Author’s Note: I owe what Mac says to my grandfather. He said it first, once, when we were driving in the 1908 Maxwell.
“Natural air conditioning.”
Carson leaned forward, not sure he’d heard the old man right. “What?”
“There’s no top,” Mackenna explained, translating for her grandfather. “Natural air conditioning.”
“Oh,” Carson said, feeling foolish. He was far out if his element here, lost and confused, and he knew that it amused Mackenna to watch him stumble about like he did. He didn’t mind that so much. He felt better here, a part of something, which was different. He’d been an outsider in his own family for so long, the crazy one, and he didn’t know how he could feel like he fit with a taciturn old man and a mechanic who liked to tease him, but he almost thought he did somehow.
“Isn’t this great? I would do this every day if I had time,” she said, leaning over the back of the chair. I can’t wait to drag you on all the stuff for the run. We’ll take Shadow around the lake, have root beer floats…”
“You really get into that, don’t you?”
“These cars have history. They have stories. They’re not just collector’s items—they are, but they’re so much more than that, too. They were someone’s first drive, someone’s cross-country trip. They moved families around, they were all they had to their names, they were someone’s treasure, someone’s inheritance…” She shook her head, still smiling. “I don’t know. In some ways, they’re a gateway to another time and place, only you don’t have to leave where you are.”
“You are such a geek. One would never know it to look at you, but you are.”
“Hey! I object to that. Who is calling who a geek now, Mr. Funny Socks?”
“Might be kettle and pot situation, I admit, but you so are. You’re a complete car geek. You’re not just about the fixing of them. You’re all about the stories and the history—”
“People who like cars are collectors or enthusiasts. Not geeks.”
“Please. Geek is like a catch-all phrase now.”
“I will show you a catch-all, buddy.” Carson knew that she would have, if she hadn’t stopped when she heard her grandfather’s voice.
She slumped down in her seat, pouting. Carson smiled, thinking she was right. He could have used a sister like her growing up. She’d never treated him like he was going to break. She backed off when she thought she needed to, pushed when she could, and she kept him going, kept him searching and trying to explain things rather than acting like the explanation would break him, no matter what it was.
She understood, he supposed, because a part of her was broken, just like he was broken in his way, and his brothers seemed to have avoided that. He didn’t know why or how, but they had. Nick and Larry were immune to whatever had happened, and Carson didn’t understand that any more than he did the rest of the murder.
“You’re quiet back there.”
He leaned forward again, putting his hands on the back of her seat, next to hers. “I don’t really know what to say right now. It was fun teasing you until we got in trouble. Then I started thinking, and my mind went where it always goes…”
“Yeah.” She tapped his hand. “You want to learn to drive this one? It’s not the same as any stick shift you might have tried in the past.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t. I’d be afraid of breaking it. I don’t want to crash this thing and ruin everything. It means too much to you and to Mac and…” Carson sighed. “I suppose that sounds all cowardly, huh? I just… can’t destroy something that important.”
She nodded. “I understand. I won’t force you. It took me years to work up to driving them, and I still get nervous about it. I have a hard time stopping every now and again. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure if we get Phantom going for you, you’ll feel like driving her all the time. She’ll be yours.”
“Won’t that bother you? Letting her go after putting all that work into her?”
“Well, you’re not going to stop being my friend and surrogate brother as soon as I fix your car, are you?” She frowned. “Or should I ask if you’d stop talking to me if you figured out who killed your father and why? Would you do that? Just… stop?”
He shook his head. “I can’t think of any reason why I would.”
“Then we’ll still talk, and you’ll bring her by, and it’ll be like seeing a distant relative, I guess. You can still love something—someone—you don’t see every day.”
She gave his hand a pat and turned around to face the front again. He sat back, feeling even more awkward than before. It wasn’t like he had any plans to stop talking to her for any reason, he wasn’t lying about that, but now that the subject had been raised, the whole thing left him with an unpleasant taste in his mouth, like his stomach was going to turn on him again, and he tried to hold that back. He wasn’t leaving today—he’d have to go to work sometime—and he could still call her when he was back in the city, like he had before, so why did it matter so much all of a sudden?
He didn’t know that he wanted to know.