“Goodbye South Dakota. I feel like I’ve slept through the entire state.”
“You kinda did,” he replied. Now it was his turn. She was finally behind the driver’s wheel, a rare occasion, and he would finally be able to allow the lull of the old van rock him back and forth to sleep. He unbuckled his seat belt and climbed into the back and started setting up his bed.
“You can’t sleep now!” she said looking nervously into the rearview mirror.
“That’s what I’m doing though,” he replied continuing in his activity.
“You’re just going to leave me to fend for myself?” She paused for a moment. “Wait, where are we even going?”
“Well the plan was Nebraska -”
“Why would we want to go to Nebraska?”
“Like I was saying, the plan was Nebraska, but we could go somewhere else.”
“Ok, where? And you better get back up here because if you don’t we might end up in Arizona or something. Mexico even.”
He stopped what he was doing and looked to the front of the van. Should this have been a movie, a computer generated light bulb would have appeared above his head, turning on and burning bright as the ideas became stronger.
“Let’s go south,” he said.
“How far south?”
“As south as we want to go. We’re driving through Wyoming right now. So let’s drive through and go to Colorado. We’ll stay there for a week. Then we’ll go to New Mexico, maybe stop in Mexico for a little bit. Then we’ll make our way back up through Arizona to California -”
“To Oregon and finally Washington!” she finished.
“It’s perfect really. I’m tired of seeing corn fields and cows. If I wanted that I would have stayed at home.”
“We live like two hours away from that scene though.”
“Alright, alright,” she said finding confidence. “Go ahead and sleep -”
“Was going to anyway,” he interjected. She ignored him and continued talking.
“And I’ll just follow signs for Colorado. Hey! Let’s go to the Tetons!”
“Sounds good to me,” he replied. The bed was made and was already laying down.
“It’ll be a great photo opportunity, and maybe we can do some hiking, and -”
“Mmhmm.” His head was hitting the pillow.
“And maybe we can find a great diner or something with good pie!”
“Sounds good…” he trailed off. In seconds he was asleep.
“This’ll be great! I love this new plan. We might have to sell some photos or something along the way, just to make some more money for food and gas. What do you think of that?” When there was no answer, she looked into the rearview mirror and found him sleeping soundly, even snoring a little bit.
“Well alrighty then,” she said to herself. “This is good. I can do this.”
He woke up with a jolt and discovered the van had stopped. He was also freezing despite the two layers of blankets he had on top of him. There was little light coming into the van. When he looked out the window he thought it was maybe early morning around 5:30 or 6:00. Then he took in the rest of his surroundings. Huge beautiful mountains covered in snow filled the landscape from window pane to window pane and beyond. He looked around for his traveling companion but couldn’t find her in the driver’s seat. He looked to his other side and found her sitting on the edge of the van, drinking something. It smelled like coffee. And not the crappy stuff they were forced to make some mornings.
“How long have I been out? And is there more of whatever you’re drinking?”
“Nine hours, and yes. I got it from the ranger’s station a mile down the road.” She handed him a cup and he took a long satisfying sip. It was creamy, strong, and “magically delicious,” he said. This brought a slight chuckle out of her.
“So I see we made it to the mountains. What time is it by the way?”
“It’s about 6:00 in the morning.” She turned toward him and started laughing. “Hey. You wanna know something hilarious?” She had exaggerated the syllables in the last word, making it sound like this was something he may not enjoy hearing.
“Sure,” he said cautiously.
“Grand Teton National Park isn’t in Colorado.”
“Right, it’s in Wyoming. I could have told you that.”
“Well you didn’t. And now that’s where we are.” Yelling, she added, “WE’RE STILL IN WYOMING!” There was a distant bird call in response to her anger.
“Ok,” he said slowly. “Well, that’s alright. We’ll just stay here for a day or two. Maybe three and then we’ll head down to Colorado.”
“There’s a problem. The finances are running low.”
“We need to start selling things.”
He was even more cautious with his next response. “What kind of things?”
