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Trek to Cassius
Finn picked away at cornstalks under the boiling sun. A thin layer of sweat developed on the back of his neck, dripping down onto his stained t-shirt. As he picked away, he daydreamed about leaving the farm and going on to pursue his city ambitions. But in this part of the countryside, city ambitions were unrealistic; rather ridiculous than anything. Even Finn’s father laughed at the idea of Finn living the farm. Cassius was it’s name, a city filled with soaring skyscrapers, expensive taxis, and thousands of bustling people. It was the central hub for everything; the stock market, sporting events, research. To many outsiders, living in Cassius was only an entertainment to their imaginations.
But some wouldn’t accept that degrading reality. Finn Kepler, a boy who was always told he was a stubborn son of a gun who never realized his predicament. He was the son of a failing farmer on the countryside of Cassius, in a small town known to many as Odessa. A little over a thousand people lived there, most of them dirt poor farmers grateful for the clothes on their sunburnt backs.
Finn had dreamed of moving to the city his whole life. After eighteen years, he had come to realize his time was starting to slip away. Ever since Finn’s birthday, which was only a month ago, his dad kept nagging him more and more about taking over the farm. He was either going to become a farmer and work his whole life, or he was going to shoot his luck at Cassius.
How could I do this he thought as he chucked away at bland corn stalks. Cassius was at least a day’s time away by car. Finn’s father couldn’t even afford dinner on a daily basis, how was he going to obtain a car? Finn dropped his hoe in the corn stalks, removed his baseball cap off his sweaty dark hair, and rushed inside.
He brushed the thin layer of grime off the old desk in the attic. He sat down with a sheet of paper and a number two pencil and began to brainstorm. On the top of the paper he wrote in fat bold letters Trek to Cassius. After ten minutes staring at the large letters with not one scribble underneath them, Finn remembered. Lacey Fry was lucky enough to have her own pickup truck. How could he forget? He used to drive that rusty red ford all over town with her. The only problem was if Finn asked her, she wouldn’t even let him finish his proposal without saying no. Lacey’s family and Old Man Willis were the only people Finn could think of that had more than one car in Odessa. And Finn knew for certain he wasn’t going to ask Old Man Willis. He wouldn’t even step foot on his moistly cut grass, let alone walk into his house and ask him to drive his truck. And if he went to go ask Lacey he’d be knocking on her door like he had two left hands. At least there’s no chance of Lacey batting me with a cane he thought. He figured he would suck up his pride and at least give a go at asking her.
He tried to sleep on the idea of asking Lacey such a personal proposal, but all he could do was stare up at the bland ceiling, reminiscing on his childhood memories with Lacey. He met her through school when they were only six or seven years old. But the last time Finn had an actual conversation with Lacey was years ago.
The following day Finn woke up extra early to get a head start on his work in the fields. He finished his share of the field just after three. He took a hot shower, combed his hair, and put on the least raggy shirt he could find in his dresser. Finn wheeled out his bicycle from the shed. It was on the verge of snapping like a frail pencil, but it’ll do. He pedaled three miles down the road and then turned onto a dirt path surrounded by open fields. The coarse dirt under the rubber of his tires crunched, making a snaking line down the path. He always thought Lacey’s house was the prettiest in town.
The small ranch style gave it a petite, yet pleasant feel that always seemed to comfort him. Whether it be the daisies on the front porch or the collection of gnomes under the shadbush, it all seemed to fit in perfectly. Finn hopped off his bike, heart beating faster than a bull on parade. He stepped onto their freshly painted porch and knocked on the screen door.
“What are you doing here?!” Lacey walked up to the door in ripped jean shorts and an Endless Summer t-shirt. Finn started to develop a sweat as he stared back at Lacey. Maybe this idea sounded better in Finn’s desperate thoughts.
“Hey Lacey,” Finn finally said. Lacey looked at Finn with confusion on her face. She moved her eyes up and down his body trying to figure why he was there.
“Finn, my dad’s out in the field and he’s gonna be coming in soon.”
“I need your help.” He casually dove into her eyes and gave her a half smile that spoke thousands. “Please?”
“Okay hurry, but you have to keep quiet.” Lacey said. They both sat down in the sun room, which looked out into the prairies behind her yard. Lacey sat on a kitchen chair in the corner of the room so she had the perfect position to see if her dad was walking in. “Alright Finn, what’s up?”
