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Fly With Me
The plain, off-white interior of the room is perhaps meant to be calming but, if anything, it only makes me more restless.
A door to my left pushes open and a short, stocky man walks in, a plain file in his hand. Pulling a chair opposite me back, he sets himself down with a grunt and opens the file carefully, taking his time as he spreads its contents, how he likes it, across the metal table-top.
Sighing, I twiddle my thumbs. When he shows no sign of finishing up any time soon, I cough meaningfully and the man across from me looks up, eyebrows raised so that creases appear across his bald forehead. “Ms. Calypso Sprile, do you know why you are here?” He moves his hands in front of himself so that he can interlock his fingers.
“Might it have anything to do with Paris? Or perhaps it was New York." I lift one corner of my mouth in a slight smirk to mask the twisting that is happening in my stomach. For a moment, my thoughts flash to Brandon, and I wonder where he is right now.
"You're getting closer to the answer, Ms. Sprile. Would you like to try again or shall I enlighten you?" The question is evidently rhetorical, because he doesn't wait for me to reply. "Were you aware that it is illegal to throw a ball at someone's head in the state of New York?"
"The man was asking for it," I point out reasonably, "It was a softball anyway. It's not like I could have killed him."
"The possibility of his death is irrelevant. It is still illegal."
"So you put me in an interrogation room?"
"There were certain... other aspects that landed you in this room."
I cross my arms over my chest stubbornly and quirk an eyebrow, "Where is Brandon?"
"Mr. Nickson is in another room speaking to another representative." The man across from me leans back in his chair, "Would you mind telling me just exactly what you were doing for the past three months?"
I smirk and mimic the man's posture. "Where would you like me to begin?"
"At the beginning would be nice."
Rules and I never mixed well. We were like oil and water, fire and ice—totally incompatible.
When I was seven years old, my mother told me never to slide down the stair banisters. I, of course, completely ignored her and managed to break my arm after I had slid down just a bit too fast.
At age ten I had been instructed to stay where I was until my mother got back. As soon as she was out of sight I skittered off to a nearby park to talk to some friendly ducks. When she came back and I wasn’t there, she freaked out and called our neighbors to help her look for me.
Three days after I turned sixteen, I snuck out of the house while my parents were taking an afternoon nap and streaked my hair in four different colors. Let’s just say my mom and dad weren’t especially thrilled about that.
As I got older, I got more rebellious, and my mistakes became worse. I drank while I was underage and drove past my curfew, all in addition to developing a smoking addiction. I made bad choices, and the repercussions were horrible.
The night of my seventeenth birthday I had gone out with my friends and gotten drunk. It was well past one in the morning by the time I even thought about going home. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that my parents were worried sick about me and had probably started up the car and were driving around town looking for me—at the time they seemed like overbearing and overly protective parents, and I thought nothing of it. At half past two I decided that it was time to go home.
My eyes were practically crossed, and I couldn’t walk in a straight line. Any words that came out of my mouth were slurred and probably made no sense anyways. When I look back, I wonder what possessed me to think I was sober enough to drive home; I was quite obviously inebriated. My headlights moved unsteadily between lanes and it was hard to focus on keeping the steering-wheel from sliding from beneath my hands.
A car’s headlights appeared out of nowhere in front of me. With great difficulty, I pulled the steering wheel so that my car was in the correct lane…or at least, what I thought was the correct lane. The lights ahead got closer and closer, and at the last second, I realized my mistake. I jerked the wheel sharply, sending the car spinning away. The car opposite me, unfortunately, did the same. I swerved into my own lane, the other car, however, was not so lucky.
It drove off of the road and hit a nearby tree. At the sound of metal crunching, my foot instinctively slammed down on the brake pedal, making my car come to a screeching halt. I pulled off onto the shoulder and pulled my seatbelt off in a frenzy, heart pounding in my chest and breathing erratic. I shoved the door open and stumbled across the pavement, scared of what I would find.
No one had yet exited the car, and that worried me. As I got closer, my stomach constricted at the thought that I may have killed the car’s occupants. In the dark of the night, I couldn’t make out the car’s color, nor the license plate number. With a rapidly beating heart, I peeked in the driver’s side window.
A bloodied face that looked eerily like my father’s stared back at me.
I screamed and stumbled backwards, landing on my rear in the wet grass surrounding the accident site. The belated thought of needing to call 911 occurred to me and I pulled my cell-phone out of my pocket. I punched the number in with shaking fingers, and let the operator know what had happened. Once the call had finished, I returned to the car and hesitantly pulled the car door open.
A seatbelt held the driver in place, but all I needed to do was pull the shattered, distorting glass away to know for sure who I had injured.
My parents sat in the crushed car; my father didn’t move, my mother’s chest was still moving—but only barely.
An anguished scream rent through my lips as I collapsed onto the moist ground once more. Might sobs wracked my body and I suddenly felt cold all over.
What had I done?
Sirens pierced the dark night and red lights flashed. Paramedics rushed towards my parents’ wrecked car and started to pull my father’s dead body out. A woman medic retrieved my mother from the passenger’s side and immediately called for a gurney and an oxygen mask.
All the while, I looked on, horrified at what I had done. A paramedic tried to put a blanket around my shoulders but I scrambled away from him with a screeched, “Stay away from me!” The sobs started to tear through me again, and I wrapped my trembling arms around myself.
I was told my mother survived the ride to the hospital, but couldn’t bring myself to visit her. Knowing that I had caused my own father’s death and the severe injury of my mother was too much for me. Only after a week could I be persuaded to see her in the hospital.
She looked different, laying in a hospital bed. Whenever I pictured my mother, I imagined a bright, healthy woman in her forties. Lying in that bed was a thin, haggard woman who couldn’t be younger than fifty. Tubes traveled up her nose, and a heart-rate monitor stood by her bedside like an ever-present sentinel.
I couldn’t make myself step over the threshold into her room.
Her doctor told me she had slipped into a coma, and didn’t know when she would wake up.
I wished that I was the one who had died that night.
I wished that I was the one lying in that hospital bed.
I wished that I had never even gone out that night.
Maybe if I had just stayed home, this never would have happened.
Maybe both my parents would still be alive.
Maybe I wouldn’t loath myself.
Three days later, my mother slipped out of her coma and into eternal sleep. Four days after that, I settled everything that needed to be done legally, packed my bags and left my hometown. A subpoena had been issued for me to appear in court for my drunk driving and accidentally killing my parents, but I ignored it.
I never stayed in the same city for more than a week.
I lived out of a suitcase and used the money my parents had left me to support myself.
Over time, I developed a sort of mask to hide behind. I believed my true story to be too terrible for anyone to know, so I came up with a new identity, a new personality.
Amanda Lily Brown died three months after her parents did.
That day, Calypso Vivian Sprile was born.
That day, I started my escape.
A year later, and rules and I still didn’t mix.
I was living in New York and had been ignorant of one of their bizarre laws.
A man had looked down my shirt lewdly while I was browsing through the store’s selection of baseball equipment, so I picked up a nearby softball and lobbed it at his head. Unfortunately for him, I had a good arm and was standing only a few feet away from him. He dropped to the ground almost immediately, unconscious. Unfortunately for me, a cop was shopping nearby and saw the whole thing. When I realized my violent act had been witnessed, I bolted.
The cop followed me out of the supermarket so I ran harder, my sneakers pounding against the cooling New York City pavement. It was September and the leaves on the trees in Times Square were beginning to change from green to vibrant hues of orange, red, and brown. Usually I would be walking slowly through the streets, marveling at the wonderful colors all around me but with a man who possibly wanted to arrest me on my tail, I really didn’t have time for that.
A quick glance over my shoulder let me know that the cop wasn’t far behind me and I needed to do something fast if I wanted to get out of this scotch-free. Spotting a nearby trash-can, I summoned more energy and bolted over to it, grasped its edges, and tipped it over behind me into the police man’s path. I did the same thing with every other trashcan along the way. People all around me stared like I was a mad-woman.
The trashcans on either side of me began to get more and more sparse and the cop behind me was catching up to me again. In a desperate attempt to get away from him once and for all, I turned to my left sharply and ducked into a building.
Marble floors and crowds of people greeted me. Grateful for the camouflage, I pushed my way into the crowd of people and tried to get my heart-rate back to normal. A few people in the group looked at me funny, like What the crap are you doing? but I ignored them and just kept walking with them, throwing panicked glances over my shoulder as I searched for any sign that the man pursuing me had found my hiding place.
He was standing in the lobby of the building peering around the room, probably looking for me. As I stared at him from over my shoulder, I didn’t notice the people around me disappearing into a large room filled with chairs until it was too late. Instead of trying to run in with them, I ducked behind a trashcan near the bathrooms.
A few moments later, something hit me in the back and there was a startled gasp. I turned and saw a young man standing behind me with a horrified expression plastered across his face.
“Oh my gosh, miss, I am so, so sorry! Are you okay, are you…” To my horror, the young man’s outburst had attracted the attention of my cop-friend and he was looking in our direction.
“Shut up. Now.” I jumped to my feet, clapped my hand over the chatter box’s mouth, and dragged him into the women’s bathroom to hide.
I backed slowly into the restroom, until I was facing the mirror. Looking the young man in his glasses-covered eyes, I put on my best reassuring face. “I’m going to let go of you… and you’re not going to say a word. Do you understand?” He nodded at me in the mirror and I quickly released him to find something to bar the door.
Thankfully, this lavatory had a door that swung inwards, so slowing down the police-man outside would be less of a problem. A large, cushion-y looking chair stood nearby, so I grabbed it and pulled it over to the door. I also added a large potted plant and a coffee table to my barricade. Honestly, who has a coffee table in a bathroom?
Once I had finished my little slowing device, I stepped back and dusted imaginary dirt off of my hands. When I turned, I noticed the glasses-guy was staring at me.
“What the heck do you think you’re doing?” He hissed, stalking over towards my amazing barricade, arms outstretched.
“Keeping us out of trouble, duh.” I rolled my eyes and grabbed him by his forearm, yanking him away from the door with enough force to make him stumble backwards.
“Why did you drag me into the women’s bathroom?”
“Why did you hit me with a door?” I countered, standing on my tip-toes to appear larger than I really was.
The boy shrank back and in that one action I gathered that he was the quiet, shy type, the type that got picked on in elementary school. “I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.”
“Chill, dude, I’m not going to hurt you.” I snorted and walked over to a window on the other side of the bathroom. “Now help me get this window open.”
