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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash

A Novel

Candace Ganger

St. Martin's Griffin



The thing about Wild Kyle is, he’s never lost a goddamned thing.

So when I tell him about Layla, my recently departed (his word, not mine) ex, I don’t even flinch at his response: “Fuck that shit. Hit it and quit it, man.”

He offers his monogrammed chrome flask—KJT—that’s filled with something vile, I refuse, he chugs. “What the fuck is in that?” I ask.

With squinted eyes and a puckered pout, he’s trying hard to swallow like it’ll really impress all these fine young, partygoers if he can keep the burning liquid down the chute without spewing. He raises a finger while a cloud of sour-smelling gas explodes from his mouth. “Moonshine. Eighty proof.”

“Holy shit! Why would you do that to yourself?”

A crooked smile crawls up from the corners of his lips. “Why not?” He struggles with another sip, nearly blows chunks right on the flimsy card table, and then excuses himself up the stairs to, I assume, his grave. Leaning back in a plastic fold-out chair, I’m in this tiny basement room that’s starting to swell. I don’t know half these people, and the ones I do, pretend not to know me. The music is blaring, thumping, through the walls of Kyle’s cousin’s friend’s college boyfriend’s place just outside of East Clifton. It’s close enough for me to crawl home if I need to, far enough that Ma won’t hear about it.

“I need a beer pong partner,” a sultry voice says from behind. I know those paralyzing, knife-wielding sounds; rasped and smoky as all hell. It’s Layla, my kryptonite. I spin around to see a cigarette pressed between her plump, scarlet lips, her lashes batting at me.

“So go ask your dude,” I say, turning away from her. She rests a hand on my shoulder, creeps around to my side and crawls onto my lap. She’s wearing this black miniskirt that shows off her curves and thigh-high boots, and after that, there’s nothing left to see.

“We broke up,” she says with a pout. She pinches the cigarette, pulls it from her lips, and gently nudges it into mine. Our eyes are locked, and from the corner of my mouth, I blow a thin stream of smoke into the air. It curls between us, disintegrating into vapor. She likes this, I see, but I know that face. I’ve seen it a hundred times. It’s the same face she dragged into the rink I work at, the same face she made at the dude whose jock she was all up on at said rink, and the same fucking face that dumped my sorry ass in front of said dude at said rink just one week ago.

She wants me to break. Part of me wants me to break. I mean, goddamn, look at her. Dirty blond hair that trails in loose waves below her shoulders, nose pierced, a few tats on her forearm, mostly butterflies and shit, but rock as hell. Her icy eyes sear through me, and a flash of the future pops into my brain, and she’s just not in it. Didn’t see it last week—I was too close to it. I see it now. With a firm grip on her hips, I lift her from the warmth of my lap and toss her to her cold, unfeeling heart—I mean feet.

Thanks to the height of her heels, she wobbles, nearly falls straight to her ass. “Bash!” she screeches. Her eyes are bulging, and that pouty thing she thinks is working isn’t (anymore). “I miss you. I was wrong.”

Reminds me of something I saw scribbled on a gym locker. I inhale and blow another cloud of smoke toward her with a wink. “If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.

I leave her there to, I don’t know, think about how actions have consequences, or whatever, and find myself up on the main level where the awful chest-thumping music streams. No sign of Kyle, so I hang in the corner, where I’m mostly alone. Back against the wall, I enjoy the cigarette still pursed between my lips—her lovely parting gift to me. Thanks, doll. Directly in front of me are about a dozen sweaty bodies, bending and swaying, grinding against each other beneath the dim lights that flicker primary colors. From here, they’re just faceless, gestural shapes on a dark canvas—something I could draw if I had my charcoal lump and kneaded eraser.

“Want to dance?” a sweat-drenched girl asks me.

She’s grabbing at my hand. I pull back. “I don’t dance; just watch.”