“Okay, it might sound crazy Lacey, but I need your truck.”
“My truck!? For what?” Finn gave her that look one more time. He leaned in towards her.
“Cassius,” he whispered. When Finn and Lacey were younger they would always talk about moving there together when they got older.
“No. I won’t do that.” she said.
“But it’s my chance, our chance, please?”
“No Finn, that’s insane! How’d you think my dad would react?! Or your dad for that matter?!”
“Please, it’s my only chance to leave this dry boring town. And it could be your chance too.”
“Finn no. Even if I wanted to my dad wouldn’t let me drive hundreds of miles with some kid, especially you.” She flipped back her long blonde hair and rolled her eyes in disgust at the whole idea. Creaks sounded at the back door. “Finn you gotta get outta here.” They both stood up and Lacey started to push him out the door.
“Lacey, this could be your chance. Don’t you ever wonder what’s outside of this lifeless town?”
“No, as a matter of fact I don’t.” Finn turned back around as he walked down the porch steps.
“Hey… if you don’t go… twenty years from now you’ll be picking the same crops at the same farm and sleeping in the same bland sheets, asking yourself… what would my life have been like if I went.” She stared at him for a second as if she had just realized the relentlessness in his eyes. The only thing was, she wasn’t realizing his brilliant relentlessness, she was just recognizing it. The door slapped close and Finn rode off through the dusty path as the sun soaked it’s rich orange light across the farmland.
The following day Finn woke up in a dreary state to the sun gleaming through his window. He was starting to give into the reality of being a farmer for the rest of his prolonged, wasted life. At least he was leading on a legacy of sorts, Finn’s father’s father’s great-grandfather was a farmer, and now it was Finn’s time to pick up the shovel and start digging. That’s what his father would always tell him anyways. The digital clock on his nightstand read half past ten. His dad was already out in the fields and probably had been out their since sunrise. Finn slept in which meant he was going to be entrenched in corn stalks until sunset.
As Finn was tying his work boots on he heard the crunching of dirt and the growl of a diesel engine outside his front door. He peered out his bedroom window to a rumbling, faded red pickup truck. He knew exactly who it was, but he didn’t quite know exactly why she was here. Footsteps sounded from his clunky porch steps followed by a couple faint knocks.
Finn leaned over his upstairs’ balcony and looked over to the front door. There stood Lacey, with cut-off jeans and a yellow t-shirt. Lacey didn’t say anything initially when Finn joined her on his porch. Although her lips weren’t moving, her deep blue eyes spoke thousands. “What’s up Lacey?” Finn said trying not to make eye contact.
“You still wanna go?” She asked. Finn’s eyes quickly traveled up to hers. Lacey went on, “What you said when you left. It just got me thinking… I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in this town either. My dad’s always complaining about the farmer’s union and the corn prices, two things I don’t wanna have to worry about in twenty years.” Finn’s pulled his eyes off the porch and onto Lacey’s blushing face. “I thought about it all night. I’d rather at least try and see how many other lives there are outside of this town, then to spend the rest of my life asking myself if I could’ve done anything else but farm.”
Finn’s heart grew and his face lit up looking into Lacey’s deep blue eyes. “Finn? Hello? Is anybody there?” Lacey tried to get Finn’s attention but he was tranced, venturing through the intricate passageways of Lacey’s eyes.
“Oh yeah, so that’s awesome then! We can finally take on that adventure we’d always talk about!” Finn said.
“When are we leaving?”
“Hmmm… I really didn’t think I’d get this far, but as soon as possible because the longer we stay here the harder it’ll be to leave.”
“We can’t just leave whenever we want.” Lacey said. Finn brushed his dark hair off his forehead.
“True, my dad would never let me go to Cassius, especially for why we’re going.” he said.
“How bout’ this, I’ll pick you up tonight around midnight, hit a gas station on our way out of Odessa, and sleep it out until morning.” Lacey explained.
“Yeah but don’t you think my dad and your parents are going to notice we just magically disappeared?”
“I don’t know, just write your dad a note before you leave or something.” She walked off the porch and opened the driver’s door to her truck.
“What should I-”
“Finn, you’re either coming or you’re not. I thought you wanted to go. I’ll be here at twelve sharp tonight.” The pick-up truck vibrated on the dirt. Lacey stepped on the gas, spitting up pebbles on the way out. Finn shuffled over to the back of his house, grabbed his hoe, and stepped into the cornfield to begin his work on the sweltering summer day. He thought hard about the consequences of his trek, the good and bad alike. He told himself as he unconsciously picked at corn, Maybe this will be the last day I ever have to step foot in a cornfield.
