Authors: Katie Kacvinsky
She starts playing with the tuner until she finds a classic rock station we both agree on.
I pull out of the parking lot and Dylan is already making herself at home, digging through some maps in the side pocket of my car. She pulls out a US atlas my dad must have given me back in high school. She opens it on her lap.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll be the road trip itinerary director,” she announces.
“Sounds like a perfect career title for you,” I say.
“It overlaps well with photography,” she agrees. “Hey, do you think we could check out a rodeo? I’ve never seen one and I think it would be a perfect entertainment addition to our itinerary.”
“This isn’t a road trip, Dylan. That term suggests the idea of fun and mutual enjoyment. I would call this,” I say and point to the area between us, “an extremely unfortunate predicament.”
bites her lips together and stares up at the ceiling of my car. “Gray, do you want me to catch a bus?” she asks. I stop the car at a red light and consider her offer.
I don’t know,” I say. “I’m still trying to accept the fact that you’re sitting here right now. I’m not exactly thrilled about it. We have a tiny bit of history together.”
“Look, I know this is weird,” she agrees.
“Weird,” I repeat. I shift gears and sail up the ramp to the highway, knowing the faster I drive, the sooner this trip will be over. The accelerator is suddenly my best friend.
“I want to try and make it fun. But if you really hate me that much, then we don’t have to do this. Okay?”
I frown at her mature attitude towards my immature reaction.
“I don’t hate you,” I tell her and swallow. I wish that were my problem. I wish it were that easy. I look out at the endless highway
spilling into the horizon. “Fine,” I say, not sure what I just agreed to.
Dylan says. “So, for our first stop tonight, we can aim for—”
I raise my hand to cut her off. “Let’s pull an all-nighter,” I offer.
“What?” Dylan looks disappointed. “You miss out on so much when you drive at night,” she argues.
“You’re not going to miss out on anything, trust me,” I say.
She looks out the window at flat farm fields stretched along both sides of the highway. “All the scenery vanishes. It’s like you’re driving in an empty, emotionless, black tunnel.”
I nod. Sounds perfect.
“You call this scenery?” I ask and point around us. “Do you know what Nebraska is famous for?”
“Really big corn?” she wonders. “Corn dogs, corn chowder, corn bread, corn meal, corn—”
“It’s famous for people falling asleep at the wheel. That’s how not-awesome the scenery is. I can take the night shifts,” I offer. “And you can sleep. Then during the day, you can drive and I’ll sleep.”
I smile at my Operation Avoid
Dylan Plan. Activated.
She studies me. “Are you trying to avoid me?” she asks.
I answer her question by turning up the music and tuning out our conversation. I know it’s a dick move, but I don’t care. She has Snicker Bar to console her. And touch her. And taste her. My fingers clench around the steering wheel. Sitting so close to her, I can almost smell her skin.
I kick my car into fifth gear and we’re flying down the highway and
a Moody Blues song is playing on the radio. I listen to the lyrics and agree that love is only in our wildest dreams. Even when it’s sitting right next to you, it always feels out of reach.
He’s doing it again. He’s
building a wall around his mind, a giant barricade with guards standing watch behind the parapets, weapons and arrows posed and ready to disarm at anyone daring to come through. But his mind is like a town that I’ve lived in and I know every street. I’ve memorized every turn, every slope, and every jagged hill. He can put up road blocks and build detours all he wants, but I know my way around with my eyes closed.
I look out the window as we glide by cars on the highway
. I try to pass the time by focusing on the families and couples inside, or the solo drivers with eyes lost behind the mask of sunglasses. Imagining their stories helps me think outside of my own situation. I feel like we’re all connected, all together on a journey through the pages of
The Illustrated History of the American Road
. But no matter how hard I try to ignore him, my eyes keep getting pulled back to Gray. His hands are wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. I know the shape of them so well. I’ve memorized them like a photograph pinned in the center of my mind.
Orange sunlight is sinking in the sky and it mir
rors a sinking feeling inside my chest.
I remember how his lips taste. I remember his smile; how it’s the most beautiful image I’ve ever seen. How the first time I saw him smile, on Mill Avenue in Phoenix, my head started to spin. I remember raising my camera and instinctively taking a picture, even though he was barely more than a stranger back then. All I knew was I wanted to capture that image of him. I
made it my personal mission to make him smile.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Counting Crows lately,” I say. “You introduced me to them.”
Gray doesn’t look over at me, doesn’t even react. He might not have heard me, but I keep going.
“I love their first album,” I say and stare out at the hazy horizon. The humid air is so thick it swallows us. “They ask a lot of questions in their lyrics. They make you think. You could
fill an entire journal just answering the questions in their songs.”
’s silent. I notice his mouth tighten at the corner as if he wants to respond but he’s fighting it. I’m trying to open the lock on his lips and I think talking about music can do it. It’s his favorite conversation topic. He always has an opinion.
“The best song on that album is track eleven,” I press. “It’s all about change. How change is maybe the most important thing in life. And the hardest.”
Gray’s lips open and he sucks in a breath. I smile to myself. I’ve opened up the seam. I give myself a mental high-five.
“What did you mean when you said I White-Fanged you?” he asks.
“It’s a movie reference,” I say and stretch my legs and rest one of my sneakers on top of the dashboard. I look over at him. “
He starts to smile. “Isn’t that
the movie about a dog?”
