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A Little Longer

“Gimmie the keys, Butthead!” Sixteen year old Kimi laughed, running down the old wooden steps of the porch chasing after her stepdad, Dennis. He slid into the passenger side of their old washed-out, banged-up Toyota Camry and tossed the keys out the window in her general direction. Kimi, who had just reached the small car, watched them fall into the dusty gravel. “Now pick them up, Dennis Brent!” She stood there with her hands on her hips, trying to contain the smile on her face as Dennis laughed. Continuing to fake annoyance, she grabbed up the keys and ran to the driver’s side, waiting impatiently for her stepdad to open her door. The beat-up door lacked an outside handle, so it could only be opened from the inside. Finally, after getting his fill of Kimi standing there fuming, he opened the door hitting her in the face.

“Oh! Sorry, Girlie,” he chuckled as Kimi slid into the stained seat and slammed the door shut. She shrugged out of her tattered red jacket before putting the keys in the ignition. It was a pleasant summer evening but Kimi never traveled without her beloved jacket. The monster car roared to life and suddenly jerked forward. “Try not to kill us,” he teased. Dennis waited as she finished her string of pretend insults to turn the radio on. Kimi smiled and twisted the volume knob until the music was blaring. One of her favorite songs, “My Kinda Crazy” by Brantley Gilbert, was playing; soon Dennis would realize that as long as Kimi was at the wheel, the radio would be glued to 103.7, 104.7, 100.9 or any other station that happened to play a country song she liked. She was fond of rock and some pop, but annoying her much-loved stepdad was a very amusing game for her.

She managed to pull out of their curvy driveway without any other issue, but because she was merely a student driver, anxiety bubbled in her belly, worming its way up her dry throat and making her nauseous. In her distress, Dennis had switched the station without her knowledge and “Lullaby” by Nickelback began playing. Unknowingly, she had begun singing the words she long ago memorized. This calmed her enough to actually focus on her task. Unclenching her moist hands from the steering wheel, she smiled. However, silence hung in the air, nagging at Kimi. Dennis had slipped into one of his moods again. The messy car seemed too empty without the easy conversation Dennis had always provided for her. He was her security, her rope tying her to reality. If not for him, she would have been crushed under the heavy burden of every little mistake long ago. Kimi was drawn away from her thoughts when she took one of Mt. Carmel’s treacherous curves too fast, causing Dennis to adjust the wheel. The car narrowly avoided the steep slope of a ditch.

“Sorry,” she said meekly. Dennis smiled, shook his head and turned the music down, believing that to be the cause of her distraction. “So, where am I driving to?” she asked, attempting to coax a conversation out of him.

“Just pull off at the park and we’ll swap seats.” She nodded glancing down at the speedometer. She was going about 50 mph in a 35 speed limit zone. She was speeding and it was the fastest she had ever driven; this caused her to clench the wheel again, and swerve slightly. “Unclench your fists or you’ll never gain control of the car,” he commanded. Kimi did as told but slowed down to a safer speed of 30 mph.

“Where are we going anyways, DenDen?” she questioned, using the name she had given him as a small child. She would always call him this, simply because it would keep her childhood alive.

“Wally World,” Dennis laughed. “Remind me that Kim wants me to pick up a pack of BCs”

“Can do,” Kimi nodded. From there the conversation, like always, switched between music trivia, Dennis’s work pals and the mischief they caused, and Kimi’s school life. Anything and everything that popped into their heads was an open topic. There were practically no secrets between the trouble-making pair. When they had reached their destination, Kimi parked the unpredictable vehicle. Dennis stepped out of the car to change seats, but Kimi climbed across the pile of Monster cans, Mountain Dew bottles and other random trash to the passenger side, leaving the driver side door locked. Dennis banged on the window while Kimi sat with a smug grin on her face. “Lock me out again!” she shouted over the music, before finally opening his door for him.

“I was going to buy you a Monster, but not now.” Dennis smiled, knowing her weaknesses.

“No! Den, please! I’m sorry!” she pleaded, knowing it was an empty threat. As Dennis drove, Kimi danced in her seat and sang to whatever came on the radio. She would turn the music down during a song she didn’t particularly enjoy and start the conversation back up.
This small slice of her life was always what she enjoyed most, and what she would look back on when she was teaching her child to drive for the first time. These memories would cling to her consciousness forever, defining her childhood for the rest of her years. Looking back, she would smile, maybe even laugh, but she would always wish for a little bit longer to be that young, know-it-all, feisty teenager, clinging to the steering wheel for dear life, as her bulletproof stepdad straightened up the wheel for her. Looking back, it would dawn on her that he didn’t just teach her to drive in those moments; he also taught her how to be herself, and allowed her to taste freedom for the first time, Looking back, she would always remember how important those moments in that washed-up, banged-up blue Toyota Camry would always be to not only her, but also Dennis.



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