Rachel slung her book bag in the backseat of Uncle's truck and hopped in the passenger's seat.
"You aren't even going to ask if you can drive?" Uncle asked.
"Of course. How else will you get the experience?"
"One day, I'll have my own car and then I can chauffeur you around for once."
Uncle chuckled as he handed me the keys. I slid over to the steering wheel and cranked up the truck. Uncle sat patiently in the passenger's seat as I recalled the trick to maneuvering his old stick-shift pickup. We finally pulled out of the parking lot as the sun began to set in our small town.
I observed every detail around me as I wound through the streets. This time of day brought the most pedestrian traffic, mostly families whose parents got off work and wanted to go out to eat. My heart always broke a little seeing happy families together. My family could never be like that. My dad's an alcoholic--has been since I was little. My mom died when I was young too. I assumed that's what led my dad to drink. Other than Uncle, I have no other family. I'm not excelling in the friend department either.
"Rachel!" Uncle yelled as he grabbed the steering wheel.
He yanked it to the right and the truck swerved crazily onto the sidewalk. I slammed on brakes. The truck bounced and swayed as I steered it carefully back onto the road. Uncle and I jumped out of the truck and ran towards the object I nearly hit. A small crowd gathered around the child--and the boy who snatched him out of harm's way.
"It happened so fast! I couldn't react! I'm so sorry!" I blurted.
The mother of the child swooped him up in her arms and looked him up and down for injuries. He seemed to be fine and she nodded to me.
"It wasn't your fault. I took my eyes off of him for a second and he wandered off." The mother turned to her child's savior. "Thank you."
The boy nodded and smiled painfully. The crowd dissipated quickly and the three of us--Uncle, myself, and the boy--were left standing together. I stepped forward and apologized once again.
"I'm so sorry!...You're bleeding," I blurted as I reached up to his face.
His hand grabbed my wrist instantly. His grip was firm and threatening. Even the look in his eyes changed--they became dark and fierce, warning me not to touch him. The next moment everything changed. His eyes brightened as he looked at me. He smiled confidently. It's as if looking at someone completely different from the boy a moment ago. I couldn't help but stare quizzically as the boy released my wrist. As he did so, he caught my hand and shook it.
"I'm Jason. Nice to meet you. And you are?"
"...Um, Rachel. Nice to meet you?"
Through our rough and brief introduction, I couldn't help but notice Uncle staring at Jason intently. His expression seemed rather regretful and disappointed. Jason, however, ignored it and shook Uncle's hand. He made it seem like it was their first encounter but I got the feeling they've known each other a long time.
"So, what are you doing here?" I interjected.
"Almost getting run over. You?" Jason retorted teasingly.
I blushed fiercely.
"I-I mean here, in this town. I haven't seen you around before."
"Not exactly true. You were at the school earlier, right? I couldn't help but notice you sneaking glances at me down the hall."
If I could turn any redder, I'd explode. It was times like this I wished invisibility was a real thing. Jason watched my eyes dart everywhere but towards him and he laughed.
"Interesting? That's a strange way to describe a girl," I spat stubbornly. I hated it when people mocked me.
"Anyway, I guess I better go. It's getting late and I'm still learning how to navigate this place. See you around," Jason said as he turned to leave.
I was about to stop him--to offer him a ride--when Uncle laid a hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him but he didn't register me. He was still staring at Jason with that same regretful, disappointed look. It bothers me seeing Uncle this way. I wonder why he looks at Jason like that? More importantly, how does he know Jason? If I asked him, he'd just deny it. It makes me curious and I'll get to the bottom of it, with or without Uncle's permission.
Once Jason was out of view, Uncle resumed his normal composure and pretended like nothing had happened. He knew I noticed the change in him but, as long as I didn't pressure him about it, he wasn't planning on saying anything. This was one trait I hated about Uncle--he always tried to avoid confrontation. Of course, everyone hates confrontation, but I've seen anyone hate it as much as Uncle. Running away from it was a common thing with him. How long had he been this way? It wasn't like it mattered. Once Uncle set his mind on something, nothing was changing it. Trust me, I've tried before to get him to see that running doesn't do anything but prolong the inevitable. That was something I learned from my father--before he started drinking.
Uncle and I finished our dinner and he drove me home. No words were spoken between us but our minds were left racing with old thoughts and new realizations. It was the longest ride of my life. It all started because I met Jason.