The Turnabout

Submitted into Contest #222 in response to: Write about a mentor whose methods are controversial.... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Jordan wasn’t sure why she’d humored Kevin for so long. She typically didn’t hesitate to fail a student no matter how tearful their entreaties. Once, she failed a girl who knocked over a traffic cone during a parallel parking attempt. The girl cried as if the world were ending, and when she told her father, he slapped her so hard she lost balance and nearly fell over — possibly concussed. Jordan felt nothing.

Kevin was different. She knew she should’ve stopped the test much earlier, probably when he failed to locate the hazard lights in his mother’s sun-damaged Saab 9-5, but something about the boy softened her — whether through pity or fear, she was uncertain. Did his blunders come from ineptitude? Or was it from deliberate miscalculation? Perhaps malice played a role in Kevin’s recklessness, but Jordan couldn’t commit to this assumption or any other. His motives were a mystery. Framing his eyes and mouth were wrinkles deep as gashes — subtle markings that marred an otherwise benign countenance. His size, on the other hand, was all but disarming. It was hard to believe he was only sixteen. His head came intimately close to the ceiling of the undersized sedan, and his hulking arms encroached into Jordan’s personal space — so much so that she found herself hugging the passenger-side window whenever he adjusted the air conditioner, which he did more often than necessary. And once the car careened again, nearly colliding with a passing motorcyclist, Jordan decided she was indeed afraid, and fear compelled her to issue the long-overdue demand, “Stop the car.”

Kevin complied promptly — perhaps too much so — and with too much exertion — because Jordan’s head snapped forward, halting only when the seatbelt retractor engaged, and forcefully returned to the hard-leather headrest.

Kevin pivoted his head woodenly. “You OK?” His voice was listless, yet commanding — and his eyes so black that he appeared dead.

Jordan said nothing, save for a prolonged groan, and Kevin kept his eyes on her as if expecting more of a response. From the narrow road behind, other cars gained upon and circumvented theirs, some honking. “Put your hazard lights on,” she finally said, caressing the back of her aching head.

Kevin scanned the dashboard with a pointer finger and a tight squint. “Where are those again?”

Jordan sighed and reached over to activate the hazard lights, and Kevin pursed his lips and nodded in understanding. “We need to go back,” she said.

Kevin paused as if to process her words, then slowly, he slackened his jaw. “Uh-oh. You hurt?”

“I don’t know, but I’m driving us back.”

“But you’re hurt.”

“I’m not hurt.” Jordan shifted her gaze toward the window evasively. “I’m sorry, kid, but you’ve failed.”

Kevin paused again — this time for longer — selectively delayed in comprehension as if his processing time were contingent on favorability to what was said. “But it’s not over yet.”

Jordan crossed her arms and shook her head in an exaggerated span. “Nope. There is no possible way for you to pass at this point.”

Another pause followed, even longer than the last, and Jordan could picture gears rotating in the boy’s head. “Not even if I do perfect from here on out?”

“Nope.” Jordan unbuckled her seatbelt and nodded at Kevin to do the same. “Come on. We’re switching seats.”

Kevin’s beady blacks sank into his head as he paused once more — nearly catatonic — until a mutinous fury gave him life, and he began accelerating.

Jordan recoiled like a steel spring. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Next time I mess up, we’ll stop and switch seats. How about that?”

“Absolutely not! Stop the car!”

The engine thrummed louder, and Jordan shakily slung her seatbelt over herself and secured it. When the speedometer reached twenty miles an hour, a surge of panic channeled through her like electricity. She continued repeating the demand, “Stop,” and by thirty miles an hour, her demands had turned to pleas.

“I’m better at driving fast than slow,” Kevin said. “You’ll see. I have fast reflexes, but they only kick in when everything else is fast. You know what I’m saying?”

Jordan couldn’t find her voice. At fifty miles an hour, they were threading through traffic, horns blaring as motorists swerved away. Railroad tracks appeared two traffic lights ahead. Kevin zoomed past the first green light, then the next red, narrowly avoiding T-boning an SUV, whose driver slammed on the brakes amid the intersection and laid on the horn. Jordan clenched both sides of her seat, stabilizing herself as the Saab belted over the railroad tracks, fender rattling against the framework. Kevin’s head struck the ceiling with a clunk, but he was unfazed by the impact — as if it didn’t even register. The chassis continued to quake precariously as Jordan let go of one side of her seat and shielded her eyes. Under the engine’s crescendoing roar, she choked out another impotent plea, but the boy kept accelerating as if he heard nothing.

Warm tears collected in Jordan’s palm, and she considered opening her door and jettisoning herself. No. They were going too fast, and she was too afraid of injury. Then another thought came to mind. “Kevin, if you stop, I’ll pass you! I’ll give you a perfect score!”

The car abruptly decelerated and veered into a sharp left turn, the tires screaming in resistance. Kevin gunned the engine again. Jordan didn’t dare look.

“Please!”

Some time passed, and the car slowed to a stop. Jordan uncovered her eyes and unclasped her seat. They were back at the DMV parking lot. Feverishly, she unfastened her seatbelt and stumbled out of the vehicle. She tried running, but her knees buckled within the first few steps, and she collapsed, knocking over a traffic cone before hitting the pavement. Once she was back on her feet, she turned around to briefly meet eyes with Kevin, whose smile was so unpracticed that it appeared to be causing him pain. Then he sped away, hazard lights flashing in valediction.

November 01, 2023 15:14

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2 comments

Patricia Casey
22:38 Nov 06, 2023

Hi Yousef, Excellent storytelling! You brought your characters to life. I'm not sure who was the mentor, Kevin or Jordan. His ways were unconventional, for sure. Was this how your first road test went? Patricia

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Yousef Jeddi
11:21 Nov 08, 2023

Thanks so much, Patricia! The mentor was supposed to be Jordan since she was the driver instructor. Perhaps I didn't follow the prompt closesly enough, lol. And no, I actually did fine on my first road test! This isn't quasi-autobiographical or anything. All made up. In fact, the hazard light thing was the only detail with a direct inspiration; my step dad failed his first road test before he even got a chance to drive because he couldn't find the hazard lights, lol. That stuck with me for whatever reason. Thanks again for the comment!

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