by Katie Rose
I start slow, creepin’ down the dirt road in first gear, my bare foot just kissin’ the gas pedal. I need my fix though, so I press down harder on the pedal. First, second, third, fourth; I’m slammin’ through gears, out on the main road now. I turn the radio up as loud as it goes and roll the windows down. The A/C in this old truck don’t work no more and I’m sweatin’ bullets, but I don’t care. I feel the thrum of the tires on the road through the floor boards. I’m doin’ 120 now and I feel alive again. Outside, cornfields are flyin’ by faster than a jumbo jet. My fingers are tinglin’. My nerves are electric. I’m livin’ this moment fast and free. I hear the chirp of the siren before I look into the rearview mirror to see a quick flash of red and blue. Shit.
I climb out of the cruiser, preparin’ for the usual “license and registration” bit, but then I see the familiar white-blond hair tucked up into a Nascar cap. Now, my heartbeat quickens, and I’m preparin’ to be the one gettin’ chewed out. I lean up against the truck and duck my head down through the open window.
“Do you know how fast you was goin’ ma’am?” I ask.
“Aw hell, Buzz, I thought you wasn’t gonna pull me over no more,” she says, pullin’ the cap off her head and down into her lap.
Her hair falls down around her shoulders and she’s lookin’ at me with her big green eyes. I just can’t keep it together any longer. I burst into laughter.
“It ain’t funny, Buzz. You damn near gave me a heart attack,” she snaps, but she’s smiling and I can tell she’s tryin’ hard not to laugh too.
“But honestly, Carolina, you could be more careful,” I say. I’m still tryin’ to control my laughter, and it comes out soundin’ less serious than I meant it.
“Now Buzz, ain’t nobody ever had any fun by bein’ careful.”
I know she’ll never slow down.
I’m relieved that its only Buzz. I can’t afford another speeding ticket. I reach my hand up and gently shove his head back out the window. His dark hair is soft between my fingers. I lean out the window, catch his sweet blue eyes with mine, and snatch a pen from his shirt pocket, wagglin’ it in front of his face with a grin. It’s a challenge. Before I can say a word, Buzz is racing back to his cruiser. He knows the game I wanna play. I start the truck back up, throw it into gear, and slam my foot down on the pedal. I tear off down the road, throwin’ dust onto Buzz’s windshield. In the rearview, I see him tryin’ his best to keep up in hot pursuit. Buzz is fast, but I’ve always been faster. Though there’s never been any hope of victory for him, Buzz has always tried to keep up with me. I look down at his pen I have stashed in my cup holder and remember the day I met Buzz.
I was just a little thing, no older than four. My mamma had taken me to the playground. My favorite thing in the whole world was goin’ down the slide. I liked the covered slide the best; it was like slidin’ through a tunnel. That particular day, I shot down the slide and crashed into a little dark-haired boy who musta been tryin’ to climb up through the tunnel. We fell onto a bed of woodchips in a tangled mess.
“What’s your problem, kid? Didn’t your mamma ever tell you slides ain’t for climbin’?” I yelled. I was furious. How dare this kid ruin my fun?
“Didn’t your mamma never tell ya to look before you go down?” the boy said.
He was right. My mamma did tell me to always look before I went down the slides, but I wasn’t gonna tell him that. I was fumin’. Suddenly, I noticed the boy was clutchin’ some kinda action figure in his hand. I snatched it from him, stuck my tongue out and took off runnin’. He took off after me. We ran around the playground for near twenty minutes before I took mercy on the kid and tossed his toy back to him. He leaned down, hands on his knees, and puffed out a quiet “thanks”. I decided then that I liked this kid.
I laugh at the memory, realizing that Buzz has been chasing me since the day we met.
I’m speeding down the road outta town thinkin’ that Carolina Barnett has gotta be the most frustrating, irresponsible, beautiful, free-spirited creature I have ever known. If we get caught, I may very well lose my job but there ain’t a snowballs chance in hell I’ll ever turn down a challenge from Lina. I press down on the gas pedal a little harder, closin’ the gap between the bed of Lina’s old truck and the front bumper of my cruiser. Just when I think I’ve caught up to her, she stomps on the gas and is roarin’ down the road far ahead of me. “Dammit, Lina,” I whisper to myself. I realize she was only goin’ easy on me until now, and suddenly, I’m rememberin’ a sunny summer’s day when Lina and I were in middle school.
It was a warm day in the middle of June. It was sunny, but I remember there had been a big thunderstorm the night before. I was sittin’ on my front porch pettin’ my Golden Retriever, Oggie. I heard a buzzin’ in the distance and didn’t think nothin’ of it till Lina came burstin’ out of the trees and down my driveway on a brand new dirt bike. She was grinnin’ ear to ear. Breathlessly, she told me she saved every penny she earned from mowin’ grass and walkin’ dogs and had used the money to buy the bike earlier that mornin’.
“Now we can ride together Buzz! Go get your bike!”
