“TOUCHDOWN!” proclaimed the announcer into the crowd’s breathless anticipation. “Lincoln High has won the Division Championship! Wow! What a game!”
The occupants of one side of the stadium rushed onto the field while the other side stood frozen in silent dismay. Twenty minutes later, the celebrating mass started to disperse. Rochelle Jackson and Estella Lopez packed up their cheerleading gear and jogged to Rochelle’s car. They wanted to get to Capone’s Pizzeria before the rest of the crowd.
As they threaded their way through the cars in the parking lot, Rochelle and Estella heard, “Hey, what’s up, Rochie?”
They turned to see Justin Stockton staggering in their direction, his hand groping to balance himself against a nearby car. “Whoa! You reek, Justin,” said Rochelle, as Justin intruded into Rochelle’s personal space. “Were you drinking it or showering in it?”
“Both,” said Justin. “Drinkin’ an’ showerin’.” He gave Rochelle a hug that would have been insufferably offensive had she not known it was the liquor and not the usually polite Justin.
“What’s happening here, Justin?” Maternalism, sisterhood, and companionship merged in Rochelle. She was surprised to see him like this.
“I’m ready to party!”
“Ready to party? Looks like you did that already. Looks to me like you’re fixin’ to get yourself in a heap o’ trouble.”
“Relax, my Nubian princess,” said Justin. He tried to hug and kiss her, nearly falling over in the process.
“Hold the phone, Romeo. I am not your Nubian princess and you are not yourself.” She pushed on his chest with both hands to keep him from completely falling forward. Rochelle promised herself to hold him accountable when he sobered up. Right now, she just didn’t want him to drive. She turned to Estella, who was standing fifteen feet away, arms crossed, disgusted with the whole scene. “Es, I guess we just got another passenger. We can take him home on our way to Capone’s.”
“I guess so.” Estella shrugged, turning toward the car.
Rochelle prepared to usher the momentarily passive Justin to the backseat. Justin stiffened when Rochelle gently tugged on his arm.
“I’m not goin’,” he protested in the clearest English he’d used so far.
“Oh, yes you are,” responded Rochelle, more to herself than to him, taking a firmer grip on his arm.
This drunken behavior was uncharacteristic for Justin. Although his occasional volatile temper was well known, he was an uncommonly decent guy. And, though he was adamant that he wasn’t a Christian, he’d been attending Rochelle’s Bible study, where he’d expressed particular interest in the love of God and forgiveness.
“I ’ave my ooown wheels!”
Rochelle knew about those wheels—a souped up ’66 Mustang in which Justin was known to hot-rod.
“C’mon Justin, you know you can’t drive in your condition. You can hardly stand!”
“Why don’t you just give me your keys, and we’ll take you home. We can come back and get your car tomorrow.”
“Leave me alone!” bellowed Justin indignantly. “I’ll drive myself.”
With little trouble he twisted his arm free from Rochelle’s grasp, unintentionally elbowing her in the ribs. Rochelle winced and stepped back. The girls knew they’d be no match for this six-foot-four varsity basketball player if he let his temper fly.
Justin stumbled away. If his blood-red Mustang had not been directly in front of him, it is unlikely he would have found it. All the while, Estella and Rochelle pleaded with him to stop.
“I said, leave me alone!” Justin turned and took two steps toward them, his fist ready to swing.
“Justin!” screamed Rochelle in alarm. He stopped. The veins on his neck were distended and the color in his face had darkened. “I said, leave me alone!”
Rochelle and Estella took a couple of steps backward. Justin turned and walked unsteadily to his car. The girls pleaded some more, but from a safer distance. He managed to get into the correct car and insert the appropriate key into the ignition. As he pulled out of his parking spot, he scraped the side of the blue Chevy Cavalier parked next to his Mustang and set off the alarm on the yellow Toyota Celica behind him. His car was now pointed toward the exit. Justin’s wheels screeched as he sped out of the lot, jumped the curb, and sideswiped the lamppost near the exit onto Main Street.
As the Mustang raced off to the girls’ right, Rochelle dug through her backpack looking for her cell phone. She punched three numbers.
“Nine one one,” answered the dispatcher. “Is this an emergency?”
“Yes. A very drunk guy just drove out of the Lincoln High Stadium parking lot. He went south on Main Street. He’s already hit two parked cars and a light pole.”
“Is anyone hurt?”
“Not yet. I’m certain he’s going to crash. He was driving really fast. The license plate is NUJ 365. It’s a red ’66 Mustang. Oh wait—oh no!” Rochelle narrated the scene before her. “Oh man! He just missed that car! He’s now headed in the other direction.”
“He’s now headed north on Main?”
“Yes. He has to be doing ninety.”
After a few more questions, the dispatcher ended the call. Rochelle shook her head, wondering if a police car had yet been sent. There was nothing else she or Estella could do. Rochelle looked at Estella, sighed her sense of helplessness, and then unlocked the doors of the ’97 Taurus.
“I hope he’s okay,” said Rochelle, starting her parents’ car.
“I hope they get him before he hurts someone,” responded Estella. Both felt helpless. Rochelle drove to the Main Street exit. Capone’s Pizzeria was three miles south on Main. She flipped on her right blinker and waited, wondering if Justin would be all right.
The light turned green.
Rochelle had barely eased her car onto the street when a screech caused both girls to look to their left. They gasped. After swerving around a brown jeep stopped for the red light, Justin’s red Mustang was aimed directly at Rochelle’s door. Looking across Rochelle’s arms and through the driver’s side Estella could see the panic on Justin’s face. The Mustang swerved as its tires tried to grip the road. Justin’s white knuckles fought the steering wheel to no avail.
Estella’s scream melded with the squeal of tires as she felt the Mustang’s right front fender penetrate Rochelle’s door.
The Taurus jerked sideways as the airbags deployed and the entangled cars bounced over the curb, coming to rest against the lamppost Justin had hit earlier.
The elongated screech of crushing metal and shattering glass was replaced by an eerie silence.
Estella gasped. “Rochelle? Are you all right?” Estella was shaken but not hurt. “Rochelle?”
Estella fought her way through the airbags, trying to reach her friend. “Rochelle? Rochie? Rochelle? Talk to me, girlfriend!”
“Are you okay?” Estella began to panic. “Please say something!”
Finally, Estella touched Rochelle’s crushed body, only to recoil as the moisture and warmth of Rochelle’s blood enveloped her hand.
“Rochelle! Rochelle!—Help! Help!—Someone get some help—Rochelle!”