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Scenes From the Passenger Seat

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Scene 1: Strange Men Make Big Brother Worry

Kevin decided he was seeing things--hallucinations, nightmares come to life, whatever you wanted to call it--because his sister was smart enough to know that she shouldn't be hanging out in that part of the park alone. Or not alone as it appeared, seeing as he drove down the street that a group of guys surrounded her as she sat on the bench.

He turned the car around at the next corner and sure enough, it was Joan.

That was not good. That was definitely not good and he felt an anger course through him at her stupidity. He knew she was dealing with a lot of crap, trying to convince everyone she was feeling better, but this was not the way to do it.

Driving over to pick up his sister, Kevin thought up several interesting ways to start the conversation. He could be calm, be angry, be whatever else actually penetrated that hard head of hers. He saw the way she stiffened when he pulled up and how the others around her scurried away like mice in a cupboard. He smiled momentarily. Some things never changed. He was still the big brother and still capable of inflicting fear in no good jerks that dared to think dirty thoughts about his baby sister.

Of course, he had feeling if he had to get out of the car, the wheelchair might ruin the image of him as the daunting and crazy big brother. He called out, “Joan.” Yes, much better to be intimidating from the safety of his car.

It worked. Joan rushed over and said, “What are you doing here?”

“Get in.”

“Kevin, you have no—“

“Get in,” he repeated, gritting his teeth and making his voice unwavering. He glanced beyond her at the one punk with the cigarette dangling from his mouth who was still standing there, staring at his sister’s ass and that was just…wrong. He focused on the punk and asked, “Feeling brave, kid?”

Joan rolled her eyes and turned to the guy, whispered something, and stomped over to the station wagon. She slid into her seat and said, “That was humiliating. Thank you very much.”

“You’re lucky that I was the one who drove by and not dad.”

She didn’t say anything. Popped her gum and changed stations on the radio. He sighed and couldn’t help but wonder if this was what he was like when he got out of the hospital. If he was, he was surprised no one had kicked his ass because he was about this close to pulling Joan over his knee and smacking some common sense into her.

“Explain yourself.” That was all Kevin said. He thought it got right to the point and was stern enough that maybe it would get through to this insane person posing as his sister. He gripped the steering wheel and said, “You heard me.”

“Mind your own business, Kev,” she replied, focusing on the window and watching the park become smaller and smaller in the distance. That was what she felt like most of the time—getting smaller and smaller until there was nothing visible left. Try explaining that to an older brother who didn’t really care.

“It is my business. Goes with the whole protective older brother thing I have going for me.”

“Since when?”

He rolled his eyes and shrugged, “Since I discovered girls love a guy who adores his baby sister.”

“I’m not a baby.”

“You’re acting like one.”

“Shut up.”

“Who was that guy?” She remained quiet and Kevin felt what little control he had slipping away. He couldn’t believe he was about to think this, but he longed for the days of spacey, all over the place Joan. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned to face her. She crossed her arms and took on her stubborn stance, the same one she used to get when she swore she hadn’t been eavesdropping on him. He took a deep breath—I won't kill my sister, I won't kill my sister—and said, “Because he doesn’t seem like the sort of guy that you hang around with. He looked somewhat scary.”

“Who are you to judge someone you don’t know?”


“You don’t know him.”

“Then enlighten me.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“And we’re back to this,” he muttered. Again with the deep breathes before he continued, “You’re my sister. You being okay and not getting involved with crazy tattooed men matters to me.”

It seemed to get her attention, which was a start considering how things had been with her since she got out of the hospital. He patted her leg, careful not to seem condescending or overly dramatic, and said, “I know what you’re going through, Joan, and here’s what a wise bratty sister told me: get over it. You’re alive and that’s all that matters.”

She shrugged and said, “Can we go now?”

“Is that all you have to say?”


He sighed and said, “This whole miserable woe-is-me act is getting old.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Yeah. I’m the expert on self-inflicted misery and I don’t want that for you.”

For a moment, there was a glimpse of the old Joan in her eyes, but it faded rather quickly and her protective wall went back up. She shook her head and replied, “I’m fine. Great, in fact.”

“Obviously," he said. He knew this wasn't over. He was going to get to the bottom of this. It was more than just being sick. Joan appeared lost and that worried him more than anything else.


Scene 2: Normal Girls Buy Cakes

“Why did I let you talk me into this?” Kevin wondered aloud, gripping the oh-shit handle above the passenger seat window. He closed his eyes when Joan nearly hit a car pulling out into traffic. He knew the answer. He was trying to get through to her, looking for small glimpses of his sister that appeared to be captured within this pea pod person living with his family.

“The state gave me my license over six months ago. I know what I’m doing.”

“Define know.”


“The state is very lenient with this sort of thing. I don’t recall giving you a test myself.”

“No one forced you to come along.”

“Right. Big mistake. Car’s not worth that much. Maintaining the two working limbs that I still have is much more important.”

Joan hit the brake for the light, causing both her and Kevin to lurch forward in their seats, and she said, “You can stop wincing now.”

