The silver Toyota Yaris shook a little more violently with each passing street light. Jayla's heart sped up as she tried to assume the best, hoping against hope that she was simply imagining things. But she knew the shake, and she wasn't ready for it. The bright city lights swallowed the stars, leaving only a few golden orbs blinking at the quaking car on the road. If stars showed signs of luck, then Jayla didn't know what to make of the only two fireballs blurring in the night sky. Were they warning her of an upcoming accident? Were they telling her to hurry up and get home?
Jayla drove and drove until the radio drowned in the waves of her heartbeat. Whatever the stars were trying to say, Jayla's hammering heart seemed to have a different idea. Sighing, the girl searched for a no parking sign and pulled over next to a small ice-cream cart the second she didn't spot one.
On the bright side, her car didn't break down in the middle of nowhere. Folks were still bustling with their lives, turning on the neon signs on their food trucks, lighting up the darkness with the names of exotic dishes Jayla couldn't pronounce. The night was young for the food market, and there was a chance that the ice-cream guy would still be there long after Jayla hit the roads again.
(This had to be a good sign.)
An airplane buzzed across the vast sky as Jayla got out of her car. The sounds of music and chatter were loud and clear, reminding the girl of the reality she was in. Taking a deep breath, Jayla went around her car to discover what she already knew: she had a flat tire.
Growing up, Jayla had always been the curious type, and would constantly ask her dad to show her how things work. At one point, he taught her how to change a tire, something she should be doing right then, but wasn't.
(That's not a good sign at all.)
Leaning against her ill-starred Toyota Yaris, Jayla pulled out her phone and hit the first number on her contact list. The person on the other end picked up before the second ring, making Jayla's frown morph into a small smile.
(She didn't need the stars to tell her that she had been missed.)
"Jay? Is everything okay?" a honeyed voice asked, worry painted all over.
Jayla stifled a giggle that was pushing up her throat like the bubbles of her favorite soda.
"What?" the person asked, and Jayla could hear the smile through their voice. (Smiling was a sign of confusion, the cutest sign of confusion, really.) Jayla closed her eyes, picturing herself at home with that one person instead of here with all these people swarming around her.
"Nothing, Sammy," the unfortunate girl chuckled, "just that it rhymes."
"You suck," the person laughed, their voice familiar like an old song they both grew up to.
(It sounded like every time Sammy chanted 'Sweet Caroline' out of the blue, and Jayla joined with the most dramatic 'Pa pa paaaa!' she could think of.)
(They never really made it past that line.)
Jayla found herself staring at the sky, wondering if Sammy was seeing the same blurry lights as she was. An invisible string tugged and pulled Jayla away from the chaos to somewhere the stars shined brighter and more beautiful.
Who knew a phone call could carry this much joy from one lonely place to another in so little time.
(Maybe it was the stars' way of telling Jayla that it's going to be alright.)
"But you love me," Jayla teased as she got back into the driver's seat. She didn't want the ice-cream guy thinking she was crazy; no sane person would be laughing on the phone while having a flat tire.
"That I do, Jay," Sammy answered, her voice small and giddy like a shy kid on the first day of school, "So, everything's fine? I was actually about to call you. I thought you'd be home by now."
"Well, the left front tire is flat and I don't have a spare one. I'm gonna call to have them tow my car I guess…" Jayla trailed off, mind racing to the conversation she was destined to have in a couple of minutes, "I'm just calling to let you know that I'm gonna be a little late. Don't worry."
"Hold up," Sammy started, "you hate talking to strangers."
"Yeah, but it's just to get my car out of here. I'll be fine," she sounded overly confident like her dad did back when he told a 4-year-old Jayla that he had built a rocket in their backyard.
"Where are you?" Sammy asked, and Jayla could almost hear the jingling of keys from the end of the line. Drumming her fingers on the wheel, she searched the sky for a sign. Grey clouds drifted like smoke, spilling ash-gray paint on the jet-black canvas. Whatever the stars were saying, the clouds had muffled completely.
"Night market just across the bridge," Jayla said after a while. She was having a hard time reading the signs alone.
"Oh cool!" Sammy piped up almost instantly, "I've always wanted to take you there. There's this Chinese place we've got to try! Be there in ten. Just stay where you are okay? Bye!"
With that, Sammy hung up, leaving an eerie silence in the car. Jayla rolled her eyes at her best friend; it wasn't like she could go anywhere anyway. The girl sighed as she typed in a new number, bracing herself to hear an unfamiliar voice answer the phone.