So I ran down to the barn as fast as my legs could carry me and met her back on the driveway with my bike. Minutes later we was racin’ through the woods side by side. Lina looked over and caught my eye, givin’ me a wicked grin. She took off down the path ahead of me, and I knew she wanted to race. I gassed it. After a few minutes, I started closin’ the gap between us. Suddenly, I heard her bike scream and she was yards ahead of me again. I knew she’d just been goin’ easy on me. I tried desperately to catch up to her. I was so focused on her that I didn’t see the huge mud puddle in front of me. I wiped out, landin’ in the puddle and thoroughly coatin’ myself with mud. I heard Lina turn around and moments later she was pullin’ me up off the ground laughin’ so hard, I could see tears runnin’ down her face.
I laugh at the memory, realizin’ that I’ve been tryin’ to catch up to Lina my whole life.
I look in the rearview and see Buzz’s cruiser getting smaller and smaller. I laugh to myself, knowin’ that he’s tryin’ his hardest to keep up with me. I take mercy on him and let my foot off the gas just a little bit. He gets closer, but I know he still ain’t drivin’ as fast as that cruiser can go. Buzz has always been the careful one. If it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t know how exhilaratin’ it is to be flying down the highway at a buck forty. I smile rememberin’ the first time Buzz was in the passenger seat while I was drivin’.
It was August. Buzz had just turned 16. I was out in the barn workin’ on my dad’s old pick-up, grease smeared all over my face. I heard someone roarin’ up my drive and slid myself out from under the truck. I wiped my hands and face with an old towel and stuffed it into my back pocket as I closed the barn door behind me. When I looked up, I saw Buzz leanin’ on the hood of an old black Camaro. He was smilin’ real wide and holdin’ up a small plastic card.
“I got my license!” he said.
“Buzz, that’s great! Where’d the Camaro come from?” I asked, eyeing up the newly polished beauty.
“You like it? I bought it from my cousin this mornin’. Thought we could take it for a spin together.”
“You drivin’ or am I?” I laughed.
Buzz answered by tossin’ me the keys. Moments later I was behind the wheel and tearin’ out of the driveway. Once we hit the open road, I increased my speed. At 90, Buzz reminded me there was such thing as a speed limit. At 100, he told me I should slow down. At 110, he fell silent and gripped his seat for dear life. At 120, he was so nervous he started laughin’. I hit the brakes and pulled off onto the side of the road where we both spent the next few minutes laughin’ until our insides hurt. As our laughter subsided, Buzz caught be starin’ at his smile. I almost told him how much I loved his smile. Instead, I put the car in gear and took to the road again.
I laugh at the memory, realizin’ that Buzz has been tryin’ and failin’ to slow me down for as long as I could remember.
I think I’m startin’ to catch up to Lina. I’m not sure if I’m drivin’ faster or if she’s slowin’ down, but I’m close enough now to see her eyes looking back at me in her rearview mirror. All of a sudden, Lina slams on her brakes, veers left, and roars off down a dirt road. I don’t hesitate. I throw my turn signal on and barrel down through the dirt after her. The road is rough, clearly made for trucks like Lina’s and not cars like mine. She’s slowed down just a little and is swervin’ to avoid potholes. I’m somehow managin’ to hit every single one. Her tires are kickin’ up so much dust ahead of me, I can barely see her taillights. I’m wonderin’ why I’d follow her down this old dirt road. The memory of our graduation day pops into my head.
It was the beginning of June. Lina and I were out on her front porch, and her folks were taking pictures of us in our bright blue caps and gowns. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I can’t wait till this is over”. I was still starin’ at the camera, but I didn’t need to look over to know she had rolled her eyes. I smiled a little wider. I had been thinkin’ the same thing.
Later that day, after all the fus and photography, Lina and I headed down to the old pond behind her house. We plopped down on the dock and swished our feet around in the water.
“Buzz, I gotta tell you somethin’,” she said, leanin’ her head on my shoulder. I stiffened.
“What is it, Lina?”
“I got a job workin’ at a garage a couple towns over in Janesville. I’m startin’ the end of this week.”
I didn’t know how to reply so we just sat there in silence for what seemed like hours. Eventually, Lina stood up.
“I have to go Buzz. It’ll be dinner time soon and you know how mamma gets if I ain’t on time.”
I just nodded my head in reply. I was upset. How could she just leave like that? She wasn’t just my best friend; she was my only friend.
I didn’t talk to Lina for a whole two days, the longest we’d ever gone without communication. On the third day, Lina came to say goodbye.
“Please don’t hate me Buzz. I gotta go.”
“I could never hate you Lina. I’m just gonna miss you is all,” I replied while kicking a stone around in the dirt. I couldn’t look her in the eye.
“Promise you’ll come visit. I’ll call you every day. I would just die if we weren’t friends any more Buzz.”
I promised to visit often, but I was still upset. At the end of that week, Lina was gone. A week after that, I turned in my application for the police academy. It was no coincidence I had chosen the one in Janesville. In the weeks that followed, I could hardly sleep. I was so nervous to hear back from the academy. When the letter arrived in the mail and I opened it to see the words of congratulations, I think the whole county could hear my shouts of excitement. I called Lina right away to tell her the good news.
