Story -

Cars.

Cars.

The passenger sat in the van, staring out the window and trying to avoid eye contact with everyone else. There was no awkward silence (the two little ones in the middle row were enough to fill the car with noise), and the tension that she felt was so palpable, she could cut something with it.

The driver had ginger hair in a pixie cut and an unmoving, angled face. Her whole body sat in the seat, expressionless and stiff, only making eye contact with the girl in the passenger's seat sparingly as she entered to share introductions.

The driver's whole demeanor was stiff from her face and voice all the way to the way she held the phone on her lap with a GPS pulled up. The passenger had seen all these mannerisms before; they had been the same mannerisms the passenger saw on the driver's son, who sat in the back row of the van behind his much younger siblings.

The sibling behind the passenger was hard to identify; he was quiet most of the ride down except for the few times he did speak up, which he did in a loud, yappy tone. The sister sat behind the driver, talking incessantly like a little bird in its cage, happy and excited. She had thin, brown hairs down to her shoulders and a face resembling her mother. She kept shuffling through her bags excitedly, showing off the contents to the passenger who smiled and nodded, not wanting to hurt the spirit of the little kitten playing with her toys, fixated on the fun and high off the catnip of the excitement of a new person.

All the way in the back, the driver's son sat quietly. He was darker than the others in every way but mannerisms. He had short, curly, dark hair and his face was soft and a little worried. He sat in the middle, staring forward and likely praying that nothing particularly bad would happen.

The sister in the middle row started the conversation like it was a natural occurrence, "I'm a picky eater!" She said it with an almost contagious (and sickening) sense of confidence.

"I don't think you should be proud of that," commented the driver's son, not making eye contact with the passenger.

The passenger took humor in the situation, trying to think of a way to relieve the tension.

The driver stared ahead, barely commenting with her unmoving voice. "Yeah, I would rather call it malnourished."

"I like corn dogs, and mac and cheese, and that's about it." The sister was excited about the pickiness, using the words as an excuse to show off her pencils and sharpeners to the world.

"Don't you like the peanut butter sandwiches and the jelly sandwiches?"

"Yeah! I like those too!"

The conversation was cut off with a text from the driver's phone, which the driver looked at with haste, looking perturbed at the mere sight of it.

Comments were shared about the text, all of which mattered little to the passenger. Overall, the tension was bad enough with the two little ones in the middle and the circumstances in general, and with this new situation, it was making a bad enough situation worse. The passenger needed out of this. Any way out of this.

So, the passenger pulled back her thick, curly brown hair and looked back at the little girl, trying to ignore the irritation in the driver's voice. "What's with all the glitter on your face?"

"It's lip gloss!"

"Oh," a slight pause escaped her after an instinctive reaction, trying to process the "lip gloss." The glitter was far too chunky to be a proper lip gloss, big enough to see tiny mirrors shining light all over the little girl's face, and the glitter spread across a lot more the lips. If anything, it would have been better suited as glitter glue. It did amuse the passenger, however. The girl's appearance was very cute.

The driver's son paused for a second, making another off-handed comment, "It's more like glitter glue."

A slight giggle rang through the passenger's mind as she took her opportunity to delve into her own story. "You know, my mom told me that when I was really little, I had taken the nail polish and painted my whole fingers with it." She stared at her hands, delving into the reverie. "When she found me in the bathroom, I looked up at her, showed her my hands, and said 'Pwee!' To this day, my mom always replies to that with 'Not pwee!'"

The whole car was silent for the duration of the short story, and when the passenger made a side glance at the driver, she noticed that a small giggle escaped. Relief washed over the passenger. Her goal had been achieved. At least a small amount of the tension had been released. That was her only goal; try to reduce the awkwardness of the situation they were in.

Besides, the passenger pitied the driver. That woman had clearly had a long day from the slight exhaustion in her eyes to the descriptions the passenger had once heard about the driver in comparison to the almost robotic nature of what she saw. It was obvious that alcohol was going to be in her system by the end of that long day to anyone old enough to conceptualize it, and, in the passenger's eyes, she deserved it.

It wasn't long after that before the passenger saw her house and the car eased to a stop, letting her leave and watch the driver's son move to the passenger's seat, acting as the new passenger of the car and giving her a smile as she turned to finally escape the hell that was finally meeting his mom in a car.

more by Rhiannon Strickland

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Dmitri Rudder

I'm going to show my mother this. I love you too, dear.

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