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All mistakes are entirely on my shoulders.
If you're not of legal age and all that crap...
"One more!" shouted Nick slamming his shot glass on the table.
"Are you nuts? That was our fifth shot!" I said still grimacing from the remnants of the liquor going down my throat. I hate tequila.
We were at our favorite watering hole and from the looks of it, Nick wanted to get shit-faced. Figures, since Jenna was out of town for the weekend. What was that saying? When the cat is away... Whenever she was away Nick would try and relive our glory days from college. In other words, get drunk and act stupid. We had started off with beers but soon that wasn't enough for good 'ol Nick. I knew his choice of drinks, Jack Daniels when he was pissed off, Jeigermeister when he was feeling amorous, Vodka when he was a complete lunatic and Tequila when he had something on his mind.
"Bah! We used to have this for breakfast in our second year. Don't pussy out on me now Bry," Nick was already signaling for the next round.
"I'll call Peanut," I threatened. Peanut was my nickname for Jenna. Only I could call her that though, she'd go ballistic if anyone else tried, Nick even had scars to prove it, some of them in more private areas.
"Go ahead," he called my bluff, "you want my phone to call her? Oh and while you're at it, hand me the phone when you're done, I'm sure she'll love to know about your new pet unicorn."
"Dude, you promised,"
"So? You expect me to sit here and twiddle my thumbs while you sell me out?"
I knew it was a bad idea telling him about the unicorn but the euphoria at the time had blinded me. Nick had called me just as I was about to get home after dropping off Melissa and demanded we go out drinking. Refusing wasn't an option, I knew he would show up at my place and drag me out if I didn't acquiesce to his request.
"Dude just chill out, we ain't twenty two no more man, we can't drink like frat boys now," I complained, feeling the effects of the latest shot setting in. The waitress was looking much more appealing now. Wait, were those natural?
"I don't care. My boy went on a date!" he clapped me on the back, "Ha! Just imagine that. You. On a date. With a girl. Classic!" He chuckled to himself.
"Stranger things have happened,"
"You sure she hasn't run from a psych ward somewhere?"
I couldn't deny the thought hadn't crossed my mind. My hesitation was all he needed.
"You think so too!" he pointed accusingly.
"Yeah well, she laughs at my fart jokes so..." I shrugged, "you never know."
The shots arrived. Two little glasses of concentrated stupidity. Nick raised his glass,
"To pee..." he said in a deep voice.
"Or not to pee..." I replied in kind, raising mine.
"That is the question..." we finished somberly in unison and downed the shot.
It was a tradition since college whenever one of us needed to use the bathroom. This time it was the both of us. We staggered to the loo bickering utter nonsense, pushing each other and acting like total kids. Nick picked out a few leaves as we passed a flower pot and stuck them behind his ears.
"I am Caesar! Bow before me!" he said holding out one hand in front of him and standing in a regal pose, nose up in the air.
"Kiss my ass, Julius" I told him.
"Insolent fool!" he bristled, "Guards! Seize him!" he said pointing at me looking around at his imaginary servants beside him.
"Moron," I kept walking. It was best not to entertain Nick when he started crap like this. It could escalate very fast. I remember once he had watched a conspiracy theory show before we had gone out drinking. By the end of the night he was trying to convince building security the Lochness monster was lurking in the fountain in the courtyard and that Big Foot was trying to catch it with a fishing rod. Luckily the security guys didn't take him seriously and I managed to drag his ass out of there before he did some serious damage.
He followed hurling medieval insults at me until we reached the washrooms. We fell silent as we stood at the urinals reveling in the glory that only relieving yourself can bring when drunk. Even Caesar shut up for a while.
"Dude," I called out staring absently at the ceiling.
"Why do I get the feeling you're hiding something from me?"
Shake twice and put it away. No pee on me, score!
"What are you talking about?" he asked defensively.
It was all the indication I needed. He always got defensive when he was hiding something. Since we got here I had the feeling this wasn't just an ordinary drinking binge and there was something important he wanted to say. The fact that he hadn't mentioned anything told me he was waiting till he was plastered to spit it out.
"Spill it dipshit," I said washing my hands.
"What are you? Psychic?"
"I know you for ten years nitwit, I can tell when something's got your panties in a twist."
"My apologies Oracle," he bowed, "maybe you can also tell what finger I'm holding up in my head."
I shook my head. "Fine, have it your way," I said as we made our way back to our table.
