Bridget takes the wheel
|Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash|
“What’s the first thing you do?” Gertie asked, sitting in the passenger seat of Vivien’s minivan in the student parking lot of Flories Boarding School.
Bridget reached to push the ignition button.
Gertie caught her wrist. “No. Now you fail.”
“For trying to start the car?” Bridget said.
“Yep. Try again.”
Bridget looked around the car for a sign of what to do. She noticed Gertie not wearing her seatbelt.
“Let me guess. Buckle up for safety?” she asked.
Gertie smiled and nodded and clicked her seatbelt in place.
“People actually fail for that?” Bridget asked.
“Yep.” Vivien leaned forward, against the back of Gertie’s seat. “One of my best friends back home ranted about it for ages.”
“That just seems like a trick,” Bridget said.
“You are responsible for the safety of your passengers,” Gertie said, in full teacher mode. “Now, pull out of the parking lot before Vivien changes her mind.”
Bridget pushed the green “start” button and the car rumbled to life. She took a deep breath to calm herself, clicked her blinker on, and pulled out of the parking spot while looking behind the car the whole time.
Vivien’s minivan was purple, which made it painfully conspicuous as they drove past the school. One of the doors and the back had been painted so it acted like a chalkboard. As if the color wasn’t attention-grabbing enough, Vivien had written STUDENT DRIVER in big, block letters across the side and back.
Bridget tried to ignore the unfounded nerves that people were laughing and pointing. It was much too early for anyone to be out and about.
They pulled out of the student lot, made their way along the seldom used school roads and headed out into the city. The car drove past the subway station they normally took, the coffee shop Mentos they would hang out at, and their favorite nearby restaurants. The road was eerily devoid of company, with the exception of a bus or the occasional jogger.
“Turn left,” Gertie said, and at the next light Bridget complied.
Bridget had had some lessons already, both with a professional driving instructor and with her and Gertie’s dad. But she needed to get experience driving the roads she would be taking the test on, and the city of Wespire was notorious for crabby drivers and extreme traffic. The only reasonable way to have driving lessons was in the wee hours of the morning, when the roads were all but abandoned.
Bridget’s eye glanced down to the speedometer and back to the road as she drove. Gertie checked, and wasn’t surprised to see her sister was keeping the car exactly at the speed limit. Bridget constantly flicked her eye to her left mirror, having to turn her head a bit, to compensate for the lack of peripheral vision on that side, thanks to her ruined eye.
“Try to relax your shoulders,” Vivien said, noticing Bridget’s back was stiff and her knuckles white.
“I will never relax anything while driving,” Bridget retorted.
“Then how are you going to get anywhere?” Gertie asked teasingly.
“Please.” Bridget wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Like licenses are necessary in this day and age. How much am I actually going to have to drive, once I get my license? Even if we ignore buses and bikes and-”
“Change into the left lane,” Gertie said.
Bridget sighed, clicked the turn signal up with her ring finger and craned her neck to get a good view.
Out of nowhere, one of the tires rumbled. Bridget gasped, unsure what to do.
Gertie’s hand reached out and pressed the “self-driving” button on the dashboard. It lit up green and the car began to control itself. It put on its hazards and started pulling into the bike lane. Bridget let go of the wheel, glaring as she saw it light up with magic. She crossed her arms in defeat, and the car slowed to a stop next to the sidewalk.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about,” Bridget said as Gertie opened her door.
“What do you mean?” Gertie asked, looking back to try to figure out what had happened.
“Why does the law require a licensed driver in the car!” Bridget exclaimed. “The magic driver handles emergencies much better than I ever could!”
“A car can’t change it’s own tire,” Vivien said, her voice sounding a bit lost. She pulled the minivan’s handle and her door slid open.
“Well maybe it should,” Bridget grumbled, turning off the car and getting out.
“Oh no,” Gertie whispered, just out enough into the road to see what had happened.