“So that I can get away from the guy chasing me.” I rolled my eyes at his stupidity and started to yank on the window’s frame.
There was a heavy bang against the door and my barricade moved slightly.
The young man’s eyes widened, “Who’s coming after you?”
“The mob,” I lied. “Now help me get this dang window open.”
Glasses-guy hustled over to me and grunted with his exertion to force the window open. “It’s no use, it wasn’t made to open.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t made to open?! Who designed this place?” I started pushing against the window frame again, but nothing happened.
The man beside me pushed his glasses up, “My uncle did, actually.”
I groaned, evidently I had hit a soft spot. “Look, dude, just help me get the window open.”
Something heavy banged against the door again, and my barricade was once more pushed away from the door.
I ran forward and pushed the barricade back into place but not before the cop hit the door with his battering ram again. With a frown, I pushed back, and the door slid shut. Seeing no other option, I grabbed the potted plant ran back over to the window, and used it to shatter the glass.
“What are you doing?” Glasses-guy shrieked, looking at the broken window in horror.
“Escaping. What are you doing?” I started to break out the smaller pieces of glass that remained stuck to the frame.
“You mean you’re just going to leave me here to be discovered by the mob in a women’s bathroom?”
“You’re still not letting that bathroom thing go, are you?” I grunted, with a final whack at the window. The last pieces of glass fell out and poked my head out of the window. From here it would be an easy escape.
“You would just abandon an innocent civilian here?”
“Look, kid, you’ve got two choices.” The door was rammed again. “Stay here to be found in the women’s bathroom.” He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “Or fly with me. Totally your choice.”
He looked over his shoulder doubtfully than back at me. I offered my hand towards him and he stared at it uneasily. Another bang and the barricade moved another centimeter. “It’s now or never, guy. Decide.”
With a grim look on his face, he took my hand. “I am so going to regret this.”
“You and me both, kid.” I jumped out of the window and dragged him after me into the streets of New York.
The clunking of glasses was the only sound for a few minutes at the table. The guy with the glasses would lift up his glass and tip it to his lips every few seconds, his hands still shaking considerably though we had never been in any real danger.
“Why did you run out into the street like that?” He demanded. I took a sip of my water while I casually glanced at my watch: 3:57; that meant that this would be the third time he had asked in a total of five minutes.
“Look, dude, we were perfectly safe. Cars tend to try to avoid pedestrians.” I actually hadn’t seen the car when I had dragged him into the street behind me, and had only noticed that it was coming towards us a bit too late. As the red minivan screeched to a halt I pulled him the rest of the way across the street, the driver of the car yelling at us until we were out of sight.
“You pulled us in front of a moving vehicle; that is not perfectly safe.” With trembling hands, the young man in front of me pushed his light brown hair back. “What was I thinking going with you?”
I ignored him and stared out of the window, wondering what I was thinking actually offering to take him with me. Taking him with me from place to place just wasn’t a good idea. Briefly, I turned the idea of just leaving him here at the café over in my head. The more I thought about it, the more I like the idea. I felt a small smile flit across my lips as I began to plot my escape.
“What are you smiling at?” The man grunted from across the table, still seeming disgruntled about our little run in with the minivan.
“Oh, nothing, I’m just thinking.” I turned back towards Glasses-guy, and let the smile bloom across my face. “I never did catch your name, what was it again?”
“Brandon.” One slim finger pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Brandon Nickson.”
“Well, Mr. Nickson, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” I reached my hand out towards him and he shook it tentatively. “I’m Calypso.”
“Calypso?” Brandon’s eyebrows shot up and an excited light flashed across his face. “I may just use that sometime.”
“Use it?” One of my eyebrows quirked upwards at his odd reaction to my pseudonym; most people just nodded and said ‘that’s a cool name’. No one had ever wanted to ‘use it’ before. “What do you mean use it?” My confusion only grew when he whipped a small notebook and a pen out of his pocket and wrote my name down on one of the pages.
The pages that were facing me were covered with small sketches and words in sloppy handwriting. Although everything was upside-down, I could make out a few names and small snatches of description.
Once he had scribbled my name down, he opened his mouth excitedly, like a small child about to tell someone something fantastic, but then he quickly shut it and looked away, his face turning a deep red. “Just… you know, use it… for a… a project.” Brandon’s voice got quieter with each stammered word, and his face became redder.
My dark eyebrow went higher, but I didn’t comment on his obvious dishonesty; I had only known the guy for all of thirty minutes anyways. “Oh, that’s cool,” I said instead, and started to stir around the ice in my glass with my small plastic straw.
Brandon surveyed my drink over a nose wrinkled with distaste, “You know that you’re several times more likely to backwash while using a straw?” As if to accentuate his point, he picked up his own straw-free glass and tipped it to his lips.
“Did you know that drinking like that makes it more likely for the acid in soda to decay the enamel in your teeth?” I smirked a little bit as I countered his factoid with one of my own.
Disappointed that he hadn’t one-upped me, the nerdy boy looked down at his glass and started tracing its rim with his right ring finger. While he did that, I waved over the waitress and asked for the check. She nodded, departed, then returned quickly with the bill. I slipped a twenty onto the plastic holder, stood and headed towards the door as fast as my legs would take me without actually running.
“Hey! Where are you going?” So much for escaping unnoticed. I turned around and Brandon ran smack dab into my face.
“I’m leaving, were there any doubts about that?”
“You’re leaving without me?” Brandon’s glasses made his eyes look big, but when he widened them from behind, they seemed even larger.
“That would be the idea, yes.” With that brusque reply, I turned on my heel and started off again, but the boy caught me by my wrist and held me in place with a surprising gentle strength. “What do you want?” I exasperatedly said, getting ready to break his wrist and walk away.
“You can’t leave without me.” He replied simply, keeping eye contact with me through the lenses of his glasses. It sounded like he was trying to sound calm and confident, but his voice was still slightly tremulous.
“Why not? We got away from the co—the mob, and you should be perfectly safe now.” I tried to pull my arm out of his grasp, but failed.
“But—But they’ve seen my face, they’ve seen you with me. Won’t they,” he swallowed heavily, his Adam’s apple bobbing, “kill me?”
I stared at the guy with wide eyes; he had watched one too many mobster movies. “No, you’re safe now. Now, chill out, and let go of my arm.” I tugged again, trying to free my limb from his grasp, but he held onto it stubbornly.
With a depressed sigh, Brandon let his grasp loosen on my arm until I could easily slide it away from him. He let his arms drop and head fall as he heaved another huge sigh, “If I die, it will be on your head,” he mumbled, then turned away and walked back towards the building we had escaped from.
I snorted and turned on my heel before stalking away in the opposite direction. Honestly, who actually believes a complete, random stranger when she tells him that she’s being chased by the mob? A complete idiot, that’s who. I repeated these thoughts in my head to fight a feeling of unease that had settled comfortably in my stomach and started to grow.
If he was naïve enough to believe me he was obviously stupid enough to get himself hurt while trying to stay safe. The thought of being responsible for a third death sickened me, but I ignored it and continued walking.
Memories of the grief and sense of hopelessness I had felt when I had discovered I had accidentally killed my parents started swirling about in my head and I grimaced. They were killed because of me… it could happen to that stupid kid too.
I fought with myself for several minutes before I finally stopped where I was and looked back over my shoulder to see if he was anywhere in sight. If he was, I could just make sure he was okay, then walk okay. So, of course, he was nowhere near me.
With a groan at what I was about to do, I turned around completely and jogged off in the direction he had vanished in.
It didn’t take me long to find him. Brandon seemed to be a very slow walker and had only made it a couple of blocks away from the café. He didn’t seem to notice me as I walked behind him like a stalker. I toyed with the idea of just checking on him then leaving, but my gut wouldn’t let me just do that. I had to make sure he was safe—for the sake of my conscience.
My own pride, however, restrained me from making my presence known to him. I followed him through the streets of New York, the fall leaves crunching under my feet pleasantly, for another three blocks. A few times I would reach my hand out to stop him, but each time I pulled my hand back before it could make contact with his shoulder.
Finally, after about a mile, Brandon stopped and whirled around to face me. “Why are you following me?” he demanded, dark eyebrows furrowed.
I was taken aback at his knowledge that I had been following him this whole time. “I…” I blinked once and gathered myself together, “I’m a stalker; didn’t I tell you that?” Lifting one corner in a playful smile, I surveyed the man in front of me in hopes that he would find my response amusing.
My hopes were not met, however, and with a single serious look from the young man, my smile shriveled. “Weren’t you leaving?”
“I was… but, you know, I started thinking, and, uh, thought that it might be a good idea if you…came with me?”
One corner of Brandon’s mouth moved a little bit, “Why the sudden change of heart?”
I considered telling him, but the twist in my stomach at the thought of having to admit to killing my parents out loud quickly deterred me. “No reason.” Giving him a quick smile, I pushed my dark hair behind one ear and out of my face. “Besides, what have you got to lose by coming with me?”
“This isn’t some teenage novel, Calypso. I don’t know you; I have no reason to trust you.”
“Just twenty minutes ago, you were begging me to take you with me!” I groaned, trying to hold in my frustration.
“That was before I had time to think about this rationally.” If he didn’t sound nerdy enough, he only made himself look nerdier by pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I’m not going to charge off into the Unknown with a girl I met an hour ago.”
I inwardly slapped myself; the more time I stood here and argued with this Brandon Nickson guy, the more I regretted my decision to go after him.
“Fine.” I snapped, “But because I’ve given you the chance to come with me, if you do die your death is no longer on my head.”
Brandon’s Caucasian face paled considerably at the word ‘death’ and he looked as if he was seriously reconsidering my offer. “Y-you said I would be safe.” He countered, though his confidence had definitely taken a blow.
“The mob is pretty unpredictable…” I grinned and started to turn away from him, confident that I had successfully won the discussion. “You never know what they’re going to do.”
One step… two steps… thr—“Calypso, wait!”
“Ye-es?” I replied in a sing-song voice.
“I…I guess I’ll go with you. But I have a few conditions.”
Snorting in a very unladylike manner, I shook my head, “I’m the one in charge here, buddy. You can take my offer or leave it. No negotiating.” I smirked a little bit and raised one eyebrow, “Deal?” For the second time that day I extended my hand towards him, and for the second time he looked at it like it was a poisonous snake waiting to strike.
He hesitated a moment before taking my hand and shaking it firmly, “Why do I feel like I just sold my soul to the devil?” Brandon groaned, letting his head loll.