“It’s a wolf,
Gray,” I correct him. “A boy, played by Ethan Hawke, makes friends with a wolf. But he realizes the wolf will never be happy as a pet. It needs to be wild and free. So he pushes it away. He throws rocks at White Fang and forces him to run. He thinks he’s doing the best thing for him. He just wants him to be free.”
pulls his eyebrows together at my description. “You mean like
Harry and the Hendersons?”
he asks and looks over at me.
This time I pull my eyebrows together. “What?”
“It’s basically the same storyline, but with a Sasquatch.”
“I’ve never heard of
“You’ve never seen
Harry and the Hendersons
?” he asks, a little condescendingly, and I shake my head. “It’s one of the greatest movies of all times,” he tells me. “Well, at least when you’re eight.” He starts to summarize the plot, how a family finds a Sasquatch on a camping trip and they bring him home and fall in love with him. But Harry never fits into their world.
“Wow,” I say and shake my head at the synopsis. “What a great message.”
“It’s a powerful film,” he agrees.
“There should be more movies with a lead Sasquatch,” I say. “They exist, you know.”
He nods. “I never doubted it. They’re in the Pacific Northwest.”
“In the Olympic National Park,” I add.
“Definitely,” he says.
“When I was driving through Northern California, I met a guy who saw one.”
Gray’s eyes flash to mine. “Shut up.”
“I’m serious. He said one night he was driving
on this old gravel road along the Klamath River, and rocks started hitting his car from a bluff up above. He looked up and saw a huge shadow duck under the trees.” I nod with certainty. “It was Bigfoot. They’re known for throwing rocks when they’re feeling threatened. I guess their weaponry hasn’t evolved very much.”
smiles at me and I immediately look away. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten him talking. Our conversations have always been my favorite foreplay. Rachel’s face slams into my mind, as if her spirit is suddenly with us in the car, reminding me to behave. I see her manicured finger shaking at me. I picture her raspberry-pink stained lips. I’m impressed with women that can wear lipstick. I always lick it off.
“So, what’s the family emergency?”
I sigh and remember this isn’t truly a fun, carefree road trip.
“My sister ran away,” I say.
“Serena?” he asks and I nod. “Wait, isn’t she out of high school?” he asks.
“She just graduated. She’s been eighteen for exactly three days. She didn’t even return our birthday calls.”
“She’s eighteen and she’s out of high school,” he repeats to clarify the facts. “Then wouldn’t the correct phrase be ‘she moved away’?”
“It’s not that easy,” I tell him. “She’s pregnant.”
Gray says. “That changes things.”
I nod. “She got
knocked up by a jerk-off,” I inform him. “She never even told us. She managed to hide it from my mom all summer. They ran off together three weeks ago and all she left us was a note.”
“You’re trying to track her down?” he asks. “How do you know where to look?”
“He was supposed to perform in Omaha tonight, but they canceled his show. All I know is he has two shows scheduled in Flagstaff, Arizona, two days from now. So I need to get there.”
“Shows? Is he a musician?”
I shake my head with disgust. “Worse. He’s a stand-up comedian.”
Gray says. “Is he funny?” I stare at Gray as if he suddenly started speaking in an unknown dialect. “Have you ever heard him perform?” he asks me.
“I don’t care if he’s Dane Cook,” I say. “He impregnated my baby sister. She’s due in two weeks and she doesn’t have a permanent address. She won’t answer her phone. She refuses to talk to us.”
He smiles, this thoughtful, opinionated smile and now I know he has some theories.
“Does this comedian have a name or should we just call him The Impregnator?”
I start to smile but just as quickly it fades. “Mike. Mike Stone.”
“What makes him such a jerk
-off?” Gray asks.
“He’s ten years older than Serena.”
Gray looks indifferent. He waves his hand for me to continue and I frown at him.
“Isn’t that bad enough?” I ask. “
It’s statutory rape.”
“Not if it was
consensual,” he points out. I open my mouth to argue but he keeps going. “Maybe she threw herself at him. Maybe she lied about her age. Girls do it all the time.”
“Think about it. If he tours the country and he’s hilarious and slightly better looking than a road sign, girls probably throw themselves at him. You know how many girls chase us after baseball games? They literally stalk our cars us like psychopaths and they think it’s really
cute. I want to hold up a sign that says, ‘have some self-respect.’”
I can’t believe he’s defending Mike. Is this some kind of a bro code?
“Thanks for your thoughtful jersey chasing anecdote,” I say. “It was very touching. This is different.”
I sigh and stare out the front windshield. Maybe I shouldn’t have opened up his tight seal. Sometimes
Gray’s opinions can be a little too candid. I can feel him watching me, reading into my frown. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Have your parents called the cops?” he asks.
I shake my head. “In her note, Serena said if we called the cops she’d never speak to us again. She wants to be with Mike. She thinks she’s in love.”
nods. “Maybe the trick to ending your family feud is to start believing her,” he offers.
“She’s not in love,” I argue. “They hardly know each other. She’s just young and naïve.”
He smiles and looks at me. “Isn’t that what your parents used to say to you? They never took you seriously. Remember how frustrated you were?”
I reach for the music dial to turn up the volume because I’m sick of this conversation.
Gray grabs my hand again.