Ultimatum

No one wants to get into a car accident. There’s never a convenient time for it. 

This one Saturday, I had the whole day to myself and aimlessly drove around town, seeing and doing things I always promised myself I was going to do. 

The sun started to set and I began to hear laughter. Not the wholesome laughter either; it was the loud snorts and whooping from college kids. I remember that scene very well. That’s not my world anymore. 

I got in my car and started the engine and took a deep breath before I started my journey home to rest in my cocoon. I saw a group of young women, walking down the sidewalk with their arms linked, smiling and beginning to sway. I couldn’t say the image brought me good memories. That time reserved for higher education was muddied by college frat rituals and terrible relationships. 

I remember one relationship I was in. Her name was Nikki. She was the first one I thought I was going to marry, but we weren’t right for each other. My mind cruised through all of the arguments we had weekly, the jealousy and insecurity, the backstabbing, navigating through each other’s networks of friends to keep the relationship alive. Then we both started cheating. I convinced myself; this is how it’s supposed to be. 

This went on for over a year. I had gotten pretty good at maintaining the good structure of this poor relationship. All my focus and energy went to it. Everything else failed. Including school. 

My goodness. I apologize. Don’t you hate when that happens? Your mind goes on auto pilot and you have no idea how you’ve been driving. I went sixteen blocks and in that path there were more than five stoplights and three stop signs. There’s people everywhere. 

I shook my head and slapped my cheek; partly to wake me up and the other punishing myself for being so reckless. I carefully pressed the gas pedal and pulled into the intersection when I saw a gray sedan careening towards me. 

The accident was swift. Their momentum shook me as I swore aloud. I could see into their car, their airbags deployed. I was fine. I checked my body and didn’t see any injuries or blood. No odd smells. No pain. 

I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened my door to check my car and the other driver. I could already hear arguing spilling out of their car. Clearly, they were fine, if they were arguing. My car had minor issues. I could already calculate how much this is going to be if I had to pay out of pocket. 

“Dude… oh man,” the guy said. “Are you okay?” 

The young guy had a scruffy black beard and messy hair. He smoothed his hair back and rested his hands on top his head as he surveyed the damage he had made. 

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m fine. How about you?”

“I think I’m okay,” he said nervously. “Dude, what happened?”

I blinked at the audacity of the question. The woman was rifling through the garbage in their car. I raised my eyebrow at the scene. 

“Well, I looked at the intersection and didn’t see a car and started driving when you sped in,” I said calmly. “You didn’t have your headlights on. I didn’t see you.”

“Ah, no way,” he croaked as his hands went to rest on the back of his neck. “I’m so sorry, bro.”

“Shut up, Maddox,” the woman yelled. “Why are you apologizing for?”

“Because we were just in an accident,” Maddox said. 

“Apologizing implies that you were at fault, which we weren’t,” she said hastily. “I swear I have to do everything in this relationship.

“Sheila, why do you have to be like this,” Maddox asked. 

“Because I’m mad at you,” Sheila screamed. Sheila had leaking eyeliner under her eyes. Both of their clothes were wrinkled. I could see something familiar about this. 

I scanned the two as they went back and forth before I leaped in to steer the conversation to a resolution. 

“How do you guys want to take care of this,” I proceeded cautiously. 

“Man, I’m so screwed,” Maddox said, biting his lower lip. 

“Do you have insurance,” Sheila asked. 

“Absolutely,” I answered. 

“Are you calling the police,” Maddox asked. 

“Why would we do that,” Sheila argued. 

“Because that’s what happens when you’re in an accident,” I replied. “You call the police.”

“We’re not at fault,” Sheila said. 

“So let the police decide that,” I replied. “With a police report.”

The two looked at each other. They looked like they had been fighting for hours and they were ready to jump back in. 

“How else are you going to get money to fix this,” I pressed. 

Maddox mumbled under his breath. 

“I can’t hear you when you do that,” Sheila erupted. “You are really irritating me.”

“I haven’t done anything that you haven’t already done to me.”

I’ve had enough.

“This is what we’re going to do,” I said over the both of them. “We’re not calling the police.” 

Maddox and Sheila looked at me with hope mixed with confusion. 

“We’re not exchanging information,” I continued. “I’m not paying for your car and you’re not paying for my car. We both can go our separate ways.”

Maddox and Sheila frowned with disbelief. 

“You can have this if you do one thing in return for me.”

“What,” Maddox asked. 

“I want you two to break off whatever you two have,” I said. 

“Excuse me,” Sheila said, stepping back in shock. “How dare you? You don’t even know us.”

“I don’t,” I challenged. “You don’t have a suspended license,” I asked, pointing at Maddox. “You two aren’t intoxicated? You both aren’t in possession of narcotics? This isn’t your father’s car? You two haven’t cheated on each other?

Sheila squinted as she studied me. Maddox looked at the sky nervously. 

“Look, I know this picture all too well because I’ve been there. I have your license plate and I know your names. I’m giving you a pass. Walk away from this and pay only the damage to your own car. In exchange, I want you to break whatever relationship you have and go your separate ways. 

“What if we’re married,” Sheila asked finally. 

“If you were married, you wouldn’t ask ‘what if we’re married,’” I explained. “You two are toxic and will be better off without each other.”

Maddox took a deep sigh. 

“That’s a really bold move of you, mister,” Sheila said finally. 

“Maybe,” I answered with a nod. “But you don’t have many options.”

“And we’re not happy with each other,” Maddox said quietly. Sheila shot daggers at Maddox. “Are we,” he asked. “If we are, then I’ll stay… and face the consequences. But this guy, he’s right. Isn’t he?”

I got back in my car and started it successfully. 

“Sir,” Maddox said as he came to my car window. “Where are you going?” 

“I’m going home,” I said. “There’s nothing else for me to do here. But if you two decide to do something incredibly stupid, I’ll be back and then we’ll make this a trio. Then it’ll get real weird.”

I drove off and Maddox and Sheila watched as I drove off in the darkness of the night. All I could see were their faces, red from the taillights of my car. 

They shouldn’t be back together. 

But what do you think they did?

They got back together. 

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