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IF I DON’T BUY GROCERIES today, it’s scrambled eggs for dinner tonight. Again.
Margot’s car is fixed and sitting in the driveway, where it’s been sitting for the past few weeks. I could go to the store if I wanted to. I do want to. But I don’t want to drive. If I was a nervous driver before, the accident has only made me worse. What business do I have behind the wheel of a car? What if I hurt someone? What if I hurt Kitty? They shouldn’t just give out driver’s licenses so easily. I mean, a car is a really dangerous thing. It’s practically a weapon.
But the store is less than ten minutes away. It’s not like I’d be getting on the highway. And I really really don’t want to eat scrambled eggs for dinner tonight. Besides . . . if Peter and Genevieve are getting back together, he won’t be giving me rides anymore. I’ve got to learn how to do for myself. I can’t depend on other people to help me.
“We’re going to the store, Kitty,” I say.
She’s lying down in front of the TV, propped up on her elbows. Her body looks so long; it’s getting longer every day. Pretty soon she’ll be taller than me. Kitty doesn’t look away from the TV. “I don’t want to come. I want to watch my shows.”
“If you come, I’ll let you pick out an ice cream.”
Kitty gets to her feet.
On the drive there, I’m going so slow that Kitty keeps telling me the speed limit. “They give tickets for going under the limit too, you know.”
“Who told you that?”
“No one. I just know it. I bet I’m going to be a better driver than you, Lara Jean.”
I grip the steering wheel tighter. “I bet you are.” Brat. I bet when Kitty starts driving, she’s going to be a speed demon without the slightest concern for those around her. But she’ll still probably be better at it than me. A reckless driver is better than a scared one; ask anybody.
“I’m not scared of things like you are.”
I adjust my rearview mirror. “You sure are proud of yourself.”
“I’m just saying.”
“Is there a car coming? Can I switch lanes?”
Kitty turns her head. “You can go, but hurry.”
“Like how much time do I have?”
“It’s already too late. Wait . . . now you can go. Go!”
I jerk into the left lane and look in my rearview. “Good job, Kitty. You just keep being my second pair of eyes.”
As we push the cart around the store, I’m thinking about the drive home and having to get behind the wheel again. My heart still races even as I’m trying to decide if we should have zucchini or green beans with dinner. By the time we’re in the dairy aisle, Kitty’s whining. “Can you hurry? I don’t want to miss my next show!”
To appease her, I say, “Go pick out an ice cream,” and Kitty heads off toward the frozen-food aisle.
* * *
The way home, I stay in the right lane for blocks and blocks so I don’t have to switch lanes. The car in front of me is an old lady, and she’s moving at a snail’s pace, which suits me just fine. Kitty begs me to switch lanes, but I just ignore her and keep doing what I’m doing, nice and easy. My hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles are white.
“The ice cream’s going to be all melted by the time we get home,” Kitty gripes. “And I’ve missed every single one of my shows. Can you please go to the fast lane?”
“Kitty!” I screech. “Will you just let me drive?”
“Then drive already!”
I lean across the console to cuff her upside the head, and she scoots closer to the window so I can’t reach her. “Can’t touch me,” she says gleefully.
“Quit playing around and be my eyes,” I say.
A car is coming up on my right, zooming off a highway exit. He’s going to have to merge into my lane soon. Lightning fast I look over my shoulder for my blind spot, to see if I can switch lanes. Every time I have to take my eyes away from the road, even for a second, I feel so much panic in my chest. But I don’t have a choice, I just hold my breath and I switch over to the left lane. Nothing bad happens. I exhale.
My heart races the whole way home. But we make it, no accidents and nobody honking their horn at me, and that’s the important thing. And the ice cream is fine, only a little melted on top. It will get easier each time, I think. I hope. I just have to keep trying.
I can’t stand the thought of Kitty being scornful of me. I’m her big sister. I have to be someone she looks up to, the way I look up to Margot. How can Kitty look up to me if I’m weak?
That night I pack Kitty’s and my lunches. I make what Mommy used to make us sometimes when we went on picnics at the winery in Keswick. I dice up a carrot and an onion and fry it with sesame oil and a little vinegar; then I mix in sushi rice. When it’s cooked, I scoop pats of rice into tofu skins. They’re like rice balls in little purses. I don’t have an exact recipe to follow, but it tastes right enough. When I’m finished, I get on a ladder and search for the bento boxes Mommy used to put them in. I finally find them in the back of the Tupperware cabinet.
I don’t know if Kitty will remember eating these rice balls, but I hope that her heart will.