Jaded Sarah:

Friends don't let friends drive . . . Period

By: Angela C. Johnson

I knew we were screwed when Jane showed up at my door jangling a set of keys I knew didn't belong to her and said, "Look what I got for the weekend!"

She technically didn't have the car for the weekend for two reasons. The first, she was still grounded from the little Christmas incident that resulted in the two of us being put on probation because we were first time juvenile offenders and my mom, being chief of police, is real big buddies with the judge. The second is that Jane isn't old enough to drive and even if she was there was no way in hell her parents would have ever turned her loose with the Beemer. They loved that car more than they could ever possibly love their two children and because of this both Jane and her brother Adam covet this car the way most people would fame and eternal life.

Her parents had taken off for the weekend for one of those couple reaffirmation things that married middle aged people do sometimes. Personally, I don't care. I like her dad well enough but her mom scares the holy hell right out of me. I don't think Susan ever really liked me and the little fiasco at Christmas did nothing to help. Having to bail your daughter out of jail on Christmas Eve because her best friend went a little psychotic in Wal-Mart trying to find the perfect gift for her brat niece isn't the kind of thing that will win your best friend's parent's hearts.

"Where did you get those?" I said, watching the little blue rabbit's foot dangle on the dinky key ring.

Jane smiled like she's just won the Nobel Prize for brilliance. "I found them in that big ugly planter Mom keeps by the front door. I tore the whole house apart before I found them. I will not be denied!" she cried. "The Beemer is mine!"

"We're doomed," I muttered, because I knew we were going to get in trouble again. Sure, I could have and probably should have told her to take the car and put it back in the garage where she found it and make her promise to forget ever entertaining the idea of the two of us taking that car out and getting into God knows what kind of trouble. But I'm not that kind of friend. I'm still not sure which one of us is Tonto and which is the Lone Ranger, but right now I'm feeling a lot like a sidekick just waiting to take an arrow in the butt.

"Come on!" she said, grabbing me by the jacket and pulling me outside. "I've been cooped up in that freaking house for two months. I can't take it anymore. I'm going crazy! I've got to go to the mall."

Mall. That sounded safe enough. Still, I had to at least try to be the voice of reason. That way, when this thing inevitably blew up in our faces, at least I could say I tried. "I've got to stay here and watch Weasel."

Weasel is my pet name for my thirteen year old brother. He looks, acts, thinks, and sometimes even smells like a Weasel, especially when he's been down in the basement for three days at a time like now. I don't know what he does down there, not so certain I want to know. Weasel is weird in the way most people describe loners and serial killers. Nice, not the kind of guy you would ever suspect to do something like hack up a family of five with a chainsaw, but a loner who didn't talk much to people and glared a lot.

But in this family, who would notice?

Jane completely ignored me, big surprise, and dragged me outside again. "He's probably down in the basement burying things or something. Just come on. He'll never know you were gone."

So that was it. I held my hand out for the keys and she looked at me like I'd lost my mind.

"Give 'em," I said.

"Hell no!" she cried. "I've waited for three years to get my hands on this baby. I am not giving it up."

"You don't have a license. You don't even have a permit! What if we get pulled over? I don't want to go to jail again."

"We won't go to jail!" she said, exasperated. "We won't get pulled over. I'll drive the speed limit, stop at all stop signs, and even use hand signals as well as the ones on the dashboard."

Stupid me, I believed her.

She did everything she said though. She did drive the speed limit. The speed limit of the Autobahn. We crested a hill doing seventy-five and climbing in a blind curve going over a hill and nearly slammed into a chicken truck doing eighteen miles an hour and had to go off the road onto the shoulder to avoid massacring the chickens. She used hand signals, too, giving a New York Howdy to the guy in the chicken truck for being stupid enough for being on her road.

I clutched the seatbelt for my life and slouched in the seat. The last time I was so close to wetting my pants was when I was in the kindergarten recital. I was a cloud in the spring play and I had one line to say. I can't remember what it was, I couldn't remember then, either, but I did steal the show by making a little puddle on the floor that was so not part of the script.

Jane turns the radio up as loud as it will go. N'SYNC comes blasting out of the one speaker that still works. We're on two different planets when it comes to music. She's on Mars and I think I'm on some little red-neck interstellar truck stop floating around Saturn.

