My mom and I are currently in the midst of preparations for the writing conference we’re hosting this weekend, so things are pretty nuts around here–no promises on when I’ll get your weekend post to you, because the conference begins Friday evening and won’t end until Sunday afternoon. And then, after that, we’ve got a six hour drive back home. (Whoohoo!) I’m super excited for the conference, though, because I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple of years now, and it’s finally happening!!!!! I’ve got so much adrenaline going on right now that I’m not even aware of being tired, even though I’ve been on a really crappy sleep schedule for the past couple of weeks. (Speaking of which: the play went awesome!)
The top choice for this week’s Wordy Wednesday was for me to post a short story, so here’s one called “Driver’s Education.” I wrote this back when I took driver’s ed after my sophomore year of high school, so it’s an older piece, but I still enjoy it.
The girl, Alisha Kein, walked into the first day of class five minutes late. She had her face buried in a book and her short white-blond hair held up in a messy ponytail.
Mr. Brook glanced up from the paper where he had been about to mark her absent, blinked in surprise, and made a check beside the girl’s name that said she was tardy instead. The rest of the students were already seated alphabetically in rows, looking nervous yet excited.
“Your timing is impeccable, Miss Kein,” he said. “You may take a seat behind Rory Kanton.” The redheaded boy he gestured to looked up with an impish grin when he heard his name, but on seeing Alisha the grin disappeared and he returned to conversing with the boy beside him. They wore matching blue jerseys with the school’s insignia on them.
She must not get along well with the sports kids, Mr. Brook thought to himself. As he watched Alisha settle into her seat and set her book in her lap, he realized she was wearing a long pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, even though it was 97 degrees outside and the middle of June. She dragged a clean notebook and mechanical pencil from her bag and set them on the desk, ready to begin taking notes.
“Very well,” he said when she seemed to be ready to begin. “As you all know, my name is Mr. Brook and I will be your segment one driver’s education instructor.”
He began listing off the different facets of driving the class would cover, what would go into passing the test at the end of the three week course, and the many laws and rules they would need to follow if they were to make it past driving with a permit to driving with a license when they reached sixteen years of age. He noticed Alisha blush at the mention of how old they all were, and he asked, “Are any of you already sixteen? I don’t mean to embarrass you, I just need to know since it will alter the time between receiving your permit and applying for your license. I’m sorry to say it, but I will have to go harder on you than the rest of the class.” He winked at them, trying to break the ice. “So. Any sixteen year olds, or perhaps older?”
Alisha hesitantly raised her hand.
“And your age, Miss Kein?”
“Seventeen,” she replied softly. He half expected the class to snicker, as had happened previous times when he came to teach at this high school (it was a particularly cruel one when it came to the divisions between certain cliques and posses), but the room was deathly silent and everyone but Mr. Brook looked away at the mention of Alisha’s age. It was odd for someone to wait so long to take the first segment of driver’s education. He wondered if she had a learning disability and that was the reason for the rest of his students’ unease around her.
However, in the following days as they began reading the required texts and having discussions in class, she proved to be smart… Perhaps even brilliant, he found himself thinking. She was most definitely the most intelligent of the class, but that did not seem to be the reason for her isolation, either.
As the days wore on, he noticed more differences between the girl and the others. She was paler, quieter, and spoke rarely outside of answering questions, which she did remarkably well. She always wore jeans and a sweatshirt, no matter how warm it was outside. Every day, she came in reading a book, quietly took her seat (never was she late again), and then quickly placed the book in her lap, where it stayed until the end of class when she would pull it out and begin reading again as she left.
When students began signing up for driving times, Alisha held back and avoided it until she had no choice. “Don’t worry, Alisha,” Mr. Brook stopped her as she exited the room at the end of the first week. “A lot of kids are nervous about their first time driving… we won’t leave the parking lot. You will be perfectly safe.”
She gave him a petrified stare and he placed his hand on her shoulder in a fatherly manner. She flinched away from the touch.
“There is nothing to be afraid of, Alisha. Think of all the boys and girls who have driven already in this class. You are the last one. Everyone else is fine, and you will be also.”
She nodded stiffly and refused to meet his gaze as she hurried away.
When it actually was Alisha’s turn behind the wheel, she froze the moment she put the key in the ignition. “Keep going,” Mr. Brook told her, not looking up from the sheet of paper he was making notes on.
“Uh huh,” she said while staring at the key like it was a live monster.
Mr. Brook found her to be shaky and unconfident at the start of her one hour driving slot, but a natural at the close. So when she signed up for her second hour, which was to take place on the streets of Birchridge, he had no qualms about her abilities as a safe and responsible driver.
“The key is not going to bite you,” he had to remind her again as she held it up in front of her, looking fearful.
“I know, it’s just…” Alisha trailed off.
