Jason is the worst driving student in, well, forever. Olivia is a good teacher. But is she good enough to keep him out of jail?
This story originally appeared in the author’s liberal arts capstone project in her study on character development. Although the story and its characters stand alone, this piece is the first in a three-part series with subtly obvious connections. Read Part II here and Part III here!
“A Wrong Turn of Fate” is copyrighted by Pillar House Press. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without written permission from the publisher.
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Olivia Brighton’s pale face turned even paler. “Yes, Mrs. Anderson. That would be fine…See you then.” She stuffed her cell phone into her purse and sighed. No, she did not want to give Jason a driving lesson. It was her birthday—her 26th. But since her mother was not expecting her until much later, she had time. And she needed the money. Besides, if she went now, she could swing by her apartment and feed her cat before the party. She snapped her bag closed and stood to leave.
Stepping outside, Olivia immediately noticed the heaviness in the air. It’s going to rain, she thought, hoping Jason’s driving lesson would be finished by then. That boy was just not grasping the concept of driving. Of all her Driver’s Ed students, Jason was the worst. She would never have said that to his parents, but they must have realized it, because at Mrs. Anderson’s insistence, Olivia now tutored Jason in her free time. It was terrifying. For her, teaching any kid to drive was terrifying. But it made money and got her into the school system. She hoped it would advance her to consideration for a teaching position. So far, her community college degree was not doing that on its own.
“You’ll be fine,” she told herself. “Just an hour, and then you’re free for the weekend.”
“Jason!” Mrs. Anderson’s shrill voice emanated from the kitchen up both sides of the double staircase, through the hall, and under Jason’s bedroom door.
“Yeah?” he answered weakly, hoping she wouldn’t hear him. The pit in his stomach told him his subconscious already knew what she wanted.
“Ms. Brighton is on her way! Get your shoes and permit and come downstairs!”
Jason clumped his head on his desk. The two worst things in his life were going to collide—learning to drive and girls. Girls petrified him, and driving lessons were a nightmare. He wanted to crawl away and die.
But Mrs. Anderson wouldn’t have any of that. “Jason, did you hear me?” Her tone grated his eardrums like sandpaper.
“I’m coming,” Jason called, his voice quavering with resignation and dread. Why couldn’t he just chill at home with his dad and watch football? It wasn’t like he got to spend that much time with him. In fact, he only saw his dad when he needed help with geometry.
“Good.” He heard her reply. “Now hurry up!”
Jason lifted his limp limbs and dragged them to his bed where his junk was piled. Forcing his arms to move, he slumped his wallet into his pocket. His hoodie was sliding off one shoulder, but he didn’t care. He was marching to his death anyway—who cared about looks then?
Mrs. Anderson cared. “Jason honey, fix your shirt,” she said when she saw him. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah,” he mumbled, yanking his hoodie back into position.
His mom wasn’t a bad person, Jason argued with himself. She loved him. He knew it because she was always checking on his day, checking how he felt, checking that he had enough to eat, and all that other stuff mothers checked. She was great. It was just that sometimes—oftentimes—he had to remind himself of it.
Way too soon, Olivia Brighton arrived.
“I have a few errands,” Mrs. Anderson informed her. “I’d like to come along and have Jason drive us to the bank. Will that be alright?”
“Of course, Mrs. Anderson,” Olivia said, inwardly relieved. Number one, it would not be as awkward with another person in the car. Number two, Olivia would feel much safer, as she would not be solely responsible for their lives. Plus, she had a suspicion Mrs. Anderson would make a fabulous backseat driver; she might not even have to say anything.
The four of them set off—Jason’s four-year-old sister Jenny being forced to come so she would not be home alone.
“Mommy, ith Jathon goin’ to drive uth?”
Jenny was neither impressed by nor confident in her brother’s abilities. “Mommy, are we goin’ to die?”
“Heaven’s sake, child! Absolutely not! Jason is going to do a fine job. Okay?”
“Okay.” Jenny put her thumb in her mouth and stared out the window as Jason put the car in reverse.
“Jason!” Mrs. Anderson screeched. “Baby, open the garage door!”
Jason jumped like a spud tossed during a game of hot potato. “Oops.” He pushed the button on the plastic opener clipped to the visor and slipped a glance at Ms. Brighton. Her face was masked in a placid stare, her white fingers convulsed around the door handle.
