Fiction: Driving Lessons

“Where’s Michael?” Ansley’s head bobbed like a cork in a bowl of water as she looked around. As he was short and social in a bar that was small and crowded, he’d been difficult to keep track of.

“I think I heard him tell someone he was leaving.” The girl to her left said then downed a shot of Fireball. A cheer went up from the three men around her, and Ansley rolled her eyes when she giggled.

“He’s too drunk to drive. Seriously? Nobody stopped him?” Ansley was talking to herself as she moved into the packed bodies, pushing between them, her beer spilling on random shirts. “Have you seen Michael?” She asked another person in the crowd.

“Yeah, I heard him telling Pete and Rodney he was leaving. There over by the door.” Jason pointed.

“Damn.” Ansley squeezed her way through to Pete. “Did Michael leave?”

“I think so. A few minutes ago.” Pete turned away. “Hey, who else wants shots? I’ve got five here.”

Ansley tugged on his sleeve. “You didn’t stop him? He was really drunk.”

“He’s a grown up, Ansley, just like the rest of us.” He passed out shots. “You want a shot?”

She set her beer down hard on the table. “No, I don’t want a shot. And the rest of you need to stop drinking soon or someone is going to get hurt.”

“You worry too much. This is fun. Everyone is fine and can get a cab if they need to.”  Pete shrugged at her. “Lighten up.” He raised his voice. “Hey, Sarah, I’m in on the next game! Let me know when it’s done. I got winner.” He left Ansley standing there.

She watched him make his way through the crowd, shot glasses held above his head. People laughed and weaved and drank. It was only 10:00 and over half the people there were too drunk to drive.

Ansley went outside to look for Michael. Not sure where he had parked, she did a visual scan and spotted his truck parked down the hill. She ran as fast as she could in her high-heeled boots and pencil skirt and cursed her own vanity. She heard an engine rev up and his yellow pick-up backed out of the parking space.

“No!” She yelled, still trying to run. The trucks brake lights came on for a minute then went back off as the truck pulled into traffic and disappeared around a corner. She stopped her awkward run, panting slightly and headed back inside the bar.

“Hey, you want a drink?” Natalie stood at the bar.

“No, I don’t want a drink.” She slid onto a seat and put her head in her hands.

Alex got up from a barstool. “I’ll get you a drink. What do you want?”

“A water. I’m leaving shortly. I can’t have any more to drink.”

“A water? Don’t be boring. At least have another beer. It’s early.”

“No, I’m tired and want to go home. Can I get a water?”

“Okay,” Alex held his hands up.

“That’s smart,” Natalie sat next to Ansley with her beer. “This should probably be my last one. I have to head home soon. I have to take Wes to a school thing first thing tomorrow.”

“Yuck. That sucks. Michael just left.”

“He drove?” Natalie looked at Ansley. “That kid takes too many chances. He does this all the time.”

“We never should have let him.”

“No, but look around you. Who’s going to stop him?”

“Good point.” I took a sip of my water.

“You sure you have to leave?” Alex said. “Let’s play one more game first.”

Ansley let herself get talked into the dice game that required shots but had one of the other guys do shots for her. Natalie left before she finally did at 1:00 am. Tired, wondering how she was going to stay awake, Ansley headed to her car. She passed an accident on her way and sent up a quick prayer of thanks as she always did that it wasn’t her in the wreck.

A mile from home, Ansley saw the police lights in her rear view mirror and pulled over.

“Ma’am?”

“Yes?” The flashlight hurt her tired eyes.

“May I see your license, insurance and registration?”

“Sure, but did I do something wrong?” She dug around in her wallet and pulled out her license and insurance.

“Did you know you have a rear light out?”

Ansley breathed a sigh of relief at this response and when she found her registration. “No, I didn’t.” She handed over all the documents and squinted to see the officer’s face behind the light. The female officer had sharp, blue eyes.

“Have you been drinking tonight?” The officer asked.

“No,” she lied.

“Okay.” She took a minute to examine her face before lowering the light and moving away.

A car appeared and hit something, braking with tires squealing. Her car rocked as something landed on it, leaving behind red streaks and cracks in her windshield. Everything froze: time, her brain, her body. There was a ringing in her ears.

As the world came back into focus, she heard voices yelling and sirens in the distance. Someone banged on her window, but she didn’t move. Ansley did not want to know what had happened outside her car. She was safe inside as long as she didn’t look too closely at the windshield or the people around her.

“Miss!” The banging on the window was becoming more urgent. “Miss! If you don’t answer, I’m going to break your window. Are you okay?”

Ansley turned her head and gave a stiff nod. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’m okay.”

“Good.” The man turned away from her and started shouting as an ambulance screamed into view and parked. “Over there.” He gestured wildly to the EMTs who were pulling out a stretcher.

Other cars screamed into view.

The EMTs took the stretcher past her car, and Ansley looked in her rearview mirror to see what they were doing. Curiosity overcame fear for a minute, but only for a minute, and she was sorry she’d looked. She jerked open her car door and vomited on the pavement.

Ansley wiped her mouth and closed herself back in the car.

“I’m okay,” she whispered.

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