Graduation day. The last day of our lives as teenagers. No more waking up at 7 in the morning to make it to school where we are forced sit and learn copious amounts of dead information. Today we become adults. Today, we are thrust into the world with no clue how to live life.
“What are you writing?!” John yelled over the speakers of the car as they were speeding to the school.
“My valedictorian speech, duh!” Michala jested back at him.
His eyes lingered on her for a moment in the mirror as she continued to write away. He was momentarily distracted from watching her as a car blared its horn at him as he slowly drifted in the middle of the road. Everyone laughed as he jerked the car back onto the right side of the road muttering under his breath.
“Weren’t you supposed to write that last night?” Larissa asked watching her speed write her speech.
“You know me, always procrastinating,’ Michala said laughing.
She looked up to the rear view mirror and saw John’s eyes.
Duke reached over and grabbed her by the waist, “It’s because your so freaking smart, you nerd!” He yelled pulling her close and kissing the side of her neck. They both laughed and Larissa turned around in her seat and scooted closer to John. She slid her arm behind his back and he released the tension he had on the steering wheel. He looked over at her and smiled and gave her a quick kiss and returned his eyes to the road. He didn’t want to look in the mirror again. HOWEVER< HIS eyes betrayed his mind and he once again stole a glance into the backseat. Her eyes were right there staring back at him. His eyes brightened a bit and he saw her give a half smile before he returned his attention back to the road.
Their car was the last pulling into the parking lot and they could already see everyone gathering in the stadium. They all ran throwing on their gowns and caps and were seated just in time for the principal to begin his speech. Due to their last names, James and Larissa were sprinkled throughout the rest of the students. Michala and John got to sit right next to each other because of the close proximity of their last names, Sawyer and Simpson.
“Are you nervous?” John leaned over and whispered to her.
“What do you freaking think!” she exclaimed in a hushed voice. She looked around eyeing the crowd nervously as the principal continued on.
“Don’t be, you’ll do fine,” john said reassuringly.
“You don’t know that for sure!” she hissed.
“Yes, I do. I believe YOU can do this,” he said looking her directly in the eyes. She stared back.
“Wh-what if I get nervous and start to stutter?” she asked.
“THEN look for y eyes in the crowd and talk to me,” he said just as the principal announced her name for her to come to the stage for her speech.
She nodded her head and stood up with everyone cheering and applauding. The whole graduation class was whooping and hollering as she made her to the podium stand. She climbed the steps and shook the principal’s hand. She turned to the crowd, placed her speech on the podium, and looked around at everyone. She couldn’t talk. She had frozen up. Everyone was silent in the crowd waiting for her to start her speech. She panicked. She always got like this in front of crowds. She always clams up. Her face began to fluster.
In the crowd she heard, “You got this!” and looked for the voice as she saw the hand retreat from the air. It was John. She smiled and began her speech.
“It’s Graduation day. The last day of our lives as teenagers. No more waking up at 7 in the morning to make it to school where we are forced sit and learn copious amounts of dead information. Today we become adults. Today, we are thrust into the world with no clue how to live life. Some of us are going away to college. Some of us are going to travel the world and backpack across Europe. What am I going to do? I have until the end of the summer to finalize my decisions. So I’m going to live it up like the rest of yall!” she yelled and the crowd cheered. “As the Graduating class of 2016, we have honored our parents and our families by completing these past four years of torture!” she yelled and the crowd went wild. “Today marks the end of our teenage lives and the beginning of our new ones. So to the class of 2016, throw your caps up! WE did it! Congratulations!” she said throwing her cap up and everyone followed suit yelling and cheering.
The rest of the day flew past as they all walked up to receive their diplomas, gathered with families to take pictures, and celebrated eating out at restaurants. John and his family were neighbors, so they had a big family dinner at Michala’s house. Michala and John hung out in her room while their moms prepared the feast downstairs.
Michala flopped down on her bed with John right beside of her. He picked up her teddy bear and propped himself on it like a pillow. She laughed out how goofy he looked. He laughed with her and looked over to her mirror full of snapshots she had taken with her camera. Their little exclusive group papered the mirror. In every single picture, John was the only one that was always looking at the camera.
He got up from the bed and walked over to the mirror and took one of the pictures down and smiled.
“Remember this day?” he asked holding the picture up. She climbed off her bed and took the picture from his hand and grinned.
