Kacie’s parents bought the Toyota when we were all in high school. It was dingy and abused the way things are when they’re taken for granted. A persistent cigarette smell and faded interior accompanied a rattle as the engine tried to pick up speed leaving the payment booth. The Toyota closed the distance to my parents’ house. Dave Matthews Band sang “Crush” on the radio and Kacie leaned forward to turn it up. I listened to see if she’d start singing. She didn’t. I finished my cigarette and threw the butt out the window, then rolled the glass back up and held my palm in front of the vent for warm air. The song ended.
“This isn’t exactly the time to ask for forgiveness,” I said, rubbing my hands together and glancing over at her.
“Who’s asking?” She finished her cigarette, too, tossed the butt and rolled up the window. The music seemed to swell with the wind gone.
“You could have called or something.” I turned the volume knob down. “Weeks ago.”
“Would you have been alone?” She looked over at me and then at the radio. Pressed the knob so the sound went off completely. “I wanted to see you in person,” she added.
“Oh, well, good thing this happened then, huh?”
We were silent long enough to get off the highway, following the mass of rush hour traffic off the exit ramp and up on to Reston Parkway. After two rotations of the light at Sunset Hills, the Toyota climbed slowly up the hill in front of Reston Town Center. I looked up to the Hyatt which loomed above the shopping plaza and parking garage. The ice-skating rink between the Hyatt and Clyde’s would be open but mostly vacant until the weekend.
We passed what used to be Hechinger’s but was now some corporate hardware store and the county soccer fields and the town houses where Kacie’s sister rented a place. We drove by the grocery store strip mall where Chris had worked at Baskin Robbins. We’d already passed Worldgate Athletic Club with the movie theater where Tony and I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in our first drop-off-by-ourselves movie trip and the office park with the manicured courtyard into which Kacie and I used to sneak after dark until the hired security chased us away.
Kacie turned left onto one of the few two-lane roads still snaking its way through that area. Then she dug into her purse and extracted lip balm. I turned my face to the window as she smeared her lips with it. I heard it drop back into her bag. Smelled the faint cherry scent.
Finally, with a deep breath I later recognized as an attempt at patience, she said, “This isn’t easy for me, Brian.”
“I know,” I said, but it was barely audible. Being here wasn’t easy for me, either, not to ride by all those memories, not to share the same air with her and certainly not to think about the last time I’d been here. The geography was fucking with me and I had to squeeze my eyes shut to blacken the familiarity of it all. I remembered thinking over New Year’s that it wasn’t my fault. That none of it was my fault. I still believed that, less than a foot from her, riding home from the airport in February. It was too soon. The wounds were still too raw.
Nearly home. She pulled into the drive. I reached for the release to my seatbelt. She laid her hand on mine. I jerked away.
“Brian, please.” She faced me now, those pink lips glistening.
“Tony killed himself.” The second time I’d said it out loud.
She winced. Her eyes filled with tears and she turned back to the steering wheel, staring out the windshield, waiting for me.
“Nothing else matters.” I stepped out of the car and slammed the door.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish