That weekend I went driving with Lionel. He was supposed to pick me up Sunday morning at eight, and he showed up at the front door exactly when I was expecting him—eight-twenty-five.
"Sup, Dillon," he greeted me, twirling the car keys around his finger. In his wrinkled t-shirt with his 80s-inspired shag sticking out in all directions, he looked like he'd rolled out bed only seconds earlier. But that was how my brother always looked. I would not have been surprised to learn his hair style was the result of a dedicated effort in front the mirror each morning.
"Hey," I said. "Ready to go?"
He peered around me into the apartment. "Mom home?"
"She's still sleeping.” Which was probably for the best. She'd been going around the apartment like a zombie all weekend, moving through rooms like she couldn't decide where she was supposed to be. I'd considered telling Lionel about what had happened on Friday. But I hardly ever talked to him about my life with Mom.
"Really?" Lionel said. "Well, you'll tell her I said hey, right?"
"Um, sure," I said. "Tell Dad hi for me too." Was that a stupid thing to say? Lionel and Dad had been back for almost a year, but I still felt awkward around them, like they were strangers, not my family. It was worse with Lionel; talking to him could fill me with the sort of anxiety I'd imagine most people feel when addressing the most popular kids at their school. You want to make a good impression, but it's inevitable you'll say something dumb. Sometimes I didn't understand how Lionel and I could be related. Maybe living in England for the last twelve years had bestowed him with his undeniable air of coolness, but I suspected he was born that way.
I followed Lionel to the car, an older beige Mazda that could be mine one day if I played my cards right.
You never know, Dillon, Dad had told me, winking. When you get your license, I might just let you have it. He was trying to help me get over the anti-automobile brainwashing Mom had been giving me since I was old enough to play with Hot Wheels. Mom didn't think I should bother getting my license. Those were her words, I don't see why you should bother, Dillon, like we were talking about getting an extended warranty on a blender or something. She'd made it to her forties without ever having had a driver's license through a combination of taking the bus, riding a bicycle, and getting other people to drive her around. She said it saved her money anyway and that she'd live a lot longer because not only is driving dangerous, it's stressful. You're shaving minutes off your life every time you get behind the wheel.
Dad was also the one who suggested Lionel teach me to drive. You two have a lot of lost time to make up, he’d said. It annoyed me when he said things like that, like moving across the Atlantic with Lionel in tow had been a some kind of fluke, not a conscious decision. But the driving lessons weren't a bad idea. Lionel's laid-back attitude made him the right kind of driving instructor for someone like me, who had little experience riding in cars let alone driving one. I was used to buses, which felt both slower and safer, so it was no small feat for me to get behind the wheel of a compact sedan. For my first lesson on a real street, Lionel had taken me on an easy loop around the suburbs, but every time another car passed us, I panicked and tried to pull over. It almost hurt to pry my fingers from the steering wheel when we were finished.
This morning, my stomach was doing nervous flip-flops before Lionel even tossed me the keys. I unlocked the doors with a shaky hand while my brother yawned and stretched, revealing the holes in the armpit of his Kinks t-shirt, before folding himself into the passenger seat.
"Go ahead and start her up," Lionel said. I put the key in the ignition and gave it a twist. The Mazda's engine rumbled to life. "Okay, now cut the wheel all the way when you pull out. And don't forget to signal."
I checked my mirrors and turned the wheel as far to the left as it would go. Then I turned my blinker on and took my foot off the brake. The Mazda inched out into the street at a cool three miles-per-hour.
"All right," Lionel said, "let's go down to the bottom of the hill then turn right on Oak Avenue. We can stay on that for a couple of miles."
I nodded, keeping my eyes on the road as I steered the car down towards the intersection. I remembered to check my mirror for bicycles (negative, we were the only ones out this early) before turning onto Oak and once I'd brought the car's speed up to the posted limit of forty, I managed to loosen my death-grip on the steering wheel. My heart-rate dropped from "emergency" level to “averagely stressed” and I even hazarded a glance at Lionel when he said, "So, how's school?"
"Fine," I told him. "I mean, it's school. How's the band?"
"Oh, I quit that band," Lionel said. "Sorry, I thought I told you. It wasn't really my scene."
This was news to me, but I couldn't say I was surprised. Lionel was—or had been—in a band called The Never Bees which occasionally played an all-ages club downtown. I went to see them once and Lionel did not appear to be enjoying himself. He'd hung back on the stage, squinting out at the crowd like the flashing lights were hurting his eyes. I figured he'd stuck it out for all the girls who approached him at the end of the night, but Lionel must have known he didn't need to play shows for that kind of attention. When you looked like Lionel, you didn't have to work for it.
"Anyway," Lionel was saying, "it's freed up some time for me. I want to work on my own songs for a while."
"That's cool," I said. Lionel wasn't in school anymore and he didn't have a job as far as I knew, so I wasn't sure why he thought he needed more free time. A silence followed as I stopped at a four-way intersection, taking a long look around before continuing on.
"So," Lionel said, "how's Mom? She work late last night?"
For the second time, I took my eyes off the road to look at Lionel. And then it just came out. "Mom lost her job," I heard myself say. "She…she killed someone."
"She killed someone?" Lionel sounded as shocked as I had been. "How?"
"I don't know. She wouldn't say." I looked at the speedometer and noticed my speed has dropped to twenty m.p.h. I gave the gas pedal a nudge. "It can't be that serious though since she didn't get arrested, right? It had to have been a mistake. I mean, an accident."
