special electricity, never there before today. Even the air feels different in my lungs. It tastes sweeter too, like I've never really breathed before. Who knows? Maybe I haven't.
I can tell that Cole feels the same way. He's usually so grim and stoic, but not today. Not now, with the sun in the sky and scenery blurring past on either side. I look at him behind the wheel and he's even smiling! He's so handsome when he smiles and his eyes catch the light in that way that is so uniquely him. And that dimple! I don't know why it's so hard for him to smile most of the time. I guess he is who he is and I should just be glad for this moment in time. I guess one moment is all we can ever feel at any particular point in time anyway, so I should just plan to enjoy the now that we're driving through and not worry about any yesterdays. I certainly don't plan to worry about any more tomorrows either. I don't plan to ever worry about any more tomorrows ever again.
Cole's hair is too short for him to really enjoy the whole "blowing in the wind" effect of riding in a convertible, but that might be for the best. With how fast we're driving, it certainly wouldn't be advisable for him to have his vision obstructed by flying hair. I wonder if it detracts from the whole convertible experience when you have short hair. I've never had short hair. My mom always said boys prefer girls with long hair, but then she said a lot of things. I stopped really listening a long time ago. I wonder if Cole would like me with short hair.
I've never driven this fast before. I'm sure I'd be entirely terrified if every nerve in my body wasn't absolutely screaming with delight as we fly past car after car. It's like what that song says about passing cars like they're standing still. Now I get it.
I never really noticed before, but there seem to be more white cars on the road than any other color. I wonder why that is? It's strange what your mind will fix on sometimes. You're just drifting along and all of a sudden you notice something you weren't even paying attention to. White! What a boring color for a car. What's fun about white? I like yellow cars, like the one we're in now. Red is fun too.
This is actually my first time riding in a convertible. Cole usually drives his mom's minivan, but it broke down and here we are. This is such a rush! I wonder what he's thinking about right now, this very second. I guess you never really can know that sort of thing about another person. Every time you ask someone what they're thinking about it changes what they're thinking so you get, at best, some sort of filtered, watered down version of their thoughts. And most people aren't even that honest with what they say back to you anyway when you ask them that question. I think Cole is honest. At least I think he's honest with me, and that's all that really matters.
I really love him, you know? He's not like other guys. I know a lot of girls say that. In fact, I think every girl who ever had a boyfriend or even just wanted to have one said that very thing about the guy she liked, but Cole really is truly different. He does things for me that no other guys would ever even think about doing. He is so considerate. Take my parents for example. Cole handled them so differently than any other guy I ever went out with. Completely different. No one could say otherwise.
I think he really loves me too. I mean, he's never just come right out and said, "Steph, I love you," or anything like that. That's not his way, but I believe he says it with his actions much louder than he could ever say it with only his words. Some people say that actions speak louder than words and I believe that those people are right to say so. Cole isn't much of a talker, but I feel like he's making himself clear to me all the time regardless. Of course, it would be really nice to hear it. Maybe just once. Right now would be the perfect time. Maybe that's what he's thinking about, but I won't ask.
Cole is such a good driver. I can't believe he can so calmly maneuver through traffic at this speed with just his left hand on the wheel. He always drives with just his left hand on the wheel, at the very top, in the center. "High Noon," he calls it. I like it that way cause then his right hand is free to hold my hand or sneak its way around my shoulders. Sometimes he even strokes my hair while he's driving. I love it when he strokes my hair. I've always liked movies where the guy reaches over and strokes a girl's hair. There's something so intimate about it. Something so calm. So right.
Looking at the dashboard, we still have about half a tank of gas left. I wonder just how far that will get us. I never paid much attention to gas mileage or things like that, so I don't have a clue what kind this car might get. I'd ask Cole but I don't want to trouble him. He looks so happy right now and I want him to stay that way for as long as possible. We both know we'll have to stop eventually when the gas is all gone. I wonder where we'll be when we finally have to stop. What state we'll be in. In fact, I wonder what state we're in now?
"Louisiana," Cole answers when I ask him. He actually had to shout it twice before I could hear him over all the racket. Everything is so loud with the top down at this speed.
Louisiana sure seems far from home to me. Before today I'd never even been out of Virginia. Of course today was a day for a lot of things I've never done before. I wish we had time to stop for some dinner. I haven't eaten anything since dinner last night and I've always heard that the food in Louisiana is spectacular.
