Slowly, slowly, she nudged the car up to the stop sign. Slower. No, too slow. She wasn't there yet. She inched along a few more feet, gripping the steering wheel.
"We're practically crawling, Emily. Please speed up a little." Her Behind-the-Wheel teacher stared at her through cat-eye frames.
"Sorry! I'm trying..." She tapped the acceleration pedal, and the sedan lurched forward.
"Emily!" Mrs. Wyatt slammed on the brake pedal on the passenger side of the Student Driver car. "We're a few hundred feet away from the stop sign. You don't need to go 10 miles per hour, but you don't need to go 60 either."
The poor girl flushed. "Sorry! I just—I mean, I'm trying, but I can't—I know I'm going too slow, but I'm so scared—what if I crash?!" She wanted to curl up in a corner and disappear.
Mrs. Wyatt sighed and messaged her temples. "Honey, you won't crash. I understand—it's only your third day. However, I only have a week with you, and you need to improve quickly. Now, please drive and make a left at the stop sign."
Swallowing her panic, she eased her foot onto the accelerator and the car slid forward.
"There you go! That wasn't too hard, was it?"
It wasn't! And she was going in a straight line, not veering off and running into trees like her brother had claimed she would. She wasn't a bad driver. At least she hadn't gotten a load of speeding tickets and ended up on Cops in a car chase with ten police troopers—wait, where'd the stop sign go?
Her teacher shrieked, Emily shrieked, and they both shrieked some more. The car halted right before it ran into the grassy roadside, but not before it 'bumped' into a bike and sent the rider flying.
"Oh, my god!" She flew out of the car after Mrs. Wyatt, more panic and dread and terror and anxiety making her stomach feel all nauseated. Oh, god, what if she, he, whoever was dead?! And it was her fault!
Emily blanched as she ran up to the body sprawled on the ground. "Is he dead?!"
Mrs. Wyatt was just as pale, but she was composed. She flipped the body over, revealing a boy who didn't look much older than Emily. His eyes were shut tight, and mouth set in a grimace of pain.
Emily's own eyes widened, and she began shaking him. "Are you okay? Please tell me you're okay!" Nothing. "No, don't die!"
His mouth opened. It opened. He was alive! "Shut up." His eyelids also lifted to form two narrow slits. "Seriously. Shut up. I'm not dying. My head hurts like hell. And my chest feels like shit."
She reddened, but sighed. He wasn't dead.
Mrs. Wyatt got out her cell phone and dialed 911. "What's your name?" she asked him.
He groaned. "Jake. Jacob. Henley."
Emily's cheeks felt sunburned. She knew she had recognized him; it was the cute sophomore from her Computer Apps class. This was so embarrassing!
"Jake! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to—I didn't see you, I thought I was going slow, but I guess I was really speeding, and you just popped up! and I didn't brake fast enough, but Mrs. Wyatt did, so you're not dead! I swear I didn't mean to run into you! I'm really sorry!"
The corner of his mouth curled up. He was laughing at her.
"You're that girl in Dempsey's class."
He remembered her? He remembered her! Was that good or bad? Bad, probably. "Um, yeah," she stuttered.
All the blood rushed to her face.
"When you're not screaming your head off at me. Please, shut up."
And she just died of humiliation.
"Hey, thanks for running me over," he rasped out as the EMT that arrived put him on a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance. "I'm out for the rest of varsity soccer season—you can tell the guys why I won't be there for our game against Kennedy."
Kennedy, Fox River High's rival. She really hated life.
It was so...pretty. Silver, compact, and pretty.
"Don't even think about it." Jake opened the coupe's door and entered the driver's seat. He rolled down the window and raised his eyebrows at her. "You want a ride? I'm late for my sister's recital."
"Aw, that's sweet," she said. "You're such a caring big brother..."
"Get in or I'm leaving you here."
She slid into the passenger seat and stared at the leather interior, reveling in the new-car smell she loved. "Can I drive it?"
"No." He began driving, smoothly exiting the school parking lot into the two-way street leading out of their campus.
She tried pouting, only ended up looking like a fish. "Why not? I've been driving for two years!"
"Yeah—how much did you have to pay to bribe the DMV into giving you a license? And you can't drive stick."
"You can teach me!"
He gave her a mock-pained look as they stalled at a stoplight. "I've already given up some of my sanity to be your friend; don't make me lose the little that's left."
She gaped at him. "Not funny!" She was blushing. Again.
"Who's laughing? I don't feel like being suicidal, either. After four broken ribs..."
"That was an accident! I told you I was sorry." But she didn't feel quite as sorry whenever he embarrassed her.
"'Sorry' doesn't cut it. I can't even play soccer anymore."
