“A fear is not going to be something that’s your thing. Then it wouldn’t be your fear.”
“I’m not scared of this. I just think it’s stupid. And dangerous.”
“You are terrified of this. I can see it in your eyes. Don’t try to pretend this isn’t one of your fears. And if it’s not your fear, you can put one check mark in the trying something new box.”
I huffed and took the helmet from him. “Fine. It is my fear.” I’d seen too many crashes while he was racing, and I did not want that to be me.
He smiled big and started walking to where his quad was waiting by the trailer.
One of his buddies passed, obviously just finishing his run, and said, “Be careful out there. It was really windy last night.”
“Thanks,” Cooper said and when we were out of hearing distance added, “for nothing.”
“We can’t go now,” I said, walking faster to try to catch up with him. “I know what wind means on the dunes. I’ve been out here with you enough. It means there’s hundred-foot drops carved into the sand. It means we hit them at the top of a hill out of nowhere and we go plummeting.”
“Don’t listen to him. We’ll be fine. I was born on the dunes, remember?” he threw over his shoulder.
“And now you’re going to die on them, and I’ll be able to check off the last item on the list.”
He stopped suddenly, me nearly running into him, and turned around. He put his helmet on the sand between his feet, then stood and placed his forearms on my shoulders, looking me in the eyes. “I know you can do this. I know we’ll be safe. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
And that was it. I was toast. Was it possible he knew what this proximity and those eyes and that voice did to me? Even if he didn’t, I knew my weakness, that tiny voice inside my head that was saying, look at him, he wants you to do this, maybe this will make him fall for you.
But being aware of my weakness and resisting it were two totally different things. Ugh. I’d thought I was more over him than this.
I nodded. “I’ll try.”
“Yeah?” he said, his sparkling smile back.
I took a fistful of the front of his T-shirt. “Yes. But after this you will buy me a milk shake.”
“Only if you don’t barf,” he said, taking a step out of my hold, swiping up his helmet, and finishing the walk to his quad.
He took the helmet I still held and popped it onto my head.
“Ow.” My voice was muffled inside the only thing now protecting me from a cracked skull.
He lifted up the visor. “What?”
“Nothing. Let’s get this over with.” My stomach was already in knots, and I realized that maybe he was right. Maybe I wouldn’t want a milk shake after this, because I was certainly going to barf.
He hopped on the quad and powered it to life. Then he turned and patted the seat behind him. I lowered my visor and climbed on. He took my arms and wrapped them around his waist. “Hold on tight, okay?”
I nodded. He hadn’t needed to tell me that. Then he put his own helmet on and we were off.
I should’ve gone on my own. If he taught me how to use the quad, it would’ve been better. I would’ve gone slow and taken it easy and life would’ve been better. But I wasn’t on my own. I was behind Cooper, the guy who was in frequent dune races. The guy who was born on the dunes. And he wasn’t taking it easy. Acid crept up my throat. The landscape ahead was terrifying. The sand was pocked with bowls carved into its otherwise smooth surface. Some of those bowls were shallow and harmless. But the ones Cooper liked to take on were thirty-foot drops that we had to race down the side of, into the hole. Those were the kind that needed momentum to come out of, so he took them at speeds that had me gripping him even tighter. I might’ve enjoyed this setup if I wasn’t so terrified.
“I hate you. I hate you. I hate you,” I said as he revved the engine to make us go even faster. He couldn’t hear me, but those words echoing through my helmet made me feel better.
On the bright side, this wasn’t a feeling I purposefully had very often. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt this amount of sheer panic. Or this amount of hatred toward Cooper. So maybe this would help me paint emotion.
Cooper skidded to a stop at the top of a hill. Our two right tires were on the edge of a sandy cliff. One more pump of the gas and we would’ve been flying down the eighty-foot drop. Had I not been here, he probably would’ve taken that drop, happy and hoping not to somersault down it.
He turned on the quad to talk to me. “Are you having fun yet?” he yelled.
I shook my head back and forth, unable to open my mouth for fear I’d be sick.
“Really? I thought for sure you’d like it once you tried it.”
I shook my head again.
“Okay, I guess we head in then.”
And he was back at it just as fast as before. When we arrived at his trailer, I stumbled off the quad and tripped to the ground on wobbly legs.
He took off his helmet and sat down in the sand next to me. “So . . . you are actually a wimp. I had been kidding when I called you that in front of Amelia. But now I know.”
I threw a handful of sand at him, then shakily took off my helmet. “I might’ve liked it better had I driven.”
“You want to drive?” He swung his keys in front of my face.
I held up my hands. “No.”
“So, what do you think?” He pointed out at the stretch of sand we’d just made our mark on. “Is this list of yours going to accomplish anything?”
I thought about the fear that gripped my chest out there, that clawed at my insides in a way I’d never felt before. And now it was gone. I’d faced that feeling and overcome it. A surge of pride expanded my insides. “Yeah . . . maybe.”
I looked back up at him. A teasing smile lit his eyes. He needed to feel the same thing I’d just felt—that mocking smile would be wiped off his face real fast. I had told my grandpa and mom that Cooper was fearless. And that seemed to be the case. But I was probably wrong. Everyone was afraid of something. “You’re next. What are you afraid of?”
He held his helmet in the air. “I fear nothing, Abby.”
“No, really. You said you wanted to do the list with me. What fear are you going to face?”
He tossed the keys to his quad once, then caught them. “Huh. I really can’t come up with anything. I’ll think about it.”
I handed him back the helmet. “So will I.”
“My legs are sore,” I said. “Why are my legs sore? We were on that quad for thirty minutes.” I held the milk shake Cooper had bought me as a reward as we walked down Main Street toward his car.
“You were gripping the seat with your thighs like your life depended on it. Of course they’re sore.”
“My life did depend on it.” I hit my right thigh three times with a closed fist. “Ouch. That seriously hurts.”
“Then stop doing that. And stop walking like that.”
“Like you just spent hours on a horse.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I can’t help it.” I hit my thigh again.
He stepped in front of me, presented his back, and squatted. “Jump on.”
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