Carefully, Jason backed the burgundy minivan out of the brick garage, down the circular drive, and onto the crunchy asphalt of Brookstone Drive. He was on the road. He sucked in a breath and collected his thoughts.
He jumped again.
“Honey, are you watching the street?”
“Uh, yeah,” he said, blinking suddenly. He had to remember not to space out when trying to think while driving.
Ms. Brighton was still staring straight ahead when he peeked at her again, her mask as tight as an overblown balloon. He squeezed the steering wheel, braced himself, and headed toward town.
“Do you know where the bank is?” Mrs. Anderson asked.
“Uh, yeah, but it’s downtown. Isn’t that kind of…intense?”
“You’ll be fine, honey. We’ll be there before rush hour.”
A plump drop of precipitation plopped on the windshield with an intimidating smack. For a brief moment, it was completely silent; then the storm began, the rain tumbling from the sky and battering the car and everything else in sight.
Jason gripped the wheel so tightly he couldn’t feel his hands.
“Jason! Wipers!” Mrs. Anderson spoke loudly over the pounding of millions of raindrops and the rumble of angry thunder, leaning forward in her seat so her head was between Olivia and Jason. “Do you know where they are?”
“Uuuuhhh…” He searched desperately for the wiper button. Where in this car…no, that was the heated seat…and that was the defrost…yikes, that was the radio. Suddenly they were surrounded by the manufactured thunder of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey as it began to rock the vehicle at maximum volume.
“No, baby, that’s the radio,” Mrs. Anderson shouted over the beat of countless drums and the wails of multiple electric guitars.
“Hold on to that fee-ee-ee-ee-liiin’…” Steve Perry warbled.
“Tu’n it off!” Jenny screamed, clapping her hands over her ears.
“Wipers, honey—right there!” Mrs. Anderson yelled.
“Where?!” Jason panicked. His thoughts were stuck in the back of his brain and he couldn’t tell where his mother was gesturing.
Olivia quickly leaned over and switched the radio off. She pointed at the wiper button. “Right there, Jason,” she said in a tight monotone. She wasn’t shouting…but she was using the scary teacher voice.
Jason sat rigidly in his seat—now becoming quite warm—and tried to survive the drive. Three wrong turns, two burning buns, and one smashed ego later, he pulled into Bruno’s Bank. The drive had taken half an hour, and his rear felt like it was on fire. He squirmed. Where was that blasted heated seat control?
“Pull through right over there, dear,” Mrs. Anderson instructed hoarsely.
Olivia’s look was now enhanced with a grayish hue. “Have you been through the bank drive-thru before, Jason?” she asked, hoping to hear a “Why of course, Ms. Brighton. And happy birthday, Ms. Brighton. I appreciate your help and promise to be the best student you’ve ever had.”
That wasn’t quite the answer she received. It was more of an uncertain “Nooo…?”
“Well, think of it like driving through McDonald’s. Have you done that?”
“Well, pull up to that column. When the teller greets you, answer politely and explain what your mom needs.”
Jason drove accordingly.
“Here’s the deposit slip,” Mrs. Anderson grunted, reaching forward.
Jason made the requested order, then sat back to wait. He surveyed the numerous buttons in a vain search for relief. His poor rear couldn’t take much more roasting, but he didn’t dare say anything about it.
Suddenly a sultry, purring rumble tickled Jason’s ears through the torrent of rain. That sound could only be one thing: the engine of a brand new La Ferrari. Whipping his head to the left, he saw the glossy sports car glide to a stop in the lane next to him. It was as red as his mother’s lipstick but much more interesting. He stared in awe, eating its glorious reverberation and sleek complexion like a toddler devouring Christmas candy.
A gentleman leaned out of the driver’s window. “Buona sera,” he greeted the bank teller, smiling and lowering his sunglasses. “Come sta?” Seeing her flustered, blushing expression, he clarified. “Good evening. How are you, tesoro? Potrebbe aiutarmi? That is, could you help me, por favore?”
“Um, why yes, sir,” she stuttered over the loudspeaker. “How may I assist you this evening?”