“That’s super creepy,” she says. “I like it.” She smiles with the jagged teeth of a great white as her hands paw at me to move deeper into the nucleus of the cesspool. I resist still, mostly because, selfishly, I want to smoke this free cancer stick to the nub. I keep my cool because Layla lurks nearby, an amber bottle in one hand, my (metaphoric) balls in the other. She’s looking around, probably for her next victim, and this chatty girl, man, she does not care I’m not listening. She’s talking about her phone bill and how she can’t figure out where the extra charges come from—“I mean, I talk the same amount every month, so it should be the exact same,” she says—and I’m still looking at Layla, pretending not to, because I know exactly where that eye contact leads and I don’t have enough soul left for her to pulverize a third time. And before you even ask, no, she wasn’t worth it.

Behind this girl, who is now spewing a diatribe about the government spying on us through our phones, I lose sight of Layla for just a moment. The crowd parts in a zigzag fashion and beneath the light machine, where the red, green, and blue hit the hardest, I see her—this statuesque beauty—hiding behind a trail of long brown hair and thick-framed glasses. With her hands folded snug in her lap, she’s looking around, sinking farther into the couch’s wilted threads as if hoping to not be seen, but I see her because hiding is typically what I do, too.

“My God,” I say. The cigarette hangs from my bottom lip, and this girl, who finally stops talking, is still looking at up me, glitter plummeting from her silver-tinted eye shadow. The flakes dance down to the tops of my boots like little asshole snowflakes. That shit should be banned. She follows my eyes across the floor to the big, plaid couch, letting her smile fade. Losing interest (finally), she drops my hand and disappears into the sea of people from which she first emerged.

With my heart nearly beating out of my chest, I watch Couch Girl. The way she tucks her hair behind her ears with precision, the way she nudges her falling glasses up the bridge of her nose, the way she pretends she’s not as earth-shatteringly stunning as she really is. Radiance surrounds her—not a halo, but some kind of ethereal glow—and I can’t look away. She looks up at me. Once, twice, three times; tries to avoid my eyes, but can’t. For the length of a whole song, my gaze doesn’t abandon her, and by the middle of the next song, she’s smiling at me. Score. Normally, I’d hang back, wait and see if we “accidentally” cross paths, but Layla’s determined eyes are on me so I up my game. To finish her.

I push through the haze and find my way to Couch Girl. She looks up at me with these electric green eyes that are more evident through her lenses, and I do something I thought I’d never in a million years do—hold out my hand.

“I don’t dance,” she says, reluctant.

“Me either. Too many germs.” A few seconds pass before she decides to take my humble offering. I pull her to her feet, and our palms smash together and slide across the dampness. This would normally gross me out, but I kind of want to linger in it with her. Gently, I lead her to the center of the floor where we are now gestural shapes on this dark canvas, too.

“Help me out here,” I say. “See that girl over there?” I point to Layla with my middle finger. A silent dig, if you will.

She nods.

“I need her to see us talking.”

She scrunches up her face. “I’m not getting in the middle of whatever that is.” Her finger is waving around, grabbing Layla’s attention. “But thanks.”

As she tries to walk away, I tug on her sleeve. Eyebrows arched, and my own full puppy-lipped pout now in full effect. “Please.”

She must sense my sadness (read: desperation), because with one sharp sigh and a roll of her beautiful eyes, she digs her feet firmly into the floor. “Okay, fine. Just for a minute though.”

We’re not dancing, not swaying or grinding, but here we are, in the epicenter of it all. She crosses her arms, I cross mine, too. “So are we going to actually talk or just pretend?” she snaps.

“Who the hell are you?” I ask with a smirk.

She looks down. “Who am I? You mean what name was I given at birth, or who am I in a general sense?”

I start to respond, but she interrupts.

“Because, in said general sense, I’m a girl at a party I should’ve never come to but did and am now trapped in this weird interaction between subjects A and B while I’d much rather be at home teaching my chunky cat how to drink from a running faucet, thank you very much.”

