Zona's hands were gentle when she shifted, cradling each gear as the car hurled away, staying low to the ground, hugging the curves and twists. That was just the way she liked it. She pumped the gas pedal stiffly as though it were a misbehaving child, loosening up after a bit, maybe feeling sorry for the helpless thing. Her wispy hair flew in spider's webs around her neck and shoulders, dipping in and out of the open window until she restrained it into a tight bun on the top of her head. It was black like the night around her, and if she hadn't felt it whipping against her face, it might have been lost to her, fading into the sky, without the slightest hint of where one ended and the other began.
She knew she was on her way out of town when the dust from unpaved road could be tasted on her lips, and she had to roll the window up to shield her eyes from grit, clumsily with the unfamiliarity of the car, but she would learn it, as she had dozens of other times, with dozens of other coupes, and SUVs, and trucks. And as she said goodbye to her candy eyes in the rearview mirror, she knew just what to expect in the stares of people wondering where the young girl was going in the middle of the night hidden behind the sunglasses. So fast. Living, almost too fast to breathe.
When she woke up, she knew that someday when she traveled on her own, in her own car, sleeping in abandoned parking lots, she wouldn't have bucket seats in the back. A bench seat was much more comfortable, and the rough night showed in her limp as she hobbled into the gas station on the humble corner she had chosen to park at. It never ceased to amaze her how two different Gas companies could manage business across the street from one another. She chose to enter the one that had an attached Dairy Queen. Who could resist those biscuits that slicked your palms with their grease in the morning?
The place she found herself took her back in time, well, she figured it might if she had been alive back in "the day". It looked like a 50's diner. The waitress reminded her of a long time ago, when she could hardly remember anything except her father's eyes that now she only saw in curled corner photographs if she was lucky enough to salvage one from her mother's drawers when she was passed out or at the hospital or just completely delirious. It was her mother, she decided, that the waitress really reminded her of, a long ago version of her at least, bluntly chewing a wad of gum so you could smell the classic bubble flavor on her breath.
By now it was second nature, to meet new people, to put on a new face, a show for everybody, to be the innocent little girl who had just wandered into town. Normally it was someplace familiar; oddly she'd find herself in Chicago a few times, coincidently ending her joy ride in the parking lot of one of those big malls, the ones with designer stores that small towns could only dream about. If she was lucky it was one of those really nice cars, with a stash of cash under the seat or within an umbrella in the trunk. She knew all the places people hid their money in cars for emergencies. Often she'd spend most of it, leaving just enough for a cab ride home, abandoning the vehicle in the parking lot of an airport or a train station, to lie unnoticed for awhile.
All was well on her frequent joy rides, and nobody was there to notice she was gone except her mother who was too busy dealing with the jumbled thoughts in her head, that were most likely the reason her daughter needed to get away in the first place, or her younger brother Zack, who had learned to keep his mouth shut, especially when he received expensive gifts from his sister on her mall splurges with collected cash from her recent adventure.
She managed to order nearly the most unhealthy thing on the not so diverse menu, a blizzard with Oreos and chunks of cookie dough, the large cups of pure ice cream and fat that were so packed and cold they wouldn't spill when you turned gravity against them, but this wasn't the place where they needed to put on a show to make sales, and they didn't tip the cup upside down to prove anything, the waitress just set it on the table and slid it across to Zona, leaving a tiny trail of condensation, slipping down the cup decorated with cartoon characters and onto the faux wood on the booth.
She offered a mere squeak for thank you and dove into the blizzard. As a salty chunk of cookie dough was turning to a messy melted mass under her tongue the front door opened to a sea of laughter and boys. There were four of them. They jostled to the countertop as one big mass, they could have been Siamese quadruplets. Sliding each into their own swivel seats at the bar they took turns spinning each other until the waitress with bubble gum breath shimmied up to them and passed out menus.
One boy remained turned around in his seat, his gaze resting out the window over Zona's shoulders. She could see his eyes; they were Caribbean blue between ringlets of his shaggy charcoal mop of hair.
"Hey Seth." Bubble gum breath dragged out the hey in an annoying nagging tone, and Caribbean blues eyes found their way to Zona's for just an instant while he rolled them at the waitress, before twisting around to face her and her cheesy grin.
