“Y’know, I’m sure glad my old man taught me how to hotwire a car. He always said it’d come in handy someday. I guess he was right!” I grinned, swirling the straw of my Coke around and taking a sip.
Jim frowned without looking away from the night road ahead of us. “I guess.”
“Oh, come on, Jim, where would we be without our fine set of wheels right here?”
“I did suggest we borrow Miss Watson’s little Honda,” the older boy said. “She only ever uses the van. You didn’t need to go and steal this one.”
“Steal, borrow, same thing.” I finished the Coke with a long slurp and set it in the cupholder. “Plus, your foster mom would have totally noticed it was gone, then she would have known it was you.”
“She’d a realized I ran off anyway. I still don’t see the point.”
I sighed and said, “Who’s the brains in this car, Jim?”
“That’d be you, Huck,” he said, groaning.
“Exactly. You just drive. I know what I’m doing.”
He rolled his eyes and slowed down to make a turn. “Yes, sir, Your Majesty – hey!” he exclaimed as I kicked my feet up on the dashboard. He leaned over and shoved them off. “Get your feet down, you’re gonna get us in a-”
Bright lights suddenly flared before us. A little delivery truck had come up on us from around the corner and we had drifted into its lane.
“JIM!” I shouted, wildly grabbing the wheel and yanking it. The truck laid on the horn. Our wheels locked up and we just barely swerved out of the way. With a scream of rubber, we lost control, car skidding off our side of the road and thumping into the low ditch.
I must have blacked out for a second because next thing I knew, my face was mashed into the inflated airbag. There was a smear of blood on it. I quickly ran my tongue over my teeth – none knocked out.
“Huck, are you okay?” Jim’s hand felt for my head. “Huck?”
“Yeah,” I said, slowly sitting back up. I felt a strange, cold sensation sliding from my nose, and I realized that a nosebleed was where the blood had come from.
“Jesus Christ, Huck, you’re bleeding!” Jim’s brown eyes went wide as dinner plates.
“It’s just my nose,” I said, pinching the bridge to stop the flow.
“You sure?” he asked. “You didn’t lose a tooth or break anything? Did you hit your head?”
I glanced at him. The intensity of his concern surprised me. “N-no, I’m good.” I pushed open my door and went to get out. “Come on. Let’s see how bad the car is.”
Jim nodded and followed me out.
The damage wasn’t as severe as I feared. The front bumper was dented and it was making a steaming noise, but it looked whole at a glance.
“Does it turn on?” I asked. Jim immediately clambered back in to check. He turned the key.
The engine revved like an old broken record for a bit, then coughed and died. Jim poked his head out the window. “Nope.”
I muttered a swear and prodded the car with my sneaker.
“What was that?”
“I said dang, Jim.”
“Uh-huh. Sure.” The older boy came around, putting his hands on his hips and surveying the crash. “Well, I don’t know what’s wrong with it. If your dad had taught you practical stuff instead of stuff that’d land you behind bars…” He shook his head. “ We’re going to have to get someone to fix it.”
I snorted. “Good idea, Jim. Who are we gonna ask, the truck driver? It’s the middle of the night! We’re the only ones dumb enough to drive around this late.”
“Alright, well, you said you were the brains. Got a better idea?” he crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.
I sat down on the slope of the ditch and made a very thoughtful pose. We really are in trouble, I concluded after a while. We’re stuck on the side of the road in the middle of the night, with no phones, miles from civilization –
Wait, I realized, we aren’t miles away. We passed through a little town just recently. It can’t be too far away, someone would definitely be able to walk back. I bet that’s where that truck was going.
My head was down, and I opened my eyes, looking right at my feet. The truck. Suddenly, a worm of guilt burrowed through my gut. I had been goofing off and distracting Jim. It was my fault we crashed. I caused this.
I hesitated for a while, thinking it over, and then resolved to apologize to him. I opened my mouth, but he wasn’t looking my way at that moment and I quickly lost my nerve.
Instead, I stood and said, “Remember that town we passed? It can’t be far on foot. One of us can walk back there and find some help, and the other can stay here and keep a lookout for any other cars.”
“Okay. You stay here, it’s safer.” The senior turned to set off, but I grabbed the sleeve of his T-shirt.
“Nah, Jim, I’ll go. I’m better with explaining stuff.” A nasty thought sprung up. “And… and you know… we’re in Alabama, now. This is Deep South territory.”
His eyebrows lowered with understanding.
“We don’t know if people around here would wanna help…” I bit my lip, catching any words I could have said in my throat. “… you.”
Jim looked down. “You might be right,” he said reluctantly.
“I’m sorry, Jim, but I just don’t know what these southern people are like around… you. That’s just how life is these days. I don’t wanna see you getting mugged or anything.” I shoved my hands in my pockets. “You understand, don’tcha?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “You go and run, then, Huck. Stay off to the side. Don’t talk to anyone shady. And don’t get distracted and forget me here.” The corners of his mouth went up a little at that one.
“I won’t, don’t worry,” I grinned, glad we’d gotten past it. “I’ll be back soon.” I set off down the road.