“Of course, we went to the fair that day. Larissa had thrown up on every ride and Duke…well Duke was Duke that day,” she said putting the picture back up on the mirror.
John was puzzled at that remark, “What do you mean by that? I know you two argued that day…” he said trailing off.
She sighed, “We didn’t want to ruin everyone’s day by fighting in front of yall. I found him behind one of the rides sweet talking and kissing another girl. Not the first time neither. He ran after me said he was sorry the usual, and of course, well you know, we’re still together,” she said flopping back down on the bed.
John was angry and mystified all at once. “How could he honestly do that to you of all people?” he said out loud muttering more under his breath that she couldn’t understand. He looked at her, “Why do you put up with him?’ he asked.
She shrugged her shoulders, “Who else was I gonna date?” she asked.
He sat down beside her and she laid her head on his shoulder. He placed his chin on her head and closes his eyes.
“There were other guys that would’ve killed to date you,” he murmured.
“None that I would date back hat weren’t already seeing someone else,” she replied.
He laid back on the bed and she curled up beside him laying on his arm.
“This is what I’m going to miss the most,” she said as he turned to look at her.
“I’ll always be here no matter where you go. When you come back, I’ll still be here waiting to wrestle you in the mud,” he said jousting and they both laughed.
“It’s not going to be the same. I’m sure you and Larissa will get a place of your own together in a year or two. Duke, well, I don’t care much of what he really does. But, things will definitely be different between us all,” she said closing her eyes and her head growing closer to his chest. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and kissed her forehead.
“Things will never change between us. I promise,” he whispered to her. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes.
“Dinner’s ready!” they heard yelled from the stairway.
“I guess that’s our cue,” she said devilishly grinning.
“Yea, I guess so,” he said neither one of them moving. They laid there a few extra minutes when they heard, “Don’t make me come get you two!” They both laughed.
“We better go down,” he said in a serious tone, “she will come get us.”
They jumped up and ran downstairs racing each other to the table as if they were little kids again. They sat across the table from each other giggling and talking with the family.
“So, are yall leaving tonight for the beach trip?” Michala’s mom asked.
“Yup, as soon as dinner is over for us. Larissa and Duke are ready right now,” replied Michala.
“I can’t believe yall are driving all the way to the east coast to go to the beach. There’s a beach ten minutes down the road,” John’s mother said.
“THAT is not a vacation,” John laughed and the whole table chuckled.
“Have you two talked about, you know, where you’re going to college, Michala,” Michala’s mother asked.
Michala’s eyes grew big and she shook her head slightly signaling her mom to be quiet.
“What’s she talking about?” John asked looking over at Michala suspiciously.
“Nothing we can’t talk about on this three day journey to the east!” Michala said excitedly changing the subject.
She glanced up at John who was still staring at her and offered a smile. His expression didn’t change as he finished eating and Michala wished her mother had never brought it up. As everyone finished their plates, they heard a knock at the door.
Michala jumped up, “That’s probably Larissa or Duke,” she said running to the door. She was surprised when she opened it and it was both of them.
“HEY! We couldn’t wait any longer so we came over to see if you two were ready!” Larissa exclaimed.
“Yea, we just finished dinner,” Michala said.
John walked over to the door and wasn’t too thrilled to see Larissa and Duke together especially after what Michala told him.
“Who drove over here?” he asked a little too pushy.
“My mom drove me,” Larissa said looking over to Duke.
“Same here,” Duke said not flinching and staring John down. John took a step forward and Michala flicked her hand up that had been across her chest during the explanation.
“Heel boy,” she said.
“I got to go and get my bags,” John said as he pushed past Duke. Larissa was hot on his heels questioning why he was acting that way.
“WHAT”S his problem?” Duke asked.
Michala didn’t answer and just stared at him.
“What?” he asked.
“What were you two doing together?”
“Nothing,” he replied.
“Don’t ruin their relationship because ours is ending after this trip,” she said.
“You will change your mind by the end of the trip,” he said conceitedly.
“Keep dreaming,” she said as she walked up the stairs to her room. He was getting ready to follow when she yelled with her back turned to him, “Don’t come inside, go wait at the car.”
She heard the door slam shut meaning he was pissed.
