The thing is, it is my fault. All of it is.
I nagged her for weeks to give me a driving lesson.
“Where are you going to drive?” Eddie asked me.
“The Hell away from your ugly face,” I told him.
“You don’t have to hurry through everything, Betty,” Mom told me.
But I was in a hurry. I was in a hurry to drive, to grow up. I’d been imagining moving out of the King’s castle since we moved in when I was nine. And I didn’t let up about it. Just an hour I asked her. For my birthday. Like I said, I worked on it for weeks.
In the end it was the King that convinced her.
“I don’t see the harm in it,” he said over breakfast. He was eating a grapefruit. I imagine that when no one’s around he sprinkles gold flakes on it. Just because he can.
“She doesn’t have a permit yet,” Mom said.
“I’m not suggesting you drive down Santa Monica. Just around a few side streets out in the valley,” the King suggested.
“I need like a thousand hours of driving time before I can get my license, Mom,” I reminded her.
“It’s not going to hurt anybody, Claire,” the King said.
“It’s illegal, Greg.”
The King smiled. “Break the law a little,” he said. “I won’t tell. It’s her birthday.” That fucking douche bag. The one time he’s not a bastard to me and it all goes straight to Hell.
Mom shook her head but I could tell she’d been convinced. She took a sip from her coffee and looked up at me. “One hour,” she said.
“Awesome!” I hugged her. “Thanks, Mom!”
“Can I come?” Eddie asked.
“Fucking die, Eddie,” I shouted as I ran back to my room to get dressed.
It was early in the morning. The roads were supposed to be deserted. We took Mom’s car, the new sedan. She made sure I adjusted the seat and the mirrors and had the seatbelt on tight enough. We spent like a half hour in the car before she let me turn the engine over. Starting a car for the first time, turning that key, it felt like the most amazing thing in the world.
“I’m saving already,” I told Mom. “For a car.”
“Since when?” She asked, surprised.
“I don’t know. A year.”
“One thing at a time,” she told me. “Disengage the parking brake,” she told me. “Now put your foot down on the break and shift into gear.” I felt it go into gear. The whole car was ready to go and so was I. “Let off the brake slowly – slowly. You can start to give it just a little gas and head down the driveway.” I knew how it all worked. I’d been watching for years. We turned onto the road in front of the house, took a few turns.
“I can’t believe you’re fifteen,” Mom told me.
“How come?” I said. “I’m mature.”
“That’s not it,” she said. “It’s just come on so suddenly.”
“It’s taken fifteen years, Mom.”
“Don’t be cute. I’m your mother. I get to be nostalgic.”
“You’re almost a full person,” she told me.
“What does that mean?”
“An adult,” she told me. “A grown up. Most of the people in this city aren’t quite there.”
“Like the King’s friends.”
“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t call him that anymore.”
I stopped at a stop sign and looked over at her. “Well, not to his face.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “I admit that some of Greg’s friends are a little bit…”
“Fake?” I suggested.
“Eyes on the road.”
“I’m watching the road.”
“I would have said vapid or vain.”
“I’m going to miss you,” she said. “When you’re gone.”
I looked over at her. She knew. Some teenagers are just counting down until the day they can leave. It wasn’t because of her. I didn’t want to leave her. Kids leave. We just do.
I don’t remember the whole accident. I remember we were at an intersection and I was going through it and then I remember spinning and glass breaking and falling onto my lap. I looked over to Mom and she was trying to say something. Was she warning me? Was she going to tell me something important, something I’ll never hear? The doctors said that after her neck snapped she died instantly. She didn’t feel any pain. She left it all for me.
I was in the car with her for a half hour while the fire department got there to cut me out. I kept saying, “Mom. Mom. Mom.” She didn’t answer.
Back at the King’s castle they were getting prepared for a surprise party. There were still streamers when I came home from the hospital the next day. I tore them all down. I threw all of my stupid presents away. I put the cake down the garbage disposal.
It is my fault. All of this. Mom and then the gun. Why did I take the stupid gun? If I’d just left the gun in the King’s study, there wouldn’t be a dark blood spot on Kitty’s carpet decorated with teeth and Carl wouldn’t be dying.
