He Started It

‘I should have taken a picture of them,’ she says.

Again I agree and nod my head. It feels a bit like when we were younger and Portia screwed up but tried to convince everyone she didn’t. No one really believed her, though sometimes we pretended to because it was easier. She knows that now, and I bet she knows I’m doing it again.

‘It’s too bad none of us became cops,’ Portia says. ‘It would be easy to get this asshole’s identity.’

Our movie is now a TV show. A police procedural. ‘Right,’ I say. ‘Too bad.’

‘Or a hacker. A hacker would work, too.’

We are, thankfully, interrupted by Eddie and Krista. She is pouting, he looks fine. No surprise there. Eddie asks if we know how much longer it will take and Portia opens her big conspiracy-laden mouth.

‘You saw it too, right?’ she says.

‘Saw what?’ he says.

‘The pickup. It’s been following us.’

Krista’s head snaps up, the sulk gone.

Eddie turns to me, his eyes wide. I give him nothing.

‘I didn’t see it,’ he says.

Portia looks like she’s about to stamp her foot on the asphalt. Before she can, Felix appears. I didn’t even see him come out of the garage.

He starts talking about the tire, about the mechanic, about all the cool car things in the garage. Halfway through a detailed explanation for why he didn’t find the nails in the tire, he stops talking. No one is listening and he finally realizes it.

‘What?’ he says.

‘Portia has a theory,’ Eddie says.

‘It’s not a theory, it’s a fact.’ She turns her back to Eddie and faces Felix. ‘I’ve seen that truck. It’s been following us ever since Alabama.’

Felix looks at her, then at everyone else. ‘Well, yeah. I figured everyone saw it.’

Portia smiles. Triumphant again.

‘Wait,’ Eddie says to Felix. ‘You’ve seen it?’

‘Yeah. I mean, not every minute of every day, but I’ve seen it. Honestly, I didn’t know it was following us, not at first. I just thought they were headed the same direction.’

‘Zigzagging through three states?’ I say. ‘And you didn’t think to tell me?’

‘I said, at first I didn’t know.’ Felix’s tone is the condescending one, the one I hate. ‘And now the tire,’ he says, with a shrug for emphasis.

Eddie puts up his hand. ‘Whoa. You think these people followed us through three states to put nails in our new tire?’

‘Exactly. Who follows people through three states?’ I say.

‘Psychos?’ Portia says.

We all stare at one another, almost like we’re in a contest, and we don’t break until the mechanic interrupts us.

‘Car’s ready!’ he yells out from the front of his garage.

Portia walks off first, damn near stomping her feet. Eddie and Felix continue to discuss – or argue, or whatever – about the pickup, the tire, the nails, the impossibility of it all.

Krista is the one who grabs my sleeve. The sun makes the gold in her eyes flash like blinking lights.

‘Beth,’ she whispers.

I whisper back, because who wouldn’t? ‘What?’

‘They’re right. That truck has been following us.’

She is so serious, so convinced. ‘How do you know it’s them?’ I say.

‘Last night, in the parking lot. Eddie was asleep and I heard something. When I looked outside, I saw him. The older guy.’

I shake my head, which is filling up with questions. Did she tell Eddie? Did he tell her she was crazy? Is this what they were arguing about? Maybe this is why she called him a liar.

‘What do you mean you saw him?’ I ask. ‘He was just standing around the parking lot?’

‘Not just,’ she says. ‘He was sitting on the hood of our car.’





I DON’T EVEN CARE WHAT DAY IT IS.

What does ‘living authentically’ mean to you? Are you accomplishing it?

This journal is worse than I thought it would be, but I’m still stuck on this trip, so here it goes.

If living authentically means not lying on a daily basis, I’m not doing that. I wouldn’t even try because lying makes it so much easier to get through life. Should I tell Mom and Dad when I’m not where I say I am? Should I have told them the first time I tried alcohol or weed or anything else? Should I tell them about that time I went out with a guy who was way too old for me?

Nope. No one my age lives authentically, and if they say they do they’re lying.