She opened her bedroom door and walked to the window where she saw John and Larissa arguing in the backyard. Larissa stalked away and climbed into the car. John finished loading everyone’s bags into the trunk. He rested his arms up on the roof of the car and looked up to her window. He motioned his hand for her to come on. She turned around and went to grab her bag where she found a letter and a rose. She didn’t have time to read it, so she tucked it away in her purse. She smelled the rose, smiled and tucked it into her purse along side the letter.
She ran downstairs and kissed her parents goodbye.
“Yall be careful!” they yelled as she shut the door and sprinted across the yard.
“You get everything you need?” John asked as she handed him her bag.
She smiled, “Yup everything I had on my bed,” and jumped in the back seat opposite from Duke who was sulking at the door.
John put her bag in the trunk, shut it, “Great! Let’s get a move on!!” and everyone let out a cheer. They were on their way.
Larissa had scooted over to John and he put his arm around her. Duke still sat on the other side of the car breaking into the 12 pack he had bought where they filled the car up. Michala sat staring out the window. It had been a long time since she had been on a road trip, but she had never been cross country before.
John stole glances at her through the rear view mirror watching her peer out the window. He was jolted from one of his glances when he felt a hand go between his legs.
“What are you doing?” he asked Larissa annoyed.
“I thought you would like a treat as we drove,” she said removing her hand.
“It would be too hard to focus on driving,’ he said laughing. She scooted back over to her seat scowling at him.
“Michala wanna switch seats with me. I’m getting tired,” Larissa said turning around in her seat to face Michala.
Michala shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t mind,” she said climbing over the front seat and switching places with Larissa.
Larissa made a pillow with her jacket against the door and started to doze. Duke murmured something under his breath and threw the empty beer bottle out the window. He took a cue from Larissa, pulled his hat down low, and adjusted himself to sleep as well.
Michala scooted closer to John and leaned her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her. The other two didn’t care what or how they expressed their friendship. They knew coming into the relationship how close of friends they were and never bothered speaking up against their actions.
“So what were you back there thinking about while admiring the tumbleweeds?” John chided.
She elbowed him in the ribs chuckling, “Everything, what my next steps are, how I’m going to get to those next steps, just everything,” she said swiping a fallen piece of hair out of her face.
“You know what’s best for you,” he said tickling her side.
She laughed smacking his hand away.
“Ok, I couldn’t resist, I’m sorry,” he said wrapping his arm back around her.
SHE sunk into his side deeper breathing in the smell of his cologne. She loved the smell of his cologne. She felt a pluck on her forehead and opened her eyes, as John laughed putting his hand back on the wheel.
“you’re such an ass,” she said laughing flicking him back.
“Oh, its on. The flick war has started,” he said preparing to flick her again.
“I call truce,” she said leaning away throwing her hands up in front of her face.
“Ok, ok truce,” he said and she flicked him again.
They both laughed. They watched the sign as they drove by “Leaving California, entering Nevada.”
“One state down and like 20 more to go,” she said joking.
They both got quiet for a minute or two.
“Thank you for my rose, you were the only one who gave me flowers on graduation,” she said looking up to his face.
“I have no clue what you’re talking about. Delusional, delusional. Where’s the asylum?” he said laughing as she punched him in the arm.
“Ha ha, funny,” she said sarcastically.
“You’re welcome,” he said smiling looking down at her.
“I haven’t read the letter yet, what’s it say?” she asked reaching around to grab her purse from the back seat.
“Read it and find out. If I wanted to say it outloud, I wouldn’t have written it,” he said back grinning.
“You’re such an ass!” she said punching him in the arm again.
“Seriously, though, can you wait til were not in a car full of people to read it. I do have my reputation to uphold you know,” he said laughing.
Before she could throw another punch he yelled, “Truce!”
She fished the letter from her purse and he grew silent and stared at the road. She flipped open the flap of the envelope and saw something shiny in the bottom of the envelope. It was a ring. She didn’t know what to do next.
“Anybody hungry?” John yelled out waking the two in the back seat.
“I could eat a human!” Duke yelled back.
John pulled into the parking lot of a Swiss Burger joint. Everyone hopped out besides Michala.
“I’ll catch up with yall in a minute. I’m going to change clothes,” she said hoping the distraction was excuse enough.
“Ok,” everyone said.
John watched her walk to the trunk and get some clothes from her bag.