"Hey Suze." The hey was dragged out in a mocking annoying nagging tone that nearly made Zona wince. "hey darlin'…" he continued after bubble gum breath pulled out a pad and pen, prepared to take orders from the clan of boys. "Whose ride is that?" He swiveled back around, Caribbean blue eyes in Zona's view once again, she gulped and a salty mass of warm cold cookie dough slid down her throat. Caribbean blues eyes, now known to Zona as Seth, had eyebrows nearly knitted together in concentration from squinting out the window, then pointing directly at the car that his gaze had been quite intent on earlier before bubble gum breath had interrupted him.
Instantly, the three other boys twisted in their chairs as well, in a symphony of squealing hinges from rust and wear, followed by three gaping mouths, and another gulp from Zona, who was all but certain it was her Friday night prize they were ogling over. Bubble gum breath was obviously unsatisfied with all the commotion and the only recognition Zona received was a simple shrug in her direction.
Caribbean blue found himself next to Zona in her booth, sliding along the sticky vinyl of the seat cushion to be close to her, but not close enough to touch. She had one of those moments when you feel scared and excited, it happens when you don't know what to expect, but you know it has hit you when a shot gun is fired in your gut and hits you inside out, she even thought she might have squeaked from the drop in her stomach when Seth locked eyes with her before moving his gaze to her white knuckled clasp around the decorated, sweating with condensation cup in front of her, then back out the window, over her shoulders.
He stretched out his hand towards the window and Zona could see the veins standing on the top of his hand like tree branches burning blue, and she wondered if he felt his skin was too tight the way she did, and she wondered, did he ever need to get away for just a few days, to feel like he could fit inside of himself comfortably instead of being folded tight at the stomach. Did he ever need to get away for a few days to keep from crawling and shifting inside his restricting skin, to keep from having to crawl and shift inside someone else's because they couldn't handle themselves.
In Zona's case, she found she had to help fill her mother's skin. Who was it for this Caribbean blue eyed boy with tight skin on his hands?
"How did you manage a ride like that?" His hand had moved down to his knee but his eyebrows were knitted again, with concentration.
"I stole it." She always said that, nobody ever believed her; they always thought it was funny. But Caribbean blue just nodded and dabbed at a water droplet on the side of Zona's cup, near to her own fingers.
"Nobody has got cars like that around here." Another water droplet burst underneath his fingertip and slid down to Zona's. She pulled her hand away from the cup leaving it a bit unstable and wobbling on the tabletop for just a second while she wiped the condensation off her hand clumsily on her thigh.
"And where is here?" Another line she liked to use when she wanted to find out where she had gotten herself. It sounded charming and flirtatious rolling off her tongue. She mastered composure with words.
"Richmond, yup, little Richmond Indiana." His chest seemed bigger suddenly as though he was proud of his little town and found it would only do justice to breathe a little deeper when it's sacred name was spoken, but Zona paid no concern to the name of Caribbean blue's town, just his state.
"You mean, I went clear past Dayton?" her composure in words slowly evaporated in almost complete unison with the halting of the air conditioning system, leaving her question hanging suspended in the air, surrounded by silence. It was shattered by Seth who obviously hadn't noticed the surprise and worry in Zona's voice cushioned by the silence that the rest of the diner was content to be suppressed in.
"So what's your name? I'm Seth." And he shoved his hand in front of him only a few inches beyond her eyes. The veins were still there standing on the end of his skin. When she took his hand in her own she grasped hard enough to notice that she could feel the veins hard top of his muscle like stone rivers, and she wondered if he ever felt like his veins flowed with cold rock that hurt when it took the corners of his body. She wondered again if he ever needed to get away for a few days the way she did, to leave her skin.
"Arizona." Reluctantly letting go of his hand she thought she might know him from somewhere else. He felt familiar, he smelled familiar, and those Caribbean blue eyes could have been her very own.
"Arizona in Indiana huh? That's irony right? Could be the great name for a song or poem or something, I'll remember that." It would be amazing, she mused. If this boy could know what she was thinking and how she read in to him as someone like herself with his tight skin and stone blood. She didn't like this, being with him though. She left home to get away from this, herself, and here she almost saw herself reflected in his eyes. If her thoughts could be painted across the sky in letters miles high for the whole world to see, the whole world might have been surprised. She didn't want to know this boy any other way then this. Sitting beside her in a greasy booth with his Caribbean blue eyes, stone blood, burning blue veins and all. She hoped that she never saw him again and never heard from him, and she hoped he never wrote a song or poem called Arizona in Indiana. If she did, the mirror of herself in him might be shattered and she would be venerable to step on the tiny cracked pieces of disappointment.
