She lightly kissed him on the cheek as he slowed to a stop.
“If we keep hitting these red lights, you’re not gonna be home by 12”, he said as he lightly grasped her hand. “Like I really need another reason for your parents to hate me.”
“They don’t hate you,” she said with a chuckle. “They just…don’t want me to have a boyfriend. Ever. Don’t take it personally or anything.”
He let go of her hand when the light turned green and sped ahead of the car next to him. He glanced at the clock. 11:55 gleamed in bloody numbers back at him.
“I’ll get you home in five minutes if it’s the last thing I do,” he said smiling. “Your parents won’t have anything to complain about tonight. We just gotta get lucky with these fucking stoplights here.”
He coasted down the road at 50 miles per hour, looking straight ahead at the three stoplights that he couldn’t avoid. He passed through one. Nicole turned up the radio and looked out the window. He passed through the second. The third light gleamed yellow as he came closer to it. Yellow means slow, but not when your girlfriend has a curfew from disapproving parents that can’t stand the sight of you. He sped past the stoplight right as the bulb changed to red.
“You little badass,” she said as she laughed and lightly punched his shoulder. “If only my parents could see you now.”
Not more than 30 seconds passed until Dan noticed the cop car following him. 5 seconds later and the lights were flashing; violent red and blue pierced the darkness of the inside of his car.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said as he merged to the right and pulled over. “Fuck, Nicole I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she said as she opened the glove compartment and pulled out his license and registration. “Better have these ready.”
That was one of the things he loved about Nicole. Even though she was two years younger than him, she was always calm and collected well beyond her years. Almost nothing bothered her.
He took the documents and smiled at her as he rolled down the window. The cop slowly approached with a flashlight at hand, ready for business.
He remembered sitting in the backseat, looking out the window. He loved to look out the window. To watch how quickly everything passed by before his eyes. To see people walking on the street, and pretending like he knew who they were, or what they were about to do, or what they were thinking.
He remembered listening to his mom sing along to the radio. She had a sweet singing voice, and it reminded him of how she sang to him before he fell asleep at night. He felt his eyelids grow heavier, and he imagined a world where cars didn’t exist and people could just fly to where they needed to go.
That was when the car flipped. Dan didn’t remember much after this. Just glass. And blood. He remembered how his Dad told him that the safest place of the car was the backseat, and if there ever was an accident, he shouldn’t worry as long as he’s sitting in his regular seat. But mommy’s in the front seat, he remembered thinking. Mommy’s in the front seat, and she’s not singing anymore. Dan remembered feeling scared. He closed his eyes. He imagined him and his mother flying out of the flipped car, unscathed and smiling. That’s when he heard people prying at the car doors.
“License and registration,” he said, like any typical cop would. When Dan handed him the documents, he shined the light straight in his eyes.
“Nice red light you blew through. You colorblind or something?”
“Then why didn’t you stop?”
“Well, I could have sworn it was yellow.”
He continued to shine the light in his eyes, and Dan could only squint to make out some features of his face.
“So you are colorblind?”
“No sir, I just, I..I gotta get my girlfriend here home before 12, and I seriously thought the light was yellow. It was an honest mistake sir.”
“Mhhhm. You know what I think? I think you were speeding 10 miles over the limit for quite some time. You didn’t even slow down for the light, you just sped right through it.”
Dan didn’t say anything. He could barely make out the name Marzano through the bright flashlight that was still shining in his eyes. This prick has it in for me, he thought. He watched as Marzano shined his light at Nicole’s face, and then back at his.
“And if that’s what I think I smell coming from your car, Mister uh, Marinucci, we’re gonna have a real problem here.”
Dan’s heart dropped. He did have a significant amount of weed in the backseat of his car that he needed to sell for the week, but he didn’t think that this Marzano would notice the smell.
“Smell?” said Dan nervously as he innocently looked at Marzano. This prick isn’t fooling around tonight. Marzano’s not going back home until he takes a few kids into custody so he could be an honorable cop, he thought to himself.
“Step out of the car, Mister Marinucci.”
He remembered the light that exposed the shards of glass around him as the door was pried open. He saw a man looking into the car; looking into his eyes. The man turned to speak to someone behind him.
“We’ve got a boy in here, about six years old. We need back-up, now!”
He looked back at Dan and smiled. He reached out his hand.
“Grab my hand if you can hear me. Everything will be alright. I promise.”
My mom’s in the front seat, Dan tried to say. Help her first. She needs it more. Dan couldn’t find control of his body. No matter how hard he tried, the words wouldn’t reach his lips. He grabbed the man’s hand as his face felt warm with a mixture of tears and blood.