“Oh Joan, we both know that’s not true.”

“Says the man that thinks red lights mean caution while crossing.”

“Where are we going anyway?”

“The bakery.”

“Does this have anything to do with the mess I stumbled upon this morning?”

“It’s Adam’s birthday and I wanted to make him a cake. It didn’t go as well as I hoped.”

“It looked like Betty Crocker exploded in the kitchen.”


He grinned and said, “And that thing—“

“The cake.”

“Mighty brave of you to call it that.”

“Shut up.”

“It was more like an assault weapon.”

“Don’t make me push you out of this car.”

“One, it’s my car,” he said, holding up his hand to count off before continuing, “And two, it’s never good form to push a gimp out of a car. I think there are laws against it.”

“Lucky you.”

“Yes, one of the perks of legs that don’t work. That and the fact that I always get good parking,” he replied glibly.

She rolled her eyes, more than used to her brother’s twisted sense of humor, and explained, “I’m trying to prove to Adam that we're a normal couple and that I’m capable of doing normal things.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

Joan glared at him and said, “I’m no Julia Child.”

“I’d hope not. She’s old and fat.”

“She’s still alive? I thought she was dead”

“Another reason not to be her,” Kevin added with a shrug. He pointed to a pedestrian and said, “Let’s not plow down the woman with the stroller.”

“Again, I find myself wondering why you insisted on coming along.”

“Me too.”

“Kevin, this is important to me and you’re making me crazy.”

“You’ve always been crazy.” He noticed how her whole body stiffened at that. God, she was so sensitive anymore. Ever since she was diagnosed with the Lyme disease it was one extreme or another with her. He decided not to dwell on it. It only led to fighting and they were actually enjoying a nice afternoon so far. He joked, “C’mon, I remember all too well our insane childhood. Like that time you became convinced our neighbor was Elvis Presley and stood outside his house with all dad’s old records waiting for an autograph.”

“They looked alike.”

“And then there was the whole thing with you trying to drown yourself in the pool.”

“I wasn’t trying to drown myself. I was trying to be like Harry Houdini.”

“You locked yourself in a trunk and had Kelly push it into the pool.”

“I thought I was magical.”

“Yeah, and you weren’t crazy or anything,” Kevin commented with a smile. Joan laughed and he said, “See. You can’t blame me for your ingrained insanity.”


“So what’s the big deal about this cake? Adam never eaten one before? Was he shocked and amazed to know that certain ingredients put together created a yummy dessert?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m not the one obsessed with a cake.”

“It’s the point of the cake.”

“That might be where you ran into trouble with your baking. Cakes don’t have points. Most are circular or flat and rectangle.”

Joan grimaced at her brother’s idea of humor and replied, “Oh so funny. You should go on the road with that act.”

Kevin shrugged noncommittally and answered, “Maybe one day. In the meantime, why not fill me in?”

“Because you wouldn’t get it.”

“Try me.”

She sighed, leaning into the steering wheel as she turned the corner, and said, “It’s just—our whole relationship, this whole stupid year, appears to have been like…a figment of my imagination or something. I don’t know what parts were real and what parts were me being sick. And it’s confusing and upsetting and I want to prove to myself that Adam isn’t a part of all the bad stuff. I want what I feel for him to be real and possible and...what if it's not?”

She glanced at Kevin out of the corner of her eye and he tried to maintain a neutral expression. He wasn’t sure any of this made any sense, but he wanted to hear her out. He wanted to try to understand his sister so that he could help her because hearing the sound of tears coming from the bathroom at night was more upsetting than he ever remembered it being in the past. He asked, “And baking a cake made it more normal?”

“Isn’t that what normal girlfriends do for their boyfriends? I mean, didn’t Beth used to go all out for your birthdays?”

“Joan, I think we both know that Beth and I were hardly the couple of the year.”

“But you were normal. You were the homecoming couple and did average high school things like going to parties and seeing movies. I want that. I don’t want it all to be about…craziness.”

“And you think that’s what you and Adam are?”

“I don’t know. That’s what the cake is all about.”

“For the record, you’re insane,” he said. He smiled reassuringly and said, “But in that very normal sixteen year old way.”



"Shut up."

"Oh, how I've missed these bonding moments of ours," Kevin replied.


Scene 3: Joan the Faithless

Kevin didn’t like the scene as he drove up to the front of Adam’s house. Joan had been crying when she called, simply saying, “I need you.” There were a few phrases when used by his little sister, that no matter how mad he was at her or how busy his own life was, caused him to drop everything and rush to her side. Those three words were one of the phrases and she had sounded hysterical on the phone.

He wondered if this had anything to do with the guy at the park or their insane journey for the perfect cake over the past few weeks.

It wouldn’t surprise him. Little with Joan did anymore.

He made a promise to himself to get to the bottom of this once and for all. He wasn’t going to let her blow him off or talk it away as her being “perfectly fine.” Obviously, she wasn’t and that meant it was his job to fix things.

