Grand Prize for Writing
Prince Charming By: Nastassia Urnov
He asks me what being in love feels like.
I smile, coy, and adjust my sunglasses. Take a sip of my soda. “Don’t you know?”
“I want you to tell me how you see it,” he replies, and we smile, slow. Lazy summer smiles.
“Well, your heart beats fast,” I begin, “and you’re kinda sweating, and you feel really nervous but also just — happy to be alive.”
There is a pause, and he gets his keys out of his pocket. “Let’s go for a drive and see if you’re right.”
I’ve never really been on a ride with a boy before. He opens the door for me and I slide into the passenger seat. I feel so grown-up. Like someone out of a book where everyone is very glamorous and successful and knows what they’re doing with their lives.
He walks around the car and sits in the driver’s seat. He grins at me.
“Where are we going?” I ask. The engine rumbles alive under us.
He shrugs and pulls onto the street. “I thought we’d just drive around. Maybe go down the coast for a little while.”
I lean back and bite at the straw in my drink, smiling. “Sounds good.”
He turns some music on. Not a generic top 40 summer hit; something I haven’t heard before. I like it. I turn to look at him and he turns to look at me. “I love this song,” he says. “It reminds me of you.”
I laugh as the chorus begins. I didn’t know he was such a romantic, and I tell him so.
He shrugs and turns the song up. “Neither did I.”
We drive just like that for a little while. The oceanside road twists and turns around the cliffs, and the sun is beginning to set. He’s singing along with the music, now, and I’m laughing, and he pulls out his phone.
“What are you doing?” I laugh as he glances away from the road and aims the phone at me.
“Taking a picture.”
“Eyes on the road and hands on the wheel,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“I wasn’t doing anything,” he says innocently, but sets his phone down. We go around another turn. Tourists are starting to come into town, judging by the amount of cars coming in the opposite direction we’re going.
We’re coming up on one of my favorite stretches of road. “It’s so beautiful here,” I breathe, leaning my elbow on the space where the window I’d rolled down earlier had been.
“Sorry, what was that?” he grins, turning the music up even more.
“I said, it’s so beautiful here!” I repeat, louder, smiling.
He shakes his head, cheeks dimpled with laughter and the red sunlight finding its way into those little impressions in his flesh. He begins to sing along, loudly, and I can’t stop myself from laughing, too. He lets go of the wheel for a moment during a particularly triumphant swell of the music, and laughs when I squeal. He grabs the wheel again and leans in my direction. “Kiss me!” he yells.
“What?” I laugh, gently pushing his shoulder.
“Kiss me,” he repeats, turning his head towards me. I swallow hard and glance at the road. This is —
He leans in closer and my heart is beating fast. ‘There are no rails on this road’, I think dimly. But he’s about to kiss me and I can’t pull away, I’ve wanted to be with him for so long —
The car moves underneath us and he’s got one hand on the wheel and the other on my shoulder. “Come on,” he says, and I wouldn’t be able to hear him because the music is so loud but his lips are so close that I can practically feel him saying it —
The blast of an oncoming horn. Screech of tires. A yell from somewhere not too far away; he jerks away from me and his car jerks back to where it’s supposed to be. We were in the wrong lane. I whip my head around to look behind us— we didn’t make contact, we’re okay, and the other car is driving away.
He whoops, thumping on the wheel. “What a rush!” He turns to grin at me, but I’m shaking and I can’t look at him.
“Stop the car,” I say, but the music, this grating indie pseudo-intellectual confusing music, is too loud. He can’t hear me. My hands tremble but I reach out to slam on the button that’ll turn the music off. “Stop the car!”
He frowns. “Babe, what’s wrong?”
“I told you to stop the car.” I can feel myself about to cry but I don’t want to cry in front of him. I clench my cold, clammy hands into fists. I can feel my heart thumping and my breath is shallow. I should never have let him take me driving — I should have known that he’d do something like this.
He pulls on the steering wheel and stops the car on the shoulder of the road. “Why’d you want me to stop?”
“What’s wrong with you?” I demand, still trembling.
He grins. “Come on, that was fun! Didn’t you tell me that’s what love felt like?” He leans in a little. “Aren’t you happy to be alive? Aren’t you in love with me?”
I slap him and then quickly turn away, face blanching, and fumble with the door handle. “No,” I say, and my voice is surprisingly firm. “You don’t even deserve to have me in love with you.”
“What happened?” he complained, rubbing his face. “That was harmless, I do it all the time—“
“We could have been killed,” I gasp. “I’m sixteen, I’m not going to die because of some stupid boy wanting to get an adrenaline rush.”
“Next time you try to romance a girl, get her heart racing some other way, okay?” I’m practically yelling. “You have to promise me that— and — God. We could have died. You could have killed those people in the other car—“
“I didn’t know you’d be so uptight about this,” he muttered.
“Uptight? It’s my life!” I cry. “Do you have a death wish or something? How dare you involve me in that! You should consider yourself lucky that I don’t cut the stereo out of your car or— or—“
He shakes his head and reaches out to close the door I’ve left open. “How are you going to get home?”
“Not with you,” I say, and thankfully, my trembling is subsiding. “Don’t you ever try doing something like that again.”
“Whatever,” he mutters, starting the car again.
“Whatever,” he repeats more insistently, and drives away in a cloud of dust. I can hear him yelling over his shoulder, calling me boring as he leaves me roadside.
There was a time when his rejection would have devastated me — when him calling me boring would have had me crying for days.
But I’d rather be boring than dead.