I'm Sorry I Washed Your Car
Maybe I should have been nicer about it. But it was early. It was so damned early. It was daybreak, damn it to hell. And I didn't have to get up for school yet. And that's one of those things it just doesn't pay to rush.
I guess I should have been nicer about a lot of things. But that's hindsight. Isn't it?
I couldn't just roll over and go back to sleep, because there was water running somewhere. And there shouldn't have been.
So I rolled out of bed and put on Randy's red pin-striped shirt. I love that shirt. If we-God forbid-ever break up, he'd better kiss it goodbye. And I went to the window. And there was James in the driveway, washing my car.
I opened the window. Thought that would get his attention, but not quite. Usually it was not hard for me. To get James's attention.
I waved my arms around. Without raising them too high, because, you know, Randy's shirt only covered just so much. And James was easily encouraged. Pre-encouraged, one might even say. Like one of those computers you buy with the software already installed.
He saw me then. Snapped off the hose. Smiled. When James smiled at me, it made me a little bit nervous. When he smiled at me, his face lit up with this look that always made me wonder why being loved is not the joy the poets claim.
James or Randy, either one. It's just not what they set us up to expect.
He called out good morning to me.
"James," I said, trying to be half-assed quiet to keep my father out of it. My father was not so sure about the whole James phenomenon. "Why are you washing my car?"
It's really pathetic, what happened to that poor smile. It reminded me of a dog told to play dead. James had this way of making me feel bad. Life has this way of making me feel bad.
"Don't you want me to?" he asked. "I'm sorry."
How do I answer a question like that?
So I just looked up at the sky, which seemed somewhat black and expectant, and I said, "I think maybe it's going to rain."
"If it does," James said, "it will be all my fault. Because I washed your car. Do you want me to stop now? I'd at least have to rinse off this soap."
I didn't know if I wanted James to wash my car. I'd never really thought about it. It was too early to think about it when I was put on the spot to say. But one thing I did know for sure.
I said, "I definitely do not want you to wash my car and then apologize for it."
"Right," he said. "Sorry. I mean . . . you know what I mean."
I closed the window. My father stuck his head in through my door. The hose sound kicked in again from the driveway.
"Who are you talking to?" my father asked. "Why are you making so much noise? You woke me up. Why did you wake me?"
"You have to get up now anyway," I said, looking at the clock. "You'll be late for work."
He reached for my alarm clock. Knocked it over onto its back. "Aw, crap. Why didn't you wake me?"
I said, "I did wake you, Remember? That's what you were just complaining about."
See, it even extends to parents. What I said about love.
It rained. I can't entirely claim it's because James washed my car, because it rained days later. But it felt satisfying, somehow, to blame this and that on James.
I was sitting at the dining room table paying bills. Because somebody had to do it.
When I looked out the window it was raining in sheets, and I swore I saw James skate by. Down the driveway toward the garage. It was like a moment of action in bad animation. You know how when they're really hard up for animation dollars they move a static character across a static scene? Like that.
His hair was still short from that two-year stint in the Air Force. So the fact of being soaking wet didn't change his look much. He had a hat, but he wasn't wearing it. Just holding it by the brim. And then that was it. He just slid out of my field of view.
A moment later he came by in the other direction. Garage to street. Without his shirt. Hat in hand. Wearing a strappy sleeveless undershirt like the kind my uncle Gerry used to wear. Only, I have to say it, it looked better on James.
He'd certainly buffed up while he was away.
I couldn't decide if this was a fun game or not. Probably not.
On the third trip by, no noticeable change. Which made me wonder suddenly if he was still wearing his pants. Which made me jump up to see. Which made James laugh and point, like, I got you. I made you look.
He was wearing his pants. But he made me look.
What he was not wearing were skates. He was just sliding. Hydroplaning along the fresh concrete of my driveway in a quarter-inch sheet of standing water. Which didn't seem a good enough explanation until I realized he was sliding down the trail of automatic transmission fluid my crappy old hand-me-down car deposits on its way to and from the garage.
James was always telling me to get that fixed. He'd even offered to replace my pan gasket, an offer I'd several times refused. If I had been foolish enough to let him in just then, he likely would've offered again.
Once he had my attention, something happened to his. He failed to cut off the skid in time. He sort of bounced off our garage door. Then he recovered his poise and began to dance. It reminded me of a cat after it loses face. That sort of "I meant to do that" attitude. He looked pretty smooth, actually. Dancing. It was this old-fashioned Gene Kelly sort of a thing. Not half bad.
Then all of a sudden there was my father. Right at my left shoulder.
He said, "What in God's name is he doing?"
I said, "Apparently a scene from Singin' in the
He said, "The guy has no shame."
I said, "How can you say that, Dad? He's adorable. He's just being playful."
"You just described a golden retriever puppy. He has no shame because he doesn't even bother to pretend he's not in love with you when I'm around."
"Yes, he does. He can't see you from there."
"Of course he can."
"No, he can't. Come over here."
So he moved over to where James could see him. James slipped on a patch of transmission fluid. His feet came right out from underneath him. He landed on his hip and one elbow, and just lay there. Looking vaguely disoriented.
My father said, "Ouch."
I said, "I told you he didn't know you were here."
He said, "You really ought to get that transmission looked at."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Day I Killed James by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Copyright © 2008 by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.