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it was what she always said, on those days when tears stroked Mina's cheeks like old friends, when the car wouldn't start and they slept on its roof, and she filled Mina's hair with flowers as she slept, so that Mina would awake fresh as a daisy, ready to keep driving. any spare change they had went into the glove box, also known as the coffee jar; it was there that they kept the money that kept the caffeine supply constant--a necessity for driving through the days and nights, but not enough of one to merit coming out of the official money stock, which was hidden under the loose cushion of the driver's seat. when their spare change ran out, Piper had the uncomfortable task of finding the biggest wishing fountain in whatever tiny town they were in that day, and taking all the coins people had cast into it. under the moonlight, the coins shone like the pebbles in 'Hansel and Gretel', the ones that led the children home. she tried to believe the coins had a similar purpose, since they kept her and Mina going. going home? who knew.
they had left arizona at one in the morning, and drove northwest until they reached seattle. (Mina had heard that it rained a lot in seattle. she had always found rain cleansing, and with the fresh beginning of the endless road, wanted them pure). after seattle, montana. (Piper had heard that it was sunny in montana. she had always found sunshine energizing, and with the fresh beginning of the endless road, had a feeling they'd need whatever energy they could get). after montana, they went on and on, sometimes with a destination in mind and sometimes not. this freedom of motion and future lent a sense of independence and adventure to the small car, to the motels and gas stations, but they relied wholly on money, not being able to cash their dreams, or eat their love. whenever they ran out, they stopped in the nearest town, parked the car somewhere safe, and set out. Mina sold the small projects that kept her busy throughout the long car rides—scarves, hats, baby shoes, hammocks. Piper would get a job as a waitress or clerk. the work was mindless and tedious, but she enjoyed it--people interested her, and she liked the short glimpses into normal life. between the two of them, they refreshed their coffers, and set off once more.
and so they always had, and always would.
it was what she always said, but each time she said it, Mina heard it as though it was new and unusual and special, and smiled like a field where grass grows high high high, just like she had the day they met. Mina had been walking on a path through a park when Piper came screeching around the bend on her bicycle. to avoid squishing Mina (who, to Piper, had suddenly appeared, unwelcome, in her way), Piper steered right into the bushes. when Piper strode out of the bushes--even then, Piper strode--the scratches on her legs and arms fiery against her skin, Mina smiled at her. not many people would've taken a fall for a stranger, she thought. Piper was special.
and then Piper started yelling at her for having stood there, deer-in-the-headlights style, while she nearly killed herself in the bushes, and Mina started crying, because she hated people who yelled, and that was not such a great start, Piper thought, feeling uncomfortably accountable for Mina’s tears; so she took Mina by the arm, and offered her a blueberry muffin out of her bicycle basket.
they sat on a bench together.
the next day, around the same time, they sat some more, eating the graham crackers and apple juice that happened to be in the picnic basket Mina happened to be carrying when she happened upon Piper.
Piper left taffy on the bench the following morning, as an offering.
Mina left a note:
let’s be friends.
and in the following years, when Piper discovered boys and Mina literature, they stuck together. Piper wrote adjective-filled poems in cursive with hearts doodled in the margins, and Mina read. now mature and grown-up, they refrained from sharing thoughts at a whim, teasing, poking, tickling.
at times, the future haunted them. Piper began grinding her teeth at night, and Mina couldn’t stop clenching her fists.
in the years after that, Piper lay on her back on the grass and found shapes in the clouds. Mina lay on her stomach and found ants making homes. they didn't speak, but it wasn't because of barriers, and not because of insecurity. sometimes there's no need to speak. sometimes, people just exist.
so it wasn't a real surprise when, one day, their faces were close, and touched. it was nice, actually. natural, in a way. when one lies in a park, in a meadow no one else knows, and the gentle breezes passing through stroke one's face like old friends, and one feels a kinship with the earth, and the sky, and with the person who is there and sharing the sentiment, a peace settles over one's mind. everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts.
and the feeling persisted--not only through the warm spring, when Mina and Piper lay in their meadow, but through the hot summer, when they lay gasping on the beach, salty and sandy and too happy for words, and through the cool fall, when they picked apples and ate them every imaginable way, and through the freezing winter, when they collapsed on each other like sleepy puppies in an attempt to keep warm, which was hard, even though they had at least three blankets covering them, so Piper was putting her hands on Mina's face, rubbing her cheeks and ears and forehead and nose, trying her best to project heat or absorb the cold, finally letting her hands wander through Mina's hair,
kissing her gently,
when Mina's mother came in, with hot chocolate and gingerbread, calling cheerfully
"girls, girls, look--"
girls in small christian towns didn't do things like that. certainly not, never ever. Mina's mother explained this gently. but firmly.
they were 15. they were still made of sugar, with minimum amounts of spice.
what could they do?
