Danny Herald spins his tires on the pavement before roaring down the road, leaving me in the leftover exhaust hanging in the air from his new corvette. A car worthy of a smug jerk hiding behind tinted sunglasses. A car handed to him about five months ago after being spoon-fed his whole life into believing the world was his and he made it go around. A car that secretly, I wish had my charm that I made him when I was seven hanging on his rearview mirror with me subtly smiling at it from the passenger seat.
I cough in the choking air sprinkled with frost-bite as I slowly search for my keys while walking to my car. Picking out the little, round black key with the snake-skin print on it, I jam it in the lock and jump in, cranking up the heat as quickly as possible. I rub my hands together, grimacing at their thin-paper sound and setting them in my lap. An uninvited memory of Danny and me as first graders flashes across my mind as a group of his "friends" waltz ridiculously in front of my windshield. Hurling insults and laughing at crude comments, Michael Frasier detects me, a little speck on his easy-target radar and stops. Smiling at me, he folds his arms and strolls over as if he were visiting an old friend. He raps on the car door. I ignore it. He raps at it again.
Sighing, I roll down my window, inviting the scent of death into my little sanctuary. With the menacing presence of Michael leaning in my window frame, the little glass house of my usually strong personality shatters, and the sharp edges are perfect for cutting deeper. I imagine him plucking a triangular shaped edge of glass out of the dirt and plunging it into my heart, releasing all the hope of becoming secure, not afraid, capable. Desperate for an escape, I cling to the now-welcome recollection of Danny and me working on our R's in Mrs. Allen's room; down, up, loop, tail, down, up, loop, tail. Down...
"Hey, Ruby," Michael breathes, the cigarette smoke reaching out like little fingers to grip my hair, wrap around my clothes, contaminate my car. Up... loop... "Did you get the notes from Mr. Li's class yesterday?"
I open my eyes. Panic gone. Is that all he wants? Notes? Tail... down... up... I breathe a sigh of relief, he grins. I nod. "Yeah," I stretch across the cup-holder to grab my backpack.
"Just give them to me tomorrow in class, alright?" he tugs at a lock of my hair.
I grab my hair back from him and close my window, nodding. I start my car. He looks back. I catch his eye. Big mistake. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. I think Michael's eyes are the black holes leading to the depths of my own personal hell. Throwing the car into reverse, I tear out of the parking lot, away from his ominous gaze, and despite the cold I roll down my window again to evade the deathly odor of cigarettes and fear.
I decide to avoid home for a couple of hours. There are too many places there that remind me of my ex-best friend, Danny Herald. The backyard where we first met when I caught him jumping the fence to get away from the evil trolls in kindergarten. The living room where we watched movies and laughed at each other's stupid jokes. My bedroom where we studied for major seventh grade tests and quizzes. I have no refuge in my home anymore, the only place completely mine is my car. My car is the only thing not haunted by a memory of Danny. Except...
I flip open the glove compartment. As I expected, the little mirror charm he made me when he was seven lay quietly, patiently waiting to be loved and shown off to the world through the windshield. Picking it up with delicate fingers, I study it with faint curiosity. Danny and I were so excited when we were little to drive so we could have fun and never stop playing with each other. Was that our dream? Or was he just amusing me until he was cute enough to catch Megan Fogarty's eye and leave his best friend behind? I'm just a piece of his childhood that he wants to forget, a small misfortune tainting his perfect social record, a piece of the past he wants to stay in the past. Curling my hand around the charm, I heave back my fist and chuck it out the window. But it's too late. The presence of the charm still lingers. And it stinks of Danny.
I'm not obsessed or anything. It's not that Danny was my whole life. Just my childhood. We were inseparable. I wasn't known as "Ruby;" he wasn't known as "Danny;" we were known as "Ruby and Danny." After eight years of being the closest of friends, you'd think that kind of bond couldn't be broken by a girl with flirtatious eye lashes and an exaggerated smile in the eighth grade. But four years later here I am, stronger than ever, weaker around some parts, and I don't let the opposite sex ruin my friendships. Because I'm capable of making true friends. God taps lightly on my shoulder. I hang my head as one tear slips down my cheek. Some days are worse than others. I haven't thought about Danny ever since I was assigned his lab partner last year in tenth grade. I hang on to memories, I treasure them, I hate them, I let them grow, I tear them down, I keep them. That's something I've always been good at. Smart, courageous passionate, words fling through my head as if on catapults. Talented, strong, sensitive, God is reminding me of what He gave me. Blessed, loved, loving, God is telling me that I'm better than what I've been thinking of myself. Fun, comprehensive, true. God pelts me with gentle words, pleasant words delightful like honey, sweet to the soul and healing to my bones.