She pulled her knees in when she looked to the right then the left when turning. It was kinda her signature move, the way she popped out of her seat to spot oncoming traffic. And at that particular moment when she looked right as she slowly pulled the wheel in my direction, her face looked taught. Eyebrows all strung up like she was deep in thought. And she was. The look of distress showed plainly on her face as she continued her explanation:
“I mean, I think–well I feel like I–” She paused a moment, tongue in cheek, collecting her scattered thoughts like she was lining them all up just so she could shoot them down. The traffic light turned red and she came to a stop. The left blinker blared oddly loud against the half-silence like it was keeping an eerie tempo to our conversation.
“It wasn’t a date, it’s just been put off for so long it would have been inconsiderate of me to show up late and I would have felt terrible.” She blurted out through several glances at the light. I nodded understandingly. After a moment she exhaled while the light turned green.
“Ugh, I hadn’t been stressed out like that in a while. The last time I let my stress get to me, I cried.” She looked at me. “I remember, it was at the beginning of the year. I don’t really get time to destress because you know–” She smiled lopsidedly and made air quotes, “I’m so ‘hashtag busy’ that I’m really good at not thinking about stress building up. But like a month into the school year, I just let it all out.” She finished with a hand flourish without even shifting her grip on the wheel.
“And I was already stressed about getting gas and picking Kylie up.”
Emilee moved into the left lane. “You know, on the way to the theatre after I made that wrong turn.” She added as a clarification.
“It’s good to de-stress every once in a while though.”
She didn’t answer, just kept her eyes on the road. The engine rumbled and we lapsed into the familiar ambiance of rubber rolling on paved roadway.
I noticed her phone plugged into the aux cord. She noticed it too.
“Oh uh, feel free to choose something from my library. I don’t have apple music or anything, but…”
I opened her iTunes library and scrolled down until I found something I knew. I chose a song. It rumbled to life through the speakers. The minute she heard the beginning beat, Emilee’s face lit up.
“Ohh Tarzan, right?”
I nodded. We both bobbed our head to the tune.
Come stop your crying, it’ll be alright…
“This is 8th grade Emilee,” she said smiling. “I listened to a lot of sad songs, back when I shut myself down and music was the only way…” She laughed; it sounded like big, round bubbles popping out of her. I laughed too.
We continued to jam out in the car, singing You’ll be in my heart until our voices were hoarse. And when the song ended, I chose another one. The country-pop waves of “Love Story” spread throughout the car like melted butter. We made eye contact before starting to sing the lovesick lyrics along with teenage Taylor Swift’s voice. And maybe it was getting darker. And maybe I couldn’t hear anything else or see anything else. A screen of unspoken emotion fell over our heads like we were balancing on some fragile boundary between control and something deeper. Like if we looked at each other for too long we’d start crying. Or at least I would.
Some might have called it nostalgia, but I thought it was something more. Two different childhoods and a color burst of memories had merged together that night through music.
It was beautiful.
When we pulled up to her driveway we sat in the car and let the song finish. After she pulled her keys out of the ignition, Emilee and I walked up to the door. Her parents greeted us as we took our shoes off and shuffled upstairs.
“How’d it go?” Her dad asked.
I smiled. And I didn’t even need to look at Emilee to know she was grinning too.