“Because that’s exactly what you just did, babe.” With another huge grin, I gave his hand one last shake before letting it go. “Now let’s be off, Monsieur Nickson. We’ve got to get out of here, like, yesterday.”
I had only been driving for a half an hour with Brandon Nickson before I couldn’t take it any longer.
“Either stop whining about my driving skills or throw yourself out of my car,” I growled, my grip tightening on the steering wheel. He had been griping out my slow driving the entire ride and it was driving me nuts.
“But you’re going so slow!” He moaned as his head fell back to hit the support behind it. “I thought you would be one of those people who drive at least twenty miles over the speed limit.”
“Well then, you thought wrong,” I grumbled, keeping my eyes stubbornly on the road.
He didn’t understand why I drove the way I did. No one did.
“Obviously.” His head was still lolled back as he stared up at the ceiling of the car. With another sigh, he reached his hand up and began to trace random patterns along the ceiling fabric. “Could you at least go another five miles faster?”
A sneer crept onto my face as I turned to face Brandon, “My offer still stands, Nickson.”
He ignored me and continued on with his yammering.
Even though I was frustrated beyond belief, I refused to let myself be distracted from my driving. I would not be responsible for more deaths than I already was. The stress of trying to control myself was terrible, and I found myself craving a cigarette. I removed one of my hands from the steering wheel to roll the window on my side down.
When Brandon saw what I was doing, he had to pipe up. “What on earth are you doing?”
With the same hand, I pulled out the pack of cigs that I always kept in the driver’s side door, took one from the package, and stuck it in-between my lips. I dropped the package, and then took out a lighter, lighting the cigarette quickly before dropping it back into the door’s compartment. As I inhaled deeply, I felt my stress slowly ebb away. Tilting my head, I blew the smoke out of the window; it wafted away quickly in the air outside.
One glance out of the corner of my eye let me know that my passenger wasn’t happy with my habit. “What?” I asked around the small roll of paper in my mouth.
Brandon quickly rearranged his face so that he no longer appeared royally disgusted, “Oh, it’s nothing. I just,” he paused for a moment, considering his words carefully, “I just never imagined that you smoked.”
Another puff of smoke flew out of the window, “You also thought that I drove quite fast; you’re terrible at guessing games, Brandon, I hope you don’t gamble on games of 20 Questions.” I chuckled a little bit as I said this, and took another long draw of my cigarette.
“I don’t gamble,” Nickson sniffed and I rolled my eyes. Evidently I had hit another discordant note with him.
“Well, pardon me, sir.” I rolled my eyes again, and turned the radio on.
We sat in silence for several minutes.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Brandon remove his thick-rimmed glasses and clean them with the corner of his shirt before placing them back carefully on the bridge of his nose.
“Have you ever considered contacts?” I asked curiously, taking my eyes off of the road for a brief second to look at him.
“Why? What’s wrong with my glasses?” The boy turned to face me as well, and I could barely make out the shape of his eyes that were hiding behind the thick lenses he wore.
“Nothing at all.” Besides the fact that they make you look like a total geek. “Do you want to play 20 Questions?” I swiveled my head around for a second to grin cheekily at Brandon and he grimaced in response.
“Are you serious?”
“Fine. Is it bigger or smaller than a bread-box?”
“Hold on, dude, I haven’t—did you just ask me if what I was thinking was bigger or smaller than a bread-box?”
“Well, yeah…” A sheepish smile and a rosy blush bloomed across his face.
I snorted, “Alright then.”
“Dude, I’ve thought of what you need to guess.”
“Oh, oh! Right. Is it bigger or smaller than a bread-box?” He repeated the question he had asked before.
“What the crud is a bread-box?” I demanded, reaching one hand over to the radio to switch it off.
“A box you keep bread in.” Thank you, Captain Obvious, was my first thought, but I refrained from uttering it aloud.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Actually,” cue nerdy pushing of glasses up bride of nose, “it did.”
“Fine.” I wracked my brain to think of how big a dove was. “It’s smaller than a bread-box.”
“Is it alive?”
That one I could answer right off the top of my head, “Definitely.”
He paused for a moment, “Is it a bird?”
“Uh, yeah.” I tried not to show my surprise.
“Is it a dove?”
I blinked rapidly, “Well, yes. It is.” A crease appeared between my brows as I frowned, “How did you know?”
He motioned to my left forearm, indicating a small tattoo on my wrist, “A dove obviously has some kind of personal significance to you.”
I covered my wrist with my right hand swiftly, and again focused my attention on the white lines ahead, “It was my mother’s favorite animal.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he murmured, and as I turned to look at him in surprise, I saw that he was sincere.
“H-how did you know?”
“Well, it’s obviously important to you if you marked it permanently into your skin. You also referred to her in the past tense, meaning that you’re either estranged or she died. I highly doubt you would tattoo a dove into your wrist if you were estranged, so she must have died.” He quieted as he realized that he sounded much too much like a know-it-all. “I’m sorry.”
An awkward silence ensued, “How did she—“
“She died, Brandon. That’s all you need to know.” The mention of my mother’s death sobered me greatly, and I regretted ever choosing the dove as my thought.
“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.” Nickson’s face was downcast and he twiddled his thumbs in his lap. “I’m sorry…”
“Stop apologizing!” I snapped, as I pulled off of the highway to fuel up again. We were in Pennsylvania at this point, and the gas needle was dangerously close to the empty mark.
“I’m—“ Brandon let his mouth shut with a click when he stopped himself from apologizing another time.
In a few minutes we reached the gas-station and I hopped out of the car. Angrily, I slammed the car door shut and ran my credit card quickly through the slot. As I hefted the nozzle out of the machine I groaned and let my head hit the side of the car. Why did Brandon have to bring up so many painful memories? How could he manage to do that without even trying? He didn’t even know about my parent’s for goodness’ sake!
With a sigh, I replaced the nozzle, collected my receipt and placed my hand back on the door-handle. Feeling stressed again, I was tempted to light up once more. But remembering Brandon’s reaction to my habit turned me off to the idea. Maybe it was because he reminded me of my parents and how they would react to my habit; maybe it was because I didn’t want to repulse him. Whatever the case, when I saw the small cardboard package in the pocket at the base of my door, I ignored it.
It wasn’t until we were halfway through Pennsylvania and I was getting ready to pull into a Holiday Inn for the night that Brandon realized that he had nothing but the clothes on his back and a small backpack full of notebooks, pens, pencils, and his wallet.
“I don’t even have a toothbrush,” he lamented, running both his hands through his medium brown hair while simultaneously sighing heavily. “Turn around; I need to get my stuff.”
I parked near the entrance, and turned in my seat to stare at him, “Look, you want to get your stuff, be my guest; but I’m not going to drive you all the way back to New York.”
“Then how am I supposed to get back?” He frowned, his dark eyebrows disappearing behind the large frames of his glasses.
“You have thumbs, don’t you?” I smirked as I pushed my door open and stepped out into the brisk, autumn air.
Small piles of damp, colorful leaves had settled along the edges of the pavement leading to the entry-doors. The giant, green ‘H’ cast an emerald hue over the dark cement and leaves, distorting everything’s color. Behind me, Brandon had finally shut up and exited my car, a sour look on his face. A sudden gust of wind blew through the parking lot, making the both of us shiver.
I walked quickly into the lobby of the Holiday Inn and pulled out Priority Club card. I had stayed at enough Holiday Inn: Expresses to rack up enough points for one room. When he heard me request only one room, Brandon’s frown dissipated and was replaced by a look of complete shock.
Once we had returned to my car to get my bags, he turned on me. “One room?! Why did you only get one room?” Struggling to remain calm, I unlocked the car and popped the trunk before removing my two suitcases.
“Because that’s how many points I had. Chill, dude, it’s got two beds.”
“It’s. Only. One. Room.” He repeated, frowning as he took both of my suitcases from me.
I rolled my eyes and walked through the doors and down the carpeted hallways of the hotel until I reached our room: 165. Quickly, I unlocked the door and stepped in, Brandon followed suit.
It wasn’t much to look at with its green and red patterned carpet and plain, off-white curtains. I had kind-of lied when I said there were two beds—there was one bed and a couch that folded out into a bed. Brandon noticed the absence of the second bed and the little crease between his eyebrows deepened, the corners of his mouth turned down further.
“Two beds, eh?” His sarcasm was biting. He carefully set down my bags near the couch, probably signaling that he claimed the bed, and crossed his arms over his chest. “You… are a liar.”
Striding over to the couch, I pulled the cushions off and began to unfold the trundle. “Technically,” I paused as I finished pulling out the folding bed. “I’m not.” I grinned and mimicked his posture, “There you are, sir, the second bed.”
That frown seemed frozen onto his face. With a sigh, he plopped himself down onto the only ‘real’ bed, kicked off his shoes, then laid down completely with his back facing me. I laughed quietly at his puerile actions and sat down on the pull-out bed. The springs groaned under my weight, and I frowned down at it, willing it to shut up with my mind.
“Could you be a tad bit quieter, I’m trying to sleep.” Brandon’s voice sailed across the room, condescending and mocking.
“Why are you so freaking grumpy?” I laughed, turning over on my side so that I could look at him.
He turned over as well so that he was lying on his side, his elbow propping his head up, and frowned at me from behind his glasses, “Shall I list the reasons alphabetically or in order of importance?” He didn’t wait for my answer, but pulled his glasses off roughly, set them down on the small nightstand nearby and flopped back onto the bed on his back. He sighed heavily and his bangs flew up off of his forehead.
I really shouldn’t have, but I egged him on further, “Alphabetically, definitely alphabetically.”
“The question was rhetorical, Calypso,” Brandon groaned, now sounding more tired than irritated. “Just let me go to sleep.” Another sigh, “It’s been a long day.”
Like the great person that I was, I remained quiet.
Silence settled over us like a heavy blanket for several minutes. Despite the fact that I was still fully clothed and had my shoes on, I felt myself drifting away into dreamland. My dozing was abruptly cut off when Brandon spoke again.
“So how long has your name been Calypso?”
My eyes snapped open and I stared at him incredulously, “Excuse me?”
“How long has your name been Calypso?” He sat up in the bed and rested his back against the wall. “It can’t have been very long, or not very many people call you it. Did you legally change your name or is it just a pseudonym?”
Seriously, why did the nerd have to hit me with a door? “It’s a pseudonym.”
“Oh… Then what’s your real name?”
I sighed and pushed myself back so that my back was resting against the back of the couch. “Does it really matter?”
