He Started It

‘Personally, no. I haven’t seen it.’

‘I guess you and Eddie weren’t looking,’ he says, turning back to the window. ‘The rest of us saw it.’

‘I guess you would make a better detective than me,’ I say.

‘I didn’t say that.’ He sounds offended. Yes, really.

Am I messing with him? Maybe a little.

I turn up the TV.

Despite all the togetherness, the close quarters, and being in a car with the same people every day, Felix and I have been getting along pretty well. Better than I expected, considering I never wanted him on this trip in the first place.

Things hadn’t been going well before the trip – you may have guessed that. You also may have guessed that Felix wants kids, and soon. I’m not convinced. I’m not sure I want kids at all, actually. Not with him or anyone else. This has been the root of our recent arguments.

The latest was a few days before we left. We went out to dinner with two other couples. Both have small kids and love to talk about them. Felix gobbled up every story, anecdote, and picture, almost swooning at one kid’s new dinosaur sheets and another’s discovery of reading. Yes, swooning. No exaggeration.

When I placed my hand on my glass of wine to take a sip, Felix put his hand on top of mine. Everyone could see it. ‘We can’t wait to get started on our own family.’

The comment surprised everyone, including me.

‘Wonderful!’ said one of the women at the table. We weren’t close. She was a dinners-only friend. ‘Congratulations.’

I pinched Felix’s palm. He withdrew his hand from mine, his smile tight.

He knew I was going to say something about this later, which was why he disappeared as soon as we got home. The argument never happened. It’s still there, simmering under the surface, waiting for us to pick it back up again. Maybe we will or maybe not. There’s nothing like an old-fashioned road trip to make or break a relationship. Each day, sometimes each hour, I find myself shifting between sides.

‘Don’t be pissed,’ he says. Still staring out the window, looking for that truck. Looking to prove me wrong.

‘I’m not.’ I turn off the TV and the lamp on the nightstand. ‘I’m just tired.’

I pick up my phone to set the alarm and notice a missed text. It came in half an hour ago.

From Krista.

Eddie is lying to you. He saw that truck following us.





11 Days Left





Before this trip, I never met Krista and I have no reason to trust her – or distrust her. She has my phone number because we all exchanged them on the first day, just in case. I don’t answer her text, but it keeps me awake for a while. It’s one thing for me to lie to Eddie, but it’s totally different when he lies to me.

At breakfast, everyone reports in. No one saw the black pickup or its occupants. No one even thought they saw the pickup, which makes this more interesting.

I keep my mouth shut about Krista’s text. It’s left unanswered on my phone, and I don’t mention it to Eddie or Felix or anyone else. Let her mind race for a while. It’ll be good for her.

We’re driving west today, straight to Dodge City, Kansas. It was hard to forget Grandpa saying we were ‘going to Dodge so we can get the hell out of Dodge.’ He must have repeated that a hundred times.

No one says it today. Everyone is quiet until Portia opens her mouth.

‘So last night I calculated how long it would take if we just drove straight through,’ she says. Her voice booms out from the back seat, instantly filling the car. ‘If we take turns driving and stop only for gas and food, we’ll be there in less than two days.’

It sounds like a challenge, or perhaps it’s a dare. We used to dare her a lot when she was young and maybe she’s getting us back.

‘Can’t,’ Eddie says. ‘I mean, physically we could do it but that’s not the deal.’

‘You really think the lawyer would refuse to give us the money?’ Portia asks.

‘He has to,’ Felix says. ‘As executor, he has to follow your grandfather’s wishes.’

Portia rolls her eyes. ‘But how would he know?’

The car is a rental, paid for by the estate, and it has a built-in GPS. Easy enough to check where we’ve been, when the car was in use, and when it wasn’t.

I point to the GPS screen in the center of the dashboard. ‘It’s being recorded. Everywhere we travel is on that thing.’

Portia slumps back in her seat. ‘One of us should’ve gone into computers.’

I can’t argue with her.

Regardless, there is no chance we are deviating from the original trip. None. I won’t let it happen.

