Desperate for a long nap, Will suddenly sank in his seat and used his arms over the table as a pillow. I leaned against the window and watched the English countryside roll beside me. There were patches of yellow fields everywhere, and small, idyllic hamlets that simply didn’t exist in California. I marveled at all of the open space. Living in California, I was accustomed to seeing every available patch of land crammed with as many homes as possible.
It was hard to believe that I was really here. I blinked and felt my eyelids scrape over my eyes.
“Anything from the trolley?”
I shook my head and the coffee cart moved past me. The lull of sleep was too strong with the gentle rocking motion of the train.
* * *
After Will shook me awake, I got to my feet and followed him off the train, thoroughly exhausted.
“Jesus, I don’t think I’ve ever done so much traveling in one day.”
I felt really sorry for Tom, who had long ago given up on voicing his displeasure. Now we had to drive towards our destination. Luckily, the car rental was right next to the train station.
Outside was a wet, dreary expanse of concrete and gray skies. I wrapped my jacket around myself, shivering already as we walked to the car. We’re definitely not in California anymore.
The real shock came when we went to the car, which could barely fit our luggage. It was beyond bizarre to sit on the left side, where the driver would normally sit back home. Tom was in the backseat and Will made sure to weave the seat belt through the cage.
“It’s okay, Tommy. We’ll be there soon,” he crooned. “You can stop rolling your eyes at me,” he said with his back facing me.
“Whatever. Let’s just go.”
Will shifted into gear and our tiny car sped out of the train station. I gripped my seat as we joined roundabout after roundabout. God, this is confusing. We only had a split second to decide which exit to take, but luckily the GPS we used was quite thorough. Finally, we entered the highway and I felt a bit of normalcy.
The English countryside was beautiful to look at. The deep green hills, the flocks of sheep, the little hamlets with their gardens and parishes reminded me of all the pastoral watercolor paintings I used to study in college. I closed my eyes and listened to the classic music playing in the radio.
Screaming pierced my ears. Both a high-pitched, animal sound and the sound of terrified sobbing. My eyes snapped open and I felt the car trembling. I looked to my right and saw Will’s face rigid with fear. I jumped in my seat.
He was hunched over the steering wheel, driving at a speed that was way, way too fast. He gulped for air and one hand clutched his chest. White-hot fear seized my heart. We passed a smoking, twisted tangle of a car wreck and I realized that we could have the same fate.
“Will, stop the car!”
“I can’t breathe,” he said hoarsely.
I couldn’t think. The cat kept screaming, even it knew something was wrong.
“WILL, STOP THE FUCKING CAR!”
We barreled towards slow traffic. I reached over without thinking and yanked on the parking break. The car made an ungodly screech and my seatbelt cut into my stomach. Smoke billowed around the windows and I screamed, adding my voice to the shrieking behind me. I braced myself for the impact, but by some miracle the car ground to a halt only a millimeter from the next car’s bumper.
My heart felt like it was injected with a large dose of caffeine. The fear still pounded through my body with every rush of blood. Will gripped the wheel, looking like he was going to faint. He unbuckled himself and opened the door. Smoke curled inside the car. He collapsed beside the window.
I hastily unbuckled myself and ran around the car to see William hunched over with his head between his knees. I stooped down next to him on the concrete and rubbed his back. What the fuck just happened?
“Are you hurt? What happened?”
His head peeked out from his knees, glancing at the wreck half a mile down the highway. The blood drained from his face as ambulance sirens screamed. The blue and red lights flashed across his face. For a moment, I thought that he might be dead.
I squeezed his shoulders and shook him. “Will? Snap out of it!”
His eyes slid over to me uncomprehendingly. My fingernails bit into his shoulder. No response.
I shot out with my hand, slapping his face a little too hard. His head whipped to the left but he caught himself on the ground. He squeezed his eyes shut as if I had really hurt him and his shoulders began to shake.
“Oh my God, Will! I didn’t mean—”
“I’m sorry,” he said in a small voice.
“I’m going to get help.”
“No!” He lashed out and gripped my arm.
“Will, don’t be fucking stupid! You had a—”
“Panic attack,” he said, his face gradually returning to its normal color. “I have PTSD. It happens.”
“It happens? It happens?”
Will winced at the shriek in my voice.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I shoved him so hard that he fell back on his elbows, looking at me with a mixture of fear and guilt. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me? We could have died!”
He sat upright and buried his face in his hands. “I know.”
People were getting out of their cars and walking towards us with looks of concern on their faces. “You all right?”
I grimaced. “Will, you need to go to the hospital.”
“No. I’ve done this before. There’s nothing you can do for panic attacks. It’ll be a waste of time.”
“Let’s just go!” He stood up shakily, his back turned firmly away from the wreck.
“If you think I’m going to let you drive us you’re out of your mind.”
Will looked at my determined face and gave me a small nod. I approached the left side of the car out of habit and swore.
“You sure you’re all right, love?”
“We’re fine!” I said in a high-pitched voice.
Yes, everything’s fine. I’m about to drive stick shift for the first time in a decade. Everything’s swell!
I sat in the driver’s seat with Will chewing his thumb next to me, looking uncharacteristically self-conscious. Everything was on the wrong side.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
“You’ll get the hang of it. Just relax.”
“You relax!” I snapped.
I started the car and stalled it. People were starting to honk at us from behind. I turned the key again and floored the gas, burning the clutch but finally moving forward. I relaxed as I shifted into second gear and drove down the highway, following the GPS.