With my gaze pressed hard on her porcelain skin, I drop the last bit of cigarette to the floor and twist the cinder into the grooves until it burns no more. My smile grows, and all of a sudden, I don’t care if Layla’s watching or not. “Fair enough.”

“Who are you?” she replies with a touch of snark.

I look down to the holes in my shirtsleeve where the fabric has worn, and I realize I have two choices here. I can tell her the lame, true story of my life and wait for her to walk away, or I can do the opposite and hope that, for one perfect night, I’m allowed to feel this way about a girl who’s way out of my league, knowing the second I leave here, this, whatever this is, leaves with it.

Plus, it’d totally piss Layla off, and that makes it sweeter.

“Well,” I say, “in a general sense, I’m a boy at a party I should’ve never come to but did and am now gloriously trapped in this enlightened conversation with, probably, the most captivating girl in the entire house. In an even generaler sense”—she stops me, tells me that’s not a word—“I’m nobody. Well, until I saw you.” My smile widens. To sell it.

She blushes. Her fingers fumbling through her long, silky strands, she objects. “One, that’s so ridiculously cliché, and two, statistically speaking, you’re a percentage of this party as a whole house equation. Without the exact number of bodies—I estimate around thirty-seven—you’re something like 2.7027 percent somebody without ever seeing me.”

My heart drops through this creaky, wooden floor, and this smile that’s still pasted—it’s about to rip my face in two. The forces of the earth have rumbled beneath my feet and combined, climbing up through the dirt core, into my heart. We stand here, for, I don’t know, what feels like an infinity (she abruptly explains infinity is a concept and there’s no way to solve for x, so in reality, we can’t actually stand here that long), and all these things start flying out of my mouth—how I graduated last year, I’m only in town for tonight—and with every passing lie, I think, You’re no better than Kyle, which makes me sick—like, physically ill with the sweats and a weird clamminess and all these symptoms that remind me how I felt when I first met Layla.

When the song ends, we hold on to this moment that, in the space between, feels like a million electrodes have begun to rattle and vibrate. I feel it fuse to my bones. It connects us together, grounds us, right here, right now. Layla’s gone—who cares now?—but just as I start to ask for her number, or the name she was given at birth, a tiny little thing with big, springy curls that dangle over one eye pulls at Couch Girl’s arm.

“Ready to go?” the friend asks. She’s looking me over in this protective kind of way, and I know what she’s thinking because I beat her to it.

While the two of them decide, a hand slaps the back of my shirt hard enough to leave a mark. I turn around to see Kyle’s cousin’s friend’s college boyfriend with a worried look on his face. “Your friend might need to go to the hospital. He’s, like, not waking up.”

With a heavy sigh, something that follows Kyle’s hijinks often, I silently agree to retrieve my sort-of-ill-behaved dog that does as he pleases. Before I can even think about what to say to Couch Girl next, I spin around and she, and her tiny friend, are gone.

Just like that, it’s over before it even started.

Story of my goddamned life.

* * *

Two days have passed since the house party, and I’m still thinking about what an idiot Kyle is. The only chance I had to talk to (probably) the most interesting lady specimen I’ve ever met, and he totally screwed me. One night to be all the things I’m not, maybe make out a little, and instead, I spent the wee hours of yesterday making sure his ass didn’t die of alcohol poisoning—again. And now here we are, hanging out at 8:30 P.M., on a stormy Sunday, in one of his dad’s empty developments doing what Wild Kyle does best—drinking.

Kid doesn’t use his head because he’s never had to. If I had everything he has, I’d be eating three square meals, filling my tank with premium gas, and sleeping on something more than an old spring mattress in a piece of shit trailer—all these things, these simple ideas that most normal people get on a human level—are things Kyle couldn’t get if you nailed them to his brain with a stake and hammer.

But I guess if I had those things, or even one, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be him. And right now, him is sitting in a yoga-like position, legs crossed, eyes closed, fingers pinched up at his sides like he’s taking a serious shit. He drinks straight from the bottle of his dad’s top-shelf vodka, and with one flick of his metal skull lighter, he burns the end of a fresh joint. But me? I’ve got my legs spread out in front of me, a cheap can of off-brand beer that tastes like asphalt in one hand, a limp cigarette balanced in the other, as I try to sketch with a jagged piece of compressed charcoal on a napkin.

