I close my eyes again, gathering my thoughts, my wits, and my strength before I have to face Poppy’s wrath. She loves her car – a 2012 white Jeep Wrangler reminiscent of Cher Horowitz’s car in “Clueless” – so I’m sure all hell is about to break lose. Sage rests her hand briefly on my arm as a gesture of strength and solidarity and as a reminder that I’m not alone.
“Is everyone okay?” I ask as soon as I step out of the car.
“No, everyone is NOT okay!” Poppy shouts, stomping around, but carefully, so she doesn’t damage her new ankle boots. “Do you not see my car?” A crowd is gathering and while most people are watching the drama unfold, a few, including Ian, are staring down the road, pointing towards the red car that is now weaving through traffic.
“But are you hurt?” Busy texting now, she ignores my question.
“We’re fine,” Ian answers instead. “Did you see that car? It almost hit us.” Then, his voice soft and thoughtful, “It would have hit us if you hadn’t first.” I rub my nose, but stay silent. He moves towards me and I can’t read the expression on his face, but it looks almost like sympathy.
“But…how did…I mean, the car…” I stammer.
“Poppy slammed on the breaks when you hit us,” he explains, somehow understanding my broken thoughts.
Poppy’s phone rings and she answers, wailing like a little girl, putting on a show for our mother. I feel myself shrinking as she wavers between whining about her car and shooting me vicious looks, and though I can’t hear what mom is saying, I’m sure she’s not telling her it was only an accident and that she should be kind to her sister. Somehow, my mom manages to calm her down (probably by promising to replace her Jeep with a brand new one) and she finally hangs up, placated.
“Call the insurance company,” is all she says to me before grabbing her bag out of the car. She doesn’t even look back as she stalks towards Sonic, already busy calling someone else. Most of the people in the parking lot go to school with us so they follow her, eager to be near and console the queen.
“Are you okay?” I’m startled by a voice next to my ear. Ian is standing inches from me, a concerned look clouding his face.
“What? Oh, yeah. I’m fine. I have to call insurance.” Something in his amber eyes unnerves me, and I dig my phone out of my bag to call the insurance company, more to have an excuse to look away than because I’m supposed to. I’m surprised when instead of following Poppy, he stays beside me, listening as I explain the accident, watching as I stumble over my words.
“Well, that’s done,” I say, ending the call. He crosses his arms and nods, waiting patiently for me say something else, and I continue nervously. “They’re sending tow trucks out right now, but I guess I’m the only one covered for a rental, so we only get one…” I don’t finish the sentence and we both look at the dining area where Poppy is holding court.
“I take it that’s not going to go over well,” he says.
“I think it’s safe to say she’d rather burn every pair of shoes that she owns as part of a strange religious ritual than share any enclosed space with me for an extended period of time.” His laughter, a truly glorious, manly sound, rings in my ears, hitting me in the stomach, in the knees. I wobble. Sage arches an eyebrow and frowns at me. I straighten.
“I can go with you when you tell her. Maybe soften the blow a little bit. If you want.” I stare at him, confused.
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Why wouldn’t I be nice to you?” I guess he hasn’t been filled in on the “don’t talk to the weird girl” plan.
I’m distracted from answering because Sage is staring at Ian, a strange fire burning in her eyes. The frown is gone and a peculiar expression, one I don’t understand, has repalced it. It could be anger or confusion, but for a moment I almost think it’s fear. When she notices me staring, she shakes her head like she’s coming out of a fog and says, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Kenna?” I cringe. I forgot we’d been having a conversation. This is why people think you’re weird, I think to myself. You stop talking mid-conversation because your imaginary friend distracts you.
“I’d better go talk to Poppy,” Resigned, I walk towards her.
She takes the news better than expected, with only minimal sighs of exasperation, toddler-like boot stomping, and woe-is-me wails. Probably because Ian is standing next to her and she doesn’t want to look like a total monster. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was suffering from her first crush.
