Candy doesn’t remember how the argument began, or how it ended, or any of the middle. Yet, suddenly, she stares out the window, away from the horrible silence in the car. The glass is cool against her palm, but her cheeks are burning; from embarrassment or anger, she doesn’t know.
Addison’s knuckles are white on the steering wheel, his face grim and pale. With too-steady fingers, he pulls a cigarette from the pack and lights it, exhaling the smoke into the tense atmosphere.
“Maybe we should just give up,” he says. Candy’s eyes prickle uncomfortably, and her head picks up the dull throbbing of a bassline three blocks away.
“Stop the car.”
“I can’t let you out here.”
Addison rounds the corner, picking up speed.
“Stop the car!”
He slams on the brakes abruptly, tires skidding, squealing, leaving jagged marks on the pavement.
Candy gathers her messy bag, collects her sunglasses from the floor.
“Addison,” she fumes, making the word an expletive. Angrily, she climbs out and slams the door. “I always knew you were a jerk, but honestly!”
His lips are pressed tight: the cigarette dangles, bent, clenched between his fingers. Beyond words, Candy kicks his door as hard as she can in her rubber soled sneakers.
The car, idling, then roars to life, disappearing down the street. Candy mutters under her breath, swearing as she stomps up the road. A lifetime later, as she scuffs at the sidewalk, a car pulls by the curb. Torn between anger and hope, she looks up. Instead, Ashley shoots her a quizzical look from behind huge sunglasses.
“Candy?” she asks, the car’s engine growling impatiently. Candy sighs, pushes a few sweaty strands of hair away, and trudges to the passenger door. Ashley doesn’t move her heap of junk from the seat, so Candy piles it all on the floorboard.
“I thought you were with Addison.”
“Just drive, Ashley.”
Wisely, Ashley shuts her mouth and flips the radio on, letting the music seep into the sullen silence. The convertible rolls down the pavement nicely, and although it’s a warm day, Candy shivers in the breeze. Her thin sundress seemed warmer…and then she remembers that her cardigan is in Addison’s car.
As she stares outside, wind stinging her eyes, Ashley drives. They pass swaying trees, neighborhoods, bicyclists, children staring, old folks rocking on porches. Finally, she turns to Candy.
“Are you good now?”
Candy watches starlings rise from a field of corn. “I think so.”
Satisfied, Ashley turns into a gravelly ditch and heads back toward civilization.
“Are you paying me gas money?”
Ashley snorts, hair fanning in the car’s wake. “You’re buying me ice cream, then.”
Candy rests her cheek against the chilled window, nods, and watches the scenery fly past. The drive to town seems shorter than the journey away. In the time it takes, Candy convinces herself that life would be better without Addison. And in her mind, her fantasy world, it is.
Ashley rolls into a stoplight, twisting to adjust her lip gloss. Candy turns her head to look just as a wrecker pulls up. The car on the back is completely totaled: the windshield smashed, the hood crumpled like tinfoil.
What makes her heart lodge in her throat is the all-too-familiar keyscratch of her name in the side. A tiny dent refracts light on the driver’s side door, just the size of her sneaker toe. Ashley glances over, then makes and impressive double take.
“Isn’t’ that Addison’s car?”
Candy nods. Her lungs spasm, and then she begins to gasp for air. It doesn’t come fast enough. She feels like she’s drowning, but around her, the world is still moving, still keeping pace, still revolving around the sun. Candy fumbles at the door, yanking hysterically at the handle. When it finally gives, she lurches out into the street, then hits the sidewalk.
“Where are you going?” Ashley shouts. But Candy is already too far gone to hear her. She walks at first, jogs, then breaks into a run, dress streaming around her legs. It’s nowhere near fast enough; she needs wings.
Senselessly, Candy’s brain wanders, while her feet pound a steady rhythm, one-two, one-two. Her heart beats a jagged pattern: not him, not him, what if? what if? Soon, her steady breathing falters, turns into desperate heaves for air. But her legs keep pumping, pushing the sidewalk further and further away. Mercifully, the gates are open when Candy reaches them, and she continues her race up the driveway, breathing with every step, each frantic ga-lumph of her heart. And then the world grinds to a halt, shuddering on its axis.
Addison stands in the doorway, pristine and impeccable. Almost. A tiny cut stains his lip red: a drop of it bleeds into the collar of his stark white shirt. Vaguely, Candy is aware of the burning in her cramping, tensing muscles, in her abused lungs, but the frenzied pace of her heart slows. The pounding beat of what if? what if? changes to thank God, thank God.
Candy’s shaking legs propel her forward until she staggers into his arms, finally letting go in a quick burst of tears. Together, they rock back and forth, saying i love you without a word. And the world starts back up again, spinning on into the universe, faithful once more.