She turned even redder. "Stop guilt-tripping me! I don't—I've already apologized—every single time you—you can still run track—just stop it!"
"Calm down, I'm just kidding." He glanced over at her. "You look cute when you're blushing."
She whimpered inwardly. How did he always manage to reduce her to a fifteen-year-old mess? "Um, thanks."
"No problem. You deserve at least one compliment a year, and since you're not getting any from other guys, I thought I'd be nice."
"You—" She fumed, glaring at him.
He gave her a few moments before saying, "Don't hurt yourself. I know thinking is difficult for you."
She tried to summon at least one witty remark, but found her mind blank, as it usually was around him. She sighed, giving up.
The rest of their ride was silent, but the silence brought a smile to Emily's face. She was comfortable just sitting in the car next to her best friend. She even traded a few conciliatory looks with Jake.
When they finally pulled up to her house, she stuck her tongue out at him before leaving the car. Childish, but she didn't care.
Before she was halfway to the front door, he called out to her. "Watch out for that tree!"
Said tree was twenty feet away from her. She whirled around, but his car sped away. She really hated him sometimes.
The box wrapped in polka-dotted paper, a red bow attached to it. Curiosity compelled her to pick it up and shake it.
"What are you doing?" Jake snatched the present out of her hands, placing it on the table in his living room area. "Hold on." He left, crossing the length of his small apartment to the kitchen.
She eyed the perfectly wrapped gift, trying to figure out exactly what was in the box. A necklace? No, the box was too square. A ring? There was no reason for him to give her a ring. Besides, Jake wasn't the kind of guy to give jewelry as a present.
"Here," he said from behind the couch she was sitting on. He walked around it and offered her a bowl of popcorn. "Try not to eat it all."
"Are you implying something?" She narrowed her eyes at him.
He shrugged and sprawled onto the cushion beside her. "No. Are you implying that I'd be enough of an ass to actually imply something?"
She wrinkled her nose. "No. Stop confusing me." She pulled out the large pre-Christmas present from under his table and handed it to him. "Here's yours."
She watched him as he slowly opened it.
"Nice." He held up the hot pink and purple steering wheel cover, smirking at her. "But this doesn't trump my plastic surgery coupon."
She rolled her eyes. "That was last Christmas. It wasn't that funny." She poked through the tissue in the box before finding the pair of Phillies season tickets.
He gave her his rare, slightly lopsided smile. "Shit, Em." He gripped the season tickets in one hand and ruffled her hair with the other. "I take back everything remotely insulting that I've said to you."
She was not blushing. She was not blushing. "Uh. Thanks."
"Here." He placed the small box onto her palm.
She bit her lip, tempted to rip off the wrapping. When the polka-dot paper was discarded on the floor to reveal a smooth white box, she gasped. "Jake—"
"It's not an engagement ring. Just open the damn thing."
Hands shaking slightly, she slowly lifted the lid.
"Key," she blurted out. A key rested inside the box. She tried to ignore the dull edge of disappointment, but it was there. She smiled anyway. She didn't know why she had expected a serious gift this time. "Wow, thanks! It's a really…nice key!"
He shook his head. "Do you even know what it's for?"
"Um, opening…something? Like…a door?"
"You're hopeless." He took her hand and dragged her out of his apartment, down five flights of stairs, and out into the parking lot. "Find the door it opens."
She scanned the lot, searching for anything familiar among the columns of snow-covered cars.
"Damn, girl, do I have to do everything for you?" He towed her past several rows of cars before they reached a dark blue sedan.
Her mouth dropped open. It was old, the paint was faded, and the Student Driver sign was missing, but it was the same car model. The car she had run him over with.
"Don't cry," Jake hissed, wrapping an arm around her waist and tugging her close. He frowned at her, wiping her cheeks with his sleeve. "It was a joke. I'll sell it back. You'll never see it again"
"No, I'm not—" She sniffed, blinking away tears she hadn't even noticed. "I love it, Jake. I want to keep it." She smiled up at him and looped her arms around his neck. "I love it." How couldn't she? It was because of the car—well, not the exact one, but still—that they became friends.
His expression softened. "Great." He cleared his throat and attempted to pull away, but she didn't let go. "Em…"
She grinned. "Jake, don't tell me you're speechless. No clever remark?" She stood on tiptoe, resting her forehead on his.
"Really?" She tilted her head and pressed her lips against his. When she had to surrender the warm haze that kissing Jake gave her for stale air, she moved out of his reach and smiled at him. "What about now?"
"No." He took a few steps to her. "But I'm getting there." And he leaned forward to return her kiss.
yay, fluff! 8D that wasn't too cheesy, right? i hope no one tries to run into a cute guy to be his friend ;) thanks for reading...
you know i less than three you,