Posted on: March 22, 2016

I never want to die alone, but it seems that’s my fate.

My gramma was found next to her dried up minestrone soup, rotting for three days. Choked on a piece of bread. I guess it was sad and all, but then who’d want to grow old like that anyway and be so withered?

One spring day, Ma overdosed outside a crack house downtown, age 29. It was shortly after Dad blew town, and I went to juvie. I never could resist a shiny red car. Ma was younger, I suppose, and definitely not forgotten, at least by me. But she had her urgent need to sneak out, leaving her with only an empty needle beside her when she kicked it.

Dying alone scares me more than taking my final driving test.

Every spring night, I’m called out to scour the streets freshly lined with fast-food bags from a healthy gale off the Flatirons. Something about that night air and my restless fingers are what tug at me. I become more alert once the heat from the Colorado sun seeps out of the tar roads and the crimson tail lights brighten my night. But I don’t want to be alone.

Tonight, I "borrow" my foster parents’ SUV. Big deal, right? It’s not like they’ll miss the car much, and they definitely won’t notice I’m gone. They’re those “look how generous we are” types who take in “special needs” kids, like me. They feel so bad for the way I was raised that they always forgive me. They’ll definitely forgive me tonight.

Against a beer-soaked bar’s edge, I make two new friends, a couple. Turns out these two lovebirds are college kids. Samantha smells like the spring tulips along the Pearl Street Mall. I didn’t catch the guy’s name. Started with a ‘ch’ sound. The music in the bar is thrumming too loud to hear the rest. When they introduce themselves and their majors, I pretend like I’m someone too, someone they want to know, someone with money and a car. And then, just like nothing’s wrong, we’re friends. They’re so cute together. I want to steal their love and keep it with me always.

They ride around town with me. I put on a great act of not being the teenager I am. We stop at a friend of Chance or Chase or Chad, or whatever. A fraternity party is in full swing, mostly on the perfectly manicured lawn and partially on the roof. Samantha and the C-word guy leave to grab drinks. I hang back like I fit in. My real self reminds me who I am as soon as they leave me alone with a pretty beefy-looking dude who asks my major. I don’t belong here. I’d never belong here. I panic until my friends return with a glowing drink in a martini cup and a shot glass. Once I have that little high from the smaller cup, I sway through the party and pretend I’m someone again. I keep the high going a little by grabbing drinks from the guy dressed in just boxers and a tie who’s cruising around with a serving tray.

I suppose I shouldn’t have had that last shooter. My stomach flips after I pass some guy, who hasn't moved from the juniper bush since barfing. But I can’t let my friends see that I can’t handle the liquor. It might give me away, and I need them.

Samantha asks me for the car keys. She hasn’t drank a drop, she claims. If she has been drinking, she’s a great actress. I can’t think straight, but the hum of the busiest roads aren’t far from Delta Chi and they call to me.

“Nope,” I say, dangling the diamant√©-studded key ring just inches from her nose, yanking them back.

The night air cools, and my skin craves rain drops. A spring mountain storm makes every drive a little more fun, a little more dangerous and thrilling. But there are only stars above.

The guy, whose name I now desperately wish I could remember, says I need to walk a line to prove myself. Like I’d prove to him how buzzed I was. There was only one thing I could focus on at the moment, and that was the cherry paint of the foster’s Range Rover.

"Dude, my car. Don’t you trust me?“

“Yeah, come on!” Samantha giggles and hops in back.

After giving me a once-over, he bumps my shoulder and I catch the light, musky smell he applied earlier tonight, now covered over with eau-de-beer. Then, instead of a further fight, he climbs in the back next to Samantha.

He says, "Then let's get this over with. All right?”

I nod. We definitely will be all right. What’s that saying about groups of three? They’re a charm?

The engine grinds a little as I over turn the stupid key. Samantha flirts with the C-word guy in the back. Neither notices anything might be wrong. The tail lights of the car in front of me reflect a feverish glow as I turn on the headlights. I’m so giddy.

All is perfect with the world I realize as I screech out past the neon bar lights where we’d met. We’re out among the cars on Broadway. The smell of newness breezes through the window I’ve opened a crack. These two people, here in this car, are the best friends I’ve ever had, I think. They so trust me.

I cruise faster toward the crossroads of Broadway and Baseline. The green light switches to a warning yellow. I slalom around the cars that slow down and accelerate toward the intersection, light now a glaring red. I’ve finally found two people who can stand me enough to spend more than a few minutes with me, and I definitely don’t want to die alone.

Written by: Leni Checkas
Photograph by: Skyler Smith

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