Just today, I’ve told so many lies I can’t count them, starting this morning when I said ‘I’m fine’ to anyone that asked how I was doing. That was a lie.

After eating one piece of toast and nothing else for breakfast, I said I was full. That was a lie. I was starving because I’m always starving but no way am I gaining weight on this trip.

When I said I was excited about seeing the Three Corners, it was a half lie. I don’t care about standing in three states at the same time, but I am sick of Bonnie and Clyde crap. Especially when Grandpa starts going on and on about how much he loved Grandma. It’s all I can do to keep from throwing up all over him. Instead, I just nodded and lied and nodded and lied.

As much as I hated it, that time lying was easier because you’ve got to pick your battles. That’s a Risk thing. You can’t fight everyone all the time, you’ll just lose your whole army.

Now that I think about it, maybe I am living pretty authentically. It’s just the Risk version.





Missouri


State Motto: The welfare of the people is the highest law


We’re back on the road now, headed toward the Three Corners. Everyone is looking out the windows, searching for that truck.

‘If you see it again, call the police,’ Felix says.

It’s strange how adamant they are about that truck following us. I swear I haven’t seen it. This makes me wonder if there’s anything else I’m missing.

And I’m not the only one. Eddie hasn’t seen the truck, either. Of all the things he and I don’t agree on, this is the one thing we do.

I catch Eddie’s attention in the rearview mirror. Raise my eyebrow. He rolls his eyes.

Eddie and I have to communicate silently, just as we did on the first trip. There were times we couldn’t talk out loud then, either.

That very first night, we stopped in North Alabama and stayed at a roadside motel that looked a lot like the Stardust. Grandpa got one room with two beds, and he let us kids have them. He slept on a foldout cot he had brought with him.

‘No sense in getting two rooms,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to leave you guys alone in a motel.’

‘We’re old enough,’ I said. But really, I didn’t want to be alone in one of those rooms.

‘Too bad,’ Grandpa said.

On our second night, he called our parents from a pay phone. ‘No cell phones for me,’ he said, although they weren’t too common back then. ‘Too invasive.’

I’m not sure I knew what that word meant, but I knew it was bad.

We stood outside the motel, at a bank of pay phones, and as far away as possible from the other man using one of the phones. He may or may not have been staying at the motel, just as he may or may not have been up to no good.

One by one, Grandpa passed the phone to us.

‘Hi, baby,’ Mom said. Her voice was tight, the way it was when she tried not to yell. She and Dad had to be fighting again. ‘How are you? Everything okay?’ she said.

‘Yeah, everything’s fine.’

‘Where are you now?’

‘Ummm … Louisiana? Yeah, we’re in –’

Grandpa took the receiver out of my hand. ‘Let your brother talk now.’

A few more days passed until I started figuring out what was going on.

We were in Texas. Grandpa had driven north of it and then back down because he said, ‘That damn state is so big, it’ll swallow us if we try to go through it.’ For the most part we went up and around it, then crossed into the Texas Panhandle, near Amarillo. Grandpa wanted to see the row of Cadillacs half buried in the ground.

Right after we crossed the border, we stopped for gas. Grandpa got out of the van and I was sitting right behind the driver’s seat. Something fell out of his pocket and slipped down a crack between the seat and center console. I reached for it and found a cell phone.

I showed it to Eddie, and we opened the flip phone to see a long list of missed calls. They all came from our home number.

Hundreds of them.

They started the day we left on the trip.

Portia is with us tonight, although she has gone out for some air. I can’t blame her, because it’s a little weird having all of us cooped up in a single space. Sure, we could start pre-spending our inheritance on an additional room at a crappy motel, but there’s no guarantee we’re going to get that money. We haven’t made it to the end yet.

Felix and I are in the room alone. He sits at the table next to the window, pretending to work, but he’s really keeping an eye out for the pickup.

I sit on one of the beds and turn on the TV. The reception is sketchy and the channels are limited, forcing me to choose a sitcom episode I’ve already seen. It wasn’t good the first time.

Felix manages to stay quiet for 1.2 seconds.

‘Did you see the truck?’ he says.

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