“Be careful out here by yourself,” he said following the other two inside.
“I will,” she said slipping back in the car to change.
She waited until everyone was out of sight and reopened the letter. The ring fell out into her purse and she picked it up and looked at it. It was a simple gold ring with a small diamond on top of it. She was nervous to read the letter, but she unfolded the pages and began to read.
Seeing you today walk across that stage and deliver that speech made me realize how short life is. We’ve been through everything together as friends. Friends. We’ve been friends for so long, I can hardly remember a moment without you in my life. I don’t want to go another minute without you still in my life. I’m breaking up with Larissa tonight. I know you and Duke are on the ropes. This is my one chance to have what I’ve wanted for years. You. I love you. I always have. This ring is my promise to you. I will be right here when you get back from whatever adventures you go off to have. My heart is your heart from now until eternity. I got the ring size from your mom, so its sized to fit. Now bring the ring inside the restaurant we’re stopped at because I know you made some excuse to stay outside and read this letter. Get to moving punk I’m waiting for you.
She was speechless. She hurriedly put the dress on she fished out of her suitcase. She put some makeup on and was brushing her hair when she heard a tap at the window. She looked out and saw a strange man standing there.
“Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Stewart, we’re lost and can’t find a map,” he said. She looked him over and his mannerisms as well as his dressing style was fairly unusual. He had on a black suit with his hair slicked back. She glanced over to his vehicle which was a nice Jaguar. She assumed the woman in the seat was his wife. Both of them had pale complexions.
“I’m sorry, I’m not from around here and my driver is the one with the directions. He programs it in his head,” she said smiling.
The man did not smile back and he didn’t find her joke amusing in the least.
“Thank you for your time,” he said and walked back to his vehicle, got in, and pulled away from the diner. The woman stared at her as they drove past the vehicle.
Her concentration was broken when she heard yelling, “You’re such a slimeball!”
It was Larissa. She could guess that they just broke up. She got out of the car and walked toward the burger joint, “You okay?” she asked.
“Did you know he was going to break up with me? Well, of course you did, you two are probably screwing around behind my back aren’t ya?” Larissa said with her eyes squinted in hate.
“No, I didn’t-“ Michala began.
“Whatever, I’ll be waiting in the car!” she yelled as she jumped in the backseat.
Michala was hesitant to walk inside now. She looked through the window and saw John with his fingers pursed over his eyes. Duke stood from his seat and walked to the door running into Michala.
“Did you know they were busting up?” he asked her through a glare.
“No,” she said quietly.
“Sure, sure you didn’t because you two aren’t the closest of friends I’ve ever seen between a guy and a girl. Just admit it, you knew he was breaking up with her. That’s why you ended it with me,” he said angrily.
“No, I ended it with you because you’re a two bit cheating man whore!” she yelled at him pushing past him to go inside.
He grabbed her forearm and saw John stand up from the table. “This isn’t over,” he said throwing her arm back down.
She didn’t know how to act now. She was embarrassed by the actions of the two towards her. She knew once she read the letter how they would react to John breaking up with Larissa. She pushed the door open to the burger joint and walked over to John and sat down across from him. He had his hand over his eyes in aggravation.
“You okay,” she asked grabbing his hand on the table.
He pulled his hand away from hers, “Yea, I’m fine,” he said in a monotonous tone.
She didn’t know how to react to him pulling his hand away.
“We’re finished eating. If you want to eat take your time. I’m going to the car to sit,” he said standing up with their trays of trash.
“Oh, well I’m…I’m not hungry,” she said standing up and putting the ring she held in her one palm back into the purse.
She didn’t and did understand the reason he was acting the way he was to her. She walked in front of him out of the diner and back to the car. She got in the car but didn’t scoot back close to him. Instead, she curled her legs up underneath her and laid against the window. John started the car and they drove away from the diner in silence.
It was about an hour later when John broke the silence.
“Who was that man that was talking to you in the parking lot at that burger joint?” he asked looking over to Michala.
“Just someone asking for directions,” she replied and returned her attention back to a book she had brought along for the trip. Her mother had bought her a reading light so she could read on car trips when they visited her grandmother in Washington.
“They looked strange,” he said trying to continue conversation.
“Yup,” she replied keeping to herself and the book.