Finn finally came in the back door with dirt stains on his knees and dried sweat on his toned biceps. Dinner was already waiting for him at the table. He fell down into the chair stretching his tired legs under the small table. “How’s it lookin’ out there?” Finn’s dad said.
“It’s lookin’ alright, couple dry spots here and there, but still good.”
“It’s good, we have to make it better though son. That chuckin’ I see you doin’ in the fields isn’t gonna do nothin’ but burn your damn back.” Finn looked down at his plate trying to ignore the oncoming storm he saw in his dad’s eyes.
“Pops, I was out there for a whole eight hours today.”
“Dammit Finn, you just don’t know when to shut your goddamn mouth!” He slammed a wet rag on the counter, dirt suds splattering on the surface. A small trash can stood underneath the counter. It was filled with crushed beer cans, some still dripping with foam. Finn’s dad continued to wash the dishes with the persona of a clumsy drunkard. He always drank, that’s why his wife left him and that’s why he is considered the town failure.
Finn went up to his bedroom, locking the door behind him. He gazed out the window, staring out into the clouds. Images of Cassius filled his mind and made its way onto the horizon. He hoped Cassius was as elegant and exciting as he imagined. A strong gust of wind came along, blowing dust into the dry air, and blowing Finn’s Cassius out of his thoughts. He closed his eyes as the falling sun coated his face and wished time would tick faster. After his shower, Finn hopped into bed, flipped his lamp off, and tried to sleep for the next few hours.
The sound of crunching dirt came quickly. Finn opened his eyes to the dimmed headlights of her truck. It was twelve sharp. Lacey’s bleach blonde hair was sticking out like a sore thumb in the darkness. He put on a gray hoodie and grabbed his already packed suitcase lying on the ground beside his bed. He was praying that Lacey wouldn’t honk her horn. His dad was a light sleeper and sure wasn’t going to just let them go.
He took out a ripped piece of loose leaf paper and reached for a pen in his pocket. He quickly scribbled a few words on it and left it on the counter. It read:
Going on a road trip with Lacey. Won’t be back for a couple of days. Sorry, but I couldn’t get out of this one.
See you soon,
Finn gave the note one last glance and sighed as he turned to the door. He knew Pops would get mad, but he also knew this would be one of his only chances to leave. So he took it.
The smell of gasoline greeted Finn as he swiftly locked the door behind him. He tiptoed his way to the car door and jumped in. “It’s about time! I’ve been waiting here for hours.” Lacey said shifting the gear into drive. Finn glanced at the truck’s digital clock.
“It was seven minutes Lacey.” They both chuckled looking ahead at the lit dirt. As they exited Finn’s long driveway excitement filled their bodies, giving their realities a cloaked persona of a dreamstate.
“You know where we’re going?” Finn asked.
“I’ve got an idea. It can’t be that hard. All we gotta do is just make our way north until we spot signs for Cassius.”
“Don’t you think we should have a map?”
“There’s one in the glove compartment I think.” Finn pulled the the large thick paper out of the dash. The deep creases in the old paper indicated it had been folded up and untouched for years. Finn’s eyes navigated through the intricate lines and dots weaving through each other.
“Damn, we’ve got a long way to go.” he said.
“I’ve gotta stop for gas soon. Wanna get gas then shut down for the night?” Lacey asked.
“Yeah, we should get some sleep for tomorrow.”
They pulled into a mom and pop gas station ten miles down the road. Lacey shifted to park and walked out to the pump. Finn peered over his shoulder towards her. He stared intently at her, looking at her big eyes and down her long blonde hair. Feelings inside him were being dug up like an ancient fossil, exciting yet strenuous. He watched her put the nozzle back on the pump and screw on the cap. He leaned back into the passenger seat and closed his eyes. “Not again,” he said.
Lacey hopped back into the driver’s seat and shut the door behind her. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just tired,”
Lacey pulled the truck over to the small deserted parking lot of the gas station. “Good night,” Finn said.
“Night,” The awkward silence of the car turned into restless sleep in minutes. At least for Finn. All he could think about while he shut his eyes was the distasteful look on his dad’s face when he finds the letter. But then he remembered that this was his only chance to a prosperous life outside Odessa.