Bridget had hit a cat.
“No!” Bridget ran and kneeled next to the poor thing. Its eyes were closed and it wasn’t moving. “No! No no no.”
“It’s not your fault,” Gertie said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Of course it is!” Bridget started crying, her tears falling next to the black and orange cat.
“Bridget, there was nothing you could do,” Gertie said, crouching to try to meet her gaze. “None of us saw it. The same thing would have happened if either of us had been driving-”
“But you weren’t!” Bridget shouted and hiccupped a sob. “I...I killed it!”
“No, you didn’t,” Vivien murmured, as if she was listening very intently for something no one else could hear. She kneeled next to Bridget. “It’s not dead. It’s dying.”
“Is that any better?” Bridget asked.
“Yes.” Vivien touched the cat’s head. Smoke sizzled from between her fingers.
The cat’s eyes opened and it started to yowl in pain.
“What?” Bridget picked the cat up gingerly, afraid of making the situation worse. It was still badly hurt, but at least it was alive. “Viv-?”
Their friend had collapsed in the middle of the bike lane.
Gertie was frozen in place. What had Vivien just done?
“Gertie?” Bridget asked, looking up at her sister.
“It’s overexertion,” Gertie said, finally finding her voice. She kneeled and lifted the much taller girl up, heaving her arm over her shoulder. “She’ll be fine after a rest.”
Bridget took the cat back to the car and cuddled the pained creature in her lap as Gertie all but dragged Vivien along behind. It groaned and hissed but allowed Bridget to fuss over it.
“Let’s get the cat to Faye,” Bridget said, her jaw locked in determination. “She’ll be able to heal him.”
Gertie buckled Vivien into the back seat and got in the driver’s chair. She turned the car back on and clicked the magical driver button. It waited for instructions.
“We need to get back to Flories Boarding School,” she told it. “It’s an emergency.”
The car turned its blinker on and pulled out into the road, tires wailing. It made it to the left lane by the next light and executed a speedy, but perfectly safe, U-turn.
Vivien stirred at the motion and opened her eyes.
“I’m starving,” she mumbled, reaching into her backpack. She had some freshly baked cornbread in a tupperware container and started tearing into it. The smell wafted through the car, making Bridget’s mouth water.
“Of course you are,” Gertie scolded. “You nearly killed yourself.”
“No I didn’t, I just haven’t done much spirit work lately,” Vivien said.
“And never with real spirits,” Gertie retorted. “What were you thinking, stitching the cat’s spirit back into it’s body? You could have really hurt yourself.”
Vivien glared. “I’m fine, aren’t I?”
The cat yowled, annoyed at the arguing.
“Will you two be quiet?” Bridget said. The car pulled up next to the school, its hazards on.
“Go park,” Vivien told it once they had all unloaded. The car drove away, legally allowed to control itself while empty inside a parking lot.
The three rushed to Faye Nessing’s room. In the few weeks she had been at Flories, she had become known as a prodigy when it came to healing animals.
They banged on the door and Faye answered, her roommates looking annoyed behind her at being woken so early.
“What?” she snapped. She saw the cat in Bridget’s arms and gasped. “Hi there,” she said, crooning now. She checked his collar. “Erwin. Hi Erwin, what happened to you?”
The cat yowled, sounding almost like speech.
Faye’s mouth dropped open. “They hit you with a car?”
Bridget had known that one of the Nessing girl’s necklaces allowed her to speak to dogs. It seemed she had another that worked on cats.
“It was an accident,” Bridget mumbled, wiping away the tears that formed again. “Can you tell him I’m sorry?”
Faye pulled supplies down from her little dorm closet, mumbling about idiot humans, while Bridget watched on forlornly.
Nervously, Faye’s roommates picked up their purses and backpacks and shuffled out, leaving the healer to her business. They had been on the wrong end of distracting Faye from her work enough in her limited time at Flories, and weren’t excited for another lecture.
