The Last Ride
Short Fiction by Olivia Evans
There were very few places where Theresa spent more time throughout her high school career than Matthew Johnson’s car. Matthew Johnson; a rather forgettable person other than his known apathy for all academics. Despite Theresa’s intense focus and interest in school, Matthew had become her best friend; someone that knew her inside and out—and she felt she knew him best too. She wasn’t sure when he became more than the kid who was always just a few minutes late to first period or when his car became her haven, but it might have been that afternoon sophomore year when she cried to him about failing a test (he had laughed at her for being so upset about something ‘so stupid’ but comforted her with a milkshake from Sonic). Or the night junior year when they had tried smoking weed for the first time together, but failed miserably at inhaling. Or the morning before school their senior year when they talked about their futures and their joking agreement to marry if they didn’t meet anyone cool in college (‘We’ll be dead by 30’ their teenage voices seemed to mantra back then).
Regardless of when, his little black Honda became her place, and Matthew, her person. The light grey fabric where she could identify the light discoloration on the passenger seat from where she had spilled coffee once, or the distinct smell of the cologne he would use to spray away any residual scent of cigarettes. The leather necklace that hung from the mirror, along with his school parking tag and a scent tree that definitely did nothing but add a certain aesthetic. The aux cord with fraying wires that was probably an electrocution hazard, but Matthew asserted still worked. The spare blanket he kept folded in the backseat that was often used for late night trips to the river park; the mason jar of change that was constantly raided for late night Taco Bell runs in his cup holder; the broken passenger window; the polaroid on his dashboard of a sunset. Theresa would spend nearly every day with Matthew in his car. Sometimes hours, sometimes only a few minutes between destinations, but nevertheless– every day.
Their last summer together had been different. Theresa wasn’t in Matthew’s car much at all; and it wasn’t necessarily her choice. They had spent a lot of time apart after graduation. She was busy with work; he was busy with a lot of things. Things that he never explained. Things that kept them from their usual routine of Matthew picking her up and driving around. It might have been because Theresa was leaving for school soon and Matthew had plans to stay in their hometown and work for his Dad. Either way, they hadn’t seen much of each other.
But, today Matthew had finally asked her to hang out. While she wanted to be annoyed with him because of his inconsistency; call him out and start a fight, she just couldn’t. She missed him and his car, and a feeling within her told her it wasn’t worth fighting about. She quickly sent an affirmative answer to his text and waited for his usual knock on her door. He had always come up and knocked, which she made fun of him for doing at first, but soon became something she found endearing. Matthew was somewhat of a traditionalist; he stayed off social media and liked to read a hard copy of the newspaper on Sunday mornings.
However, after a few minutes, Theresa received a text from him declaring “Here.”
Confused, Theresa headed out the door. Matthew’s car sat in the street waiting for her, a sight that filled her with joy, but she couldn’t ignore the bored expression on Matthew’s face. After she got in, and greeted him with an excited 'hello' but Matthew didn’t say anything other than a mumbled ‘Hey.’
For a while, they sat in silence. Something they had never done. Matthew winded through her neighborhood and onto the highway– they had plans to go to the river park.
Theresa felt unusually awkward and combed through her mind for something to say to break the ice she didn’t know had frozen. She pointed out a new building breaking ground and Matthew only grunted in acknowledgement. After a few agonizing minutes, Matthew’s phone rang, privately from his pocket– not in its normal spot inside the mason jar of change. As he answered it, Theresa scrolled through her text messages, pretending to be busy. She was somewhat relieved but simultaneously annoyed-especially when Matthew blurted out a “Yooo” in answer to his phone– it was the most alive the car had felt since she got in it. She had no idea who was on the other end, and her stomach twisted at the fact. She and Matthew had been best friends for two years. How could she not have the slightest idea who was calling him?
As he spoke, she tried not to eavesdrop. Her eyes lingered away from her phone screen as it was notificationless. The only person she ever wanted to contact was sitting right next to her. Acting completely different. Talking to someone else.