Glistening sun rays seeped in through the truck windows. Finn slowly opened his eyes, laying on his side facing the car door. There was not a single cloud in the rich blue sky that morning. His seat vibrated and the ground was moving around him.
“It’s about time you wake up! Thought you were dead for second.” Lacey said. The digital clock on the dashboard read a quarter past eight.
“How long have you been up?” Finn asked.
“Woke up around seven. Thought I’d get a head start on the day.” An empty Five-Hour Energy bottled sat in the cupholder between them.
“Well if you get tired or anything just let me know, cause I can drive too.” Finn said.
“I’ll keep it in my mind. But I doubt I’ll need that.” She turned towards him, shooting him a playful smirk.
“You hungry?” Finn asked.
“I’m starving. We should be passing through a town pretty soon. Wanna stop there?”
“Yeah that sounds great.”
About ten miles down the long stretch of road they passed a highway sign:
Welcome to Greensville - a classic home country town.
The empty prairies transformed into small town streets occupianied with pedestrians walking their dogs and small boutiques with window displays. “Hey look, Olga’s Diner. Wanna try it?” Lacey asked.
“Yeah that should due. I don’t see anywhere else we could eat.” The diner looked like it traveled in time from the late fifties. It was on the corner lot, between Cecil Street and Newport Ave. Its chrome finish twinkled in the sun like a freshly cleaned diamond. Almost too perfect.
Lacey parked on the side of Cecil street. They were about fifty yards from the diner. It took them some time to find a parking spot since the place appeared to be bustling with breakfast goers. As Lacey and Finn walked along the street they gazed around at the impeccable victorian style houses. Each house had a picket fence around their healthy green grass, something Odessa lacked.
As they walked closer to the diner smells of bacon and coffee already started to fill their noses. They walked up the small stairs leading up to the front door. Finn held it open. “After you ma’ lady.” he said bowing. Lacey laughed walking in.
“Why are you so silly?” she said with a grin.
The whole place became silent. Finn and Lacey suddenly entered a fish bowl with eyes on them in all directions. Families in church clothes sat in boothes while working men sat at the long bar. The silence ended when Finn said something to the hostess.
“Umm… Hello. Are there any booths available?” he asked.
“No sir, I’m sorry. We are near full this morning.” she said.
“What about the bar?” Lacey said. Towards the end of the bar and near the restrooms laid two deserted black bar stools.
“Umm sure, but the wait is still going to be long.” she said. She gave the two of them laminated menus and smiled. At least on the outside she was smiling. They both walked past families eating breakfast in the booths. Almost every family was giving Finn and Lacey strange looks.
“I guess this town doesn’t see many travelers.” Finn whispered in Lacey’s ear.
“Lets just eat breakfast and get outta here.” she said. A waiter behind the bar approached them. He was in his mid twenties and had short black hair with about a gallon of gel in it.
“Whattya folks having this morning.” he said.
“I’ll take two eggs over easy with a small orange juice please.” Lacey said.
“Same,” Finn said.
There was an older gentleman sitting next to them. He appeared to be there alone and wasn’t really conversing with anyone. “Mama, why are they dressed like that?” a boy in a booth behind them said.
Lacey rolled her eyes at Finn.
“It’s okay, they’re not used to anyone outside these parts.” The old man said. Finn turned to him in relief.
“I know right. All we want is breakfast.” Finn said. “Even the hostess was giving us this strange passive-aggressive vibe.”
“You get used to it living here for long enough.” the man said. The old man’s clothes appeared to be just as raggy as those of Finn and Lacey. “The name’s Sam by the way. Sam Oliphant.” Finn shook his hand.
“I’m Finn, and this is my… friend Lacey.”
“Nice to meet you.” Lacey said.
“Pleasure as well,” Sam said softly shaking Lacey’s hand. “So where y’all from?”
“Odessa, about an hour and half drive Southwest.” Lacey said.
“Yeah I’m familiar with Odessa. My good friend lived out there for a while, helped him farm.”
“Lucky you got to leave.” Finn exclaimed.
“What are ya doin’ here in Greensville then?”
“We’re on our way to Cassius.” Finn said. Sam suddenly looked disappointed. The young waiter walked out of the kitchen door with two white plates holding two eggs on each of them.
