By Jennifer Micelli
She pushed open the heavy double doors and saw that the wide hallway was nearly empty. She wasn't late yet, but if she didn't hurry...
The bell rang just as she stepped in the door of the classroom. As she slid into her seat in the third row, the old gray-haired teacher in the front of the room glared at her over the top of his glasses before copying a trigonometry problem onto the chalkboard. She hurriedly pulled her books out of her bag and tried to ignore the inquiring stares of her two best friends.
"Psst, Claire!" She finally heard the expected whisper come from her right. She turned her head slightly and met the eyes of Gracie Thompson, her partner-in-crime since kindergarten. Gracie cocked her head to one side and raised her eyebrows. Smiling, Claire nodded in answer to the silent question. Gracie grinned back at her and turned around to wordlessly spread the news to Irene, the last member of their trio.
After what seemed like hours, the bell rang again, marking the end of math class. Gracie and Irene rushed over to Claire's desk, still smiling with anticipation. "Come on, come on, let's see it!" Irene said, excitedly.
Claire put her purse on top of her desk and dug through it until she found her wallet. Opening it, she pulled out the precious piece of plastic and presented it to her friends.
"Wow, Claire, that's an absolutely horrible picture!"
"It looks like a mugshot!" The girls erupted into a fit of giggles.
"Say what you will, I know you're just jealous." Claire slid the card back into her wallet and packed up the rest of her belongings. "Let's go, we're going to be late."
The girls continued their conversation as they made their way towards the chemistry lab. "So you drove here this morning?" Gracie asked.
"Yeah, I got the crappy old station wagon, but hey, it runs just fine and it's better than nothing."
They agreed. "So where are we going after school today?" Irene inquired.
Claire turned to face her and raised one eyebrow. "Where are we going? I wasn't aware that we were going anywhere."
"Oh, come on, Claire, you're the first person we know to get her drivers' license. This is so exciting, we have to go do something after school!"
She laughed. "I know, I was only teasing. But we'll figure it out later, chemistry awaits us."
Hours later, the girls found themselves sitting at the local stereotypical greasy burger joint. "Somehow, this tastes better than it ever has before," Irene said as she bit into her cheeseburger.
Claire nodded in agreement. "It's the taste of freedom!" she joked. "Freedom from having to rely on our parents for transportation, freedom to go wherever, whenever...it's great!"
"I'll drink to that!" Gracie said, raising her milkshake glass. The girls laughed as they toasted to their independence.
"So was the road test hard?" Gracie asked after they had all calmed down considerably.
Claire shrugged. "It wasn't too bad. The parallel parking's the worst, though." She took a sip of her milkshake before continuing. "My mother didn't want me to take it yet - she wanted me to wait until I was a little older, but I convinced her I was ready."
"How much of a fight did you have to put up to get the keys this morning?" asked Irene, knowingly.
Claire sighed, half-smiling. "I should have known she wasn't going to let me out of the house with them this morning without a lecture on the 'responsibilities and perils' of driving. She probably would have kept me in our kitchen all day had I not 'been responsible' and reminded her that if she didn't let me leave, I was going to be late to school."
After finishing, the girls piled into the old car and pulled out of the parking lot. Even though her friends seemed more excited than she was, Claire had to admit that she was enjoying herself greatly. The windows were rolled down, the radio was turned up, and they were all giggling and gossiping over which football player was dating which cheerleader and who had gotten a terrible haircut over the weekend.
They were just approaching the topic of Irene's crush on Jimmy Peters when the car went flying over what felt like a giant speed bump. "What was that?!?" Claire screamed. After a quick check in the rearview mirror, she pulled the car over to the curb and got out.
It lay in the middle of the street. Checking for other cars, Claire rushed over to it. "What is it?" Gracie asked.
"A dog. Oh no, I hit a dog!"
"I think so." She nudged it slightly. Nothing happened. "It is, oh god, it's dead. I killed it!" One small tear slid down her cheek, soon followed by others.
Gracie knelt down next to her. "Claire, it's okay, these things happen."
"Yeah, Claire, don't get so upset. Look, it was old and filthy. It doesn't even have a collar, it was probably just some stray."
Claire wiped her eyes. "I know, I know...but it was alive just a few minutes ago...and now..." The tears started falling again. She was responsible for the death of another living thing. The thought unsettled her.