Vivien, meanwhile, was sitting against the wall outside the open door, chewing absentmindedly on her cornbread and deep in thought.
Gertie sat next to her. “You want to talk about it?” she asked, trying to be gentle.
Vivien took a deep breath and sighed. “What I did was beginning necromancy,” she said. “And it was so easy. I didn’t even think about it.”
Vivien shifted, letting her head rest on Gertie’s shoulder. “I know that it’s...so incredibly dangerous,” Vivien said. “And...scary. And bad.”
“It’s not always bad,” Gertie granted her. “It just...has a history of being used for bad things.”
Vivien nodded, thinking of the wars against evil necromancers who had raised armies of the dead that she had been taught about in history classes. She took a deep breath. “The thing is...I just find spirit magic fascinating, you know? Even when it comes to necromancy.”
“Yeah, I do.” Gertie smiled. “I just don’t feel the same way.”
“I mean, I don’t want to spend all my time raising the dead,” Vivien assured her. “There’s lots of other magic we can still do.” Vivien offered Gertie a piece of the cornbread. Gertie took a bite. Vivien made the most tempting baked goods.
“Hand me that brush?” Faye asked Bridget, and Gertie turned to watch.
Bridget reached for one from a cup on Faye’s desk.
Bridget pointed to another one.
Bridget reached for the last one in the cup.
Faye gestured impatiently. “No! The one with the blue bristles.”
Vivien breathed in deep and let it out in a frustrated huff. “What do I do?”
Gertie tried to focus on their conversation again. “Hm?”
Gertie thought about what she would do if there was something she really wanted to study, despite her misgivings about what Vivien wanted to learn. “Ask Headmistress Clearwater if she can arrange a class for next year,” she said. “Or sign up for a summer course at one of the colleges in the city. Or an online class. Or-”
“Okay, I get it.” Vivien smiled.
Gertie hesitated, staring down at the bread in her hand.
Vivien nudged her with her arm. “Hey, I’ll be ok. I won’t go skipping rules and regulations. I’ll do it right this time.”
Gertie tried to clamp down on the nerves bubbling in her chest at the thought of everything that could go wrong for Vivien if she went down this path. “Yeah, you will.”
“Okay, it took everything I’ve got, but he’s good as new,” Faye said, handing Erwin back to Bridget. “You owe me one favor.”
“I can pay in your favorite baked good,” Vivien said as she and Gertie stood.
Faye scoffed. “I don’t think you understand how much energy and material this-”
Vivien offered her a piece of the cornbread.
Faye picked it up, sniffed it, and took a bite. Her eyes opened wide. Gertie and Bridget knew Vivien’s baking; it was likely the best cornbread Faye had ever eaten.
“Yeah, okay, alright.” Faye nodded. “Two dozen apricot turnovers sound fair?”
Vivien nodded. “Expect them next weekend.”
The girls found Vivien’s car again, parked in the back of the lot. Erwin purred in Bridget’s arms, having apparently forgiven her for almost killing him. Faye must have passed along a sufficiently persuasive apology after all.
Gertie read the address from Erwin’s collar to the car, and it rumbled to life, taking them to a small house near the campus.
They rang the doorbell and waited nervously.
A pleasant-looking woman answered the door.
“Erwin!” she said, accepting the cat without a word from the girls. “Where did you get off to?”
The cat began yowling to her in the same way he had spoken to Faye. Bridget bit her lip from her nerves, trying to figure out the excuse she would give to Erwin’s owner as the cat ratted her out.
“Oh, you little fluffer, let’s get you inside,” the woman said, placing the cat on the floor. He sniffed and stalked off into the house. His owner turned back to the girls. “Thank you for bringing him back. Did you find him on campus? He loves the flowers there.”
“Yes,” Bridget said, letting out a sigh of relief. “Erwin sure does love flowers.”
Vivien offered the tupperware to the woman. “Cornbread?”