I decided to leave the night after the wake. I waited until everyone left for the night. I knew the King had a few drinks and he’d go down quick and deep. Eddie stayed up playing video games downstairs. I could hear the music and his excited little video game grunts. I waited until the bright Tokyo high definition shadows stopped and Eddie wandered up to his bedroom to surf for porn. He’d have his headphones on tight, paying close enough attention to his downloaded naughty bits that he’d be oblivious to everything else in the world. There could be a fire and he wouldn’t notice as long as there were naked lady boobs on his computer screen.
I had all my things packed already. I left my bags by the door and took my shoes off. I padded back upstairs in my socks to the King’s chambers. I listened outside the door. Nothing. No light, no sound. I turned the handle all the way and eased the door open just a crack and listened again. All I could hear were my own panicky short breathes. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe slower, tried to calm down. I could hear the King’s half snoring.
I went inside and pulled the door closed behind me. I walked toward his dresser where I knew he kept his keys and things in a dish on top but I stopped. I smelled her. Not just her perfume or the shampoo she used in her hair. I smelled Mom. I remembered talking to her, sitting on the bed and watching her put on her make up at her vanity, sometimes seeing her smile at me in the mirror. I remembered an earthquake, a rumble though the whole house and I ran straight to her. “Come here!” She called out and grabbed me. We stood in the doorway of the bathroom until the tremor stopped and then we started laughing, we both doubled over and slid down to the floor laughing, just this kind of delirious scared laughing that made no sense to anyone but us.
I remembered watching movies with her in bed when the King was out of town on business and I remembered making her chicken noodle soup when she had the flu but I tripped over my own dumb feet and spilled most of it on the floor on the way to her bedside. I remembered that she told me it was okay and she ate what was left. Every noodle.
I felt that throat tickle, the lip quiver, the gut lurch. I was gonna sob right there. I stopped caring about waking the King up. I crossed the room and took his keys then turned around and walked right out, closing the door behind me. I stopped outside his door holding his keys tightly enough that they hurt my palms. I listened until I was sure I heard his half snore again and then headed down the hall, past Eddie’s personal perv factory, to the King’s study. I went through a few keys quickly until I found the right one and I unlocked the door and went inside.
He kept some money in the top drawer of his desk. I went there first and tried to open it but it was locked. I tried all the keys but none of them worked. I grabbed a letter opener from his desk and pried and prodded at the lock. I stabbed at the drawer. Finally, I kicked the lock in frustration and heard something break. I went still. I was sure Eddie had overheard me over his smut or that I’d woken the King. I was sure one of them would come in right then and catch me in the act. But they didn’t come in. That stupid drawer would never hold up to a burglar.
I opened the drawer and took the stack of money and jammed it into my pocket. I rifled through the drawer to see if I’d missed anything and then I felt it. The handle of the gun underneath stacks of papers. I felt it under the paper until I was sure and then fished out the pistol. I stared at it, shocked at what I’d found. I had no reason to think the King didn’t have a gun but I’d never seen it or heard him talking about it. I sat down and turned on the desk lamp, examining it until I figured out how to swing out the cylinder. It wasn’t loaded. I checked the drawer again and found a box of bullets. I put them next to the gun on the desk. I’d never held a gun before or seen one in real life. It was heavier than I’d expected it to be. It felt dangerous to me like finding a rattlesnake under a stack of rocks.
I don’t know why I decided to take the gun. I just did it. I didn’t know for sure where I was going or what I would find when I got there. I figured a gun was more useful to me than to the King. I grabbed a set of spare keys for one of the King’s cars, I took the gun and bullets and went downstairs. I stuffed the gun into the bottom of my bag and started putting my shoes back on. I heard Eddie’s door open and I stopped with one shoe on, untied. He started coming down the stairs. I put on the second shoe quickly thinking I might just open the door and slip out before he got down but I wasn’t fast enough. Eddie stopped at the bottom the stairs and looked right at me. I tied my shoes and stood up. I looked back at Eddie waiting for him to say something. He didn’t say a word.
“Shhhh,” I shushed him and opened the door. I went out and down the steps two at a time to the garage. The lights didn’t go on inside. Eddie didn’t follow me or go up to the King. Maybe he wanted me to run away. Maybe he’d been just as eager for me to leave as I was to go. I got to the garage and to the car. I started it and rolled down the driveway. I looked back at the dark house one last time before I turned out onto the road.
When most kids run away they go to California for Hollywood or the Pacific Ocean or just some great American California lie. Except California kids. We go to Vegas.