Authors: A. K. Hartline
Began to Fall
By Aaron Hartline
Copyright © 2012
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America
pulled up to the traffic light, glanced over at the car on her left, and looked
straight into his eyes. She would recall the moment later and realize this was
verything began; where she
climbed aboard the dizzying emotional ride that wouldn’t stop until her life
had changed forever. Although the exact places and times are not always easily
identified, all of the events that change the course of our lives have a
precise beginning. A select few of those are of the life altering variety, and
one moment in particular is impossible to forget.
For Leigh, that
moment arrived at 8:54 am on a cool, spring morning in Charlotte, North
Carolina. She was roughly six minutes away from her place of employment on the
outskirts of the city, at a normal driving speed, and that meant she would have
to step on it when she saw green if she were to make it on time. This
particular traffic light was notoriously long on red; but she did need the time
to put on her face, and there she was, staring directly into the marvelous eyes
of Kyle Tilston. She stared longer than a casual glance of recognition would
warrant, and for a brief moment, the world around them disappeared. She had
begun to turn her head away as soon as she had looked over, but her eyes
refused to follow, locking on his the way a deer, to its doom, is caught in the
glare of an oncoming automobile’s headlights. The enchanted moment seemed to
stretch and distort time; she saw him smile and nod at her, seemingly in slow
motion. She was transfixed, and her eyes took on the wide-eyed quality of one
lost in thought.
thought incoherently, as the hustling and bustling sounds of the busy morning
street faded into the background. She seemed to see his eyes and face with
great clarity, and she distantly felt a tingling sensation on the back of her
neck. Then the sounds began to return, as though someone was gradually turning
up the master volume on the universe, and the world around her swam back. The
moment had lasted only a few seconds; but to Leigh, as she emerged from the
mysterious fog, it seemed much longer.
smile nervously, she gained control and turned away. She blinked and glanced up
at the light, expecting to see green and hear the honking horns of impatient
drivers behind her. But it was still red. She drew a deep, calming breath and
exhaled, clearing her throat.
Ooookay. What was that
? she thought
with bewilderment, her heart beating a bit faster. Looking at the dash
clock she saw it was now 8:56 am. She was definitely going to be late. She had
always taken a great deal of pride in her timeliness and attendance, almost
never having been tardy or absent in school or work. But her fiancé, Gene
Sykes, had kept her out late last night discussing their future and his budding
law career, the latter a subject of which he was most fond. This morning she
had simply hit the snooze button one too many times.
She removed her
make-up case from her purse and began touching up her face, still in a daze.
She didn’t need a lot of paint. She was a true beauty, and one of the rare ones
that seemed entirely unaware of the fact. She was busily brushing her cheeks,
successfully ignoring him, when a deafening roar made her literally jump in her
seat. Kyle wanted to get her attention and keep it a while longer, so he had
gunned the engine of his 1967 electric blue Chevy Nova, a four-bolt main,
three-quarter-race cam 427 engine under the hood.
exhaling and shaking her head.
trembling hands, she put the brush and make-up case back in her pocketbook and
flipped up the visor. He did it again, and she fought the urge to look at him,
realizing that was
what he wanted. The sudden, ridiculous
impulse to rev her own engine in response briefly flashed through her mind.
Leigh was all too
familiar with the driver of the hot rod next to her. He was a new employee
at Falstead Inc., and this wasn’t her first unusual experience with him. She
had taken him through orientation a week ago, in her capacity as the HR manager
at the electronics parts corporation, and she remembered him well for two
reasons: First, he was extraordinarily handsome; and secondly, throughout the
process he had sat slumped in his chair, smiling and training his intense “come
hither” eyes on her with unmistakable flirtation. After several minutes of this
she had become uncomfortable enough with his steady gaze and smile that she
began to fumble her words. She was unable to maintain eye contact, and finished
the remainder of the process quickly, keeping her eyes glued on the training
guide. While men noticing her and flirting was not an unusual experience, her
reaction to Kyle was anything but. She dismissed it afterwards, chalking up the
whole thing as a product of her period, which had arrived early and unannounced
that very morning. She had forgotten him since.
But now here he
was on her left, revving the engine of his muscle car to ever-higher rpms, as
they waited for this impossibly long red light to turn green. The challenging
message was plain. They were both going to be late, and only speed would save
them from here. She held her breath and glanced over at him quickly. He was
still looking at her and smiling. He pointed his right index finger ahead as he
continued to rev his engine, daring her. She exhaled and cleared her throat.
She looked in the rearview mirror at a blonde in the Lexus behind her,
drumming her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. She looked right and
saw a moving van pull up beside her and turn onto 8th Street. She had
purchased the sporty red Porsche Carrera 991 she was driving three months ago,
an indulgent gift to herself - she had fallen in love with the car at a show
she and her fiancé had attended last year -, and her heart now picked up pace
as she seriously contemplated putting it to the test against this guy.
you out of your mind
? she thought immediately in response to the absurd
You have no business even thinking about it
She may have
done something like this a few years back, but that was when she was eighteen,
not twenty-five and an executive. That was before she became a responsible
adult, before she was engaged and about to be married.
So when the light
turned green, she clutched the gear shift and stomped the pedal to the floor.
Kyle did the same, and burning rubber poured smoke behind as they pealed out.
They both gained traction quickly, but he got a slight jump on her.