He didn’t like them not talking to one another. It was making him antsy and he really wanted to pull over and talk but knew he couldn’t because of the other two disgruntled passengers.
“What are you reading?” he asked.
“A book,” she replied.
“What’s it about smart ass?” he said annoyed.
“This girls best friend professed his love to her through a letter and gave her a ring and then totally blew her off when she came to him over it,” she retorted while flipping a page.
It sank in. He knew she was going to read it, but Larissa exploding the way she did made him forget completely about writing the letter.
“Michala,” he started.
“Save it. It doesn’t matter,” she said closing her book and laying her head against the car door.
Great, he thought to himself, now everyone is mad at me.
It was around 3 am when he woke Duke up.
“Hey man, you care to drive?” he asked yawning.
“Not at all,” Duke replied while stretching.
John pulled the car over and the two switched spots.
“Just stay on this highway until you hit Colorado. Wake me up and I’ll tell you which highway to take,” he said jumping in the back.
He had been driving for 12 hours and needed the break. He pulled his hoody hood over his head and stuffed his hands in the pocket of it. He leaned his head against the window but not to look outside. He fell asleep staring at Michala in the front seat.
“How the hell could you mess up this bad!”
John awoke to the sun beaming in his eyes and the arguing outside the car. He sat up in the seat and looked around to see where they were. They were back at the diner they had left last night.
“I did exactly what John said. He said to stay on the highway and wake him when we hit Colorado. I made no turns, no turn arounds, nothing,” Duke yelled back at Larissa.
“Hey, hey! Its okay. We’ll get something to eat and then just start back on the road. Its no big deal. There was probably an exit and this was a bypass highway that looped around,” John said pulling his hoody off.
“Whatever,” Larissa said walking to the burger joint.
“I’m sorry man, I-“ Duke began.
“Its ok, no worries,” John said popping the trunk and changing his shirt.
He glanced through the window at Michala still reading in the front seat.
“You coming in?” he asked.
“Not hungry,” she replied turning the page.
“It might be the last stop for a while,” he said trying to urge her out of the car.
“Not hungry,” she replied yet again.
“I’ll bring you something back,” he said standing up from the window.
She was pissed at him and had good reason to be. He walked inside with the other two and ordered his meal and something for Michala. Instead of sitting inside with Larissa and Duke, he walked back outside to eat in the car.
The same car that had stopped last night beside theirs was stopped there again. Instead of the man this time, it was the woman underneath of an umbrella talking to Michala.
“Are you sure you don’t have directions,” she asked Michala.
“We got lost ourselves last night and ended up back here,” Michala said sympathetically.
She noticed John walking out of the diner, “John, maybe you can give them directions. They’re looking or…what was it…Stewart?” Michala asked the woman.
“Yes,” replied the woman.
“You past it about 50 miles back south,” John replied. “Head south on this road and take the first exit you see. That’ll put you on your way to Stuart,” he said stopping in front of the woman.
She had sunglasses on. Her hair was dark nearly black in color and she wore the most peculiar dress that looked like a latin dancing dress. She was the palest person he had ever met before.
“Thank you, young man,” she said walking back to the car. In the sunlight, the tint was so dark, you couldn’t see inside like you could last night.
“You’re welcome,” he said waving his hand.
He climbed in the driver door and looked over at Michala who was watching them pull away.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Whenever they talk to me, it’s like, like I can’t ignore them. Like I HAVE to talk to them. I can’t explain it,” she said still slightly mystified after their departure.
“I got ya some grub,” John said handing the bag of food over to her.
“Thanks, I’m hungry all of a sudden,” she said opening the bag to see what he got her.
She pulled out the fries and started going to town eating. It was unusual behavior for her but then again she didn’t eat last night neither, which was John’s fault.
“Here’s your drink too,” he said handing her the cup that the diner offered for drink.
She gulped it down and ate the hamburger that in the bag. She had everything ate in under five minutes.
“I’d say you were hungry,” John said slowly chewing the food in his mouth.
She looked over at his food and then to his face. He smiled. He got the hint and handed the burger over to her along with his fries.
“Thank you,” she said taking a bite of his burger.
“No problem,” he said laughing while chewing his bite of food.
She had slowed down eating and was chewing at a normal pace. He watched her start to nit pick at the food, her tell tell sign that she was full but didn’t want people knowing she was.
