Naomi yanked the emergency brake and turned the wheel hard. The lightweight car screeched into a turn and she released the brake again, pressing her foot on the gas. The little car shot forward and she deftly maneuvered it into a narrow alley, following its twists and turns with confidence. She slowed, then stopped, backing quickly into a tiny garage. She hopped out of the car and pulled the door closed, then turned, pleased with her performance.
Preston got out of the car, his expression inscrutable.
“Hmmm,” was all he said as he checked his phone, and Naomi grunted.
“That was the best ride you’ve had all week,” she said, jabbing a finger in his direction. “I can do this job, and for some reason you don’t want to admit it.”
Preston looked up at her mildly, his black hair fanning purposefully across his forehead. He shrugged.
“You know it’s not up to me.”
Naomi rolled her eyes.
“Right, sure, you have to send a report to your ‘superiors.’” She made quotes with her fingers.
“That’s right,” Preston answered, his eyes on his phone again. Naomi wanted to strangle him.
She allowed her anger to simmer a minute more, and then she sighed and turned, sitting down on the car’s bonnet.
“Look, I understood what you meant when you said you could help me out. I’m not expecting anything from you. What I am expecting is that you treat me like any other applicant, and you judge my performance based on its merits. Which, as you just experienced, was pretty f---ing awesome.”
Preston came to sit down next to her. He didn’t look up from his phone, but Naomi sensed the atmosphere between them was now comfortable. He was listening.
“It’s been a few years, eh?” Naomi nudged him slightly with her shoulder. She thought she caught a hint of a smile in response.
“I don’t know how you managed it. We were nobodies, we had nothing. And now almost everybody knows who you are. And here I am, just the sidekick, as usual.”
She was not imagining it; he was smiling. She allowed herself to reminisce for just a moment, remembering the two of them clambering over a climbing frame, pretending to be pirates or explorers or some such childish nonsense. She wondered if, in its own way, those make-believe adventures allowed them to survive the way they had.
“Always the chatterbox,” she sighed. “Even before the Selection.”
She felt Preston tense, and regretted bringing it up. He was one of the few people she had known Before, and even then they had barely kept in contact. There was something about not being Selected that made everyone ashamed, even though it was something they had in common. People didn’t like to talk to other people who hadn’t been Selected, and there was no one else left to talk to.
“There’s no point waiting around here, then,” Naomi said, pushing herself up and opening the garage door. Silently, of course, Preston got back into the car and Naomi followed.
“Where would you like me to drop you?” She knew the answer, but wanted to hear him say something, anything. It felt as though in the few minutes that had passed she had forgotten what he sounded like.
“The office is fine,” he said, and then he put the phone down. He stared straight ahead through the windscreen, his breathing rapid.
“Preston?” Naomi was afraid to touch him.
When he spoke, it was in a soft voice, deep yet feminine, and utterly unlike his own.
“There is no shame in being Left Behind.”
The voice was familiar, like something Naomi had once heard on the radio when she was only half listening, but she couldn’t place it.
“We are all of us Abandoned at some point. To mourn is to deny the inevitable. To suffer is unnecessary.”
“Ok, Preston, I don’t know what kind of batshit sermon you are spouting right now, but it’s freaking me out. I’m just going to get you home--”
As she leaned forward to turn the key, Preston’s arm whipped forward and he grasped her wrist tightly. His hand was frigid.
Naomi stared in horror as her friend turned his face toward hers. His eyes were bloodshot and tears were streaming down his face. He somehow looked both completely terrified and completely at peace.
“Preston,” she said, her voice quivering. “I thought it was over. No one has been Selected for years.”
He shook his head slightly.
“It’s not me,” he whispered in his own voice, straining to speak over whatever sound was filling his head.
“No.” The sound barely escaped her lips.
“No,” she repeated, twisting in her seat to grasp Preston by the shoulders.
“No one has ever come back from a Selection,” she said. “Why now? What’s happening?”
Preston shook his head again, straining to speak through another’s voice.
“Don’t be scared,” he choked. “They said you’ll be…”
And then it was all light, blinding, and a ringing in her ears so sharp she thought her head would vibrate apart. She had no sense of her body, no sense of time, and then she was suddenly standing in the middle of a busy street, tall buildings casting shadows on the people bustling around her, no idea of where she was, and no welcome at all.
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.