The tow trucks and Kat arrive at the same time. Poppy jumps in Kat’s car, leaving me responsible for dealing with both of ours, which she says is only fair since it was all my fault. I know better than to argue with her. Ian offers to go to the shop with me, but the pure rage in Poppy’s eyes keeps me from accepting. Not that I would have anyway. He’ll figure out quickly enough that I’m a social pariah and I don’t feel like dealing with the embarrassment that revelation will bring. I wave him away and Kat takes off. None of them look back.
The mechanic at the shop says they should have an estimate for us by the end of the week, after they’ve assessed the damage and the insurance adjustor looks at the car. Thankfully, the rental car place is connected to the shop and I’m able to get my car without much hassle. By the time I get home, I’m drained – the stress, anxiety, and fear of the day have taken their toll and now that the adrenaline has worn off, all I want to do is sleep. Unfortunately, we have guests.
“Hey, Kenna,” Ian calls amiably from the couch, where he’s sitting with Poppy, looking as though he’s been there every day since the beginning of time. One arm sits on the armrest and the other is draped casually on the couch behind Poppy. Her posture is relaxed, like it’s no big deal that she’s sitting next to the hottest boy she’s ever seen, but her knees are angled towards him, her head is tilted in his direction, and if they were to face one another, even accidentally, their lips would graze. I take all of this to mean they’re into each other. Except…except his knees are pointed straight. His head is tilted away from hers. And, most surprising of all, I get the distinct feeling that if they were to face one another, he would turn away before letting his lips touch hers.
My parents are sitting on the loveseat across from them. They stop talking, stop smiling, when they look up at me. There are twin expressions of surprise on their faces, like maybe they’d forgotten they had another daughter until I walked into the room. The surprise turns sour as stern, parenting faces take over.
“Alright, Kenna, do you want to tell us what happened today because now both you and your sister are without cars.” I can tell Dad is gearing up for a lecture when he folds his hands together and asks, “What distracted you? Were you texting?” As though I have anyone to text. Poppy smirks, one corner of her mouth tilting up, probably thinking the same thing.
“Dad – no. It was just an accident!” Five years ago I might have told them about Sage’s warning, hoping they’d believe me, but now I know better so I keep my mouth shut.
“Most accidents are caused by someone who isn’t paying complete attention to the road,” he continues. “So I can only assume that you weren’t paying attention to -”
“Actually,” Ian cuts in. “She probably saved our lives.”
My hero, I think wryly.
“Poppy and I were joking around,” he says. I’m shocked. Poppy makes jokes? “Probably not paying a hundred percent attention to our surroundings,” Ha! In your face, Dad! “She was about to pull out of the parking lot when Kenna hit us, which made her slam on her breaks.” Dad smiles at Poppy, a father proud of his daughter’s driving instincts. “Then this red car sped past us going at least 70, driving like a maniac, weaving in and out of traffic. If Kenna hadn’t bumped Poppy’s car, Poppy wouldn’t have hit the brakes, and that car would’ve hit us. It could have killed Poppy.”
My parents seem torn between horror at Poppy’s near demise and strange, unexpected gratitude towards their least favorite daughter for saving their most favorite daughter. Poppy, on the other hand, looks like she only feels annoyed. I can tell she wants to say something, but is afraid to contradict the boy with the perfect smile, so she remains silent instead.
“Poppy seems super grateful that you saved her life,” Sage quips, appearing next to me. “Thank goodness you did.” I cough and shove an elbow into her ribs, not because anyone can hear her, but because I don’t want to be distracted by her running commentary, which is always sarcastic and usually funny.
“Well, Kenna,” Dad says cautiously. “Your mom and I are still upset about the vehicle situation and we want you to drive carefully, but we’re glad both of you are safe.” He emphasizes “both”, perhaps because he realizes that they tend to favor Poppy.
“So…that’s it?” Poppy can’t stop herself from speaking this time. “I don’t have a car and Kenna’s not in trouble.”