it was what she always said, and Piper missed saying it, and Mina missed it hearing it, but it wasn’t going to happen again. that was the plan. Piper's boyfriend was not just a junior high boyfriend anymore, but a full-on suitor. Mina was not just a smart girl anymore, but a girl with a bright future ahead of her. Piper would marry, around 20, most likely, and Mina would be a nurse. their families would be proud when Piper had children, when Mina saved lives. it was a direct case of cause-and-effect, and worked both ways—their families’ pride was be the drive behind their goals. this, they understood.
still, eventually they started talking again, and eventually, they started thinking again.
what Mina thought was, what was i thinking?
the whole affair was just too complicated to be considered. they had paths, straying was not allowed, end of story. they were friends, and good ones too, but it simply wasn't reasonable for that to affect her feelings and consequently her whole entire life and world as she knew it. for another, Mina, while not happy without Piper, couldn't be happy with her, either. not like that, anyway.
what Piper thought was, what wasn't i thinking?
the whole affair was just too complicated to be ignored. for one thing, Piper's boyfriend wasn’t someone she would be happy marrying. he was messy and she was tidy--both physically and mentally. for another, Mina would not be happy with a career-based life. her intellect was considerable, but supplemented by her heart.
and yet they would grow, grow into the molds left behind by generation after generation of the exact same people.
yet they might not. they didn't have to. why did they have to? they did.
perhaps not, thought Piper.
she sent a letter to Mina. it read,
"dear Mina i have been thinking. do you remember the days when i had a bicycle and you didn't? you sat in its basket and i rode you around. you're not too big to do that--you haven't grown much. sit in the basket and we could ride anywhere. we could ride
they tried it, just once. there was the road. there were they.
the wind was against them, it stung their cheeks and Mina screamed into it "stop stop stop" and Piper found the whole thing exhilarating beyond belief until she realized Mina was talking to her. she stopped, there in the road.
Mina jumped out of the basket. her cheeks were red and her eyes watery and she yelled at Piper, yelled at Piper like Piper had yelled at her the day they met, yelled at Piper like Mina had never ever yelled at Piper because Mina was kind and gentle and Piper was not and that suited them both perfectly because Piper took care of Mina (after that first day) and when Mina was done yelling, she flung herself down on the ground, lay face down like she was making an angel on the concrete on her stomach; and Mina said, she said
"that bike's not going to take us far enough."
"we'll need a car."
a minute later, but as if part of the same thought:
"to get where we're going."
nothing changed, nothing at all changed. nothing, absolutely nothing changed, in everyone else’s mind. the girls moved forward, towards their futures. Piper broke up with her sweetheart, who wouldn't be able to provide for her, lazy as he was. Mina got a job at the library, because she needed money for college, and it paid well.
they didn't go to their meadow, and they never rode on Piper’s bicycle again. they didn't even talk, until the day months and months later when Mina went out with her father's car to practice driving, because everyone drives in the big cities where she would be working one day, and picked Piper up, because Piper needed to go into town to buy thread, and they went to the used car sales and bought a car. Piper drove it to their park, left it in the vacant lot. Mina went home to her father.
a couple of weeks later, people were asking questions about the car. rumors of serial killers, of stalkers arose. sick with guilt and high off pride, Piper told a friend it was hers and Mina's. why would you two need a car? asked a friend. well, for the backseat, joked Piper…
that was not the right thing to say, in a town like that, in an age like that.
the sort of things they said--well. Mina and Piper weren't coming back, anyway. not once they left. and it was just too easy to leave.
it was what she always said, but it was potent, even dangerous, the first time the night sky wrapped around them, the first night they saw the sun set and rise, the first night they were gone. Mina sang, that night. they weren't sure whether her voice would be audible out the window. they hoped not. voices were identity, identity was traceable, and traceable was what they had always been. all they traced back to was their past, and they hoped their past was contained in that little town, contained like a jar with its lid sealed tight.
but the next town was the same. and the next. and the next.
they drove for days. days and nights they drove. through the weeks, through the months.
it became a habit, not settling. when they stayed too long, the town became somewhere they couldn’t stay. they grew to enjoy wandering. the roads were their home.
it was when she started saying it: when they picked up random maps to decide their next location, when following the north star became sensible, when they walked through towns and saw the faces that saw their hands locked together and knew that the people had no idea who they were and it did not matter, that they were overtly sinful, that introductions weren't needed.
once she started saying it, it became a fixture in their minds: a mantra, a lullaby. something that made it all worth it, regardless of everything.
and she said it, she said it, every day that passed as they wound their way on and even when she didn't say it even when it was too much to make words exit their mouths (as if they really needed words by then) even when she didn't say it it was still there, it hung in the air it pushed the currents it lingered on their skin it blew in the wind it was written on leaves it was nutrients in their blood it was carved into trees it was printed on grass it was burned into the stars it was solid like bones and light like feathers it was tough like leather and soft like pillows it was fluid like water and heavy like bowling balls it wasn't a rule but a gift it wasn't a prayer but a fact. it was loaded on their tongues and crafted in the tires, it was what they whispered in their sleep as they fled from their lives:
even if the world were to never forgive us
and we are eventually consumed by our actions
i'll never stop loving you.