“Give it back,” he laughed taking the burger and fries back.
She continued chewing the mouthful of food as the quiet proceeded to settle in between the two of them.
“Look, about last night,” John began.
“Don’t worry about,” she said looking out the window.
“No, I truly am sorry. Things slipped my mind once I broke it off with Larissa then got the eighth degree from Duke. Apparently they both think we were screwing around behind their backs,” he said balling the burger wrapper up and tossing it in the bag. “Everything I said in that letter, I meant every word of it,” he said pulling the ring from his pocket.
“Hey, how’d you get that? It was in my-“
“Purse,” he said smiling.
“You little sneak,” she scoffed.
“Michala, I wanted to do this last night, but better late than never,” he said holding the ring up in between them. “I’ve loved you since the day you moved in next door. No matter who I have dated, I couldn’t take my mind off of you. We sent so much time together just being ourselves, we never really did pay much mind to dating each other,” he said taking her hand in his. “I’m not asking you to marry me, I’m asking you to promise to be mine forever,” he said putting the promise ring on her finger.
She couldn’t say anything back, but didn’t get the chance to. He ran his hand up her cheek and pulled her in for their very first kiss with each other. His hands slid from her face to her hair and she put her arms around his neck. He pulled her across the bench seat of the car closer to him. He kissed her and pulled back numerous times to look at her face. He brushed her hair back from her face and trailed his finger down her cheek.
“I’m sooo ready for the beach,” she said smiling at him.
He smiled back and kissed her one more time. She sat back down in her seat that had gotten hot due to the sun beaming on it. So, she scooted to the middle of the bench seat. Duke and Larissa made their way from the diner and climbed in the backseat.
“Everyone ready to go?” John asked.
Everyone chimed an answer of yes, and once again, they started off in the direction of Colorado.
Duke started in on the remaining beer left from his 12 pack and offered one to everyone in the car. Larissa accepted while Michala and John declined.
“You know that stuff makes me car sick,” Michala said looking at the beer disgusted.
“I’m driving,” John said laughing.
“You both lost your cool when you graduated school,” Duke laughed and chugged his beer.
John turned the radio on and everyone sang along to the radio. Michala scooted closer to him but he dared not put his arm around her in front of Larissa. He wanted a peaceful trip. The two new mutually not to let the cat out of the bag about themselves. As John glanced in the rearview, he saw Larissa and Duke quietly talking in the backseat. She was already putting the moves on him and he was openly flirting back. He hadn’t known that Michala and Duke had called it quits already, unless Duke was trying to make her jealous with his actions.
They had been driving for hours and nightfall was hitting when they came upon lights to the right.
“How in the hell….” John muttered and pulled over in the parking lot.
The diner they were at earlier was the final resting spot.
“See, I told yall,” Duke said leaning over toward the passenger window.
“There were no exits or anything. How is this possible?” Michala asked looking over to John.
“I don’t know,” he said putting the car in park. “Let me go ask them for directions,” he said jumping out and heading in the diner.
“This is way too creepy,” Larissa chimed in the backseat.
It hadn’t been but a few seconds that John had entered the diner that the Jaguar rolled up beside them.
“Well, I see we are all having the same experience,” the gentleman said getting out of his car.
A panic flew through Michala. A gut feeling was telling her somehow they were the ones responsible for this but she couldn’t say it out loud.
“Are yall lost too?” Larissa asked climbing out of the car.
Duke was about to do the same when Michala turned around and shook her head no.
“We have been trying to get to Stewart and followed the other young lad’s advice and still ended up right back here,” he said motioning to the car.
The woman then got out of the car and walked over beside the gentleman. Her eyes burned into Michala’s and she had to look away.
“Our friend is inside getting directions from the diner,” Larissa replied back to the gentleman.
“It won’t be any good. They couldn’t give us directions,” he replied back.
Michala pulled her cell phone out of her purse, and to her dismay, there was no signal. She felt uneasy with the strangers and there was a lull to them that made her look back to them. The woman was still watching her. She withdrew her gaze from the woman to the diner but couldn’t help peaking at her.
John walked from the diner’s doors muttering and cussing.
“So, what they say?” Michala asked glancing uneasily over at their guests.
“They couldn’t tell me anything. Useless!” he replied angrily.
