It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
But weren’t those famous last words?
“You know…” She paused, drawing it out, staring at her drink with forced casualty. She glanced up at him, for just a moment, then quickly returned her gaze to looking determinably at everything in the small diner but him. “My sixteenth birthday is coming up.”
Kevin choked a bit on his own smoothie, then managed to recover himself. “Yeah, and?”
“Well…” She was a bit hesitant to ask him, as she knew what his likely reaction would be, but he was her best option at the moment (though that in itself was a little worrying). “I was wondering…wouldyouteachmehowtodrive?”
She looked at him hopefully. He just looked confused.
“What? Say that again?”
She looked down and drew a deep breath. “I said, would you teach me how to drive?” She couldn’t stop herself from peeking up at him under her lashes, watching for his reaction.
“Whoa whoa whoa, drive? As in, you want me to teach you how to drive?” She nodded. “In my car.” She nodded again. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair again. Kevin really wished she’d stop looking at him with those big, wishful puppy-dog eyes. He always had enough trouble saying no to them as it was. But his car? “I thought, well, didn’t your grandpa teach you and Ben how to drive?”
“No,” she replied. “He taught Ben how to drive. It was a couple years ago, we were what, twelve? Anyway, my parents kind of freaked at the thought of me trying to drive a car. They said I should wait until I’m sixteen. At least.”
He remained silent for a moment, just looking at her. Then he raised a sly eyebrow and said in a completely different tone than before, more like a lazy drawl, “But wait, you’re asking me now, and it’s not your birthday yet.”
Gwen flushed. “Well, no, but it’s coming up and I figured I should get some practice so I’m ready and everything…”
He was still giving her a look that she didn’t feel comfortable interpreting.
“What?” she demanded defensively.
“Rebelling, eh? I didn’t think you had it in you, Gwen.” An infuriatingly smug grin (though what he had to be smug about she had no idea) spread across his face. It took all her will-power not to sock him.
“It’s not rebelling!” she said quickly. “I just…want to be ready and all that.”
Okay, it was a lame excuse and they both knew it.
He wouldn’t stop grinning at her.
“Well?” she asked heatedly. “Are you going to teach me or am I going to have to ask someone else?”
“Oh, I’m going to help you alright.”
She still wanted to punch him. Though really, around her boys, since when was that new? Gwen settled for rolling her eyes instead. He did agree to teach her after all.
She was doing pretty well, all said and done.
Empty fields were his training spots of choice; nice and far out from the city. He showed her all the different controls, what the different gears were for, what this knob did and that lever. Then she just drove around for a little while. She seemed to get the hang of it pretty quick. It actually made him feel kind of proud.
“Hey Gwen,” he said one day during their lessons, a couple weeks after they’d started. “Wanna try it out on an actual road?” She simply stared at him for a moment, shocked that he would even offer. Wasn’t he really uptight about his car? Then again, he had let her do this much...
“Really? That would be great!” Then she looked doubtful. “But wait, what about police? I don’t even have my actual permit yet…” He grinned at her, pointing to a device attached to his windshield.
“No worries; I got a police scanner. Plus, I was thinking more like one of those highways out in the country. You’ve got to pick up some speed, but they’re pretty straight most of the time and there are hardly ever cops hanging out on them.”
Gwen still looked a little doubtful but slowly nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll give it a try.
“That car is still riding up my butt,” Gwen muttered, nervous and exasperated. “I really wish it would stop! I mean, it’s only making me tenser…”
Kevin looked behind them; sure enough, there was a big ol’ van driving dangerously close to the back of his car. Normally Kevin would mess with them a bit, stopping suddenly and whatnot, but from the look on Gwen’s face he didn’t think she could handle that.
“Just stay at the speed limit,” he told her. “Don’t let them bother you. Just concentrate on driving.”
This continued for several miles. They just would not back off. Kevin was contemplating some rather unpleasant things (for them) when finally, to Gwen’s great relief, the van decided to turn at an intersection, and they could go on their merry way. She relaxed a bit.