"Well, obviously. You think I thought she did it on purpose?"
"No." I didn't like the way he said that.
"Pull over so we can talk," said Lionel.
I looked at the road stretching out ahead of us, two lanes with some gravel off to the sides. "I don't think we can park here."
"Just pull over to the shoulder! No one's going to care."
I looked again at the narrow shoulder. I didn't want to pull over.
"Just forget it," I told him. "Forget I said anything."
"Dillon, pull the fucking car over!"
I probably should have seen it coming, but I was totally blindsided when he reached over and grabbed for the steering wheel. I thought to slam my foot on the brake, but—for the first time ever—I hit the gas instead. Lionel let out a shout as the car lurched forward. He got a grip on the steering wheel at the same time my foot found the right pedal, and the car started to spin.
The car spun out. Lionel yelled again, but for a second I couldn't tell if it was him or me. We must have only been spinning for a couple of seconds, but the car made what felt like two full rotations before sliding into the gravel shoulder on the other side of the road. I couldn't breathe. Even after it stopped, I couldn't breathe. Lionel had his hand on my shoulder immediately.
"Are you okay? Dillon? Are you all right?"
That moment the car was spinning, that was all blank, white. Not like I didn't remember, but like everything else had just fallen away and left only the lurching, dropping feeling in the pit of my stomach. But when I looked at Lionel, everything came rushing back and I drew back my arms and shoved him hard. So hard his head snapped back against the window, and when I heard the crack I pushed my door open and rolled out of the car.
I couldn't even stand. I started to drag myself away from Lionel and the Mazda. I staggered out of the road and over to the part of the shoulder where the slope of the gravel made a shallow ditch. Then I dropped to my knees and collapsed. I heard Lionel's door open, but it sounded far away. I just wanted to curl up and disappear and never have to get in a fucking car ever again.
"Dillon!" Lionel called. My head was down, my fingers laced around the back of my neck. I could hear my brother stumbling over the gravel. "Dillon, what the fuck?"
"What do you mean 'what the fuck'?" The sound of my voice shocked me, high and alien, catching in my throat. "That was your fault!"
"I'm not the one who hit the gas!" I could see Lionel's black sneakers now; he was standing right over me. He nudged me with his toe. "Dillon, get up. Stop being a pussy."
I just couldn't believe he said that. "We could have died!"
Lionel grabbed onto my wrists, dragged me up. "Dillon, please, calm down."
"You were freaking out too!"
"But I'm not anymore. Dillon, look at me! Calm down." Was he going to slap me? Did he think I was hysterical? But he just held onto my wrists.
I took a shaky breath, trying to will my heart to stop beating like a drumroll. Then I took another one. Finally, Lionel released me.
"I'm not getting back behind the wheel," I told him. "I'm not driving anymore. I'm done. This is the end. I'll just take the bus for the rest of my life."
Lionel looked at me sharply. "That's ridiculous."
I was babbling. "Don't tell me to get back on the horse. I've thought it over, and I'm just gonna let that horse go."
"Dillon, it was just a freak accident. The car is fine. We're fine!" He touched his fingers to his temple. "Well, except for that part where you pushed me into the window."
A red Jeep blew past us, the first car I'd seen since we spun out. I tried to sink back down to the ground, but Lionel wouldn't let me.
"Get back in the car," he said, squeezing my elbow. "I'll drive." He sounded like he was giving up. I was a little surprised; I'd half-expected him to fight me on it, to order me back behind the wheel, shaking hands and all. Was I disappointed that he didn't try harder? I shook my head. Mostly I just wanted to get out of there.
I climbed into the passenger seat and fastened my seat belt. Lionel slid in the driver's side and rested his hands on the steering wheel. Then he sat there like that, staring out through the bug-splattered windshield. I wanted to ask him if he was going to tell Dad about the spin-out; I don't know why he would, it was just as much his fault as mine and like he said, no visible damage. I tried to imagine myself telling Mom.
Yeah, that would never happen. Not in a million years.
Lionel hadn't moved yet; I wondered if I should nudge him or say something but part of me was scared to. I couldn't tell if he was mad at me. He'd never been mad at me before as far as I could remember. Had I ever seen him mad at anyone? I wasn't sure. Before today, I'd never even heard him raise his voice.
"I'm sorry," Lionel said.
My head snapped up. "What?"
"I'm sorry." He looked at his hands. "I don't know why I... I'm sorry. I was trying to do this one thing for you, and I fucked it up. And now you're going to be like Mom and never want to drive again." He said this all in an even voice, but then he lashed out and slammed his palms against the steering wheel. "Fuck!"
He turned his face towards the window and disappeared behind his hair. I felt awful.
"I... Maybe I just wasn't meant to drive," I told him. "I mean, some of us have to ride the bus. Otherwise we wouldn't have busses, right?"
Lionel made a sound between a huff and a laugh. "Whatever."
"I was just freaked out," I said. "Maybe I'll feel better about it tomorrow? Maybe we can try again."
I still couldn't see his face. I jumped when he turned the on the ignition. He didn't say anything. He steered the car back onto the asphalt wordlessly. Lionel's silence seemed angry, but I couldn't tell for sure. He wasn't a big talker anyway, my brother.
Which might make you think, hey, maybe I should have listened when he wanted to pull over and talk about Mom. But that didn't occur to me until it was too late.
Up next Thursday, Chapter Four: Not a Bad Kid