Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter 1, part 2: Aftermath

Finally the car stopped moving. Alicia slumped in her seat, oddly still.

Warm liquid trickled down my face. I cautiously felt for the source and winced as my right hand found the gash from where my glasses had smashed into my brow bone. I unlatched the seatbelt, ignoring the ache in my left arm. I had to help Alicia.

I couldn’t see any obvious injuries. But that didn’t mean there weren’t any. What if her neck was broken? Had I paralyzed my best friend, or worse?

I gently touched her forehead. “Alicia?”

Her eyelids fluttered, and she straightened up in the seat.

“Thank God!” I said. My whole body started to shake.

“Giselle? Why didn’t you speed up?” Alicia’s voice was as shaky as I felt.

“What do you mean?”

“Everyone knows that when a car is heading for you like that you floor the gas to try to get away. Didn’t you see it coming?”

I hadn’t, at least not until too late. I’d been too busy with my pathetic fantasies. I’d endangered Alicia’s life, both our lives. How could I have been such an idiot, such a careless driver?

“I don’t know, I don’t know. Oh, Alicia, I’m so sorry.” I started to cry, as condemnation rained down on my soul.

I was an awful driver. I shouldn’t even be allowed on the roads. And I was a thief to boot. What a rotten miserable selfish daughter I was, sneaking around and taking what didn’t belong to me. Mom always prayed each morning before I left for school, that God would keep me safe from reckless drivers. And now I was the reckless driver. God hadn’t kept me safe this time. But why would He, when I had done everything wrong? And when Daddy came home …

I groaned. “How am I going to face my dad?”

Sirens signaled the arrival of an ambulance and California Highway Patrol car. Suddenly we were at the center of a whirl of activity. EMTs helped us from the car and assessed our injuries. I caught my first glimpse of the damage to the Miata. The left back side was smashed in, the rear axle bent. Where was the other car, the one that hit us?

As the EMTs worked on us, the CHiPper interviewed several witnesses about the crash. All too soon it was my turn. I was going to be found out.

The CHiPper introduced himself as Officer Green. “Miss Gottlieb is it? I don’t want you to worry or get nervous. Given that this is a hit and run, it’s pretty clearly not your fault. But I have to ask a few questions just as procedure.”

“I’ll do my best. It all happened so fast.”

“You look pretty shaken up. Tell you what, I’ll follow up with you at the hospital. We need to start clearing the road anyway.” Officer Green put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Just try to remember, these things happen. It’s not your fault.”

Not my fault? He might believe that, but I knew better. He didn’t know I had taken the car without permission, or that I slammed on the brakes just when I should have been speeding up.

At the ER, they quickly confirmed that Alicia and I had no major injuries and sent us to the lobby to wait for our parents to pick us up. Officer Green came and went. He phrased all the questions as statements with a “Isn’t that right?” at the end, so that all I had to do was say yes or no.

Mom walked in, looking regal with her long silver hair flowing in soft waves down around her shoulders. “I came straight here as soon as I got the call.” She hurried to me and enveloped me in a hug, then pushed me away and shook me by the shoulders. “How could you scare me like that?”

“I’m so sorry, Mom,” I said and fell into her embrace again, sobbing. “The car, it’s totaled. I don’t know how I’m going to face Dad.”

Mom stroked my hair back from my forehead like she always did when I was upset or sick. “It was just your grandfather’s old beater. I never liked you driving around in that heap anyway,” she soothed, tipping up my chin to kiss the wispies at my hairline.

“No, Mom. Opa’s car is still at home.” I pulled away and hung my head. “I was in the Miata.”

“The Miata? But how did—”

“I took it. I snuck in your room and found Daddy’s keys. I thought I’d have it back before anyone found out.”

“Giselle Gertrude Gottlieb! That’s not like you. You’ve always been my good girl. No, wait, that’s shaming, and I don’t do that anymore. Sorry. Can I try again?” She took a big breath and let it out slowly. “Thank you for being honest now, that took courage. But I’m not the one you wronged. You have to call your father and confess.”

“Can’t I wait until he gets home next week?” I whined. Up until a few months ago, it might have worked too. But ever since Mom started taking some positive parenting courses to help her deal better with Kirsten, she had a new backbone.

"Kind and firm, Millie. You can do this,” she said to herself. She handed me her cell phone, her green eyes glittering with determination. “You will make the call now. It will be better if he has time to process all this before seeing you.”

I shuddered wondering what would happen if he didn’t have time to process it. I’d seen Daddy angry before, but never at me. I knew he held grudges, gave the silent treatment. Would he ever forgive me? “I can’t. I don’t know what to say.”

“Very well. You can think of what you’d like to say on the way to drop off Alicia.” She turned to my friend, comfort in her smile and a hug in her voice. “Sweetie, your mom couldn’t get off her shift at the diner, and she asked me to get you home. She really wishes she could be here.” Her demeanor hardened again as she turned back to me. "And as soon as we get home, young lady, you’re going to call your father in Hawaii and tell him what you did.”