Ty pulled into the driveway at about a quarter to eight. He was fifteen minutes late, but still a lot earlier than Rick expected. Not that Rick wasn’t ready. Quickly flipping through his wallet to ensure he had enough cash to cover drinks, Rick pulled on his black Chucks as he heard Ty lean into the horn.
“Impatient bastard,” Rick said to himself. “He’s the one who was late.”
Rick snatched up his house keys and made for the front door, hitting the lights and saying goodbye to his cat. He locked the door on the way out, then made his way down to the green Tahoe that was waiting in his driveway.
“You know, unless you did something to it, my doorbell should be working just fine,” Rick said, leaning in through the open window.
“Yeah, so is my horn,” Ty sniffed. “Look, man, the show starts in little more than a half hour. I’d like to spend at least a few minutes at the bar beforehand, so could we get a move on?”
“Sure,” Rick smiled. “Soon as you kill the engine, come around here and open the door for me.”
“Get the fuck outta here,” Ty snapped. The slightest traces of a grin played at the corner of his mouth.
“Hey, man. You show up late. You don’t even bother getting out of your damn car. You honk your horn, pissing off all my neighbors in the process…
“Yes, Ty, it does!” he said before his friend could shake his head. “It’s just that you don’t ever have to hear about it. Seems to me that the least you could do is come around here and open my door.”
“Or I can hit reverse, roll on outta here and leave you standing in your driveway like a girl that’s just been stood up. What do you think I am? Your fucking chauffer? Enough with this bullshit. We’re running late.”
“If you were my chauffer,” Rick said calmly. “You’d have gotten your ass here on time. And we’re not running late. I told you the show started at 8:30. Truth is it starts at nine. I knew you wouldn’t be here on time.”
“Whatever, man,” Ty snorted. “Just get your ass in the car.”
“Not until you open my door.”
“Fuck you and this door shit. You can spend all night hanging out in your driveway with your cat.”
“No, you’ll spend all night hanging out in my driveway,” Rick said, grinning widely. “I’ll take my cat to the show. After all, I have the tickets.”
“Well, come on, then. You wanna go to the show? Come open my door.”
“You’re an asshole,” Ty grunted, killing the engine.
“I won’t deny it,” Rick replied, feeling victorious. “You know, you really should take the time to come up to my door.”
Ty stepped out of the Tahoe and walked around to the passenger side, opening the door wide. Rick stepped in, then stopped, turning toward Ty.
“It’s already rude that you run late,” he said. “Not bothering to come up to my door is like kicking me after you’ve felt up my girlfriend.”
“Yeah, you really wanna know what it’s like being kicked by me, keep on talking,” Ty sniffed.
Rick sat down, leaning back in the passenger side seat. Ty shut the car door, a little harder than was necessary. Rick grinned as Ty made his way around the car to the driver’s side, swearing to himself along the way. Ty was just venting his frustration, and after countless nights of waiting around for him, Rick was damn sure going to enjoy this fun at his friend’s expense. He knew how far he could take it though, and he was right at the line. Probably best to call it a night.
Ty opened the driver’s side door and sat down next to Rick. He didn’t say a word, and Rick could feel Ty’s hostility toward him filling the car. He’d better say something quickly. The night was running the running the risk of turning to shit, and Rick knew better than to help it along.
Ty shifted into reverse and slowly began backing out of the driveway. Rick turned to look out the rear window and was startled to discover that he wasn’t Ty’s only passenger. A willowy, doe-eyed blonde sat in the backseat behind Rick. She grinned widely at Rick, but said nothing.
Oh shit, Rick thought. No wonder Ty’s pissed.
Ty had no girlfriend, but there were a few girls that he went out with pretty regularly. He tended to rotate them out, dating one for a month or two, until she got sick of seeing him, then he’d move on to one of the others, until she got tired of him, and so on. Eventually, he’d get back to the girl he started with and the whole cycle would begin again. Rick knew all three girls personally, he actually really liked one of them—Nicole. However, he had never seen the woman in the backseat before. She must be someone new. Likely someone Ty had only recently met. And if that were the case, Rick’s harmless little joke on Ty might not be so harmless. Whatever game Ty may have had going with this girl, Rick had probably just inadvertently broken it.