Jason couldn’t take his eyes off the hot Italian sports car. Olivia couldn’t take her eyes off its hot Italian owner. And Mrs. Anderson couldn’t take her eyes off the hot Italian owner’s hot Italian sunglasses. “Why on earth is he wearing those at this hour? My gracious!”
“I am Adalfieri Lombardi,” the gentleman said. “I must make a very big withdrawal, tesoro, uh, darling. I am taking my dog on a cruise, and need to be well funded.”
“All right, sir,” the bank teller replied, staring. “Just put in your deposit slip and we’ll get you taken care of.” She pushed her glasses up higher on her nose.
He complied. A few moments later, she spoke again. “Sir, would you come inside, please? A withdrawal of this size needs to be addressed at the desk.”
“Ah, mamma mia!” He exclaimed, pressing his forehead. “If I must. Signorina, does this establishment allow dogs? I must bring my cucciolo—I cannot leave her in the car.”
“I—I suppose that won’t be a problem, monsieur, uh, sir. I believe I can manage it, this once,” the girl said, giggling nervously.
“Ah, molte grazie, Signorina.”
“My word!” Mrs. Anderson croaked. “How much cash does he want to take out?”
They watched as Signor Lombardi cautiously parked, opened the car door, and judged the distance between himself and the safe, dry haven of the bank foyer. They watched him place a magazine over his perfectly moussed black head. And then they watched him carefully lift a trembling, sweater-clad Pomeranian into his arms. Gently, he unzipped his leather jacket and tucked her inside before dashing through the rain and into the bank.
“Too bad there’s only one teller right now,” Olivia commented, annoyed. “We know who’s going to be served first.”
Jason inwardly groaned. He wanted to get home. It sounded nice to watch some Ferrari videos on YouTube. Maybe his dad would join him.
They could see Signor Lombardi’s face through the large glass window. Olivia rolled her eyes at the bank teller, who, though her back was to them, was obviously being flattered to death.
After a long wait, the column next to Jason’s head released its capsule. He extracted the thick envelope and handed it to his mom.
“That was quicker than I thought,” Olivia remarked, “given the competition in there.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Anderson agreed. “Now let’s go,” she said, stuffing the packet into her purse. “You know what to do, Jason?”
“Sure,” he replied. He had no clue, but he knew his mom would jump in if necessary. Jerkily, he pulled out of the parking lot.
“You should be heading the other way,” Olivia instructed tersely. “Make a U-turn at the next light.”
“A U-turn. You know, where you turn completely around—safely—in the intersection. We just studied them,” she added through clenched teeth.
“I…don’t remember,” Jason mumbled. The car was silent. “You want me to do that up here?”
“Okay.” Jason braced himself, collecting his thoughts.
“Jason, the light’s red!”
Jason jolted back to reality.
Mrs. Anderson, Olivia, and Jenny screamed in unison as he coasted through the red light.
He yelled as a lime green Smart car approaching from his left nailed the minivan just behind the back tire. The van shuddered. Jason slammed on the gas. In his rearview mirror, he could see the Smart car rebounding on the wet pavement, broken glass pinging the ground, joining the raindrops in pelting the street.
“Jason, what are you doing?” Olivia shouted, clutching the car for dear life.
“I don’t know!” Jason shouted back, willing himself not to burst into tears—in front of a girl.
“Son, stop! Stop!” Mrs. Anderson yelled. “You have to go back! The other driver may be injured!”
Jenny bawled. “We goin’ to jail!”
“No sweetie, we’re not,” Mrs. Anderson said loudly over the pounding rain. “Honey, pull into that gas station. Ms. Brighton will take over.”
Ms. Brighton did not appear to be up to the task, however. She looked green.
“Jason, what were you thinking?” Mrs. Anderson was in shock.
“I was concentrating on how to do a—a—one of those things Ms. Brighton—told me to do,” Jason said, trying to get his shaking body under control.
“Did you space out again? Honey, you have to break that habit! You could kill someone with it!”
Jason had just put the van in park when they caught the sound of sirens in the distance. Jason knew he could hear the tires slushing through the puddles in the road and the handcuffs jangling on the officers’ belts. He bet they already had a warrant ready and everything. They would slam him against the car and pin his arms behind his back.
