I’m in the back of my best friend Laura’s white Mitsubishi SUV, and we’re driving back from a day at the L.A. Zoo. Her mom, Barbara, is up front behind the wheel, and Laura’s in the passenger seat. Her little sister, Julia, sits next to me in her booster chair sucking on a pink blanket.
“You can sit up front when we’re in your car,” Laura says.
She’s very deliberate with this sentence, trying to pacify me because she can tell I’m angry. But Laura and I both know I’m not allowed to sit in the front seat of my car when I have company over. And best friend or not, Laura’s always considered company.
“But this is my car,” she says, emphasis on the my.
Laura’s mother frowns, but keeps her eyes on the road. “Girls, no fighting,” she warns. Her hands are evenly placed at 10 and 2, and her back’s as straight as a board, the seat pulled forward and up at a 90-degree angle to the floor. I notice she’s wearing her mismatching shoes again. One brown, leather flat, and one black high heel.
“That’s mom’s driving shoe,” Laura said when I asked her about it once. Barbara had come to the door of my house to pick Laura up after school, and when I told my mom about it I couldn’t stop laughing.
Where does she keep the other shoe? I wondered. Maybe she throws it away? Maybe it’s still in its cardboard box, pristine and lonely.
Suddenly Laura’s sister looks at me from her chair. Her cheeks are puffy and pink, and her nostrils are caked with dried mucus. Gross. She emits a low gurgling noise, and pulls the pink blanket from her lips. While looking over at her in disgust, I think, here it comes.
Julia spits up all over herself. White cream runs from her chin and down the seats. She screams and cries, and I stare back, horrified.
Laura reaches into the canvas bag at her feet and hands me a spit-up blanket. If we were in my car, I think, we wouldn’t have to deal with this. I have a big brother who doesn’t cry all the time. If we were in my car, maybe I’d be up front. It is my car, after all.