“We can’t really punish her for having an accident, honey,” Mom says, glancing at Dad for confirmation. I feel the unspoken question in her words. We can’t, can we?
“So, who gets the rental?” Demands Poppy. Mom and Dad exchange a nervous glance.
“You’ll have to share it or you can have Kat drive you to school,” Mom says.
“WHAT?” She explodes. “I am NOT sharing a car with Kenna! She almost killed me!”
“According to him,” I gesture to Ian. “I probably saved you.” Her eyes glow with rage, and I know she’s thinking horrible things about me, but before she can speak, Ian lays a hand on her arm.
“Actually, maybe this isn’t the best time, but I was going to ask if you guys would be my ride for like, maybe a while. Since, you know, my car is currently without a working engine. Or wheels. Or air conditioning. And I don’t really know anyone else,” he asks, looking at Poppy.
Pleasure fills her eyes, replacing the ire from mere seconds before. I watch him, surprised and slightly impressed by this clever boy that’s known Poppy for all of twelve hours and already knows how to play her.
“We can probably make that happen,” she responds. Then she grins. He grins back. Mom grins. Dad grins. Even Sage grins, though hers is less happy and more mocking.
I grimace, annoyed by everyone in the room, but mostly with myself because the way Ian is looking at Poppy bothers me. And it bothers me that it bothers me, which is incredibly confusing.
“I’m going to bed. What time are we leaving in the morning, Poppy?” She doesn’t look at me when she answers, “Eight,” because she doesn’t really care whether or not it works for me. Everyone says goodnight, but Ian jumps up and stops me.
“Hey, I have a quick question about Macbeth,” he says. Poppy, who’d tensed when he stood up, relaxes again.
“Okay, let me grab my extra copy – it’s upstairs,” I say, wondering how nerdy it is that I have more than one copy of Macbeth. In my defense, it’s a really good play. I run up to my room, intending he wait downstairs for me, but when I turn away from my bookshelf towards the door, he’s standing there waiting, hands tucked into his pockets, lazing against the doorway like he belongs there.
“I was coming right back,” I say.
“Yeah, but I want you to tell me what happened today and I don’t think you will in front of your family.” I scratch my nose.
“What do you mean? You were there. You even told my parents what happened.”
“I know, but you knew.”
“What?” I’m confused. “Knew what?”
“You knew that car was going to hit us. You saved us. I don’t know how you did it, but you did. How did you know?” His voice is soft, gentle. My eyes widen as takes a step towards me. My heart is racing. My breathing quickens. There’s a hot guy in my room! There’s never been a hot guy in my room. There’s never been any guy in my room.
“Kenna?” His voice is probing. He’s less than a foot from me, staring at my mouth, into my eyes. There’s a hot guy in my room. I sway slightly, suddenly lightheaded for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. The urge to confess everything, to tell someone the truth for the first time in years gnaws at me
“Kenna,” Sage’s voice at my ear is so sharp it stings, bringing me back to reality. I close my mouth. “You don’t even know him.” His eyes, those damn bright eyes, burn into me, encouraging me to speak, speak, speak now. She pinches me. Hard. I yelp.
“Are you okay?” Ian looks concerned, but the spell is broken. I shake my head to clear whatever strangeness had come over me. Sage is right – I don’t know him. I don’t know why I felt compelled to spill my weird secrets.
“It was just an accident. That’s all,” I say. His shoulders sag at my lame response, but he nods like he believes me and turns to go.
“Wait, so you don’t have a question about Macbeth?” I call out as he’s walking out. It’s a stupid question, but I’m still not sure why he cares so much about how the accident happened. Or rather, didn’t happen. Especially since everyone is safe. He cocks his head and half smiles at me in response. He runs one hand through his hair – his thick, glorious, distracting hair – and pauses like he might say something else. I wait.
“See you in the morning,” he says. Then he walks out of my room.
“See ya,” I respond, closing the door behind him. Then I rub my nose furiously and draw in a shaky breath, sure I’m in trouble of all sorts.