He then noticed the guests at the car and slowed his steps. He looked over at Michala. Her face was white as a ghost and she slightly shook her head relaying an unspoken message. Hearing John’s voice, the man and woman turned their gaze toward him.
“Ah, there’s the young lad. I see you’re having the same problem as we are,” he said walking toward John.
“Yea, it’s weird we drove for hours away from the diner and still ended up right back where we started,” he replied making his way over to the driver’s door. “Larissa, get back in the car. We’re going to head back towards the house and reroute,” John said jumping in the driver’s seat.
“It was nice meeting yall,” Larissa said turning around and getting back in the car.
“The pleasure is ours,” the woman said following suit.
John started the car and turned around on the highway and drove back the way they had initially started from. IT wasn’t until the lights of the diner disappeared that Michala spoke up.
“Did you feel it too?” she asked looking over at John.
“Yea, I did,” he replied.
“What are yall talking about?” Duke asked leaning up to hear them.
“The last two times we were there, they were too. I just got a creepy feeling about them. I mean how odd is it we’re heading in two different directions and are both getting lost and ending up back in the same spot we started?” Michala asked looking from John to Duke.
“Well, I think they’re nice people,” Larissa said scornfully.
“That’s only your first time meeting them. I mean they’re looking for a place less than 50 miles away, driving a Jaguar, and dressed like the Addam’s family. Come on now?” Michala said irritated. “You don’t feel what I do when they come around. It’s like I can’t talk unless spoken too. I can’t think or anything. I’m just drawn into them. I can’t explain it,” Michala said sitting back right in her seat.
Everyone was silent. Michala never talked like this before and it was odd.
“Maybe we should just head home,” Duke offered. “Maybe this trip wasn’t meant to be.”
“Bull! I did not leave the state of California just to be rushed back to it because we’re lost on a highway. We’re going to the beach!” Larissa exclaimed.
“Larissa is right. We should just continue on to the beach,” Michala said solemnly.
John looked over at her. She was just staring straight ahead expressionless.
“Michala, are you okay,” John asked.
She just kept staring straight ahead without responding.
“Michala!” he yelled a bit too loud.
She jumped from being startled and looked over at him. The look on her face terrified him.
“Are you okay?” he asked pulling over on the side of the road.
She trembled and couldn’t speak. She looked into the rear view mirror as headlights appeared.
“Go,” she whispered. “Go! Its them!” she yelled as John saw the headlights in the mirror as well.
He put the car in drive and hit the gas speeding off. He was gaining speed and the headlights were being lost in the space between the two vehicles. He saw a side road and veered off onto it hoping to lose their followers. The road led to an abandoned cabin where he turned the engine and lights off. They heard a car fly by the road in the direction they had been heading. All was quiet.
The four of them climbed out of the car and gathered in front of the house.
“Now this is what creepy looks like,” Larissa said snidely.
“It’s not that bad,” John said walking up the front steps. One of the boards began to creak and bow under his weight and he jumped to the next. “Be careful walking up.”
They each took the steps carefully one by one so the steps didn’t give away to all of their weight. John pushed the cabin door open and walked inside. It was completely bare inside.
“Hello?” he called out.
There was no answer.
“Its safe to say its empty,” he said walking further into the house.
The rest of the group followed in uneasy. The windows had been busted out and boarded up haphazardly. The curtains were shredded and barely clung to the rods above the windows. There were spider webs everywhere and newspaper littered the floor. It looked as if homeless people crashed here every once in a while.
“Let’s crash here tonight so we know we’re driving the right way tomorrow,” John said turning around to everyone.
“Are you nuts?” Larissa asked.
“I’d rather stay here than have some lunatic searching the roads for us,” John retorted.
Larissa didn’t say anything back.
“Okay, its settled. Duke, help me get the stuff out the car. I have some camping gear packed in case we broke down somewhere,” John said walking to the door.
Duke turned around and made his way carefully down the steps. The two guys unloaded the car and brought everyone’s stuff inside. John broke open one of the bags and pulled out his camping gear. He turned on a camping lamp for everyone to see inside the room.
“I have one more if anyone wants to sleep in another room tonight,” he said setting it over to the side.
He unpacked four sleeping bags, some pillows, and blankets. He pulled out a case of waters and a case of sodas and loaded the cooler packed with ice with drinks.