Brandon picked his glasses up and pushed them back onto his face. “Well, yeah.” His mouth twisted slightly and his nose wrinkled, “I don’t want to be calling someone by a fake name. It’s weird.”
My face screwed up to match his, “I don’t like my real name.” I had already lied to the guy, why not chalk another few fibs up there?
“Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad.”
“Trust me, it is.” My head lolled back to hit the wall with a bang and I let my eyes slide shut.
“Just tell me,” he begged.
“Calypso, just tell me!” I heard Brandon’s own head hit the wall with a similar sound that mine had made.
“Amanda.” I snapped, “That’s my real name: Amanda.”
“Worthy of love.”
I grimaced, opened my eyes, and frowned at him, “I know what it means, Mr. Broom Covered Hill.”
“It’s prince, actually. I prefer the Irish meaning.” A small smile lit up his nerdy face and I couldn’t stop the smile that appeared on my own face in response. For a total geek, he was oddly charismatic.
I laughed a little and let my head fall back again, “Alright, Prince, goodnight.”
The bed he was on creaked, and I opened one eye to see him walking over to me. “What are you—“
“Take the bed.” He sat down at the foot of the pull-out bed and gestured me over to the actual bed.
“What? Why?” “Because it wouldn’t be very gentlemanly of me to let you sleep on a couch, now would it? Now take the bed.” He moved up next to me, then very gently shoved me off of the couch and onto the floor.
I glared at him for a second, then kicked off my shoes and hopped on the bed. “Are you sure abou—“
“Okay, then…” Carefully, I reached one hand over to light switch and flicked it off. “Goodnight, ‘Prince’.”
He chuckled in the darkness, “Goodnight, Amanda.”
I fell asleep with those words echoing in my mind.
It was the first time I had been called Amanda in over a year.
Brandon definitely wasn’t a morning person. I learned this the hard way when, the morning following the one room fiasco, he all but bit my head off.
“Aren’t you just gorgeous in the morning?” I grinned from my position on the bed as I stared over at him.
Brandon’s dark hair was sticking up at odd angles all around his head like an unbearably messy halo and his half-lidded eyes had dark circles under them.
“I dislike you,” he groaned, falling back onto his pillows with a faint whoomp. The air that escaped from the pillows only served to muss his hair further.
“And I’m not your biggest fan.” I sent a smug smile in his direction before leaping off of the bed and running a hand through my tangled mess of hair. “Now that we’ve cleared the air, what say we get some breakfast?”
A frown formed on his face, “No.”
“Oh, come on,” I whined. “I’m hungry.”
One of his eyes opened half-way so that he could look at me, “No.”
“Are you some kind of super-human that doesn’t need to eat or something?”
“Exactly. I’m Superman. Now leave me alone. Can’t you get breakfast without me?”
I grimaced, “Yes, I could. But I’m leaving right after breakfast; I’m putting my bags in the car before I eat.” One of my eyebrows lifted even though he was no longer looking at me. “Do you really want to be stuck here?”
He rolled over and buried his face into the pillows in reply.
“Brandon Nickson, I will leave you at this hotel! Now you get up right before I count to three or I will skip breakfast and just leave right here and now!” Paying no attention to how much like a ruffled mother-hen I sounded, I allowed my voice to raise in both pitch and volume.
“Yoowoolder!” Brandon’s voice was muffled by the pillows, but I imagined that he had said, ‘you wouldn’t dare!’.
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” I smirked as his head moved a little bit, as if he were doubting himself. “I almost left you in New York; how would this be any different?”
His head shot up, and a triumphant smile lit the corners of his lips as he turned to face me, “But you didn’t leave me in New York! You changed your mind.”
“Well, duh.” I rolled my eyes as if the reason I had changed my mind was painfully obvious. “You could have died back there. I practically saved your life, dude.”
“Do elaborate.” By now, Brandon had taken his glasses off of the bed-side table and had balanced them perfectly on the bridge of his nose.
“I can sum it up in two words, bro. The. Mob.” I settled back against the wall behind me comfortably, arms crossed over my chest.
One side of the young man’s face wrinkled in an expression of disgust at my mention of the imaginary mob that was chasing me through the streets of New York, and, for a second, a flash of vulnerability moved across his face.
I let my arms fall to my sides and I pushed myself off of the wall, confident that with those simple words I had effectively ended any and all arguments. Shoving my toiletry bag into the top of one of my suitcases before grabbing the room key, I turned around to head out the door when Brandon’s voice stopped me. “You know… the more I think about it, the more I think there is no mob.”
I turned to face him very slowly, “What are you talking about?”
“If there really was a mob, don’t you think that they’d have caught us by now?” His thin legs swung off the pull-out bed at a sluggish pace and once his feet hit the carpet, he stood. “It really doesn’t make much sense for us to be perfectly safe staying in one place for as long as we have, now does it?”
I tried to laugh off his accusation, but it came out shaky and hollow, “You’ve watched too many mobster movies, Brandon. We’re out of their territory now; we’re no longer important.”
“You’re no longer important,” he corrected snidely. “What exactly did you do to have to hide from them behind a conference-center trash can?”
“That’s none of your business,” I snapped, before turning again and picking my bags up.
“Deflection. There is no mob.”
Anger started to boil in the pit of my twisting stomach, and I fought the urge to throw a punch, “No, Brandon; there is no mob. Are you happy now? Do you feel some kind of nerdy victory because you’re always right?” My bags were tumbled onto the floor where I had dropped them, and my hands were tight in fists at my sides.
Brandon and I stood there, glaring at each other with enough force to shoot lasers out of our eyes.
I was the one who turned away first. I didn’t drop my glare, nor did my frustration subside, but I knew I needed to start moving again. Retrieving my fallen bags from the floor, I exited the hotel room—not really caring if Brandon was coming with me or not. I used my back to open the door leading outdoors and had my bags in the trunk of my car within two minutes. Because of the twists in my stomach, I no longer felt hungry and merely walked to the front desk to check out. My expression must have been dark, because the young receptionist’s mouth twisted into a frown upon seeing me.
Outside, the wind was brisk, and the cool air bit at the tip of my nose. A few miniscule, dried, brown leaves caught on the breeze and blew through the air, brushing against the strands of hair that had begun to dance in the air. I allowed myself to watch the leaves whirl through the air in a graceful motion before I returned my attention to the problem at hand: Brandon.
Now that he knew there was no real danger, would he want to go back to New York? If he did, would I take him?
I grimaced at the thoughts before heaving a sigh at the sight of Brandon leaning against the driver’s side door of my car.
“Get out of the way.” I breathed, stopping in front of him.
He didn’t say a word as he moved back onto the nearby sidewalk. I climbed into the car, started the engine and pulled my seatbelt across my torso. Still, he didn’t move from where he was standing. Arguing with myself for a few moments before doing so, I rolled my window down and stuck my head out halfway.
“Are you getting in or what?”
Brandon had been looking down at his toes, but at the sound of my voice, his head shot up. “What?”
“Are you getting in the car?” I quirked one eyebrow playfully, masking my inner discomfort.
A small smile lifted the corners of Brandon’s lips as he walked over and clambered into the car without a word.
We had pulled out of the parking lot and been well under way by the time I spoke.
“Do you want to go back to New York?”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw his head swivel around so that he could stare at me from behind his thick glasses. “What?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and repeated myself.
Brandon’s hands folded in his lap, and he stared out the windshield for a few long moments before answering. “No, I don’t want to go back to New York.” His lower-lip slipped between his teeth as he chewed on it thoughtfully, “I do, however want to go home.”
My brow furrowed in confusion, but I kept my gaze resolutely on the road ahead of us. “Home? Where do you live then?”
“Florida…” I murmured. My fingers began to drum against the edge of the steering wheel, “That’s a ways away.”
He winced lightly, “If you drop me off somewhere, I can catch a bus or a train down if it’s too much—“
“I’ll take you down there.” His face whirled to face mine and I continued. “It’s the least I could do…” I didn’t bother elaborating. I knew that he knew what I was talking about.
“You don’t have to, Calypso. You can—“
“I want to drive you down there; as an apology.” Tearing my eyes away from the road, I faced him. “So… apology accepted?”
He grinned shyly, “Only if you accept mine.”
I returned his smile with one of my own as I felt the uncomfortable knots in my stomach unravel, “Then I guess we had better get started.”
Brandon and I didn’t talk for a long time while I drove down towards Florida. The Eastern United States passed by in a blur of cold grey and differing shades of brown and red. It seemed that a rain storm had just hit Maryland before we drove through it, making everything drip in precipitation and giving the atmosphere a fresh, clean—though mildly depressing—feel.
The radio playing quietly served as pleasant background noise, and Brandon, who was writing frantically in one of his many notebooks, was dead to everything but the words forming on the pages in front of him. The scratching of the dulling lead on the notebook paper mixed with the beat of every song, speeding up or slowing down according to each rhythm. Every once in a while, he would let out a frustrated grunting sound, and tear the scribbled-on page out of the book, wad it up, and throw it to the floor. A few minutes in which he calmed down would pass before he would resume his writing. This process repeated itself several times before he finally gave up the whole institution and shoved both the notebook and his pencil into the backpack he had tossed into the backseat.
I had a cigarette placed firmly between my middle and forefingers and took a long draw from it every now and again. The window was unrolled a little bit so that the smoke and smell of it could escape. Once in a while, Brandon would glance over at me through what he thought was his peripheral vision—in reality he was half-turning his head towards me—and would wrinkle his nose in distaste. The first time he did that, I was so surprised at the disgusted look on his face that I coughed.
“Are you okay?” He asked worriedly, reaching one hand over and settling it on my shoulder.
I nodded my head but continued to hack a lung out. Removing one hand from the steering wheel, I covered my mouth quickly. As soon as the coughing fit was over, I threw the cigarette out the window and onto the highway; I was done for now.
“You sounded like you were trying to dislodge a lung,” Brandon joked weakly, mouth twisted downwards with concern as he looked at me from behind his glasses.
“It felt like I was going to,” I replied. My voice was raspy from the coughing fit and if the process to get this tone hadn’t been so painful, I would have liked the sound of it.
“Why don’t you take a break from the smokes? Just for a little while.” One side of his face caved in slightly as he chewed on the inside of his cheek, “You’ve already gone through two in the past hour.”
“After that spasm, I think I’m done for the day.” The relief on my nerdy acquaintance’s face was evident as I rolled up the driver’s side window and tossed the small cardboard package of cigarettes into the backseat.