He makes a deep hum and exhales a cloud of smoke through the side of his lips, currently buried under an avalanche of wiry hairs. “You’re so whipped! I can tell you’re still obsessing over Layla. Didn’t know she’d be there, I swear.”

I shake my head, surprised he noticed anything more than the toilet rim.

“Forget that heartless bitch. Didn’t you see that hottie in the spandex thing? Oohhh! I’m not religious, but goddamn, TAKE. ME. TO. CHURCH!”

I don’t dare tell him about Couch Girl. Conversing only encourages the idiocy, and I don’t need him fucking up any more of my shit. Besides, I’d rather let him think I’m still hung up on Layla because (1) in a totally whacked-out way, it’s kind of endearing that he cares, and (2) it gives him something to focus his negative energy on—that won’t fuck up any more of my shit.

“This is good stuff, man. Sure you don’t want some?” He pulls the stick from his mouth and offers it up.

“Nah,” I say. “My gift for helping with that wretched chem test last week. Besides, Camilla’s way past that now, and I sure as hell don’t want it.”

He nods, knows Camilla—Ma—is the reason we sometimes come drink in this dark, empty neighborhood. It started months ago during her weekly chemo treatments and became this thing I couldn’t get out of—I tried. Among the half dozen vacant houses and lots Kyle’s dad invested in, this one is my favorite, because even though it’s not finished, I can tell it could really be something. Kind of like me.

There’s a long silence, a shift in the air between us, as he shuffles around to stretch his lanky limbs. He lifts the joint into the air and unfolds his legs. “So did you pass the test or what?”

I take a swig of the warm beer, my last one, my only one. “No. Goddamn reactions and rates. That whole collision theory got me. How am I supposed to remember what affects the rate of a reaction? If I knew, I wouldn’t be in school where you learn things—I’d be Stephen Hawking or some shit. Not trudging through my mandatory four-year sentence like a freakin’ dunce.”

Five for you.”

“Hey—everyone should be a freshman twice. It makes a real man outta ya.”

Kyle’s obnoxious laugh echoes through the wooden slats where walls should be. “Like John Locke says, ‘There is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotion, and that is,’” he pauses for dramatic effect, “‘OPPRESSION!’”

I focus on the rough charcoal lines and edges I’m sketching, blending with the side of my palm as I go. “I don’t think the right to rebel applies at East Clifton High. Unless you have no interest in graduating in the spring. I, on the other hand, have no choice.”

He holds his hand in the air and waves his clenched fist, his voice strained. “Then we will take a stand, my brother. We. Will. Start. THE REVOLUTION!”

I shake my head, mostly because I’m used to Kyle’s dramatics. “Why don’t you get a head start on that and I’ll jump on the bandwagon later. After I pass my classes.”

“Goddamn, man. ‘The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.’ Why can’t we all think like Nietzsche? If you won’t help me start the new rebellion, don’t sweat it. In five years no one will remember you, me, big-boobed Brittany, or easy Emma or any other East Clifton POS’s. Well, I might remember those hotties, but that’s because I’m a perv. Point is, just get through it, then forget about it.”

Even in his drunken philosophical babble, it sounds easy enough, except I have to sweat it. Like flunking out kind of sweat it. If Ma only knew how much I’m really sweating, it would kill her faster than the cancer. Besides, Kyle’s got his life figured out. He’ll sleep in on graduation day, wake up to a big breakfast the maid will deliver to him in bed, Mr. Taylor will give him the keys to one of their fancy cars, he’ll stroll in for the rolled-up diploma (that’s just a piece of paper to him), then walk off the stage with a job handed to him on a silver fucking platter. Doesn’t matter if he’s earned it (because he hasn’t), if he’s qualified (because he’s not), or if he’ll even say thank you (because he won’t).

