Driven

Pulling up at the gates to a Victorian-style, five-and-a-half-acre estate, Larry Kissinger had no idea that a simple Facebook event invitation to a June weekend dinner party at his younger brother’s house in the Hamptons would change his life forever. He certainly wasn’t excited to see his brother Denis for the first time in over a year, or his brother’s wife Cassandra, or their two-year-old twin daughters Victoria and Maria. Photos of his brother’s family life at their pristine and picturesque mansion littered his Facebook news feed every single day. There were pictures of them celebrating their first Halloween as a family, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas and New Year’s, and so on. He’d even get postcards from them at various times of the year, each with a photo of the happy quartet smiling their troubles away in front of a studio photographer’s camera. He saw enough of them from his apartment in Columbus; did he really need to drive 650 miles to the east end of Long Island to see them in person?

Suddenly, the gate began to creep open, which Larry took as his brother’s way of inviting him inside. He drove up the meandering half-mile gravel driveway to the family’s gargantuan neoclassical home. The white two-story façade, complete with cast-stone columns, seemed to stretch on for miles. Dozens of spiraling topiaries cast shadows from the early-afternoon sun as they lined the sides of the driveway up to the house. The estate was almost entirely a sea of pristine and clean-cut Kentucky bluegrass. As he got closer to the house, he noticed a second building next to the house, complete with ten garage doors. How many cars did his brother own? He lost track after twelve or so. This kid probably doesn’t even drive most of them anyway.

Larry finally made it to the front of the enormous house, where Denis was standing in his gray smart suit and aviator sunglasses. Even his brother’s casual attire was nicer than his best suit and tie. He got out of the car as his brother came over to greet him.

“Larry! Good to see you, bro!” Denis said, giving Larry an awkward half-hug, half-handshake.

“Hi,” Larry said, trying to squirm out of his brother’s embrace.

“What’s the matter, man? You don’t want to give your little brother a hug in such nice dinner wear?”

Larry gave a fake smile, though he couldn’t tell if his brother was being sarcastic.

“No, it’s not that. I’ve just had a long last couple of weeks.”

“Oh, that’s a bummer. Hey, listen, the girls are going to be a while getting ready for tonight. You want to check out the man cave?” Denis motioned to the huge garage beside them.

“Sure, I’m down to see your Hot Wheels collection,” Larry said, as the two walked over to the nearest garage door.

“At least you still have your classic sense of humor.” Denis punched in a code on a keypad next to the door, and the white windowed garage door rose to reveal several million dollars’ worth of automotive perfection.

There were at least thirty different cars all over the garage, all mightily impressive: an elegant red Ferrari Daytona convertible, a striking yellow Lamborghini Diablo, a gorgeous black Aston Martin Vanquish coupe, a fierce silver Porsche 911 Turbo, a stunning blue Ford GT, and a brawny white Range Rover, among dozens of other six-figure vehicles. The centerpiece of the garage was a small black marble plinth, upon which sat a $2.4 million-dollar orange and exposed carbon fiber-black Bugatti Veyron. As soon as Larry spotted the car, he hurried over to the plinth and read the plaque Denis had installed beside it.

It read: 2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport World Record Edition — #07 of 30 Produced.

Larry was at a loss for words. He had seen this car in movies, TV shows, video games, and he had always wanted to see it in real life. Now his brother had managed to get one. Maybe he would let him touch it or, by some miracle, sit in it?

Denis walked over to meet Larry, who still stood in stunned silence.

“You like? I just got a hold of it last December as a Christmas present to myself. You would not believe the hoops I had to jump through to beat out six other guys trying to get it.”

Christmas present to himself? The most expensive Christmas present Larry had ever bought himself was a full-size air hockey table that barely fit in his apartment’s tiny back room. What did Denis do for a living, again? Wasn’t it something in the real estate industry? Or was it pharmaceuticals? Or energy solutions? Whatever it was, it was substantially more successful than the mediocre used car dealership Larry worked at in a Columbus suburb.

Denis pulled a set of keys out of his pants pocket and pressed the unlock button on the Bugatti’s bespoke key fob. The car’s headlights flashed with life. “We’ve got some time,” he said, jingling the keys. “Want to go for a ride?”

Larry was on the verge of keeling over. He suddenly began to feel something resembling love for his brother for the first time he could remember.

“Holy shit, yes, please!” he said, running over to his brother and giving him a mutually-uncomfortable bear hug. He leaned back, lifting his somewhat-more diminutive brother off the ground.

“Whoa, man, don’t wrinkle the fabric, it’s imported,” Denis said, half-strained. “But I love you too, bro!”

Larry put his brother down and the two took their seats in the car’s artfully-stitched black cabin. He looked down to his left at the center console. He had never seen a $2.4 million-dollar cupholder before.

“I know a pretty good stretch of back road not far from here where we can get some nice speed,” Denis said, as they buckled their seatbelts. He pressed the starter button and the engine whirred into life, which Larry thought sounded like a jet turbine. It gave him chills as the engine relaxed to its rumbling idle.

“Engine’s a W16; it’s basically two V8s welded together,” Denis said.

“How much power does it make? A million?” Larry asked.

“1200 horsepower. That’s like six of your car.” Denis chuckled to himself.

“What’s the top speed?”

“It’s limited to 258 miles per hour.”

“What’s the fastest you’ve gone in it?”

“About a buck eighty on an empty coastal road. Bet we can beat that today, though.”

Denis put the car into gear and slowly drove down the plinth’s ramp to leave through the open garage door. Larry saw the door close on its own in the side mirror as they cruised down the gravel driveway to reach the paved access road.

