Him, her and the halfway point

“Uh oh,” he said.

“What? What’s wrong?” she asked looking slightly worried. This was not something he said often.

“I think this is where the steam is beginning to wane.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, you start asking yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. You want comfort. You want good food. You want your warm soft bed.”

“Your bed isn’t soft though,” she replied.

“That’s not my point. I’m losing steam. I’m in the middle of the bridge and I’ve got to decide if I’m going to go back, or if I’m going to keep going forward.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to go forward?”

“Because going forward doesn’t guarantee comfort. Going forward doesn’t guarantee normal. Going back does.”

“But going forward offers accomplishment.”

“Sure, but right now that’s not enticing enough. The excitement is wearing off, things aren’t going as well as in the beginning – ”

“Like what?” she asked surprised.

“Well, you sprained your ankle last week, we had problems at that diner in Indiana a couple days ago. We’re running low on supplies – ”

“That’s nothing! My ankle’s fine now, we’re never going to see that blasted diner woman and her cockroaches again, and it’s not like we can’t restock. Tell me you don’t enjoy this,” she said sweeping her hand across the sky. The two were swinging in hammocks recently purchased and hung around two sister trees in a field. The were in one of the remotest locations they’d seen so far. Looking at the ground, the two could see nothing for miles, just darkness. But above them were millions of stars dotting the sky and overlapping each other for space in the vast sky.

A movie came to her mind and she felt it appropriate to quote it, whether he’d know it or not, “Beautiful, gorgeous, wish you where here!”

He knew the movie. He smiled slightly knowing she wouldn’t be able to see it. “I’m not saying this isn’t gorgeous, I’m just saying I really miss my french press, and the ability to watch the World Cup, even if it is the Women’s World Cup.”

“This is not the time to start discriminating against the sexes.”

He sighed loudly and was quite for a while. She laid there impatiently waiting for him to talk. She waited for a while.

She decided to say something but before she could, she could hear light snoring coming from his hammock. She gently poked it and heard the creaking of the hammock against the tree. He made no movement other than the swinging of his body with the hammock. She hoped he would not have this feeling again and closed her eyes, trying to quiet her mind for sleep.

***

“Morning!”

She woke with a start at the voice and saw him looking directly down to her.

“Hi,” she croaked. He smelled of coffee and he looked clean.

“Where’s the coffee?”

“There’s a venti caramel latte waiting for you in the van.”

It was bright, almost mid morning, and warm, really warm. She started to get out of her hammock and saw that his was already taken down. Most of their makeshift camp was already packed up. She noticed a tarp held up by broken branches attached to a tree.

“I created a sort of shower for us. The water’s cold, but it’s really refreshing.”

“What time is it?”

“About 11:31.”

“About?” The sarcasm did not hide well in her voice.

“Come on, come on! We gotta get back on the road. Listen, I know it’s not on the schedule, but I figured we could go to Wisconsin and then Canada and then Minnesota and Iowa before South Dakota like our original plan. I talked to a local where I found the coffee and he was telling me about this place called Elephant Trunk Rock in Wisconsin.”

“Elephants? I like elephants,” she said perking up a bit as she let the cold water wash over her.

“Yes I know. So I thought we’d take a detour. If we leave in the next seventeen minutes, we should be able to get there by evening.”

“Can you hand me my clothes please? I laid them out on the front passenger seat.”

He grabbed her clothes and handed them to her. After a couple minutes she walked out and let him take down the shower. He quickly finished packing it in the van and turned to her as she took her first sip of her latte. Her eyes were closed and he allowed her a minute to bask in the savory taste of caramel, espresso and milk. Then he spoke.

“So what do you think?”

She opened her eyes, then smiled. “Let’s do it.”

He clapped his hands and smiled widely as he ran around to the driver’s seat and got in.

“Glad to see you’re back on board,” she said as she buckled herself in and started up the playlist.

“I took a few steps past the middle. Can’t really go back now.”

“Nope,” she said sipping her coffee.

Though cliche, she felt it necessary to add U2’s “Beautiful Day” to the playlist. She was reminded of this as it began to play, starting off their new day.

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Him, her and the phone call

“I really like these people,” she whispered to him while the others joked around. They were standing in a small circle of people they had recently met on their way through Michigan.

“Yeah, they’re not bad,” he replied taking his last drag of the cigar he had been smoking for the past forty-five minutes. They were all having fun, talking about random things, joking around, sometimes flirting, but all in the respectable name of good fun.

She stood there, leaning back against the car, occasionally playing with her phone but not really expecting any calls or text messages. Though she enjoyed the group, she was getting tired of standing and getting bit by the mosquitos. She tried to keep her mood up, but she had just received a text message from her dad saying her aunt was being rushed into the emergency room. She didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Something minor hopefully. But she still couldn’t settle her mind. She kept all this silent though, even from him. Her dad had asked her to pray for her aunt and she replied a short but sincere “I will!” Suddenly her phone rang.

It was her dad.

“Hey,” she said walking slowly away from the group.

“Hi, honny,” her dad replied on the other end.

“So tell me what’s going on.” She found a metal link fence to rest on as she tried to mentally prepare herself for what could be said.

“It’s not good. She’s being life-flighted to another hospital for immediate surgery. She’s just been in a lot of pain these past two weeks, but she’s waited until now to do something about it. You know how she is.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly. It was all she could muster at the moment. She just listened, hoping her dad would know she really was listening and not zoning out like he thought many other times. She kicked her sandal into the ground multiple times, like a cigarette’s final existence being stamped out on pavement or a cold glass dish.

“Just get as many of your friends to start praying for her, ok?”

“Ok.” She looked back to her group of newly found friends.

“Hey!” One of them shouted toward her. “Come on, don’t be rude,” the girl said turning back to the group and laughing.

