It all started when Mom died. I know, what a way to start a story. Only, it isn’t sad, or tragic or full of sobbing cousins and dozens of empty kleenex boxes. I was at a flower shop in Manchester when I got the call from my dad, saying mom had been in an accident. They’re never accidents. Just bad timing and a total lack of luck, that’s all they ever are. My younger sister Becky was already at home, consoling Dad and keeping him from going crazy. Thirty five years they’d been married, only to have it taken away by a single flash of headlights and the sound of shattering glass.
It takes almost forty hours to drive from Connecticut to Edmonton, not including pit stops and roadblocks and too-busy gas stations. Forty hours of crappy radio music and the protesting sounds of my car as I push its limits. But I will. I will push every limit.
My mom was never the “motherly” type. Sure, she fed us and kept us clothed and would usually remember to pack our lunches, but she was never the one who picked us up from school if we got sick and she never attended a single parent day in elementary school. Or middle school. Or high school. She never came to my grade twelve grad, and forgot all about Becky’s soccer games. I was surprised when she called me last week to wish me a happy 21st birthday, even though she was obviously in a club, getting drunk enough for the both of us and even though it was the first I heard from her in over a year. She didn’t even send me a card.
My car is stuffed with bags and McDonald’s, the smell of grease and gas filling my lungs. My parents bought me this car when I was sixteen years old and I’ve had it ever since. I’m used to the sound of squeaking brakes and the sixty dollar gas fill ups. As I get into the seat, I hear a voice from behind me.
“Hey Paige! Where you off to?” Carter asks, his voice carrying across the sidewalk and filling my eardrums. I groan.
“I’m going home. Why? Whaddya want?” I ask. Carter only ever talks to me when he wants something. Usually it’s booze or a ride somewhere and occasionally he wants food.
“Listen hey I need a ride. I’ll pay you and everything but I gotta get back to Edmonton. Mom called me last night to remind me that it’s my sister’s wedding in a few days and I really need to be there. Please?” he asks, making the pouty face that he does whenever he’s desperate. I sigh melodramatically, holding it for one, two, three seconds before banging my head on the steering wheel.
“Fine. Base rules: I pick the music and we stop when I need to, not when you need to. You pay for your own food, and I want two hundred dollars. For gas. Go get your stuff. I’m leaving in fifteen minutes,” I say. The second the words come out of my mouth, I regret them. His face breaks out into a goofy grin and he runs back inside the apartment, disappearing inside momentarily before stepping out into the open air, pulling a suitcase behind him. I scoff. “Really? You had your stuff ready the whole time?”
“Course I did. I knew you would give me a ride. You always do. Hey, you mind popping the trunk?” he asks. I do, and he tosses his suitcase in. The weight of it makes my car bounce. Carter slams the trunk and slides into the front seat, tossing around empty fast food bags with his feet. “Dude, your car is a mess,” he says.
“Yeah well, so is my life. At least I’m consistent,” I reply. By the time I look over to see if he’ll reply, he’s already asleep.
Carter only lasts forty minutes before he’s practically bouncing around in the car.
“But Paiiiiiiiige I really gotta pee!” He whines, hands holding his prized jewels as sweat drips down his forehead.
“Didn’t you go before we left?” I ask. He shakes his head. “God, you’re like a two year old. Fine.” I pull over and he all but leaps out of the car, scrambling to the bushes. Within seconds I hear him sigh contentedly. This is going to be a long drive.
We make it to Cleveland before we decide to stop for the night, pulling into the cheapest motel in the city. I get out and stretch my legs and Carter tumbles out of his side of the car, landing in a heap on the ground.
“What the h--- are you doing?” I ask. He looks up to me, his face red. He scrambles up to his feet and wipes off his pants.
“Who me? Nothing. Nothing I just thought it would be cool to see what the pavement in Cleveland smells like. That’s all. You ready to head inside?” I nod my head and we walk through the front door of the office.
“So wait, you’re telling me the only room you have left has one bed?” I ask the secretary, my face burning up as Carter laughs behind me. The secretary nods as though she knows something I don’t.
“There’s one bed, and it’s a queen. That’s all I’ve got for you two,” she says. I groan and reach into my wallet, pulling out the thirty dollars needed for the night. She hands me the key and I turn and walk out the door, Carter trailing behind me.
“You should have seen your face oh my god that was amazing,” Carter laughs, his voice beating through my ears like the drums of H---.
“I get the bed,” I say. Then, I run to the room.
“No, there is no way in h--- I’m sharing the bed with you oh MY GOD CARTER GET UP!” I shout. He climbed into the bed just before I fell asleep and passed out before I could get him off. I shake his shoulder, trying to jar him out of his personal coma. When it’s obvious none of the lights inside his head are gonna turn on, I roll out of the bed and take the spare blanket before walking to the car. The suitcases are all inside the room, so the backseat is empty. I grab my mini travel pillow from the glove box and stick it under my head, prepared for a night of fitful sleep.
I make Carter drive for the first few hours until we reach Indiana. He complained at first, but when I pointed out that I was tired and he wasn’t, he obliged. A couple hours after we left Cleveland, Carter shakes my shoulder and I wake up.
“What is it?” I ask, glaring at him between my eyelashes.
