There was wind in my hair and smooth leather caressing the palm of my loose handed grip on the steering wheel. We left the party and went driving out, out, out, into the night where the summer air felt like the warm breath of a lover trailing kisses on your neck. I’d been waiting for so long, so damn long to have you to myself like this. We’d been driving for hours, it seemed. The party we’d been at, the people that had surrounded us, they all felt like a distant memory—no, further than that—they were someone else’s memory, told to me many years ago, of little consequence to me. I had no connection to any of it.
I didn’t know whose party it had been, or how you knew the host, or why you had invited me to come, but I knew that that night would be my chance. My arms were so tired from constantly reaching out, grasping for you, wanting to confess my rather foolish crush. Isn’t it always the way? Boy and girl, friends from childhood, separated for years, and when they reunite—well, boy goes crazy realizing the girl whose pigtails he used to pull is suddenly . . . everything. But I’d been afraid to say it, all too aware of how quickly my hopes could turn to ash around me. And yet the night whispered possibilities into my ear, tantalizing me with could-be kisses and images of a blissful future together.
Sometime around two, you finished off a hastily rolled joint and pointed silently at the dim glow on the dashboard and I realized that without even a goodbye, Monday had given way to Tuesday; tomorrow had become today, once an idea, now a reality. I opened my mouth to tell you what I was thinking, but you pulled a bottle from your purse with a mischievous smile and offered it to me. The reasonable part of my brain told me not to drink, that I was already buzzed, but the part of my brain that was in love with you told me to give you everything you want. And so I pressed the bottle to my lips, peeking over the top to keep my eyes on the road, feeling the stickiness of the whiskey dried around the edges. I tried to hand it back to you, but you shook your head at me, blue eyes sparkling like maybe you could love me too.
And then it was 3 am, and I was drunk and you were stoned and even though the lazy moon was barely winking over the tops of the trees, I could’ve sworn everything around me was glowing. And that highway just kept shifting, subtly, so subtly, peeling away from the world until it no longer belonged to the earth. It was ours. Town highway. Population: two giddy twentysomethings. The sea of black in front of us, unpenetrated by the shimmer of my headlights was the most beautiful thing I thought I’d ever seen. Apart from you, of course.
And then when the rain started to patter quietly down onto the windshield, my blood turned to desire, and all I wanted was to stop the car and dance you across four lanes of empty pavement, watch the water soak your hair and trickle down your perfect lips.
The gentle touch of your fingertips on my arm drew me out of my daydream
“Catch that star for me,” you said, pointing.
“Which one?” I asked, unable to see through the rain, which was falling in earnest now.
“That one, right there, on the left,” you said, with an insistent gesture at the sky.
I smiled at your whimsical demand and pressed down on the accelerator, sending us cannonballing toward the stars.
If I could go back and wish on that star, I’d wish I hadn’t done that. I’d wish we had stayed at the party. I’d wish we had gone home. I’d even wish we had never met.
I don’t know why I did it. Maybe it was because I was so caught up in daydreams of you. Maybe I hit the brakes because I wanted to slow down time. Maybe I realized we were shooting forward at 90 mph and panicked. Maybe I was just drunk. Either way, I hit the brakes.
I don’t know why it happened. Maybe the road was slippery from the rain. Maybe something went wrong with the car. Maybe my alcohol-soaked brain made me jerk the wheel. Either way, I lost control.
Suddenly we were a soon-to-be news story.
Crash. The car struck the guard rail. It flipped once and I wasn’t sure if that sound was the car smashing into the pavement or if it was starting to thunder. It flipped a second time and those tiny drops of water were like bullets falling so hard and fast I couldn’t hear what you were screaming.
Your last words, and I didn’t even hear them.
The car skidded to a stop, a huge, muddy streak marking our path of destruction. The world was inverted, turned upside down, and even though I didn’t see you hit your head, blood was pouring out of you like the rain from the sky. Whether from the cocktails or the concussion, my hands fumbled over the strap of the seatbelt as I trembled like a mad dog trying to get to you.
It had felt like we were in a dream. It had felt like we were in a dream, but we were in a nightmare. It was a nightmare. A nightmare where I was staring helplessly at your bloodied face, bruises already flowering on your cheekbones, far worse than the scrapes we earned ourselves as children. You were still so beautiful.
I looked away for a moment, just for a moment, to free myself, and I heard a weak breath rattle your bones like an earthquake. I looked back at you and I swear to god my heart stopped beating at that moment and never resumed.
There was no rise and fall in your chest, no spark in your eyes. How did this happen? I thought. How did this happen? No. No, no, no, this is wrong, this is all wrong. I saw you, just a minute ago, as we were flying through the air just seconds before. Did I see fear? Yes. Confusion? Yes. But goddamn it, I saw life, too. It can’t happen that fast, it can’t, it just can’t. There has to be more, you can’t just be gone.
I felt my stomach twining itself into knots, like my intestines could sense what was happening, and were hugging each other tight for support.
I watched you until the cops came, waiting for the fire in your eyes to rekindle, gazing into them like I used to, but it wasn’t the same. The only light in your eyes was the emergency lights reflecting back out of your glassy stare.
When I look back, I wonder who called them. I don’t remember another car going by. I certainly didn’t call them. Dialing 911 would have implied I still had a will to live. I’d had injuries of my own—gashes, lacerations. Could have been bad enough to be life threatening. And even if those couldn’t kill me, my heart still hadn’t started beating again. Surely that should have killed me . . . right?
But instead, a thick set of arms had pried me out of the driver’s seat. I stared blankly into a featureless face and felt something hard against my hip. Probably his gun. I added that to the list of things that could kill me.
They draped something over me, a shock blanket, I think. But I was not in shock. I knew exactly what I wanted.
I wanted to die.
I didn’t want to be poked and prodded and checked for vital signs. I didn’t want to watch the ambulance arrive in a blaze of flashing lights. I didn’t want to watch more shadowy figures shake rain drops from their hair as they pulled your limp body from the car. And most of all, I didn’t want to hear them pronounce you dead on the scene at 3:46 on a stormy Tuesday morning.
The funeral was exactly a week later. I attended, guilt digging a hole into me until I was empty, hearing people make uncomfortable small talk about how unseasonably warm it was; so nice out. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I could’ve sworn it was raining.
I was sentenced to seven years in prison on a Monday afternoon. Charged with driving under the influence and involuntary manslaughter. The next day, my last as a free man, everyone begged me to come outside, to enjoy the fresh air while I could, but I stayed inside. It was raining again.
I’m writing this down, trying to make some sense of what happened that night, trying to find some sense of you. Every few words I find myself glancing at the ceiling, hearing the pitter patter of tiny raindrops falling overhead. My cellmates can’t hear it. I wonder if you hate me, wherever you are now. The rain falls harder and I wonder what day it is, but I already know. It always rains on Tuesday
—Kaleigh Longe is a student at Bridgewater State University. She has been published once before in Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. True to stereotypes, she supports herself by waiting tables until her writing career takes off.