She smiled in spite of herself and how living was so un-Hollywood. If her life was a movie this moment would be romantic, and Caribbean blue might have done something like take her hand under the table. It would be something to tell her friends back at school while caressing a photo booth strip of them making silly poses. But her life wasn't a movie and when he spoke again he only sounded human.
"So." Drawing little circles with his fingertips in the water drops on the table. "Can you take me for a spin in the car?" His head was face down and he looked up at her through his eyelashes so hardly any of the whites of his eyes could be seen. 'Throw me a raft.' She thought. 'I'm drowning in Caribbean blue.'
No words were needed, she figured. Except her "Keep the change" after fumbling in her pockets for a crumpled up five dollar bill with luck in wealth spells penciled along the corners. Bubblegum breath scowled as she made her way out the door with Caribbean blue at her heels winking to his buddies as if Zona wouldn't notice.
Seth liked nice things. It was as simple as that with some people. She could tell in the way his fingers traced the rearview mirrors then the license plate. He sat on his haunches, eye level to the top of the tires and traced them too. It seemed as though he didn't leave an inch of the car untouched. Zona cursed him silently, waiting inside the car for his inspection to be complete. If anyone dusted for fingerprints he would be in for it. After he jostled inside of the car, settling into the seat, Zona didn't start it up.
"What's the hold up?" His eyebrows were kitted the way they kitted themselves sometimes, and she ran her finger down the seatbelt that rested across her chest felling the ribs dig into her skin until it burned. Each inch her finger took along the seatbelt was an inch Caribbean blue's grin seemed to become. He puffed out his chest as though he was thinking of his little town and let his hands rest behind his head and his eye lids dance shut.
"Live fast, Arizona, live fast and die young. I'm like James Dean. You are too, riding around in a car like this." She didn't want to be like James Dean. She didn't want to live fast and die young. She didn't want to die at all, if she died she would be like her father. She would be leaving her brother, and her mother who needed her more than anyone. She wondered what her mother was doing now, if she even noticed that Zona was gone.
"Call me Zona." She stared at her own hands on the leather steering wheel. Ten and two. Ten and two. For a second she thought she was safe, a responsible girl, a cautious driver. Then she knew, tracing the burning blue veins running with her stone blood across her knuckle bones, she was nothing but kidding herself. She was like James Dean and his stupid live fast, die young theory. She was selfish. Her mother needed her.
"Where is your house, I'll take you home." It was a stupid realization. Something in front of her she was so blind to, she thought she might gag on it, and be sick from her own utter stupidity and selfishness. At least she could admit it, that was more then others could say for themselves.
On the way to Caribbean blue's house, Zona didn't hear anything he said and was content to just submit to his fingers silently leading her way through the town. It wasn't much, and it didn't seem as though it deserved the ultra extended chest as a tribute from Seth.
When they reached their destination, Seth tugged himself from the car and no time was wasted unbuckling his seat belt because he wasn't wearing one. Zona felt knocked off, she felt jostled from time and she felt robbed of moments, when he could have been unbuckling that seat belt. It was a stupid feeling, and she her cheeks were hot from embarrassment that was only evident to the critic of herself. When Seth was almost out of the car he locked eyes with Zona and grinned.
"Thanks for the ride… remember: live fast." He said it the way some might say something when they had something to say right after, he said is at though somebody were meant to answer him but Zona gave him no such pleasure and would find her way to the airport with the word 'no' pooling on her lips but never rolling off. She never gave Seth that satisfaction, and as she drove away from him she called back though the open windows letting the wind catch her hair and whip against her face in an obvious clash of black and blue, an ironic similarity to that of bruises.
"Goodbye Caribbean blue." Deciding that was how she wanted to remember him, in the rearview mirror, with confusion scrolled across his face and his brows kitted the way they kitted themselves sometimes. She found it quite odd, that he watched her drive away and didn't run to his house to find his father or a brother to join him outside so they might be able to see Zona's car too, but he had stone blood that stood on the ends of his hands like she did, stone blood that hurt when it took the corners of her body, and maybe he did have somebody the way Zona did, that needed help filling their skin.
She said goodbye to her candy eyes and went home, home to her mother. It could have been the tears she shed on her way that eroded the rock in her veins, or simply the rain trailing down the windows of the bucket seat bus. Either way, when she returned, her hands were flush and only traces of burning blue remained, deep, and comfortably inside her skin.