Joan rushed out the front door and down the path toward the car. Kevin thought for a minute she was running from a mass murderer based on the look on her face, but Adam came to the door looking forlorn and as lost as Joan appeared. Adam looked as devastated as Joan, but Kevin still wanted to kill the kid for making his little sister cry.

Joan hopped in and managed to get out the word “drive” between sobs. Kevin obeyed and once they were a safe distance away, he tossed her a tissue and asked, “What the hell happened?”

“Nothing,” she said, sniffling into her sleeve.

“Nothing? I’m a cripple, Joan, not an idiot.”

She shook her head and said, “We broke up.”



"That's not an answer."

"I told you already. I want normal and have you ever met Adam Rove? He’s not normal. He’s anything but and it’s like impossible to make him understand…and if one more person asks me if I’m okay, I’m going to kill them. Why does every thing I do have to be about that now, huh?”

He nodded. He understood that feeling well enough himself. He said, “It’s because they don’t know what else to say, Joan.”

“So don’t say anything.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“I hate this,” she replied. She punched her seat and repeated, “I hate this.”


Her face got a far off look and she asked, “Do you think I was a better person last year?”


“Like over all. Was I nicer? Was I more…I dunno…something?”

Kevin shrugged. He could see that his sister was searching for answers and, for the first time since she got home from the hospital, she seemed to be talking about it with someone. A part of him wished she had chosen mom because she was better at this sort of thing. The other part of him was happy to know that Joan still trusted him and he didn’t want to screw this up. He searched for the right words, but settled for what came to his mind, “You were always trying new things, always searching for answers. It was weird. You were always asking crazy questions that didn't have any right answers, but you were positive that there were answers no matter what anyone told you. I admired that.”

“You did?”

“I wish that I had that much faith in the universe.”

“Well, I don’t anymore. I don’t have faith in anything.”

“That’s a lie.”

“No, it’s not.”

“You wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble with a stupid cake if you believed that, Joan. You’re confused and recovering from an illness. You’re allowed to have some doubts about life and whether things will work out.”

“Mom thinks I should go to church with her. Thinks it’ll help me,” Joan admitted.

“Mom’s approached all of us about that.”

“Why don’t you go?”

“I don’t know. Not my thing,” he answered. He thought about it for a minute and added, “I think I still have some anger toward the Big Man that needs working out before I go celebrate him.”

“You believe in God?” she asked.


“You’re sure?”

“Well, is anyone sure? I mean, do you know of anyone who’s conversed with Him recently?” Kevin asked. He caught his sister squirm in her seat and went on, “Have you ever seen a sunrise?”

“Farmers aren’t even up that early, Kevin.”

“Remember our family trip to the Rocky Mountains?”

“Who could forget that? You kept threatening to push Luke’s mule off the trail.”

He laughed—that was a fun time—and replied, “I look at things like that and I think...there’s got to be something out there. Something or someone had to create such beauty—it couldn’t be an accident. Accidents are my legs not working or you breaking mom’s favorite vase—“

“It shouldn’t have been on the coffee table,” Joan exclaimed.

“What I’m trying to say is...I’m not very fond of God or whatever you want to call Him at the moment, but I believe he exists. There’s too much in this world that can’t be explained away. And I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about. I'm pretty sure that you know he exists too.”

“Not anymore,” she replied. She looked at Kevin and said, “I did all these things. I was trying to be the type of person He wanted, do the right thing, blah, blah, blah…and look where it got me. A one-way trip to the emergency room and nothing but lots of questions about everything. Everyone looks at me like I’m crazy now. Everyone thinks I’m seeing hallucinations and…what if I am? How will I ever know if I’m feeling something real or if it’s a side effect to this stupid illness?”

“I wish I knew, Joan, but you’ve got good instincts. I’m sure you’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

“I wish it would be sooner.”

“Me too,” he replied. Off the look on her face, he explained, “You’ve been hell to live with. Ask Luke if you don’t believe me.”

Kevin pulled the car into the driveway and said, “You know what. I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

“Want to go get some food?”

“Sure,” she replied. She smiled at her brother. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and said, “Thanks Kevin.”

“For what?”

“Being my brother and having faith in me.”

“You make it hard sometimes, but I’ve been where you are, Joan.”

“It’s different.”


“I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting.”

He nodded and asked, “Do I need to beat up Adam?”


“For hurting you. I need to know these things ahead of time nowadays because it takes some planning. I mean, it’s much easier to run him over with my wheelchair than to give him an actually pummeling.”

She laughed and threw her balled up tissue at him, “You’re so weird.”

“Is that a no?”

“I don’t want you beating up, Adam. This isn’t his fault anymore than it’s mine. It’s complicated and doesn’t really matter. He’s not the problem right now.”

“What is?”

“I honestly don’t know. Life in general, I guess.”

“Ah, ennui. Terrible disease. You know the cure for that, don’t you?”

She stared at him, “No.”

“Milkshakes and fries. Works every time,” he replied. He backed the car back out of their driveway and added, “It’ll all work out, Joan. I promise.”