On the way home, Terrence takes a turn I’m not expecting. I don’t say anything. He drives silently, blonde curls flapping out from under his backwards fitted. He keeps his head pointed forward, mirrored shades on.
He’s wearing a rasta tank top to show off the stylized medusa head staring at me from his shoulder, her serpentine hair weaving a sleeve down his arm. His hand is clean. It stays on the shifter. We cruise through neighborhoods I don’t recognize. Finally he pulls the GTO up to the curb out front of a dilapidated single story, nestled back in an overgrown yard.
“Wait here,” he tells me. “I’ve gotta pick something up. I’ll be right back.” He gets out of the car and shuts the door, then turns around and sticks his head back through the open window. “Don’t fuck with my jams,” he says, then turns and walks up the driveway, past a decrepit RV and around back of the house.
Terrence’s jams are dubstep. A female voice arpeggiates robotically in spliced, broken phrases, syllables that become momentarily intelligible before slipping back into pure sound. Then the high hat gets frantic and the voice crescendos into a scream, the whole song congealing into a sort of semi-orgasmic singularity before the drop, which sounds like a factory full of cyborgs fucking, shattering glass, vomit hitting a toilet bowl, gunshots, a woman moaning in ecstasy.
The song keeps undulating for fifteen minutes before Terrence comes back out, holding a paper grocery bag. He gets in the car and tosses the bag in the backseat.
“What’s in the bag?” I ask.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says, nodding his head to the music. “Yo, this shit is filthy. You get down to this?”
“It’s ok,” I say.
“It’s ok? No wonder you don’t get laid, bro,” he says, and laughs. “Just kidding. But seriously, don’t tell Katie we stopped here, cool?”
“Uh, yeah, cool,” I say. He stares at me until I meet his gaze.
“I’m for real dude, if your sister found out I took you here, she’d shit.”
“Why, what’s in the bag?” I try again.
“Big tings, brudda. Big tings,” he says in his cornball Jamaican accent, the one he always seems to slip into when Katie tries to ask him what he’s going to do once they graduate. “Big tings, Kay-tee,” he’ll say. “Don’ choo worry mama. Big tings.”
He puts the car in gear and peels out from the curb. Terrence usually peels out wherever he’s going. He treats every block like a drag race. Once we get out of the neighborhood and onto the highway, he really starts pushing it.
I can’t help but smile as I watch the blurs that are soccer moms in their minivans and SUVs, commuters in hybrid sedans and the occasional landscaper or construction worker in a loaded pickup. Terrence drives with a sense of urgency, not really to get wherever he’s going, but more just to be going there faster than anybody. I hold my hand out the window and curve it into a wing so it catches the wind and lifts up, then spread my fingers out and let it fall back to the side of the car.
“Yo, I know you like the whip though,” he says, watching me.
“Yeah, it’s sick,” I admit. It is a thing of beauty, his ’69 Pontiac GTO, restored to mint and then some. It’s candy cobalt blue with double white racing stripes, white leather interior, gleaming chrome rims and illegally dark tint on the windows. Terrence massages the wheel with his left hand and fondles the shifter knob with his right.
“When most people look at this car, all they see is the outside,” he says. “They see the candy paint, the rims, all that, but I see it different. I see the totality. Every single part, every last little fuckin’ screw . That’s cause I rebuilt this bitch from the ground up. Used to be my grandpa’s, before he died.” I’ve heard this spiel before, but I don’t say anything. He takes his hand off the shifter for the first time and thumps his fist over his heart, then kisses his hand and raises a peace sign to the roof.
“I rebuilt it for him, like a dedication,” he says. “There isn’t a part of this car that I haven’t taken in my hands and examined and understood what it does.” As he’s talking, he reaches in his pocket for his pack of camels.
“That’s the difference between me and most people. Most people see a thing and they just take it for granted, they don’t give a shit how it works, so long as it seems like it’s working.” He emphasizes his point by tapping his pack on the wheel. He pulls out a cigarette and continues.
“Me, I gotta know what’s in there, man. What it’s doing. I have to pick everything apart and understand it. I think that’s why I fuck so good.”
I don’t know what to say so I laugh. He laughs too and clicks in the cigarette lighter on the dashboard. Terrence is the only person I’ve ever seen who still uses the cigarette lighter for lighting cigarettes. I think he smokes just so he can use it.
“Seriously bro,” he says. “It’s cause I’m like, sensitive to all that shit. Honestly, the only thing that really turns me on is chick’s O faces. It’s like staring right into their souls.” He rolls his eyes back and moans softly, then laughs. “And that smile dude, they get this smile, like nothing else even exists but that feeling between the two of you, and it’s all good. You know what I mean?”
“Not really,” I say.The cigarette lighter pops up and he pulls it out and holds the glowing disc to the tip of the camel between his lips.
“Look man,” he says, shrugging and blowing out smoke. “Everyone has a sister who’s getting dicked by some dude. You should just be glad you’ve got a chiller like me doing it.” I don’t say anything. “Your sister is awesome though,” he says after a moment.” I think I might love her.” He looks at me. “Who knows, we could be bros for real one day.”
“So what’s in the bag?” I ask
“Big tings, brudda,” he says, and keeps on driving.
I don’t know it yet but one day I actually will find out what he means about that smile, almost a decade and a half later, in bed with Hailey, the girl I’ll eventually marry. She’ll be on top of me and her hair will fall down around her head to make a little tent between our faces and there she’ll be, beaming in the dim light of my room, eyes wide with a kind of ecstatic wonder. I’ll feel like she’s pouring pure joy down over me, filling me up with it, and I’ll smile too and think, this must be what love is.
Later, as Hailey sleeps, I’ll lie awake, realizing that every other time I thought I was in love, that was probably just something else. As I’m pondering this realization, I’ll arrive back in that afternoon, riding home with Terrence, how all those years ago he put words to what I had just felt. Fucking Terrence, telling me how good he used to bang my sister, how she used to look at him when he made her come. But maybe he really did love her, I’ll think. And who am I to say what’s what anyways.
That’ll be long after my last ride in the GTO, after Katie finds out what’s in the bags and calls the cops and Terrence calls her a crazy bitch and peels out for good. After she leaves for the Peace Corps and he sticks around, doing whatever it was he always did. Katie will be married to another guy, Steve, with a daughter on the way, and I’ll have been working up in Washington for years myself, though one time when I go back home to visit I’ll see Terrence at the supermarket.
He’ll be buying bread, peanut butter and beer. He won’t recognize me and I won’t say anything, but I’ll watch him as he leaves the store, grocery bag in hand. Big tings, brudda, I’ll think to myself. Big tings. The sun’ll be just setting and he’ll raise his other hand to shade his eyes from the light as he walks out to the GTO sitting there in the parking lot, still gleaming like a long lost treasure.