Four shots later and my glasses were halfway down my nose, I had spilled beer all over my T-shirt and I was trying to sound like a rally car. Man, those Tequilas had some good after sales service. They had a delay, the high kicked in like half an hour after each shot. Enjoy now, pay later. Kind of like a credit card.
Nick exhaled then leaned forward and said quietly, "There's something I need to tell you."
"I knew it!" I shouted thrusting my arm in the air.
All the tables around us went silent as everyone turned and stared at my outburst. I lowered my arm slowly. Crap. Centre of attention. Not good. Need to create diversion. Now.
"My buddy," I pointed at Nick, "he's finally coming out of the closet," I improvised and then continued, "I had a feeling for years but he always denied it, and now he's finally coming clean. I love you buddy, no matter what!" I finished almost in tears as I gave him a half hug as the icing on the cake. The look on his face was priceless.
There were mutterings of 'Good for yous' and 'Go for it mans' as everyone turned back to their business, the volume going back up. I think I cracked a rib from the punch that followed. Caesar was mad. The wrath of Caesar was an all-consuming inferno that ravaged everything in its path. Everything being me, of course.
"I'm going to get you for that," he growled under his breath.
"You already did dickhead," I managed to squeak rubbing my bruised rib. That was definitely going to leave a mark. Totally worth it though.
"What was it you wanted to tell me?" I asked after concluding any more rubbing wasn't going to make the pain lessen any further.
"You think I'm going to tell you after that?" he seethed. People were still throwing him occasional glances, particularly a man sitting by himself in a corner.
I knew it was a bad idea but I called for one more shot each. That should calm him down some, and then I could wiggle the information out of him. Evil, I know, but what are friends for right?
"Dude, seriously, tell me what's up," I said after we downed the shot.
He thought for about a minute before getting up and jerking his head towards the deck, walking off without saying anything. Bastard always liked to be as dramatic as possible. He should have starred in a soap opera, Esmeralda and her lover Ramon battle against the world sustained only by their crazy accents and their love for each other. I got up and followed trying to walk as straight as possible without looking like I was balancing on a rope. Note to self: no more shots.
I found him standing by the railing staring at the cars whizzing past below. I wobbled up and stood next to him furiously resisting the urge to ask So when's the colonoscopy? Something told me he wouldn't take it very well. One bruised rib was enough for today. I watched the cars below as well, trying to recognize them as they flew past, a favorite hobby of mine. Mercedes, Toyota, Toyota, Toyota, Audi, was that a GTR? Back to Toyota, Subaru, Range Rover, Ford, Toyo-
"I've made up my mind," he began, "I don't think there'll be a better time and honestly I can't wait any longer. I'm going to do it."
I was cracking up inside thinking about the colonoscopy. "Will you stop being so mysterious and suspensy and just tell me what's going on?"
"I want your honest opinion on this."
"No, I'm going to lie to you, it seems like the wise thing to do."
"Dude-" he warned.
"Yeah fine, honesty, best policy, blah blah blah, get on with it already."
He turned to look me in the eye, "I'm going to ask Jenna to marry me."
I blinked twice, frowned, cocked my head, and then a grin slowly crept up my face as I finally digested what he had just said.
"What do you think?" he asked, "Should I do it?"
I knew my answer mattered to him, we never made big decisions without consulting each other first. We had saved each other from countless disasters in the past, both small and big. You'd be surprised how blind one can be to things happening right in front of their eyes when they're in too deep. It's always good to know there's someone watching your back, no matter where, no matter what.
"It's going to be one of the craziest weddings anyone has ever seen in a long time mate, I promise you that," I said as I shook his hand and gave him a one arm hug that guys usually give each other.
"Thanks man. Phew, that's a load off my chest, I didn't know whether I was making the right decision or not." He said as we parted.
"It's about damn time, you've been dating for what, six years now? I don't know any two people more suited to each other than you guys, and you guys are practically married in all but name anyway. She lives at your place, you fight like cats and dogs, you fart in bed and pull the blanket over her head and she still doesn't leave you, all that's left is signing that piece of paper. Dibs on naming your first kid though."
"Hell no! You think I want my kid to go around being called Aventador his whole life? And if it's a girl you'll probably name her Huayra or Zonda. No, I can't do that to my kids. "
"Screw you, they're all good cars, they should be proud to be named after them. And I'm naming your first born, whether you like it or not. I'll convince peanut."