On a personal note, I've always been an adventurous eater. I despise those girls who only eat salads on a date and turn down dessert. Cole found out very quickly what to expect when he took me to dinner for the first time. I always find something on the menu I've never eaten before, and that's just what I order. I've heard all about interesting Louisiana food like Cajun fried alligator tail, gumbo, fried crawfish, and all sorts of other things I'd like to try now, but there's no time.
We just passed a sign welcoming us to Texas. Cole smiled at me as we passed the sign. We've talked about Texas before since Cole used to live here. I met him right after he moved from his old home in San Antonio. He says Texas is nothing like what you see in the movies. He says it's just like anywhere else except it gets really hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter. I couldn't really say since I've never really been anywhere, but I wonder if maybe every place is pretty much the same as every other place, except for the weather. Maybe that's stupid.
"We might just make it," he calls out, still with that same dimpled smile on his face. I wonder if he really believes it. I smile back for him, big and bright and I know my eyes are dancing, but I'm starting to fade a little. It's been a very long day and some of the exhilaration is finally starting to wear off. Maybe it's the hunger. I never should have thought about food. Thinking about it only makes it so much worse.
We had a near miss about ten minutes after we crossed the border to Texas. We saw the sea of brake lights and flashing red and blue ahead just in time to whip the car off the road, drive across a field, and merge back onto a smaller blacktop road heading south. It happened so fast it took my breath away!
"It's a good thing everything is so flat in Texas!" Cole shouted gleefully across the car when he finally stopped laughing. I smiled back, trying to hide the fact that my blood was pounding so hard in my head I could barely see. Cole was amazing! He never even hesitated or took his foot off the gas! Looking behind us, I saw that a few of the cars had followed his lead, albeit much more slowly, and were on the same alternate route we were now on. "Monkey see, monkey do," I thought, and that's when the laughing started for me.
Cole was no longer smiling as he watched me out of the corner of his eye. "You okay kid?" he warily inquired. I waved him off, gulping in air and trying to stifle the waves of laughter threatening to choke off my air supply. I'm not even sure why I'm laughing. I just can't seem to stop. I finally get everything back under control, and glance over at the gas gauge again. I think that maybe its time to say something, but looking at the now stern face beside me, I think better of it. It's not like he doesn't already know anyway. He's probably known all along.
The funny thing is that we were almost out of gas anyway when it happened. If it had lasted even five minutes longer, it probably would have ended so differently. But it didn't last five minutes longer.
We hit the road spikes going well over 100 miles per hour and were airborne almost immediately. I'd like to believe that they didn't know that might happen, but I don't know. I think they were pretty mad about the near escape at the Texas border and were pulling out all the stops before we could make it to Mexico. I guess they thought all of this had gone on more than long enough and it was time for extreme measures.
We rolled over in the air so that we were flying upside down through open space. It was so surreal and so like a scene in a movie. Everything slowed down just like it would on screen and every detail became crystal clear. Cole turning to look at me, smiling a strange half smile, shrugging his shoulders and taking his one hand off the steering wheel. I see my own hand reaching towards his face all by itself, moving slowly through the small space between us, almost getting there.
Then we hit the ground and the flashing lights close in all around us. Cole was killed instantly. I knew he must have been or he would have said something to reassure me as we lay there surrounded by darkness inside the crushed cockpit of the upside down convertible, pulsing red and blue lights creeping in under the edges.
I'm not sure how I managed to survive, even for just a little while, but I did. I lay broken, with glass, metal, and upholstery pressing close on every side, watching my own blood begin to pool around me. I can hear them shouting, but their words mean nothing to me. I grope around in the dark for Cole, but find nothing. Maybe he isn't even in here with me. Maybe he landed somewhere else. Suddenly I find that I don't really care so much anymore. I feel too tired and know that, where ever he is, I'll probably be joining him soon enough.
It had been such a long day.
My parents telling us no.
The mini van.
The break down.
The gas station.
The yellow car.
The knife again.
The driving, driving, driving, driving, driving, driving. The sirens.
And finally, the crash.
So tired now.
I guess I never really believed we could escape after what we did, but it would have been nice to have had more time. I always thought there would be more time. Seventeen is just too soon. Too fast.
Is this really all my blood? How much blood does one person have in them anyway? Not this much. There can't be.
I always meant to visit Texas sometime. There's that at least. At least that happened for me, when so many other things didn't and never will.
Mom? Dad? I guess maybe you were right after all. It kills me to admit it. Get it?
What is wrong with you, Stephanie? You really should be praying right about now, not joking. I don't think you're gonna make it kid. I love it when you call me kid, Cole.
I'll never get to try that gumbo now. Do they really eat alligator tail?
Focus Steph! Running out of time. Running out of blood. Must be. So much blood.