“Just in case I’m tempted,” I explained quietly; more to myself than to him.
Time rolled by slowly as the cars and lines in front of and behind us blended together into a never-ending stretch of boredom. Brandon tried to resume his writing, but was unable to and his notebook and pencil quickly joined my cigarettes in the back. We tried playing twenty questions again, but the game died down when I was on question thirty-two.
Half past noon, we stopped briefly at a McDonalds to get something to eat but it didn’t serve as a distraction for long—the food only lasted us a half an hour and neither of us were very excited about eating it.
The sun rolled lower in the sky, but still we drove on. Occasionally, Brandon would offer to take over driving, but I declined his offer and we pressed onwards.
“What’s your family like?” I murmured, glancing at my passenger briefly. It was a few minutes past three and we had been driving almost non-stop, stopping only for gas twice so far.
A contented smile flitted over his face and he leaned back luxuriously into his seat, “Home.” Slowly, his eyes closed behind the thick lenses of his glasses and his shoulders slumped into a relaxed position. “My family is amazing, loving, warm, insane, fantastic, comforting, teasing, welcoming, threatening…” he trailed off and heaved a sigh. “They’re just… family.”
Before he could shoot the same question over to me I leaped at the contradictions in his description of them, “How can they be welcoming and threatening at the same time?”
A pleasant laugh bubbled out of his mouth. “I’ve got three sisters.” The way he said it made it sound like he had just explained the entire thing with four simple words. When I didn’t say anything, he continued, “All of them are of dating age. So, any girls are completely welcome, but guys are faced with a little more adversity.” A short bark of laughter left his lips. “My dad likes to keep his shotgun on a wall near the door.”
I laughed along with him; my dad had been the same way when it came to guys. He would sing Rodney Atkins’ song ‘Cleaning This Gun’ quietly every time I mentioned boys.
“What’re your parents like?” He sounded happy, probably from talking about his family; it was clear that they were a big part of his life.
“Oh, you know… parents.” I shrugged as I deflected the question nonchalantly; my palms were sweating against the steering wheel.
“Do you have any siblings?” His voice had taken on a mildly uncomfortable tone.
“Nope, I’m an only child.” No further explanation was offered.
“Oh, that’s cool. What was that like?” Brandon was trying desperately to keep this conversation going, and I was desperately trying to end it.
“I had a lot of freedom. You know how the first child is generally the ‘experiment child’? Well, because I was their first and only kid, they kinda didn’t know what to do with me. They didn’t really know what they were doing, but really, what parent does?” By now my hands were so slick I was afraid the steering wheel would slip from my grip. “They did the best they could, though. And they did pretty well.” A yawn suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and I was grateful that I could stop talking to cover my mouth.
“Do you want me to drive for a bit? You could sleep for a while, if you want?” I leapt at the chance to catch a few winks eagerly and pulled into the next rest stop we encountered.
My head hit the head-rest and within minutes I was asleep.
“Calypso. Hey, Calypso. Wake up.” Brandon began to poke me in the side and I groaned as I forced my eyes open to look at him.
“We’re almost out of gas, and seeing as I really don’t have any money…” The very tips of his ears rouged and I resisted the urge to laugh. He was sort of adorable, in a nerdy way.
“Mmmkay…” I mumbled as I reached one hand blindly in the dark backseat of the car to find my purse. “Pull into the next gas station and I’ll get us some gas.”
He obliged and pulled into a creepy-looking gas station. “Are you sure you want to stop here? It looks… questionable.”
I snorted. “Dude, we’ll be fine. Don’t sweat it.” Clutching my purse tightly to my chest, I clambered out of the passenger side door as Brandon opened up the gas door.
A chill ran down my spine as the cool, night air seeped through my thin long-sleeved shirt and simple cargo pants. The gas station wasn’t well lit, and no one but us was pulled up. Bright lights from inside the store showed that they were still open, but there was no attendant in sight. I quickly swiped my credit card and lifted the nozzle; something about this place unsettled me and I wanted to get of there as soon as possible.
A distant rustle startled me in the dead silence that surrounded me, and I jumped. The silence settled again and I chided myself for being so childish. It was just Brandon and I, besides, there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Still, my ‘irrational’ fears enticed me into keeping a tight hold on my purse.
My fears were soon proved rational when the rustling began again and was then accompanied by a twig snapping and the emergence of a shadowy figure. A faded blue hood darkened his face so that I couldn’t make anything out except for a gruff jaw the was prickled with grey and black hair.
Because I had such a fantastic hold on myself, I froze in place, eyes wide. My pulse exploded and my heart hammered in its fleshy casing; perhaps it hoped to escape its prison before it could be torn out, or whatever it was that this man had in store for me. With a shudder, I pushed such grisly thoughts out of my head and regained my wits. Hurriedly, I removed the nozzle from the gas tank and set it back in its rightful place. Then, as calmly as I could, I walked back around the car, careful to stay in the most lit parts of the gas station. Before I could make it back to the passenger side door, however, the man bolted towards me, gnarled hands outstretched, fingers bent into a claw shape.
I couldn’t help myself; a scream rent through my lips as fear over took me, spreading from my scalp all the way to the soles of my feet. I was frozen to the spot; I couldn’t move; I was absolutely, without a doubt, paralyzed with terror.
It happened so much faster than I could have imagined: one moment my purse was held tightly in my hands, and the next the thief was racing away with it.
I knew I was taking a stupid chance, but the guy had taken my purse. I guess I shouldn’t have cared as much as I did, but there was a picture of my parents in my wallet—the only picture that I had kept from my old life. Hearing Brandon talk about his parents made me again realize how very much I missed them and sent another pang of guilt ringing through my body. I had to get that photo back.
Pumping my legs as fast as they would go, I sprinted after the thief. I kept my breathing regulated; in, out, in, out. I hadn’t run so fast and so hard before in my life, and my lungs were already starting to burn as I ran after him. My calf muscles cried out in protest as I pushed myself after him. Slowly, impossibly, I began to gain on him and I reached a hand out to catch him by the back of his shirt.
Instead, I tripped and accidentally tackled him to the ground.
The fall winded both of us, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before he would get up and start running again. Using the fact that I had fallen atop him to my advantage, I placed my knee firmly on the middle of his back and pressed all my weight down on him; trying to squeeze any air I could out of his lungs. Almost immediately I was rewarded with a wheeze.
Not knowing what to do from there, I leaned forward—still careful to keep most of my weight pressed into his back—and tugged my purse out of his fingers. I stood quickly, and turned to run away, but the man leapt up and grabbed me by the shoulder.
Out of sheer desperation, I whirled around, fist clenched, and hit the man square in the jaw. He was slightly fazed, but my meager strength wasn’t enough to knock him out. Clearly not afraid to hit a girl, his own fist lashed out and hit me in the temple. Black dots swam in my vision and I momentarily lost my balance. Through the dancing lights, I saw the man reaching for my purse. Almost of its own accord, my knee flew upwards and connected solidly with the man’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him once more and doubling him over. Seizing my chance, I brought my elbow down viciously on the man’s kidneys and sent him to the ground. A solid kick in the side convinced him to stay down.
Blinding headlights suddenly flooded the scene and I stumbled towards them; anyone, anything would be better than that guy.
“Calypso, are you alright?” Brandon’s voice floated towards me and I could never have been happier to hear it.
“I’m…” A frown twisted my lips as I contemplated saying ‘fine’. I dismissed the word as a complete lie about my condition and started again. “Heck no.”
“What—who—I saw this guy—and then you—why did you…”
As he continued to stutter and wonder, I slipped into the passenger side of the car and let my head loll back to hit the head rest. “Get in the car, Nickson.” I shouted. Carefully, I removed my wallet and peeked inside the main pocket before drawing the picture out. I held it carefully inbetween my fingers, and gazed longingly at my deceased parents’ faces.
“That?” Brandon’s tone was disbelieving as he backed onto the road and began to drive away. “You went after a thief for a picture?”
“Yeah. I did.” I swiveled my head around so that I was looking him dead in the eyes, challenging him. “Problem?”
“Well, no, I guess not. But… You could have been hurt, Amanda.” He sounded so much like my mother would have if I had done such a thing while she was around that another pain shot through me.
I shook the feeling off and resumed the Calypso-persona. “Me? Hurt? Really, Nickson, your faith in me is insulting. You actually thought some idiot mugger would be able to one-up me?” I snorted, sounding much more confident and fearless than I did on the inside. “He wishes.”
Even though it was mid-October, the weather in Florida felt like it was the middle of July. The sun beat down on Brandon and me as we exited my car and walked up the driveway to his house. We had come from spending the night in North Carolina and the temperature was uncomfortably different—mostly because I was still wearing a long sleeved shirt and an oversized sweater over jeans.
“Is it always this hot in Florida?” I gasped, using one hand to fan myself with my layers of clothing.
A short bark of laughter tore through Brandon’s lips, “Yeah, unfortunately.” Nose wrinkling with distaste, he paused with his hand on the door handle. “You should be here when it’s summer; take one step outside and you’re a puddle on the ground.”
“Oh, come on, that’s got to be an exaggeration.” We stepped inside together, and I took in the entry way.
It wasn’t very large, just a rather long, green hallway with doors lining both sides. A few stood open, while others were shut tightly.
“Jamie? Jamie is that you?” A woman’s voice called out from the right side of the hall and a moment later an woman’s face popped around the corner. Glasses were propped lopsidedly on the end of her nose and her lightly graying hair looked like it had been pulled back rather hastily into a sloppy bun. “Brandon?”
“Hey, Mom!” A huge smile lit up Brandon’s face and he rushed over to envelop the petite woman in a bear hug.
“Brandon, what are you doing home?” Brandon’s mom hugged him back quickly, but a puzzled expression remained on her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the writing seminar in New York until tomorrow?”
A writing seminar, eh? So, that’s what I pulled Brandon away from.
“There were…” he trailed off and threw a backwards glance over his shoulder at me. “…complications.”
“Oh?” Her son’s look towards me had not been lost on the woman, and, with eyebrows piqued, she looked at me. “And who might this be?” Her tone wasn’t rude in the least, merely curious.
Brandon opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him off as I stepped forward and extended my hand towards her. “Calypso Vivian Sprile,” I rattled off quickly, pumping her hand up and down once. “It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Nickson.”
Mrs. Nickson withdrew her hand and placed both hands into the front pockets of the blue checkered apron she had tied around her torso. “And you as well, Calypso. Are you friends with Brandon?”