He snorted, "Good luck with that."
"By the way," a thought suddenly hit me, "how are you going to propose?"
A sly grin crept up his face, "Why do you think we are drinking tonight?"
The same sly grin crept up my face. "Let the creative juices flow!"
We started thinking up different ways to propose, looking for something unique and original. Obviously we got carried away more than once, coming up with ridiculous outlandish schemes that made no sense whatsoever. Nick wanted to dress up like a zombie and scare the crap out of Jenna before proposing to her in the end. I thought he should get a thousand cars and line them up so that they spelled 'will you marry me?' Jenna was a kindergarten teacher so Nick thought of getting help from her little students but I thought that was too cheesy and if I wasn't wrong, it had been already been done in some movie. I suggested he should base-jump off the highest skyscraper around and have 'will you marry me' printed on the parachute.
On and on we went, the ideas getting more and more ludicrous as we kept trying to outdo the other. By the end of the night Nick had come up with one solid idea. Although he had meant it as a joke when he mentioned it, I saw potential in it and latched on to it, and soon we had tweaked it and improvised it to end up with a slightly difficult but doable plan.
"Are we really doing this?" Nick asked still skeptical.
"Yes. She deserves something special, you know it too, let's make it something she'll never forget."
"It's going to require some work."
"She's put up with your sorry ass for six years, it about time you do something for her."
"You know you're going to have to help me, right?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"I'm only going to do it for peanut."
"Whatever you say man"
On the cab-ride home it the enormity of the situation finally hit me. Nick and Jenna were going to get married. Shit. The idiot I'd known since high school, with whom I had done most of my growing up, was going to get the old ball and chain. I had been present for the entire duration of their relationship and I would now see the culmination of their venture. When did we become so old? It was just the other day we were secretly drinking beer under the bleachers that we'd stolen from the gas station and sneaking out of the house at night to go to some hyped up party and driving around town without a license, hiding from cops in the bushes.
It was with these thoughts I fell asleep that night, dreaming that Nick had gone through with my idea of a thousand cars. Jenna slapped him and accused him of global warming and screamed she would never marry an enemy of Mother Nature. She then took Melissa's hand, who had popped out of thin air, and they both climbed up a tree to a small house built in the canopy and emerged wearing leaves around their private parts. They howled and beat their chest and leaped off, swinging from tree to tree on vines, disappearing into the foliage, only their howls to be heard in the distance.
Nick turned to me, "Should have gone with the base-jump."
I had to park on the street outside Melissa's house on Wednesday night because there were two cars already parked in her driveway. One was her Q7, and there was a red X5 next to it. Seemed like their family was really into SUV's. I wondered who it could be as Melissa had mentioned her folks had flown off on a holiday to Europe the previous day.
There was no way I could have waited until the weekend to see her so I had offered to take her for dinner tonight and thankfully she agreed. I felt we now knew each other well enough for me to risk a more intimate setting. I still couldn't believe we had hit it off so well, subconsciously I was just waiting for the whole thing to blow up in my face.
I rang the doorbell and waited, looking down to see if everything was in place. I felt really awkward in formal clothes, not being used to this type of apparel. Jeans and T-shirts were my kind of clothes but Peanut nearly bit my head off when I let it slip I was taking Melissa to McDonalds for a burger. Obviously I was just yanking her chain, but she was already mad I had taken Melissa to an amusement park for our first date and didn't put it past me that I'd take her to Mickey Dee's for dinner.
A mind-numbing shopping trip had ensued, with her doing the shopping and me doing the tripping over bags of purchases. She dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the mall to buy decent clothes for the dinner. I sulked and threw a tantrum but to no avail, she was a woman on a mission and nothing could stop her. Jenna made me buy quite a few outfits, all her choice of course, in anticipation of future dates. According to her this was a chance for her to finally have another female in the group and she wasn't going to let that dream go, even if it meant stripping me and dressing me up herself.
So there I stood, dressed in a blue button down shirt, chinos and brown shoes feeling like a show-dog. Woof woof. I had received Jenna's stamp of approval before I set out so I knew I didn't look like a complete tool. The whole episode had been extremely amusing for Nick, and he didn't hesitate to offer his unwanted opinions. Asshole.
The door swung open and a curly haired brunette stood there smiling, wearing an apron over her dress. There was flour on her cheek and all sorts of sauces decorated her apron.
"Hi, I'm Kelly, Melissa's older sister," she said offering her hand for a shake.
