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Parallel Parking, Page 2

Natalie Standiford

  Mads knew Jen as a gym teaching assistant and Mitchell as a frequent substitute teacher, but Kathy and Doug were new to her.

  “Please don’t let me get Mitchell’s car,” Lina whispered. “He subbed for a month last year when Gantner was out having her knee replaced.” Mrs. Gantner had been Lina’s ninth-grade English teacher. “After lunch he always had food stuck in his mustache.”


  “Before we start, I want you all to understand what a serious undertaking you’re embarking on,” Ginny said. “Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things you will ever do—and you’ll do it every day. It’s like operating a killing machine. If you don’t learn to do it properly and keep your wits about you at all times, you could end up like this. Hit the lights, please.”

  “Oh, no,” Lina whispered. “The dreaded crash movie.”

  “The what?” Mads said.

  The video started out okay. A man stood in front of a plain blue wall. “What you are about to see is actual footage from real automobile accidents. You may be shocked, horrified, and upset. You should be. The victims of these accidents were once happy, carefree young people, just like you. They never expected to die in a bloody heap of twisted metal. I imagine you don’t, either. But careless driving can have deadly consequences—as you’re about to see.”

  Mads shut her eyes and gripped Lina’s hand. “I can’t look. You know how I get at horror movies.”

  The video continued. Mads couldn’t see what was happening, but she heard the narrator’s voice. “Kenny and Susie were sixteen, out on a date. Look what happened when Kenny took his eyes off the road to give Susie a quick kiss. Just one brief second, and—”

  Mads heard tires squealing, a loud crash, metal crunching, gas exploding. She winced. The class groaned. Someone tapped her on the shoulder.

  “Open your eyes, Markowitz, or you won’t pass this class,” Ginny said.

  Mads opened her eyes a crack, just in time to see the screen fill with blood and body parts. She shut them again.

  Ginny put the video on Pause. “Open them. I’m waiting….”

  Mads opened her eyes. The whole class was staring at her. She could understand why. Anything was better than looking at the image frozen on the screen. The top of a car had been sliced off by the bottom of a tractor trailer truck.

  “That’s better,” Ginny said. “And keep them open. I’ll be watching you.”

  The video resumed. Mads’ stomach gurgled ominously. She swallowed, trying to keep down the bile. She knew driving could be dangerous. She wasn’t the careless type. She’d always be careful—she promised! If only she didn’t have to see all this gore.

  “Think a stop sign is just a suggestion? Think again,” the narrator said as the consequences of running a stop sign were splattered all over the screen.

  “Mads, are you okay?” Lina asked. “You look kind of green.”

  “I think I’m going to be sick,” Mads said. “You’d better get out of the way.”

  She jumped up and ran into the bathroom, making it to a toilet just in time to puke up her lunch.

  “Mads?” Lina had followed her in. “Are you all right?”

  Mads knelt on the bathroom floor, recovering. “I feel better now.”

  Lina helped her to her feet, and she washed up. “The movie should be almost over by now. Are you ready to brave the wrath of Ginny?”

  Mads rinsed her mouth out one last time, spat, and nodded. “What can she do, toss me under the wheels of a tractor trailer? Let’s go.”

  They slipped back into the classroom. Ginny frowned at them. The movie was wrapping up.

  “So the next time you’re thinking of speeding, or disobeying traffic rules, or driving while under the influence of alcohol or any illegal substance, remember this: It’s a horrible way to die.” The narrator looked grim. The words THE END flashed on the screen in red letters.

  “Lights,” Ginny said. The lights came on. “Do you need to go to the nurse, Madison?”

  “No, I’ll be all right now,” Mads said.

  Ginny said. “I’m sorry you got sick, but it shows that the message of the movie really hit home.”

  It hit home, all right, Mads thought.

  “I hope this means you’ll be an extra-careful driver,” Ginny said.

  “Don’t worry, I will,” Mads said.

  Ginny spent the last few minutes dividing the students into practice groups. She chose names at random from the class and refused all special requests. Mads hoped she’d get to be with Lina but braced herself for the worst.

  “Car number four: Lina Ozu, Ramona Fernandez, Ingrid Bauman, Karl Levine,” Ginny said. “You’ll be with Jen.”

