Today Tonight Tomorrow(4)

The traffic lights are out all along Forty-Fifth, making every intersection a four-way stop. School starts at 7:05. I’ll be cutting it close, a fact that delights McNair, based on how often he’s lighting up my phone. While I’m stopped, I voice-text Kirby and Mara to let them know I’m stuck in traffic, and I sing along with my rainy-day soundtrack: the Smiths, always the Smiths. I have a new-wave-obsessed aunt who plays them nonstop when we spend Hanukkahs and Passovers at her house down in Portland. Nothing goes better with gloomy weather than Morrissey’s lyrics.

I wonder how they’ll sound in Boston, beating against my eardrums as I stroll through a snow-dusted campus in a peacoat, my hair tucked into a knit hat.

The red SUV in front of me inches forward. I inch forward. Tonight unfolds in my mind. I glide into the bookstore, head held high, none of that shoulder-scrunching my mom is always scolding me about. When I approach Delilah at the signing table, we trade compliments about each other’s dresses, and I tell her how her books changed my life. By the end of our conversation, she finds me brimming with so much talent, she asks if she can mentor me.

I don’t realize the car in front of me has slammed on its brakes until I’m crashing into it, hot coffee splashing down the front of my dress.

“Oh, shit.” I take a few deep breaths after recovering from the shock of being thrown backward, trying to process what happened when my brain is stuck at an exclusive authors-only after-party Delilah invited me to. The harsh metal-on-metal sound is ringing in my ears, and cars behind me are honking. I’m a good driver! I want to tell them. I’ve never been in an accident, and I always go the speed limit. Maybe I can’t parallel park, but despite present evidence to the contrary, I am a good driver. “Shit, shit, shit.”

The honking continues. The SUV’s driver sticks an arm out the window and motions me to follow them onto a residential street, so I do.

I fumble with my seat belt, coffee dripping down my chest and pooling in my lap. The driver stalks toward the back of his car, and the knot of dread in my stomach tightens.

I rear-ended the boy who dumped me a week before prom.

“I am so sorry,” I say as I stumble out of my car, and then, because I didn’t recognize it: “Um. Did you get a new car?”

Spencer Sugiyama scowls at me. “Last week.”

I inspect Spencer inspecting the damage. With longish black hair obscuring half his face, he kneels next to his car, which is barely scratched. Mine has a mangled front bumper and a bent license plate. It’s a used Honda Accord, gray and completely uninteresting, with an odd interior smell I’ve never been able to get rid of. But it’s mine, paid for in full with my Two Birds One Scone money last summer.

“What the hell, Rowan?” Spencer, a second-chair clarinetist I partnered with on a history project earlier this year, used to look at me like I had all the answers. Like he was awed by me. Now his dark eyes seem filled with a mix of frustration—and relief, maybe, that we’re no longer together. It gives me a surge of pleasure that he never got first chair. (And oh yes, he tried.)

“You think I did this on purpose?” Needless to say, the breakup was not a cordial one. “You stopped really abruptly!”

“It’s a four-way stop! Why were you going so fast?”

Obviously, I don’t mention Delilah. It’s possible the accident was mostly my fault.

Spencer wasn’t my first relationship, but he was my longest. I had a couple one-week boyfriends freshman and sophomore year, the kind of relationships that end over text because you’re too awkward to make eye contact at school. At the end of junior year, I dated Luke Barrows, a tennis player who could make anyone laugh and liked partying a little too much. I thought I loved him, but I think what I really loved was how I felt around him: fun and wild and beautiful, a girl who liked five-paragraph essays and also fooling around in the back seat of a car. By the time school started in the fall, we’d broken up. He wanted to focus on tennis, and I was glad to have the extra time to spend on my college apps. We still say hi when we see each other in the halls.

Spencer, though—Spencer was complicated. I wanted him to be my perfect high school boyfriend, the guy I’d one day reminisce about with my friends over cocktails with scandalous names. I dreamed of that boyfriend all through middle school, assuming I’d get to high school and he’d be sitting behind me in English, tapping my shoulder and shyly asking to borrow a pen.

I was running out of time to find that boyfriend, and I thought if we spent enough time together, Spencer and I could get to that point. But he acted withdrawn, and it made me clingy. If I liked who I was with Luke, I hated who I was with Spencer. I hated feeling so insecure. The obvious solution was break up with him, but I hung on, hoping things would change.

Spencer pulls his insurance card out of his wallet. “We’re supposed to swap info, right?”

I vaguely remember that from driver’s ed. “Right. Yeah.”

It wasn’t always terrible with Spencer. The first time we had sex, he held me for so long afterward, convinced me I was a precious, special thing. “Maybe we can still be friends,” he said when he broke up with me. A coward’s breakup. He wanted to get rid of me, but he didn’t want me to be mad at him. He did it at school, right before a student council meeting. Said he didn’t want to start college with a girlfriend. “Spencer and I just broke up,” I told McNair before we called the meeting to order. “So if you could not be vile to me for the next forty minutes, I would appreciate it.”

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