“So, Ty,” Rick began, suddenly uncertain about what to say. “You going to introduce me to your friend?”
Ty pulled up to the stop sign at the end of Rick’s street, and after a quick look at the oncoming traffic, turned right, heading toward the freeway.
“Fuck you,” Ty replied.
“Ah, Ty, I was just messing with you,” Rick responded, trying to figure out a way to allow Ty to save some face. “Come on, man. You need to lighten up. Life’s too short, you know?”
“Look, man,” Ty answered. “You didn’t even bother asking why I was late. I got a flat on the way over here.”
“Yeah, didn’t you notice that we’re driving on a fucking donut?”
“No. You serious? You really got a flat?”
“Want me to pull over and show you?”
“No,” said Rick, genuinely surprised. “I believe you. Sorry, Ty. I really didn’t know. What caused it?”
“Hell if I know. It just blew. It was old. Probably need to get a new set.”
“Shit, man. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Ty said, finally putting the incident to rest. “Just forget about it.”
“Fine. It’s forgotten. Now can we try to enjoy our night? I mean, we’re about to see Weezer at the frickin’ House of Blues, man. How many days can you wake up in the morning and say that?”
“It’s cool. I’m glad you asked me if I wanted to come, but Weezer hasn’t been the same since they lost Matt. Rivers became all full of himself after that.”
“Huh?” Rick asked. “What are you talking about?”
“They’re not as good, man. They’ve lost their sense of humor, and they’re nowhere near as clever as they used to be. Their songs still have hooks, but they’ve lost their spirit.”
“Oh, come on. The green album was great!”
“It was okay,” Ty sniffed. “But not as good as the stuff that came before. And their new one is complete crap. Shit, man, I couldn’t even finish listening to Make Believe. I got as far as ‘My Best Friend’ and had to turn it off. The Rivers Cuomo who recorded Pinkerton would kick the new Rivers’ ass if he ever heard that song.”
“Man, Pinkerton’s great, but it’s so overrated.”
“It’s their best album. Hell, it’s their only album as far as I’m concerned.”
“So if I told you it’s my least favorite of theirs, is Rivers going to kick my ass as well?”
“Not if he’s too busy kicking his own.”
“Kicking his own ass?” Rick grinned. “Great. Thanks, Ty. All night long now, I’m gonna be expecting him to just start slugging the shit out of himself at any moment.”
The girl in the backseat laughed quietly at this, and Rick turned to face her. He had forgotten all about her.
“Shit, Ty. You gonna introduce me to your friend or what?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Ty asked. He flipped his turn signal and changed lanes.
“Hi,” Rick said to the blonde in the backseat. “I’m Rick. And you are?”
“Rick, what the fuck are you doing?” Ty asked, smiling.
“I’m introducing myself to your date, since it’s obvious that you’d rather talk shit about the band we’re going to see than introduce us.”
“Sitting behind me. In the backseat. You know, the very attractive young lady you’ve brought with us this evening. I hope you got her a ticket because I only have the pair.”
“Heh heh,” Ty laughed sarcastically. “Fuck you.”
Ty flipped his signal and turned onto the Interstate. Traffic was pretty light for a Friday night, and Rick estimated that they’d be there in another twenty minutes. Ty signaled and moved over a lane, then another. He accelerated, slowly building speed until they were cruising at around seventy miles per hour. Rick frowned.
“Hey, Ty,” he said. “Maybe you should slow down a bit. You’re not supposed to drive over fifty-five on a donut.”
“Okay, ma,” he shot back. “And I’ll be sure to keep my window closed tonight so as I don’t get pneumonia, too.”
“No, Ty, I’m serious.”
“You wanna get there, right?” Ty asked, sounding slightly annoyed. “Even if the show does start at nine, we’re still gonna be cutting it close, considering the time it takes to park. We’ll be fine.”
Rick was looking at him in disbelief.