  Mads caught Ramona glancing at Lina, who glanced back. Were they glad to be in the same car, or sorry? It was always hard to tell with them. Mads couldn’t figure out whether Lina and Ramona were friends or, if not enemies exactly, antagonists. But they seemed drawn together somehow, in any case.

  “Car number five: Autumn Nelson, Martin Irigazzy, Siobhan Gallagher, and Madison Markowitz. You’ll be with Mitchell. Okay, that’s it,” Ginny said. “See you next week.”

  Class broke up. “I’ve got the worst car,” Mads said to Lina.

  “Hey—Mads.” Martin Irigazzy stopped her on her way out of the classroom. She didn’t know him well. “We’re in the same car.”

  “Yeah,” Mads said. “With Autumn. And Crusty Mustache Man.”

  “Who?” Martin said.

  “It’s an inside joke,” Lina said.

  “Listen, Mads,” Martin said. “You barely know me, but—I’ve liked you for a long time.”

  Mads was shocked. “You have?”

  “Uh-huh. And I was wondering—” He squeezed his eyes shut, took a deep breath, then blurted out, “Do you want to go to the Happening with me?”

  The Happening was a dance, the big school event of the spring, coming up in a few weeks.

  Mads was too stunned to speak at first. Martin had liked her all this time—and she’d had no idea? How could that happen? She wasn’t even sure what his last name was until Ginny read it out loud that day.

  She recovered and said, “I’d love to, but I already have a date. I have a boyfriend.”

  “Oh, that’s cool,” Martin said. “Just thought I’d ask. Worth a shot, right?”

  “Don’t worry, Mads,” Holly said. “The worst is over. After the first class all you do is drive, pretty much, and that’s easy.”

  Lina, Holly, and Mads headed to Holly’s house after school to rehash the day’s events. Holly had taken driver’s ed the previous fall.

  “You wouldn’t say that if you knew who’s in my practice car,” Mads said. “Autumn. And Siobhan. And this guy Martin Irigazzy.”

  “He asked Mads to the Hap,” Lina said.

  “Who’s Martin Irigazzy?” Holly asked.

  “That’s what I wanted to know,” Mads said.

  “He’s had a crush on Mads forever,” Lina said.

  “That’s wild,” Holly said. “All this time he liked you and you barely knew he existed?”

  “It’s kind of romantic, you know?” Lina said. “Longing for someone from afar. I remember once last year I was riding downtown on the bus with my mother, and I saw this boy walking down Rutgers Street—”

  “Uh-oh,” Holly said.

  “Here we go,” Mads said.

  “Shut up, you guys,” Lina said. “He wore this little Greek fisherman’s cap tilted back on his head, and he had all this curly hair and a face that looked like a medieval saint’s—”

  “Puh. Leese,” Mads said.

  “Yeah, Mads, it’s not as if you never idealized a guy,” Holly said.

  “Thank you, Holly,” Lina said.

  There was no need to speak the name of The One Mads Held Above All Others, which was Sean Benedetto. Mads knew that Lina and Holly had heard his name enough already.

  “Why is it that every story seems to come back to Sean?” Lina said.

  “Finish,” Mads said.

  “I was trapped on a bus with my mother and couldn’t talk to him,” Lina said. “All I could do was watch helplessly as he walked out of my life forever. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I dreamed about him every night for a week. Even now, whenever I go downtown, part of me is always keeping an eye out for him. But I never saw him again. And I have no way of ever finding him. He’s just… gone.”

  “That is so tragic,” Mads said.

  “There should be a way to find people like that,” Holly said. “Like a Missing Persons bulletin board or something.”

  “Did you ever see those ads at the back of the Bay Reader?” Lina said. The Bay Reader was a weekly alternative newspaper. “‘I Saw You’? People write in things like, ‘Girl with braids who works at Zola’s—you rock my world.”

  “Oh, yeah,” Mads said. “I love to read those. No one is ever looking for me, though.”

  “Me either,” Lina said. “Not yet, anyway….”

  “Maybe we could add a feature like that to the blog,” Mads said. They had started the Dating Game blog as a school project, but it kept growing. From advice columns to matchmaking quizzes to relationship diaries, it had become the love center of the Rosewood School for Alternative Gifted Education.