“Here you go folks,” the waiter said. He was walking so fast he didn’t even give them the chance to say thank you. Finn and Lacey started to eat like they hadn’t had food in a year.
“Why you guys lookin’ to go to Cassius?” Sam asked.
“New opportunities,” Lacey said.
“Oh okay, I remember those days.”
“Whatta you mean? You lived in Cassius when you were younger?” Finn asked. “Naa, I deliver packages there from time to time. Actually I should be heading into the city sometime this evening.”
“Oh wow. You like it there?” Lacey asked. Sam looked straight into their eyes as if he was navigating through their inexperienced souls. Finn and Lacey could feel the wear in his life.
“All these young men and women are always looking to go to the big city, the concrete jungle where dreams are made right? In reality most of ‘em never truly make anything out of it. Yeah I used to live in Cassius. I did the same thing you two are doin’ now. I lived there for a couple years, then those filthy screwballs took all my money, all my hard work. Now I’m just like everyone else on the countryside; poor and tired.” Lacey and Finn looked at him for a couple seconds. Their jaws nearly dropped as they processed the words spitting out of this old man’s mouth.
“Oh… Okay… We’re just curious that’s all.” Lacey finally said trying cut around Sam’s confrontation. Lacey and Finn both knew her statement was a total lie. Sam gave them a faint smile as he sipped his black coffee, admiring their attractive youth.
“Oh alright, well you two be careful up there.” he said.
“Thank you sir, it was nice talking to you.” Finn said leaving money on the table.
“Nice meeting you again,” Lacey said as they stood from their stools.
Finn and Lacey walked back to their truck, past the perfectly kept houses, and without saying a word. As Lacey started up the engine she gave a slight chuckle. Finn could tell it was out of nerves. “That was an odd experience.” she said.
“Tell me about it. I don’t think I ever had that many eyes on me at the same time.” The tires grinded out off the curb. They past a sign as they exited Greensville telling them to come back soon. And of course it had a perfect family waving goodbye on the huge billboard. Finn turned on the radio breaking the silence. Against the Wind by Bob Seger switched on. Finn always admired that song. He gazed out into the farmland, a site he was most comfortable with. His eyelids suddenly began to feel like heavy weights and soon he could not hold them up anymore. Seconds into his late morning power nap Lacey started up.
“Didn’t you think that guy was looking at us weird?” she said. Finn sighed in annoyance.
“Yeah Lacey, everyone was lookin’ at us weird.”
“No, this was a different kind of weird though. Like he knew something.”
“Lacey he was just some crazy farmer coming back from the fields.” Finn started to slowly shut his eyes again trying to ignore Lacey’s anxiety.
“Don’t you think it’s a sign though. Like maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.” Finn’s eyes quickly burst open.
“No Lacey, I’m telling you. What we’re doin’ is the right thing to do.” She clenched her teeth together making a strong indent in her petite jawline. She switched the radio off.
“Finn, I don’t think you understand. We could seriously get hurt doing what we’re doing.”
“It’s our only chance though.” Finn said.
“Oh my God. Don’t give me that bullshit again! You’re so stubborn all the time! Didn’t you learn your lesson when we were dating?” Silence reentered the truck. The combative silence was accompanied by the purr of the engine. Both of them were breathing heavy and their hearts were racing. With the headstrong character Finn possessed, he couldn’t let Lacey finish with a piercing phrase like that one.
“It wasn’t all my of my fault our relationship went down the drain.” he said. Lacey turned towards him with eyes wide.
“Oh really? You think making out with that sleazy french exchange student wasn’t your fault?!?”
“No. Go to hell Finn. You know it was all your fault. Your just too much of a coward to admit it.” Back to silence. Finn started to regret what he said as his frowned face looked straight ahead. Lacey flipped the radio back on. An infomercial about a new, state of the arche farming tractor played. They were both appalled by the add, but neither of them shut it off. Anything was better than the shameful silence of their past.
Almost a whole twenty minutes had past before either of them said anything. The radio played and their stiffened necks looked forward onto the desolate road. Finn drew a rather large sigh and twisted his neck towards hers. “I’m sorry,” he said trying to avoid eye contact.
“Sorry for arguing with me or sorry for fucking the french girl?” Finn sighed once more and slowly started to shake his head.
“Both okay, I’m sorry for everything. I shouldn't have done that and I should’ve owned up to it.” he said. Lacey took her brimming eyes off the road and looked over at Finn. She shot him a breezy smile and laughed through the deepness of her eyes.