I glanced over to beg her to either slow the car down or at least let me change CD's and saw that she was driving with her eyes shut!

"Jane!" I screamed, my voice all but drowned out by the radio.

She opens her eyes enough to rescue the wheel from my desperate grab and save use from plowing over and through a paneled station wagon loaded with kids and beach equipment.

We zipped down the highway with nothing more on our minds than a death wish. Up ahead, I saw a convertible parked on the shoulder of the road with its hood up and two figures standing beside it. When we got a little closer, I saw that the two figures were two guys, maybe twenty years old, twenty-two at the most. They looked like two guys fresh out of reform school. One had spiky blond hair with tattoos running up both arms, under the ripped sleeves of his shirt, and up his neck to disappear into his hair. The other one looked like every bookie named Vinnie you've ever seen in a gangster movie.

Jane flipped the turn signal on and started to slow down.

"Are you crazy?" I shouted. "We can't stop!"

"They're cute," she says.

"Are you insane!" I shouted, this time louder, hoping this time she'd realize the implications of my words and think that maybe stopping in the middle of the desert to pick up two strange guys is a little less than sane.

She pulled over and puts the car in park. I drew my knees up to my chest and buried my face in them. "We're gonna die," I said.

I was answered by the slamming of the driver side door. I looked up, seeing nothing but miles and miles of empty highway in front of me. There wasn't a cop for fifty miles. We would be lucky if they found our bodies before they decayed into little bleached skeletons.

I came to a decision. If these two guys didn't kill us, I would be sure to kill Jane myself.

"Hi, guys!" she chirped.

I turned around in the seat. She was right, the two guys were cute. I don't know what kind of consolation that was, but it was something. I reluctantly got of the car and cautiously approached Jane. One thing that can be said for all the Tontos of the world; we're loyal to the death.

Jane cocked her hips and tilted her head flirtatiously. "What are you two doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"We're broke down," one said with an almost apologetic smile.

"We don't know what happened to it," the one with the tattoos said. "It just kinda broke."

"I've worked on cars a little," I said, and expected the usual masculine guffawing. To my surprise, they actually looked grateful. The guy with the tattoo smiled at me.

"Great. I'll be honest. I wouldn't know where to start."

I helped Scooter Bob, my sort-of boyfriend, work on his car every now and then. I couldn't do anything massive but I could tinker around with it and see what happened.

I peered into the engine and started fiddling around. From what I could tell, everything seemed to look right. "Somebody crank it," I said.

Jane clip-clopped past me in her clogs and slid behind the wheel of the car. She turned the key and the engine roared to life on the first try.

"Turn it off!" I yelled and had to repeat it again before she heard me. I leaned back and closed the hood. "I don't know, guys. Whatever was wrong must've fixed itself because-"

A car engine roared to life and then tires pealed as they thunked the pavement and squealed away. Grit blasted my back.

"Please, dear God, tell me that wasn't our car driving away without us in it." I didn't dare look behind me. Jane didn't answer me, and I knew that couldn't be good.

I lowered the car hood, moving so slowly as I tried to count backwards from ten to keep from exploding. The more I counted the more I started to shake. This was the final straw.

Three . . .

"Jane."

Two . . .

"Yeah?" she says meekly, slinking behind the wheel of the car.

One . . .

"Run for your life."

"Sarah, wait a minute-"

I lunged over the hood of the car and dove over the windshield. Jane hurdled the backseat like an Olympic track runner, slid down the trunk and took off at a dead run. Jane screamed like a little girl and took off running, kicking out of her clogs and running barefoot. My tennis shoes were much better to run in than bare feet but harder to get blood out of. I would worry about that later though. Right then I only wanted to break her head open.

"I'm sorry!" she screamed over her shoulder. "I didn't know! I thought they were cute, that's all!"

I tackled her and we both rolled down the embankment. I ended up with Jane on top of me, crushing me, with a rock jammed in the middle of my back. I gasped for breath, certain my spinal cord was snapped in half. We lay like that for a long time, catching our breath, wondering what in the hell we were going to do now. If, and it was a pretty big if, we made it to a town in one piece, what were we going to do about Susan's car?

It was getting dark. Dark in the middle of the desert isn't fun. Especially since alien abduction stories are more common than people with full sets of teeth in these parts of New Mexico. The sun was setting, we were still at least thirty miles from the nearest, well, anything, and congested traffic on this road consisted of three cars going in the same direction. We hadn't seen another car in more than an hour.