“We met at the writing seminar,” interjected Brandon quickly. “She offered me a ride home.”
“All the way from New York?” Mrs. Nickson’s eyes grew wide from behind her circular framed glasses and she looked between the two of us rapidly. “That’s quite a drive.”
“It was nothing.” I shrugged and shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “I needed to get out of New York anyways.”
A small smile began to play at the corner of Brandon’s lips, probably at the thought of my assertion that the mob was after me and I couldn’t help but smile myself at the sight of it.
“Mom? Did I hear you say—“ A young girl’s voice stopped abruptly as a golden-haired teenager walked in, clothed in a pair of baggy grey sweats and a tank top. “Oh.” Her gray-blue eyes raked over me appraisingly, then flitted between Brandon and I and the smiles we were sharing. “Brandon, you never told me you had a girlfriend.”
Her brother’s face flushed a tomato red and I think that, perhaps, mine did as well. “Calypso’s not my g-girlfriend, Kaylee,” Brandon spluttered out, taking a step away from me quickly. “She—I—we—uh—“
“We’re just friends,” I supplied. “We met at the writing seminar in New York.”
“And he took you all the way back here? You two must be quite good friends.”
I grimaced at the underlying implications in her sentences, but didn’t respond. After a few moments of awkward silence she spoke again, “Welcome back, Brandon,” then turned sharply on her heel and left the entry way.
“I’m sorry about that, Calypso. She’s getting over a bad breakup… she isn’t exactly herself right now.” Mrs. Nickson smiled apologetically as she led Brandon and I into their large, green kitchen. “Would you like something to drink?”
I shook my head as Brandon and I sat down at a small table in one corner of the kitchen, “No, thank you.” Brandon merely shook his head.
After getting a glass of water for herself, Mrs. Nickson joined us at the table, straightening her crooked glasses as she sat down at the honey-colored wooden table. “So… how exactly did you two meet?”
I stole a quick glance at the boy next to me, before speaking, “A random chance encounter.” I said, just as Brandon said, “I hit her with a door.”
Mrs. Nickson’s eyebrows shot up and an amused smile toyed with the corners of her lips, “You hit her with a door?”
Brandon was suddenly very interested in drawing patterns on the table’s smooth surface, “It was an accident.”
“It didn’t hurt at all.” I reassured her while bumping Brandon with my shoulder. “It was more like a nudge than a hit. No worries.”
“Brandon has always been such a klutz,” Mrs. Nickson confided in me, leaning forward and lowering her voice conspiratorially. “Why, when he was ten years old he—“
“Mom!” Brandon’s voice was panicked and, because he had jerked forward suddenly, he pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
Mrs. Nickson put on her very best innocent face and looked at Brandon, her face alight with a playfulness that made her seem much younger than she probably was, “What? I was just going to tell her about how you—“
“—squashed a banana in your shirt.” One look at her face told me that that wasn’t really what she was going to tell me about, but I giggled politely all the same.
“That’s not so bad,” I said, turning to Brandon. “I once broke my arm sliding down a stair banister. My parents weren’t very happy with me about that.”
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence. No one could find a way to carry on a conversation: Whatever was said merely ended awkwardly. Once in a while someone would cough, just to fill the silence, and I found myself drumming my fingertips in a nervous pattern across the tabletop. In the continued silence I began to let my eyes wander around the room.
Cabinets the same golden-brown color as the table lined three of the walls, and the last wall was composed of two, paned, sliding-glass doors. In the yard there was a small garden box the color of ash, and a hammock hanging from two palm trees.
“You have a beautiful home,” I complimented them truthfully.
Cue silence again.
Mrs. Nickson invited me to stay for dinner, and I accepted her gracious offer gratefully. Honestly, after driving for nearly two days straight and getting mugged the night before, I was not anxious to get back on the road. I didn’t even know where my next destination would be. While in New York I had considered withdrawing a good chunk of money and going to Paris for a good amount of time, but driving Brandon down to Florida had delayed those plans. Though, the more I thought about it, the less appealing the idea became.
The table was rather full, though we moved from the small kitchen nook to a larger dining room. One of Brandon’s little sister’s boyfriends was also over for dinner so there was a total of eight of us seated at a table that usually held six.
The meal was good, simple and satisfying, and when we are all done eating, we just kind of sat there while making conversation. They were easy topics like school, travels, childhoods, but when the topic turned to my parents I felt immediately uncomfortable.
“So, Calypso, what do your parents do?” All eyes turned expectantly towards me, and I felt my face flame.
My mouth suddenly felt rather dry and I forced myself to swallow down a massive lump that had appeared in my throat. “Uh, m-my mom… she’s a nurse. And my dad—“I coughed, probably noticeably uncomfortable—“he’s an engineer.”
Kaylee piped up then with: “Do they know that you drove Brandon down here from New York?”
“Yeah. ‘Course.” I scoffed, rolling my eyes quickly. I was probably coming off as very brusque, but in that moment I couldn’t really care less.
“When’re you heading back up to New York?” She threw back at me.
“Probably right after dinner,” I replied, running my fingers through my hair quickly. “I couldn’t impose any longer than that.”
“Of course you can!” Brandon nearly-shouted, all eyes snapping over to him in surprise, and all I could think was: Brandon say what now? “You just drove me down here all the way from New York! The least we could do is let you stay a few days.” From behind his glasses, I could see his eyes dart to his parents quickly, and his mother nod her assent.
“I, uh…” I tried to come up with a reason that I couldn’t possibly stay, but my mind had gone blank.
“It’s settled then! Calypso will be staying with us for a few days.” Brandon accented the end of his sentence by banging his fist on the tabletop.
I guessed I was staying in Florida.
I’d never really liked the water much, so what Brandon was trying to convince me to do was like trying to convince a dog person that chickens have just as much personality as their beloved canines—stupid and pointless.
“C’mon, Calypso! The Sunfish is perfectly safe.” He was standing up to his shins in the greeny-blue water, a small, flat sailboat in front of him, beached on the slight shore.
I snorted derisively and eyed the miniature watercraft with distaste. “Yeah, Brandon, that totally looks safe…”
I couldn’t see his eyes from behind his glasses, but judging from the way his head moved, he rolled his eyes at my sarcasm. “Your lazy wit will do nothing to dissuade me from forcing you into that boat. Get in willingly or I will drag you kicking and screaming into it.”
Narrowing my eyes, I crossed my arms across my chest and took a step away from the boat. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Brandon’s dark eyebrows shot up. “Oh, wouldn’t I?”
“Nope!” Taking another step backwards, I smiled smugly.
There was absolutely no way this nerd of a guy thought he could actually drag me into a boat against my will. The thought was laughable.
“You’ve got three seconds to get in this boat, Calypso. Three…”
I stayed where I was.
“One...” At this point, Brandon’s thin lips were pressed together tightly as he watched me—waiting for me to clamber onto his floating death-trap. When I didn’t, however, a sort of mischievous smile twisted his lips upwards. “You have chosen your fate then?”
I blew a raspberry at him. “Bring it on.”
Arms outstretched, Brandon bolted towards me, but I easily side stepped his lumbering advance. “You’re going to have to try harder than that.” I taunted, dancing away just out of his reach.
Our little dance continued on like that for several minutes until we were both huffing as we tried to catch our breath.
“You… will get… on that boat… If it’s the last… thing I do.” Brandon was doubled over, his
hands on his knees
"You... wish... bro..." My lungs hurt in my chest and my breath was coming out in wheezes. While both of us were winded, it sounded like I was the one who was laboring to breath more. Brandon took advantage of my momentary weakness and I soon found myself lying sloppily in his arms then dumped into the boat.
"I...win." A tired smile of triumph brightened his face before he collapsed onto the boat beside me and shoved us off the shore.
The boat rocked lightly in the slight waves, and with every move Brandon made we would tip farther this way or that. When I had caught my breath, Brandon handed me a small wooden handle that attached to something in the back of the boat.
"What's this for?" I looked at the thing in my hands and frowned down at it.
"That's how you steer." Brandon held a rope in his hands and he would keep it taut in his hands, though he would occasionally have to duck under the sail as it moved with the wind.
"And you're trusting me to steer?"
"Why yes, yes I am." He looked at me from behind his thick glasses. "Is that a problem?"
"No..." My bottom lip slipped between my teeth, and I began to chew on it nervously. What if I tipped us over? What if I ran us into one of the trees that hung over the lake? What if--
"...now take this rope, and--"
"Wait, what?" I tore myself out of my reverie of 'what if's and focused on the boy in front of me who was holding the rope he had previously been handling out to me.
"I'm going to get my own Sunfish. Now take this rope and I'll just--"
"You're going to get your own Sunfish?" I stared at him disbelievingly as I felt my stomach twist with fear inside of me. "But that means I'm going to be on this one... alone."
A sarcastic smile quirked Brandon's features. "Yes, it does. Do you think you can handle that?"
His snarky words fired up my rebellious streak, and I found the words flying from my mouth before I could stop them. "Of course I can handle it," I snapped. "Go get your stupid Sunfish, I'll be fine out here on my own."
"Are you sure?" His smirk had dissolved and he looked genuinely concerned now. "I wouldn't want to leave you out here by yourself if you felt badly about it."
His words were kind, but the angry fire he had lit inside of me was still burning strongly. "Just get the freaking Sunfish."
Wordlessly, Brandon took off his glasses and handed them to me, then, as I shoved them into my shorts' pocket, he dived into the water and began swimming towards the shore. The force of his jump off of the small boat sent it rocking dangerously this way and that. My throat clenched tightly, and I fought the urge to cry out for him. Instead, I gripped the edges of the boat tightly and waited for the side-to-side motion to lessen, keeping the rope Brandon had handed me clutched tightly in my hand all the while. By the time that I felt secure enough to take the wooden handle back into my hands, he had already made it back to shore, and was climbing into the second Sunfish.
Taking a deep breath, I readjusted my grip on both the rope and the steering handle and allowed myself to relax a little. It was just a small sailboat. It wasn't going to kill me. I could do this.
It took several minutes, but I eventually felt comfortable in the tiny watercraft. Soon, Brandon and I were racing around the lake, laughing as we were blown around by the wind. We spent a good portion of the afternoon on the lake and didn't even notice when the weather began to shift slightly.
"You ready to head back in?" Brandon pulled his Sunfish up next to mine. "It's probably about lunch time by now, and I don't know about you, but I'm hungry."
Grinning, I looked up at the sky. It was darker than before, but it didn't look like anything to worry about. "How about one more race around the lake? Loser owes winner an ice cream."
