Below is a non-fiction piece I had to write for class. The assignment was to write about a place.
The green Honda Civic idled between us. I stood at the head of the car; she had her hand on the driver’s side door. Her head turned towards me, face ornamented with a smile (dimples and all).
“Nazi five?” I asked reading the last three symbols on her license plate: NZ5.
She laughed. The type of laugh where her hand pushed her away from the car, like a swimmer’s tucked legs launching them into a backstroke.
Nazi five was all I could think of when I saw NZ5. I couldn’t help but send her a text anytime I’d walk by her car in the commuter lot. She’d always text back a smiley face or a “Stop it, you’re cute.” I’d read her texts and think of how she’d say them in person. She’d usually tap my knuckles with her fingers before snuggling them under my palm.
The first week of my freshman year, I ended up in her car. She called him Mr. Green. She sat in the driver’s seat; I sat in the passenger. The car smelled of her perfume: pink lilac. The interior was tan; the automatic shifter was covered in a black leather-like material. Hanging on the rearview mirror were her graduation tassels. In the backseat were her backpack, books and empty Monster cans. I rolled my eyes at the garbage.
Picking up a can, marked with the signature green “M,” I said, “I can’t believe you drink this.”
“I’m going to use it for a project,” was her first excuse. She then told me she drank it the last day she saw her ex-boyfriend. “He was drinking one, so I thought he’d notice me more if I drank one.”
I dropped the can behind my seat and reclined back. She turned towards me –foot on seat, knee close to chest – and leaned on her side. We spoke of high school drama like we were years beyond from dealing with it. I told her about Luke; she told me about her boyfriend. She spoke of her ex like they were still together. She’d flip open her phone and read aloud texts from him. “I miss him. We were best friends.” Her phone would vibrate: boyfriend was calling.
When on the phone, she’d grab my left hand. Her thumb would rub against the grooves in my palm. The only time she’d let go would be to push her blonde hair back. In my right hand, my phone would vibrate. Luke was calling me. Hand still in hers; I’d be on the phone for ten minutes or less. The conversation was roughly five minutes; the other five was Luke listening to me reacting to her poking my side or tickling my outer thigh.
He knew I was with her, but telling him I was in her car wasn’t usually mentioned. She never told her boyfriend that we were in the car together. Our hands would cradle above the center console. I’d face the windshield; she’d look at me. Sometimes I’d put my left foot on the tan dashboard. Stretching back, my shirt would raise slightly. I’d feel her eyes on me. Looking over, her cheeks, accented with dimples, grew red; her eyes would shift side to side. The moment we’d make eye contact, she’d giggle: the type of giggle where she’d put her hand up to her lips. Lowering her hand, she’d bite down over her lip ring.
For the rest of the night, we would sit in her car. There was always a potential place to go, with the key penetrating the ignition cylinder, and always a way to leave, with four unlocked doors surrounding us. But for the remainder of the night, we would sit in her turned off car in the middle of a commuter lot, until all of the other cars would leave. There was something about having our own place away from everyone else that made me feel safe around her. The car, never taking me anyplace new, ignited my first friendship in college.
Every night after dinner, we’d end up at her car. Holding hands inside the car was expected. She started to graze her acrylics up and down my forearm. It tickled: the kind of tickle that made me question if this was a good or bad touch. It made me uneasy. But after a while, I got more used to it.
“This is going to freak you out,” she said, with her fingers strutting up to my bicep – fingers like legs, acrylics like high heels, “the first time I saw you, I thought you were a princess.”
On Fridays after class, we would walk to the freshman parking lot behind my dorm. I would drive her to her car before leaving to go home. My car’s backseat stomached our backpacks. The smell inside was still new. With a quick twist of the ignition, a Chris Brown or Britney Spears song would play. I wouldn’t hold her hand while driving. She would always kiss me on the cheek before leaving my car. I always felt obligated to kiss her back.
One day she joined me when I offered to drive a couple friends to Wal-Mart. Idling outside of my friend’s dorm, we sat in silence as I switched the CD from Chris Brown to Britney Spears. She was sitting directly behind me. She tapped my right shoulder. I turned around to find her smiling.
“You look cute,” she said.
I took a pack of gum from my back pocket. “Want a piece?”
She nodded. When handing her a piece, she slipped one hand under my knuckles, burrowed the other into my palm to retrieve the piece. She giggled as her thumb massaged my calluses. This was the first time she held my hand outside of her own car.
I saw my friend leave her dorm. “Okay, let go. I have to drive.”
“No. Come on.” She whispered still holding on tight.
“Please, let me drive,” my tone lowered. “She’s here.”
She finally let go and sighed.
I watched my other friend sit down in the passenger seat and hoped she didn’t see the two of us holding hands. The thought of someone catching us scared me. It was something we did in her car – not mine. We always did it in a vacant parking lot, concealed within Mr. Green. I felt fine holding her hand in her car, but not mine.
“Friends hold hands,” I thought to myself as we idled at a red light. I could hear her and my other friend exchange a laugh. In my rearview mirror, I spotted her brown eyes, outlined in eyeliner. Crows feet pinched beside her eyes; she was probably smiling. I thought back to a conversation we had a week beforehand on the phone:
“Do you know what a girl crush is?” I asked.
“Yeah. Why, do you have one?” she laughed.
“I don’t know what it is, how could I have one?”
“Okay. Okay. Fine.” She paused. “It’s when a girl who is bi or a lesbian, likes another girl who has a boyfriend; so she knows they could never be together. So they’re like the best of friends.”
