I shifted nervously in the seat, craning my head around the corner and into the parking lot.
My mother laughed. “What is with you, Ella? Are you sure you’re feeling better? You don’t have to do this today.”
It was the second day after Mr. Kilner had saved my life. Or Edmond, I supposed. After I found my mom at the grocery store, I had burst into tears in the middle of the dairy aisle, hugging her with the desperation of a brush with death. I lied through my teeth to her, claiming I had seen a cat get hit by a car and I felt sick, and she had let me postpone my driving test to a later date. I had spent the time instead distractedly flipping through the Driver’s Manual, and not learning a single thing. I had asked her if I could have another few weeks before trying the driving test again, and she had allowed it, calling up One Way to make the arrangements. I felt bad lying to her, but every time I considered telling her the truth, Edmond’s face, pale through the dark night, peered at me in my mind, forbidding me from telling anyone. I didn’t know what would happen if I did tell. I didn’t want to find out.
Mom pulled into the lot and I hopped out into the gravel, dusted with a gritty layer of snow.
“Bye, honey. Call me if you need me, alright?”
“I will. Thanks, Mom.” I stuffed my hands in my pockets and watched her pull out onto the street. I really needed to start bringing mittens. Mr. Kilner- Edmond- was nowhere to be seen. The minutes ticked by and I slowly realized he wasn’t coming. My cheeks flushed with cold and embarrassment. I felt like I’d been stood up. I walked up to the One Way building and sat on a long wooden bench out front. I pulled out my phone, glancing at the time. Thirteen minutes late. He’d never been late. He wasn’t coming. I sighed, miserable, and glanced over at the door. Should I go inside and tell someone? What would they do?
An engine revved out on the street and I saw a flash of silver turning into the lot. My heart soared as a silver Volvo pulled up in front of me. I stood as he parked. He opened the door and I exulted, “You came!” I didn’t even care if I sounded pathetic.
He leaned against the car and demanded, “Have you ever read the DMV Driver’s Manual?”
Surprised, the smile fell off my lips and I blinked at him for a few moments in silence. I glanced away sullenly and muttered, “No.”
“I didn’t think so. Why not?”
“It’s just so boring!” I groaned.
“No, boring would be being stuck perpetually with a perfectly intelligent student who refuses to better herself.”
I look back up at him, stunned. I bored him?
“Either you read it or you get yourself another teacher.”
“But I’m out of teachers. I only get three.”
“Then I guess you’d better read the book.”
I frowned, lifting my chin. “What if I refuse?”
“Not my problem.”
“You won’t just abandon me. Not after…” I trailed off, not sure if he would want me talking about it even with him.
“I would. You think you’re a better driver than you are. It’s not safe and you’ll get yourself killed thinking like that.”
I sighed, hugging myself in the cold.
“I’ll read the dumb book,” I grumbled.
“Good. Get in the car.” He sat back in the driver’s seat, slamming the door.
Confused, I went around to the passenger side and got in. “Where are we going?”
“Out to the old K-Mart parking lot,” he explained, backing out of the lot. “We’re going to practice left turns.”
“What fun. Why can’t I drive?”
“Because I don’t trust you to hold a conversation and get us there safely.”
I frowned. But then I thought about what he’d said and perked up in the seat. “What are we going to talk about?”
I arched an eyebrow. “Silence?”
“Yes, silence. What happened the other night…” He hesitated and then admitted, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“But you saved my life.”
I felt absurdly offended for a moment. “What, you should have let me die?”
He signaled the turn, glancing in his mirrors. “I should have, rather than show you what I did.”
“But it was amazing. I’d have died if not for you. Are you some kind of superhero?”
“Have you told anyone about it?” he asked with deceptive calm, turning out onto another street.
“No,” I replied in a small voice. “Of course not.”
“Good. That’s all that I ask in exchange for your life,” he said, glancing over at me. “Your silence.”
