Driving

All posts tagged Driving

On collisions.

Published October 25, 2016 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #31: Ben Jackson, husband and father of three, is killed on a car accident. Write about this event and how it affects the lives of the following characters:

  • Ben’s wife
  • Ben’s business partner
  • a police officer who was at the scene of the accident
  • Ben’s youngest child

 

By all accounts, Ben Jackson was a good man. He loved his family very much, and he showed up to work with a smile everyday. Ben never complained; he had nothing to complain about, really, and he knew it was all wasted breath. Ben Jackson had never intended to waste any breath as he fully understood how precious such breaths were. So when Ben breathed his last, when his breaths were brutally cut short, it was certainly not of his own volition.

He never even saw the other car coming.

But why would he? No one ever really looks for the car speeding through a red light; the car just comes, as careless and reckless as any harbinger of death would be. That might be melodramatic – it was no sullen, hooded figure gliding just above the pavement  with a sickle clutched in a bony hand. It had been a kid; a simple, pimply kid who was too busy sending text messages in the group chat and making plans for a Friday night he was certain would come to look up. So confident in his immortality as only the young are, he assumed the car in front of him had disappeared from his stolen glances at the road because the traffic light had changed color from red to green. In reality, the car had made a legal right on red, but the teen driver wasn’t really paying attention. He accelerated forward the way young, inexperienced drivers are apt to do – in sudden, scary bursts – and in just a moment more, he slammed into the side of Ben Jackson’s car, right into the driver’s door.

Ben’s affordable Kia Rio folded like a cheap suit and a jagged piece of metal from the poorly constructed door (later, no one would mention the recall at the service because to do so would be impertinent) severed his femoral artery. He bled out in just four minutes, just before the paramedics arrived.

Officer Bobby Gillis, responding to the scene, was unnerved by the lack of carnage for a crash with a fatality. The teen’s car had managed to travel unscathed to the far side of the relatively busy intersection before he collided with the deceased, a Mr. Ben Jackson. Officer Bobby Gillis was slightly bent at the waist, looking in through an open window at Ben Jackson’s face. The face was peaceful, like the man could be sleeping instead of being dead. Office Bobby Gillis released a deep breath and straightened up, looking across the way for his partner. Once he showed up, the pair would travel to the deceased’s home and notify the next of kin. Officer Bobby Gillis swallowed hard and ran a trembling hand across the back of his neck a few times. He needed to get his mind right, to focus on the task at hand, which in essence was to break someone’s heart, some undeserving stranger who as of yet had no idea a loved one was gone, dead and gone. His face felt tingly and he knew he must be pale, and he shut his eyes tight against the vision of the peaceful dead man that would haunt him at night for months to come.

Imagine if Officer Bobby Gillis knew what a great guy Ben Jackson was. How harder would the tragedy have landed on the officer if he knew Ben Jackson was on the road during the workday to pick up lunch for his colleagues, his treat? No good deed goes unpunished, and for a generous lunch, Ben Jackson had paid with his life. What a sick joke.

But neither Officer Bobby Gillis nor his partner knew the intimate details of Ben Jackson’s life and as such, both were better composed as they climbed wooden, creaking steps to a front door of a home that looked like every other home in the neighborhood. There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing to alert anyone to the fact that someone inside had been marked for death. Officer Bobby Gillis continued to grapple with his existential crisis until he noticed the toys in the yard and the small bikes in the driveway. His stomach flipped over and for a moment, just a moment, he debated running back to the cruiser and locking the doors. He’d rather avoid the whole, ugly mess.

But his partner had already knocked.

When the door opened, a gorgeous blonde with legs for miles answered the door. She was smiling, but it didn’t quite meet her big, baby doll eyes. Officer Bobby Gillis chalked it up to being uncomfortable and confused, which was how most pedestrians felt when the law came knocking on their door. Officer Bobby Gillis’ partner asked if the children were home.

“Just my youngest,” said the beautiful woman. “Jimmy and Josie are at school.” Her face paled considerably but somehow remained radiant. Officer Bobby Gillis credited contoured makeup. “Is everything okay? Did something happen to my children?”

The partner answered that no, nothing happened to the children and that they were safe. Then he asked if they could come in. Though the woman gave no response, she opened the front door wider and stepped back, which was as good an invitation as any. The officers crossed the threshold, softly shutting the door behind them, and followed the beautiful woman into the kitchen. She shakily sat in a chair, watching with impossibly wide eyes as the officers seated themselves opposite her.