“No, I’m serious,” Ty continued. “My uncle drove on a donut for over 100 miles before he finally bought a new tire.”
“So laziness and stinginess are inherited traits?”
Again, the girl in the backseat laughed. Ty’s only response was to accelerate even more, bringing their speed near eighty. Rick was uncomfortable, and turned toward the girl once again.
“Does suicidal top the list of qualities you look for in a man?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” she responded quickly before erupting into a hearty and surprisingly masculine bout of laugher.
“Ty, who is this girl?” Rick asked, finally getting annoyed. “We really don’t have a ticket for her, and the show’s sold out. If she’s not able to get one and can’t get in, I hope she realizes she’s going to be in for a long night in the parking lot.”
“Rick, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“This girl you’ve brought!” Rick shot back. “The one who’s been laughing and smiling at me the whole ride!”
“You’re insane, man,” Ty replied, uncertainty finally breaking through in his voice. “I didn’t bring anyone.”
“Sure, you did. She’s sitting right behind me, smiling and laughing like this is the funniest fucking thing in the whole world to her.”
“Rick, there’s no one back there,” Ty said, turning to glance at his backseat before continuing. “This has gone on far enough. It’s not funny.”
“You’re goddamn right, it’s not funny,” Rick spat back. He knew what was happening here. Ty was having some fun at his expense now to make up for the way Rick humiliated him earlier. And the girl seemed to be playing right along.
Oh, Ty, you’ve found yourself a winner here, he thought. This girl is right up your alley. Cute, good-natured and irritating as hell.
“Ha ha ha,” Rick laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, you’ve got me, Ty. Good one. Now we both look like idiots to your friend. You’re not exactly making the best impression on her.”
Ty pressed even further down on the gas, accelerating to about eight-five, maybe even ninety. They were now passing most cars on the freeway. When he finally replied, he sounded pissed.
“Look, Rick, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, and quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing about it.”
“You’re sick of hearing it?!” Rick interjected. “How do you think—”
Ty cut him off. “Let me finish, will you? You’ve already busted my balls about being late. You don’t need to do this, too.”
“Do what?” Rick said, incredulously. “You’re the one who’s being an asshole here!”
“Asshole? I’m driving your ass to the fucking concert!”
“And if I had known you were going to be a dick the whole way there, I’d have taken the fucking bus.”
“And who would you go with? Good luck finding someone willing to play these stupid little mind games of yours.”
“Fine. You know what, Ty? Fine. If you want to act like this, just get me to the fucking show. Then you and your little girlfriend can spend all night together doing whatever the hell you want to. I’ll just take a cab home. I don’t need this shit.”
“Rick, this is fucking ridiculous. I’m not doing anything to you!”
“You’re being an asshole!”
“How am I being an asshole?!”
“Shit, you really need me to spell it out for you, Ty? Fine. You’re not introducing me to this girl you’ve brought! Hell, you’re acting like she doesn’t even exist. Like I’m fucking crazy or something. And then on top of that, you start sounding off like I’m the one who’s being a dick here!”
“Rick, I told you, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Okay, enough! It’s just stupid now!”
“You’re right, it is! There’s no one in this fucking car except for you and me!”
“Ty, I’m not fucking blind, she’s sitting right behind me!”
“Rick, there’s no one there!”
“Hey!” the girl exclaimed as Rick reached back and grabbed her arm, pulling it toward Ty.
“Hello? Do you see me, dumbass?” he asked in a crassly feminine whine. “Right here! She’s right here!”
“You’re fucking crazy, Rick!” Ty shouted, passing the car in front of him.
“You don’t see her? You don’t see this girl right here, sitting in your backseat?!” Rick was now waving her arm around animatedly. The girl was struggling, trying to pull it back.
“Cut it out!” she said. “Dammit, let me go!”
“Not until your new boyfriend admits that you’re back here,” Rick said to her before turning toward Ty. “You hear that, Ty? You’d better come clean.”
“Rick, I’m sick of this now! Cut this shit out, or I’m gonna lay you out.”