She looked at him as if to say, seriously? “I’m not suggesting our bodies dummy.”
“What have I told you about calling me a dummy?!”
“I’m sorry, but I’m really upset about this!”
He cooled down. They didn’t need for both of them to be angry. “Ok, so what do you suggest?”
“Well I have my camera. And there’s a diner about five miles away that looked promising for potential customers. We’ve been taking pictures all summer and we can take pictures here. Maybe try to get some wildlife shots or something to mix it up. Or! We could take portraits! Yeah, we’ll set up a little studio outside or something, and we’ll charge people to take their portraits.”
He thought about this for a moment. That actually didn’t sound half bad.
“That doesn’t sound half bad,” he said. He wondered why they hadn’t been doing this earlier.
“Why haven’t we been doing this earlier?” he asked.
“No idea! It’s brilliant, but I guess we didn’t have the pressure to come up with it.”
“Alright, we can do this. Is your camera film or digital.”
“You’ve been using it all summer and you don’t know this by now?”
He looked at her, waiting.
“Good. We’ll take a few photos of each person. I can load them onto my laptop -”
“Why not mine?”
“Mine’s faster. And I have an external hard drive.”
“And we’ll let the people look at them. But first we need to find a good photo center.”
“Ooh! There’s one online! And they offer matting and framing too! We can have our customers watch us and choose the specifics on each order and we’ll have them pay for shipping and handling – no, wait. I just signed up. I get free shipping and handling for a year with this company! Perfect. So they pay us cash and then they pay for the matting and framing if they want and they can watch us type in their address. Then the photos will be shipped straight to them!”
“This is brilliant,” he said grabbing her face and giving her a quick kiss on the lips. “Brilliant!” He was beaming. She was taken off guard.
“What was that for?”
“For the stroke of genius you just had,” he said slightly ruffling her hair. He went to work putting away the bedding and went outside to freshen up and go to the bathroom. She could only sit there. She was still only sitting there when he returned five minutes later.
“Ready?” he asked her putting away his toiletries.
“Hmm? Oh, right. Yeah, let’s get started.” She dug around for her camera materials and started setting up. “I want to get in a few test photos first and I figured we could um, we could walk around or something…”
“A mini hike? Sounds good to me.”
She finished putting the camera together and started walking. He followed closely behind. He knew what he did had taken her off guard and probably confused her. But it was all he could do to not look frazzled by his actions and break down and start apologizing. He had to keep it cool. They just had to finish this road trip and then maybe, just maybe he could tell her. But it was possible that she would bring it up. That was just the type of person she was. He’d be shocked if she didn’t bring it up later in the day. He watched her stop along the way and find different things to take photos of, taking a few seconds to look at the picture on her camera, judging if she should retake it or not. She still looked puzzled and he knew that this was probably eating away at her. He couldn’t let her go on like this for three more weeks. It would be cruel. If she didn’t bring it up within a day, he would. He’d tell her. And he wouldn’t be shy about it. He’d be direct. And if it really screwed things up, he’d purchase the plane tickets himself and they’d go home and probably never talk again. But he’d hate that. He would really hate that. Maybe he should just bring it up now. Yes, now is as good a time as ever.
He started to speak when she turned to him and said, “Ok, I think I’m done here. We should go check out that diner. Maybe even try and find the nearest town so we can get more customers.”
Maybe this wasn’t eating away at her. Maybe she was fine after all. Now he was confused. “Ok, sure. If you’re ready.”
“I am.” And she started walking.
They made it back to the van quickly. She got in the driver’s seat, he in the passenger’s. She started the van and turned it around, driving back down toward the diner. She was silent. She didn’t even bother to put the music on and he was afraid to ask about it. So he remained silent as well, looking out the window and occasionally he took small glances in her direction. Her expression was stoic as she looked straight ahead, as if she had a target and wasn’t going to let anything distract her. Not even the moose that appeared on his side of the road about fifty yards away from them. He decided now was not the time to bring anything to her attention. Not the moose. And definitely not his feelings toward her.