I found a cheap little apartment a few blocks from the academy. Every day I would wake up early to study. I worked harder than I ever had because I had a vision for my future. I pictured comin’ home from work, kickin’ my boots off at the door, and wrappin’ Lina in a big bear hug every night. I worked through the program real quick and graduated earlier than I had originally planned. Then, I put my application in with the Janesville Police Department.
I swear, all my hard work paid off when I saw the look of utter surprise and amazement on Lina’s face as I pulled up in front of Billy’s garage in my new cruiser.
“Buzz, don’t tell me you stole that!” Lina said.
“I didn’t steal it, Lina. This here is my very own police cruiser,” I replied.
I laugh at the memory, realizin’ I would follow Lina anywhere.
This dirt road was a little rougher than I thought it would be, and I’m worrin’ about how Buzz is handlin’ the potholes behind me. I glance up into the rearview, searching for Buzz’s face behind me, but I can’t see anything through the thick cloud of dust I’ve kicked up. I know this road connects back up with the main one soon, so I press down on the gas a little harder, hopin’ that Buzz is doing the same behind me. A few yards ahead, through the trees, I see the stop sign indicatin’ the entry to the main road. I hit the brakes, look both ways and then make a right turn on the main road heading back toward town. I know our favorite diner is just a few miles down the road, and since Buzz is never gonna to win this race, I decide that I will treat him to lunch as a consolation prize. I look back to make sure that he’s still behind me, and I see him flash me a thumbs up. I smile and turn back around in my seat. And then I see it, a car pullin’ out onto the road without a single glance in my direction. I slam on the breaks. I hear the screechin’ of my tires on the road. I feel the truck do a complete 180 before comin’ to a halt on the side of the road, facin’ the opposite direction I had just been goin’. Shit, that was close. I breathe a sigh of relief that’s cut short by the sound of a loud crash. I remember Buzz behind me flashin’ a thumbs up and my breath is caught in my throat. I leap from the truck and make a mad dash for Buzz’s mangled cruiser.
We’re out on the main road again, headin’ back toward town. Our favorite diner is just a few miles ahead and I decide I’ll treat Lina to a victory lunch. I know how much she loves the chocolate milkshakes there. I see Lina turn around. She catches my eyes and flashes a smile. She must have thought she lost me back on that dirt road. I give her a thumbs up to show her that I’m okay. I see her slowin’ down a little bit. She must have the same idea about lunch that I do. I blink and all of a sudden, I see Lina’s truck spinnin’ across the black top. My breath catches in my throat. I see the car she had swerved to miss, and I slam on my brakes, but not fast enough. I see the night I almost told Lina that I love her flash before my eyes.
I was sittin’ in the passenger seat of Lina’s old pickup. We’d spent the whole day together, hiking through new and unfamiliar forest trails. I was starvin’ and, we had been drivin’ around for half an hour tryin’ to figure out where to eat dinner.
“I’m so hungry,” Lina complained.
“Then just stop somewhere,” I said.
“But we don’t know if any of these places are gonna be good,” she replied.
I fished around in my pants pocket and pulled out my phone. I searched “places to eat in Janesville.” A moment later, a list of restaurants appeared on the display. I picked the first one on the list and spent the next fifteen minutes readin’ the directions off to Lina.
When we arrived at the diner, Lina ordered a chocolate shake and a cheeseburger. I had the same. As soon as we took the first bite of our food, we were in agreement that this diner was our new favorite place. Lina looked up at me with a mouthful of cheeseburger.
“I’m really glad you’re here Buzz,” she mumbled through a bite of burger.
“Glad to be here Lina. This burger is great,” I said.
“No Buzz, I mean I’m glad you’re here; in Janesville. I’m glad you got that job,” she said.
“You didn’t really think I’d just let you run off and have all this fun without me, did ya?” I said with a smile.
Lina gave her head a quick shake and grinned, her straw poised on the edge of her lip to finish off her milkshake.
Watchin’ Lina slurp down her chocolate shake that night, I almost told her that I loved her, but I was too scared of what she’d say back.
I’m in church. I never come to church, but today is different. My body is here, but my head feels like it’s somewhere else entirely. I’m sweatin’ in this scratchy cotton dress. I can’t focus on a single word the preacher’s sayin’. I fidget with the pamphlet in my hands, not even noticin’ that I’ve cut my finger on the edges and I’m bleedin’ all over the paper. I have twenty more minutes to go. I can do this. But then the choir starts singin’ “Amazing Grace.” I look up at Mrs. Aldwin in the front pew. She’s wailin’ and there’s tears just pouring down her cheeks, and I can’t take it. I spring up from the pew and run for the door as fast as a I can. I barrel towards the old magnolia tree with the stone under it that reads: Brandon “Buzz” Aldwin, a great officer, but an even greater friend.” I drop to my knees and rest my forehead on the cold stone slab.
“I love you, Buzz,” I whisper.
I cry harder than I ever have, because for the first time in my whole life, I’m all alone. Buzz ain’t on my tail no more.
About the Author:
A native of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Katie Rosa is currently earning her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy at Saint Francis University.