“I guess I could forgive you. It’s been long enough” she said. Finn lifted his head and gave her a large grin. They looked at each other for a moment. Their eyes met, seeping past memories through their internal firewalls.
Back home, in the ever-so-exciting town of Odessa, a volcano was soon to erupt. Finn’s dad found his note that morning only a couple hours after he had left. He is a light sleeper, remember? He ended up ripping the note out of the excruciating anger Finn had burst open inside of him. He was also frustrated with himself. He should of saw it coming from miles away. It’s not like this was the first time Finn had tried pulling these shifty plans.
Pops had to think fast. The clock was approaching five in the morning when he started to make some calls. He made a quick call or two, waited a little bit, drank his coffee, and stared out the window over the kitchen sink. Then the phone rang.
He rushed over to the phone nearly spilling his burning coffee all over the kitchen counter. “Hello, hello?” he said in the telephone.
“Hey bill, everything alright?” a deep voice asked.
“I’m afraid not, a huge problem had come to my attention moments ago.”
“Well bill, you know process. Just give me the details.”
“Its my son. He’s run away and I’m worried he won’t come back.”
“Well you know where he went off to?” Pops paused for a moment. He looked down at the ripped pieces of Finn’s note that laid on the counter. He picked a paper shred up and grinned.
“I know exactly where he went.”
Just before the sun had greeted the earth’s facade, a dangerous gentleman had left his house, and was on his way to Cassius.
The radio rocked out to Johnny Cash oldies while Finn and Lacey stared out onto the never-ending highway. They advanced towards a grand red bridge. In fact, it matched Lacey’s truck quite tastefully. As they traveled across the soaring bridge, a flowing river spread out below them. They were both astonished by this worthy body of water. Well, to them, any substantial body of water will seem like Nirvana after living in Odessa their whole lives.
The bridge passed and they entered into the livid town of Toms River. Elementary kids pedaled through the clean side streets and middle-aged women meandered about browsing antique stores and boutique shops. It looked like the perfect town to raise a family in. They both saw a small sandwich shop on the corner. Finn’s stomach rumbled in the passenger seat.
“Want to?” Lacey asked already pulling off to the side of the road. Finn nodded his head peering out the window.
They walked into the small shop. There was a cashier standing behind the counter. There were only four small tables with wooden stools surrounding them. Lacey ordered a half italian sub and Finn ordered a buffalo chicken sandwich. They sat in the corner next to a blurry window reflecting the glimmer in the pickup’s fender.
“We should be getting pretty close to Cassius once we leave here.” Lacey said as she wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“Already? I feel like we haven’t traveled that far.” Finn dove into his sandwich like a little kid eating ice cream.
“Well it’s been practically a whole day.” Lacey exclaimed.
“Yeah true. I guess time flies when you’re having fun right?” Finn looked across the table to Lacey and gave her his signature look that no like-minded girl could ever reject. Lacey couldn’t resist to look back into his soulful eyes.
“Oh, is that what they say?” she said smiling back at him. “I’ve had a good time so far Finn. I never thought I’d say it, but I wouldn’t want to go to Cassius with anyone else.” Finn’s face lit up.
They finished their sandwiches shooting smiles back and forth to one another. The cashier waved them goodbye and they walked out to Lacey’s car to continue their journey.
The sun’s face was running from the horizon by the time they got back onto the highway. As they were getting closer to Cassius they started to see more cars and pass more towns. The rolling prairies gradually transformed into street suburbs and desolate construction sites. “This might be the farthest away I’ve been from Odessa in my whole life.” Finn said.
“Me too,” Lacey said. “I’m starting to feel butterflies in my stomach.”
“Yeah I am too,” Finn said. The dark clouds above them started to appear very heavy. The sky started to cry, dropping small droplets of moisture onto the car’s windows. As the rain continued to get heavier and heavier Lacey switched her windshield wipers on. Cars started to slow and the roads turned slick.
For everyone else, the rain was a nuisance; an inconvenience rather. But for Lacey and Finn, it was a drug full of excitement. The last time they saw rain like this was years ago. Finn rolled down his window and stuck his whole arm out, exposing it to the cold, raw weather. He closed his eyes while Lacey watched in amusement. The refreshing touch of the cold drops traveled to his toes.