We climbed to the top of the hill just in time to see a pair of headlights coming our way.

"Car!" I cried. "Car!"

Jane echoed me. "Car!"

We kept shouting it like kids who just learned a new word. We jumped up and down like mad, waving our arms above our heads and smiling our best smiles, all the time shouting "Car!" because we knew this was our way home.

We kept jumping and waving and shouting even as the truck passed us by, the driver flipping us the middle finger as he passed. It was, of course, the chicken truck driver.

"I'm sorry!" Jane screamed, and kept screaming it, cupping her hands over her mouth and yelling even when the taillights were two tiny red dots on the horizon.

I looked at the convertible. We had a car. It ran. Gift horses, mouths. I grabbed Jane's arm and dragged her back to the car.

"We can't take someone else's car!" she said.

"You want to walk back to Hell's Burrito?" I asked. "Besides, we already stole one car today. This ain't going to matter."

So we got in the car and we drove, me at the wheel. It was simple. All we had to do was get to town and call the police. Susan would kill us, my mom would massacre us, but we had no choice. Susan would kill us and then resurrect us and do it all again, slowly, if something happened to that car.

Blue lights washed the road around me in a surreal glow. I swore. I said words that would have gotten me a sock in the face if spoken in my mother's presence. I didn't care. Blue lights. Freakin' blue lights in my rearview mirror.

"No cops?" I shouted and Jane cringed in the seat. "No, there won't be any cops. We won't get in trouble. Just go to the mall, she says. This ain't the mall, Jane. This ain't no freakin' Gap!"

"Pull over now!" The cop sounded more than pissed. He sounded like assault and battery charges pissed. I was right. We were screwed.

Jane flung her leg over the gearshift and slammed her foot down on top of mine, mashing the accelerator to the floor.

"What are you doing?" I screamed.

"I am not going back to jail!" she screamed and tried to take the wheel from me.

"Let go! Just pull over! Jane!" I hit at her and she punched back as the car careened wildly across the center line. We were gonna die. We were really gonna die and it was going to be all her fault. That thought didn't comfort me nearly as much as it should have.

I elbowed her in the mouth and got control of the car. I shoved her all the way against the passenger door and wrenched the car off the side of the road. I slammed it up into park and flung the keys out the window so she couldn't take them and try another madcap run for the border.

The police car pulled in behind us. And another one. And another one. The cops all got out with pistols drawn and crouched down against their cars ready to open fire if we moved wrong.

"Get out of the car now! Hands on your head! Move!"

Jane bawled like a baby. I couldn't move. I just stared at the cops in my rearview mirror, all of them holding guns on me, ready to waste me. For what? I didn't even want to know.

Oh, crap. Jane's parents came home early and found the Beemer gone. They called the cops. They swore out a warrant for our arrest. They would do it. My mother was going to kill me. I had gone from public disturbance to grand theft auto. Hell's freakin' bells.

"Out!" the cop screamed. "Now!"

I put my hands on top of my head and got out of the car. "Don't kill me!" I screamed. "She made me do it! I didn't want to take the car! I swear I just wanted to stay home and do my homework!"

The cops didn't open fire on me, thank God, though they look a little confused. They started forward with their guns raised. One pushed me against the car and searched me for weapons. The rest moved to the front of the car with guns drawn and checked for anyone else that might be hiding in the car with guns. They dragged Jane out of the car. She wailed like a banshee, pleading for mercy. We were pathetic, crying messes and I could live with that as long as there was the chance we could get out of this alive.

Then I thought about what Mom would say, and decided it might be better if they did shoot us right here in the middle of the desert. I felt it happen and there was nothing I could so to stop it. Warmth spread out in my pants, just like it had in kindergarten. I started crying then, because from there on out it couldn't get any more pathetic than that.

The cop stared at me with his mouth half hanging open, shocked. I collapsed on the ground hand buried my face in my hands and cried like a little kid because there was nothing else I could do. I prayed for a spaceship then, one that would either beam me up or blow the earth into billions and billions of little pieces. Either way, I wouldn't have to deal with the shame.

I swore something to myself then. I would never, ever, let Jane get me into a car ever again. Friends don't let friends drive. Period.