“Dude, you were crying. You okay?” he says. I nod and turn back over onto my side, falling asleep before my eyes are even closed.
We stop what seems like minutes later, but the sky says different. It’s almost eleven o’clock, and we’re just outside of Des Moines, Omaha.
“Carter…?” I ask. His face is puzzled and he’s staring intently at a car on the side of the road.
“Bro, I think that lady’s car broke down. I gotta go help. Be right back,” he says before sliding out of the car. I watch in horror as he walks up to the driver’s side window and knocks on it. The window rolls down and he’s talking to someone. I lock the doors. No way in hell am I letting some creep into my car. He steps away from the window and opens the door to reveal… a little old lady in a pink suit.
“You’re kidding me,” I breathe out, the words barely forming a coherent sound. An elderly man gets out on the other side, and Carter helps walk them back to my car. He catches me watching and just shakes his head before opening the back door of my car for the little old lady and her husband. I feign sleep and listen.
“Alright Mrs. Robinson, where was it you two needed to go again?” Carter asks, the cheer in his voice sounding almost fake.
“HAH?” she replies, and I look up to see her holding her ear. Carter speaks up.
“MRS. ROBINSON WHERE DO YOU NEED TO GO?” he asks again, this time his eyes straining and silently begging me for backup.
“I DON’T NEED TO GO ANYWHERE BUT HOME, BOY,” she yells back, the high pitch of her voice penetrating my ears.
“WHERE DO YOU WANT ME TO TAKE YOU?” Carter shouts, and this time he’s practically smiling from the stress. Your fault for picking up a couple seniors, I think.
“Oh, well Earl here and I, we just need to get to Medicine Hat. Family Business,” she says, and I can almost hear the capitalized “b”. She sits back into the seat with her hands folded neatly on her lap. Carter nods and smiles.
“She’s crazy,” he whispers to me, and I can’t help but smile when Ol Mrs. Robinson hits him on the side of the head and mutters about the lack of respect kids have these days. I fall back asleep to the sound of Earl trying to convince Carter why Trump would make a good president.
Earl is rambling on and on about how he once travelled through all fifty states with Mrs. Robinson when they were younger in an attempt to steal her heart. He did, and every year after that they would road trip across the country, reenacting their story of how they fell in love. This is their sixty-fifth road trip. I think about how Mom used to do the same thing, only never with her husband and always with her band of Merry B****es. I think of her Facebook photos and all the crazy places she’d gone, and suddenly I start to cry.
Crossing the border into Canada is a bit of an ordeal. It takes me almost ten minutes to convince the cops that no, I’m not running a drug op in my car, I’m just a pig. Another cop is trying to talk to Mrs. Robinson about the Family Business they’re going home for, but he doesn’t talk loud enough and she ends up pulling his ear and shouting “I AM EIGHTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD, YA HEAR?” Carter just smiles and shows his passport, and Earl sleeps through the whole thing.
“Well thank you for the ride here, kiddos. It was real nice meeting y’all,” Earl says, tipping his hat and backing away from the car. Mrs. Robinson is fighting her way out of the backseat, struggling with the added garbage from the trip. When she finally escapes from the car, she smiles at us before sprinting away at her old lady pace.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Robinson!” Carter shouts. She stops and turns back to face us.
“HAH?” she yells. Carter grins as I roll my eyes.
“GOODBYE MRS. ROBINSON!” he hollers, and this time she does hear. She throws a hand over her shoulder and waves to us before hobbling away with Earl.
News reports say that the criminal mastermind duo from Des Moines, Omaha, have officially evaded police. Going by the aliases of a “Mrs. Robinson” and “Earl” this couple has gotten rides from dozens of innocent drivers so they can do their criminal tasks with no paper trail. Their list of felonies includes, but is not limited to, Grand Theft Auto, Breaking and Entering and there is an unconfirmed count of Arson in the case of “Mrs. Robinson”. Be very careful if you come across these two felons. “Mrs. Robinson” was last seen wearing a pink suit and “Earl” is often seen wearing black suspenders with a striped shirt and khaki pants. If you have any information regarding these two, call 1-800-687-2081.
I drop Carter off at his parent’s house. His little sister runs out to him and tackle-hugs his knees and his parents are out of the house hugging him and crying about how much they’ve missed him. He chats with them for a minute before waving them away and coming over to my side of the car.
“Have fun at the wedding, hey?” I say and he grins before opening the door and pulling me out for a hug.
“You know in movies, this is where the guy kisses the girl,” he says, and I laugh and wait. “Problem is, I’m gay,” he finishes, and I burst out laughing, doubling over and hugging my knees.
“What?” he asks, bewildered, his face turning beet red. I stand up and wipe a few tears from my eyes as I pull him into a hug.
“I’ll come pick you up in a week, okay? To head back?” I say. He smiles and nods before opening the car door for me. I step in and start the car, the engine turning over faster than ever before.
It takes me about two minutes to drive from Carter’s place to home, perks of living down the street from your childhood tormentor.
As I pull into the driveway, I see Dad standing outside with Becky, arms around each other and tears staining their cheeks. I look over to Mom’s parking spot and I see it empty. I turn off the engine and run up to my family, tears raining down my cheeks.
“Hey guys, I’m home.”