Just then, someone was knocking on her window.
(That could be a good sign.)
Jayla's head shot up, and she quickly realized that the pitter-patter was from the shower sprinkling outside her car. Droplets slid down the windscreen as gravity tugged and pulled them to play. Jayla felt her heart drift downward with the rain that was getting heavier and heavier by the minute.
(A storm wasn't a good sign at all.)
Sadly, it seemed like Jayla wasn't the only misfortunate one today. The once merry crowd retreated to the nearest gas station for shelter, dejected that the night was ruined in such an early hour. Umbrellas popped up like wildflowers, concealing the night sky, making the last trace of moonlight fade out of sight. Shaking his head, the ice-cream guy pushed the icy delectables away from the melting clouds.
Jayla only saw two little kids near his cart the whole time she was stuck there; a chill took over her body which had nothing to do with ice cream.
(That wasn't a good sign at all.)
The sound of rain started to cloud her mind, and Jayla could feel herself drifting away like a melting vanilla sundae. Her fingers went to her phone on instinct, noticing for the first time that the battery was running low. She tried to shake off the sinking feeling as she pressed her weary phone to her ear, hoping against hope that it wouldn't be too late for Sammy to turn around and go home. But the phone kept ringing, and Jayla kept calling.
Just then, someone was knocking on her window.
(That could be a bad sign.)
Jayla's head shot up, and her eyes caught sight of a figure under a black umbrella, face shielded from the storm and from her. Whatever the stars were saying, Jayla was too scared to think about right now. Holding her breath, she searched once more for a no parking sign, or any street sign that might help her make sense of the scene. But there was no sign. The rainy streets were deserted but for a frightened girl in her unlucky car.
And now there's someone else.
Jayla squinted to make out the shape of the person until she saw it: a faint light dancing off silver keys in the stanger's hands. Her eyes lit up with recognition at the sight before her. Biting her lips to contain her growing grin, Jayla unlocked the door for her best friend; the taller girl climbed into the passenger seat, the door closing behind her with a thud.
Sammy didn't get to finish as Jayla threw her arms around her. The familiar scent of roses filled her lungs, letting Jayla know that Sammy had been using the smaller girl's soap again.
All at once, the sky seemed a little clearer, the rain a little softer, and the storm a little less scary.
(Her best friend wasn't a bad sign at all.)
"I missed you," Jayla snuggled into her best friend's neck, enjoying the soft brushes of brown hair on her cheek. The dampness tickled her skin like a silver coat of mountain mist. Jayla chuckled as she could hear her 13-year-old self say: "Hey! One Day I'm going to drive up the highest peak of Doi Inthanon and bring back plenty of fresh air as a souvenir!" (That was totally a sign that she was a good driver, never mind her flat tire.)
"Sorry I made you do this," Jayla breathed as she realized that she was the reason behind Sammy's damp hair.
"Nah, you didn't do anything, Jay. Now, hand the phone over so I can call for help," Sammy said, holding out a hand only to be met with a sly grin. Pulling her phone closer to her chest, Jayla said nothing. (It was a sign that a game had started.) The two friends stared at each other, minds racing in opposite tracks. Everything fell silent; even the rain seemed intrigued by Jayla's scheme as it padded against the roof, each drop softer than the last. Dark clouds made way for the stars to climb back up to the sky, shedding some light into the lonely Toyota Yaris.
Jayla could see plump lips slowly spreading into a smile under the starlight. (Smiling was a sign of confusion, the cutest sign of confusion, really.) Sammy shook her head as eyes drifted from Jayla's to the starry sky. A moment passed, or maybe it was two. Whatever the stars were saying, it seemed to shock the girl in the passenger seat. Sammy's head snapped back to her friend, mouth falling open to make way for a gasp.
Jayla let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding.
(That wasn't a bad sign at all.)
"Jay! You called them?!" Sammy whispered-yelled, her eyes wide with disbelief. Jayla gave a shy nod before burying her face in her hands.
"Oh my god! I'm so proud of you, Jay!" Sammy's excited voice echoed in the small car. Jayla felt her face heat up and tried her best to hide it. Before she could say anything Sammy continued: "This calls for a celebration. I saw an ice-cream cart on my way here. You up?"
Lifting her head to catch a glimpse of her best friend's proud smile, Jayla felt butterflies dancing under the stream of water sprinkling from the starry sky.
"Yeah," she said finally, "ice cream's great."
(That wasn't a bad sign at all.)