He Started It

‘You know the thing about your brother,’ she said. A gentle slur, not sloppy. ‘He can be an asshole but he’s a lovable asshole, you know?’

I do. You know the type, you’ve met him. He’s the guy who gets away with mouthing off in class, the one who can convince teachers to give him a makeup exam, the one everyone wants to be around even when he screws up. Especially when he screws up.

That’s Eddie.

I never got a chance to ask Tracy what she thought about the woman Eddie went out with right out of college. Bet that woman wouldn’t call him lovable. She said Eddie slapped her, and she even reported him, but nothing came of it. Eddie said she was the crazy one and he never hit her, not in a million years.

I believed him. I believed her. Back and forth, back and forth, just like that seesaw. Still haven’t decided who’s right, if he’s a lovable asshole or just the latter.

This is what I’m thinking about in bed, at the Stardust, when Felix asks me how I’m doing. I’m trying to keep my balance.

‘It’s fine,’ I say. ‘I’m doing fine.’

‘I’m glad. Good night.’

‘Good night.’

I wait for his breathing to slow. Doesn’t take long. Felix has always been able to fall asleep instantly, no matter where he is.

I get up, get dressed, and leave the room.

Outside, I glance around, looking for any movement, any form of life. It’s not even ten thirty at night and I know Portia isn’t lying in bed, listening to Eddie and Krista breathe. The options are the diner across the street or the liquor store behind the motel. I go that way first.

The parking lot is empty enough to hear footsteps, and I think I hear someone behind me. Twice I stop to check. Once I kneel down to look for feet on the other side of that broken-down truck. This place is so empty, so quiet, I am convinced someone else must be out here.

I don’t see anyone until I get to the liquor store. The parking lot is full, and there are living, breathing people everywhere. Dan’s Drip-Drop Liquors is the closest thing to a bar for at least a mile or two.

Portia is inside the store, waiting her turn at the register. She is one of two females around; the other is sitting in the passenger seat of a car smoking a cigarette. Busy night at the Drip-Drop.

Portia doesn’t see me until I’m right beside her. ‘Get enough for two,’ I say.

She smiles and holds up a six-pack of Coke and a bottle of rum. I nod. A stack of plastic cups sits on the counter. The price – five cents each – is handwritten in red marker on the back of a lottery ticket. We get two cups.

‘Let’s go back to the car,’ Portia says. ‘I’ve got Eddie’s keys.’

She never did get enough credit for being smart. Maybe there were too many years between us.

Minutes later, we’re in the back seat of the car and I’m drinking my first rum and coke in years. Maybe since college. We don’t have ice but the coke is cold and this seems perfect, given where we are at the moment. Environment is everything.

‘This is weird,’ Portia says.

‘Which part?’

‘Did you know about the will?’ she says.

‘No. I found out when Grandpa’s lawyer read it.’ I look toward the back of the car, where his ashes are stored.

‘Eddie brought them to his room,’ Portia says.

‘Oh. Of course.’

We take another gulp of our drinks. Goes down easier after a few sips.

‘This is what we drink at work,’ she says. ‘Because it looks like soda. The whole waitstaff does it.’


Portia claims to be a waitress in a bar. She’s a stripper, and she has been through most of her college years and now beyond. I may not see my siblings very often, but I know what they’re up to.

‘You must get sick of being around drunk people all the time,’ I say.

‘Yeah, it got old a while ago. Just can’t make the same money in an entry-level job.’

‘I bet not.’

‘I mean, I’m not going to do it forever,’ she says, pausing to finish off her first drink. ‘Just until I find a good starter job.’

‘Grandpa’s money will pay for your student loans,’ I say.

Portia nods. ‘Thank God.’

We’re the only ones left to inherit his estate. Grandma passed away long before he did, and our parents are not in the picture.

‘What do you think you’ll do?’ I say.