“Hey, is everything alright?” he asked her looking slightly worried.

She looked at him then back toward the neighbor’s yard. She wouldn’t be bringing this up in front of these people. They weren’t the right ones. Who could she ask?

“I’ll keep you updated,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

“Thanks, dad. Love you,” her voice was at a low decibel now.

“Love you too. I’ll talk to you soon.”

When she hung up she had three people in mind to immediately text for help. She tried to make it quick before the pestering from the rest of the group got out of hand, then joined them once again putting on a smile, unable to break the mood.

Later that night, she walked into the bedroom they were sleeping in for the night. She looked at him and decided to tell him. She could trust him right?

“You know that phone call I got tonight?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“It was my dad. My aunt’s in surgery right now. She’s really not doing well.”

“Hey, I’m really sorry,” he said pulling her in to him. Her gave her a long hug and a quick squeeze before letting her go on.

“Can you pray for her please?”

“Absolutely! Yes, I’ll definitely do that.” He looked her straight in the eye and gave a sympathetic smile.

“Thanks. I think, I think I’m just going to go to bed now. I mean we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Yeah, ok. Sleep well, alright?”

“Ok,” she said, head already attached to her pillow. Her eyes closed and almost immediately he could hear the steady heavy breathing he had become used to the past week or so. He watched her for a few minutes then laid down in his bed. He fell asleep quickly.

The next morning he woke up to see her bed vacant and made up already. Her bag was packed on sitting on the end of the bed. She walked in quietly before looking over.

“Oh, hi,” she said smiling. “You’re up. Good. Listen, there’s breakfast out in the kitchen already made. And coffee. Really good coffee. I’ve already gassed up the van and stocked it with a few snacks and water bottles to get us by.”

He looked at his watch. It read 8:13. “What time did you get up?”

“Oh like 7:00 or something around there. Hey, I don’t mean to rush you but we should really get on the road soon.”

“Ok, yeah,” he said slowly getting up. “Let me just take a quick shower. Could you maybe fill my travel mug with some of that coffee? Then I’ll just grab some food and we can go.”

“Your mug’s already filled. Tiny little bit of cream and one sugar lump. It’s staying warm by the stove though. And don’t worry about driving today. I’ll go ahead and start the trip.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t sleep that much.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve had like, I don’t know, two or three cups already.”

“Of coffee?!”

“Well, yeah, what did you think?”

“I was hoping water.”

“I’m fine. Let’s just go! We’ve got the open road calling our names!”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m moving.”

Several minutes later they sat in the van, driving away while waving to their hosts.

“Call us when you’re in the area again! We’d love to get together with you guys after your trip!” said one of the women.

“Absolutely!” she replied giving a last wave.

They drove off and quickly found the highway and merged with the morning traffic. The sun was rising quickly, the sky was a clear bright blue that reminded the two of Madonna’s eye shadow from 1983. Corn and wheat fields meshed together as they breezed by at a comfortable speed limit. Occasional construction workers dotted the black pavement with their neon orange vests and white and yellow hard hats assumed colorful language. The two were silent, listening to Tom Waits as they made their way out of “Pure Michigan.” Finally she started singing. It started out soft, almost inaudible when in competition with the stereo volume. But it quickly got louder as the song reached the chorus. He joined in.

“Oh, oh, oh, anywhere, anywhere I lay my head!!” they yelled together. She rolled the windows down and he followed suit. It was a cliche thing to do, something seen in movies all the time, to extend their arms beyond the confines of their iconic road trip van and sing at the top of their lungs along with a man seemingly unknown to the majority of their generation. But they did it anyway. And they basked. He turned to her and watched her body relax with the comfort of a good song and summer air breezing through her fingers.

Him, her and Bloom

“You ready?” she asked.

“Ready for what?”

“Start the van!”

“Oh, right.” He stuck the key into the correct position and turned it slowly for a more dramatic effect. The van came to life.

“Good boy, Bloom,” she said rubbing the steering wheel.

“We talked about this, we’re not naming this van Bloom.”

“You didn’t have any other options and we cannot start this trip without having a name for him.”

“Well why is it a ‘him’?”

“Because his name is Bloom.”

“And remind me why its name is Bloom again?”

The Brothers Bloom.”

“I’ve never heard of it.” That was a lie. He just did not want to admit it because if he did, then he’d be acknowledging her love for the actor who played Bloom. And he really did not want to do that.

“Well I recommended it to you. You know, the brothers who are con men trying to swindle this woman out of all her money?”

“Vague recollection. Anyway, he’s Bloom for now. But don’t get attached to the name! Now, can we please go over the checklist?”

She turned to him with a dead look on her face. “We’ve gone over it three times.”

“Only two times. And three times the charm.”

“You only want to go over it again because you can’t stand even numbers.”

“Please?”

“Alright, alright.” She did her best to hide a smile turning up from the corner of her mouth as she grabbed the checklist.

Five minutes later they had finished it after running back into the house only once.

“I knew that’d be a good idea,” he said as he reached for his iPod. Luckily, she had found a van with a new stereo system installed. It went against the classic road trip rules, but it was a luxury he was grateful to have. A week ago the two of them had spent the entire day composing several road trip playlists, each one specialized to the type of road they were driving on and/or the time of day. He chose the playlist for getting out of the city. He grabbed his cup of coffee from the cup holder she had built for the trip, took a sip, and returned it to its holder. He let out a big sigh while placing his hands firmly on the wheel and looking straight in front to the end of the driveway.

“Set?”

“Go,” he replied putting the van into gear. They slowly rolled down the driveway and turned in the direction of their road trip.

“Que bueno,” she said taking her coffee.

“Con queso,” he replied completing the joke.

She quickly rolled down her window and pumped her fist into the air, “Si!” she cried.