My mind didn’t discover clarity until I sat down behind the wheel of my Jeep Cherokee.
“What am I doing?”
Thoughts somersaulted over feelings as I tried to get a grip on more than the steering wheel. My eyes focused on obscure features of the parking lot hoping a clue hid in the asphalt cracks.
I laughed, out loud, convincingly enough panic backed away.
“Someone’s trying to turn my life upside down and it only cost them $5.”
I laughed again. Harder. Offering an appearance of truth. Whether for myself or others, I wasn’t sure.
I knew the school didn’t offer any answers. I couldn’t go back inside and speak with Ryan. Jeanie had closed that avenue. Going back in would make me appear desperate. Crazed.
I repeated the word in my mind, Writer’s Rage.
It sounded like the title of a book.
“I wonder if Princess and Mr. Sullivan could pull it off?”
Princess becomes a teenager. Becomes disillusioned with her wholesome image. Write’s an anti-establishment manifesto.
I shook my head.
“It wouldn’t work.”
I sighed and dropped the Jeep into gear. I pulled forward without checking my surroundings, almost colliding with Charles Henderson’s unmarked cruiser.
Henderson and I put our cars in park simultaneously.
I didn’t think Charles would get the reference.
He climbed out of his cruiser like a man who enjoyed his authority. He looked up, allowing the day’s sunlight to wash over his face. His large sunglasses protecting and serving his eyes.
He tapped on my driver’s side window. All smiles.
I shut off my engine and rolled down my window.
“How’s your car, Captain Henderson?”
His smile faded into a deep scowl. I had beat him to the punch line.
“In a hurry, Mr. Lewis?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hit you or anything, did I?”
I felt a bit of bravado rise up in my chest. As if my body needed to burn off the last of its excess adrenaline. I knew I should play it cool and allow Henderson his taunts, but a part of me couldn’t allow it.
I surprised Charles when I opened my door.
“Where are you going?” he asked. He stepped back enough for me to squeeze out, but held the door as if preparing to dislodge it from its hinges.
“I wanna inspect the damage. See if we need to call a tow truck or something.”
I brushed past him with my shoulder. His muscles rippled under his cop issued polo shirt.
“Looks okay.” I ran my hand alone the front quarter panel, “I sure do like that powder blue.”
Taking it a step further, I turned and leaned against the car, folding my arms with a defiance I didn’t know I possessed.
“Get your ass off my car.”
I’d pushed as far as Henderson would allow. Immediately, I obeyed. Someone more confident would have reacted a bit slower. I jumped like a dog.
He shut my driver’s side door.
“I like this one,” he said running his finger along the headboard. He showed me his finger, “You just get this waxed?”
“Yep. Just the other day.”
“It’s keeping the shine pretty well.”
He wrinkled his brow into the form of a question, “This ain’t the same vehicle you had before, is it?”
He knew the answer.
“Nope. It’s new.”
“How long you had it?”
He nodded. His tongue rolling around in his mouth, “That about the time you lost the other one?”
I felt a new source of anger building in my gut.
“Shame about the other one. I ain’t seen a car burnt that badly before. Almost like someone wanted it destroyed.”
I let the accusation hang before us until it had enough weight the wind could carry it away.
Captain Henderson stepped towards me, “I’d really hate to see something happen to this one.”
I closed the space between us, “I’d hate for something to happen to your vehicle, as well.”
We stood close enough the Holy Spirit had trouble breathing.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I backed up, “You keep getting promoted and you’ll be riding in the back of a limo.”
Henderson allowed my joke to waft over him before allowing a great bellow to erupt from his soul. He pounded my chest twice, with an open palm, before shoving past.
“Alright,” he called from behind my back, “Let’s see how many promotions I can get.”
I turned to see him open his car door. Before climbing in, he stopped, “I wouldn’t want to disappoint my biggest fan.”
I waved. A plastic smile glued to my face. He returned the same before driving off.
I felt my hands tremble as Henderson drove off. I hadn’t allowed Charles to intimidate me. Usually I took the taunts and accusations with my head lowered.
But today is different.
I drove home with the window’s down and the radio blaring. I drove as if I was the unofficial town mayor. I waved at everyone, letting any motorist or pedestrian in front of me, without a care in the world.
It took me twice as long to get home. I drove on automatic, allowing the good feelings swirling around the car to lead me where they wanted.
As the garage door slid up, I sang along with Jon’s description of Bad Medicine. I put the car in park as he sang about needing it one more time;
“With Feeling,” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
The car shook along with Sambora’s guitar screech. But it wasn’t the normal vibrations you get with excellent speakers. The car shook from an outside force. I felt like I was in a mini tornado inside of my own garage. The car half turned from side to side. Sliding across the garage floor crashing into the garage workbench.
I reached for keys to shut off the car, for no other reason then I didn’t know what else to do. As soon as I turned the engine off, the car stopped moving. The radio silenced. An eerie calm settled over the garage as if a blanket had lowered from the ceiling.
I jumped out and scrambled away, frantic, the car would start moving again, crushing me against the garage wall.
Some unseen forced screamed inside my head. Loud enough I covered my ears in a useless gesture.
It screamed again. The voice sounded familiar, yet distorted, like a childhood memory vaguely remembered in adulthood.
“Hello?” I ventured. Unsure what to expect.
I spun in a circle with my hands pressed firm against my ears. Tension bowed me at the waste as if another verbal attack, would drop me to my knees.
Moments ticked by in my head. My own inner voice retreated to its safe place. I lowered my guard, dropping my hands to my side.
I screamed in surprise.
Upstairs, above the garage, something crashed. Sasha barked. Another crash bigger than before. I heard a woman curse the names of the saints. Sasha’s repetitive barks became more ominous.
“Shit. And this was a good day.”
I ran towards the side of the house. Above the garage was Samantha and Jessica’s apartment.
Behind me, I heard the car radio belt out, Born to Be My Baby.
A shudder ran the length of my spine.
“Not again,” I muttered.
Fear became my running partner.