Cigarettes and Skin Bracer aftershave. That’s what that old truck smelled like. They don’t even make Datsuns anymore. Lucas always thought it was a pleasant combination, one he would always associate with forgiveness, gentleness, and fatherhood. When he became a father, just ten years later, he would begin wearing Skin Bracer, although he didn’t smoke. Forgiving and gentle. This was the kind of father he wanted to be.
So, this was Lucas’s big chance. This was his chance to impress Amanda’s father with what a good kid he was. They were all sick as dogs, the Millers. Stomach bug. Mr. Miller needed someone, probably anyone, to pick up a few things at the grocery store.
“He wants you to take the truck,” she groaned, handing Lucas the keys.
Lucas returned an inquiring glance.
“He knows you don’t have a lot of money for gas. It’s fine.”
Her head hit the pillow. He did not yet have the grace or instinct to touch her hot cheek with his cool hand before he turned to go. He had something else on his mind.
“Wow,” he thought as he took a right turn out of the neighborhood, feeling a sense of belonging and trustworthiness.
Lucas was just sixteen and was still adjusting to driving in general, much less a stick, but he managed fine. The grocery list was trivial and he was already headed back to the Millers’ house. Stopped at a light at the bottom of the interstate overpass, something caught his eye in the rear view mirror.
The scene unfolding in the mirror was almost impossible to believe and required an immediate response. Three men in a brown 1981 Camaro were headed his way. Actually, to say that all of the men were in the Camero is inaccurate. One man was driving the car backwards down the overpass in a serpentine fashion while the other two were sitting on the back of the car clutching beer cans. The men’s eyes were wide. The bellowed with laughter and thrill. They were drunk. How they stayed connected with the sloping rear of the sports car will remain a mystery to Lucas.
Lucas looked ahead. The light was red. He looked behind. There was no time to waste. He slammed the stick into first and gunned it. Before the truck’s engine had a chance to stall from poor coordination between the clutch and the pedal, it was hit from the right which caused it to spin a complete one hundred and eighty degrees. Lucas watched, frozen, as the Camaro swerved, outboard passengers and all, into the gas station parking lot on the corner before the light.
A police car arrived in just minutes. Lucas remained in the car, the traces of adrenaline still pumping through his body. He was ok. The drunken men were picked up in the 7-11 buying more beer. The police drove Lucas and the bag of groceries back to the Millers’ house. The truck was towed to a nearby Goodyear.
Lucas stood at the front door while the police drove away. He had struggled to speak to the police officer at the scene of the accident and he was struggling now to formulate the words he would need in order to explain to Mr. Miller what had happened. The shock he was feeling from the accident was beginning to give way to guilt. The truck was very clearly totaled. Once the feeling was let loose, it began to fill his body with a heavy, damp, sinking sensation. He could barely lift his arm to grasp the door handle. Failure hung around him like a foul odor.
As he opened the door, he scrambled to form a plan of action. The most important question he faced was whether or not to tell Amanda or to tell Mr. Miller. In his heart, he knew that this was between he and Mr. Miller. He was vaguely aware that this was one of those formative moments in his life. Would he be a man who faces his problems head on or one who cowers in the corner avoiding and hiding?
He carried the paper bag of groceries to the kitchen counter and emptied it’s contents. He poured out two glasses of 7-Up over ice, took a deep breath, and headed for Amanda’s bedroom. He set the first glass down on her bedside table. She stirred from her nap as he brushed her hair from her face and kissed her on the forehead.
“Thanks, sweety,” she creaked.
He paused. No words came to his lips. He patted her on the leg and left the room. He paused again outside of Mr. Miller’s room. He knocked and entered.
Mr. Miller cleared his throat and tried to sit up. Lucas offered him the cold glass and pulled up a chair.
“Is everything ok, Lucas?”
Lucas stared at his shoes.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
As Lucas raised his faced, his eyes met Mr. Miller’s calm gaze. Lucas was still accepting the fact that he would have to tell him what had happened.
“Like I said, I’m ok, but…um…well…”
“It’s ok, Lucas. Just tell me what happened.”
Yeah, sure. It’s ok now because you don’t know that I just totalled your truck! thought Lucas, panic rising in his chest.
“Well, there were these guys. They were drunk. I was just trying to get out of the way. The other car just came out of nowhere.” He made a few gestures to indicate the nature of the impact.
“Is everyone ok?” he asked, with sincere concern.
“Yes, but your truck. I mean it is totally…screwed”
“Son, it’s ok. The police called me before you came. I’m just glad you’re ok. That old hunk of junk was starting to smell bad anyway.”
He smiled and gave Lucas a single nod. No words needed to be spoken with it. The message was clear.
You’re a good kid.