“How did they get here so fast?” Olivia asked shakily, craning her neck to see behind her.
“They shouldn’t have,” Mrs. Anderson said, completely puzzled. “It’s too soon.”
Jason scrunched himself very small and didn’t say a word.
The noise grew louder. “Sit tight, Jason,” Olivia said. “They will ask you questions. Just be honest. Tell them you are a student driver.”
“Yes, baby,” Mrs. Anderson said, straightening. “Sit up and put your hands on the wheel.”
Jason swallowed and followed her orders. His bum was still toasting, but his palms and fingers were cold and clammy with nervous sweat. He gulped and tried to work up some saliva in his dry mouth so he could talk when the officer arrived.
Two minutes later, three police cars parked behind them and several officers climbed out, guns drawn.
“Step out of your vehicle,” ordered one. “Keep your hands up.”
“What’s going on?” Olivia whispered. “This isn’t normal! Quick Jason, do what he says!”
Shaking so hard he could barely unlatch the door, Jason exited the vehicle and stood in the pouring rain staring at the officers. He raised his arms.
“Everyone in the vehicle, step out and put up your hands,” the officer said. “Now turn around and walk toward us.”
Trembling, Jason, his mother, and Olivia walked backward across the wet pavement.
“Get on your knees,” he ordered. He and two others came forward and handcuffed the three of them.
“You have the right to remain silent,” he said. “Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You are allowed a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you by the court.” The officer continued the Miranda rights as he snapped Jason’s handcuffs in place.
“You are suspects in the robbery of $3,200 in cash from Bruno’s Bank, and in the traffic violation and subsequent accident on Crescent and thirteenth. Are you willing to answer some questions?”
Mrs. Anderson gasped. Jason nodded, dumbfounded.
“What is your name, date of birth, and social security number?”
At first, Jason forgot his own name. His mom helped him, and then she and Olivia answered likewise. Mrs. Anderson tried to explain that they were innocent, but the officers would not release them. They were going to the station. Jason was stunned.
He looked down at his wrists in the harsh, metal handcuffs. They looked so small—so innocent.
Next to him, Olivia passed out.
It was three weeks later. It had taken awhile, but the mess was mostly cleaned up.
Apparently, the flustered bank teller at Bruno’s had put $3,200 into Jason’s tube and $200 into Mr. Lombardi’s hand. At first, Adalfieri assumed the infatuated girl had made a mathematical error. But after realizing she had actually filled an envelope with his requested amount, he made the connection: his money was on the move—in a minivan.
Calling the police, Mr. Lombardi reported that he was missing over three thousand dollars in cash, providing the station with a description of the suspects and their vehicle. He had no malicious intentions toward the family, but his English was not perfect, and he was rather excited over the phone. He talked quickly and loudly, saying things like “$3,200,” “stolen,” and “bank.” With the traffic violation and accident shortly after his call, in the same area and in the described vehicle, the police had probable cause for arrest.
Jason and company had been taken to jail and fingerprinted—booked, as it was called—which was scary, but apparently standard procedure for felony stops, he learned. It took a while to sort everything out, but they were eventually found to be innocent. After a lot of official hassle that Jason didn’t quite understand, they were released. Everyone was fine. The one downfall was that Ms. Brighton had to spend her 26th birthday in jail.
But apparently, she didn’t think it was such a bad thing because she got a boyfriend out of it—a police officer no less. Naturally, he was the one who revived her on the asphalt in the pouring rain, held her head until she wasn’t dizzy, and helped her up when she was ready to stand. The best part was she wasn’t even mad at Jason afterward.
As for Jason, he was just glad it was all over. His parents weren’t too mad because they were so relieved he was okay, and they knew he didn’t try to get in an accident and run away with $3,200. It helped that the driver of the Smart car wasn’t hurt too badly. He got a concussion and spent a couple of days in the hospital, but he was really nice about it. Knowing Jason was a student driver, he didn’t press charges.
The best part of the whole thing, though, was that Jason got to see more of his dad. Mr. Anderson took time to help him with his driving and with finding a job so he could pay for the traffic ticket. He also made a point to do something fun with Jason and Jenny every evening after work.
And Jason didn’t want to trade that for the world.
Like this story? Read Part II in the series here!
Copyright © 2017 Pillar House Press