(Repost: Read the entire novella by clicking the link below)
Where we were wasn’t on the damn map I’d bought at one of those old country convenience stores. Yes, just like the ones your thinking. The first Wrong Turn movie kind of out-of-the-way gas station, tucked in a remote West Virginia ghost town, that kind of shop. We’d passed interstates and highways for five hours straight, and Jenna had curled with a fleece blanket over her lower half in the passenger seat. Her heavy snoring and a cup of cold coffee had kept my eyes open. On the way to her grandmother’s funeral in Seattle, Washington, I took a detour to visit Moses Lake, Washington. It’s a small farming town, but even the most giant couch potato would love the blue lakes that faded into forests. The fishermen, who brought their kids for some father-and-kid time, seemed to be chatting up a storm instead of fishing. The kind of you got something to tell me kind of fishing trip. I yawned several times and rubbed my eyes as the coffee had lost its strength. A thud echoed, then sparks flew like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, and the steering wheel wanted to go every way but straight. Jenna gasped to an upright position. I was sure she’d blame this shit on me. Jenna extended her arms in front of her body, holding the dash rail.
“Great… What’d you do now?” Panic shook Jenna’s voice as she turned to look over her shoulder as the rubber separated itself from the wheel. “Where are we?” Jenna said in a scolding tone. “Not another detour, right?” She glanced at me. “Please tell me you didn’t take another detour.”
I said nothing.
“God damn it.”
I clenched the steering wheel with both hands as my stomach and my lips tightened. We came to a sudden halt in a ditch. I could smell burnt rubber and raw metal. “Relax. It’s not my fault,” I said, almost convincing myself. My hands death-gripped the steering wheel as I took deep breaths.
“You can let go now.” Jenna’s narrow eyes turned to crinkled slits. “Don’t just sit there, do something.” Jenna had this way of waving me off as if I didn’t matter. I’d felt I hadn’t mattered for a long time. “Can’t change a tire, can you?”
“Wait? What? Me? Of course, I can.” I couldn’t change a tire if my life depended on it, but it wouldn’t stop me from trying. “I’m going.” I slammed the door and opened the trunk. Just my luck; there’s no fucking spare. Jenna told me to make sure we had one before we left, but it slipped my mind. I shut the trunk and returned to the car. “There’s no…”
“My father was right about you!” Jenna said.
“Oh, you would bring him into this.”
“You know what, just forget it, I’ll call All-State.” Jenna dialed the number. “Great, we’re stuck.” Jenna threw her phone into her bag and leaned back. “What now, big guy?”
“No signal, huh?”
“What the fuck do you think?” Jenna snarled.
“Say it already! It’s all my fault.”
“Well, you’re the one who got us stuck.”
I paused. “Look, first thing in the morning, we can get a mechanic to fix the wheel and tire and be on our way. There’s a hotel about five miles back.” I pointed in the general direction of the last stop. I must have been more shook up than I’d first realized because I couldn’t remember if it was west or east. So I assured Jenna we’d head south.
Jenna held her hand out as if I’d owed her money. But fuck that, she owes me five thousand dollars from the last time I bailed her out of jail and paid her DUI fine.
“I can’t walk in these shoes now, can I?”
I threw her the keys to the trunk, and she changed her stilettos to running shoes. I loved seeing her legs, and I knew I was going to miss them. Unless things changed, this was to be our last road trip together. I’d fucked up for the last time, according to her, she deserved better. And with the tire blowout, I wondered if she’d already made her mind up.
“Ready?” I asked.
Jenna’crinkled her eyes, tapping her foot.
“We need to get there before it gets dark.”
Jenna pointed. “You first.”
I got the impression she didn’t want to hold hands or talk about making up, making this…whatever it’d become work between us. It wasn’t like I was the only one to blame for the deterioration of our relationship. I wasn’t the one who cheated. But she gaslights me with the little things I have done. Most importantly, I don’t answer my phone when she calls. And I don’t often tell her I love her, at least not as often as she needed to hear it. It might seem small to you or unheard of, but Jenna was unlike any girl I’d ever met before–we’d have the best sex, and then she’d trip-out over the smallest things. Jenna’s doctor said she had Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m starting to agree with him.
As we traveled on foot, we didn’t see a car, a truck, or even an animal. It was as if God had silenced everything but the torturous sound of our feet pounding gravel to the hotel. As we approached, I thanked God I’d taken us in the right direction. I glanced at Jenna, and she rolled her eyes at my victory lap with a smile.
The hotel was old and dreary. It didn’t look like the five-star hotels we’d been used to. To be clear, I didn’t have the money to stay at fancy places. Her father is a wealthy kidney doctor or some shit. The crooked vacancy sign, closed pool, and unkempt grass said as much. I tapped on the desk bell.
“Where is the dude?” Jenna whispered.
A door behind the counter flung open, and a tall slender man walked through. “I didn’t hear you guys come in,” the man said.
I held my hands in front of my body. “Listen, sir, do you have a room?” I skipped the small talk. “It’s been a long day, and…”
“I have one room left at the end.” I craned my neck around the corner to the parking lot.
“Not many people in the parking lot,” I said.
“We’re doing some pre-winter cleaning.”
“Let’s just get a room,” Jenna whispered loud enough for only me to hear.
We gave the man our credit card information. The end room was the only room with a small front window. All the other units had large bay windows. I felt we’d been cheated, but it was only for one night. The more I was around Jenna, the more I realized how much I couldn’t live without her. Even her temper didn’t bother me as much as the thought of losing her did. We made our way to the room and settled in for the evening. I had to smack the TV with my palm to get a clear picture.
“This shower is…well, just as you’d expect,” Jenna complained.
“It’s just for one night.”
“If you hadn’t have taken a detour, we’d probably be there by now.”
“Because everything is my fault, right?”
“My father was right about you.” Jenna raked her fingers through her hair.
“And my mother was right to give me away to foster care.” I stood to my feet. “I’m going to get some fresh air.
“Look, Ben. I didn’t mean it.”
“Don’t…” I closed the door behind me and lit a cigarette. I told myself I’d stopped smoking, and this time it was for good. I’d felt bad enough to shed tears, but I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. Here I was losing the woman I’d loved since college. We drifted apart once she slept with her boss. He’s in jail for fraud now, though. Jenna tells me she’s sorry but blames me for everything. I wasn’t there enough, and I didn’t want a baby right now. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a masked man enter the lobby and it wasn’t Halloween. He held what appeared to be a gun over the counter, and the clerk started fumbling cash in a bag.
I put out the smoke with my foot and hid behind a pillar, craning my neck around to the office every few seconds. I hadn’t felt this much tightness in my stomach since my time in the army. What the fuck did I get us into? Please, God, don’t let him see me, I thought. I craned my neck around again and locked eyes with the robber. Oh, fuck.