Because she was focused on Matthew’s rude disposition, it was the first time she had taken in her surroundings since she had gotten into his car. It was a lot messier than usual. A new chain necklace hung from the mirror, the parking tag and scent tree were gone. Matthew had put a tribal pattern cover on his steering wheel. She realized it had been nearly a month since the last time she had ridden in it. An unthinkable amount of time. Her heart rate picked up and she felt as though she had entered an unfamiliar world that she was not welcome in, rather than feeling the comfortable familiarity that came with being in Matthew’s car.
Matthew’s conversation continued. Theresa began retracing the events of the summer in her head. A sinking feeling overcame her. Perhaps Matthew had actually been avoiding her. Things had been weird between them since graduation. They had always said that leaving high school wouldn’t affect their friendship, they barely saw each other during school hours anyway, but maybe they were wrong. Matthew’s over enthusiastic laugh pulled Theresa from her thoughts.
“Alright, dude. I’ll see you in a bit.” He said and hung up the phone.
He turned to her for the first time since she’d gotten in the car.
“So, one of my buddies is in a bit of a predicament. He wants me to come to his house right now,” The conversation Matthew had on the phone was not one of urgency, Theresa was sure of that. “Is that okay?”
Theresa considered. Maybe it would be good to meet some of Matthew’s other unidentified friends; it would help her remain woven into his life. “Yeah, that’s fine.” She said, trying to make her voice sound as laid back as possible.
“Cool. We can probably hang out later this week, though.” Matthew began merging into the exit lane. Theresa realized she would not be accompanying him to his unnamed friend’s house.
She only nodded, which Matthew probably didn’t even see. She didn’t know how to answer. It felt like she had been keeping a secret from herself, something that had been in the works for a while, and it had just hit her all at once. Matthew did not want to continue this friendship anymore. She looked over at him and observed him as he drove. She realized he was unrecognizable. He was wearing a shirt she had never seen. His face was covered in an unkempt beard and bright rimmed sunglasses. She began to think that maybe she didn’t want this friendship anymore either.
Theresa always knew that losing and making friends was a part of life. But losing friendships had never felt like this before. There was no tangible reason Theresa felt so far away from him. He was reckless, fun, caring. She felt like they had always been so in sync, but maybe that was because they just liked doing the same things. Things that Theresa could feel herself outgrowing, as Matthew clutched onto them.
Matthew turned on his stereo to mask the awkward silence, and Theresa smiled to herself at the fact he’d allowed it to be so unbearably quiet for so long. A song came on that immediately brought her back to a car ride the two of them had taken upstate at the end of their junior year. It had always been one of her favorite memories with Matthew. Matthew immediately clicked “skip”.
“I’m so tired of that song,” He sighed. Even though it was probably unintentional, it felt like a sign. Their paths were beginning to move in opposite directions.
When they returned to her house, they exchanged some laid back goodbyes, but as Theresa walked away from his car she had a feeling she was never going to be riding in it again. The car didn’t feel the same, and neither did Matthew.
They’d see each other once more that summer. At a going away party for a mutual friend, but only speak for a few minutes, in a group of other people. Both awkwardly ignoring the fact that they at one point, had a close friendship and that it had faded away. When her other friends would ask Theresa what had happened– she’d merely shrug and say they grew apart, even though it hurt much more. Theresa would constantly wonder if she should have worked harder to mend their friendship, to keep it going, to make plans. It was the first time she felt like a friendship had ended so quietly. There wasn’t a huge fight. It didn’t crash. It had simply faded away underneath the changes of two people. Matthew and his car felt like remnants of a life Theresa was leaving behind. On her last ride, she didn’t like what she had experienced. She often tried to forget about it altogether; it felt too much like a living metaphor. Too much like a glitch in her realities.
Years later, she’d only remember the leather necklace; the scent tree and the coffee stain; the reckless yet caring friend Matthew had been. That Matthew Johnson and his Honda Civic would always exist for her in that way, and she’d never have to know a different kind.
Olivia Evans is a Low Caliber co-founder. She is currently studying journalism and film. You can find her trying to be artsy on her low quality Instagram @oliviaevans13