"Ryan," I said shaking her hand and stepping in as she stepped aside and pulled me in.
Kelly looked nothing like her sister. She was definitely good looking, her curly hair framed her face perfectly and bounced as she moved her head, but no one would mistake them for sisters. I think she saw what I was thinking, "We don't look like sisters do we?"
I shook my head.
She whispered loudly, "That's coz she's adopted."
"I heard that!" yelled Melissa from somewhere in the house.
Kelly laughed and led me to the living room. It was beautifully decorated, with white plush couches, an exquisite glass coffee table and various glass and ceramic decorations strewn about the place artfully. The bull in the china shop image flashed in my head. I had a history of clumsiness so I navigated the room carefully, afraid of knocking something over. If this had been my house everything in here would be stuck together with super-glue or sellotape.
"My my, Melissa wasn't kidding, you really are cute," Kelly said as she looked me up and down and led me past the living room to the kitchen.
I was saved from replying by Melissa shouting "Kelly!" from somewhere. Man, she must have really good ears. Maybe she was an elf.
Kelly giggled and put on some mittens to retrieve something from the oven.
"I have to house-sit since mom and dad are not here and Lissy is going with you,"
"Lissy?" I inquired, suddenly very interested in what she was saying.
"Oh, that's Melissa's nickname. None of the family has calls her Melissa, sometimes we even forget that's what she's called, makes for some really awkward moments. Our principal in school once gave me a letter and told me to give it to Melissa. I asked him Melissa who? I think he believed me when I told him she was adopted." She said as she added some stuff to the meatloaf she pulled out of the oven. At least I think it was meatloaf, I couldn't tell a boiled egg from a potato.
I laughed along with Kelly at the story. I liked her, she was friendly and I could tell she could make anyone feel at ease with her, and that was saying something, since I hardly felt at ease with anyone in the beginning.
"Having fun?" Melissa was standing in the doorway of the kitchen with her arms crossed and one foot tapping on the floor like she was mad. She was wearing a little black dress cut low enough to show just a hint of cleavage and ending just above her knees and three inch black heels on her feet. Her hair was done up with a few tendrils left hanging behind her ears, caressing her neck. She was wearing a simple necklace with a small pearl at the end that fell just below her clavicle. She had applied a little make-up just to accentuate her natural look. I know it was a simple look but to me she was breath-taking.
Kelly used a finger to pick my jaw off the floor and closed my mouth. I looked at her and she winked at me knowingly. Busted. I must have looked like the wolf in those cartoons whose eyes pop out of his sockets and his tongue rolls out like a red carpet.
"You... you look amazing," I managed to croak out to Melissa.
"Thank you, you clean up pretty well yourself," she said as she scanned me appreciatively.
I was going to give Jenna a thousand kisses when I met her next. She was a life-saver, a miracle worker, a fairy god-mother if you will. I just hope I didn't turn back into a construction worker at the stroke of mid-night.
"Shall we?" Melissa said nodding towards the entrance. As she moved her head I saw matching pearl earrings dangling from her delicate earlobes. She really took my breath away.
As we stepped out Melissa turned to wish her sister goodbye. She was leaning onto the edge of the door smiling mischievously.
"Have fun you two," Kelly said with a smile "and behave yourselves." She teased with a stern look, wagging a finger.
Melissa rolled her eyes and took my arm, and together we walked to my car. I still couldn't believe this beautiful creature was with me of her own free will. I opened the door for her and she smiled as she got in, flashing me that dimple in the process. Her dress rode up to mid-thigh and I tried not to stare. Her legs were nicely toned, looked she was a runner.
I backed out of the driveway and we made our way to the restaurant on the edge of the city. I was nervous but it wasn't debilitating, I could manage coherent sentences, so it was good.
The restaurant I had opted for was a small outdoor type with the tables set in the open, far enough from each other to offer privacy but not so far that you felt you were dining in the jungle. It was at the edge of the woods and had a very nice ambience with low lighting and the tables illuminated only with candles. There was no moon and stars were twinkling high overhead making the atmosphere even more private and intimate.
"Wow, nice place, I haven't been here before," Melissa said looking around as we were shown to our table.
"Yeah, they opened just a while back, they're not very well known yet," I said.