I nodded, feeling breathless. What would happen to me if I didn’t remain silent? “Alright.” We were quiet for a long while as he navigated through town toward the abandoned lot, and then I asked, “Can I talk about it with you? When we’re alone?”
He considered, changing lanes, and replied, “That depends. I don’t want to have a bunch of questions hurled at me. I can only say so much.”
“That would qualify as a question.”
I bit my lower lip, staring at his flawless profile, and then sat back, turning my face away from him. I watched the buildings bleeding past my window, the town flowing seamlessly together as I considered the wall he’d put up between us. I supposed it had always been there, but I just hadn’t noticed as much before then. No questions… What did that leave me? Finally, I whispered, “Well… thank you.”
Pensive, he pulled into the lot, parking just beyond the curb. “You’re welcome,” he replied just as softly. He turned toward me, unbuckling his seat belt. I looked back at him over my shoulder. “Just be careful, alright?” he asked, suddenly earnest. “There are a lot of bad drivers out there, even sober. Driving is the most dangerous thing you’ll regularly do and I want you to be safe about it, okay? Just be careful. A few simple precautions go a long way. Start by reading the boring booklet.”
I stared at him, surprised at the sincerity. “Why do you care so much?”
He leaned back again. “That’s another question.” He opened the door and climbed out.
I followed suit, stepping out onto the cracked pavement. “What, I can’t ask any questions now?” I demanded, coming around the front. He tried to sidestep around me and I moved to block him, staying planted in front of him.
He sighed. “Ella.”
“Yes, Edmond?” I asked sweetly.
He laughed suddenly, a quiet, breathy little laugh, and glanced down at his shoes.
It struck me like a thunderbolt. He liked me. My heart jumped in my chest and I struggled to keep a dorky grin smothered out of sight. He liked me. Emboldened, I asked, “How old are you?”
He looked up, surprised.
“I don’t believe for a moment you’re in grad school.”
He laughed again and hooked his thumbs in his pants pockets. “You don’t, huh?”
“I’m in the biology program, studying genetics.”
“Genetics?” I asked dubiously.
He nodded, grinning crookedly. “Specifically, telomerase regeneration in cancer cells, mostly in lab rats. I plan to cure cancer, and then cure aging.”
“That could take a while,” I laughed.
“I’ve got time. Do you want me to call up my adviser and have him vouch for me?”
My shoulders fell just slightly. Maybe he really was in grad school. “But seriously, are you, like, creeper old?”
He laughed again. “You have no idea. Get in the car.” He stepped around me and climbed into the passenger side.
Perplexed, I went around the front and sank into the driver’s side, adjusting the seat forward.
“How do you make a left turn?”
I shrugged. “Turn the wheel?”
He rolled his eyes. “Get in the proper lane and then…?”
“At least 100 feet in advance. Yield to oncoming vehicles and…?”
I smirked. “And presidential caravans.”
“And pedestrians. Seriously, you need to read the book. Turn into proper lane and don’t cut corners or change lanes.”
“Just put it in gear.”
I put it in gear and he set up a course in my mind, marking off lanes with light posts that hadn’t been on in more than a decade. I crept down the imaginary road, signaled and turned. Every now and then an imaginary car would loom out of the aether for me to yield to, and a hypothetical traffic light would cycle to red and back again. I cut sharply from a two way road to a one, and then looped wide from a one way street to a two, with impeccable grace.
“Very good,” he complimented me as I completed the last loop.
“I was born in a car,” I claimed airily, and he glanced at me with arched eyebrow. “Where were you born?”
He looked away out the window, far south. “A long way from here,” he said, his voice distant. He leaned his head against the glass and added, “I’m nineteen, by the way.”
I pulled the car up in one of the spaces. “Really? Isn’t that really young to be in grad school?”
He shrugged. “How old are you? Seventeen?”
“Eighteen,” I corrected sternly. I glanced down, suddenly embarrassed. “But I’m still in high school.”
“Time’s subjective, anyway,” he said, dismissing my embarrassment.