“You’ll be fine. You’re one of the best drivers in the entire class,” Mr. Brook tried to reassure her, but this just seemed to make her terror greater as she began to shake and she closed her eyes. When she opened them, however, she looked much surer of herself. With a determined look on her petite face, she stuck the key in the ignition and turned it.
They encountered no more problems until she turned onto Main Street and froze up again. Like a statue, her knuckles turned white on the wheel and her foot forgot where the gas pedal was. A car honk as it neared them and, thinking, Whoa! What’s this all about?! to himself, Mr. Brook grabbed the steering wheel and took them off, onto the shoulder of the road to let it pass.
“Are you alright?” he asked Alisha. One glance over at her told him that she was not. She was shaking again and a soft tear leaked from one eye.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
“You needn’t worry so much, Miss Kein,” he told her, straightening his glasses. “Just relax and this will be as easy as… well, do you play any instruments?”
“The piano,” she said quietly, looking slightly more reassured already, as if even just the mention of something she was familiar with could make the nerves go away.
“Do you remember when you started playing the piano? It was pretty difficult and scary, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess,” she said. For the first time ever, she met his eye of her own accord, and what he saw there was sadness. It reminded him of eating carrot cake for the first time after his mother died when he was in his twenties. It was sorrowful, but also warm and familiar, almost like she was touching him in some little way as he tasted her favorite dessert again. It was a bittersweet sadness. “My sister taught me,” she said. Her voice had gone even softer than before. “Back before she got into –” she stopped.
He tried to smooth over the awkward pause that followed by saying, “Driving is just like learning to play an instrument. It will be hard and frightening at first, but then you’ll get used to it and it will be easy… just as easy as playing the piano.”
“My parents had a similar talk with me on the first day of class,” she admitted quietly. “That’s why I was late.” Her chocolate brown eyes closed for an instant, but her expression, eventually, became peaceful. “I’m ready to try again,” she said.
“Very well. Wait for a break in traffic and then pull back onto Main Street,” instructed Mr. Brook. “Now go!”
Alisha gently pulled the driver’s education car onto the road and took them through downtown. Outside of Mr. Brook’s occasional corrections or directions, they remained silent, watching the city flash by.
The second week of class brought even more heat, and on Thursday the air conditioning for the school broke down. Mr. Brook found himself happy he had decided to wear a thin t-shirt that day, as opposed to his usual polo. The class took turns leaving to get a sip of water from the drinking fountain and when it was Alisha’s turn to go, Mr. Brook was not sure what he was most surprised about – the fact that she was still clothed from head to toe in jeans and a sweatshirt, or the fact that he was not surprised that she was.
“Miss Kein,” he stopped her in the doorway. “It is over 100 degrees in here. I’m overheating just seeing you dressed that way.” He looked worriedly at the beads of sweat covering her beat red skin. “If you don’t take off at least one of those layers, I think I will need to call your parents about the matter.”
Alisha sulked while she pulled her hoody over her head, but he could tell she was instantly cooler the moment the bulky sweatshirt was off. She had on a light brown tank top underneath that fit her body well. She really is a pretty girl, he thought to himself. I wonder why none of the boys like her?
But then he caught sight of the thick scars running up and down her arms in a horizontal pattern, stretching all the way from her wrists to her shoulders, and then across her breastbone and downward so that they disappeared below the line of her blouse, and his thoughts abruptly cut off. He wondered if she had similar scars on her legs, also, and what painful experience could have made them.
The third week of class, he announced that they would spend the last few days before the exam discussing alcohol and its effects on drivers. Out the corner of his eye, Mr. Brook noticed Alisha stiffen and glance down at her lap, where her book sat. She was not the only one to look awkward at that moment, though. The entire class had quieted so much that if a pin were dropped in a different part of the building, they all surely would have heard it.
When the course finally was finished, Mr. Brook was not surprised to find that Alisha earned a perfect score on her test. She was the first student in several years to accomplish such a feat, and he decided, while watching the students trickle out of the room, that he should go outside and meet her parents so that he could brag about the success with them.
He followed his class down the hall and sighed when he saw Alisha walking by herself, her head tucked between the covers of her book as she read. It was then that he realized that all of the books she had been carrying with her the past few weeks had actually been just one book, the same book today as the one on the first day… He had never taken the time to look at the cover, but now, thinking back on it, it had been the same color and size the entire time. As he watched, Alisha lifted the book to turn the page so that the title flashed in his direction. Grief and How to Get Over It it read. This stopped him dead in his tracks. He had been expecting one of the Nicholas Sparks volumes, or perhaps a fantasy novel.
He stopped at the door as she went out to the parking lot where an SUV awaited her. Her parents sat chatting in the front. When Alisha opened the door, they both turned around in their seats and began talking with her, more than likely asking her how the exam had gone.
As their vehicle pulled away from the curb, Mr. Brook looked at their lone bumper sticker. Above the Influence.
Thanks for reading!!
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