  “We could call it Missed Connections,” Lina said. “You could describe someone you saw in an ad on the site and hope they see it and answer you.”

  “Right,” Holly said. “A girl could post something like, ‘Boy who kicked a soccer ball into my face during gym on Friday—I want to get to know you.’”

  “‘Because I am insane,’” Mads added.

  “Or Martin could have written about Mads,” Lina said. “’Cute little dark-haired girl with baby face—’”

  “Hey!” Mads wasn’t fond of her baby face.

  Lina ignored the interruption. “‘—will you go to the dance with me?’”

  “It’ll be anonymous, just like ‘I Saw You,’ ” Mads said. “That way, if your crush doesn’t respond, nobody will know but you. You don’t have to face total public humiliation.”

  “It’s like an online secret admirer note,” Holly said.

  “Let’s do it,” Lina said. “For all the Martin Irigazzys out there.”

  Missed Connections

  Do you have a crush on someone from afar, but you don’t know his or her name? Did you bump into a cutie in the cafeteria line and want to get to know him or her better? Put an ad in Missed Connections, and get the answers you need! It’s anonymous, so if the object of your desire doesn’t want to have anything to do with you, no one will know. And you can always tell yourself he or she never saw the ad, so your ego doesn’t get completely crushed. Read Missed Connections every day to see if someone is looking for you!

  3 Missed Connections

  * * *

  To: linaonme

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY’S HOROSCOPE: CANCER: Your altruistic impulses surface today when you try to help someone who doesn’t ask for it. Serves them right.

  * * *

  What do you think?” Holly asked Lina. “Should I tell her?”

  Lina was stunned. She and Holly walked out of their history class together, whispering. They hardly needed to, the halls were so noisy. Holly had texted Lina a brief summary of Sean’s behavior at Autumn’s party—basically, the kiss—and asked for advice. Lina was still reeling from the bomb Holly had just dropped.

  “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this earlier,” Lina said. “This happened almost a week ago!”

  Holly’s mouth twisted, a kind of facial squirming. “I know. I felt so weird about it, and I kept thinking it would go away, but it hasn’t. I keep thinking about him. It. What happened.”

  This will upset Mads, Lina thought. It has to.

  “If you think about it, nothing really happened,” she said to Holly. They stopped by her locker. She put her history book away and got her driver’s ed notebook. Driver’s ed was next. She’d be seeing Mads in five minutes. She had to compose herself first. Mads could sniff out a secret as easily as brownies. “He kissed you, he asked you out, you said no. End of story. What is there to tell, really? I say don’t. You’ll only upset her, and for what?”

  “Yeah, you’re right.” Holly looked relieved. “You’d better not say anything.”

  “Don’t worry, I won’t,” Lina said. “I value my life.”

  “Why should she be so mad, though?” Holly said. “She has Stephen. Is Sean not allowed to go out with anybody but her?”

  “You know Mads,” Lina said. “She doesn’t have to make sense. She feels the way she feels, and that’s the end of that.”

  “All right,” Holly said. “I guess I feel better. What are you doing in driver’s ed today?”

  “Driving,” Lina said. “It’s our first day in the student driver cars.”

  “That’s the fun part. Who’s in your car?”

  “Ingrid, Karl, and Ramona,” Lina said.

  “Oh,” Holly said, making a face. “Oh, well. It’s only for a few weeks.”

  “That’s what I keep telling myself,” Lina said.

  “Have a good class,” Holly said. “And remember—what I told you is just between us.”

  “Got it.”

  “What a rush!” Mads said as they left the school parking lot. “Don’t you love driving?”

  Lina glanced at Ramona. Driver’s ed was over for the day. Mads had driven like a maniac.

  “You almost crashed into our car,” Ramona said. “While I was driving.”

  “Hey, it’s my first day,” Mads said. “Nobody’s perfect the first time out.”

  “You could have killed us,” Ramona said.

  “She was only going five miles an hour,” Lina said. “I doubt anyone would have been killed.”

