“So what are you saying?” Christopher asked, eyes darting from the road to Brooke and back again. His hands gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter.
Brooke eyed the climbing speedometer and lowered her voice. Christopher had always been a safe driver; she’d never seen the needle go so much as five miles above the speed limit with him. “I guess I’m saying that you’re not the one for me.”
“I see.” Christopher’s voice was quiet. His jaw tensed, and his eyes practically bored holes through the windshield. Brooke couldn’t help but stare at the look in his eyes, as if some other personality had taken possession of him. She hardly recognized the man sitting beside her.
They were in the middle of Provo Canyon for an evening drive, and there wasn’t a good place to turn around. Christopher kept driving, deeper into the canyon and not slowing down, even at the tight curves. Brooke’s fingers gripped the edges of her seat. They made it all the way to Heber City before turning around and racing through the canyon the other direction. Christopher didn’t say another word the entire time; neither did Brooke. There was no point in discussing the matter or causing bigger wounds. They both knew it was over.
They’d dated for only three months, but Brooke had thought Christopher might be the one. That is, until he started acting moody and possessive over the past couple of weeks. Then he began hinting that she needed to change for his mother to approve of the match. The changes seemed benign at first. His mother preferred to be addressed as Mrs. Morris. She hated hearing her son referred to as Chris in her presence. But when Mrs. Morris began suggesting changes in Brooke’s hair and clothing—and Christopher insisted Brooke comply—she realized she’d gotten more than she’d bargained for. This was a case of the umbilical cord never getting cut.
Breakups were never easy or fun, so she’d expected Christopher to be hurt. She hadn’t counted on him reacting by swerving between lanes, barely missing a collision with a truck when he decided to pass a Jeep already going ten miles over the speed limit. “Could you slow down a bit?”
Christopher glanced over and pressed harder on the pedal, the dark look in his eyes now accompanied by a thin smile. A knot formed in Brooke’s stomach as she mentally calculated how much longer the drive home would be.
After he dropped her off, they’d probably never see each other again. She’d miss him, in a way. Not the Christopher of the last two weeks— the one she’d talked to at the ice cream parlor until their pistachio ice cream puddled and their fries were hard. Two and a half great months with him . . . gone. This new side of Christopher destroyed everything. She couldn’t have one side without the other, so tonight she said good-bye to both.
As they crossed the light by Will’s Pit Stop, the car sputtered, grew strangely quiet, and then gradually slowed to a stop.
“We’re out of gas,” Christopher said tonelessly as the car rolled to a stop—the first words spoken in the last half hour.
With a wham, they jerked forward violently to the sound of crushed metal. After a moment of stunned silence, they whipped around to see what was left of the red sports car that had just rear-ended them. The front had caved in, making a mockery of what had been an elegant vehicle. The air bag had deployed, and as the driver got out, he coughed at the bag’s fumes. Christopher and Brooke both jumped out and ran to the rear to assess the damage. The back bumper had a good-sized dent, and a lot of paint had been scraped off, but otherwise Christopher’s car seemed fine, especially in comparison to the other one.
“I guess you got lucky,” Brooke said.
“Yeah—lucky,” Christopher said sullenly.
The other driver, no more than seventeen, let out a few colorful words and kicked the front tire. “Dad’s gonna kill me,” he said, pulling at his hair. “He’s gonna kill me. And all because some idiot didn’t speed up at the light like he was supposed to!”
“Hey, I saw the light,” Christopher snapped. “I just ran out of gas.”
The young man turned on him. “In that case, I guess you’re not an idiot. You’re a total moron.”
Christopher threw a few nasty and colorful descriptions back at the driver as he took his cell phone off its clip and called the police. Brooke returned to the car, wishing she could hide. The two cars blocked the intersection, with dozens of others piling up and people staring at them. All because Christopher had been too upset to notice he was running low on gas. She fished her cell out of her purse, hoping to call someone for a ride, only to realize that the battery was dead.
I should probably stick around to make a witness statement, she decided. It was either that or leave the scene, walk to the gas station, and hope she could both use their phone and get hold of someone to pick her up—while risking for of Christopher’s ire.
Might as well stick around. Civic duty and all.
The police arrived, probably only a few minutes later, although to Brooke it felt like an eternity. She tried to stay in the background as the officer took care of the formalities of paperwork and clearing the accident, but as she sat in the car, he called out to her through the open passenger window.
“Miss? Could you come over here? I need you to fill out a witness statement too.”
At least he called me “Miss,” she thought. With her thirtieth birthday just a few months away, she was getting all-too-used to being called “ma’am.”
She got out, closed the gap, and took the papers from his hand without a word, but as she turned away, he flashed her a smile. Brooke hated herself for noticing the dimple in his left cheek and the name on his tag, G. Stevens.
She had just broken up with Christopher; this was not the time to be thinking about or noticing other men. Brooke laid the papers against the back of the car and began filling them out.
“Your car looks drive-able,” Officer Stevens said to Christopher.
“Yeah, but I ran out of gas. I’ll have to hike back to the gas station to get some,” Christopher said, the tips of his ears finally turning red from something other than anger.
Eventually a tow truck arrived for the sports car. The paperwork had been completed, their car was pulled over onto the gravelly shoulder, and traffic had nearly returned to normal. All that remained was for Christopher to return with the gas.
“I’ll stay with you until your boyfriend gets back,” Officer Stevens said.
