Snow had been falling for about two hours now, and the roads were slick. Frank Beale gripped the steering wheel tightly and tried to remember what they'd told him in driver ed. Pump the brakes, turn the wheel in the direction of a skid, don't go too fast. As the cranky old Buick started down a steep hill, he let up on the accelerator and kept his foot poised over the brake pedal. On the radio they had once again reached number sixteen in the year's top-forty countdown. (Couldn't they think of anything else to play?)
Frank sighed and turned the windshield wipers up to their highest speed. The snowfall was getting heavier. It was probably a good thing that he'd left Steve Carey's New Year's Eve party early. It was a half-hour drive home, and he was exhausted.
Besides, it had been a lousy party.
Last year was a lot different. Frank had stayed up with his best friend, Keith Graff. That was before either of them had learned to drive; their parents had gone to visit mutual friends in the next state, and they had the houses to themselves. They even opened a bottle of champagne that Keith's mother had left them, and managed to finish half of it before pouring the rest down the sink.
In spite of himself, Frank smiled at the memory. God, they'd been dumb kids. But what fun they'd had!
Then Keith and his mother moved five hundred miles away, and everything changed. Suddenly things weren't so much fun anymore.
The Buick swerved, and Frank fought it back under control.
Thank goodness for Dwight Lambert. Dwight was a few months older than Frank, and he lived just two blocks away. Frank and Keith had never paid much attention to Dwight, and Dwight for the most part kept to himself at school and in the neighborhood. Until Keith left.
Dwight shared a bus stop with Frank, and over the first few weeks of school they became buddies. Together they started going to parties; together they hung out after school, took some girls to dances and out to movies. In general, they had a lot of fun. That's what high school's supposed to be about, Frank thought, isn't it? Having fun?
Then why wasn't he having fun now? And why had he left Steve's party?
Because I couldn't stand one more second of it. The noise, the smoke, the beer, the members of the basketball team making out with cheerleaders, Dwight....
Sure, it was fun. But he'd had fun with Keith, too, in a totally different way. Making popcorn and watching Times Square on the tv...sure, it was like something out of Father Knows Best, but it had been fun. And every once in a while, a fella wanted to do something quiet and wholesome.
Too bad; those days were gone. Admit it, Frank, you're growing up. You can't stay a kid forever, after all. And when you grow up, you have to --
The road took a sudden sharp turn; Frank felt the wheels go out from under him and slammed on the brakes. Snow splattered high about him, the car swerved, and he knew he'd done the wrong thing. Oh, no, he thought, Mom and Dad are going to be mad at me....
With a powerful lurch and a terrible crunching sound, the car leaped a ditch and started up a snow-covered embankment. Frank threw up his arms as a tree trunk came toward him -- then he was thrown forward. He felt the seat belt cutting into his shoulder, then his head hit something and he blacked out.