Officer Bobby Gillis let his partner do all the talking.

And as the partner explained the tragedy, the beautiful woman didn’t make a sound. She blinked those big, baby doll eyes a lot, blinked them until a few tears rolled down her cheeks. Officer Bobby Gillis credited shock for the muted reaction, and considered that quite possibly, this woman was doing her best to keep it together for the little one that was somewhere inside the home. Officer Bobby Gillis and his partner offered expected but genuine condolences and then excused themselves. Once outside, Officer Bobby Gillis said, “Well, that sucked.” His partner agreed and Officer Bobby Gillis said, “That’s the absolute worst part of this job, man.”

Inside, the beautiful woman was still sitting at the table. Her name was Lisa and she had been married to Ben Jackson for ten years. They had known each other in high school, but waited a few years after they graduated college to get serious. It was a safe bet for Lisa, a sure thing; he was making money as a financial adviser and Lisa had never been any good at anything, not skilled enough to have a career. She also was never any good with money, so she had been content to be taken care of (financially, at the very least). That is, she had been content.

Phil Evans, Ben’s business partner, came walking out of the bedroom from down the hallway, tucking his expensive button-down shirt into his equally expensive pants. “Who was that?” he asked.

“The police,” Lisa said. Her voice was flat. “Ben’s dead. There was a car accident.” She blinked. “He didn’t make it. He’s dead.” She blinked again. In a moment more, those big, baby doll eyes landed on Phil.

Phil collapsed into the chair recently vacated by Officer Bobby Gillis. His eyebrows were scrunched up, like he was confused and trying to solve some exceedingly frustrating problem. “What?” he asked, even though he had heard Lisa perfectly. He didn’t know what else to say – what was there to say? – and he was buying time, time to think and figure it out.

“Ben’s dead,” Lisa repeated. Her voice cracked and tears came easier now. “Ben’s dead.”

Phil covered his face with his hands. “Shit,” he breathed. His breath was tremulous, speeding up and slowing down in a jerky kind of pattern that typically signaled tears. He didn’t want to cry in front of Lisa, didn’t feel he had the right to mourn Ben’s passing in Ben’s house. Phil’s recent sense of decency was odd and ill-timed, as he had just slept with Ben’s wife and had been doing so for months. “Lisa, I-”

Down the hall, Jeremy was softly crying. He was just waking up from his afternoon nap and rather than sit across from Phil and face the physical manifestation of everything that was wrong with her, Lisa hurried down the hall.

In her absence, Phil found himself able to cry.

death_in_the_hood

On making things better … or worse.

Published October 6, 2016 by mandileighbean

About three weeks ago, I went on a date with some guy I met online. We met on the boardwalk, which I liked. He looked only a little bit like his picture, but I’m sure the same could be said for me – I’ve definitely gained weight since the pictures I posted were taken. None of the mattered, really, because he was INCREDIBLY smart – knew more than a little bit about nearly everything. The conversation was great – enthralling, interesting. We talked for four hours, until the restaurants closed. At one point, he was explaining the scientific reasoning behind why men tend to react with violence while women are more emotional and tend to react with malicious manipulation. He posed a hypothetical question, asking me what I would do if a woman I hated, like really hated, keyed my car. I told him I’d go to the police, and he had to alter the scenario and tell me that wasn’t an option. I think he wanted to prove that eventually I would become violent (although in retrospect, I don’t see how that helps his argument at all, so maybe I misunderstood because he was SO much smarter than me). That inspired the short story below.

But some more about the date: he said “you see” a lot and removed his glasses to pinch and massage the bridge of his nose and pushed air through his nose awkwardly, almost like snorting but not exactly. In hindsight, it seems pretentious and textbook intellectual, but in the moment, it wasn’t so bad. There were even a few moments where I nearly convinced myself he was handsome, sitting on a bench overlooking the beach, calmly explaining the cosmos to the young woman beside him as a chilly wind whipped the finer strands of hair about his face.

But I think it was just the moonlight and me endeavoring to force a fairy tale where there wasn’t one. I haven’t heard from him.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #30: “Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?”

“Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?” Ashley pleaded. She was sitting in her Chrysler Sebring convertible with her best friend. The engine was running to keep the heat going; it was unseasonably cold, and tiny tremors assaulted Ashley’s body. The cloth top did little to keep the icy wind from seeping in and making the interior cold and uncomfortable. She watched her breath escape her lips in tiny, white puffs, disappearing as soon as they appeared. Despite the heat blasting from the vents, Ashley was shivering. For a moment, but only a moment, Ashley wondered how her best friend was faring, if she was as cold. But Ashley’s concern was fleeting. She wasn’t looking at Danielle, but stayed focus on the lone break in the curbing that served as both the entrance and exit of the parking lot. Neon lights and halogen bulbs lit up the night sky around them, and Ashley used the glare of the harsh and unflattering lights to peer into windshields and survey the colors of incoming cars. Oncoming headlights would blind her momentarily, but she would shut her eyes tight against them for a just a few seconds, all she could spare, and then she’d stare hard and long to make out the figures in the cars, to determine the exact shade of the paint of the exteriors of the cars. Ashley’s eyes shifted restlessly from side to side, scanning and searching for one driver in particular, one woman that was scheduled to meet a man in the diver bar that owned the parking lot. The man in question happened to be the love of Ashley’s life (at the very least, Ashley had convinced herself that was the case), and the woman in question was the current topic of conversation.

“I’m not going to do that,” Danielle refused. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared through the windshield. She forced her breath out of her lungs in short bursts, emphasizing her displeasure. Not unlike Ashley, Danielle wasn’t so eager to make eye contact. Everything had gone too far, much too far, and Danielle was having trouble comprehending that the woman gripping the steering wheel in tight, pulsating waves was the same woman she’d known for years and years, and had claimed as her best friend. Ashley was unrecognizable to Danielle. Sure, she looked the same, but the jealousy and ager that consumed Ashley and simmered somewhere just beneath the surface of her skin had caused her to mutate into something ugly, something horrible.

“Then why are you even here?” Ashley asked. She finally turned to face Danielle. Her tone was sharp so that the question was more of a piercing challenge. In her juvenile rage, Ashley wanted Danielle to leave so that Ashley could feel abandoned and awful, and thereby rationalize her unnerving desire to cause destruction and excuse her cowardly and dastardly behavior.

“To talk sense, Ashley; I need to convince you that this is really dumb, not to mention illegal. We need to leave before you do something stupid.”

There was a beat of silence. It was the calm before the storm; after just a moment more, Ashley slammed her palms against the dashboard and growled. It was a subdued scream that turned animalistic and cold and hard. Danielle felt uneasy but turned toward Ashley, willing to make eye contact and survey if Ashley was even present in the conversation, if she was even listening. “Go to hell,” Ashley sneered. “You don’t know what this feels like, okay? Save your self-righteous bullshit for your students.”

“If you weren’t acting like a child, I wouldn’t have to treat you like one, or talk to you like one,” Danielle retorted. “What is keying her car going to do, honestly?”

Ashley thought for a moment. “It’ll make me feel better.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but then what? Will it make Russ suddenly realize he’s been a douche? How will it prove you were the right choice?”

Silence settled upon the pair. The truth was that Ashley couldn’t answer Danielle’s questions because Danielle was right. It was stupid, completely asinine, but for the moment, Ashley didn’t care. She wanted to feel satisfied and to feel justified – she wanted to feel better about the whole messed up situation between her and Russ and their feelings (or lack thereof). “Why can’t you just let me have this?” Ashley demanded of her best friend. Her voice cracked and allowed the tears to finally spring up.

“What kind of friend would I be if I let you be a stupid, awful, petty bitch?” Danielle asked. She extended her arm to rub Ashley’s back as she sat behind the wheel and cried. “You’re better than all of this, and you deserve better than Russ.” Danielle spoke in softened tone, doing her best to soothe Ashley and her broken heart. “Let’s get out of here, okay? We’ll get milkshakes and fries and talk shit.” Danielle laughed to show Ashley that she honestly believed there was a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Danielle needed Ashley to know that eventually, things did get better.

“Fine,” Ashley growled. She wanted to hold onto her anger because she wanted to be in control of something. She couldn’t change how Russ felt and she couldn’t deny Danielle’s logic, but she could decide how she felt, dammit, and she was going to be angry, downright furious. Without giving it much thought, Ashley abruptly changed gears and had every intention of peeling out of the parking lot and leaving the whole aborted revenge plot behind her – in more ways than one – and Ashley would have done just that.