No one else says anything, so Portia gives up and puts on her headphones. We return to a silence that doesn’t end until we stop for gas. Eddie randomly asks if anyone remembers full-service gas stations, and only Felix answers yes.

Krista opens her passenger door. ‘I’m going in to get some water. Anyone want some?’ She raises an eyebrow toward me.

‘I’ll come with you,’ I say. ‘I want to get some snacks.’

Alone in the Stop-Start Mart, Krista asks if I got her text.

‘Just saw it this morning. I must’ve been asleep when you sent it.’

She nods once, curt and quick. Her voice is a whisper. ‘I think Eddie doesn’t want everyone to freak out, that’s why he’s lying. But he saw that pickup.’

‘How do you know?’ I ask. Also a whisper.

‘Because when I told him, he said he already knew they were in the parking lot. He had seen them.’

I take this in while trying to decide between the salt-and-vinegar chips and the low-sodium popcorn. I grab both and decide Eddie may have lied to me. He’s lied before and no doubt he’ll lie again. Maybe this time it’s for a good reason.

‘He’s probably trying to calm everyone down,’ I say. ‘Makes sense to me.’ I move on to a row of coffee machines. These are the newer ones that spit out dollops of flavored sauce and I pick the one with the most sugar. Krista is right on my heels.

‘But that’s weird, right?’ she says.

‘Weird that Eddie lied to protect us? No.’

‘Not that,’ she says, grabbing a few waters from the refrigerated shelves. ‘Isn’t it weird that you’re the only one who hasn’t seen the truck?’

When she puts it that way, yes. It’s a little weird, but I haven’t seen it.

Maybe because I’m too busy looking for someone else.

‘I’ve probably been sleeping at the wrong times,’ I say to her. ‘That’s why I’ve missed it.’

‘Maybe.’

As soon as I have a chance, I send Eddie a text.

How well do you know your wife?



Is that mean? Maybe a little.

That’s the thing about siblings. There’s always a payback for something they did, no matter how old it may be. And Eddie has done a few things.

We get back on the road and Eddie glares at me in the rearview mirror. I ignore him. If he lied to me, he deserved that text. If his wife lied, he needs that text. Either way, I’m right.

He knows I was right last time, too. I was right about Grandpa.

It came to me all at once, like lightning had struck my brain. Not long after we saw Grandpa’s cell phone and all those missed calls from our parents, I turned to Eddie and said, ‘We aren’t supposed to be here.’

It was late at night. We were all crammed into another motel room and everyone was asleep except Eddie and me.

‘We aren’t supposed to be where?’ Eddie said.

‘On this trip. With Grandpa.’

‘Why wouldn’t we be?’

I leaned in close and whispered faster. ‘Why else is he lying about having a phone? Why are Mom and Dad calling so much?’

‘Because they worry about everything.’

‘And,’ I said, ‘he never leaves us alone. Never.’ I pointed to Grandpa’s cot. He always set it up in front of the door.

‘That’s so no one can get in,’ he said.

‘Or out.’

‘You’re crazy. You sound just like –’

‘Haven’t you heard the way Mom sounds like she’s about to scream every time we talk to her?’ I asked.

He shrugged. ‘I guess.’

I didn’t convince Eddie that night. It took a while for him to even consider that our grandfather had just taken us. To be honest, I never would’ve considered it if it hadn’t been for Grandma.

She died about six months before the trip. Ever since then, we saw Grandpa all the time. Sometimes he was at our house when we got home from school. He stayed late into the night, to the point where Mom and Dad started whispering about who would tell him to leave. Once in a while he slept in the attic room above mine. I’d hear him scream in the middle of the night, but they weren’t scary screams. It didn’t sound like he was screaming at someone; it sounded like he was having nightmares. A couple of times I heard him yell our Grandma’s name. He wasn’t taking her death well.

Every time I think about that, I have to force myself to stop. So I pick up my phone, open Instagram, and check up on him. He keeps me focused on what I really want, and why I’m really here. The rest is just noise. It always has been.





Kansas


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