I pull my cheek free from the frosted glass, my eyes still sealed shut from sleep. I feel the car come to a stop, the rumbling of the engine almost lulling me back into my already forgotten dream.
I resist the urge to fall back asleep and force my eyes open a crack. The red lights on the backs of cars blink at me as I try to separate reality from my dreams. My eyes get more adjusted to the dark, and I try to take in more of my surroundings, my mind still clouded with exhaustion.
I pull the sleeves of my ratty sweatshirt down over my hands, suddenly noticing the cold. Heat is blasting through the tiny air vent set into the dashboard, but it’s not enough to warm the chill in the air.
Someone draws in a breath, and I whip my head to the left to find a boy sitting in the driver’s seat. I scan his face, shadows being cast over his features by the lights from the road. Dark hair, small nose, sharp jawline.
“Reed,” I didn’t mean to say his name out loud. He looks over at me for second, then his eyes glue themselves back to the road. A smile tugs at his chapped lips as the light turns green and the car starts to move again. I sit up a bit more and run my fingers through my tangled hair.
“How’d you sleep?” He says it in that tone you only use when it’s three in the morning and you’re still awake at a sleepover. It’s one of the most calming things I’ve ever heard, especially when it comes out of his mouth. I take a deep breath as I think about my response.
“Good, I think.” My voice scratches against the space between us. I clear my throat but say nothing more.
His eyes flick over to me, then back to the road. I wish I could see his face better.
I notice the wall up around him meant to separate us and keep me away, despite the smile still on his face. I desperately try to remember all the details from only a few hours ago.
We sit in silence for a few miles, an indie song whispering through the radio.
“Reed, about tonight–” I start, but he cuts me off with perfectly timed coughing. I press my face against the window in defeat, welcoming the cold onto my skin. I glance over at the dashboard. The clock reads 1:48am. I sigh and place my chin on my fist, my cheek still numb from the glass.
I stare out the window, but there’s nothing much to see. Dark silhouettes of the many pine trees lining the highway barely stand out from the blackness. I see Reed’s reflection in the glass and make a game out of shifting my focus between him and the shadows outside the car.
I’m surprised when Reed breaks the silence first.
“I know what you’re going to say, but I don’t want any of it right now,” I look over at him and open my mouth to speak, but he cuts me off with a glance in my direction. “It’s just that… I mean… What you said, at the party. Did you–” his voice breaks. “Did you mean it?”
I stare at his profile, framed by the artificial light coming in through the window. The smile that was on his face before is gone. If I wasn’t fully awake before, I am now, and I can clearly hear the poorly concealed hurt in his voice, and the tears collecting in his eyes are threatening to fall.
Against my will, I recall the party we had left only a few hours ago.
The smell of alcohol and smoke float through the stuffy rooms. The sweaty bodies lined up next to each other, covering every square inch of the floor. It’s loud and quiet at the same time, light and dark have blended together, and I see Reed next to me on a couch. I barely register what he’s saying, and words are being extracted from my mouth by hidden forces I have no control over.
I don’t remember what I said, or what he said, but I remember how I felt, and I have a pretty good idea of how he must have felt.
I feel my own tears making their way to the corners of my eyes.
But I decide to play it safe.
“No, Reed. God, no. Of course I didn’t mean it. I was just… I don’t know. I was upset and–”
“And what?” He asks. I can’t tell if he’s angry or just curious.
What I do next shocks both of us. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, or still hung up about what happened at the party, or just a bunch of things stacked on top of each other.
But I snap.
“Do you know what your problem is, Reed? You can’t take a joke. Why does everything have to be serious for you? Why can’t you lighten up a little?” My voice starts to rise, disturbing the once cold and peaceful air in the car. “What I said at the party? A total joke. You know I didn’t mean any of it so why are we still talking about it?”
I was cold before, but now the steaming hot blood is pounding in my ears and I’m buzzing with energy that shouldn’t be there.
Reed looks at me, longer this time, enough time for me to see his pale blue eyes glistening with tears.
I have known those eyes since kindergarten. I remember the first time I saw them, just like this, tears ready to stain his face. Except we were on a rickety old playground, and his tears were for something almost meaningless, I can’t even remember what anymore.
But I do remember sitting down next to those eyes. Just sitting, nothing said, nothing done. Just sitting.
We’ve been friends ever since.
Now I look at his eyes and I realize how much older they are, how much more they’ve seen of the world. But I also see how much more they have to experience in the years to come. How much more they have yet to learn.
And these tears now mean so much more than they did all those years ago. They hold such depth.
My heartbeat slows, the buzzing ceases. The little heater by my knee melts my heart and I see how much of an idiot I am.
I find his eyes once again. “Reed, I–”
And then, the oddest thing happens. I avert my eyes from his, unable to bear the weight of them, and look at the road, seeing as that is the only thing I can look at.
And I stare for moment. I don’t fully comprehend what’s happening until it does.
“Natalie!” Reed screams. His hand tugs the steering wheel, knuckles white.
The tires squeal against the asphalt.
The lights are blinding, but I see the tears paint invisible lines down his cheeks.
And the blue eyes connect with mine before everything stops.