Unfortunately, a young, beautiful woman with bouncy hair, tits that were a cause of envy, and a smile that belonged in toothpaste commercials, came walking up between Ashley’s car and the car beside it. The young, beautiful woman was not paying attention to anything other than her phone, busily composing a text message to let a popular man named Russ that she was walking into the bar, and that she had just parked. Her green Hyundai had pulled in just as Ashley had started crying, and were it not for the tears in her contemptuous eyes, Ashley might have seen the vehicle, recognized it, and done something else, anything else. As fate would have it, neither Ashley nor Danielle saw the young, beautiful woman’s car enter the parking lot, and so neither woman knew she was even there, where she was supposed to be, where they had anticipated and expected her to be. The young, beautiful woman walking between Ashley’s car and another was busy envisioning the entrance she would make and entertaining the endless romantic possibilities her rendezvous offered. She didn’t see Ashley’s car turning and accelerating fast enough to make the tires squeal, so hell bent was Ashley on making an exit the same way the young, beautiful woman was intent on making an entrance that would impress the entire bar. The young, beautiful woman never saw the impact coming.

The left headlight rammed against the young, beautiful woman’s shin, hard enough to break it and hard enough to knock her to the ground. The collision happened just outside of Danielle’s window, just outside of the front passenger door. She thought she saw bouncy hair pass by her field of vision on its way to the pavement, but she couldn’t be sure. It was dark and her attention was elsewhere. But Danielle and Ashley heard flesh and bone smash sickeningly against metal and plastic and rubber. They knew they’d hit something, but the enormity of the tragedy had not landed home yet. The front tires ran up and over the young woman’s body before Ashley could slam on the brakes and screech to a halt. “What the hell was that?” Ashley asked.

Danielle had a sinking, awful, terrible suspicion, but how could she say it aloud? How could she tell Ashley that in trying to avoid a misdemeanor, they had committed a felony? How could she explain that in trying to do the right thing, they had made everything worse, much worse? Pale and trembling, Danielle could only state the obvious. “You hit something,” she said.

“Yeah, but what?” Ashley asked. Danielle shrugged, was too shocked and too stupid to articulate anything meaningful or useful. Ashley threw the car in reverse, unknowingly rolling her tires over the young, beautiful woman a second time. The car jostled its occupants from side to side as it traversed speedily over the body. Ashley thought returning to the parking spot and surveying the scene from that vantage point was the best way to assess the damage and understand what had happened. It wasn’t until the sickening thud of the tires rolling over something soft and alive reached her ears a second time that Ashley understood that it was bad and wrong, all bad and all wrong. She put the car in park and battling nausea, Ashley threw her door open and climbed out of the car and onto legs that were wobbly and weak, and didn’t quite support her weight. Hobbling as if she were the victim instead of the perpetrator, Ashley stumbled to the front of the car, using the vehicle to support her weight. She crossed the front of the vehicle, placing palm over palm as she desperately tried to steady herself and walk, and when the body came into view, she promptly vomited.

pedestrian-accident

On near misses.

Published March 31, 2016 by mandileighbean

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On squirrel crossings.

Published October 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was driving home from Sussex, I saw a squirrel dash across the Garden State Parkway – across five lanes of speeding traffic – to the other side.  He scurried amongst leaves and shrubs safely and smile spread across my face.  I wish I had that kind of daring and tenacity.

Sometimes, in the morning when I am driving to the high school, I scan through the radio stations.  Inevitably, the dial lands on Bible Thumper radio, which features men who sound impossibly old, who gasp out sermons of fire and brimstone, demanding that we all repent.  I like to leave the station on for a minute or two because I like the eeriness that fills the front of my car.  The streets are usually deserted, my dying, dim headlights lighting on nothing but pavement and painted white lines.  The change that lies discarded in one of two cup holders and clangs irritatingly around in the space as I drive is the only other sound.  It is not comforting; it is unsettling, but I enjoy it all the time.  I suppose that makes me weird.