I would have held out her chair for her but the waiter was already on it, giving her an appreciative look while he was at it. I had a sudden desire to punch him in the face. He brought us our menus and I was terrified. Reading through the dishes I realized I couldn't even pronounce half of them, leave alone knowing what they were. The moment of my demise had arrived. She would laugh at me and realize I was a simpleton who probably belonged in a farm, drinking milk straight from the cow's udder.
"You ready to order?" she asked bringing me back from my farm.
"Uhmmmm..." I looked at her sheepishly.
"What's wrong?" she asked putting down her menu.
"This will sound stupid but, this stuff might as well be written in Greek," I said pointing at the menu, "I have absolutely no clue what is written or what to order, im totally out of my element here," I laid it all on the table, pun not intended.
That small smile that I was starting to adore was playing on her lips again. "Want me to order for the both of us?"
I nodded, still sheepish. Great, next the food will be so complicated she'll have to feed me as well. She rattled off something to the waiter, who probably thought I was brought up by the isolated tribes in the Amazon, then turned back to me as he rushed off.
"You're not used to this are you?" she asked.
"No," I replied figuring there was no point in lying, "This is actually the first dinner I've gone on, with a girl I mean."
Her eyes widened at that, "No way, but then that means," something clicked in her head, "that kiss..."
"Yup, first one."
Her fingers went to her lips as she looked at me with wonder, "You're kidding me,"
"Wish I was,"
"But... you're twenty seven, how..." She shook her head disbelievingly.
Aaaaaaaaaaand the prize for the biggest loser goes to... I pictured a big red neon arrow blinking and pointing right down at me. Jackpot.
"I was, sorry, I am a really shy person. I find it very difficult to speak to anyone, not just girls and I guess between that and school and work and all the other stuff going on, dating just didn't work out. I tried, I mean it's not like I didn't notice girls or anything but it never led anywhere, it was always a dead end."
"That's so rare..." She said slowly.
"Yeah, don't I know it. Look if you want to run or something, I promise not to chase you." I tried joking.
"You mean your one chance at getting laid and you're going to let me go without a fight?" she asked, eyes wide.
We both laughed, the tension broken.
"Well now, I didn't know you were that easy, a dinner is all it takes?"
"I said 'chance' at getting laid, and you're not going to get anywhere with that attitude."
She was about to respond when we were interrupted by the waiter bringing the food. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. All that fancy naming and shit and what do we get? Lasagna. Couldn't they just write lasagna on the bloody menu? I wondered what they called French fries here. Spud sticks lightly bubbled in the liquid excretion of the palm fruit and sprinkled with a dusting of an infusion of sodium and chloride. And the waiter had the audacity to look at me like I'm weird. Idiot.
"Seems you need to have a PhD in food to order lasagna around here," I said to Melissa after the waiter departed.
She almost choked on her bite. "It's not lasagna," she said after a gulp of water, still laughing.
"It isn't?" I asked looking at the crap on my plate, astonished.
"Okay it is basically lasagna, but they've added..." I didn't get a word she said after that.
"So it's Fancy lasagna." I stated after she finished listing the numerous ingredients.
She just shook her head, "You're not gonna let it go, are you?"
"I'm just saying they're being pretentious. Even if you make a pig wear a hat, it's still a pig."
That started a long debate. She refused to back down until I finally decided to let it go, though it was fun watching her defend her point, she looked cute even while arguing.
"Fine, it's not lasagna."
She smiled triumphantly, apparently proud of her achievement.
My fork clattered onto the plate as I almost shot out of the chair. Something had brushed up against my leg. I looked at Melissa to see if she had felt anything but she had her head down and was concentrating on her food. I picked up my fork and almost dropped it again as I felt it again. Something was lightly brushing against my shin. Did this place have cats?
Melissa had an innocent look as she calmly ate, pretending to be oblivious to what was going on. The corner of her lip was twitching.
"Melly," I started. Her eyes shot up to look at me with her face still looking down. Even her foot stopped moving.
"Sa." I quickly added. "I was going to say Melly-sa." She looked back down again and her foot resumed its teasing. It was almost up to my knee now. I was squirming in my seat now looking around to see if anyone else had noticed my odd behavior.
I cleared my throat, "Melissa, quit it." I whispered to her.
"Whatever do you mean?" It had reached above my knee now.
"Seriously, you need to stop."
"What you're doing!" I said through gritted teeth, jabbing at the table with one finger.
Her foot retreated as she laughed to herself, "You're too much fun to tease."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"I know I'm irresistible, you don't need to make excuses." I said cockily.
