You are my best friend and you said write- so I did. Thank you for everything. I can’t imagine being without you.
I had so much to figure out about myself and you helped me through it so much. I couldn’t have done it without you. You were my first role model and you continue to be.
You kept me going even when I felt like I couldn’t. My life has changed so much just because I met you. You keep me strong. Thank you.
And last but certainly not least,
You have coached me through my entire writing experience, and I couldn’t have done this alone. You have and continue to inspire me every day.
I love you all.
Love Isn’t Up For Trade
Love and loss go hand in hand and it’s a subject I can’t avoid now that I’m writing this for you. You don’t know me, or rather, the “real me”. What I’ve become since you left. I don’t blame you for that, by the way. I know you would have taken me if you could have. But I trust you more than anyone, because you have always been there. With me. Even when you’re not here. My name is Kirsten Dashiell, and as a resident human on the spectrum of existence, I can’t help loving, therefore, I can’t help losing. If you trust something and hold it in your heart, it takes shape. How do I tell you this… when something is in your heart, you make a place for it, but when it’s gone… it disappears. There’s now something missing. And no matter what you try to put in there to fill the hole, nothing can match its shape. It’s just gone. I’ve been lost since the divorce, but…nothing was gone. Now it is. You are. You slipped off the edge of infinity when you said you would be there for me. I trusted you…and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Now I’m sitting with an empty suitcase in the middle of my room. Writing this. Everyone needs an anchor. You were mine and if I can just…tell you everything…maybe it will feel like real life. And not a hellish nightmare. I’m running away from my mother mostly, but that’s not the importance of running is it? No, it matters what I’m running to. I’m running to you, dad, And no not in the spiritual sense. I’m not gonna kill myself. I need to go to you. Be at the funeral, and then after that, well, I’m creative. And if that means leaving things behind, then so be it.
I close the three dollar composition notebook and stare at the vintage yellow-plastic suitcase slumped on my bed. My watch reads 3:47 am, and I know I have to go. Now or never as they say. I quickly dress in one of my ratty 80s band shirts, black hoodie, and jeans. Mom always says I dress too bland, but I call my style, not-giving-an-f, and dress that way anyway. I look at my dresser and the pink piggy bank from when I was seven and started losing teeth. I needed a place to stock up that fairy cash. I pull the plug from the bottom and shake out $72.44. That plus mom’s stash from beneath the loose floorboard in the back of her closet adds up to…$684.44. Not bad. I shove the dollars into my old makeup bag that had never seen an ounce of makeup. Two changes of shirts, socks, underwear, phone charger, headphones, and a few blankets later, the suitcase, and Dad’s old backpack are full. I quietly zip the bags shut and grab my guitar case. The only thing that mom let me keep of Dad’s stuff. I shove on my dirty old hiking boots. I look at my room. It’s true, a sixteen year old should not have this much junk, but I do. Well, not for long anyway. It won’t be mine once I step out the door. It’s 1:16 now and I needed to leave. I don’t have a plan, which I know is stupid, but can you blame me? I barely have time to think when I’m dealing with mom’s kind bruises. I just have to go say goodbye to my only friend in the world. The floorboards under my feet creak, and I wince. I swing the door open and take a breath of night air. I turn back at the door and take in the stained beige rug and dirty dishes in the kitchen. The smell of alcohol is almost suffocating. I shut the door and start walking. One foot in front of the other. I know. Right here I know it. I’m never coming back.
The scrape of the suitcase wheels on the rough pavement sounds eerie cutting through the silence of the night. I walk for a while, gaining more confidence with each step as my boots hit the ground. I eventually arrive at the gate. Seeing the familiar piles of rust and metal brings a strange comfort. I drop my bags and scale the fence. Once I arrive at the door to the trailer, I knock, and the junkyard’s “guard dog” lazily exits the dog door, his flaps and ears dragging on the ground. The hound dog blears up at me as I hear Charlie stand up fast in his chair, startled awake, most likely, and yell a few profanities as he hits his head on the ceiling. He staggers over to the door. Once he opens it, his face changes from confusion to a million dollar grin. I was gonna miss him. His looming 6’11, oil stained white tank top, and large features might alert anyone with common sense, but Charlie is a great guy. Always took care of me when my mom didn’t. That’s even how he found me. A 12 year old girl sitting outside the fence crying. He came and sat next to me and he was nothing but kind. Him and Bruno(the dog) lived out here in peace. He was the junkyard watchman, and he always said, “I may live with the trash, but my life is nothing but a treasure.” Tears come to my eyes and his face changes to concern.
“What’s wrong girly?”
“I’m…leaving, Charlie… I came to say goodbye.”
“Whaddya mean yer leaving?” he says.
“I have to go. My dad…You know what happend, but mom, she won’t even talk about him. I need to go to the funeral.”
“But you’re coming back?” he asks. I shake my head. He takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Where’s all yer stuff? You can’t go without anything…and what about travel? Money? What’s yer plan, girly?” he asks, worried.
