He Started It

Dinner would be my favorite, chicken parmesan, and I wouldn’t even scrape the cheese off the top. I’d eat it all, plus dessert, even if it meant not eating for a week.

Mom and Dad wouldn’t fight at all. They wouldn’t even give each other dirty looks. We’d all have a great time and after dinner we’d play Risk. Of course I’d win, because this is MY ideal day and not someone else’s.

Oh, and Grandma would be there. I miss her so much. Maybe I’d even let her win Risk.





12 Days Left





If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you know how it goes. On the first day, everyone is excited to get going, happy about leaving their everyday life behind. Everyone is nice to one another, even family members. That excitement flows into the second day. Not as intense, but still there.

The third day, fatigue sets in. There’s a happiness hangover from the first day, plus the realization that you’re stuck with these people for a while. You’re too tired to pretend anymore, so you become who you really are because you can only hide it for so long.

Even Krista.

You know her. She’s the one who’s happy to organize the office Christmas party, the one who circulates the get-well cards for signatures, and when homemade goodies show up in the break room, you know she brought them because she does it once a week.

In Arkansas, we meet the other Krista. The one who is late to breakfast and looks like she’s only slept for an hour. No makeup, under-eye circles darker than her eyebrows, and her sleek hair now looks dull, like she used a dry shampoo.

She plops down next to Eddie, who has already ordered the Southern special and is piling butter on top of his grits. Krista snarls at his food. Literally. Snarls. ‘I guess you don’t plan on living long enough to see your kids graduate from high school,’ she says.

I freeze. My fork hangs in midair, and Portia’s stops cutting the crust off her bread. Not sure what to think about the bomb Krista just threw on the table. Eddie doesn’t have kids. He’s smart enough to not point that out.

‘I don’t think a few weeks of bad food will kill me,’ Eddie says.

‘Maybe tonight we can eat at a healthier place,’ Felix says.

‘I’m in,’ Portia says. ‘Thank God.’

Krista lifts her hands, waving at the waitress until the woman comes over. She’s in her forties and has the varicose veins of someone who has worked on her feet for a while.

‘Fruit,’ Krista says. ‘Whatever you have that looks good, I don’t care what kind. One slice of wheat toast, no butter.’

The woman nods. Waits. ‘Anything else?’

Krista glances at our coffee cups. Plain coffee, nothing fancy at this place. ‘Coffee. I guess.’

‘Thank you,’ Eddie says to the waitress. He adds a wink.

The waitress smiles at him as she walks away. Krista goes back to her snarling.

I try to remember what we were talking about before Krista walked in. Something about where we’re headed next.

‘So,’ I say. ‘Oklahoma.’

Eddie nods and starts to speak. Krista doesn’t let him. ‘We’re not going to see another Bonnie and Clyde thing, right?’

‘I told you we weren’t,’ Eddie says.

‘But sometimes you lie.’

Boom.

Bomb number two releases a lot more information, and it tells me Krista is not just tired from a lack of sleep and bad food. Eddie has been an asshole again.

‘The first stop is actually the Three Corners, so we’re sort of going into Missouri first,’ I say.

‘The Three Corners,’ Krista says.

‘It’s where Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma meet. You can stand in three states at one time.’

Krista looks like she wants to say something about that, but the waitress appears and saves all of us.

The fruit is melon and pineapple, the toast is plain, and it all looks edible enough. Even the coffee is hot enough for me to see the steam. Still, Krista turns up her nose as soon as the waitress turns her back. She spears a piece of fruit with a fork with a bit too much force.

‘Anyone see the game last night?’ Eddie said, nudging Felix’s elbow. ‘The Cowboys aren’t half bad this year.’

Krista stabs another piece of fruit.

Portia, never one for unsaid bullshit, rolls her eyes so hard I can almost hear them rotate in their sockets. ‘I’m done. I’m going to go outside and get some air.’

She gets up and walks out, not mentioning the fact that this is her turn to pay. No one else mentions it, either. I nudge Felix, who I know is keeping track of these things, and he barely nods.

‘So what’s after the corners thing?’ Krista says. ‘The Oklahoma bombing site?’

‘No,’ Eddie says.