“I have some bread and peanut butter also,” he said holding up the loaf of bread and peanut butter for everyone to see.
Everyone grabbed a sleeping bag. Michala unrolled hers in the middle of the floor and put a pillow and blanket on it. John unrolled his a few feet away from her and followed the same steps. Larissa and Duke hesitated.
“Duke and I…are going to sleep in a different room. I just don’t like the idea anyone can open that front door and walk in here with us,” she said picking up the sleeping bag, blanket, and pillow for her.
Everyone was quiet.
“Why don’t yall really tell us the reason why,” Michala said looking at the two of them.
Duke and Larissa exchanged glanced with one another.
“You know?” Duke asked.
“I’m not stupid, Duke. We were breaking up before this trip and you showed up at my door with her. Come on now, I’m not naïve,” she said shaking her head.
“And both of you are okay with this?” Larissa asked looking from Michala to John.
“We’re all friends. Its cool,” John said.
“Well, ok then. Goodnight you two,” Larissa said smirking.
She and Duke walked up the stairs to one of the rooms and shut the door. John and Michala could hear giggling.
“Well, those two are going to get drunk tonight,” John said smirking.
“Huh?” Michala asked.
“He took his other 12 pack with him upstairs,” John said pointing to where the 12 pack had sat.
“Oh,” Michala said.
“You look distracted. Are you okay with those two…being together?” John asked scooting his sleeping bag closer to her.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be? They didn’t admit to sneaking around behind our backs with each other at all,” she said flopping down on her sleeping bag. “You have no idea what it’s like to be cheated on over and over,” she said tying her hair up in a ponytail.
“Yes, I do. It’s one reason it was so easy ending it with Larissa. They have been sneaking around a lot longer than you knew,” he said setting down on his sleeping bag.
She looked over at him, “You knew this whole time and didn’t tell me?”
He looked down to the floor, “I caught them once together in her dad’s car. They swore it was the first and last time…I didn’t want to break your heart being the one who told you,” he said looking up at her.
She sighed, “Well, they got the cue from us. Even though we weren’t dating we acted like we were,” she said situating herself under her blanket.
John took his shirt off. He scooted closer to her and laid back on his pillow with his one arm under his head and the other outstretched for her. She laid down on his arm and curled up beside of him pulling her blanket up over her shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her forehead, an age old gesture the two shared. She let out a sign and traced her finger on his chest. She looked up to his eyes and saw them looking right back at her.
“It was obvious how you felt about me,” she said smiling.
“Oh, how so?” he asked flirtatiously.
“You were always staring at me in your rear view mirror, duh,” she said laughing.
He laughed with her, then it grew quiet.
“John, I have something to tell you,” she said biting her bottom lip.
“What’s that?” he asked looking down at her again.
“Its about college,” she said timidly.
“What about it?” he asked.
“I’m thinking of going to school on the east coast,” she said.
She waited for his response. He was silent.
“There’s this really great program that I’m interested and I got accepted,” she said.
He still didn’t respond.
“John?” she asked trying to get him to talk.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” he asked in irritation.
“Because I didn’t want you getting upset. I was going to tell you when we got to the beach,” she said wishing she hadn’t brought it up.
He sat up and folded his hands together in front of him while resting them on his knees.
“You can’t go that far!” he yelled.
It startled her. She had never seen him this upset before.
“I thought you would be happy for me,” she said sitting up beside him.
“How can I visit you if your 3,000 miles away?” he asked looking at her.
“The decision was made long before your plans came into motion,” she said crossing her arms.
“Please don’t go…” he begged.
“I have no fall back schools. This is the only chance I have. They have an awesome scholarship that I was given to even go,” she said.
“I will pay for your college tuition anywhere else in California,” he said looking at her. “Please, don’t go. Don’t leave me behind.”
“Why don’t you come with me?” she asked.
“I don’t belong on the east coast,” he replied.
They were both silent.
“You promised that no matter where I went, you would be here waiting for my return. Did you mean that?” she asked.
He sighed, “Of course I did,” he said wrapping his arm around her. “Its just the same day we decide to have a relationship, you drop this on me.”
“I know, but would you have rather me wait til the day of?” she asked.
He pulled her closer to him. He didn’t want her to go and she was too stubborn to change her mind in not going. He was getting ready to reply when there was a loud noise outside.