“I have my bags outside the fence and…nothing. I don’t have anything.”
“Well girly, you have me.” And with that he shuts the door in my face. I stand
there stunned. I didn’t think he would be upset. I mean, he didn’t sound upset. I look down at Bruno, still shocked. He blinks back. I hear some noises inside the trailer and a second later Charlie bursts through the door, there’s a sad, kinda sweet smile on his face, and he’s holding a ring of keys. I still stand there staring.
“Well come on then girl, get a move on!” He hustles down the steps and shoves the keys in my face. “Unlock the gate and get yer bags. I’ll be right back.” He scurries behind his trailer. I smile, and run to open the gate. A minute later he calls for me from behind the trailer and I grab my bags and take them back there. There is what appears to be a large object covered up by a sheet. Charlie has a proud look on his face. He grandly grabs the sheet and yanks it away, revealing a rusty old pickup truck that used to be blue…a long time ago. It was beautiful.
“Charlie? You made this?” I ask, delighted.
“Yup. Well, fixed it up, but this old girl purrs like a cat now.”
“That’s amazing. But, why are you showing me now?”
“Well, haven’t you guessed? I’m donating this fer yer adventure. You ain’t gettin’ anywhere on foot.” I didn’t expect that and I freeze to the spot yet again. Then, a huge smile spreads across my face.
“Think about it girly. A sixteen year old on the side of the road alone across the country. No car, no food. You’d die out there. Now I ain’t gonna boss ya around, but I think it’s werth it ta take extra precautions out there.”
“I-” I can’t say anything. What is there to say when you’re standing in the middle of a junkyard at night with the one person left alive who actually gives a damn about you, and they just guaranteed your dream? I rush up and hug him, crying into his shirt at the sheer strangeness of my situation. He seems surprised at first but then pats my back. I release him.
“I um-” I wipe my face, “I should probably go then, huh.”
“Yup, I reckon so.”
“You can come with me-”
“Kir. You know I gotta stay ‘ere. It’s not much, but it’s mine, and I’m happy.”
“I’m gonna miss you so much, Charlie.”
“Aw shucks, don’t give me none of that. Just go have an adventure, girly.”
I throw all of the bags in the back seat then jump into the driver’s seat. I feel the wheel in my hands and start to cry again.
“Bye…Charlie.” he waves and nods, but as I pull away, I see him rub the bridge of his nose and wipe his eyes. Bruno is barking in the background, and then they’re out of sight.
Being afraid and being cautious are very different things. Being afraid means you fear for your life, or safety, or the safety of others. Being cautious means nothing more than being scared in advance. Sometimes that means what you prepare for, and sometimes that means an action you take. Right now, I’m afraid of a life ahead where I can’t count on anything. But I’m also cautious of letting the fear get in the way of my goal. I need to be in California by Wednesday. Right now it’s Thursday, so I think I have a fighting chance. You know that saying, “hope, and it will come true”? Well I’m sure that isn’t the saying but whatever, my point is it’s bullshit. You need a mothereffing battle plan, and resources. But with struggle comes victory I guess so I need to keep going.
Victorious in thought.
I close the book and take another long sip from the straw in my drink from Burger King. I’m sitting in the back of my truck in the parking lot, and the sun is just starting to rise. I check my watch. It’s about 5:43 now. Mom won’t be up for hours, so I have plenty of time to get out of town before she gets calls from the school. She might not notice at all. Says the part of my brain that inevitably wants to kill me with negativity. I quickly push away the thought and start focusing on the people in the back parking lot of Burger King on this fine Thursday morning in June.
I start making a list in my head.
- Young mom with pink hair. Looks like she hasn’t slept in days and has two crying toddlers with her.
- Big surely dude with piercings and a bandanna, lighting a cigarette next to his motorcycle, checking out a pixie cut redhead
- Pixie cut is yelling at a thin dude with a “mustache” that really isn’t cutting it.
- “Mustache” man is rubbing his temples and wincing at whatever the redhead is saying.
I gotta say, five people, (the toddlers each count as half) is a lot for this kind of place. Granted they are all sketchy. When my brain starts doing this I take it as my cue to leave so I crumple the burger wrapper and toss it. I slam the door of the truck and rev up the engine. As I pull out I notice Red and Mr. Mustache have made up and are now showing that off with tongues in each other’s mouths.
I grimace and shudder and keep driving. As I go I can’t help but start to feel overwhelmed. I’m running away from home. I’m driving a truck across the country. What am I doing? Suddenly the truck lurches and I slam on the breaks just as a big black something crosses the road. And when I say big, I mean BIG. This bad boy looks like a full grown Mastiff. His thick coat is dark with something wet. If I didn’t know any better, I would have mistaken him for a demon shadow monster. He is startled by the truck and I clamber out to check on him. I look around, but no one is with him. Or even in this area. Huh. Weird.
