Heat of the Moment
"You gotta roll with it
You gotta take your time
You gotta say what you say
Don’t let any fucker get in your way
’Cause it’s all too much for me to take!”
Calvin and I are jamming to his Oasis CD, barreling down the long dark two-lane road home after the concert. We belt the lyrics, still flying high.
Until I notice the time on the dashboard clock.
I should be getting off work right now. Mom should be picking me up from the restaurant. And I’m not gonna be there when she shows up.
My stomach drops. Oh, my God.
“Cal?” I ask, my voice tight with panic. “How far are we from Beaufort?”
“Mmm...” he squints out the window, taps his fingers on the steering wheel. “About twenty miles still. See, there’s the sign for Starville. We just past Hudson.”
I can’t help it: I groan.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“It’s ten-thirty. Mom will be picking me up from work right now. And if I’m not there...” I put my hands to my face. My cheeks are hot under my cool palms. I close my eyes and drop my head to my lap. “I’m dead for sure.”
“Hey, hey, we’re gonna get there. Don’t worry, don’t worry, I got this.” He presses down harder on the gas. The engine’s growl grows louder as the speedometer ticks to seventy, then eighty miles per hour. The world is whipping past us, disappearing as quickly as it appears.
I white-knuckle the handle above my door. My leg won’t stop bouncing.
“Are you buckled?” he asks.
“Just making sure.” His leg continues to extend, his knee straightens. The speedometer reads ninety.
“Cal, stop, you’re gonna get pulled over,” I say.
“No cops are gonna be patrolling these roads at eleven o’clock on a weeknight,” he states, never breaking concentration. He stares down the road, both hands on the wheel, jaw set.
Sweat pools under my arms. I unzip my jacket, trying to cool down. My body is acting the way it does when I drink a double-shot of espresso. My eyes flicker to the clock.
“Hurry,” I whisper, more to myself than to him.
“Where d’you want me to take you?” he commands. His voice grows authoritative with the mounting stress.
“Home,” I say. “But drop me off on the street behind my house. I’ll cut through my neighbor’s backyard and hop the fence into mine.”
“How are you going to get in without your parents seeing you?”
“Uh...gimme a boost?”
We race on.
We hit Beufort city limits by eleven and Calvin jams on the breaks, screeching to thirty-five, the speed limit throughout our town.
He turns down the street parallel to mine whose houses butt the houses on my street. My heart is pounding. Adrenaline is pulsing through my veins.
Calvin pulls onto the side of the road, puts it in park, and we dive out of the car. We around my neighbor’s house to their backyard and climb the fence into mine. When I reach the spot below my window, I motion Calvin to get down. He kneels with one knee up, puts his hands palms-up on that knee, and I step up on it. He stands, lifting me up, and I catch the window ledge. He slides his shoulders under my feet and acts as a sturdy base, standing tall like this is a cheerleading routine. I slide the window open - there is no screen - and pull myself inside, tumbling face-first onto my bed.
When I push myself up, I come face-to-face with Mom and Zennen, standing in the open doorway, arms crossed and glowering.
My heart sinks. I’m too late.
“That’s it. Call Skinny,” Zennen says, his voice thick. “You’re quitting your job.”
“And Calvin’s not driving you to school anymore, either,” Mom adds.
“No more music. No more guitar.” Zennen picks up the trash bin by my door and sweeps my stacks of cassette tapes and CDs off the shelf into it.
“NO!” a cry escapes my lips.
“You need...to learn some...discipline!” he growls through gritted teeth. He snatches my guitar from its wall rack and, roaring, swings it like a baseball bat, smashing it against the wall. It cracks in half, the strings twanging on impact.
“Zennen, please, that’s enough - ”
“SHUT UP!” He interrupts my mom.
“STOP!” I shout. “STOP IT!” I’m sobbing hard now.
Mom just stands in the doorway, one hand to her chest, staring at the floor. Why doesn’t she do anything?! Why doesn’t she stand up to him?!
The Twins appear in the doorway in their pajamas, their hair mussed. She shoos them away.
Zennen rips my posters off the walls and ceiling, shredding them and crumpling them and stomping on them and leaving them on the floor. He reaches for my electric guitar.
“NO!” I scream, latching onto his arm. He’s not breaking that one, too. I won’t let him.
His face beet red, he turns his blazing eyes to me.
“LET. GO.” He huffs like a fire-breathing dragon.
“NEVER!” My throat is sore and raw. My hands tighten. I dig my nails into his hairy, sallow skin.
He lifts the arm I’m clutching, clenches his fist, and swings it like a mallet back at me. I have no time to react. His fist collides with the side of my head and knocks me into the wall. The double impacts rattle my brain. Pain scorches my skull. I drop to my bed with an “Oof!” The fringes of my vision are black. I watch helplessly as he takes my electric guitar with him as he exits the room.
“Tomorrow, this is going in the trash-compactor,” he gloats. Mom rushes to my side with some ice in a washcloth.
“How could you?!” she cries as I hold the pack to my wound.
“Mary Beth, your child is a delinquent. If you’d let me beat it out of her sooner, we wouldn’t be having these problems,” he says harshly. “As for you, Stephanie, you’ve lost everything. Go to school. Come straight home. No television. No phone. Nothing.”
I’m sniffling, snot leaking down my upper lip. I lift my hand to wipe it. I pull my hand away. It’s actually not snot. It’s blood. My head throbs. I just can’t. I just can’t.
Mom is crying, too, only very quietly. She keeps rubbing my back, stroking my hair and saying, “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
But it’s not. Because I have nothing to live for anymore. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to keep me going. My life is completely and utterly over.
Eventually my mother leaves me. She closes the closet door, and I’m left to lie in misery on my twin-size bed, poster shreds and guitar wood chips littering the floor. I cry quietly, all alone, in the eclipsing silence of the house.
I reach under my pillow, and my hand clasps the palm-sized, round electronic device. My CD player. The only thing he didn’t destroy. In the darkness, I pop open the lid. A mixed CD that Calvin made me rests safely inside. I’m too scared to put my headphones on and press ‘play’.
Instead, I tuck the player behind my bed and let the silence rock me to sleep.