Authors: Sarah Mullanix
My Bug was a gift. It happened to be
for my sixteenth birthday a little over a year ago. My dad and I had worked tirelessly --- he more than I --- until just recently when we finally deemed it to be road-worthy. The car wasn’t perfect by any standard, but the character and personality is what I loved most about it, not to mention that much of my father’s sweat and tears were wrapped up in her.
I threw my bag over to the passenger seat and climbed in behind the steering wheel. The stiff, vintage leather on the seats had always creaked and cracked with the slightest touch on chilly autumn mornings like this. I started the engine, gave it a couple seconds to warm up and come to life, put the gears in reverse, then backed out of the driveway toward the country road that would lead me to school.
I’d always enjoyed my drive to school. It was an opportunity to have a few final minutes of peace where I found solitude --- listening to a bit of background music from whatever my favorite CD happened to be at the time --- and I enjoyed and admired the views of golden cornfields plowed down to just their stalks. White farmhouses littered the fields along the way, beaming in the early morning glow of sunshine. Rows and patches of flame-colored trees flew past in blurs while the intense, yet somehow still soft, rays of the rising sun shone through the gaps in the leaves and glared off my windshield as I drove onward.
Ten minutes later I pulled into the school parking lot, and I drove slowly to my normal parking space in the back row. When you lived in a small town like Fairview and attended a small-town high school like Sycamore, there were regular parking places for each student and teacher. Routine was the way of the world in these parts.
I put my car in park and turned of the ignition. I checked my reflection again in the rear view mirror, wanting to make certain that the added cherry-tint to my lips I had seen earlier was really the effects of my red car and not actuality. I was relieved. I reached for my bag from the seat next to me, the leather creaking in relief from its weight, and reluctantly made my way out of the car. Before I was even able to shut my door, I heard footsteps approach.
“Hey, Leo,” I said without even looking up.
I didn’t need to look. Every single day since I had gotten my license and been driving myself to school, Leo McMyllin had met me at my car and walked with me inside the school to our lockers. Even before I obtained a driver’s license, Leo used to pick me up at my house and drive me to school. We’d been neighbors and best friends our entire lives; however, lately I had been picking up a vibe from him that I couldn’t quite explain. At least, I thought the strange vibe was coming from him.
The two of us knew more stories and history about the other than we’d ever care to admit. There were countless times we got in trouble for playing down in the gravel pits about a mile from our homes. The gravel pits were completely off limits --- demanded by both sets of parents --- but as kids do, we still rode off on our bikes on occasion, heading toward the pits to get a closer look at the river. The solitude was addicting and we were never able to resist its pull. Leo and I spent an immeasurable amount of time talking, napping, daydreaming, skipping rocks, and simply growing up together down by the river. It was like another world ---
I remember one particular day that we slipped away on our bikes to the pits, up and over the mounds of rocks we rode, then down to the river’s edge. Leo, being the outgoing, athletic, show-off that he was and still is, wanted to see if he could make it all the way across the river by jumping from rock to rock. He even bet me a month’s worth of allowance that he could accomplish this insane task.
As it turned out, Leo was too confident for his own good. He'd leapt the slightest bit too far over one of the large rocks, causing his foot to slip off the far side. Leo had hit the back of his head on the way down and had fallen limply into the rushing water.
I barely remembered running into the river. I vividly recalled the feeling of terror as my mind wondered if I could even hold my own balance, and I prayed every step of the way across the river that I would not get swept away by the sucking current. It took almost all my strength to make my way out to him, fighting and splashing through the sweeping river.
Leo had been lying there for what seemed like an eternity, water gurgling and spitting off the rock around his head still propped halfway up on the hard slab. Thank goodness the river’s water level was low at the end of summer; we would have both been swept away, no telling what would have become of the two of us.
When I finally reached Leo, still lying unconscious in the river, I'd grown woozy from the sight of his gashed head with blood seeping out over the hard stone. I took a deep breath full of thick humid air, and tried to avoid passing out when I saw his blood trickling down the edge of immovable rock, mixing with the murky water as it became deluded and streaked through the ripples and sprays of the traveling river.
The sound of my voice screaming his name had brought him somewhat back to consciousness, because it was enough to get him to his knees while I lifted and balanced him to a standing position. I was his crutch as we'd painstakingly fought our way back across the flowing waters to the bank where we had previously abandoned our bikes.
Leo and I walked our bikes most of the way home that day in almost complete silence. Even at our young ages we had both fully understood the gravity of that day’s events. Luckily, Leo’s hair was long enough to cover his gash, and our parents never found out about his accident that day.
I remembered being so worried that following week that Leo might slip into a coma while sleeping, like I had seen on a TV show. I was completely petrified. For the entire next week I'd walked across the road and field to his house each morning when I had woken up, tapped on his bedroom window and checked that he had made it safely through the night coma-free. Leo’s parents were none the wiser, and mine just thought I had headed out early each morning to explore the woods, as I so often did back then.