They stayed on the back roads for a bit, with Denis giving a bootful of throttle every now and then to keep Larry excited, until they reached an empty rural straight section of the east-west Montauk Highway than ran the entire length of Long Island’s southern shore.

They pulled over to the side of the road and Larry checked his phone’s GPS for any potential cop sightings. He gave his brother the all-clear, and Denis put the car back into gear.

“Hold on tight.”

The car leapt forward instantaneously and stormed up to 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds, and the speedometer kept climbing higher and higher as trees and signs whizzed by. 100… 130… 150… 170… 190… 200… 210. The cabin was eerily calm apart from the distant rumble of the mid-mounted engine behind their seats. Larry looked over to his left at his brother in the passenger seat, who was staring straight ahead at the briskly-approaching short stretches of road between signs with both hands firmly on the steering wheel. He couldn’t get a good glimpse of his brother’s eyes behind the aviators, but he already knew they were the exact same shade of brown as his own. Larry realized how differently each of their lives has gone since graduating high school over a decade and a half ago.

Denis won a scholarship to Penn State and got a master’s in business administration, then soon founded what would go on to be one of the world’s most profitable real estate agencies and websites, while meeting the love of his life and having a happy marriage with two kids and a giant estate, complete with some of the most expensive cars in the world. What had Larry done since graduating high school? Two years at community college, then two years at Temple University and graduating with a bachelor’s in economics, then a series of odd jobs at bowling alleys, small IT industry startups, and used car dealerships, alongside a trio of lackluster relationships, the most recent of which had ended a few weeks earlier after having been together for nearly four years.

How could the two of them be so similar from birth, yet go on to live such different lives? For all he knew, Larry could be the one piloting one of the world’s most exclusive cars at over 200 miles an hour right now. Yet here in this moment, and in this reality, he wasn’t. Larry turned back to the road ahead as Denis began to ease off the throttle.

“Hit about 217 on that last run, that’s the fastest by far,” he said. “Damn, that feels good.”

Larry said nothing.

Denis nudged his brother with his elbow. “Hey, man, aren’t you excited? We just did four times the speed limit on public roads in your dream car!”

Larry sighed. “That’s what all this is. A dream. Your dream, my dream. None of this is real.”

“Are you all right? I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“I’m fine, man. I’m just fine.”

“Okay, I’m just checking on you. Don’t want my brother to be all down in the dumps before the dinner party tonight.”

“Yeah, you wouldn’t want that,” Larry mumbled to himself.

The car cruised down to a crawl and Denis made a U-turn in the middle of the road, stopping on the opposite shoulder to face the way they came.

He checked his gleaming multifaceted silver Rolex wristwatch. “We ought to head back soon, the missus is going to want to see you before the party starts,” he said. “Want to drive the way back?”

Larry nodded. They got out and switched seats, rebuckled their seatbelts, and Larry was once again in awe. Denis quickly showed him how to release the parking brake and put the car into gear, as well as explained what to expect from the car during a high-speed run.

“After you hit about 150, you lose a tiny bit of stability, but for the most part it’s rock-solid up to the top end. Should be a cake walk for you after playing all that Need for Speed growing up, huh?”

Without a word, Larry released the parking brake and mashed the throttle pedal into the floor. The car was already doing 120 miles per hour before Denis noticed the cold, passionless face behind the wheel of one of the rarest automobiles in existence.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Denis asked. “Was it something I said?”

“Don’t worry about me, Denis. You didn’t before, so there’s no reason to start now.”

The speedometer read 140 m.p.h.

“What do you mean? I care about you! That’s why I invited you today! You’re my brother, for Christ’s sake!”

“You call me your brother? You sure I’m not just one of the common everyday sidewalk ants you look down on and step all over?”

160 m.p.h.

“Of course you’re my brother, Larry! We grew up together; we were raised by the same parents! We share the same values!”

“Really? Then maybe you would have given two fucks when I was kicked out of mom and dad’s house ten years ago and I had to live out of my god damn Ford Focus for eight months! Where were you when that happened? I could have used your fuckin’ help, you self-indulgent prick!”

“How the hell was I supposed to know? I had a whole damn agency to manage, man!”

180 m.p.h.

“I tried calling your number every day for a month to ask you for help, but it would always be one of your dickless secretaries telling me you were too god damn busy buying stupid expensive shit to throw a bone to your fuckin’ down-on-his-luck brother!”

“Larry, I’m sorry! I didn’t know this was going on at all, I swear! If I had known I would have given everything up to lend you a hand.”

“Well, it’s too late now. Life’s already fucked me hard enough.”

200 m.p.h. Larry had noticeably strayed into the oncoming lane on the other side of the road.

“Larry, watch the road! You’re going to get us killed!”

Larry ignored his brother, his eyes fixated straight ahead on a point in the horizon.

“I’m not joking, get back in your lane!”

He continued to stay in the oncoming lane, as his brother gave a frustrating sigh and hoped a car wouldn’t pop up before Larry could take evasive action.

220 m.p.h.

“You know how when you’re on the verge of death, people say, ‘don’t go into the light’?” Larry said.

“Yeah, I know,” Denis said, nervously. “Why did you mention that?”

“Look up ahead.” His brother looked up and saw a pair of low beam headlights approaching in the distance.

“Larry, what the fuck! Don’t do this!”

The Bugatti continued accelerating as the set of headlights came closer and closer. A white tractor-trailer soon appeared behind the headlights, blaring its truck horn repeatedly as the two vehicles closed their distance.

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