It’s a lot like flying. Or so he thinks.
Fiona is ahead of him, pedaling faster by the minute—her dark hair is like a charred blaze in the wind. Her cheeks and nose are kissed with rosy pink from the chilly autumn air. When she looks back at him, she looks like a doll with her chocolate eyes daring him to try to beat her.
The sidewalk is narrow and even if he wanted to catch up to her, he couldn’t—there isn’t enough room for that. But he bikes faster anyway—as fast as he can, It’s unusual, he thinks, how she looks like she could be eleven years old with her tiny stature. And here he is, five ten and still growing. He’s the tallest freshman at school—he might even be the tallest of anybody soon enough. And yet, he cannot get his gangly legs to move faster.
"You’re never going to catch me,” Fiona cackles over the ‘thrush’ the piles of leaves on the sidewalk make. She’s always been competitive like this, but not Howie. Howie prefers to sit on the sidelines and watch the game, rather than be part of it. But for the past two years at least he’s been engaged in it, simply because Fiona is. He wants so badly to see a sign of her affection. Something other than the friend-zone b.s. he’s been getting all his life.
Just to keep ahead, she moves faster, weaving through a pile of carefully raked leaves that a neighbor is cleaning up. Howie tries in vain to steer clear of the poor man’s work, which sets him back even further.
"Can’t catch me," she taunts, circling in some stranger’s driveway like a true show-off. Just when he thinks he can catch her and maybe even pass her by, she takes off again at breakneck speed, plowing through fallen leaves, over twigs left from tree trimming. Faster and faster.
And then, just when Howie starts to think she might be breaking the laws of physics, it happens.
Everything moves in slow motion at first, and then time compensates. The car plows through a stop sign just as she’s crossing the street. The driver slams on the breaks and Fiona attempts to swerve, but she’s too late. The girl who is fast in all that she does let her guard down for a single second—she was slow.
Howie throws his bike down and trips over it to get closer to her. She’s laying still, her legs a tangled mess intertwined with the bicycle. She breathes calmly as she can, grits her teeth—with good reason.
"Fiona…" Howie holds her head and her hand carefully. "I’m going to call for an ambulance."
"No, don’t," she pleads.
"Why not?" he’s baffled by her resistance to help.
"Just don’t. My parents will find out."
"That’s what parents are for, Fiona,” Howie explains. It occurs to him that he is actually in close enough proximity to kiss her. He rapidly blinks the thought away, wishing he hadn’t thought something like that at a time like this. He sighs, resigned. “What do you want me to do then?”
"Get this bike off my legs?" she cracks a smile, like it’s funny. It’s not. It’s horrible. But he smiles in spite of himself. The car’s driver seems to be in shock.
"Are you okay kid?" he asks.
"Obviously not," Howie snaps. "But you could help me get this bike over to the boulevard…" He pulls off his coat and sticks it under her head. The driver helps him carefully lift the hunk of metal off of her; it looks bad from Howie’s perspective. The driver hurries back to his car and doesn’t come back right away.
"You can’t stay in the street," Howie reminds her.
"I know, help me up."
He tries, but her ankle buckles and she grits her teeth, screeching a little under the weight of the rest of her body. “Put me down, put me down!” she insists. He lays her down on the boulevard, leaves stick in the black waves of her hair. “Okay…new plan,” she breathes, clutching his arm. “We’re gonna go to your house and you’re going to call your mom.”