Finn stared at his drenched arm with the biggest grin on his face. Then he looked at Lacey who was holding in laughter. Finn leaned over and playfully wiped his arm on her shoulder. “Finn, stop! You’re getting me wet!” Lacey said barely getting the words out over laughter. He stopped and then gave her a towel from the back seat. They both laughed uncontrollably as Lacey dried her shoulder and Finn dried his arm.
“Hey look! You see that in the distance?” Finn said pointing out above the horizon. The large patch of trees passed and there it was; in it’s awe, covered in smog. Cassius looked out in the distant fog. It’s bright lights barely making it to where Finn and Lacey were.
“We’re really close now.” Lacey said with a nervous smile on her face.
As the rain started to dissipate, a thick layer of fog soaked the atmosphere, making it difficult to see even fifty yards in front of them.
“This fog is starting to get heavy.” Finn said.
“I know right. I feel like I’m in one of those corny horror movies.” They passed a large green sign directing them towards the city.
The highway was approaching full and Lacey struggled trying to switch into the correct lane. After they merged into their lane they advanced to a long tunnel going under knots of industrial bridges. It let them avoid the concrete madness that stirred on the outskirts of the city. The tunnel wouldn’t be considered any better though. As Lacey and Finn drove through the narrow tunnel, they noticed numerous tribes of homeless souls, trudging along side the filthy underground hell-hole that they were forced to call home. Lacey tried to keep her eyes on the license plate in front of them. Finn stared out the window quivering like a child after a bad dream.
The light at the end of the tunnel was finally reached. They were out of the horrible burrow, but most importantly they were finally in the city. The ultimate goal. They slowly drove past busy city goers on the sidewalk. All of them had the look of determination on their faces. But something felt off. In this horribly large city, they were missing an essential piece.
They kept driving around gazing up at tall, strong skyscrapers that stood above them. Finn and Lacey had never seen a building over two or three stories high. There jaws were nearly dropping to their toes as they took in the city environment.
Since their time approaching Cassius, Lacey frequently looked in her rearview mirror. Once they exited the tunnel and entered the city Finn started to notice. “Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, just noticed something a little strange, but nothing major.”
“Well, what?” he asked. Finn peered over his shoulder trying to figure out what she’s been regularly peeking at.
“It’s just the car behind us. It’s been on my tail for at least fifty miles now.” she said.
“Hmmm… That’s a little weird. Every window is tinted black too.”
They drove around for a bit. They turned through congested corners full of bright yellow taxis, and passed the diverse characters roaming the side streets and alleyways. “So where do we go now?” Lacey asked. Finn was about to say something but then realized he didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t know. Isn’t that funny? We get all the way down here and don’t know what to do.” he said chuckling.
“How ‘bout we just park in the Cassius mall parking lot and recollect our thoughts.” Lacey said.
“Oh okay, that sounds best.”
It only took them a minute to get to the parking lot. The mall’s parking lot consisted of probably over a thousand spots. This made it the most open space in the whole city. The clock was approaching nine and for one reason or another the mall didn’t seem to be too busy. They backed into the corner spot all the way on the opposite side of the mall. “I need some fresh air. Let's go out and sit on the bumper.” Lacey said.
They both hopped out of the truck and into the thick fog. Lacey took a rag from the back seat and wiped off the top of the truck. They both sat next to each other, trying to find warmth from the brisk air. They both listened. They digested the city sounds, city sights, and city feelings. Lacey sighed and slowly slouched her back. “It’s something, isn’t it?” she said.
“Yeah,” Finn said. He looked down in disappointment and shook his head.
“Hold on, I cannot lie to myself any longer, it sucks here.” he said. Lacey turned towards him with eyes wide. He went on, “I just don’t see me here now that I’m actually here.”
“What’d you mean?” Lacey asked. Finn stared into her Mediterranean blue eyes.
“What I mean to really say is, I don’t see us here.” he said. “The problem is if I start living here, I’m going to feel as if I’m missing something. And that something is a part of my life I can’t live without.”
“What is it?” Lacey asked. Her eyes bursted with vulnerableness.
“Lacey, I need you. These past couple of months I’ve felt empty. And when we went on this trip together, my body became full again; strong again. All this time I thought this hollow city was going to fulfill my dreams, but I’ve come to realize it has been you all along. And now that I know, I never want to let you go. And... I...” Lacey inched closer to Finn on the cold metal truck. Their eyes never broke focus as their lips creeped closer and closer.
