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Chapter One: Restart (Part II)
The question hung in the empty air, neither of us wanting to break the silence. I asked the same question over and over again in my mind, but still the answer continued to be unannounced.
I rolled over in bed again, pulling the sheets tighter despite the balmy seventy-five degree weather. I tried not to focus on that now or else I would never go back to sleep. Tomorrow I would wake up and leave my home for a ridiculously long cross-country drive to my new house. Regardless I was determined to ensure our happiness.
Sleep fled that morning earlier than I desired. I could hear Cornelia finishing her packing across the hall. All of the doors in the house hung open to let the wind breeze through, bringing the last bit of Texas heat we would feel for a while. I slipped out of bed and changed into the white racer back tank top, black sweat pants, and black Nikes I left out yesterday. Walking over to the window, I looked out one last time to open green fields with dots of trees and a highway stretching out long and thin and white. I slid the glass shut, and left, shutting the door behind me and refusing to look back as click of the door echoed.
I walked softly across the hall and knocked on the door frame of my sister’s room. Her eyes flashed up to meet mine then a scowl crossed her lips.
“Do you want some help?”
The scowl deepened, darkening her features, but still she said, “Sure, why don’t you grab the last of my things and take them away?”
The biting comment veiled the betrayal she felt by my seemingly easy acceptance of our situation. I only added insult to injury by asking to help her. I felt the glower of her annoyance try to pierce my back as I helped take her bags.
Soon the three of us settled everything, and went out to the truck with the extended cab sitting patiently in the drive way with top on the bed full of sturdy filled boxes that would journey with us.
“Come on girls, it’s time to go.”
By now Cornelia and I switched to automatic. We shuffled into the car without uttering a word and buckled our seatbelts in equal silence. The first six hours went by quickly with music playing in the CD player, but then we stopped to refuel at a Conoco just outside Branson, Missouri.
Where Texas was green and brown, then Missouri was a brilliant, immaculate jade. Everything was covered by greenery, healthy and hardy. The foliage even threatened the highway by the protruding plants. The gas station however, was a very different story. Practically in ruins, the gas station roof held a white LED light, flickering dejectedly. I got out of the truck followed by Lia, luxuriously stretching my aching limbs. The night, beautifully clear and crisp, accompanied a warm air and a cool, silky breeze in teasing our wary minds and bodies. Our father pumped gas into the car and turned to us.
“Do either of you need to use the restroom?”
My sister and I shared a look, deciding to go to the bathroom as per the unspoken code that girls did not use the restroom by themselves.
“Be back,” Lia responded for the both of us.
We started walking across the lot to the convenience store when Lia did decide to break the comfortable silence; she said something that took me by surprise.
“It’s kinda beautiful here, you know?”
I completely stopped and stood still long enough for Lia to turn around and request,
“Ray, aren’t you coming?”
I snapped right out of my temporary catatonic state to start walking and answer her.
“Sure. That was just . . . unexpected.”
She smiled, looking like she knew something I didn’t. She turned back, and suddenly I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Nothing important, just a fleeting shadow probably cast by the willowy trees, but still I felt as though Lia and I narrowly escaped something unspeakably terrible. We finally reached the doors of the store, and asked the cashier where the restroom was. He pointed to the back where we proceeded to. We left the surprisingly clean bathroom to see our father waiting for us. He smiled when he saw us and happily escorted us to the truck.
“Come on you two, we got to get back on the road if we’re going to make it to your mother’s house before night fall,” Father told us, fixing us with a firm parental stare.
We smiled and nodded in perfect synchronization. Dad just shook his head; he always thought it was a spectacle that we harmonized so perfectly. Lia and I followed him back to the car, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something watched the three of us as we got back into the car. My apprehension didn’t fade as Dad pulled out of the gas station and got back on the highway. In fact it only got worse so much so that I was periodically checking the time and looking out the window anticipating something, anything at all, to suddenly pounce at us.
Around three in the morning, the stress of this routine finally got to me. But I felt that I couldn’t sleep yet. I looked slightly down to see Cornelia’s head resting on my shoulder and felt her light snoring tickling my arm. My sisterly instincts refused to let me rest that night on our way to a foreign place, I comforted myself. Then I saw another shadow out of my peripheral vision much closer to the car than the ones I spotted before, and then suddenly the figure vanished.
This was crazy, I kept telling myself. There wasn’t anything out there, just the shadows of trees in the moonlight, nothing else. I felt a panic attack coming. After feeling the same deep apprehension for a good five hours, I was emotionally frustrated. I wish Dad let me take over driving after the pit stop incident, looking back on what happened afterward.
Cornelia and I jerked awake when the car came to a sudden, screeching halt. I compulsively checked the time, realizing that I had fallen asleep for two hours, and then looked out the windshield. There was a woman in the middle of the road. She looked like a genuine hobo. This woman hunched in front of our car with her scruffy, gray-blond hair covered by a limp, black beret and disheveled clothes decorated with moth holes and dirt.