Upon closer inspection, the big dog looks quite messy. His hair is a matted mess and all tangled. The dog snaps his head toward me and I freeze. Then, out of nowhere, his tall intimidating stance shifts and he starts panting and stepping toward me. I start to back up, but the dog starts running and then suddenly puts his big dirty paws, the size of my head, on my chest, knocking me down. I squeeze my eyes shut and prepare for painful death, but instead, I get a huge wet tongue on my face. I put my hand up and try to push the beast away, but he licks that too. I laugh in spite of my fear, and he backs off me. I wipe my wet face with my forearm and pull my hair back.
“Hi, buddy!” I say, I still can’t stop giggling at this enormous but kind-hearted dog. I’ve always had a soft spot for dogs. I never personally had one. Before dad left, he was allergic to any kind of animal fur, and since they split, well. Mom hasn’t been the best to talk to about that kind of thing. “What’re you doing out here, huh?” He reacts to the excited tone in my voice, he crouches down and jumps excitedly.
“Where’s your family?” I obviously didn’t expect an answer, but at the mention of “family” he stopped dancing around, which was probably a good thing. He might’ve caused an earthquake. His ears drooped and he suddenly laid down on the curb. As if sad.
“Aw, buddy, you don’t have one, do you?” I probably look like a crazy person, on the side of the road, crouched over talking to what probably resembles a few wet garbage bags piled together. The dog whined in response. I scratched his chin and stood up. I don’t know what’s making me do it, but suddenly jump up and run to my truck.
“Come on, dog! Hop in the back!” Again, as if he understood, he hops in the truck bed, and I slam the driver side door and take off. It’s probably my subconscious’ scrambling need for a sense of purpose aside from my longshot goal of driving from upstate New York to California on $684 and no plan. I need to take this dog in. But first, I’m flooring it to Petsmart.
I finally find a spot in the surprisingly full parking lot. When I get out of the truck, a couple of middle age ladies give me and my new dog dirty looks. I walk around to the back of the truck and scratch his ears.
“You need to stay here, okay?” I wipe my now muddy hand on my jeans, and the beast turns around a few times, making the whole car shake until he finds a place to lay.
I turn and walk up to the storefront and the automatic door slides open. This reminds me of when I was little. I was about 6, and it was my first time that I remember going out with my dad, and we were going to Walmart or something. I remember walking up to the door, and I was about to press my fingers against the glass on the door to open it, but then it slid on its own. I was completely baffled. My dad was holding my hand and I looked up at him. The sun was right above us, so his face was obscured, but he laughed at my shocked face, and picked me up.
“Come on, princess!”
“Daddy, what was that?” I asked. He laughed and I watched his glasses bounce up and down where they were hanging on his shirt.
“The door opened, because, you’re special, and it wanted to move out of your way.” Thinking back, it was a ridiculous lie to tell a six year old. Especially one as smart as I was. I was the proud champion of the kindergarten spelling bee. I had really sealed the deal when I spelled, “knot,” take that Ellie Ratsenstorm!
“Miss, you’re holding up the door, can you go in?” Wait a minute. That’s not a voice in the memory. I open my eyes and turn. The same lady who was eyeballing me earlier was standing behind me. She has way too much makeup on, and her hair is done is a 50s updo. I also notice her #CATLIFE sweatshirt. A very compelling package altogether. I step aside and she huffs by me.
After a long time of walking around and a few weird looks from people, probably wondering why a teenage girl was carrying around four bottles of dog shampoo, I finally checked out and for only $14.95, I’m able to wash my dog.
I took him around to the back of a highschool. Since it’s the middle of June, no one is around, and we have plenty of privacy. I only then realize I don’t have water to wash him off with. I look around me and see a hose attached to the back of the school. Wow, that is impressively convenient. No matter. I run over and grab the hose and tell the dog to sit. He does so, and I start turning on the water and washing him.
When I’m finished, I see that his fur is a black with brown chest patterns and ears. He begins shaking off the water and I stand back, laughing. He begins excitingly jumping around when he sees my reaction. When we are finished playing around, I check my phone and see the time. My phone reads 4:23 pm. Shit. I’m only barely out of town. I call to the dog to get in the truck with me. I need to name the dog eventually but I can’t be bothered with that right now because I see in my notifications that I had just got an email from my school.
Dear Ms. Dashiell,
We noticed you were absent from school today and when we called home to ask, no one answered. This missed attendance will go on your permanent record and please call us back at your earliest convenience. We hope to see you in class tomorrow!
Mrs. Hanerby, school secretary
Wow. I delete the email and lean back in the driver’s seat. It was almost impressive that they noticed I was gone at all but at this point I really don’t give a shit. I pump the gas pedal, surely leaving skid marks on the pavement of the parking lot, but I don’t care about that either. The sun is starting to set and I’m heading straight towards it. What can stop me?