I’m done eating and get up to use the restroom. I stay long enough to check Instagram and see what he’s up to, but he hasn’t posted yet today. Still too early for anything interesting to happen, I suppose.

When I return to the table, everyone has cleared out and the table is empty. Felix waves to me from the cash register.

‘We have a flat,’ he says.

A flat tire doesn’t describe the whole situation. What we have is a flat new tire, the one we just bought yesterday. Several thoughts run through my mind, none of them good.

‘Defective,’ Eddie says. ‘Must’ve been defective.’

Felix nods.

Krista sulks.

Portia stares at her phone. ‘There’s a place two miles down,’ she says. ‘Says they’re open.’

Two miles. We’ll have to change the tire again to drive it. Or Felix will have to, since he’s the fastest. He knows this, is proud of it, and goes to the back of the car to dig out the spare again.

‘Hey.’

Portia. She’s next to me, walking, leading me back toward the diner and away from everyone else.

‘Let’s see if they have coffee to go,’ she says.

‘Sure.’

The cashier helps us this time. He’s an older man who is wearing a button-up shirt and khakis instead of a uniform. His name tag says ‘Manager’ and nothing else. We get coffee for everyone, even Krista. Today, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t with her.

As soon as we’re alone, Portia says, ‘I saw that truck. The black one.’

The third bomb this morning.

‘Where?’ I say. ‘Here? This morning?’

‘No, on the road. Not all the time, just on and off.’

‘You’re sure it was the same one? There’s a lot of pickups around here.’

‘I’m sure,’ she says. ‘I saw the driver.’

‘So you think they’re following us to slash our tire every day or so? Why would anyone do that?’

She shrugs. ‘I’m just telling you what I saw.’

This time, Portia pays. She pulls out an impressive wad of cash and tips him well. Not broke after all, it seems, or maybe that’s all the money she has for the trip. Hard to tell with Portia because I’m never sure what’s up with her. She’s sneaky like that.





Once again, Felix puts the spare tire on our car and we finally get to the auto repair shop. It doesn’t take long for the mechanic to figure out what happened.

‘Nails,’ he says.

‘Nails?’ Felix repeats.

‘Yep, two of them. Probably happened yesterday. Went flat overnight.’

We all stare at the mechanic. He’s a young guy who looks like he’d rather be doing anything other than dealing with a flat tire.

‘I put on the spare,’ Felix says. ‘I didn’t find any nails in the flat.’

‘Here.’ The mechanic picks up the flat tire like it’s a tissue and points to the nails. They are small. Easy to miss.

‘Wow, didn’t even see them,’ Felix says.

The mechanic doesn’t look surprised. When he finds out we’re on a long road trip, he tells us to replace it. ‘Don’t want a blowout, do you?’

‘Absolutely not,’ Felix says.

He goes with the mechanic to pick a new tire. Portia is off in a corner of the parking lot, drinking her coffee and talking on her phone. She does that a lot, like all of her calls are so important we aren’t allowed to listen.

Eddie and Krista are in another corner of the lot, not talking. Sulking, maybe.

I send Eddie a text.

Did you see that black pickup following us?



I watch him take out his phone and read it. His back stiffens. Maybe surprise, maybe recognition.

From Alabama? Seriously?

Just asking.

No, I did not see them follow us through three states.



When Portia is off the phone, she comes over and says exactly what I know she’s going to say.

‘It’s hard to believe this was an accident.’

I sip my coffee, wondering how far into this I want to get. Krista and Eddie are already in a fight and that’s a lot of drama for one morning. ‘You think?’ I say.

‘If we randomly hit nails on the road, why are they only in that tire? Why not the front one?’

Because we were turning. Because we were changing lanes. Because Eddie was fiddling with the radio and swerved a little. A million other reasons I can’t think of because this coffee is too weak.

Portia stands in front of me, her eyes unwavering, and I believe that she believes the truck is following us. In a movie, this would end with hillbilly cannibals, but we aren’t in a movie.

‘You’ve seen too many movies,’ I say.

She stares at me, unsure. ‘Maybe. Still seems weird to me.’

‘It is weird, I’ll give you that.’

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