Finn wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him. So close he could feel her heartbeat on his, beating in a rhythmic sync. Lacey’s soft lips gave Finn the feeling that he was truly living. For once in Finn’s life, he didn’t want to do anything else but sit in that cold, wet parking lot and kiss his true soulmate.
Their lips finally separated and Lacey rested her head on his broad shoulder. She closed her eyes as Finn squeezed her tight.
On the opposite side of the parking lot, out from an alleyway, two headlights turned on and beamed out onto the street. It slowly drove around the large lot with keen stealth and ease.
“Lacey, open your eyes for a second.” The car creeped closer and closer to them, advancing past each parking spot. Lacey shot up and squinted towards the car.
“This doesn’t look good Finn. Tinted windows, just like the car that was following us,” she said. The car’s bright headlights blinded Finn and Lacey still sitting on the bumper.
The car came to a halt perpendicular to the truck, making it impossible for the two of them to escape. It was too close for comfort. A large man, more of a brute, stepped out of the drivers side in a long, dark trench coat with a black hat. He had a glock in his hand.
Finn and Lacey’s adrenaline rose. The hairs on the back of their necks grew, sticking out like tall grass. They were frozen in shock as they eyed his intimidating gun. Finn tried to look at his face, but his hat cloaked a thick shadow over his eyes making it very difficult to see.
“Hello Finn,” the large man said. Finn held his arm in front of Lacey’s chest.
“Who are you?!” Finn said.
“Your father sent me Finn.” Finn’s brow raised. Then it clicked. Pops would talk about him when he was drunk.
“If you have any problems or feel like you’re in any danger sonny, just call him.” his father would always mumble.
“Finn, it be best for all of us if you two would just get in the car.” the man said.
“And why would I do that?” Finn said.
“Cause if you don’t, I’ll have to force you to get in, and you don’t want that.” he said. Finn stood up.
“Try me,” he said.
Finn bolted at the large man and swung at his cloaked face. The brute fell back, smacking into his car. His glock fell to the wet concrete. Finn threw another lugger his way, but the man quickly ducked like a boxer. Finn’s fist banged into the window of the car. It nearly shattered, cutting Finn’s hand and turning it bloody red.
The brute kneed him in the stomach and slugged a fist to his nose. Blood was oozing down Finn’s mouth and dripping from his nostrils. The man picked up his glock and turned back to Finn, who was lying helplessly on the wet ground. “No! Finn!” Lacey yelled. She dashed over to the brute and tried to stop him, but there was nothing she could do. The man pushed her away with one arm like she was small dog biting at his ankles. Her petite body smacked the hard blacktop. The man became engulfed with anger. His eyes were fiery red and he breathed vigorously. He pointed the gun to Finn’s head. This was it they thought. They drove all that way not to their dreams, but to their deaths.
Headlights were seen in the distance. The man was lit by the oncoming van. The van was driving almost double the speed limit on the empty street next to the lot. “You should’ve listened Finn.” the man said with an evil grin.
The beat-up van bounced off the curb and over the small patch of grass. The brute turned towards the van with his glock still pointed at Finn’s head. He soon realized it was too late to move out of the way.
The van collided with his large body. He flipped over the front windshield. His hat went flying in the opposite direction and his gun slid across the concrete. The van left a gigantic dent in the front fender of the brute’s car. The brute himself was unconscious, lying on the ground a few feet from his vehicle.
“Are you guys okay?!” a familiar voice yelled from the driver’s seat of the van. Lacey intently looked at him, trying to figure out who it was.
“Oh my God! Sam!” she yelled. He jumped out of the smoking van and knelt over to Finn.
“He’s hurt bad Sam. We need to call an ambulance or something.” Lacey said.
“Already did,” he said. “I noticed your red truck while I was delivering a package. Knew it was trouble right when I saw the other car pull up.” Sam took his jacket off and wrapped it around the wounds of Finn’s face.
“I don’t know how to thank you.” Lacey said.
“Don’t,” he said.
“You guys have a place to stay?” he asked.
“No, not at the moment.” she said.
“I’ve got my hunting cabin in Toms River. You can stay there for as long as you want until you get your feet back under you.” he said.
Sirens from the distance sounded. An ambulance and two cop cars raced into the lot. Finn squeezed Lacey’s trembling hand as the ambulance pulled up. She brushed the hair out of his charming eyes and said, “We made it Finn. We made it.”