Brandon laughed good-naturedly and pulled away from my boat. "You're on."
We started around the circular body of water, and I soon pulled ahead of him.
"Better go faster, or you're going to lose!" I shouted back over my shoulder, smirking backwards at Brandon.
"Slow and steady wins the race, Calypso!"
I laughed. "That's just an excuse to go slowly, you tortoise."
"Keep going towards that tree, and we'll see who wins."
I twisted in the boat to see where I was going, and, sure enough, I was headed straight for a tree whose branches drooped over the lake shore. As I adjusted the sail to turn away from it, Brandon pulled ahead of me, chortling.
He stayed ahead of me for the next quarter of the lake. At that moment, the downpour started.
It started slowly at first, with only a few drops raining from the sky, but it soon escalated in magnitude until it was coming down in heavy torrents, soaking and chilling me to the bone. The wind picked up in speed, and because of this, the waves got choppier, sending the boat this way and that. The sail rattled angrily on its pole, and I fought to keep the rope taut as the jib continually swung in different directions.
As I peered through the thick rain, the metal pole swung around again and hit me squarely in the side of the head. Momentarily stunned, my hand let go of both the steering handle and the rope. I quickly regained myself, but it was too late. The boat turned over onto its side, dumping me into the water.
The water was shockingly cold. As soon as I hit the water, I breathed in sharply, accidentally sucking in a mouthful of water. The darkness crushed me, and I was so disoriented I couldn't tell which way was up.
Was I drowning? Did Brandon even notice that my boat had capsized? So many questions buzzed through my head as I lost oxygen beneath the surface of the lake.
My legs kicked wildly, and I clawed towards what I thought was upwards, but for all I knew I was just pushing myself further towards the bottom of the lake. After what seemed like an eternity, my head broke the surface, and I gulped the fresh air in. The rain continued to press down on me, and I wasn't sure what to do. As I kept myself afloat, I spotted the overturned boat right beside me. Unsure of any other course of action, I swam over to the boat and grabbed the side of it, tugging downwards in hopes that I would be able to flip it back over. Nothing.
Letting out a small scream of frustration, I tried to get a firmer hold on the slick underbelly and tugged again. It remained upside down. I tried to climb up onto the boat so that I could pull it by the other side, but the sides were too slippery and I slipped back into the water. I tried pushing it upwards, but that worked worse than pulling had. Finally, I gave up. I put my arms back up to the top of the boat, rested my head against the side, and closed my eyes. The only thing I could do now was wait for Brandon to notice that I hadn't made it back to shore and come and get me.
"Are you alright?" The voice that was suddenly my ear startled me and I almost lost my grip on the side of the boat.
Brandon was beside me, nix glasses, his hands on the side of the boat.
"Y-yeah, I'm fine." A shaky laugh escaped me. "A little chilly though."
"Chilly? In this beautiful weather? Impossible." He grinned briefly at me before tugging at the boat like I had. "Go ahead back onto the shore, Calypso. I've got this."
"Are you sure? I could help. I could--"
"Just get back on the shore. I'll be fine."
"O...Okay." With another shiver, I started to swim back to the shore. I was so exhausted, but I made it.
I stood there for a while, watching Brandon as he flipped the boat back over and steered it back into shore. When he began to move back towards his house, I started walking back as well, my wet flip flops squeaking as I walked. He made it back before I did, and ran into the house, only to emerge a second later carrying something. I was about halfway back when he reached me, dripping from the rain and out of breath from running to me from his house.
"Here, take this." He threw the thing he had been carrying at me, and I caught it clumsily. "It's kind of damp, but it's better than nothing."
I opened it up and saw that he had just given me a sweatshirt. Quickly, I threw it over myself and pulled the hood up onto my head. "Thank you."
He shrugged. "No problem."
The rain had stopped by now, though the clouds over head remained ominously dark.
"I'm sorry about the boat, Brandon." I sighed. "I didn't mean to flip it over and make you flip it back."
"It's no big deal, really." He turned to look at me and grinned. "There was once this guy who flipped it in the shallows. The mast got stuck in the mud underneath. Took me forever to get it unstuck. And the whole time I was working on it, he was on the back porch stuffing his face."
Wrinkling my nose, I said, "What? That's not cool."
"C'est la vie."
We walked together back to his house, shoulder to shoulder, smiling.
Nickson life was an unpredictable and busy affair, with everybody going their own separate ways and running this way and that seemingly non-stop. Most of the time, it was only Brandon, Mrs. Nickson, and I in the house; the rest of the family would convene at dinner time after Brandon's younger sisters had come home from school, and Mr. Nickson had come home from work. Brandon did not go to school like his sisters did because he had graduated the year before.
"Well, why don't you go to college then?" I asked one morning as we sat across from each other at the kitchen table, eating cereal.
He shoveled a spoonful of Raisin Bran into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed before answering. "Wanted a year free to explore my options. I hadn't really decided what I wanted to do with myself before I graduated and I didn't just want to go into college and take a bunch of pointless classes, wasting my parents' money."
"I guess that makes sense..." I murmured, looking down.
It seemed that this boy and I were complete polar opposites. While I had squandered away whatever my parents gave me, he was busy trying to save what his parents were offering him.
In an effort to distract myself from thoughts of my parents, I spoke again. "But didn't you have at least some idea of what you wanted to do?"
Brandon's ears suddenly tinted slightly pink and he looked down. "I thought about being a writer."
A writer? Why he was blushing about wanting to be a writer? A lot of guys write, and they're pretty successful. "Oh, that's cool. What kind?"
His ears colored an even darker shade of red. "You know Nicholas Sparks?"
All the pieces clicked together then and I found myself fighting back a giggle. "You wanted to write chick lit?"
"Romance novelist," he mumbled, eyes fixed on his cereal bowl. "And yeah, I did." Using his spoon, he pushed little pieces of bran flakes around the edges of his bowl. "That's, uh, that's actually why I wrote your name down the first day we met." He dug in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the small ratty notebook. "I've got this list of names I could use in novels I write in the future." He flipped through the pages and soon reached a page with a long list of names scrawled messily in a long line. My name, or rather, my pseudonym was at the very bottom of the list.
A few minutes passed by without either of us speaking after Brandon put the small notebook back in his pants' pocket. We both finished our cereal and he collected both my bowl and his own and dumped them in the sink.
"So, uh... why chi--, I mean, why a romance novelist?" I questioned; I began to trace patterns on the wooden table with my forefinger as I tried to keep the conversation going.
He shrugged as he moved back to the table and sat down. "It was something I was good at. I like to capture the... the struggle, the quiet desperation." He wouldn't make eye contact with me as he spoke, but kept his gaze on his hands that were clasped in front of him. "There are so many emotions that I could capture in just one tiny moment that I felt were lacking in other genres." A little spark lit up his eyes as he finally raised them to look at me. "I tried horror, mysteries, thrillers, humor, but I couldn't make the words... sing. I couldn't make them convey all of the emotion that I wanted them to." Brandon allowed himself a small smile. "But I can do that with romance."
"Oh." Finding no other words to say, I contented myself with staring at the table. A sudden inspiration hit me, and my head shot up so that I could look at him. "Could I read some of your work?"
He seemed taken aback by my sudden request and stammered for a little bit before finally acquiescing and retrieving a small laptop from his room. He placed the miniature computer on the tabletop and started it up, humming a little tune as he waited for it to power up all the way. When it eventually did, he pulled up the documents and shifted it so that the screen was facing me, saying, "Take your pick."
I scrolled through the titles slowly, until I found one that caught my eye. "Too Late." I read the title aloud as I double clicked on the file.
"Oh, uh, that one is unfinished." Brandon stumbled out quickly, tripping over his own tongue. "But, you're welcome to read it if you'd like."
Slowly, carefully, I began to read the words out loud.
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He had it all planned out, and this was definitely not going according to plan.
"He glanced down at Juniper, clutching her book to her chest. She was wearing a baggy shirt and slacks, trying to hide, he knew. She smiled up at him. 'Thank you SO much for driving me out here. My dad was being a pain about it.'
" 'It's not a problem.' He smiled down at his short friend. 'Why is this book so special to you anyways?'
"She smiled shyly and glanced down at her hands that were folded in her lap. 'It's a piece of my childhood. I lost my copy, so I need another one. It's just one of things you can't live without, you know?'
"Yes, I know. He thought. You're it." I paused there and let the words he had written sink in. So this male character was obviously in love with Juniper. Too bad he was too shy to say anything...
" 'I really didn’t mean to drag you out so late…'
“ 'You had me pick you up,' he glanced at his cell phone. 'three hours ago. It’s my fault for dragging you around the mall. I just wanted to hang out with you.'
“ 'You’re sweet,' she laughed."
I giggled quietly to myself along with Juniper. I could so easily picture the two friends sitting there in his car--her totally clueless, and him so helplessly in love. Briefly, I wondered if Brandon had written this from experience.
"He didn't know how to respond to that, so a few seconds passed by in utter silence.
" 'This is it.' Juniper said finally, using her index finer to point to a tiny, run-down looking shop on their right.
" 'Are you sure it's still open?' Jordan was dubious. The lights looked like they were off in the shop.
“ 'Should be,' she said, sitting up and straining to see. 'You can just drop me off right here and go park. I won’t be long. Promise.'
"He eyed the neighborhood. 'I don’t think so. We can walk up together.'
"She scoffed. 'Please, Like anyone’s gonna come after me.'
" 'Please? Just let me walk you to the shop, it'll make me feel better.' His eyes scanned the surrounding buildings again and a hundred different scenarios flashed through his mind at once.
"She rolled her eyes, 'You're acting like my father.'
" 'Is it so wrong to be protective of your best friend?' He smiled and stopped the car. 'Come on. You really have no choice in the matter, anyways.' "
I smiled at the thought of an overprotective best-friend. I'd never actually had one, as I looked back, I realized that all they had really done was bring me down, instead of lifted me up as friends were supposed to.
"She shoved his arm as he wrapped them both around her neck and pulled her close. 'You’re stuck with me!' She giggled and pushed him away to get out of the car.
"He followed suit and grabbed her arm again, linking it. He grinned, happy to be right there in that moment.
“ 'People are gonna think we’re dating,' she scoffed.
“ 'Is that a bad thing?'
"If only she knew the knots his stomach was twisting itself into as he waited for her answer.
" 'No...' She answered slowly. 'But it's not necessarily a good thing either.'
