“We should head back,” I said, already tiring of our aimless journey.
“Why?” you asked, knowing I would interpret your response as defiant rather than curious.
“Because your dad’s car is shit, why else?” I retorted.
Your turned butane flame unto glass and grass and took a deep breath, “Yeah, well, it’s the only thing the fucker left for me, so, blame him.”
You passed the pipe and lighter off to me.
“I really don–” I started to protest.
“Yes, you do,” you told me.
“Trust me,” you interrupted, adjusting your seat to recline back, “it’ll help.”
“Fine, fuck it,” I said, putting the pipe to my lips and repeating my own former bad habits.
I exhaled and a pale cloud dispersed throughout the cabin of the car.
“But, I still don’t see how driving out to the middle of the desert is going to help my situation at all.”
“Who said it would?” you responded, taking another big puff. As you exhaled, a glint of regret struck your eye. “Fuck,” you said, “That was shitty of me. I’m sorry.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” I told you, albeit a little annoyed, “You’ve got your problems and shit just like everybody. It’s cool. Besides,” I started, reaching for the pipe again, “I feel like a bitch in front of you.”
I flicked the lighter and started to breathe in again, a sheepish attempt at avoiding the very topic I had just brought up myself.
“Why?” you asked me.
I had some stupid comeback lined up, one that I probably thought was witty, but it was soon forgotten as the caustic blend of fumes in my lungs started to burn away at the inside of my chest. A violent coughing fit took over, the unabsorbed smoke polluting the air around us as droplets of salive spattered against the steering wheel.
You rubbed my back as I struggled to regain control of myself. “You’re fine, you’re fine,” you reassured me, “but you’ve still got to answer my question.”
Short of breath and with eyes watery, I sat myself back in my seat. “Shit, I don’t know,” I stammered fidgeting with the lighter in my hand, “I just feel bad. Like, we used to be close, ya know? And then I go off and meet this girl and I feel like I haven’t talked to you in years.”
“But I’m the first person you call when she dumps your ass, huh?”
“Yeah… Sorry for being a shithead.”
Feelings of remorse welled up inside of me. You were one of the few people I could count on, more than my own family, to be there when things got bad. And I was the same for you. And despite my taking you for granted, you stayed true.
“Hey, you’re not a shithead,” you said. “Sure, you’ve been acting a little stupid lately, but you’re not a bad person. Besides, these are just all the perks of being me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, I might be easy to ignore, but there ain’t a chance in hell you’ll forget about me.”
You looked at me and smiled, and I chuckled a bit.
“Besides,” you started again, “It’s nothing new to me. Kind of used to being alone, and I like to think I have thicker skin than that.”
“Still… I’m sorry.”
You smiled at me again. “Shut up,” you said.
We sat still for a moment, silent. I stared ahead at the convenience store in front of our car, the blue and red neon “OPEN” sign illuminating an advertisement for cheap, watery beer. The attendant was standing behind the counter, flipping through his phone, seemingly apathetic towards our presence if not completely oblivious.
“Hey,” you said, “tell me a story.”
“A story?” I asked.
“Yeah. Tell me a story.”
“Uh, what kind of story?”
“I don’t care. Real, fake, doesn’t matter. Just tell me something.”
“Alright,” I said, still staring at the storefront, my eyesight losing focus as my mental energy is diverted towards the new task of storytelling. “So, I had this dream the other night. And, like, my dreams are normally pretty weird and scary or whatever. But this one really fucked me up.”
“Oooo~” you teased me, “Do go on.”
I sighed. “Stop,” I insisted.
“What!?” you lashed back, “I’m genuinely interested!”
“Okay, I’m sure. But you know I can’t stand that shit, it’s distracting.”
“Okay, okay, fine. I’ll shut up.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking another deep breath before continuing. “So, in my dream I was in this two-story brick house, kind of like the ones I would see back home, in the mountains on the west coast. Plantation-style and all that shit; really ritzy. There was perfectly trimmed green grass, big pine trees, everything you would expect. And even in my dream I wouldn’t be able to explain to you why I was there. Like, I just was.”
At this moment, the attendant put his smartphone away, and headed into the back storeroom.
“So, for whatever reason, I walk into this house, and it’s apparently some surprise party for me. Birthday, graduation, divorce, didn’t matter why but there I was. And everyone in the house is, like, people I knew when I was a younger. Other kids from the same street, classmates and the like, they were all there. Except they were all grown up now. So I wouldn’t really even recognize these people if I saw them today, but in the dream I just knew who they all were. And to really top it all off I’ve got none other than my old ex handing me my cake.”
“Scandalous,” you mumbled.
“Not even,” I argued, “just weird. And it gets so much worse. For one, I don’t even get to eat my cake. I don’t even know where it goes it just disappears. That’s just cruel. And then everyone starts stabbing each other. Like, for no reason. Just, ‘Happy birthday, fuck you, stab.’ And they’ve all got creepy looks on their face too like they’re freakishly enjoying it. Of course I’m the only one losing my shit, running all over the house trying not to die. And when I finally make it outside and I think I’ve gotten away, just everyone swarms out of the house after me. So I run down to these messed up old docks, but then I’m cornered. My ex and all of my childhood friends have me cornered and they just want to stab me on my birthday or whatever. So…” I took a breath, running out of oxygen from stammering on about my dream, seemingly more my own story than you were, “I jump into the lake. But, you know, I can’t swim in my dreams. So I just sink to the bottom of the lake, drowning, all while staring up at everyone from my hometown staring back at me. And that’s about when I woke up, pillow soaked in sweat just about as you’d imagine.”
I turned to you, seeking approval, but you were lying still with eyes closed, your chest expanding and deflating slowly. It was the first time I’d seen you fall asleep in the car.
I sighed. “You know,” I started, even though I was aware no one would hear me, “even after all of that, when I woke up, I wasn’t thinking about any of the people from my past, or even the other people in my life at the time.”
I tucked the pipe back into the glove box above your knees and closed it, then turning the keys in the ignition to restart your deadbeat father’s car.
“The only thing I could think about was you.”
Just as another truck entered the parking lot, I headed back onto the highway heading east, heading home.