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In the haze of falling snow, a figure in red emerged from the white, waving in their direction. 


“Is that Nix?” Henry glanced at the rear view mirror, locking gazes with Odie, who chose to sit in the back. He caught a faint intimation of a shrug, a tilt of his head, before Odie returned to scribbling in his sketchbook. Shoulder length dreads obscured the often blank brown face. Henry couldn't read a signal off him even if he tried. 


The jeep slid to a halt before the figure. Henry rolled down the window of the passenger side, a blast of winter hitting his face. His eyes narrowed and nose wrinkled. Nix’s bleached hair and fake bronze face greeted him with a snarl.


“Took you long enough.” 


“You're welcome.” After watching Nix struggle to open the passenger door, Henry shoved it open for him. The locks and hinges on his Grandma’s jeep, despite his efforts, refused to work as intended. If someone tried to open the door, the locks would tighten, and if he tried to lock the doors, depending on the situation, a door would fly open. 


Nix didn’t glance backward when he flung his backpack into the backseat. Odie squirmed and threw it on the floor. 


“Huh, why’s Jay’s pet here? And put my bag on the seat.”


“No.” 


Henry barely registered the reply above the blaring of a horn and a police siren. Red lights danced ahead in a cluster. An accident. The jeep’s wipers whined as the snow piled on the windscreen of the stationary car.


“Listen, Jay’s not here to protect your sorry ass, so pick my--”


Henry turned a one-eighty and stretched to retrieve Nix’s bag. His seat belt dug into his sore shoulder, and he bit down on his lip to stifle a wince. Throwing the pack at Nix, he said, “Keep your damned things to yourself.”


Nix opened his mouth to argue. 


He waved a warning finger. “My car, my rules. If you don’t like it, you can high tail it to the diner. I don’t give a shit.”


“Fine.” Nix shrank back.


***


By the time they got on the highway, the sky ahead was pitch black. Red lights glowed in the white scene in rows as every driver headed to the suburbs got trapped in the evening traffic. 


Henry tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. At first he had craned his neck to judge how long the line was. After realizing the futility, he leaned back with a scowl and accepted his fate. They were stuck. 


Beside him, Nix had his face plastered to the cold glass. The way his eyes fixated on his reflection, a smile on his smug lips, made Henry’s lips curl. What a narcissist. In the rear view mirror, Odie sketched in silence, his eyes flickering up once in a while. Their gaze met once again, a second shorter than last time, before Odie retreated into his shell. 


Of all the people to be stuck in a car with, it had to be these two. He swore, Jay went around picking weirdos for friends like some collector with a fetish for oddballs. As far as he could tell, the narcissist and the noiseless one had nothing in common other than tangentially orbiting around Jay.


As for Jay, Henry had few complaints against her. She was Ari’s girlfriend, and Ari was his friend. It was as simple as that. 


The jeep's engine kept a steady hum. He had faith in the old gal, and if the worst came, he had blankets, signal lights, and gas in the boot. 


Orange lights pulsed ahead at the side of the road. As the jeep inched closer, he made out a silhouette wearing a reflective jacket. 


Nix shifted beside him. “You’re not thinking of stopping, are you?”


“Got somewhere better to be?” Henry rolled down the window when he got within shouting distance of the vehicle with the flashing hazard lights. “Hey man, you alright?”


The person pointed a flashlight in their direction. “‘M fine. You kids keep going,” a woman answered.


“You sure?”


“Yeah. You get on home before the blizzard hits.”


Before Henry could reply, the car behind him honked, and another to his right stuck its nose in the narrow space between the Volvo in front and his jeep. Henry cursed and drove around the sedan attempting to cut lanes. 


The stranded woman laughed. “Now go on before you get yourself in more trouble. I can see the tow truck already. I’ll be fine.”


Henry stuck his hand out and waved. In the rear view mirror, he could see the boom of the tow truck jutting over the top of a silver pick up. Just before the scene disappeared from view at the bend, the truck veered out of the lane and headed for the woman. 


“She said she was fine,” Nix grumbled. 


“No harm in making sure.”


“And letting all the warm air out.” Nix had his arms wrapped around his lean frame seemingly forgetting that he was still wearing his two inch thick jacket. 


“It’ll get warm again.” Henry dropped his tone a few octaves in the hopes Nix would shut up.


“Um, did she say something about a blizzard?” 


The silent one chooses to speak now.


“I thought that was tomorrow.”


Sighing, Henry looked out the window. The road before him lay obscured; snow fell as if a confetti cannon had been blasted at them. A blizzard, huh, he had the same impression as Odie. The weather forecast from last night… Or was it the day before yesterday. 


“So, is a blizzard coming or not?” Nix’s voice rang in his ears like the whine of a mosquito. 


“Probably.” At the edge of the road, the concrete dividers lay cloaked in white. With every second the snow ridge seemed to grow. Hopefully, Grandma won’t be too out of it. She’d put on the heater and bundle herself. Her Shih Tzu on her lap as they rocked on the rickety chair Grandpa had built and which Henry had fixed two days ago. Her figure clad in a taupe shawl and green blanket came back to him from this morning. Her bushy brows had been knit as she frowned at him, trying to figure out who he was, who her Grandson was. This morning, Grandma couldn’t remember his name.


Crap.


His parents wouldn't be back before nine. That left her alone in the house. 


“Does this radio work?” Nix’s hand hovered above the dials.


Henry slapped the hand away. “It doesn’t”


“Figures.” Nix recoiled and cradled his hand to his chest. “This trash on wheels is older than your Grandma.” 