“Not until you acknowledge her!”
“Fine! I acknowledge your imaginary friend back there, Rick. In fact, I think I’m starting to see her now. Oh, yes! There she is! Long black hair, blue eyes, big fat ass.”
“Ty, are you seriously telling me that you didn’t bring this girl?” Rick asked, finally letting go of her arm. “That you can’t even see her?”
“Yes, dumbass! There’s no one back there!”
“I swear on my life, she’s sitting right back here!” Rick reached back, intending to lay his hand on top of the girl’s knee, but was surprised when she reached up and took his hand in hers.
“On your life?” she asked. “You swear on your life?”
“Huh?” Rick responded, confused.
The girl smiled, slyly.
There was a loud crack from the direction of the left rear tire as the car quickly pitched right, spinning violently into the adjacent lane. Rick heard tires squealing and the sound of metal on metal. Instantly, his vision was obscured and intense pangs of heat shot up his arms and face as he pitched forward into the Tahoe’s airbag. Quickly glancing out the passenger window, Rick saw what had to be dozens of headlights bearing down on him. A coarse grinding rose from beneath the Tahoe and in an instant he was upside down, being spun violently around in the opposite direction. Something slammed into the car on the driver’s side, knocking the vehicle upright again, directly into a mid-sized pickup truck. Rick heard the screech of tires and the blare of a horn, then…nothing.
After a few moments, Rick became aware a dull, painful throb coming from the side of his head, and reaching up, found it soaked with blood. He winced as he moved, feeling a sharp burst of deep pain along the side of his chest. His arms looked red and raw and felt tender. The whole world seemed to be spinning, and Rick felt nauseous and weak.
He struggled to look over towards Ty and saw him slumped over, his head against the steering wheel.
“Ty,” Rick called out, quietly. There was no response.
“Hey, Ty. You okay?”
He heard something moving behind him, and he watched in astonishment as the mystery blonde wriggled through the gab between the two front seats with what could almost pass for grace. She was completely unharmed–not a single blonde hair out of place. The girl smiled at Rick, then turned toward Ty.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be all right,” she said to Rick. He could see that she was doing something to Ty, but precisely what was hidden from him. Ty’s body quivered, and although he could only see her back, it soon became clear to Rick that the girl was frisking him. She was searching for something.
“But unfortunately, Ty won’t be joining you at the show tonight.” She spoke matter-of-factly. The way one might discuss a TV show or a football trade with a coworker as they went about their jobs.
“Ah, there it is,” the woman said, more to herself than to Rick. Rick saw Ty’s body heave, and then lie still. She slipped something–something small–into her pocket and turned once again to Rick. She grinned. She had an attractive smile, but there was something a little malicious in it. It was almost sinister.
“Smile, Rick,” she said. “After all, it was supposed to be you who died tonight.”
The girl with the beautiful blond hair unlocked the driver’s side door and opened it. People were shouting outside, and Rick could hear sirens in the distance.
“That’s why you were able to see me,” she said, then laughed quietly, turning back around. “That was the plan, at any rate. Right up until you swore on your life. Hey, I couldn’t let you come off as a liar now, could I? After all, you were right. Ty was carrying me as a passenger, but I was supposed to be your date.”
The blonde carefully, gracefully stepped over Ty’s body and hopped through the door. She briskly ran her hands over her shirt, evening out the fabric and brushing off whatever dust may have settled on it during the crash before turning again toward Rick.
“Don’t ever say Death never did anything for yah.” She waved playfully, laughing as she strolled off unnoticed.
Rick heard voices and saw flashing lights, and within moments the passenger door was open. A pair of police officers peered down worriedly at him, and he overheard a paramedic on the other side of the car radioing in a DOA.
“You alive?” one of the officers asked.
“I think so,” he said, uncertain.
“Someone upstairs must be looking out for you,” the officer responded.
“In the backseat.”
The second officer opened the back door behind Rick. He flipped on his flashlight.
“Son, there isn’t anyone back here,” he said.
“Not anymore,” Rick said, and closed his eyes.