“Oh,” I laughed a little. “That’s cute.”
“You think someone has a girl crush on you, Dahv?”
“Nah. Maybe. Who knows?”
“I bet a lot of girls have crushes on you.” Her tone lowered, voice grew shy. “You’re really beautiful.”
“I doubt it.” I smiled. “Do you have any girl crushes?”
“Yeah. A couple.”
“Is one on me?” I joked.
We both were silent.
“I mean,” she continued. “Kind of. Not really though. It’s hard to say.”
“Dahv!” my friend yelled.
I slammed on my brakes.
“You missed the exit.”
I felt acrylics graze up my neck. Her acrylics.
“Friends do not hold hands,” I thought to myself as I scooched forward, away from her nails.
After class on a Thursday, I walked her back to her car. We didn’t sit inside, but we stood outside in the rain. I had my hair tied back in a ponytail, which I stuffed into my hood. She was wearing a hoodie too. With the hood over her head, a strand of hair stuck out. The hair grew thick with each raindrop and soon sagged down over her lip. She tucked the hair back into her hood before hugging me.
“Thanks for hugging me in the rain,” she whispered beside my ear before kissing me on the cheek.
Rain was something Luke and I shared. We considered the Guns & Roses song “November Rain” as our song. The thought of sharing rain with anyone else besides him, made my stomach twist. Friends are allowed to hug friends. Why she thanked me for hugging her in the rain, I did not understand. The kiss on my cheek made my teeth grind. How and why this farewell kiss became a requirement sickened me. Friends can hug, friends can kiss each other on the cheek occasionally; this was getting out of hand.
After that night, I tried to avoid her car at all costs. If holding hands was all we were going to do, I did not want to go to the car. In my eyes, we were just friends.
We were sitting on my bed, in my dorm room – backs against the wall. I had my shoes off; she kept hers on. My laptop’s mouth was open, playing a Gym Class Heroes song. Her acrylic nails slowly strutted up and down my arm. She stopped.
We looked at each other.
“Ya know,” she said, “you’re really great.”
I suddenly got goose bumps: bad goose bumps. These goose bumps brailed my bloodstream, not my forearms. A cold tingle brewed at the nape of my neck before dropping to my tailbone.
She rested her head on my shoulder. My heartbeat grew fast, pulsed throughout my upper chest like trapped bat wings, fluttering in a glass jar.
I stopped walking to her car around December, but I didn’t stop driving her to her car on Fridays. One of the last times I offered to drive her to the commuter lot, it was another rainy afternoon. My afternoon class didn’t get out until five. I ran down to the first floor. She sat cross-legged, wearing a black skirt and fishnets: an outfit I told her I liked two weeks beforehand. In her lap was an umbrella. I strutted towards the double doors.
“If you want a ride, hurry up.” I said, without making eye contact.
She jumped up from her seat and went to grab for my arm. I pulled it away, pushing open the door, before pocketing my hands.
“Dahv, wait,” she whined once we were outside. “I have an umbrella.”
I put on my hood as I swiveled towards her. “I don’t have time for the umbrella.” She stood in the center of the brick walkway in front of Robert Frost. The wings of her umbrella sagged. Her eyes shifted down and then back up at me. Lifting the umbrella over her head, leaving it unopened, she yelled, “Don’t you want to be romantic with me?”
Teachers and students walking by turned and looked at her. Then they looked at me. My heart pounded against my ribcage; the glass jar started to thin. Approaching her, I grabbed her arm.
“I’m in a hurry,” I stared into her eyes; our noses were almost touching. “If you want a ride, let’s go.”
The handholding and occasional cheek kissing left the car, and soon the parking lot, with me. Leaving the dining hall, I’d feel her arm belt my backside until it’d reach my jacket pocket. Students would watch me waltz out of her embrace through the dining hall windows. She would just laugh and switch sides, giving it another go.
It was the week before March break and I hadn’t been near her car for three months. She started to miss my escort service: the tight hugs accompanied with a joke and farewell kiss. I would leave her at the halfway mark between my dorm and the parking lot. A goodbye would be exchanged more than once as she casted her arms, hooking in multiple hugs: hugs that turned to a sway as we distributed our weight from one foot to the other. I would see Mr. Green in the distance and hope to God she couldn’t feel the glass within my chest break. One of the last times we hugged, she buried her nose into my neck; I could feel her lip ring rub against my collarbone. She tilted her head back, turning to the right; her cheek was inches from my lips. Her left eyebrow twitched, keeping her profile accessible. I let her go and wished her a good weekend.
A week later, after not talking to each other during the whole March break, I ended the friendship. Anytime I’d walk by her car after that, I would shudder and roll my eyes at the thought that I assumed she saw me as just a friend. Seeing a small green dot in my rearview mirror on my drives home, I would think of our conversations concealed in that car. As she drove closer, the green dot would mold into a front bumper and soon stretch out a windshield. Making out the NZ5 on her license plate, I’d recall her crying on the phone, begging that I wouldn’t leave her:
“No. Please. I need you.”
I always wondered how her car made her feel after our friendship ended. Did she hear my voice coming from the passenger side, like how I heard hers in mine from time to time? Did she remember the joke I made about her license plate and still laugh?
This past Winter break, she posted photos of Mr. Green on Facebook after getting into an accident. Mr. Green was completely totaled. The front bumper had been torn off. Both headlights had fallen out of place. The license plate, the NZ5, was no longer attached. Mr. Green was a vessel where our friendship started. Mr. Green was left in a junkyard to rust. Mr. Green was just a car that no longer idled in the back of my mind.