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Michael was sitting on the front steps smoking a cigarette when his parents got there at twenty to nine. They blew the horn anyway.
He went to his father’s door and tapped on the window. The electric motor whirred as the glass went down.
“I’ll drive,” Michael said.
“I don’t mind driving,” Ashton said.
“Dad,” Michael said, “we have this argument every time you go to the airport. Let me drive.”
“Oh,” Ashton said, not moving. “Well, if you want to.”
“I do,” Michael said. “Get in the backseat.”
“Hello, darling,” his mother called across to him.
“Good morning, Mother,” Michael said.
“Why don’t I just drive?” Ashton said.
“Because we don’t have time. Now get in the backseat,” Michael demanded.
“Oh, Ashton,” Ann said, “let him drive.”
“You two are always against me,” Ashton shouted. “I don’t see why —”
“Because,” Michael cut in. “You drive too slowly. You don’t deal well with in-town traffic. And most of all, because I can drop you and your luggage with the skycaps at the door and park the car while you check in. Now hurry up. You’re late, and I’m freezing.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Ashton said as he always did at this point. Then, as he always did, he rolled up the window, turned off the engine, put the keys in his pocket, unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door and got out of the car.
Ann sighed, of course.
“May I have the keys?” Michael asked without looking to see if they were in the ignition.
“What?” Ashton asked. “Oh, the keys. Certainly,” he said, fumbling through his pocket and then almost handing them over.
“It’s this one,” he indicated.
“I know, Dad,” Michael said, not looking.
“I was just trying to be helpful,” Ash said, patting his coat pockets as if he had misplaced something.
“I know, Dad,” Michael said, getting into the car. “Just get in.”
It was quarter till nine. It was twenty minutes to the airport.
The flight was at nine. It was a ritual.
He started the car. The chimes sounded.
“Put on your seat belt,” Ashton said, closing the back door.
“I don’t wear a seat belt,” Michael said.
“Neither does Kathryn.” Ann sighed. “I wish you kids would. Allen wears his seat belt.”
“Allen,” Michael said, squealing away from the curb and making a questionable left on yellow. “Allen wears a safety chain on his zipper.”
“You know, Allen …” Ashton began sagely.
“I’m Michael,” Michael said.
“I mean, Michael,” he went on. “In New York they have a law requiring you to wear seat belts.”
“Mmm,” Michael said, weaving around a VW and running another “pink” light.
“If you plan on pursuing this acting thing,” Ashton continued, “you’ll have to go up there. So you might as well get in the habit.”
Michael tried not to laugh.
“That truck is turning,” Ann said calmly as she jammed her brake foot against the floor.
“How is your little company coming?” Ashton asked.
That acting thing had been Michael’s college major. His “little company” was he and a group of his college friends. They performed for local events and made enough to cover gas, if they were lucky.
“We’re doing fine, Dad,” Michael said. “We really need a permanent place to work, though. We could build a reputation and a repertoire.”
“You ought to buy a place,” Ashton suggested absurdly.
“I can’t even get a Visa card, Dad,” Michael said, trying to point out the absurdity.
“Well,” Ashton said, “if you’d listen to me and save some money like Allen does.”
Michael’s knuckles went white as he clutched the steering wheel.
“And you ought to go down to the credit bureau and check your record.” Ashton needled an old wound. “I just bet you it’s that brush you had with those furniture rental people.”
“Michael, slow down, this is your turn,” Ann said, absolutely rigid with fear.
“I know, Mother,” Michael said, taking the turn at full speed.
“If you get something on your credit record” — Ashton made a hissing sound — “that’s it.”
“Michael, slow down, there’s a curve in the road.”
“I see it, Mother.”
“I wish that boss of yours would give you a raise. Have you asked him recently?”
“Michael, the pedestrians.”
“I see them.”
“You know you ought to look around for another job.”
“I really don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Michael, you’re following too closely.”
“Well, I was just trying to be helpful.” Ashton harrumphed. “If you’re going to take that attitude …”
“Michael, if you know you’re following too closely, then slow down.”
“Mother, we’re late. Listen, Dad, when we get there, I’ll pop the trunk. You get the in-flight stuff; Mother, you go on in and check in. I’ll get a skycap and send the luggage in to you. You go on to the gate. I’ll park and catch up.”
“Michael, you need to be in the other lane,” Ann said.
“Are you listening to me?” Michael demanded.
“I don’t know why we should listen to you.” Ashton sulked. “You never want to listen to a thing I say.”
“Because I’m not catching a goddamned plane to Miami in three minutes, that’s why,” Michael screamed as he changed lanes and turned, without slowing down, into the airport drive.
The abrupt move, the squealing, the horns and the shouting stunned everyone into silence.
Michael screeched to a halt in front of the terminal and everyone followed orders in silence.
After his parents had gone in, he slipped the skycap some money, which, added to the fifty cents his father would fork over, would make a nice tip. Then he parked the car, ran into the terminal, caught up with his parents and rushed them on to check in. By the time he got their stuff through the metal detectors they were ready to board and the plane was revving.
“Thank you, Michael,” Ann said, hugging him.
“Don’t forget to get the car —”
“I won’t,” Michael said, hugging his father. “You all have a good trip, and don’t worry about anything.”
“Don’t be lonely,” Ann called back just before they vanished.
“I won’t.” He smiled as he lied.
And they were gone.
As he drove back into town, he sang with the radio, thought about Kevin and tried not to be lonely.