More and more, I am realizing that the more things change, the more they truly do stay the same.  My belief – or faith? – in a common human thread is affirmed on a daily basis.  Human beings may age physically; hair may grey, joints may weaken, and lines may form, but emotionally, they can be as childish and as whimsical and romantic at seventeen as they can be at ninety-seven.  That knowledge, that possibility, gives me hope and makes me smile time and time again.

Lately, I am becoming more and more obsessed with romance.   I worry that this could be dangerous; dangerous to myself, to those around me, and to my writing endeavors.  To make this obsession more of a contagious disease, enjoy the following passages from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Also, please note that I have booked a hotel room for Salem, Massachusetts.  At least I make good on some promises.

 

“’Because,’ he said, ‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you—you’d forget me.’”

 

“’I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion.  ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”

On tattooed maps.

Published March 31, 2012 by mandileighbean

I firmly believe that every morning should be filled with chocolate chip oatmeal, and music by the Dresden Dolls.

It’s gray and rainy, but my spirits are high. I am excited for tonight, when I will be meeting up with some friends from college. I miss them and the memories we share. I know that the small reunion tonight won’t magically revert life to the way it was in college, which was remarkably carefree and filled with social activity, but it doesn’t hurt to be nostalgic now and again. This theme came through in today’s prompt, and I’m sure some will be able to relate.

Enjoy. 🙂

THE PROMPT: “St. Patrick’s Day Hangover”
You wake up the morning after St. Patrick’s Day and don’t remember much of the evening (thanks to too many green beers). You also notice some discomfort on your forearm. When you roll up your sleeve, you notice a tattoo of a map. Panic sets in as you realize that you now have a tattoo on your arm, but curiosity takes over as you wonder where the map leads.

THE PIECE:

Did you ever notice that after a night of some hard-drinking, you can never sleep in? At least, not the way you want to? I’m sure there’s some medical reasoning that explains why I always wake up at 6:45AM instead of 2:30PM, but I’m not as interested in the reasoning as in the cure. Waking up early after a night of drinking always ends badly. I either rush into the bathroom to upheave my insides into a certain porcelain bowl, or I just get up and leave because I cannot fall back to sleep due to an overwhelming sense of grossness that only a pot of coffee and shower can cure. I usually try avoid these situations because of my predilection to wake so early, but who says no to green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, especially when that someone is half Irish?

I was a textbook victim of peer pressure as friend after friend called to invite me to the Big Apple for March 17th. At first I politely declined and wished them safe and enjoyable travels, but they persisted. “It’s on a Saturday this year,” Brandi whined on the other end of the telephone. “That never happens! Dude, you won’t miss any work and won’t have to call out the next day!” She made some good points and she could tell I was relenting, so she added, “Everyone’s going. You’ll be the only one home, and then what will you do all day?” I paused for just a moment or two before I caved in. Brandi was happy, and immediately made my plans for me; I’d be at her house at 7:30PM on Friday night to sleepover and then bright and early the next morning  – after some Bloody Marys – we’d be on our way to the city, via the train.

The Bloody Marys are the last thing I clearly remember.

Sunday morning, I sat up lightning fast, like I’d been shocked by a cattle prod. I was afraid I’d have to puke, but my stomach felt okay. I pushed a knotted mass of hair up and away from my eyes, and looked around. I was back in Brandi’s living room, sitting on the floor. My back and bottom were stiff and sore, and I was kind of pissed that I slept on the floor, as there were two vacant couches to my left and right. I slapped my forehead to release some anger at my stupidity, and realized I was sore in two new places; my forehead and my forearm. Grimacing, I twisted my arm before my eyes this way and that. I could move it fine, but there was a kind of pulsing ache that enveloped it. I let it fall lazily into my lap and gingerly, I began rolling my sleeve back. My grimace turned into sheer horror when I began to see colored lines drawn onto my skin. I stopped being so delicate and nearly tore my sleeve clean off in my insane need to confirm what I already knew; I had gotten a tattoo. I was the jackass, the idiot who gets drunk and forgets she hates needles and cannot get a tattoo because it would be unprofessional as an educator of young, impressionable minds. Cursing silently, I crane my neck to try and see what the picture is of. For a moment, I was worried it’d be Robert Pattinson’s face, or Backsteet Boys’ lyrics I found particularly meaningful. But my brows furrowed into confusion because it didn’t make sense. They were cardinal directions and lines and arrows, and damn it. It was a map.

Why the hell was there a map on my arm?

