We’re driving and you’re fussing with the vents.
You’re always like this, hands fluttering, un-sitting, you cross and uncross your knees. It’s both too early and too late for anyone else on the highway. I’m ramped up on caffeine and the sun is shy behind the horizon and the fog is crooning.
“Thanks again for coming,” I say.
My heart is a race car but my eyes are weary as you give me a grin that you reserve just for me. It’s an acknowledgement you’d drive all night for me, but it doesn’t make you angry, the restlessness in you is growing and I don’t know how to fix it. So when I can I pull off and we stand in who-knows-where USA. There is nothing but meadow and mist and the distant sounds of a highway. The ground is wet as we lean against the car and watch the fog tumble.
“I could murder you out here,” you whisper.
It feels like whispering weather.
“Nobody would look for weeks.”
“Too easy,” I murmur, “you’re the obvious killer.”
You hum an acknowledgement, tilting your head from one side to the other.
“I could always leave the country,” you say.
There’s a crack in your low voice. I let your words and the cricket silence happen and eventually, when I feel like either I ask or you burst, I say,“Do you want to talk about it?”
You flip one hand up.
“You’re leaving,” you say.
“Yeah.” It escapes me.“I’m sorry.”
You shake your head.
“No, not a problem, but…” You look up to the sky, then back down again and your voice gets so soft I have to lean in closer than we have allowed in the past.
“I feel like…I’m not doing anything. Like I’m biding time, or something–like, what happens next? Do I get a job I don’t really want? What happens to us, this thing? What happens when you graduate and follow your dreams and my dreams lie there, rotting?”
You tilt your head back until it leans on the car, your curly jungle of hair gets wet. I slip my calloused hands between yours and hold on with all the life that has been stolen from us through the years.
“Every time I go through a city I think about how many people are living, not doing what they love, but living, doing something, because we need to make money, and they get used to it. Like, maybe they find good-enough. But they don’t get their first love or that job they always wanted.”
As I speak, you look up at me despite the three inches of height that separates us, I think you’re talking directly to my shoulder as you say,
“How long? How long until I stop wanting big things and settle for a fold-out table making me happy?”
I take a deep breath. It’s a lot to digest. I feel guilty chewing on it while I have a future, even if it’s a short-term kind of thing. I know where you’re coming from. It’s the reason I started running. It’s the reason I said “yes” to undiscovered roads. It’s the reason that when I picture post-graduation my stomach feels funny.
“You could kill me,” I say instead.“Make it look like we stopped for coffee and someone attacked me.”
You look up at me. At times like this, the stillness that gets into makes me scared you’ll turn to stone. Like all the joy in you is gone.
So I keep talking.
“All that bright future you think I have would evaporate, but you’d keep living. And yeah, maybe you’d have good-enough for a while. But once you’re stable, once you’ve got good-enough, you’d have a foundation. And the body you killed would sort of fade, all those mistakes you made. You’d have a future that wasn’t a wide door but instead one you made, and that’s pretty powerful.”
I was trying to make you laugh, but you sigh. “Yeah, I know. Lots of famous people got started when they were older.”
“No,” I say, “I meant you’re already started.”
The sun is starting to come up. I need a nap and more tea but I continue to speak instead.
“If you’re not dead, you’re still living–having a college career doesn’t guarantee me anything. I could flip the car the minute we get back into it.”
But you’ve closed whatever lock you’d opened. You lift one shoulder and open the passenger door.
“Yeah,” you whisper, “But you won’t.”
We get in the car. And I don’t.