I got my drivers license about 5 months ago and I can only assume you wouldn’t be thrilled about me going on a cross country roadtrip in my condition but I feel like this exception is necessary, and I’m a good driver. I wish you could have taught me. I remember you would always speed up a little when you were taking me home from school because you liked that little look of thrill on my face when we would go over a hill or around a bend. I was always a “little daredevil”, as you say and I like to think that I still am in a lot of ways. Before mom fell off the wagon after you left, she tried to sign me up for sports to help me find a way to “project my feelings” into something recreational I guess. I ended up trying out for hockey and on my second day on the team I managed to knock out the coach and chip a kid’s tooth when I did a dive for the puck.
Needless to say, I was not welcome back for a third day. I sort of still like hockey but I never wanted to risk getting back into it. It sort of haunts me that you never got to teach me things like driving and hockey. I can’t help but lay awake thinking about all the things I missed when you and mom split, and now, with you being gone, it just made it so much worse. Anyway, this letter is getting kind of long so I should probably get going.
Almost Hockey Star
I had picked up my notebook earlier when I couldn’t get to sleep, despite the dog’s warm fur pressing up against me as I used him as a pillow.
I was laying in the back of the truck bed, staring at the sky now that I was done with my letter. My shoulder length brown hair was tucked away in my baseball cap. It was nothing special, the hair or the hat. In fact in a lot of ways I was nothing special. Indeed a depressing thought to have at three in the morning but what can you do.
I stopped looking at the sky because I was starting to feel a lot smaller than I already did and I cannot afford an existential crisis right now.
I had parked the truck in a grove on the side of the road in a town a few hours away from mine. I had made a lot of progress this evening but I knew I was going to pass out and crash the car if I didn’t pull over soon. Now of course, that thought seems rather silly because I haven’t slept a wink. I was too busy thinking about what I would do after I got to his funeral. Would I stay in California? Would I keep going on the road? And Probably the most pressing thought of the night- Could I even make it? I mean running away seems good in theory but I am still alone, I glance at the massive fury body I’m lying against. Well not alone, but still I am still a teenage girl traveling miles and miles. Something could happen to me. And even if it didn’t, could $600 really get me to California and beyond? I just wish I could stop thinking. It hurts me more than helps and living in your head isn’t healthy I’m told.
I roll over again, realizing I don’t have energy drinks to get me through the next day’s long drive. I need to fix that. Writing kind of tired me out but I’m still not super exhausted. So I started thinking about Mom. She would probably have noticed I was gone by now but there weren’t any new messages or missed calls on my phone. She probably just thought I was at a friend’s house or having a fit.
Or maybe she doesn’t care at all where you are.
I force the thought away. She may be unstable but she’s my mother. She must have noticed…right?
I finish my second can of redbull of the morning and throw it in the seat beside me. It bounces off the cushion without sound and lands at the floor. You know- it’s funny. People can have epiphanies at the strangest of times. For intense, just now I can’t help but think of how strange the universe and everything in it is. Especially eyelashes. Eyelashes are very weird. (insert more content here)
When I finally stop for gas around 4 pm I hear my phone buzz in my pocket. My heart speeds up. Was someone looking for me? It’s probably nothing? Right? I pull it out and check.
One new message from: Mom
I click the notification.
Was she worried about me?
Did the school track her down?
“Ma’am are you going to pay for that or just stand here all day?” I jump at the noise. The gruff old man standing behind the gas station counter gestured to my pack of chips and new Redbull.
“Uh- yes. Sorry.” I reach into my wallet for the money and shove it onto the counter before running to the bathroom in the back of the store. After making sure the door is locked behind me, I lean over the single sink- barely glancing into the cracked mirror as I open the message.
when you come home tonight pick up a bottle of rum and some popcorn
She didn’t even notice I was gone.
I wish I could say I was surprised. I was hopeful- but that’s something different. This is just like her. She’s probably been passed out for the past 36 hours. I delete the message and sit down right where I am. On that disgusting bathroom floor. I honestly didn’t care. I put my head in my hands. I just feel so sick of everything. I want to break out of my own head- my own body- because right now, every part of me is screaming.
I really wish I could cry. I want to. But I just feel like that text from my mom is just the last piece of rejection I could take before not caring about anything anymore. I wish I did care enough to have some sort of- cinematic reaction, maybe dramatically throw myself at a sofa and sob, or write an emotional masterpiece in my tearstained journal- but seeing as neither of those things were truly an option- I’m just a 16 year old girl sitting alone in a gas station bathroom in the middle of Indiana. I keep staring at the slightly graffitied stall in front of me. Feeling defeated and numb. And….strangely energetic. I feel like I’ve been bottling up all the years of hurt from my mother acting like I don’t exist as my own person. I suddenly need to- do something. I stand up. This does nothing- seeing as I’m still in an empty bathroom, but a good start nonetheless. I feel angry. I’m so angry- it comes over me like a wave and I wasn’t expecting it. I start to feel the burning of tears behind my eyes. I swing open the door and go to the aisle for tools. I know what I need to do. I toss another few bills on the counter as the slightly concerned cashier looks on. I go back into the bathroom and take the scissors out of the plastic encasing and hold them to my brown locks. And then I cut them. I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing but seeing the hair fall into the sink as I stare at myself in the mirror feels good. I’m crying now. I don’t know why or when that even started- I honestly don’t know what I’m feeling either- I am past that now. All I feel is the adrenaline of doing something impulsive- and all the years of pain and the tears down my face.