Dan and Nicole stood outside and watched as Marzano inspected his car with his pathetic flashlight. Even though it was a warm July night, Dan felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He’s going to see what’s in the backseat. He’s going to see all of it, and I’m going to be royally fucked. He looked at Nicole, and she took a while to look back at him. For the first time ever, he saw a look of worry in her eyes. She looked at the car, and then back at him. She knew what was going to happen too. Marzano would see what was in the backseat, and would single handedly destroy their relationship. And his future.
Marzano opened the backdoor and removed the duffle bag from the seat. He took his pathetic flashlight and used it to look inside as he unzipped the bag. Dan saw the smile flash across his face. There you go, Marzano. You’ve done it. I’m supposed to go to college in the fall, but that clearly isn’t going to happen anymore. Marzano turned to both of them.
“Hands where I can see them. Turn around, both of you.”
They did as he said. Dan felt the cold handcuffs around his wrists.
“Please sir, don’t handcuff her. She had nothing to do with this.”
“You have no say in what I’m going to do next. Do you know how much marijuana you have in that car?”
Probably more than I’ve ever smoked in my entire life. And that’s a lot, sir.
“What else can I expect to find in your car, kid?”
“Nothing sir,” Dan said shakily.
“That better be the truth.” Marzano led them to his car. Dan felt the hard cold bench of the backseat as Marzano called for backup. Nicole sat next to him. They didn’t exchange a word. He looked outside and saw people watching from the parking lot of the 7-11 across the street. People he knew from school. He knew what they were thinking.
Dan woke up in a hospital room; his arm attached to an IV. The wallpaper had flowers on it. He tried to sit up, but he couldn’t. He was tired, but he tried as hard as he could to stay awake. He had a little more control of his body now, and he was going to do something about it.
He sat up and shouted with all of his might.
“MOM,” he screamed. His voice was hoarse and filled with pain. He kept screaming. Suddenly, a nurse came in the room with his father behind her. He ran up to the hospital bed.
“Shhh, Dan it’s alright. It’s alright, stop screaming,” he said as he hugged him in his arms. “Everything will be fine, but you need to relax.”
Dan was sobbing, and couldn’t form any other words except “Mom.” The room turned watery and blurry, and he had to keep his eyes shut to think straight.
“Mommy’s okay. You guys were in a really bad accident, but it’s okay. She’s in surgery now. She hurt her legs really bad, but she’s gonna be okay. We’ll find out what’s going on soon, but you need to calm down.”
Dan heard the worry in his voice, and it hardly made him feel okay. He just wanted to see her. He wanted to hear her sing again. He kept his eyes shut and imagined what it would be like to fly out of the hospital bed. He wanted to fly and find his mother. He wanted to take her away from this.
He felt his stomach drop as Nicole’s parents entered the police station. Why do both of them have to be here, he thought. He looked at her father, and for a split second, he looked back at him. His face was red with anger; his lips pursed to almost nothing. His eyes were as dark as Nicole’s; almost black. He looked at Dan, and Dan could instantly read his thoughts. You are nothing to this family. You never were anything and you never will be. You are the type of scum that I raised Nicole to stay away from for the past 16 years. Or at least I thought I did.
Nicole’s mother was in tow behind her father. He face blotchy from crying. They both spoke to Marzano and two other cops at the desk for a while. Nicole was in a different holding cell from Dan, and he couldn’t see her from where he was sitting, but he watched as her mom kept glancing to the back of the room, and he guessed that Nicole was back there somewhere. She didn’t even spare a glance at him, and he was thankful. He didn’t want to read her thoughts.
Another cop walked by with Nicole behind him. Her face was drowned with shame, and she didn’t bother to look up at him or her parents. Her mother reached out and hugged her, but she still studied the floor as if there was a giant cockroach crawling across it. Then, she closed her eyes and buried her face in her mother’s arms. She’ll be fine, Dan thought. She won’t be charged with anything. She’s not in any kind of trouble. All she has to do is explain what kind of scumbag teenager she thought she was in love with, and that she will never ever see this scumbag again. This was all a phase, and it ended up with her being in a holding cell for a night, and it will never happen again. She will continue to get good grades, and hopefully apply to a good college, and eventually get a good job. She will no longer be affiliated with the type of person that I am.
As if Dan couldn’t feel any worse about himself, he saw the doors open again, and watched as his father wheeled his mother into the station. He closed his eyes.
Why would he bring her? Why the fuck would he bring her? He put his hands in his face and rubbed both of his eyes. He looked back up and realized the reality of the situation. His father spoke to Marzano, but his mother was looking straight at him.