  “I couldn’t find the brake,” Mads said. “And Mitchell was so busy picking cookie crumbs out of his mustache, he didn’t slam on the teacher brake until it was almost too late. That was his fault, not mine! We were all screaming at him, ‘Stop! Stop!’ His reaction time was shockingly slow.”

  “All I know is, from now on I’m requesting that our car be as far away from your car as possible,” Ramona said. “On the other side of the school if we have to. At another school, if necessary.”

  Lina felt bad. She could see that Mads was hurt. “It was the first day, Ramona.”

  But Mads had a bouncy, resilient spirit. “Whatever,” she said. “Once I get my license, you won’t be able to avoid me on the road.”

  “You’re lucky I have a death wish,” Ramona said. “Or I’d move to another state after hearing that.” Ramona let her dyed blue-black hair fall into her face dramatically. Her long nails were painted green, her lips were purple and pierced, and her dress was black chiffon with a wide silver belt.

  “Stop it,” Lina said. “Ramona, give Mads a chance. You weren’t exactly perfect today. You accidentally put the car into reverse when you were supposed to go forward. Twice.”

  “Hey,” Ramona said. “What happens in the car stays in the car.”

  “That’s a good rule,” Mads said.

  “Anybody want to go get coffee?” Lina asked.

  “I can’t,” Mads said. “Mom’s picking me up out front. Dentist appointment.”

  “I’ll go,” Ramona said. “I don’t feel like going home yet. Dad’s redecorating.”

  “Okay,” Lina said. She and Ramona didn’t usually hang out together, but what could Lina say?

  She and Ramona unlocked their bikes and rode downtown to Vineland, a favorite RSAGE coffee hang.

  “Ugh, look,” Ramona said. “The place is full of them.”

  The cozy coffee shop was crowded with different types of people, and Lina found none of them offensive. But Ramona was of a different mind. Almost everyone in the world offended her, just by existing.

  They took the one empty table. Lina ordered a cappuccino and Ramona asked for black coffee.

bsp; “Did you see the latest Inchworm?” Ramona asked. Inchworm was a school literary magazine. Ramona was the editor.

  “No,” Lina said. “Let me guess: You’ve got a new poem in it?”

  “I’ve got to find material somewhere,” Ramona said. “This one’s especially good. It’s called ‘Wheel of Death.’” She then recited:

  The Wheel of Death keeps rolling

  Rolling, rolling,

  Rolling toward us.

  Crushing us like bugs under its rolling, rolling wheel.

  Man on a treadmill, hamster on a wheel.

  Circle of Life, or Wheel of Death?

  “That’s the first verse.” Ramona sat back and smiled, waiting for Lina’s response.

  “I don’t know,” Lina said. “You didn’t really say anything new.”

  “Nobody ever says anything new,” Ramona said. “There’s nothing new to say. It’s how you say it. The imagery? The irony?”

  “You changed the Circle of Life into the Wheel of Death,” Lina said. She closed her eyes, pretending to let Ramona’s wisdom sink in. She opened her eyes and said, “It just doesn’t do anything for me.”

  “I don’t know why I keep expecting you to be different,” Ramona said.

  Their coffees came. They sipped them to fill the uncomfortable silence. Lina felt that she was different from most people, in ways that really mattered. She thought Ramona overestimated her own distinction from the crowd.

  “I suppose you’re going to that Hormone thing everybody’s yammering about?” Ramona said. “With Walker?”

  “You mean the Happening?” Lina nodded. “He already asked me, even though it was kind of a given. Are you going?”

  Ramona snorted. “No way. Who would I go with? One of these losers?” She glared around the room as if everyone in it were covered with pig vomit. “I’d rather wear pink.”

  “There must be some guy you’d like,” Lina said. “Does he have to be a Goth freak? Maybe you could convert a normal guy.”

  “Normal is one thing,” Ramona said, nodding at a clutch of preppy RSAGE kids. The boys wore crayon-colored alligator shirts neatly tucked into khakis (belted with a shiny leather strap or a blue cotton strip decorated with whales), with polished, sock-free loafers. Two boys even had pennies in their shoes. The girls wore variations of pastel flower-printed tennis skirts, tight headbands or ponytails, simple gold earrings, and more alligator shirts. One girl even wore a pair of red shorts covered in pink turtles.