I stare into the sink. It’s all in there. I guess it doesn’t really matter now. I look up in the mirror. It doesn’t look….bad. It’s still choppy though.
I love it.
I feel like I don’t owe any part of this to anyone. I quickly get paper towels and clean up the sink before putting my stuff in my bag. I pull my hood up and rush out of the store. It’s now 4:48. I entered the station at 3:30. Wow that took a while.
The dog is asleep in the back of the car and I don’t feel like waking him- so I climb into the front and settle in again. I quickly check my face in the rearview mirror and see a new kind of confidence starting to come out on top of my tear stained cheeks. I think in a lot of ways it suits me. I slowly take a breath and press on the gas. Here we go again. I just hope I can make it.
I wish I could say I’ve always been happy.
I haven’t though.
It gets hard to put on a smile most days. Especially now. I have no one to… get out of bed for. Or cheer up with my presence. It feels like some days I am destined to be alone. On my really bad days, when I can barely wake up, I have considered other options. I do take my meds though and I’m able to find reasons to keep going. I used to be cheerful all the time. You used to call me princess and ask how I always had a smile. To be honest I don’t know. I can’t remember how or why. But some days it feels like the crushing weight that things might never change is too hard to bear. I don’t know why this letter is so sad. I guess my confidence came with being not too clouded in my own head to actually talk about my feelings. So I am now. It’s not like you can read these. Which is an even worse thought to have. But in a way it seems like you…understand what I’m saying in here. Or comforting me just by being the one I’ve lost but won’t give up on.
I suppose what I mean to say here is that… loneliness- in the ways that it’s romanticized- is different from the very scary and sharp truth. I hope I will find my new reason to smile in life.
I close the journal again. I still dont know what possessed me to buy the dumb thing in the first place. I remember the day I did. It was the day in school before I left. I remember getting called to the office and there were mutters around the classroom which, to be honest, I hated because I’m usually completely invisible in class. I walked down the empty hallway and my footsteps echoed out behind me. I turned the doorknob to the office and Ms. Hanerby handed me the phone and gave me a sad look.
“I have some terrible news, I’m afraid.”
“Oh? What happened?”
I can remember my heart speeding up and I squeezed the phone cord.
“It’s your father. He’s been in a terrible car accident, and he didn’t make it.” I remember clearly that everything in my head stopped. There was a ringing in my ears and I dropped the phone. I remember my vision clouding over and I got so dizzy. Tears came to my eyes and then I blacked out. I woke up with the nurse standing over me and a cool rag to my head. All I could think was that I needed to get out of that building. I ran outside and took turns and alleys until I was almost completely lost. I ended up in front of a small craft store. I went in and next thing I knew I had the notebook. That day was probably the worst of my life. It’s crazy to think it was only 2 and a half days ago.
I rub my eyes and take a deep breath. I had been sitting on the roof of the car writing the journal entry on my driving break. I slipped off the edge of the roof and stepped in the driver’s seat. I had already given the dog a monster amount of kibble that I had picked up in the gas station I am currently in the parking lot of. Not for long though. I set my phone on the dashboard and pumped the gas. According to the map I am in Whitley Indiana. Fun.
I am doing nothing but zoning out and staring at the road as random songs from the radio play in the background when something draws me to look at the side of the road. Just at that moment, I was approaching a person, who appeared to be crouching on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection, it is a girl. She is wearing shorts and a white and grey striped t-shirt. She has her long light pink hair pushed back in a bandana, with the ends hanging over her shoulders. She has a backpack that’s ripping a little at the seams from how full it is. Lying next to it is a rolled up sleeping bag with a water bottle tied onto the strap with a piece of thin rope. The girl looks about my age. I realize now that I’m staring. She looks sort of lost. One of her legs is bandaged at the knee and her thighs are lightly scratched. I check my mirror. There are cars behind me. Rightly so, I suppose. This is a highway. I quickly veer off the road, earning me a few impolite honks. I pull up beside the girl on the road. She looks up at the truck. I step out and cross the front of the car.
“Hi,” she says. Her face is streaked with dirt, but she has a sweet expression. She has light freckles, and her straight hair shines even though it looks like it hasn’t been washed in days. And her eyes. Wow. I can’t stop looking. They are green and blue and grey all at the same time. I realize I’m staring and quickly look to the side- to seem nonchalant. Nailed it. Not really but, I guess it doesn’t matter. She’s still smiling. I realize it’s been a few moments since she said hi- I was too busy taking her in, okay, shut up Kirsten just say hi.