I scoffed. “How is time subjective?”
“It passes differently for some people. Don’t worry about it.”
Something flashed through my mind and I looked over at him. “Wait. If you’re nineteen, how are you a driving instructor? You have to be twenty-one to drive with someone on a permit.”
He stared for a moment, stunned, and then said flatly, “Let’s head back.”
I looked back at him for and long moment, and then took the key out of the ignition and calmly pocketed it. I cleared my throat and looked back at him expectantly.
Finally, he admitted quietly, “I lied.”
“To me or them?”
“They don’t require any kind of documentation?”
He looked away. “Let’s just drive, alright?”
“Wait, did you forge a birth certificate or something?”
He swallowed and stared forward.
“What are you, some kind of criminal?”
“Never mind. We’re done. Head back to-”
“No, wait. Why would you do something like that?”
His eyes turned back toward me, hard and cold. “There you go with the questions again.”
There was a dangerous edge in his satin voice and I fell silent, looking back with large eyes. Finally, I looked down and said softly, “I’m sorry. I’m sure you have your reasons.”
He watched me quietly and then said gruffly, “Are you?”
I looked up again. “Because I trust you.”
We looked at each other for a long while. I felt myself being pulled forward by his eyes. Suddenly, he looked away and shook his head. “Don’t.”
I sighed, wondering if I would even have to know this. Two columns stared up at me from the twelfth page of the Driver’s Manual: Type of Violation Point; and Value.
Operating a motor vehicle while privilege to do so is suspended or revoked or in violation of limited license: 10. Driving while intoxicated/ under the influence: 10.
I stopped, reflecting on the night Edmond had saved my life. I looked back at the list, skimming every other point value that might have applied to that night. Speeding violation of 20 mph or more over limit: 6. Careless driving types of behavior: 4. Negligent driving: 6. Reckless driving: 10. Assault with a Motor Vehicle: 10. Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle: 10. Negligent Homicide with a Motor Vehicle: 10.
I chewed my lip and rested the book in my lap. I was still rattled by what had nearly happened, even after talking with Edmond about it. I had considered going shopping in town with a few of my friends, but instead spent the time studying the manual in my room, propped up against the head of my bed. But I couldn’t focus. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see that dented bumper jolting over the curb toward me, only to crumble like a soggy egg carton around my driving instructor’s bare palm. I set the book aside completely, shuddering.
How had he done it? Nearly dying was bad enough, but Edmond’s impossible rescue was probably the most consuming question of the night. How had he done it? And why wouldn’t he tell me about it? I glanced up at my computer and went to my desk. I slid into the rolling seat and scooted closer to the monitor, jiggling the mouse. The screen lit and I pulled up the Internet, typing in “super strength super speed”. A host of options regarding motorcycles and superheroes populated the screen and I leaned over on my hand. I considered for a moment, and then added “handsome man”, my cheeks warming with embarrassment. Superman topped the list. I stared at the screen for a long moment, feeling stupid. This was a waste of time.
I started to stand and then paused, remembering his hand on mine as I went to shift gears, the cold press of his palm. I sat again, staring at the screen. I pictured his unearthly paleness, his shadowed eyes. And the darkness. He only did his driving lessons after dark. I erased everything in the search engine and stared at the blinking cursor, not even sure what to type anymore. A list of adjectives soon rambled across the length of the box. “Strong pale cold handsome man fast”. I clicked enter and the Internet dredged up some UK article about a sociopath.
“Whatever,” I sneered at the computer and pushed my chair back. Something was going on. Something outside of normal reality as I knew it. Otherwise, why would he hide it? I sighed, arms folded across my belly. I paused, thinking, and then glanced up at the computer again. Something outside of normal reality… I eased closer and typed a single word at the start of the list: supernaturally.
Vampires. The page was instantly covered with them, collections and tales, descriptions and warnings. Vampires, pale beautiful people licking blood from their lips, eyes a brilliant red.
I sat back slowly, my eyes riveted on the screen.