She shrugs, refilling her glass and topping off mine. ‘I’d like to get into the medical field. Maybe be a physician’s assistant or something. One day maybe I’ll go to nursing school.’

‘You’d be good at that.’

She smiles. There’s just enough light for me to see her eyes. Clear blue, just like Grandpa had. Mine are murky, like dark water, and Eddie’s look like blue marbles.

‘How do you think this trip will go?’ she says.

Funny she asks this now, when we’re already on our way. This is the question we all should have asked about, pondered over, and discussed before we got on the road.

We all heard about this trip at the same time, on the conference call with Grandpa’s lawyer.

‘No funeral, no memorial service. He specifically notes this,’ the man said. He spoke with a deep Georgian drawl. Grandpa didn’t have that. ‘Your grandfather requested just a brief obituary in the local paper. He has provided the wording that should be used.’

It’s odd how silent we all were. Like we were having a staring contest through the phone.

‘Your grandfather asked that his body be cremated. The next part I will read exactly as he stated it,’ the lawyer said. A paper shuffled. The sound was strange, like Grandpa had found the one lawyer who didn’t use a computer. ‘“Go on the road trip. Scatter my ashes at the end. Once I’m in my final resting place, my estate will be equally divided between you.” There’s also a provision for a rental car. Any questions?’

The road trip, not a road trip. There had been only one.

No, we had no questions.

‘As for the estate, your grandfather’s assets include his house, a car, a retirement fund, and an investment account. Everything is to be divided equally between the three of you.’ The lawyer paused. ‘While the house, car, and furnishings still have to be valued, the total in liquid assets is $3,453,000. By the time his remains have been delivered to their designated place, we’ll have the total.’

The amount seemed staggering, at least to me, and that was just the cash.

‘There are a few final conditions to receiving your inheritance,’ the lawyer said. ‘Your grandfather stipulated that anyone who ends up in jail, who does not complete the trip, or who deviates from the original trip in any way will get nothing.’

This is how it must go. First the trip, then the money. Grandpa didn’t even work for it – he inherited it from Grandma’s sister, who had no kids of her own, and he’d kept it all to himself ever since.

When the call ended, Eddie sent an e-mail to Portia and me asking about logistics. He did not question what Grandpa said or if we would do it. No one did.

We deserved that money. Our payment had been a long time coming.

Twenty years ago, when we first went on this road trip, Grandpa wanted to show us the world, starting with as many states as possible. Instead, it turned into one of those things we don’t mention, don’t talk about. It stays in our heads, swimming around in denial, in disbelief, even in delusion.

So how do I think this second trip will go? It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime. And when it’s over, everything is going to be different. Just like the first time.

‘It’ll be fine,’ I say to Portia. ‘It will all be just fine.’

She rolls her eyes. I don’t argue with her.

I also don’t tell her about the journal. No one knows I have it. The paper has yellowed, the stickers on the front faded, but the fancy title is still readable.

Your Feelings: A Guide

Thoughtful Questions for Thoughtful Girls

AUGUST 12, 1999

Which three women do you most admire?

First, I was never going to use this journal for anything. It was a birthday present, a lame one, and it’s been under my bed until today. I saw it when I pulled out my suitcase to use for the trip. I brought it in case I got bored and here we are. So there’s that.

Second, I don’t admire anyone. This is a trick question, because I’d basically be saying ‘I’m not these three women, I’ll never be these three women, but I admire them more than I admire myself.’

That’s screwed up, if you ask me. Like girls don’t have enough self-esteem problems already.

On the upside, my therapist would probably be crazy proud of me for recognizing such an unhealthy question. I’m going to tell him about it when we get back. Dr Lang isn’t a real doctor, he’s just a therapist, but I call him Dr Lang to remind him of what he’s not.

Our sessions are like being on one of those spinning things on the playground – the metal kind with the bars on them. Why can’t adults see how stupid and dangerous those things are?

I ask the same question about my therapy sessions.

13 Days Left

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