“Hey. You okay? You look a little…” Beautiful? Pretty? Stunning? “-lost.” Nice. I internally roll my eyes at myself. She laughs a little.
“Yeah you could say that.”
“Do you need a lift? Where are you headed?”
“Anywhere I guess. I’m running away.”
“Really? Me too.” She laughs again. I smile.
“Well then- where are you going?” she says.
“California,” I say, “I have something I need to go to there.”
“Oh. That’s pretty far. Where are you coming from?”
“New York state originally.”
“Wow, that’s a long trip,” she says, as if I didn’t know.
“What about you? What are you running from?” She suddenly gets a sadder expression on her face. Her brow furrows.
“Uhm. My dad. He- well he kicked me out.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. He was a dick.” I nod.
“So, do you want to…come with me?” She gives me a half smile.
“I don’t know, are you trying to kill me and dump my body in the desert?”
I smile mischievously. “Definitely.”
“Okay- if you promise.” She stands up and grabs her bags. I open the truck door for her. The dog raises his head and she jumps back.
“Oh! Sorry, this is my dog- er- well at least as of two days ago.”
“I see.” She steps toward him, and he sniffs her hand for about half a second before licking her face. His tongue just about covers her whole head. “-he’s pretty big-”
“Yep. Looks like he likes you.” I finish putting her bags in the car.
“What’s his name?”
“I- uhm he doesn’t have one.” I realize I hadn’t assigned the beast a name yet.
“Really? Hmmm…he looks like a ‘Pluto.’” He licks her again, clearly happy with his new name.
“Pluto it is then. So- shall we?” She nods again and steps into the passenger’s seat. I climbed into the other side and we shut the doors.
“I’m Kirsten by the way.” She smiles.
“-no WAY- that’s simply wrong. True garbage,” Delilah says.
“Nuh uh. You’re just mad that I’m right.”
“No. Coke is better than Pepsi. It’s just true.”
“Then why does like- everyone sell Pepsi and not Coke?”
“Okay now you’re just lying- when was the last time you saw Pepsi in the same place Coke could be? Oh wait- you can’t because it doesn’t exist.” We both laugh really hard- it wasnt even that funny but we are getting along so well. We’ve been on the road about two hours now. I told her about my dad. She said the journal wasn’t stupid and now she also hates my mother. I do have questions about her.
“Hey- so- serious talk time,” I start, “-why did your dad kick you out?” Her face darkens a little.
“Uhm… well he kicked me out because I told him I was gay.”
“What?! He did?” I pump a little hard on the brakes for the red light we’re approaching.
“Yep. I told him and he was like- ‘Don’t bother coming back under my roof until you’re-’ you get it. But yep. I just went upstairs and packed. That was about a week ago.”
“Wow that’s unbelievably effed up. I’m so sorry. So- you’re gay? How did you find out?” She grins a little.
“I was 8. I was walking home from school and all the girls were gushing over this dude named Brian and I wasn’t, but I played along just because I didn’t think that it really was anything. Then as we were walking in our group- we stopped at a bus stop and there was a girl about my age with her hood pulled up. She had curly hair and these beautiful almond eyes- well she looked at me and I just sorta knew that I wanted to be with someone like her. I went home and googled what it means to like another girl and basically freaked out at what I saw, because being raised in a house full of internalized homophobia can really do a number on you. So I spent about a year repressing it and then I went into a rebellious phase and started hating my father for stuff he said. I guess I never really left that. But I came out and now the hate is mutual I suppose.”
I have been listening in awe-struck silence as she talked. She has a way about her that she just- captures the attention of the room when she talks.
“Wow. That’s an amazing story. What about your mom? Did she weigh in on any of this or…”
“I wouldn’t know what she thought. I don’t remember her. She left when I was 2- and I never really wanted to track her down. Even now. I just don’t care. I really am not into putting time and effort into a relationship with someone who is willing to leave- and did it so easily.”
I just nod. I know what she’s feeling about that. “So. We will probably need to eat soon, do you have any money? Like for travel and stuff. I have about 600 left now.”
“Oh yeah.” She pulls out her bag and fishes around in it. She pulls out an Adventure Time tin box and pulls it open. There is a thick stack of bills. She quickly rifles through them and then looks up. “I have 361. I spent around 90 so far on food.”
“That’s pretty good though, because together we have close to a thousand. With that I think we can pay for food and gas, and make it, you know, assuming we don’t get kidnapped or murdered-”
“Mmm yes, that would put a damper in our plans.”
The comment didn’t matter much but something about the way she said “our” made my stomach flutter. I felt so comfortable with her. It was like I had known her my whole life instead of only a few minutes.
After a while of listening to the road and watching the trees go by- both of us lost in our own thoughts, Delilah suddenly turned to me and said, “I’m actually pretty hungry. Maybe we should stop somewhere soon?”
“Yeah, I’m actually starving. There’s an exit coming up in a few miles- we can go there and find somewhere cheap.” She just nodded and we sunk back into comfortable silence.