“She’ll recover from the bruised ribs in a few months,” the doctor said. “But, she had extensive damage to both of her legs. I’m afraid there is a slim to none chance that she’ll ever walk again.”
This was the first time that Dan had ever seen his father cry. It was a week after the accident, and Dan was no longer a patient in the hospital. He was a little banged up, but he had no sustainable injuries. After all, the backseat is the safest place to be in the car.
Dan followed his father and the doctor through the long hallways of the hospital. Everything was so white and clean, and Dan imagined if this is what Heaven looked like. If it was, he never wanted to go. He passed by gurneys and nurses and felt so small. Everything towered over him, and he felt fear suddenly creep through his body. He wanted to stop walking. He didn’t want to see what would be at the end of the hallway.
They stopped at a room with the door opened.
“She’s in here,” the doctor said. “She’s awake, but is in a lot of pain. I’d like to ask you to keep this visit short.”
Dan’s father grasped his hand as the entered the room. Dan saw a woman lying on the bed, her face bruised and battered. She was unrecognizable. Her head was wrapped in a bandaged that covered up her beautiful auburn hair, and her legs were propped up in casts. She looked towards them. Towards him. She opened her mouth and whispered something barely audible.
“My baby,” he saw her lips say as he sat in the holding cell. He saw the way her eyes looked, sad and beautiful as they gazed at him. He looked at her and felt insanely sad. He hadn’t felt this sad since he was six years old.
His father paid his bail, and he was removed from the holding cell. As they were walking out his father said to him, “Push your mother for me. It’s the least you can do right now.”
Dan stepped behind his mother’s wheelchair and began to push. Despite the fact that his mother had been in a wheelchair for 13 years, she still remained fairly light, a skeleton rotting away in her chair that she will never stand up from.
He looked at Marzano as he passed the doors of the station. He was smiling a toothless smile. Something that said, I’m doing my job well, keeping this scum off the streets. I’m fighting crime the right way. Dan looked back at him, and fought off every urge in his mind to step up to him and call him a prick, to tell him that he should be doing better things than fucking with a teenager’s life.
Dan sat in the backseat as they silently drove home. His father was muttering several things angrily while he was driving.
“A felony. My only child is going to be charged with a felony. I’m so fucking proud. Drug possession, Jesus Christ.”
Dan helped his mother out of the van when they arrived to his house. She still didn’t say a word to him, which bothered Dan. If she could say anything, just something to let him know what she was thinking, Dan would have that. But she said nothing, and the silence made everything unbearable. His father, however, had no problem expressing his feelings.
“I can’t even look at you right now. You and your mother can talk. I’m going to bed.”
The wooden chair of his kitchen table felt so cold against him, but it wasn’t nearly as cold as the look his mother was giving him. She finally looked away from him, and then looked back at him, ready to say something.
“You never talk to me, Dan,” she said quietly. Actually, you never talk to me, Dan wanted to say, but he remained silent.
“I never know what’s going on with you. You never let me in. My mind kept telling me that someday this was going to happen, but I prayed that it never would. I sometimes think that if I wasn’t like this,” she looked down at her legs, then back up at him, her eyes watery.
“No,” Dan said immediately. “Don’t say that, mom. This isn’t your fault. Promise me you won’t blame this on yourself. I make the choices. It’s me.”
She looked at him again without speaking. Dan was thankful for the ticking clock on the wall that broke the complete silence that would consume him if it wasn’t there.
“Dan, we’ve been through a lot together. We can get through this, I know that. It’s not going to be easy, though. I know that for sure. But, from now on, you need to talk to me. We’ve been distant for so long now.”
She wanted to say more, but she couldn’t find the words. Dan knew that feeling all too well.
“I love you mom,” he said silently. He stood up and walked towards her and hugged her. And she hugged him back. They stayed like that for a while in the cold, dark kitchen; the clock ticking and ticking, reminding them both that they were still there.
“I love you too,” she finally said. “But I don’t ever want to see you behind bars again. Promise me you won’t go down that road. I don’t want to loose you.”
“Okay. I promise.”
Dan looked at her and smiled, and she smiled back at him. He realized how much he appreciated his mother. She just wanted him to be safe. He was safe thirteen years ago in the backseat of her car, and he was safe now.
He helped her out of her chair and into her bed, something his father had been doing for the past thirteen years. He went into his room and fell onto his bed, looking out of the window into the night sky. He remembered being six years old in the backseat. He remembered looking outside of the window, watching life pass by quickly before him. Now things were moving slowly. The trees slowly rustled their leaves; the swings in his backyard slowly moved back and forth. He felt the room become blurry with warm tears, and then sleep took over him. He was safe.