Back by popular demand¹ this is the second (and final²) installment of my free book preview³. So, first thing’s first, if you haven’t already, check out Chapter One. And with that out of the way, it’s on to the next chapter…
“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
– Oscar Wilde
They’d escaped with only a few minor scrapes and bruises, but the car was totaled. And not even the Jaws of Life could extricate Liza from the wreckage she’d made of her senior year. It was an SAT analogy she could finally understand: trying to have a social life without having a car was like trying to finish a marathon without legs. You’re basically screwed unless a friend agrees to pick you up.
Months had passed since the accident, but Liza still replayed the infamous afternoon on a loop in her head. With hindsight, the entire scene played out like a bad public service announcement warning teenagers about the dangers of texting and driving. Well, Instagramming and driving, if you want to get technical about it.
The idea of “kissing yellow lights” started with Amanda Frazier, the unspoken but unquestioned alpha of Liza’s friend group; though, in truth, the superstition actually dated back generations. It works as follows: when running a yellow light, a driver must touch their fingers to their lips and “raise a kiss to the sky” as they pass through an intersection. By doing so, the driver not only acknowledges the good fortune of their yellow light timing, but curries continued good favor from the traffic gods.
Liza was riding bitch in the backseat of Amanda’s pristine Beamer en route to off-campus lunch when she saw her do it for the first time. And from that point forward, she — and the rest of “The Amandments”, as they were known around school — adopted the practice with an almost religious fervor.
But just as Icarus flew too close to the sun, Liza raised the yellow light bar too high. Driving home from school one Friday, immersed in a joyous, pitch perfect sing-along with that overplayed, but irresistible pop anthem (yes, that one), Liza got the bright idea to Instagram her performance. And rather than caution her against such recklessness, Liza’s co-pilot, duet partner and fellow “Amandment”, Vicki Pao, delighted in the hash-tagging opportunity.
“Do it! You have to do it!” Vicki squealed. #itstooperfect
And so, the moment Liza’s Corolla rolled to its next stop, she hit repeat on her iPod and readied her phone. By the time the light changed, the chorus kicked in, and Liza had one hand on the steering wheel and the other recording the moment for Internet posterity.
“Cause we’re young and we’re reckless,” the two girls sing-screamed with their windows down, “We’ll take this way too far!”
As they cruised through the intersection at Jefferson and Birch, their prophetic words gave way to “Amandment” dogma, as they both blew kisses to a yellow light.
“Make a wish!” Vicki squealed. #makeawish
Liza wished, as she always did, for Kevin Millichap to ask her out. It was the wrong wish.
A second later, her car plowed into the back of a UPS truck. Its brake lights had gone unnoticed amid the frenzy of documenting her Taylor Swift sing-a-long for Amanda, Kevin and her other 87 Instagram followers. On impact the Corolla’s front end crumpled like an empty can of Diet Coke, and the driver’s side airbag put an end to both the video and Liza’s iPhone.
Vicki breathlessly strung together another twenty “oh my god’s” before the reality of the situation finally sunk in. Liza’s car was totaled. Her life was over. And Taylor Swift refused to shut her big, dumb mouth:
Cause we’re young and we’re reckless
We’ll take this way too far
It’ll leave you breathless
Or with a nasty scar
The hour that followed only rubbed salt in the wound. For starters, the UPS driver, some mustached guy named Dennis, was a real drama queen about the whole thing. He kept yelling things like, “do you know what happens if I don’t I get these parcels delivered by close of business?” and “some of us are out here trying to make a living!”
“I’m sorry,” Liza kept repeating, as she fumbled for the insurance card in her glove compartment.