We walked into a pretty tired looking building called Greasy Sam’s, which claimed to have the best burgers in the world. I had my doubts. Our vehicle blended right in in the parking lot with a few scattered other trucks, but unfortunately, we did not. The few people in here all looked the same. Just a couple 50+ year old men all in overalls over flannel shirts. A few chewed on toothpicks or wore baseball hats, but they all are basically the same. And they are all staring at us. A tired looking waitress walks over to us standing in the entrance. Her thin blonde-grey hair is up in a loose bun, that looked like it had been through a lot. She is wearing one of those classic blue-dress-white-apron outfits and a nametag pinned to her chest identifies her as Linda.
“Just you two?” her voice indicates she couldn’t care less about us, what we want or even her job. Fair enough. She looks in about her late 40s and I’m sure she would rather be doing anything else.
“Yes.” She nods and takes us to a table in the back corner. I shoot Delilah a half smile. She returns it and we burst into laughter as we sit down. Something about this place was almost too stereotypical and- what’s the word- hick. The other customers are shooting us dirty looks for the way we obviously are sticking out. My worn out Duran Duran t-shirt and combat boots, and Delilah’s pink hair didn’t make us look very much like the other townies. Delilah and I are sitting across from each other now, I’m studying her face as she’s staring down at her menu. Her freckles were a tan color on top of her pale, slightly sunburned, skin. Her ears are pierced into gages and she’s wearing earrings shaped like little cherries that dangle through the bottom of the black rings. I suddenly remember the bandage on her leg.
“Hm?” she replies without looking up.
“What happened to your knee? Like, your knee is bandaged…”
“Oh that- I was.. Okay I guess there’s no point in lying, we’ve already shared our trauma. Well I was in another part of Indiana, walking, and some guys came up and started hitting on me and when I told them I was gay they started saying they could ‘fix’ me and when I tried to run I jumped a fence and fell pretty bad.”
“Woah. I’m really sorry that’s not good-”
“Yeah. Well that was a mood killer.”
“Sorry,” I say. I feel stupid for asking.
“Not your fault. Anyways. What do you wanna eat?” I looked down at the menu. Just some basic diner food. We ended up both ordering burgers and milkshakes. Strawberry for her, chocolate for me. We had been just chatting about meaningless stuff, when Delilah suddenly looked up at me and said, “Wanna dance?”
“What?” I stare at her. She grins at me.
“There’s a jukebox over there.” She points behind me. “You should go pick a song, and we can dance.”
“You mean right now? In front of everyone?”
“Oh, c’monnn! Everyone is staring anyway- what’s the problem?”
“Just go!” I stand and make my way over to the jukebox. I look down at the songs, expecting it to be older stuff. For the most part it is, but then one catches my eye. It’s a song with a sticker label that looks relatively new. It says; Hey There Delilah
I smile to myself. I shove in the quarter and the song starts. I turn around to Delilah and see her look up from the table, with recognition coming onto her face. I start lip syncing the words and I reach out my arms to her- inviting her to come dance with me. She walks over rolling her eyes and then laughs. I continue mouthing the words and she takes my hands. I spin her around and the restaurant goers look up from their silent tables and watch us. I realize I don’t care though. I was just dancing with her. That’s all that matters right now.
We break apart in a haze of laughing. The waitress that had seated us a few minutes ago was now staring at us- a small smile drawn across her tired expression. Delilah looks at me and I meet her eyes. I swear something happened in that moment…but I can’t place it. She looks away and we both walk back over to the booth as the song ends. We keep talking but a little quieter now. The waitress brings our food and we both start eating. I keep catching her looking at me but every time I look back she just stares down at the table. I watch her quietly. It is amazing. She seems to do things so effortlessly and I was envious. Envy… is that it? Or was it something else? I don’t know, I don’t have the time to think about it right now, because outside the window, thunder cracks through the sky like a lion’s roar. Both me and Delilah jump, along with almost everyone else in the restaurant. Following the thunder, the sky breaks open and it starts pouring rain.
“Woah-ho-ho, that’s some pretty heavy rain.” Delilah says, staring out the window.
“I’ll say,” waitress Linda agrees as she comes up to our table to refill our water glasses, “-I feel sorry for any poor sucker that has to drive through this tonight.” She sighs and walks away. Delilah and I look at each other.
“Uh oh,” we say in unison.
I stare at the table. “Looks like it’s gonna be a long night…”
“Shit, shit, shit!” I say. I viciously stomp on the gas pedal but to my dismay, it stubbornly refuses to disobey the laws of physics just for my pleasure. I sit back hard on my seat. I feel Delilah’s eyes on me. I turn my head to her.
“Well our luck just won’t quit, huh?” she says, a hint of a smile playing across her lips. I smile back, exhaustion covering my face.