"Is that now?"
"You can deny it all you want, but I know you want some of this," I said pretending to lick a finger and placing it on my chest, making a sizzling sound.
She laughed and threw a napkin at me, "Shut up, you."
We were soon done with the food and the plates were taken away, leaving us with our glasses of wine. I hadn't had more than one glass as I was driving and she'd only had one as well. The bill arrived and I paid although she insisted we split it.
"You men and your egos" she complained.
"We do like our egos" I agreed.
"I'll pay... you shouldn't lift that... you can't drive," she said in a high pitched voice, waving her arms around.
"I don't know about the paying and the lifting, but I totally agree with the driving part." I didn't mean it but it was time for a little payback for the footsy games.
"You sexist pig!"
"What? I'm just saying the truth."
"I can drive anything you can better than you, even that tin can you brought me here in." she said indignantly.
Tin can? Oh no she didn't.
"My dear Melly, my car is a manual, not an Auto. It got a little stick with a ball on top you have to use to change gears, you don't just put it in D and forget about it." I told her as if I was explaining to a little child.
She was throwing daggers at me with her eyes.
"Gimme the keys,"
"Say what now?"
"The keys, Sebastian Loeb."
She just held out her hand.
"You know what a clutch is, right?"
She beckoned impatiently.
I slowly put the keys in her palm, still doubtful.
"Have you ever driven a Turbo? It's this thing that whistles and makes the car go faster a little while after you've pressed the gas," I explained to her as we walked to the car. I had a bad feeling about this but she had a determined look on her face.
We got in and she started the car after putting it in neutral. That calmed me some-what. I strapped myself in as she engaged reverse and slowly backed out. What do you know, she could drive a manual. She shifted to first and smoothly pulled out of the parking lot without a single jerk or bog. I was impressed. My Celica had a heavy clutch and I was sure it wasn't easy operating it in heels. I still wasn't going to back down though.
"Not bad," I said, "for a girl."
Bad idea. I should really tape my mouth shut.
She downshifted to second, revved to seven thousand and dumped the clutch. The tires squealed as the car lurched forward, all three hundred and five horses going berserk under the hood. I grabbed the edges of the bucket seats trying to look for another seat belt to strap on. She looked focused and in control when I chanced a look at her, both hands on the wheel as she concentrated on the road. I couldn't help thinking she looked sexy as hell.
"Melissa, slow down, no one is chasing us."
She backed off at hundred miles per hour and slowed down to a more comfortable fifty before turning to me smiling
"Whatcha' think now?"
"Told ya I could drive this thing better than you," she shifted to fifth and coasted along on the deserted road. It was a long narrow stretch lined with trees on either side and it was completely dark except for the headlights illuminating the tarmac ahead.
"Where did you learn how to drive a stick?" I asked shifting lower in my seat putting my hands on the headrest behind me.
"My ex," she said simply, not explaining any further.
I was debating whether to ask her more. I knew I shouldn't, but I still felt a pang of jealousy upon hearing about her ex. I wasn't naïve enough to think she'd never had a boyfriend before but that didn't mean I had to like it. Sue me, I don't like sharing.
I was staring at the yellow lines disappearing under the car, contemplating the best course of action when suddenly a deer bounded onto the middle of the road and stopped almost a hundred feet away, standing across the road and looking at the car.
I shot up to attention immediately and grabbed the dashboard. The car showed no signs of slowing down and we were getting closer to the deer at a frightening pace. I looked at Melissa to see her in shock, staring with wide eyes at the deer.
"Melissa brake!" I shouted, knocking the gear lever into neutral position and reaching for the hand-brake.
She snapped out of it and slammed the brakes, the momentum throwing us forward, held back only by our seatbelts. I yanked the handbrake up and the tires screamed in protest as the tail started swinging out to the right. I grabbed the wheel but before I could counter-steer we were already too late.
I heard a sickening crunch as the car rammed into the deer, the right corner hitting it head-on. I could feel the metal frame give way and hear the glass of the right headlight as it shattered. The deer got scooped up onto the hood, but that's the last thing I saw as the air-bags deployed.
We were both slammed back into our seats by the expanding balloons of gas. Shit, were these things supposed to save you or decapitate you? They hurt like a bitch. I felt the car finally stop and heard something slide off the car and drop to the road, the car rocking once before becoming to rest. Still disorientated, I reached out beside me to check if Melissa was ok. I found her upper arm and squeezed.