A sarcastic chuckle escapes me. I can’t help it. “I’m trying to get through it, dude. I’ve got no other options but, what—work at a skating rink my whole life? No effing way.”

“Dad could hook you up with a job.”

“Buying real estate in shitty places and then selling to a bunch of schmucks? Rather die.”

“Then come to New York with me next summer. Use our connections. Work for a bit, save your money, buy your own gallery.”

“Thanks, man,” I say with a sigh, “but I can’t make that much that fast. Besides, I’d rather earn my show, not buy it. Wasn’t it one of your half-baked inspirational posters or philosophy man-crushes who said ‘Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings’? I’ve got wings, and I’ll find a way to use ’em.”

He looks annoyed, his ramblings backfiring. He presses the butt of the joint into a floor tile with a sizzle. His words are beginning to slur and melt together.

“Psshhtt. Artists don’t make squat. They’re pretentious hipster assholes who think they’re creating something that means something even when it means nothing. Like two circles. There’s not a deep, contextual meaning in the roundness of them. They’re fucking circles.”

He stares at me, unaware he’s dissing the only thing I’m actually good at (other than dodging class and ignoring him). “You don’t think there’s meaning in something like, say, this?” I hold up the finished portrait of a black grizzly bear with Kyle’s scruffy beard. He’s sitting on a tricycle in the same yoga-like position as Kyle, joint and all. A swirled cloud of smoke is lifted from the bear’s head forming words that read We. Will. Start. THE REVOLUTION.

He holds the flimsy napkin between his fingers, eyes expanding, jaw agape. “Bash,” he says quietly, “this is,” his voice strengthens, “AWESOME! Love that the beard is in full swing.”

“Thought your valiant effort should be recognized.”

“Given the hairiness of my genetic predecessors, I thought it’d be cake.” He strokes the few sparse hairs sprouting from his chin. “But look at it—I’m like a hairless cat with a rash.”

I laugh, set my charcoal block to the floor beside me. “It’s only been three days since you started. Give it a whole month. By then, you might hit sheepdog mode. Never know.”

The light from the lantern is flickering, causing our shadows to dance across the wood, and although I’d never tell him in a million years, through all of this, I’m still hung up on Couch Girl. It doesn’t even matter. I mean, it’s not like I’ll ever see her again, so why can’t I let it go? I blame Layla. And Global Warming. And Kyle, just because.

I crank up the volume on my phone and select a track—something Johnny Cash, for my ma—and wait for Kyle’s inevitable eye roll.

“Ugh,” he says. “It’s so … what’s the word?”

“Rustic,” I say. “Vintage. Classic.”

“More like depressing. Melancholy. Buzzkill.”

“Fine,” I say, skipping to the next song, “Comfortably Numb.”

A smile twists up and out from his squirrely mustache. “Now that’s the stuff.”

“Just another version of depressing. Melancholy. Buzzkill.”

“No way, man. HUGE difference. Floyd completely changed the way people get high. It’s un-American to have one without the other.”

Through the vibrations of the song, the rain beats harder on the roof like it’s competing for our attention. Kyle’s eyes sink farther, nearly closing completely, his body swaying to keep balance. I shake the last couple drops free from my beer can and crunch it between my fingers, tossing it aside to the pile we’ve created over the last couple months. Since Mr. Taylor all but gave up on this house and the five others surrounding us.

“You about ready to drop me home?” I ask. His head is now in his hands. The alcohol has officially set in—hard. He shakes his head. Didn’t get the title “Wild Kyle” for nothin’. Dude doesn’t have an off button, just

1. Go,

2. Go Harder, or

3. Go Until You Pass Out.

“Want me to drive? You can crash at my place.” As soon as I say the words, I’m calculating where he would sleep. There are only two options, both equally shitty: the lumpy mattress on the floor or the broken recliner in the front room. I really don’t want him on either.

He looks up at me, his eyes glazed over, mouth bone dry. “No to both.”