“Oh, he’s not my boyfriend,” Brooke said quickly, then flushed, cheeks hot. “I mean, not anymore. We just broke up. Tonight. Right before the accident. I mean . . .” She managed to stop herself from speaking by biting her lips together.
Why did I say that? I sound like a silly high school girl.
Here she had just broken up with one man, only to make a perfect stranger aware of it. As if this police officer was planning to ask her out. Hardly. And as if she wanted him to. He was probably married anyway, although she hadn’t noticed whether he wore a ring. But he was far too good-looking not to be married. Except for the extra short hair. He’d look better if he grew it out a bit. But cops often had short hair. She wondered if it was to make them look more intimidating or something.
“Thanks for the concern,” Brooke said, looking down to avoid seeing the dimple again. “But I think he’ll be back any minute. I’ll be fine.”
“Just the same, I’ll stick around for a minute or two. Until he gets back.” He glanced toward the gas station and added with a trace of disappointment, “Looks like he’s on his way now.”
“Thanks again,” Brooke said, dreading the ride home with Christopher. “It looks like crises are following me tonight. We can hope this is the last you’ll see of me.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind seeing you again,” he said, then quickly stood to his full height as if he hadn’t meant to say that. “And here he is.” At that instant Christopher came up behind the car. Brooke was an inch away from asking Officer Stevens for a ride, but her courage failed. She still had a lingering hope of ending the evening on a less sour note with Christopher. Surely she could find the kernel of the guy she thought she knew before saying good-bye.
It took him only a moment to transfer the red container’s contents into the gas tank. Soon they were on their way. Christopher didn’t say a word as he drove, changing lanes with abandon, cutting off cars, the engine straining before each gear shift. Without turning her head, Brooke watched him; his eyes looked like those of a stranger, as if something had snapped inside him. She tried to remember better times, but his cold glare made it impossible. He turned left at a light and narrowly missed getting broadsided by an oncoming car. Brooke gripped the armrest and hoped they’d make it home without another—more serious—accident for the evening.
They arrived at Brooke’s townhouse complex without anything more hazardous than a few honks and curses from other drivers. Christopher stopped in front. He stared through the windshield—then looked at her expectantly. He’d never opened the car door for her before, but he’d always gotten out with her and walked her to the front door. Not today.
“I’m—I’m sorry it had to end this way,” Brooke said. “I really am.”
She reached over to hug him good-bye, but Christopher pushed her away with one swift motion. “Get out.”
She fell against the door, her arm smacking against the handle with blunt force. She stared at him without a word, too stunned to move. Christopher’s eyes burned with anger. She fought back her tears. Who is this man?
“Good-bye, Brooke.” He said her name like a dirty word.
Her wits returned enough for her to grab her purse and open the door as she tried to ignore the throbbing on her arm. Before she could step out, he grabbed her left arm. She turned to face him, hoping for a kind word—maybe an apology.
“I want the bracelet back.”
Stunned into silence, she removed his only gift and dropped it in his hand before getting out. He barely waited for her to close the door before hitting the gas pedal and racing off, tires squealing as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. Brooke hugged herself for warmth, even though the evening wasn’t cold.
She turned and walked to her door, with a confusing mixture of relief, sadness, and anger swirling around her. She went inside with another emotion—feeling very, very alone.
* * *
Christopher drove home, where his mother would be waiting for him. He knew something wasn’t right with him; the feelings surging through his body, the thoughts filling his mind, felt like something trying to take control over his body. He’d felt this way before, but not in years. He’d been younger then, less mature. This time, he’d handle it on his own.
He pulled into the driveway and killed the car, but didn’t go in yet. Mother couldn’t see him like this; he had to calm down first, or she’d ask whether he’d taken his meds.
Rather, my poison. I’m fine—I don’t need any meds.
He hadn’t needed them for nearly two years, but he’d taken them faithfully in spite of the side effects until March, nearly two months ago. He blamed his extra twenty pounds and receding hairline on those pills. Not to mention the headaches and nausea. And tossing and turning every night, unable to sleep. Poison—that’s what those chemicals were. Brooke deserved a man without love handles or a shiny scalp. So he went off them.
Still gripping the steering wheel, a surge of emotion shot through Christopher again. He looked over at the passenger seat and stroked the spot where Brooke had sat minutes before. He wanted nothing but her. He needed her. What went wrong? Everything was perfect until she pulled that surprise out of nowhere tonight. Back and forth his hand went, stroking the seat. No matter. He’d win her back. The two of them would be together, in this life or the next. No matter what it took.
He tried to even out his breathing so Mother wouldn’t ask any questions. Even if she didn’t shove the pills down his throat, she might trick him into taking them inside food or—worse—drag him to see Dr. Hamilton again. He couldn’t risk that. So he leaned against the headrest and closed his eyes, breathing deeply while running his fingers across Brooke’s seat. After a few minutes, he adjusted the rear view mirror to peer into his eyes. He blinked, searching his expression for anything Mother could find amiss. With one final breath, he got out, closed the car door, and headed up the porch. He glanced at his watch. Mother would be watching one of those news-magazine shows. If he came in with a smile and gave her a kiss on the cheek, she might not ask why he was home early.
Christopher reached for the doorknob then gave one final glance at the passenger seat. Brooke would be his—he’d see to that. As he opened the front door, he couldn’t help but smile.
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