As the air-bags went slack I coughed and sputtered and shook my head before turning to Melissa. She was also coughing and her hands were covering her face. I was wondering why she looked blurry before I realized my glasses had broken and fallen off. Thank god I hadn't worn contacts. Giving her a once over I decided she was unhurt, switched on the hazards, and got out of the car to walk over to her side and pull her out.
The deer was already getting to its feet and on seeing me, it jumped up and leaped away into the trees on the opposite side of the road, apparently totally unhurt as well. Tough deer, I needed to start eating my veggies too. I opened the driver's side door and leaned down. Melissa still had a look of shock on her face. Her fists were clenched tight and she was breathing rapidly.
"Melissa," I called out softly and touched her arm.
There was no response. She was staring blankly ahead, her breathing rising. She was in shock.
"Melissa, come here," I reached in and released her seat belt and gently took her by the arms and guided her out of the car. She just followed with a distressed look on her face.
I stood her against the side of the car and rubbed her arms, trying to get her to look at me.
"Hey, are you ok? Melissa?" I shifted so my face was in her line of vision. "Hey, you alright?"
"I hit someone." She stated, tensing up.
"It was just a deer Mel, it's ok," I tried to ease her concern.
"I... I froze." She said and looked down.
"Hey, it happens," I put a finger under her chin and lifted it so I was looking into her eyes, "It happens Melissa, even I've been there, it's a natural response."
"But, but it could have been a person, and... and someone might have died tonight because of me," she said as she put her face in her hands and turned away from me, "Oh God, I'm so stupid," she mumbled into her hands.
I turned her towards me and hugged her, knowing words wouldn't calm her right now. I put my arms around her and held her against me gently as she wrapped her hands around my waist and buried her face in my shoulder. She was shivering but I knew it wasn't because of the weather. I held her like that for five minutes, rubbing her back and kissing the top of her head as she calmed down, her breathing returning to normal. Finally she pulled away gently, looking down.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Don't be ridiculous. It could have happened to anyone, deer don't exactly use zebra crossings now do they?"
That got a small laugh out of her before her eyes bulged again and her hands went to her mouth, "Your car!"
We went to the front to assess the damage. It was just as I thought. The right side was smashed in, the headlight in pieces, the hood dented in and the windscreen had cracked where the deer hit. Thankfully the engine was still running and it looked like the car could still move.
"I'm so sorry!" I heard beside me. Melissa was close to tears again as she took in the wreck.
"It's ok, trust me, the car is fixable. We are unhurt, that's the important part," I told her putting an arm around her shoulder.
She still dint look convinced and kept biting her nails nervously.
"C'mon, let's get out of here before it decides to break down completely. I haven't seen a single car on this road since we stopped and I don't wanna wait for one if we get stranded."
I guided her to the passenger side and got her in before getting in myself. Maneuvering the air-bag out of the way, I shifted to first and released the clutch, praying the car would move. It was a good thing we still had one headlight working otherwise it would have been impossible to navigate in the pitch black of the night, with a spider-web for a windscreen.
There were a many groans and creaks and quite a few noises that definitely should not be there but thankfully the car moved. An occasional hiss would sound and the car was wobbly and kept veering to one side so I drove slowly and carefully. Melissa found my broken glasses, another reason to upset her again. I put my free hand on hers and she squeezed back, glad for the reassurance.
It took us an hour to get back at the slow speed we were travelling, each of us saying only a handful of words on the way back. I kept holding her hand the entire way and I knew she was grateful for the simple touch. We pulled into her driveway and I left the engine running.
She looked over at me and gasped, "Oh my God, you're bleeding!"
"What? Where?" I searched my face, trying to look in the rearview mirror.
"Just above your left eye, I must have missed it in the dark."
It was a small cut where my glasses must have dug into my skin when the air-bag exploded.
"It's just a scratch, don't worry," I said dismissing it.
"No! You're coming in and I'll have a look at it."
"Melissa, if I switch off the engine it might not turn again. Don't worry about it, I'll be fine, you go and relax, I'll call you tomorrow ok?"
"No. If your car dies I'll drop you home. Let's go in." She was adamant.
I knew she thought the crash was her fault and she was feeling guilty and wanted to do something to make it up, no matter how small.
"Fine," I relented, turning the key to switch off the car, "let's go."