I’m relieved. “Thought your dad was on a business trip,” I say. “How’s he gonna know if we don’t tell him?”

No one drives the Benz but me. If Dad finds out I took his prized gift from Bono or Bon Jovi or whothehellever it was he sold a house to, if there’s a scratch or a spot of charcoal, or the scent of whatever cheap-ass Axe cologne you’re wearing in the driver’s seat, he’ll know and I’m dead. Can’t let you get dead, too. You’ve got plans to be the next Van Gogh or Michelangelo or Raphael or Donatello, so dying might, you know, interfere.” He laughs at himself, words trailing. “He doesn’t even drive the thing. You know that. It just sits, locked up like some secret trophy. Someone’s gotta appreciate the finer things Dad works for.”

My eyes are locked into the ruby metallic sheen. “Imagine all the hungry kids he could feed with the price of this car.”

“Rhode Island.”

My brows dip. “A lot of starving kids there, huh?”

“A shitload.” He stands unsteadily, straightening his posture and widening his eyes to show me he’s okay. “I’m good to drive. Trust me.”

Trust him? Can’t remember a time I did that. We’re barely friends when he’s sober, and that’s only because we lived with the Taylors after Ma brought her pregnant ass to America so I’d have “a better life and all that shit” (her words, not mine). Apparently she responded to an ad for a chamber maid for some rich, white family, and LOOK AT US NOW! Things were fine until Kyle’s witch of a mom kicked us out on the street without warning. I still don’t know why all that went down. Needless to say, we look back on those days fondly. Not.

But through all the chaos, Kyle, an only child lost in the shuffle of his parent’s fucked-up marriage, clung to me, forced the whole brotherhood thing to happen. After all these years, and as much as I protest, it stuck, unfortunately. I guess he’s the closest thing I have to family, other than Ma. The thing is, when Kyle’s drinking, a moodier, darker version emerges from his tall, slender frame. I learned a long time ago not to challenge Drunk Kyle, or it’s my head on that silver platter I previously mentioned. And right now, I need my head. So when he says to trust him, the only choice I have is to buckle up tight.

He jingles the keys from his pocket, and we make a dash for the car through the pouring rain. As the wind howls, lightning brightens the sky in bold flashes, illuminating an otherwise blackened cul-de-sac. I slip in, wait for the seat warmer to do its thing, and clasp the buckle together. I smell the alcohol on his breath, and when I look at him white knuckling the wheel, I wonder if I should have insisted I drive. Like in a “don’t take NO for an answer” kind of way.

He turns the engine, twists the radio’s volume all the way up to the heavy metal playlist he has synced. Here we go. The fast drums and furious screams only add to Kyle’s state. His eyes lock onto mine for just a second, wide and crazy, as he sticks out his tongue and thrashes his head around to the four-on-the-floor beat like he’s caught a second wind. My stomach twists in knots of regret, and it’s not from flat beer.

“Slipknot, dude!” he screams. “They wipe their asses with the music you listen to!” He peels out of the driveway, screeching the tires against the pavement, then slams on the brakes.

“Dude,” I say, my hands clinging to the seat. “Chill.”

“Oh, I’m chill,” he says. There’s a lull, but the crazy is still fermenting in his eyes as he revs the engine. It roars, chases the thunder through the clouds. Ma would kill me if she knew I didn’t steal his keys.

“Don’t,” I say. My face is flat, I’m not kidding, and he knows it. I don’t need another ding on my arrest record. I’m nearly eighteen—they’ll try me as an adult if we’re pulled over for a DUI.

“Okay, okay,” he says. “You should probably drive.” As I unbuckle my belt, he lays his hand on the shift, pretends to put it in park. The moment I have my fingers on the door handle, he presses hard on the gas, jerking me back to the warmed seat. He laughs like the Joker, his eyes piercing mine.

“What the hell, dude?” I quickly rebuckle and grab ahold of the dash as he swerves around every rounded street. “Idiota!” I shout (Ma would be proud I still use my Portuguese). “Slow down!”