The car was completely out of gas. It won’t start no matter how many times I press the gas pedal. We can’t stay in the car tonight. I can already see Pluto soaked in the truck bed. He has his head curled up as he’s lying there. Even If it wasn’t raining there’s really not enough room for us both in the front of the truck. I silently survey the surrounding scenery on each side of the road. There’s only foggy hills and trees. Delilah suddenly speaks and startles me out of my thoughts.
“What about that house?” She points over to the left side of the road . I follow her gaze and see that there is, in fact, a house. I could just make out a sort of looming, far away shape through the fog.
“You think anyone lives there?”
“Hmm. Nah I don’t think so. There’s not really a road up to the house that I can see.” I nod along to what she’s saying and look back at the house. I don’t really suppose we have a choice here. Pluto’s getting soaked and I need to get a good night’s sleep.
Delilah is walking a few feet in front of me and I stare at the ground with Pluto trotting along next to me, clearly happy to be moving around again.
“Are you sure about this? I mean what if someone really is home? And can we even enter a stranger’s house?”
“Man you sure worry a lot Kir,” She says, giving a small chuckle from ahead of me.
“Yeah yeah yeah. Excuuuuse me for not wanting to spend the night in a jail cell for a B&E,” I couldn’t see her face but I could feel her rolling her eyes at my remark. We keep walking up the hill until the front door is right in front of us. The door has a knocker that looks like it will crumble if we touch it. The house itself looks a lot less promising from close-up. It’s more run down than I expected and I swallow nervously. I don’t suppose we have a choice. The rain is coming down so hard that it might even be too hard to walk back to the car. Delilah and I exchange a look and then she pushes the door open.
The creak echoes through the empty house. I look up to the ceiling. It leaks in a few spots but the room is almost completely dry. The little furniture and everything that is here is covered in dust or sheets.
“This is… welcoming.” I say rubbing my arms, trying to dry off.
“Ah- whatever. You just gotta embrace this as part of the adventure of running away~” Delilah does a small twirl to emphasize her point. I smile in spite of myself and sigh. Pluto is happily sniffing everything in the vicinity. I watch him for a minute and then my eyes widen as I realize what he’s about to do. It was too late. I cover my face as he gives a massive shake of his fur and water flies everywhere. Delilah and I both bust out laughing and Pluto trots happily over to lick our faces. I scratch behind his ears and he lays down in one of the dry patches of the room. The room itself is fairly big but the emptiness and broken boards all around make it feel both infinite and small. The sun set a while ago after we started driving and now the moon is shining through the windows. Most of them still have their glass, although dirty, it keeps the rain out.
I sigh and lay back onto the floor. Delilah and I have been sitting and talking with each other for about an hour. I learned her mom left when she was really little and that she loves mint chocolate chip ice cream. I told her about how I used to stargaze with my dad and that for most of my childhood I wanted a younger sister. We talked about everything and nothing for what seemed like forever. When the conversation died down we just sat in a comfortable silence for some time. I lost track and just kept staring at the walls. I hear Delilah scoot over next to me and lays down right by my side. We both are quiet as we stare into the broken and dusty ceiling.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I must have since the next thing I know I’m hearing birds chirping. I open my eyes slowly. I see dust floating through the air- lit up by sunbeams streaming in through the windows. I turn my head and see Delilah’s face – only inches from mine. Her eyelids are closed and they flutter slightly. I feel her hand move, and realize I’m holding it in mine. I don’t know when that happened, but I definitely don’t hate it. She starts to stretch her arms and turn over. I sit up. The rain on our clothes is dry now. I see Pluto laying in the corner, and his ears and head perk up when Delilah and I start moving. I feel her sit up next to me. She yawns and stretches her arms out just like you see princesses do in disney movies. She sleepily wipes her eyes.
“G’morning,” She says to me.
“Heh. G’morning,” I can’t help but smile at her. We stand up and look around. The house is a lot less threatening during the day. The floor is covered in sunbeams and the rain outside has definitely stopped. Seeing the sun on the ground reminds me to check the time. I fumble around in my pockets for a few seconds and pull out my phone. The time reads 9:12am. I sigh and push it back into my pocket. There were no messages from my mom either. Not that I’d expected any.
“Ohhh yeah. We need to get gas somehow, don’t we?” Delilah says.
“Mhm. I don’t know how we could do that unless we walk to a gas station.”
“Wait no- what- I wasn’t being serious-” but by then Delilah has grabbed hold of my hand and is dragging me out of the house.
“C’mon Pluto!” she calls behind her and the dog leaps up and follows us excitedly.
Despite my complaints, I am being dragged by my hand down the road. We have been walking for about 20 minutes now and no luck. Fortunately there’s shade on the edge of the road so it’s not too bad a walk. We’ve passed a few cars all going the way we are which gives us faith that there’s a town nearby.
A little while passed and both our feet ached by the time we finally got to a gas station. What do you know, Delilah had been right. We entered the store and started to look for the gas cans. There was no one else in the store besides the cashier and us. Just then, the bell over the door rang. Two men in black ski masks walked in, and one of them had a gun.
To Be Continued…