She fussed over me, turning my face this way and that to see if I was hurt anywhere else as we waited for her sister to open the door. I let her have her way as I was enjoying the attention. A pretty girl was willingly fussing over me, who was I to deny.
Kelly opened the door and the smile dropped from her face as she took in the scene.
"What happened?" she asked, worried.
"Car crash," Melissa said as she dragged me into the living room.
I sat on the couch as she went off to look for the First-aid kit.
"How? Where? Are you hurt?" Kelly fired off questions following us.
"Speed Racer here hit a camel." I told her as Melissa came back.
She glared at me, "It's not funny."
"We hit a deer," she told her sister as she pressed the alcohol soaked cotton-wool a little harder than necessary into the wound. I winced.
Melissa recited the whole story clinically, as if she were giving a statement to the police.
"Lissy, you know better than that, how could you do something like reckless like that?" Kelly started.
I could see Melissa's lips tighten and a look of anger flash across her face. I guess this is what it meant to be the youngest in the family, everyone treated you like an irresponsible kid.
"Kelly, it wasn't her fault, the deer came out of nowhere, there is nothing anyone could have done, we just wouldn't have stopped in time." I defended her.
"That's ok, but speeding like that-"
"She wasn't speeding." I cut her off, "We were under the limit and there was no reckless driving involved. It was a freak accident Kelly, it could have happened to anyone, it's like blaming someone for being shot at point blank range."
It seemed like she wanted to say something else but kept quiet. "Are you sure you're both Ok?" she asked still concerned.
We both nodded.
"Are radiologists allowed to pretend to be doctors?" I asked Kelly.
Melissa was putting on the band-aid and once again put more force than necessary. I needed to time my jibes better, she might rip off the band-aid off next time.
"I guess I better go and check if my tin can will turn over," I said getting up.
Melissa got up with me, "I'll go with you, in case your tin can doesn't start and you need to be dropped."
At least she was joking again.
"Thanks for bringing her back safe Brian," Kelly said as she came over and gave me a brief hug, "and take care and drive safe. No more surprise accidents, ok?"
I nodded, "I'll try."
Melissa held my hand and stayed close to me all the way to the car, as if she was afraid of letting me get too far away.
I turned the ignition and the car started, sounding like someone had put spoons in a metal can and was shaking the whole thing around. I just hope I didn't damage it more by driving it. I got out to say good-bye to Melissa, who was standing patiently by the car.
"Thanks," she said.
"For standing up for me in there. They treat me like toddler and I'm sure I'm going to get an earful from the rest but at least I'll have Kelly on my side."
"You want me to have a word with the rest of them?" I said in my best gangster voice, pretending to smoke a cigar.
She laughed shaking her head, "I think I can handle them. It's just nice to know you're on my side." She took my hands and pulled herself closer, "What are you going to do about the car?"
"I have a friend who owns a garage. I'll drive up tomorrow and see what he says, it's still running so that's a good sign, hopefully it won't be too damaged internally."
Her look turned sad again, "I'm really sorry Brian,"
"Hey, no more apologies ok? We'll call it even when I total your Q7" I teased.
"You're never going to see the inside of my car," she said as she wrapped her arms around me.
She came up to just under my chin, and I rested it on top of her head. She had had enough excitement for one night and I didn't want to push for anything else, I was content with just holding her close. She pulled away after almost a minute and I cupped her face in my hands and kissed her on her forehead before letting her go.
She grabbed my hand as I was turning away and pulled me back and quickly planted her lips on mine for a quick peck.
"No need to be too much of a gentleman," she said, letting me go.
A fire was lit inside me at the contact and I wanted to grab her and kiss the living hell out of her right here, right now, but I held back knowing it wasn't the time or place for that.
"See you Saturday?" she inquired, referring to the backyard barbeque party Nick had organized at his house.
"Can't wait. Think you can avoid all the animals between here and Nick's place?"
She pushed me towards the car smiling, "Get out of here before I chase you with a frying pan."
"Alright, see you Lissy," I said getting into the car.
"Call me if you stall."
"Sure thing." I pulled out of the driveway as she walked back to the house and drove off, the car banging and rattling like a tractor with a throat infection.
It wasn't the best of ways to end the night, I could think of a few things I could have gone better, like not hitting a deer, but now I knew Melissa had a vulnerable side as well, apart from her usual confident visage. It made her more approachable, she was also human, just like me. Maybe this whole thing wasn't going to blow up in my face after all.
Feb 11, 2018 in romance