“You’re doing fine, just keep your eyes on the-”
There was a car coming up over the hill in front of them.
There was a car driving on the wrong side of the road.
There was a car coming right at them.
Everything seemed to freeze in that moment. Then…
“Ohmygod!” Gwen jerked the car roughly to the right and slammed on the brakes, sending them into the open field on the side of the road. They skidded for several yards before coming to a stop way out from the road. The both sat for a moment, panting, feeling the adrenalin coursing through their bodies. At least the car hadn’t flipped over or anything…
“What the hell was that?!” Kevin yelled, not really so much at Gwen as in her general direction. Okay, it was kind of at her. He was just freaked. His car had almost gotten totally wrecked! And, well, they could have died! Of course he was going to be upset…
Then Gwen shuddered violently.
Well. If he wasn’t just the King of Insensitive Jerks, he didn’t know who was.
(Oh wait, that title already went to Mike Morningstar. But still, that didn’t excuse him.)
“Ohmygod,” she whispered. “Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod. We almost just died.” Roughly, jerkily, she fumbled to unbuckle her seatbelt before wrapping her arms around herself like she was going to fall apart otherwise. Her entire frame was stiff. “I can’t believe- Ohmygod- We almost just-” She stopped, drew a deep breath-
“Gwen…” he reached out a hand to touch her, and it seemed like some kind of cue.
- and then suddenly Gwen practically flung herself at him, clinging tightly while she sobbed into his shirt. He froze for a moment, not quite sure how to handle a weeping female, before finally bringing his arms down around her and holding her tightly.
(For a moment he allowed himself to think privately that if she weren’t crying hysterically right now, Kevin could have very much enjoyed this position. Then Gwen gave a particularly loud sob and he told himself that for once in his life he should try not to be completely selfish.)
He had never seen her like this, not once, not in the face of all the dangerous situations they’d seen: not when they’d battled all those aliens, not when Grandma Verdona had wanted to “awaken” her, not even when they were younger and he’d threatened to crush her with his bare hands (he winced slightly at this last one, and wondered how he had even contemplated that at the time. Then he remembered how much he had hated Ben). But now…
Awkwardly he brought up a hand to stroke her hair in what he hoped was a comforting manner.
“Shhh,” he whispered to her, trying to sooth. “Shh, it’s okay now, we’re alright…”
“I’m s-so sorry K-Kevin!” she gasped between sobs. “I’m so s-sorry! I d-don’t know what ha-happened, he was j-just th-there!”
“Shh, it’s okay, it wasn’t your fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s that guy’s! He driving up the wrong side of the road. You were totally in the right! They didn’t even stop to see if we were okay!” He paused, and drew a deep breath. He didn’t normally say this… “And I’m, I’m s-sorry I yelled. I shouldn’t have. It really wasn’t your fault.”
“S-so, you’re not mad?”
“Not at you, of course not.”
Her sobs seemed to be quieting down, until all that was left was the occasional sniffle. She made no move to extract herself from his arms though, and Kevin was quite content to do the same.
After a time, Gwen said, “I think you should be the one to drive us home.” Reluctantly he nodded, and after she got up he stepped out of the car and they switched seats. The drive home was mostly silent; not an awkward silence or a tense silence, they just had nothing really to say.
When they reached her house, Gwen unbuckled but didn’t get out of the car. They both sat there for a moment as the car idled, neither knowing what to say or if there was anything to say at all.
Gwen couldn’t think of anything, so instead she leaned over on impulse and kissed Kevin on the cheek. Or at least she would have if he hadn’t turned his head just slightly as she leaned over, making the kiss land just on the corner of his lips instead.
Quickly she pulled back, blushing hugely but smiling shyly all the same. Without a word (because there really wasn’t anything to say) she got out of the car and dashed to her house, turning only to make one last peek over her shoulder as she closed her door behind her.
Kevin just sat in his car. He too had a blush on his cheeks, and slowly brought a hand up to touch where her lips had been. Without even realizing it, a shy, happy smile to match Gwen’s spread on his own lips as he put his car in gear and drove away.