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Ravi’s lips were soft and familiar against mine, but my mind was elsewhere, obsessing about my upcoming finals. “Lindsey, you are so beautiful,” he said, pressing me tighter against the seat of the car. His mouth trailed over my jaw to my neck, his breath warm in my ear.
“I love you”, he whispered.
That snapped me back to reality.
Damn. I liked Ravi, I really did, but not as much as he liked me. The kissing was nice, but I didn’t feel IT, the connection, the zing. The L word? Damn, damn, damn! I had to say something but I didn’t want to lose him as a friend. Truthfully, he was my best friend. He’d helped me study for my French exam, even though he couldn’t speak a word of the language. When I’d told him about my parents’ divorce, he’d held me while I cried. He made up silly songs on the piano just to make me laugh. I did love him, in a way. Just not that way.
“You know what, never mind. Just forget I said anything, okay?” His voice was tight with embarrassment.
“No, really, it’s just…”
He jerked away and turned the key in the ignition, his lips pressed in a hard line. The engine roared to life. “It’s alright,” he said finally and flicked on the high beams. “It’s no big deal. Let’s just go.”
Fat droplets of rain splattered on the windshield and built into a steady drumming on the roof. The swish of the wipers and the hum of the heater echoed in the chasm between us and I struggled to think of a way to alleviate the tension. Ravi switched on the radio to an oldies station. “You Are So Beautiful” came on and I squirmed in my seat, remembering how Ravi had just said those very words to me.
“So-” I began.
“Hey-” he said at the same time.
We both stopped and a nervous giggle escaped me. Still, it was enough to break the silence and the knot in my gut relaxed.
“I was going to tell you, Micah and I are thinking of starting a band,” Ravi continued, his voice nonchalant. “I met this guy, Todd, in my Physics class who plays drums. With Micah on the guitar, all we’d need would be a lead singer. Would you be interested?”
“Really? Me?” I asked.
“Sure, I’ve heard you sing. You have a great voice.”
“Thanks,” I replied. I loved to sing, though I’d never been in a band before. I’d been in choir all through high school, but hadn’t ever sung a solo. A thrill ran through me at the idea of being on stage with the music thumping and colored lights swirling, while a throng of fans bounced to the beat below. “It sounds fun,” I said, already starting to dance in my seat at the thought. “When should we practice? Do you have any songs picked out?”
The highway was deserted and we hadn’t seen another car pass by us for miles. Ravi turned his head and smiled at me, giving minimal attention to the familiar road. “Yeah, Micah and I have a couple of…”
“Look out!” I yelled.
His eyes snapped forward and he slammed on the brakes. The sedan in front of us was creeping along and we came screaming up behind it. I recoiled in fear as the car started to hydroplane, the tires sliding across the slick asphalt. Ravi wrenched on the steering wheel and pumped the brakes, trying to regain control. The treads suddenly found purchase and sent us careening into the other lane. The stiff seatbelt cut into my neck as I was tossed against the door.
I was vaguely aware of Joe Cocker’s raspy voice crooning as we rammed into the other vehicle. The impact reverberated through my head, and from somewhere in the distance, I heard myself screaming in terror. Panic gripped the base of my neck, every muscle pulled taut with fear. The headlights flung streaks of light like fireworks in the driving rain as we spun out of control, then the tires found something to grab onto and we went sailing off the roadway.
The car hung in mid air and bile rose in my throat, then the hood smashed into the ground. My forehead smacked against the dash and I bit my tongue hard, the coppery taste of blood filling my mouth. Screeching metal and breaking glass echoed in concert with sickening thuds as the Mustang tumbled down the ravine. I was whipped upside down and Ravi’s body floated over mine as the car rolled, his face contorted in fear.
I couldn’t call out to him or even will myself to move, the centrifugal force alternately keeping me pressed against the door or yanking me against the biting restraint of the seatbelt. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was aware it was my turn for the next impact. The blood froze in my veins. The trunk of the pine tree outside my window beckoned to me with relentless persistence. The metal car door wrapped around me in an unforgiving embrace, squeezing the air from my lungs.