Blood rose to Henry’s head, and his grip on the steering wheel tightened. 


“Nix, shut up.” 


“Excuse me?”


Shocked as well, Henry turned back to face his back passenger. Apparently not expecting the response he got, Odie held his sketchbook to his chest and stared wide at both of them. His pencil slipped out from his fingers and as he bent to pick it up from the floor, Nix lunged at him and tore the sketchbook from his grasp. 


A rip echoed within the confines of the car and pieces of paper floated in slow motion, at least in Henry’s head. Odie’s horrified face blurred in the background. 


“What the hell?” 


Nix flipped through the stolen book. "Huh, it's just--"


Henry snatched the book, and the book tore into two. He froze. So did Nix. The part with the spiral bind was in his hand. The sheets that got ripped out were in Nix's. 


"Great. Thanks guys," Odie grumbled as he picked up the scraps of paper from the first rip. 


"I'll buy you a new one?" Henry offered. 


Odie ignored him, preoccupied with the insignificant pieces.


His gaze wandered from the owner of the book to the book itself. A side profile of his face, square jaw and curly hair cropped at the sides and the faux fur of Nix’s jacket stared back at him. In black and grays of the pencil, the sketch was the inside of the car from Odie’s perspective. 


When Odie finally raised his head, he said with a lopsided smile, "You're pretty good." 


"I'd hope so. It's the only thing I've got going for me." Odie took the offered half from him.


Nix rifled through the sheets in his hand. "Hey, this one's of me. I look great."


"Your looks aren't the problem. It's your shitty attitude." Odie snatched the sheaf of papers. 


"What's wrong with my attitude? Everyone loves me."


"You're joking, right?" Must be all the spray tans he's inhaling. Henry readjusted in his seat. With all the mayhem, two cars had cut into their lane. 


"Yeah, well, if you were in my shoes, you wouldn't be so judgmental."


"You're a stupid ass model. Don't act like you're suffering some great tragedy." Henry laughed. 


"Of course you'd laugh, Mr. Perfect Life. Everyone loves you, don't they. The goalie who never does anything wrong. No one's ever going to replace you."


Henry's shoulder throbbed. 


"And who's trying to replace you?" Odie’s skepticism dripped with the icy coolness of someone who had his possession destroyed. 


"The agency. I got ugly." 


Henry caught Odie rolling his eyes and he could not agree more. 


"All the gigs I used to get keep going to the new guy who's so fake."


Odie snorted.


"What? Anything funny in what I said?"


"No."


"As I was saying, I'm in the midst of a crisis here. If I'm not a model, then who am I? Nothing."


"That's sad." The traffic eased up to a constant crawl, but the snow was falling sideways now. Wind howled and shook the frame of the car. Henry kept his eyes glued to the windscreen and his hands on the steering wheel. 


"To you, because you have nothing to worry about."


"Really? Did you ever stop to think about why I've been on the bench for the past three months?"


"Wait, you've been benched?"


Henry exhaled.


"Your left arm." 


Whether Odie was asking a question or making a statement, his tone didn't tell, but Henry answered. "Yeah."


"Scholarship?"


"Let's not talk about that."


Nix removed his seat belt and turned to have his back facing the window. 


"Hey, put your seat belt back on."


"It's fine. I'm more interested in this." Nix waved his hand in a circular motion at him. "Looks like I'm not the only one having an identity crisis."


"I don't have an identity crisis. Now put the stupid seat belt back on before you wind up getting me a ticket."


"How? No cop's going to show up in this snow."


"Fine. How about before I throw you out?"


Muttering swears under his breath, Nix returned to his former sitting position and put the belt back on. "What about you? Odie, right? That's your name. So, what's your crisis?"


"Me? I don't have one."


"You walk around with a sketchbook, and Jay's the only one who talks to you. If that doesn't scream identity crisis, I don't know what does."


Henry wasn't one to pry, but he'd always wanted to know why the quiet kid who sat in the corner of a room was always sketching. "Yeah, what's up with the sketchbook?


"I--"


"Come on. We've both told you our crisis." Nix's charcoal eyes gleamed like a dog that's found something to play with. 


"I, I guess it makes me fit in? People pick on me less when I have it with me."


"Is that it?" Nix sighed. 


"And the teachers don't complain about me being anti-social."


"Not fitting in is not an identity crisis."


"I told you."


"I guess you did." Nix slouched in his seat and pressed his face to the glass. "So, it's just you and me, curlie." 


"No, you're on your own. I'm fine." Henry glanced up at the rear view mirror to get a better look at Odie. "So you don't have any friends?"


Odie shrugged. "Not like I want one anyway."


"That's fine. But if you need one, you've got me now."


Odie scratched his cheek. "Thanks. And same to you."


Nix sat up and eyed the both of them. "I don't know what's going on, but count me in too."


"Er, no thanks."


"Wha- why?"


Henry stifled a laugh. The end of the highway came into view, a break in the dividers that led to a narrower road. Further ahead, the diner with the rest of their friends. "We're almost there."


"About time. And I mean it, you, me," Nix pointed at Odie, "friends."


Odie hesitated as he finished stuffing the remnants of his sketchbook into his backpack. He slid the zipper in one quick whoosh. "Sure."


The jeep eased off the low ramp, and they joined a steady stream going to the west side where the diner and Henry's house lay. Since he was dropping off these two, he might as well pick up a batch of raisin muffins for Grandma. Raisins, her sweet tooth never forgot.


January 11, 2020 00:53

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