The Stars and the Snow
Third Place Winner, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Short Story Contest
When the light blue pick-up truck had emerged from Lincoln Tunnel, the snow had been falling like someone was lightly sprinkling powdered sugar over the city. A few hours later, it seemed like whoever was up there had gotten impatient, unscrewed the lid, and hastily dumped the rest out. The truck traveled along with the commuter traffic for dozens of miles in the thickening snow before the heavy traffic dwindled out. Hours later, the truck was traversing the icy road alone.
A man slightly past middle age cautiously steered the truck, squinting through the thickening snow at the stretch of road before him. Every few minutes he glanced sideways at his teenage passenger, opening his mouth as if about to say something, then snapping it shut and returning his attention to the road. If the girl noticed his indecisiveness, she ignored it. She sat low in her seat, her feet propped up on the dashboard. Her earbuds were in, the music turned up loud, as she flipped through pictures on her phone. Her body stiffly jolted along with the bumpy road, refusing to adjust.
“Cassie?” the man ventured.
“Yeah?” His daughter didn’t look up.
They continued to drive in stony silence. Every noise was painfully noticeable to the man. He could hear the churn of the snow beneath the truck’s wheels, the beat of the music leaking from his daughter’s earbuds, the swiping of the windshield wipers. It all pounded mercilessly in his head.
“The stars are really pretty,” he offered, desperate to break the silence. “You can see them now that the snow’s lessening up. If you look out your window you’ll see them.”
“I’m good,” she replied, her eyes never lifting from the screen.
“We can turn the radio on, if you want,” he suggested after a moment.
“No, thanks.” The girl’s father sighed and turned his attention back to the road. He tried to breath in rhythm with the car’s wheels. It sounded like something had gotten caught in one of them; he could feel a slight jolt every few seconds along with a slight thud. Just as he started to pull the truck off to the side of the road to check, he heard a muffled pop and the car rolled to a stop.
“God damn it.” He banged his fist against the dashboard. Cassie glanced up, only to return to her phone a second later. The man released his seatbelt and stamped out of the car, slamming the door behind him. Cassie hesitantly pulled the earbuds from her ears and shifted to a sitting position, her head following the man’s movement. She wrapped the cord around her phone before pushing the door open and jumping into the snow. Her eyes squinted against the cold, she walked around the car and stood with her arms crossed against her chest.
“Are we stuck?” she asked.
“A tire blew,” the man said, kicking it angrily.
“Don’t you have a spare?”
“I took it out. There isn’t space for a tire with my equipment and your bags.”
“So it’s my fault?” She jutted out her chin.
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you meant it.”
“Whatever.” She whipped around and with one slippery step, tumbled against the car. Her father reached out a hand to steady her. “I don’t need your help!” she snapped, yanking on the door handle and pulling herself inside.
“God damn it,” the man repeated. He pulled out his phone and dialed his mechanic’s number. After listening to the automated message, he hung up and swore once again. “God damn it.”
“The mechanic can’t get here until morning,” he said, entering the truck. Cassie noticeably raised the volume of her music. Her father raised his voice. “I can get one of your bags if you need it for the night.”
“You can’t talk to me like this, Cassie.” His voice was oddly resigned. “It’s not fair.”
“Sorry.” Cassie pulled her legs up to her chest and laid her head on her knees, facing away from her father. He sighed heavily and rested his head on the back of his seat.
“I’m really sorry, Cassie,” he said, unsure if his daughter was listening, but determined to make her hear. “I’ve always wanted for you to come and stay with me. Not like this, but… I’m sorry.” Cassie shifted her head. “It’s only for the summer. I know you don’t want to stay with me, but it’s important that you’re with me right now.”
“Whatever,” Cassie muttered.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to get one of your bags?” he offered again. “We’re going to be in here all night and I can’t leave the heat on. You should put on an extra sweater.”
“I told you, I’m fine. You don’t need to tell me what to do.”
“Alright.” The snow had stopped falling as heavily and the wind began to quiet. Cassie and her father sat in the car, their shivering intensifying by the minute. While driving, the man could ignore the tension, but now that they were stopped, he could almost feel it in the air. After clenching and unclenching his fists, he turned the key in the ignition and switched on the heat.
“Isn’t it bad to have the car on when you’re not driving?” Cassie accused, raising her head. “We could die. Carbon monoxide poisoning.”
“I am going to drive.” Cassie rolled her eyes. He glanced at her. “Put on your seatbelt.” She stared at him defiantly for a moment before complying. With the click of the buckle, the car began to move. With the tire almost entirely deflated, the truck jolted irregularly as it rolled along the snow-covered road. It barely crept over five miles an hour.
“I’m getting a headache,” Cassie complained.
“Would you rather freeze?” her father asked, losing his patience. Cassie narrowed her eyes.
“I’d rather be at home.”
For nearly two hours, the man painstakingly guided his truck over the ice-encrusted roads. Finally, unable to control his yawning, he let the car stop. Cassie looked up.
“Why are we stopping?”
“I can barely keep my eyes open,” her father said through a yawn. “I just need to rest for half an hour, and then I’ll be good to go. You should try to sleep, too.” Cassie waited until her father had shut his eyes before following suit. Within minutes, they were both asleep.
Cassie lifted her head from the window, blinking her eyes. Her cheek ached from the cold. Her father was still asleep; his head rested on the steering wheel. Wordlessly, Cassie opened the truck door. Gently stepping into the snow, she silently gasped as it filled her shoes. Forgotten, the door fell shut behind her. She took a few timorous steps away from the truck, her eyes trained only on the fallen snow. She brushed a hair out of her face with a trembling hand, letting it linger on her cheek for a moment before dropping it to her side. Staring at the ground, she paused. Then, with a deep breath, she looked up.
Thousands of stars dusted the winter sky. Through Cassie’s watering eyes, they blurred with the softly falling flurries, dancing to the ground together. A slight smile played across her cheeks. The constellations fell to the earth around her; the snowflakes flew up to meet them. She lifted her arms out to her sides, making snow angels in the falling stars. Tilting her head back, she caught them in her mouth.
Her father woke as the truck door clicked shut. His blood froze in his veins as he noticed the empty passenger seat beside him. His breath sunk to the bottom of his chest. Then, through the frosted window, he saw his daughter look up at the sky and start to play in the snow. A smile formed on his face, echoing his daughter.
Cassie remained in the snow until ice crystals formed on her eyelashes. Just as wordlessly as she had left the truck, she reentered it. Her father lay in the same position as he did just minutes before. Cassie brushed the snow off her boots and laid her head back against the window. Her smile remained on her face, not even melting as she drifted off to sleep, dreaming about the stars and the snow.
Sara Franklin-Gillette, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, loves writing, singing, and theater. Her mother, a writer, inspired Sara’s love of reading and writing at a young age, and she has been writing stories ever since. At school, she enjoys politics, history, and English classes. She intends to continue writing.