Leigh was no
stranger to racing; her father, Austin Thompson, had been part owner in a
NASCAR team out of Charlotte. She grew up around that world of speed, and he
took her to the track when she was a teenager, teaching her to drive in one of
his own cars. She was the son her father never had, a part time tomboy, due to
his innocent influence, and her naturally adventurous spirit was such that she
could have abandoned a great deal of her effeminate traits had it not been for
her mother’s vigilance. Her family’s wealth had been made in the tobacco
industry; her father took a small, struggling, family farm he had inherited and
turned it into a hugely successful business. Due to his smart management and
hard work, he had acquired profits and more land, and, over time, became one of
the state’s largest tobacco growers. But her father ultimately sold his farms
and operations as he came under the conviction of the harm of the product, and
the changing public views on the issue. He had fathered Leigh late in life, and
just before she went off to school, he died of heart failure at the age of
sixty -nine. Emotionally devastated, she had gone off to college and tried to
move on with her life as best she could, her independent and vivacious spirit
buried with him.
But now here she
was, pushing her new Porsche to the limits, the thrill of speed and racing
momentarily revived. She threw into third gear, and the nose of her car pulled
ahead by a yard. The turn on the road leading to Falstead was coming up on the
right. The 395 horsepower engine of her car screamed as she slammed into
fourth. She glanced at the speedometer: 80 mph.
He can’t get in front
of me for this turn
, she thought confidently. She braked and geared down.
She checked her rearview mirror and saw that he had dropped backed and moved in
behind her. She approached the turnoff quickly, and whipped off the four lane
onto the two lane back road, braking. She accelerated a little too soon after
letting off the brake, gearing from second to fourth, causing the rear end to
fishtail slightly. She corrected her slide and gunned the engine, gearing back
up to fourth. She looked back and saw that he had made the turn smoothly and
was right on her tail. The back road was approximately two miles long, and
there were some steep curves; but she had been swept back in time to her teen
years and the raceway. She was in the zone now, and she pushed up to 90 mph.
She had time to think for a moment and consider herself certifiably crazy, but then
shoved the thought unceremoniously aside.
Kyle was right on
her rear, hugging close, as they rounded the first curve to the left. She
banked it well, and behind her, he was duly impressed with her driving skills.
A half mile gone and they came to a straightaway.
Here’s where he’ll make
, she thought, and she responded by shifting into fifth for the
quarter mile straight, pushing the speedometer up to 100 mph. She didn’t manage
to create any distance between them, but he did not attempt to pass. His
remained close to her rear, as the hood of the Nova vibrated from the rumbling
power beneath it. Now they approached another sharp curve, and she geared down
to third. She made that curve smoothly, and she geared back up quickly as they
came out on the second straightaway. A slight smile played on her lips and she
brimmed with confidence as she pushed up to 115 mph. The brush and trees one
would normally notice with definition were blurring together on either side as
they tore through the morning air. She looked at him in her rearview mirror.
Come on wild child, is that all you’ve got
? she thought smugly. She
noticed that he had fallen back a bit when she came out of the curve and
stepped on it, but now he had pulled close to her again, sunlight shimmering
off his chrome front bumper and the big block engine growling threateningly. A
slight smile played on Kyle’s lips as he focused on the rear of her Porsche. He
had hardly expected her to race him, much less this zealous, skilled response.
he liked her!
engines sounded like thunder as they bore down on an S shaped curve. This was a
challenging stretch of road to hold, and, caught up in the speed and her
winning position on the straightaway, Leigh had to brake and shift quickly down
to third to keep from sliding. She didn’t clutch as fast as she throttled and
there was an audible grinding from her transmission.
“Easy, girl,” she
muttered through her teeth. He remained glued to her rear as they started into
the bottom curve of the S. She glanced quickly in her rearview mirror to
check him, and saw the front end of his car so close that they could only be
separated by inches. She shifted, tapped the brake, looked again in the
rearview mirror, and he was gone!
Kyle had been
rubbing the knob of his Mickey gearshift, waiting for the exact moment to
engage the overdrive. He knew it would serve him as always, providing a
tremendous burst of power, but the timing had to be just right; the rpms
couldn’t be too high. The bottom of the curve was the right speed, and when he
dropped it and punched the pedal, the powerful surge caused his head to smack
back against the head rest. Sure this was a two lane road and a blind
pass. Sure an oncoming vehicle could nail him. But did he want to beat this chick?
Bet your life.
believe he was attempting to pass her as they went back right at the top of the
curve. What was he thinking? He could be killed! She could see peripherally the
front end of his car pulling up beside her. To brake at that moment and allow
him to pass as quickly as possible to avoid a potentially devastating accident
would have been the sane thing to do. But she wasn’t sane at the moment. She
had morphed into a fearsome opponent in the excitement of the race.
want to play rough
, she thought recklessly,
set her jaw and accelerated to hold off the challenge. Still, his unnerving
move caused her to overreact. She almost slid into him as she accelerated, and
then instinctively hit her brake too hard, fumbling in neutral for just a blink
as she almost geared down to second instead of third. It was just the opening
he needed. He stomped the pedal to the floor and the Nova leapt forward, fish
tailing wildly. Gravel sprayed as his back left tire caught the shoulder of the
road, but then he gained traction back on the pavement. There was less than a
foot between them, the bodies of their cars almost touching as they screeched
around the top of the curve. Tiny beads of perspiration popped out on her forehead
as she futilely watched him pulling ahead. She so badly wanted to stop the pass
from happening, but she had lost her advantage. As they came out of the curve
and the road straightened out, he jerked the steering wheel sharply to the
right and moved in front of her, his tires squealing loudly. She had to brake
hard to keep from slamming into his rear, and she fell back further.