His eyes are on everything but the road, one hand off the wheel, then he lets go completely to roll his window down. The rain falls like bullets, coating the windshield with a thick, blurred paste we can barely see through. I throw my hands on the wheel, try to steer from the passenger seat.

“This is FREEDOM!” he yells through the crack in his window. “Total control! Free yourself from the shackles of our screwed-up democracy!”

I’m leaning over him, my ribs collapsing on the middle console as I narrow my eyes and try to see the yellow lines. “Kyle!” I snap. “I’m not kidding—slow down before you kill us!”

He rips my hands off just as we doughnut around the final bend, to the mouth of the neighborhood’s entrance. Headlights gleaming in a muddled, choppy ray, something darts out in front of us so fast, I could argue neither of us saw it coming. The object hits the front bumper and the impact flings me into the door, slowing Kyle’s lead foot.

“What the hell was that?” he asks. “Did you see it?”

While the car crawls along the road, far past the point of impact, I whip my head back to see a light flicker atop the hill behind us. “Should we check? Might be a dog or baby deer or something. I think we have to call the cops so they can shoot it.”

“Shit. Shit. Shit.” Kyle’s disoriented, sweat forming on his brow. “We can’t call the cops! I smell like vodka, and look at me—I’m high as fuck.”

Think, Bash. Think. I swallow, look him over, the fear spilling out of him. “Trade places. I’ll say I was driving.”

“They’ll make you take a Breathalyzer, too. No, no way. They’ll call my dad, and we’ll both get busted.”

“I only had one beer. I’m totally sober.”

“You’re underage—they’ll still arrest us, and I can’t get another DUI. Dad warned me—he said, ‘Kyle, if this happens again, kiss your car, your friends, your life good-bye.’ I can’t, Bash, I can’t.”

I bite my fingernail and try to see behind us through the rain, but it’s pitch-black. “Then let me drive you home, and I’ll come back and check. I’ll take the blame or make something up if anyone catches me.” Despite his unparalleled ability to fuck my shit up, Kyle’s my stupid pseudo brother, and he’s gonna leave Clifton and actually be something—run a company or buy a country or something so beyond my comprehension—I can’t just stand here and let him throw it all away. Not when he’s always been there. Because me? I’ve got nothing to lose.

Not a dime.

His head wobbles, his eyes nervously darting. He’s seriously considering this, because when it comes to Wild Kyle, if it’s in his best interest, he usually takes it. “Didn’t you promise your mom you’d stay out of trouble?”

“Didn’t you promise your dad you’d stop drinking and getting high?”

He points his finger at me. “Good point.”

“So move. I’ll drive.”

He pauses, swallows a big burp. “No, wait. They’ll wonder how you got the car. Forget it. We’re just gonna go. This never happened. It’s fine, I’m fine, everything’s fine.”

“But we hit something. Don’t you want to make sure it’s dead? Like, you know, you have a heart or something?”

He revs the engine again. “Dad gets a ding on one of his other cars, he wears black for a week. If he finds out about this, bye-bye, NYC. Besides, you’re an accomplice now. If someone busts me, we’re both done.”

His tone and eye contact more ominous, I turn my head back once more, ignore the sinking feeling in my gut. My fingers clench the belt buckle tight. “Okay. But drive slow.”

With shaking hands, Kyle gently pushes the gas, splashing the damning water up behind us. Now, he’s not driving fast, he’s driving guilty. In the exact moment I’m begging for my life, I have sudden clarity over the chem test I bonked. The collision theory suggests reactions happen, no matter what, with a few important factors that decide the collision outcome:

1. Temperature. Kyle’s energy changes when he drinks, making him more likely to collide with something.

2. Concentration. If there is more substance in his system, like copious amounts of liquor and weed, there is a greater chance the rate of the reaction will happen faster.

3. And pressure. As it increases, Kyle is more likely to have more collisions.

4. (I’m screwed.)

Copyright © 2017 by Candace Ganger