"Jordan shrugged, ignoring the feelings in the pit of his stomach. 'Maybe it's for the better. No one will try anything when I'm around.' He removed his arm from hers momentarily and flexed his nearly non-existant muscles. 'Check out these guns.'
"She laughed and let his arm drape on her shoulder. 'Right, my big strong man.'
"They got up to the door and saw the little sign was turned to ‘closed’.
“ 'Drat!' Juniper cried, slumping over.
“ 'This is my fault,' Jordan said. “ 'I’ll pick it up tomorrow, okay?'
" 'No, no it's okay. I didn't really--' she was cut off suddenly and gasped out 'oh!' as her purse was snatched from her hands.
"They both turned their heads to see a man running off with Juniper’s purse tucked under his arm.
“ 'I got him!' Jordan yelled as Juniper reached out to stop him. He was gone.
"Suddenly she was grabbed around the waist and her feet pulled right out from under her.
“ 'Wallet?' a voice asked.
“ 'In the purse,' she snarled. 'Which he now has.' "
The story ended there, all the rest were little fragments--mostly questions--that questioned whether or not the tale should have a happy ending, and if were to have a tragic one, which one of them should die. It seemed, from what I could gather from the random ramblings, that he was leaning towards killing off Jordan.
"I like it." I finally said, looking away from his computer screen and up at him. "I like how you kind of combine two different genres in one. Romance and maybe a little bit of suspense."
A brilliant grin bloomed across Brandon's face. "Yes, exactly!" he exclaimed excitedly. "There's just so many different dimensions of the romance genre you can explore. It can be combined with almost anything for some kind of... new story to be told."
We continued to discuss his writing for the remainder of the morning, and the minutes ticked by quickly to become hours. Neither of us felt the passing of the time, and were surprised when his mother suddenly burst into the room and turned the kitchen T.V. on.
"Mom, what's going on?" Brandon demanded, looking up suddenly from his laptop to stare at his mother with bewilderment.
"Shhh!" She hushed him quickly as she turned the channel to a news station.
"...don Nickson went missing a little over a week ago while he was supposed to be at a writing conference in New York City." The female news anchor stared directly into the camera, her voice carrying through the speakers clearly and loudly. "It is speculated that this woman," a picture of me from a year ago surfaced onto the screen, "took him from the conference center where the seminar was to be held. The two were last seen together at a motel in Pennsylvania where the two seemed to have a falling out."
My pulse began racing and Brandon and I looked at each other in panic.
"This is not the first felony that this woman, Amanda Brown, has committed." My breath hitched in my throat and I found my fingers grasping desperately at the edge of the tabletop. "A year ago, she killed her parents in a drunk driving accident. She failed to show up to her court hearing and it is suspected that she is currently on the run."
Both Brandon and Mrs. Nickson's eyes were trained onto me. Mrs. Nickson shut the television off.
I thought 'uh-oh' before the words even left her mouth.
"Calypso, you have some explaining to do."
And that's how it went down." I lean back in my chair and smirk at the bald man in front of me.
The man is rather portly and his knees crick as he stands. "You've only gotten halfway through, Ms. Sprile." He shoots a disdainful glance in my direction and sighs. "But I suppose that is enough for one day." Suddenly, a small smile is playing about the corners of his lips and he pauses at the doorway. "Would you care to see Mr. Nickson?"
I'm unsure of whether or not I actually want to see him, but find myself nodding anyways. "Yes, I would."
The man reaches his hand out and gestures for me to follow him. Carefully, I stand up--I am a little stiff from sitting for so long--and follow him out of the small room and down a long corridor whose ceiling is lined with bright, white fluorescent lights. It is not that long of a walk as the room where Brandon was being questioned is just down the hall. Quickly, I step through a narrow doorway into a room similar to the one that I had been in. Brandon is sitting at the small, metal table, his hands folded in his lap.
"Hey." I breathe out, moving to the table and sitting in the chair across from his.
"Hey," he replies. He looks tired, and I wonder if they were asking him the same questions they asked me.
We sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes, just reveling in being in the same room with someone we know. After nine hours of talking to a complete stranger about the past few weeks' events, I am tired out and--at this point--just want to pass out.
"So what did they ask you?" I ask finally, leaning back in my chair so that I'm balancing on only two of the four legs.
"Where I was. If I was in danger. How well you treated me when you had kidnapped me." Brandon smiles and looks at me. "Your standards of living for your captives are much higher than they're used to."
We laugh together and the sound rings throughout the room, filling the enclosed space with the pleasant noise. Neither of us know if we're still being watched or not, but in this moment it doesn't even matter.
The laughter scratches at the back of my throat, and my guffaws suddenly turn into a coughing fit. I double over, my eyes squeeze shut, and I feel like my body is trying to hack up one of my lungs. I press my fist against my mouth in hopes that it will muffle the awful sound that I'm emitting. Finally, the fit is over. Slowly, I draw my hand away from my mouth--just in case my body decides to spasm like that again--and see small flecks of red dotting its side. I frown down at the small drops, and use my other hand to wipe them away carelessly.
"Are you alright?" the boy across from me asks tentatively. He is half out of his seat, as if he is prepared to rush to my side to give me assistance if I need it.
I clear my throat quickly and nod, "Yeah, absolutely. Just a little tickle in my throat." I grin widely at him, hoping to reassure him of my healthy state. "Everyone gets little coughing fits now and then, right?"
"Well," just from the way Brandon pushes his glasses back up his nose, I can tell that a random fact is about to be spewed. "It's not unusual for such a thing to occur... Oh, about twenty-five times a day--about once every hour in the day." A sudden light appears in his eyes as he continues, "Coughing is actually the expulsion of unwanted debris and pathogens from the lungs. It's not a tickle in your throat. The unwanted materials are expelled at speeds up to--" He notices the flat look I'm giving him, and finishes his sentence much more quietly than he began. "six hundred miles per hour..." He grins sheepishly and shrugs. "Everyone gets little nerd moments now and then, right?"
I laugh at his mimicry of what I had said just moments before. "Well, it's not an unusual thing to occur..." I don't finish the sentence, but wink at him playfully, and we find ourselves laughing together again.
All too soon, the next day rolls around and Brandon and I are separated to be questioned again. It's the same bald man as before, but this time he doesn't have his folder with him.
"What? You don't need my background info this time?" I'm more comfortable now than I was yesterday, but my nerves are still a little... off.
"Please cut the smart-mouthing, Ms. Sprile," the bald man sighs. "We can end this entire messed up affair today if you would just cooperate."
I frown but settle back in my chair and begin, "Where was I?" Bald-y sends me a dirty look, and I can't help but smirk at how much I'm bothering him. "Oh, right. 'Calypso, you have some explaining to do.' "
Brandon and Mrs. Nickson's accusing eyes on me were extremely unnerving. Mrs. N's green-blue eyes were piercing through her small glasses, and, although I couldn't see Brandon's eyes on me, I could most definitely feel them.
"I, uh, I..." My heart was pounding erratically in my chest, and my palms were beginning to sweat. Slowly, I turned to face Brandon head-on. "You weren't supposed to find out this way." I stole a glance over at Mrs. Nickson. "And neither were you."
"Then how were we supposed to find out?" Brandon's voice was sour and his tone biting.
My mouth went kind of dry, and I had to dry my hands off on my pajama pants. "You, uh.. You weren't supposed to find out, actually." Ashamed, I looked down at my hands, and started to twiddle my thumbs. "No one was."
Taking a deep breath, Brandon's mom leaned towards me and looked me dead in the eye. "What happened, Calypso?"
Sighing, I looked down at my hands because I couldn't meet their eyes. "I was young and stupid... and..." I swallowed heavily, and ran my fingers through my hair. "...drunk. It was my birthday and I went out with some friends. My parents were kind of protective, so when I didn't come home... they--they drove out looking for me." A million different emotions were swirling through me, and moisture began to prick at the corners of my eyes. "I didn't mean to make them swerve into the tree... it just sort of... happened."
The silence in the room was thick, and I found it hard to breathe--whether it was from the uncomfortably heavy atmosphere or the rush of emotions stuck in my throat, I didn't know. Unconsciously, I started to trace the tattoo of a dove on my wrist, and Brandon noticed.
"That's why you got that tattoo," he murmured, his sudden understanding evident in his voice. "To remember her by..."
"In some cultures the dove is a symbol of rebirth." I didn't expound upon that statement, but when I looked up, the two of them were nodding as if they understood what I was saying.
"Now, what about this whole kidnapping business?" Mrs. Nickson's eyebrows were raised up high on her forehead. "It's obvious that you did not kidnap my son."
"Er, I, uh, I guess I should explain this one, Ma." Brandon glanced over at me quickly before continuing. "I... I hit Calypso in the back with the door to the men's room."
Brandon's mother looked absolutely befuddled. "You did what?"
"I hit Calypso with a door," he repeated. "So she pulled me into the women's restroom."
"You hit her with a door... so she pulled you into a restroom..." Mrs. Nickson spoke slowly, as if she were trying to grasp the entire concept. "Is that..." She trailed off, as if she had thought better of what she was going to say. "Then what happened?"
"Then she drove me back here," Brandon replied, shrugging. He had completely left out the part where I had convinced him that the mob was after me and I had forced him to stay in the same hotel room as me. For that, I was grateful.
His mom's mouth turned down into a frown, "Then why do they think that you kidnapped her?" A light flashed in her eyes. "And what's this about a 'falling out' in Pennsylvania?"
"It's just a really big misunderstanding, Mom." Brandon sighed, pulled of his glasses, and rubbed his closed eyes with his hand before returning his glasses to their usual position on his face. "We were arguing about something really stupid. I was just being grumpy." He shot me a small smile, and I couldn't help but smile back. He had totally just painted me in a much better light than I deserved to be in.
The older woman leaned back in the kitchen chair she was sitting in and looked at the two of us intensely. "And you two aren't lying to me at all?"
"No, ma'am." I promised, at the same time that Brandon said, "Nope."
"Well then." She folded her hands together in her lap. "What are you going to do about clearing all this mess up?"
I grimaced. "I'm not quite sure about that one yet." I ran my fingers through the snarled mess of my hair for the second time in the past twenty minutes. "Turn myself in, maybe?"
I sat up straighter, now realizing that that was exactly what I had to do. "Yeah, actually. That's what I'm going to do." I stood up and began to walk towards the guest room the Nicksons had provided for me.
"Where are you going?" Brandon called out from the kitchen.
"I need to get dressed. I don't really want to be arrested while I'm in my pajamas."