Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter 1, part 1: Joy Ride

The black convertible sped down the freeway toward Newport Beach. Exhilaration and fear mixed in my stomach as I gripped the steering wheel. Would I get away with this?

“Wow! I can’t believe your dad let you borrow his new Miata!” my best friend Alicia said from the passenger seat next to me. Her silky straight black hair whipped around her face. “I feel like we’re on a joyride!”

“Yeah, well … he did!” I lied.

Though I’d begged, Daddy wouldn’t even let me take the car for a test drive around the block, let alone a drive to the beach on a school night. But he was out of town at a sales recognition event and it was Mom’s Bible study night.

The keys to the Miata had been just laying there on Daddy's dresser. You’d think if he didn’t want anyone driving it, he’d have put them away somewhere safer, right? I couldn't resist.  I figured we’d be back before Mom got home, and neither of my parents would be the wiser. My sister, Kirsten, just one year my junior, was sworn to secrecy, and I had made sure nine-year-old Ruth had no idea what was going on.

“You’re so lucky, Giselle,” Alicia said. “You have like, the perfect family. I think you’re the only one in the whole school whose parents are still together.”

“I guess.”

No family was perfect, I knew. Mine definitely wasn’t, even if from the outside we met all the standards of a happy Christian family. Daddy was hardly home, and he pinched every penny when he was. I didn’t see why, he was getting his Top Sales award this week in Hawaii and we seemed to have plenty of money for things HE wanted, like this Miata or our new house in the hills above Citrus Valley.

Then there was Mom, always nagging me about everything. If I got a B, she’d wonder why it wasn’t an A. If I wore my hair up, she’d say how much prettier it was down. Kirsten and Mom bickered constantly, and Ruth was off in her own little dreamland half the time. And me … well, I had a few private habits I wasn’t too proud of. The Gottlieb family was far from perfect, but that wasn’t the kind of thing I talked about with anyone. Not even my best friend.

“What do you want to do when we get there? How about a walk around the FunZone?” Alicia asked.

“Don’t know if we have time,” I said. It was already 7:45. The drive down had taken longer than I had planned. Mom usually got home from Bible study at 9:00, but I wanted to be back home by 8:30 just to be on the safe side.

“What do you mean, no time? I thought your curfew wasn’t ‘til ten on school nights?”

Alicia didn’t have a curfew. Her mom worked two jobs to keep the two of them in an apartment in the Citrus Valley school district. It seemed like Alicia could do whatever she wanted.

I scrambled to think something plausible to tell Alicia. Studying to do? No, we both had the same classes and she’d know there wasn’t much homework assigned today. What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive, Mom’s voice rang in my head.

“Um, actually, my dad doesn’t really know about me using the car.”

“So this really is a joyride! Look at you Giselle, taking a walk on the wild side for once.”

We passed a yellow “End Freeway” sign, and I took my foot off the gas and let the car coast in anticipation of the traffic signal ahead. I deeply inhaled, enjoying the unmistakable salty tang in the air. Soon we’d be at the beach.

The light turned green before we reached the signal to cross Pacific Coast Highway. Though there were a few cars waiting for the light, my lane was clear. I pushed the pedal to the floor and shifted into gear, sailing into the intersection. I’d imagined the Miata would be a blast to drive, but this beat all expectations. I felt like a beautiful babe from an action movie, the one the hero falls in love with. If only the boys at school could see me now.

Who was I kidding? They’d see frizzy brown hair made wilder by the whipping wind, and a body that was nothing to write home about. I’d never even had a boy notice me, let alone had a boyfriend. They all just thought of me as a pal. Why couldn’t I have inherited Mom’s big bust or Dad’s fair Austrian good looks?

Alicia grabbed my arm. “Giselle, look out!”

A car on Pacific Coast Highway was running the red light. By instinct, I slammed on the brakes, but we were going too fast. Slowing down put us directly in the car’s oncoming path instead of keeping us out as I thought it would.

Tires screeched. Brakes squealed. Airbags deployed on impact, and the Miata spun sharply left. Alicia’s screams fell eerily silent. Would we ever stop spinning? White powder from the airbags stung my eyes.