Our history was full of stories and memories like that one. The river incident among a thousand others, that we’d been through together over the years, were the reasons that Leo will always and forever be my best friend. I knew he felt the same about me when he took time away from hanging out with the guys and walked me to my locker each morning.
Leo and I walked through the double doors together and into the front hall, headed toward our lockers, and chatted casually for a few more minutes. Leo’s eyes fell on me and held their gaze for a second longer than normal, and I thought I felt a strange warmth that caressed my body. What was that? The warning bell sounded a moment later, and we agreed to meet up at lunch before we headed off our own ways.
My Homeroom was with Mr. Stanley, my absolute favorite teacher. He had dark hair streaked thinly with gray strands around the tops of his ears and temples, wore thick-rimmed black reading glasses, and was a smidgen on the dorky side because of his dry sense of humor and jokes; he clearly loved teaching and honestly cared for his students, so he was my favorite teacher nonetheless.
I'd approached Mr. Stanley’s classroom, and through the doorway I heard chatter bouncing off the walls and out into the hallway from the twenty-three other students in my Homeroom. The voice of one particular person floated above all the others and was undeniable. Emmy.
More accurately her name is Emily, but for those of us that were near and dear we lovingly called her Emmy. She was my best
friend, undoubtedly and unarguably the most popular girl in school. She's beautiful and looked like she should belong along the beaches of southern California’s surf community instead of a small farming community in mid-America.
Emmy’s of average height for a seventeen-year-old girl, unlike me who usually stood an entire head taller than all of my other female schoolmates. She had long sandy-blonde hair that held a natural wave, tiny streaks of strawberry highlights that shined when the sun hit them at just the right angle, and wide eyes so deep blue that they almost appeared to be violet. I’d never seen anything like them, and when Emmy looked at me they are the kindest and sweetest eyes; I could see straight through to her light hearted, gentle soul.
Emmy's also a chatterbox, one of the many reasons she's so popular. She had never met a thought that she hadn't shared and it drove me insane, but I loved her to pieces regardless. We're complete opposites, but somehow we filled each others' gaps and it worked.
I reluctantly walked through the classroom doorway, unsure if I was actually ready to begin this school day. I took my regular seat in the next to last row beside Emmy. Her violet eyes had been fixed on me since I first walked into the room, and they danced with obvious anticipation and anxiousness. I giggled to myself at her excitement. I wished sometimes that I could've been more like that.
Emmy sat in her chair with her legs tucked underneath her, bouncing with excitement. She looked as if she couldn't contain herself another moment and may perhaps burst if the information she had held inside didn’t come out within the next two seconds.
Emmy wiggled herself into an actual sitting position the same moment I took my seat next to her, then she began her spiel immediately.
“You’ll never guess!”
My lips curled up at the edges when I'd thought of a funny retort --- well, funny to me anyway. “You saw a new pair of boots at the mall, and just can’t wait to show them to me,” I replied jokingly in a sarcastic tone. Emmy’s news almost always involved some new article of clothing that she had recently spotted in the mall or in a magazine she’d been perusing. I didn’t care for fashion as much as the average girl, but I played along for Emmy’s sake. If it was important to her, then it was important to me. After all, what were friends for?
“No, totally good guess though,” she laughed in her peppy high-pitched cheerleader voice. “We…” Emmy was cut off by the bell, and Mr. Stanley proceeded from his desk to the front of the classroom. “Enough!” Mr. Stanley shouted, just the same as every other morning.
Emmy and I both adjusted ourselves in our seats and faced forward to listen to the morning announcements.
I could see that Emmy was still jittery with the excitement of her news. She sat in her seat anticipating the very second when Mr. Stanley would turn away, giving her an opportunity to share with me whatever it was that had her on the edge of her seat.
We listened to the latest news on the previous night’s football game against Madison Central: who scored points, the highlighted plays, and names of the outstanding players. Leo’s name had always been mentioned multiple times, of course. He’s the starting quarterback for the varsity football team, after all.
We listened to the information about the upcoming Homecoming game and dance the coming weekend and lunch specials for that afternoon.
Then an announcement that had taken me a little by surprise. The latter welcomed our school’s newest students, Zoey and Luke Fitzgerald.
Emmy leaned in toward me and whispered in my ear, “That’s what I was trying to tell you…new kids!” She continued, “Zoey is a junior like us, and Luke is a senior.”
I wasn’t as shocked, excited, or full of gossip and wonder about the new students as the rest of our student body appeared to be, but I had to admit I was a little intrigued. Our small town didn’t see new residents on a regular basis --- or ever --- so the fact that a new family had moved to town was bound to spark a little curiosity.
The regular questions popped into my mind:
‘What did they look like?’
‘How well would they fit in to such a small town?’
‘Would I have any classes with Zoey?’
‘Would I possibly be friends with Zoey one of these days?’
, and of course the question
that filled every teenage girl’s mind,
‘How cute was the new boy?’
. That one would never fail. All of the questions floated around in my head, but definitely were not pressing issues as they seemed to be for everyone else.
The bell rang, letting us out into the halls for passing period, and we all sprung from our seats, heading toward rows of lockers as Mr. Stanley wished all of us a