When a cop car rolled up a few minutes later, Vicki’s freak out reached Defcon-4, and she started blabbering about “being an accessory to the crime.” Liza wanted to strangle her. If anyone should have understood having a brain fart behind the wheel, it was Vicki. This was the same girl who’d once ran over her leg with her own car! (The short version: in the parking lot after school, Vicki hopped out of her car to say goodbye to Amanda, but in her excitement she a) forgot to put the car in park and b) tripped on her seatbelt. Before she could get off the ground, the back left wheel had rolled into her leg, stopping the car but leaving a black tire mark that covered half her thigh. Once she realized that she wasn’t hurt, Vicki laughed so hard that she got the hiccups. #fml #smh)
Officer Fontana, who proved only slightly less condescending than Dennis, interviewed Liza in plain sight of everyone commuting home. Each car that passed got a good long look at her, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee full of four senior cross country runners, one of whom (Dustin Donlan) happened to be best friends with Kevin. The moment they recognized her, Jeff VanDis stuck his head out the back window and yelled, “Hey Liza! What can brown do for you?” #ups #logistics
The Jeep erupted in laughter as they drove off. And Liza could’ve sworn she saw Officer Fontana crack a smile at her expense.
When she finally got home that afternoon, all Liza wanted to do was curl up into a ball and cry. But even that had to wait, as her mom made her suffer through a tedious lecture about responsibility and consequences. The long and short of it was that there would be no replacement car (or phone) on the horizon and all driving (and social media) privileges were revoked until further notice. In other words, Liza would be relegated to the life of a 12-year-old Amish girl. #theamishdontusehashtags
Not having a car turned out to be the least of Liza’s problems. Life without a cell phone, and the “radio silence” that came with it, proved far more devastating. Her foothold inside Amanda’s inner circle slowly crumbled. At first, she’d just be in the dark about some inside joke that’d originated in a group text amongst the girls. Pretty soon, though, she was being left out of plans altogether. Liza knew it was never malicious, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating when she’d hear Amanda say things like, “I feel like I never see you anymore”, even though they had first and second period together four times a week. Every second Liza spent without an iPhone and every day she went without posting on Facebook or Instagram, her social standing eroded a little more. And by the time her mom finally lifted the ban on social media six weeks later, the damage was done. Liza felt like a ghost roaming the halls. A ghost with a flip-phone. That’s right: a fucking flip-phone!
Liza had used every last dime of her summer savings to pay for her now totaled car. So when her punishment finally ended, instead of a new iPhone, she’d settled for her recently deceased grandfather’s cell; the one he’d used as a glorified Medic-Alert system whenever he took a tumble in his apartment. The phone came with three numbers programmed into it: Liza’s mom’s cell phone, 9-1-1, and the deli down the street where he’d ordered a turkey and tongue sandwich from every Saturday for 28 years. It was easily the most depressing piece of technology that Liza had ever held in her hands. #ripgrandpalou
In essence, Liza had traded exile for purgatory. All she could do now was wait for Amanda to let her back into the inner sanctum. Wait for Kevin to see her the way she saw him. Wait for her idiot brother to get home from his driving lesson, so that she could beg her mom to borrow the mini-van. God knows rolling up to Devon Clark’s pre-graduation party in a Honda Odyssey was far from ideal, but it beat the alternative: a bus ride/half-mile walk combo that would have Liza smelling like she’d just crawled out of a Taco Bell dumpster by the time it was over. Surely, sweaty pits and a bus pass weren’t going to pave the road back to social relevance.
And so, Liza stared at her pathetic little flip-phone, willing it to ring. Maybe Vicki would take pity on her and offer to pick her up on the way to the party. Or maybe her mom would call in a good mood to let her know that they were on their way home. Or…
What if her mom and Caleb had died in a tragic accident? #whatif
On the one hand, it’d be incredibly sad. (Obviously). But she’d also (probably) inherit a bunch of money. (Definitely) enough money to buy a new car. Hmm…
Maybe she’d get a BMW like Amanda. Or a Tesla. With built-in GPS. And a sunroof. That’d get everyone’s attention.
And really, in the grand scheme of things, what was more important? The love of a mother and a brother? Or a shiny, new car and the social adulation that was sure to come with it?
Liza had to at least think about it for a minute. Or five. #dontjudge
To be continued…
²I can’t very well let you read the whole thing for free, now, can I?
³Almost as exciting as that free HBO preview you’d get once or twice a year as a kid. #pleaseletthismoviehavenudity