Nothing could be better than this, I thought to myself, lying in bed with Topher asleep beside me. Hit slept like a cat, sprawled out, hits feet and hands twitching all night.
But I slept like a dream.
We were wearing the same pair of burgundy velour pajamas; hit had on the bottoms; I wore the top and a pair of panties that, two weeks ago, I'd have considered provocative. Compared to what Gina and Mary Jane wore—those being the only girls I'd seen in their underwear lately—they were granny panties.
"How are you kids doing," Mary Jane barged in without knocking carrying a pair of stacked trays.
She had her plush bathrobe drawn tightly around her body and was wearing naked mole-rat slippers.
"What's this," I asked, sitting up against the head-board.
"Breakfast." She seemed way too chipper to let live.
"Huh," Topher said, coming to life. He sat up. "Mary Jane, don't you ever knock?"
"Sorry, big brister; it's not like you two could be bumping uglies in here."
"My sister," Topher apologized on her behalf. "Miss Tact, 1976. Do they have a word for privacy on your planet?"
"You two are just so sweet," she unstacked our trays and put one in front of each of us. "Just like a couple of Precious Moments. I should run and get the Polaroid."
"If you do, I'll break it," Topher warned. "Come on Dani, we should make a clean break, before she has incriminating evidence."
We got up and went into the front room.
"Do you have a television? I need to see the school closings."
"Everything is closed, Dani."
"I have to test drive a car today, and I have my driving test at 2:00."
"I don't know," hit said doubtfully, "maybe by noon we can get out. But I'm sure Mary Jane would loan you her car to take the test in."
"Yes," she said, coming into the living room with her own tray. "Now what did I just agree to?"
"Loaning Dani your car. I could take her for her test at 2:00."
"That's fine, I suppose. It's not like I'll have school to day."
"What are you studying," I asked her.
"Chemistry. I'm gonna be a vet."
"Cool. Isn't this cozy?" We were all squished up on the couch together, with Topher in the middle.
We ate and listened to the news on the radio. Topher was right, everything was closed. I listened for a while, not sure what to do. I should call my mother; she'd want to know I was alright.
"Are you ready Miss," the police officer asked, buckling in beside me.
I had swallowed my pride and had marked [F] on the application; It hurt me to my very soul.
But I'd aced the written test. I had plenty of knowledge, but I wondered if I had the experience to drive well enough to pass in this weather.
But I was in my car. Not exactly mine, yet, but it would be after I passed my test.
It was a 1974 orange Volkswagen Rabbit. When I saw it in the lot, with a price of $1,500, I knew it would be mine. I eventually talked the salesman down to $1,200 with half down and $150 a month for the next four months.
I'd left him with a $300 deposit to let me take the test in it.
The good thing about it was that it was front-wheel drive. They handle better on ice, or so I'm told. Not that I'd ever driven on ice before.
I knew the theory of course, but that wasn't the same thing.
"You may begin any time," Officer Fallon told me. He had his clip board at the ready and a red pen.
I fastened my belt, checked the mirrors and double-checked my blind spots.
"Pull into the traffic," he said, and I slowly eased onto the road.
The secret to avoid sliding, according to my dad, was to never start in the first place. He says it's easier to keep sliding once you start than to stop. But if you do go into skid, turn into it.
"Turn left at the light."
I stopped and signaled, making sure not to turn my wheels prematurely. A kid in our Driver's Ed class failed because of that.
So far so good.
We went on for a while, the officer saying nothing, just watching me drive and occasionally taking notes.
I stopped at the red light and then proceeded before it could change.
Right on red after stop. You're doing fine, Dani.
"Do you feel comfortable parallel parking?"
"Sure." I looked for a spot. "How about there, between the white Ford and the pickup truck."
"That is fine."
I pulled up parallel to the Ford and turned my wheel. I backed up and forward again, then back. It was perfect.
"Good. Now get back into the traffic, and turn left at the end of the block. Get on the highway."
I was a little nervous, but I'd be fine. I heard Tammy and Topher cheering me on in the back of my mind.
We got onto the highway and it was a mess. There were two pairs of ruts in three lanes of traffic.
There was a panel truck in the slow lane, tooling along at forty miles an hour.
I got stuck behind him, not wanting to pass in this muck. He kept throwing brown slush on my windshield.
Maybe a little noise would help.
"Can I turn on the radio?"
"Be my guest," he said, but wrote something down.
I turned it on and dialed in NPR. He added another note.
"Pass the truck."
"Are you sure," I asked him, another mark. There were no cross-ruts to change lanes in.
I sped up and lurched out of the ruts. I was trying to be careful, not go faster than I could handle, but the truck saw me and sped up too.
I pushed it a little faster.
"...suspect is believed to be involved in the October assassination of Sinn Féin Vice-President Máire Drumm," a gentle, almost bland female voice on the radio said. "She was assassinated while recovering in Belfast's Mater Hospital.
"And, in an act of defiance against the GOP, Mike Padden, Republican Elector from the State of Washington, surprised the Nation and cast his vote against Incumbent President Ford."
"Woo-hoo," I said and punched the air. That meant Ford only had five votes from Washington. Dr. Spock was the winner!
My hand was still off the steering wheel when I hit the second set of ruts. It jerked out of my other hand.
I got it back under control by the time I hit the other side of the furrow. We were on a bridge, and I was afraid we'd tumble over the railing into the traffic below.
I turned hard right and let off the accelerator.
The truck was still beside me but the driver hit his brakes when he saw I was out of control.
I had overcorrected and my rear quarter-panel edged toward the Jersey Barrier. At the last minute I had the presence of mind to hit the gas and I straightened out.
Had I overcorrected again? I wouldn't know until I hit the other side of the ruts. In a rear-wheel drive, I'd have surely fishtailed, but I didn't know what would happen in this car.
The front brakes caught just for a moment—I swear I didn't tap the pedal—and we went into a skid.
We did two 360's and started swerving into the railing just as we cleared the bridge. I turned hard into it and used the emergency brake to ease us to a stop.
We came to rest not eight inches from the concrete but still in the right-hand lane. A blue van switched to another lane and passed us.
The cop's eyes looked like headlamps, and he was whiter than winter butter. Sweat stained his pits, and I can't say for sure he didn't wet himself. He had a death-grip on his clipboard.
I saw another car looming in my rear-view mirror and pulled on to the shoulder.
He tried to write but couldn't, so bad were his hands shaking.
"Are you okay," I asked him, more than a little concerned. Was he having a stroke?
"Station," he managed to say after several tries. "Go...station. Wet."
I drove him back in silence, furious at myself, but also at him for insisting I pull that stupid stunt. I was gonna complain to the highest authorities when they failed me.