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Red Means Stop This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     I was following a friend home one afternoon soon after I got my license. We were travelling on a curvy country back road with a friend next to me and my sister in back. They were giggling while my fellow driver and I teased each other. I would honk my horn, which sounded like a phlegm-choked mallard, and he would slow in front of me until I almost found myself picking taillight from my teeth. Then he would flash his four ways and speed up, weaving from side to side. I would flash my lights and tail him. Then my thoughts wandered as my gaze melted into the scarlet fire of the brake lights ....

***

Erica and I were cousins. We should have been twins, but we lost that hand. We were born one month apart - to the day - and were best friends from the cradle. We shared everything, from baby bottles to Barbie dolls. We would get the same gifts at Christmas, though in different colors, of course (always the wrong ones). We constantly plotted ambush sleepovers and impromptu movie trips, much to the dismay of our elders. On the softball field, we were the twin terrors. I was never afraid, never alone, knowing that I had Erica to back me up.

Then one night it rained. My dad had just left with a tractor-trailer load of plastic forks headed for Richmond, Virginia. It had just gotten dark, and the rain was coursing down the kitchen window as I waved good-bye. I went to the basement to watch some TV with my sisters while Mom cleaned up from dinner. When Mom answered the phone, I heard her mumbling, “Yes, yes, oh, no ... no ... oh my goodness.” Her footsteps pounded around the corner and I heard a door slam. I recognized her anxious tone and did my best to keep my sisters occupied. I knew not to ask what was going on; she would tell me when she was ready.

A couple of hours later, I heard the doorbell ring, and ran to open it. It was Daddy. “What are you doing here?” I asked. He wouldn’t answer; my mom was crying and he hugged her. Then, he led us all into the living room and told us the news.

“Erica was in an accident, and she didn’t make it.” The next few hours faded into a blur.

She was lost in a car accident. She was riding with her sister and her boyfriend to the country store to get a soda. He lost control of the car on the rain-drenched road, and ran into an oak tree. She was killed instantly. Eleven precious years were shattered, glistening with a split-second scream of rubber and a flash of red.

***

I slammed on the brakes. Gasping, I smeared the tears across my face, my friend staring at my silhouette. Wide-eyed, I watched the trembling crimson taillights fade into the distance.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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