The driver-side door creaks a little when I open it. My parents bought it gently used for Mom when she was still working for the Las Vegas Review Journal. When some guy ran a red light three years ago, hitting her, it messed up the front tire well and put Mom in the hospital for a while with back injuries.

Obviously she’s fine now, but the lingering pain after the accident made it hard for her to sit behind a desk all day. The newspaper didn’t have a choice in letting her go. Mom was really understanding about it, though I was livid at the time.

Our lawyer helped us settle with the guy’s family. His wife felt awful for the actions of her husband. In the end, she convinced her husband to settle. Our lawyers discouraged further contact with her, so we haven’t heard from her since she sent a letter of apology to us—through our lawyer—right after the ordeal was handled.

Insurance covered the damages to the car, with the exception of the loud groan the driver-side door gives every time it opens. As far as the company is concerned, out car can run, so it’s fine. It was annoying at first, but now it’s kind of an endearing trait. My parents gave it to me under the condition that I got a job, so I started working at the Starbucks near us. They think my love for coffee makes it less of a ‘work’ setting and more of a fun hangout.

They’re not wrong.

Beside me in the car, Mom shifts with a wince she obviously doesn’t want me to see. The sheepish smile she gives says it all.

“Mom? Is everything okay? Are you hurting? You didn’t carry anything heavy when we weren’t looking, did you?” I know I’m firing the questions off too fast for her to answer, but the concern always makes me a little crazy.

Mom’s eyes widen and she chuckles. “Jeez, girly. Who’s the parent here?” she asks. A sigh escapes her mouth. “I’m fine. Just achy. Here,” she says, pulling a bottle of prescribed painkillers out of her purse. Every time she takes one, she gets a little loopy and kind of dull to everything going on around her. She’s obviously reluctant to take one on our last day to hang out until the end of the semester.

“I know I’m not supposed to overdo it,” she says before taking the pill without a drink. That always grosses me out, but I guess after taking medicine for a long time it gets easier to take without water.

“Is leaving me here really bothering you that much?” I ask. I hate the thought of stressing her out.

She sighs and reaches over to pay my leg. “I’ll be fine, same as you, sweetie,” she says. “Now, let’s go on and meet your dad.”

Reluctantly, I turn to face the front of the car. After slipping the key in the ignition, I crank the engine while holding down the clutch. When teaching me how to drive, Dad always stressed the importance of me learning how to drive stick. While the car warms up, I recall one of the many times Dad talked to me about it.

“If you’re ever out on a date and a boy goes too far, you might need to fight back and get away from him. But what if he takes you out to the middle of nowhere to park? You would need to use his car to get back. If he drives a stick and you don’t know how, you’d be at his mercy,” he’d said, an ice cream scoop poised over the mouth of a quart of chocolate chip cookie dough. The way his eyes glazed over always made it clear he was in his own little world.

Dad’s a creative. He and Mom met when they were finishing up their journalism degrees, but his true calling is fiction. Horror, to be precise. His stories are absolutely terrifying, but he’s shy, so he only writes for himself and to show me from time to time. It’s probably where he got his tendency to ramble on about unpleasant things, like me having to fight back against some would-be rapist.

“Dad!” I’d laughed. “You’re assuming I’m strong enough or have enough stamina to get away. You know I’d be a goner in no time.” The words always flew from my mouth with no hesitation, accompanied by a deadpan expression. If he was going to keep spouting the morbid little stories, I fully intended to play along.

The fact that his horrified expression was always an act never made it any less amusing. “Remind me to sign you up for kickboxing classes.”

A few minutes later, I bring the car into first gear and start driving. Dad didn’t start driving ahead of us, so when I stop at the stop sign at the end of my street, I wave another car along so I can wait for him to pull his truck out of the driveway. When he pulls up beside me at the sign, I check the four-way crossing again, for safety’s sake.

Together, we drive through our neighborhood, then turn left onto Decatur boulevard, driving south towards Clark County Road 215. After turning left onto it, we continue east until we merge onto the I-15 freeway. From there, we drive alongside the Strip before taking the Tropicana exit. Once off the freeway, we stop at a red light at the intersection of the Strip that has the Excalibur, the MGM Grand, and the New York, New York casinos. I stare up at the buildings on the Strip while waiting for the light to change.

“It really is pretty here,” says Mom. The sun is setting behind us, throwing its red-orange light off the green windows of the MGM Grand. Her voice is kind of quiet; her pill must have kicked in.

“It is,” I agree.

“Don’t get into any trouble while we’re gone,” she mumbles. The next thing I hear is the gentle sound of her snoring.

“Oh, Mom,” I whisper. She’s really having a hard time. “Everything will be okay.”

Of course, everything gets strange after that.


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