When Connor comes out of the men's room, Jack is down the hall by the water fountain, his hand on the shoulder of a girl. Connor can't see her well, but can tell she has great hair--long and red and curly. Her neck is tilted back, like she's laughing, like something Jack said is really fabulous--he probably didn't tell her there wasn't time to use the bathroom. Noticing Connor, Jack nods, leans in to say something to the girl, his fingers still on her arm. As they part, she turns to look at him again, but Jack doesn't look back.
"Who was that?" Connor asks.
"That was a reporter from the Plain Dealer." Jack's mood has turned 180. He smiles, shoulders loose, coat draped over his arm, suit jacket unbuttoned. "She ran into me at the drinking fountain, and her stuff went everywhere. We're going for coffee tonight. Cute, isn't she?"
"Yeah," Connor says flatly. A girl from Penn's Young Alumni chapter spent the night twice last week, and the temp who organized files in Jack's office still calls their house constantly.
"You know, we've got to get cracking on teaching you stick," Jack says. "I'm going to work all weekend, so I can just skip out this afternoon. Let's go home, change, and you can practice for a couple hours."
Connor nods. Jack had used the accident as an excuse to get the BMW, saying he'd give Connor the Nissan Sentra he'd driven all through law school. But the Sentra is a manual transmission, and for weeks Jack has been promising to teach Connor how to drive it. Now, with Jack greased and happy from the encounter with another girl he doesn't need, is as good a time as any.
But an hour later (one hundred and ninety-six hours before Jenny Greenspan's birth control takes effect), on an empty service road in the business district, Jack is wound and tense as Connor tries to put the Sentra in second gear.
"Shift, shift." Jack slams his foot on an imaginary clutch on the passenger side, squeezes the utility hook overhead. "Now!"
But even as Connor switches the weight in his feet from one pedal to the other, the car shudders and dies.
"You can't just sit in the middle of the road," Jack says, as if they're on the interstate instead of a deserted alley. "Are you going to start the fucking car?"
Indignation percolates in Connor's throat. He restarts the Sentra. Downshifts. Stops at the stop sign-the engine trembles, stays running. Jack shakes his head, rubs eyebrows with his thumb and forefinger. Connor makes the easy left from the one-way onto the main road.
"What are you doing!" Jack yells as a Ford Taurus, bright yellow and angry, hurtles toward them. "Wrong side! Wrong side!"
Jack reaches for the wheel just as Connor starts to turn it. Hand on top of hand, they jerk the car across the double yellow line. The long blast of a horn dopplering by them.
"Pull in there." Unnaturally red, Jack points to a low-rise industrial complex with a squat sign offering the name "Cleveland Communications." "How did you ever get your license in the first place?"
"I made a mistake, okay?" In the worn vinyl driver's seat, Connor stares straight ahead as Jack gets out of the passenger door and comes around to the driver's side. When Jack opens the door, cold air rushes in, stinging his bitten lips.
Excerpted from Family and Other Accidents by Shari Goldhagen Copyright © 2006 by Shari Goldhagen. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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