I whipped my head from left to right, scanning the room for Brandi. She was beside me on the floor, snoring loudly with her mouth open. I shook her, called her name. She responded with something unintelligible. I tried to wake her up again, and she called me dirty word and rolled over. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize that my best friend would be no help. Sighing, I decided I needed to get a move on. Some coffee and a shower would clear my head, and then I could set about finding a tattoo removal service and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. Slowly, very slowly, I clamored to my feet and stood straight. I held my arms out to the side and waited for the world to spin, but it didn’t. I surprisingly felt pretty good, all things considered. I grabbed my purse and overnight bag from beside the door to the mud room – which I’m sure were placed there by the wonderfully kind and thankfully sober woman known as Brandi’s mom – and headed out. I thought about leaving a note, or waking Brandi up to say goodbye, but a text message would suffice.

As I slipped out the front door, icy March wind assaulted me, lifting my already matted hair up above my head, twisting it in ways that would be painful to untangle later. I tried to smooth it down, my ankles wobbly in the high heels that now, on a Sunday morning on a deserted residential street, seemed wildly inappropriate and out-of-place. Wobbling but not falling, I made it to my dilapidated truck and it roared to life so loudly that I was embarrassed, peering out of all the windows to see if neighbors were rushing out onto their front lawns to see what plane had just crashed in the front lawn. But no one stirred, no blinds twitched, and my cheeks cooled and I backed out of the long, gravel driveway onto the biggest effing hill I had ever seen in my life. The hill was the only drawback to visiting Brandi, as I was constantly rushing to the front window to see if my truck had indeed begun rolling backwards and created havoc. Luckily, I had made another trip unscathed; the tattoo on my arm notwithstanding.

The hill ended anti-climactically, with a pizzeria on the left and the largest lake in New Jersey dead ahead. One had to either turn left or right, and right would bring me back to the highway which would lead me home. I was in the middle of turning the wheel when I looked up at the street sign. Why I did this, I don’t know; I had made the trip a million and one times and never before had I cared to note the name of the streets. Hell, if pressed to recite Brandi’s address at gunpoint, I would fail. So I read the signs, discovered I was at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Brady Road, and was prepared to continue on, to make the right and do nothing with the newly learned information. But the same something that made me look at the street sign made me look at my tattooed forearm, and there was the intersection, etched into my flesh very clearly.

There was also an arrow pointing to the left.

I had never been left down Brady Road – that brought you further into the quaint but very rural town, and I had never had any occasion to check things out, or any real desire to do so either. Now, though, things were decidedly different. Last night, I had clearly sat through some pain to obtain the skin map I was now reading. That undoubtedly meant that it was important, and that the map lead somewhere worth visiting. I bit my lower lip in thought for just a few moments, before turning to the left and following Brady Avenue farther from home and deeper into the unknown.

I rolled along slowly, constantly checking my arm and the street signs. Brady Road eventually turned into Prospect Point Road, which ended in a choice of either going left or right. I knew I had another choice, which was to turn around and head home and finally put an end to the insanity. What did it matter where the map led? I had been drunk – that was it. I checked the map on my arm, and it indicated that I turn right. I decided to continue the map because right was right – had it said left, I would have shook my head, laughed at my silliness, and turned around. But right was a good direction; its name had nothing but positive connotations. Turning right led me to Route 181 and I followed this barren, meandering country road until it met up with Route 15, a road that was more familiar to me as it could bring me home. If I were to call it a day and stop the treasure hunt, it would have to be if and when the map told me to turn off Route 15. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it all to end. I wasn’t sure what I would find at the end, or what I would regret if I just gave up and went home. But the uncertainty of it all, the not knowing, was the most excited I’d been in months. Being a teacher – well, just a substitute until the economy finally picked back up – was routine. While no class was ever the same, the schedule was, as were the faces and the expectations. Getting up early meant going to bed early, and my social life had tanked. The outing with Brandi for St. Patrick’s Day had been my first social activity in God knows how long. And even then, everything inside of me had told me to cancel – to be responsible with my time and money and just stay home. Everything inside of me told me to play it safe. It wasn’t a matter of self-preservation as much as it was cowardice. The largest part of me wanted to be comfortable and complacent.

There was a tiny part of me, though , that didn’t want that at all. It was that part that had me following a tattoo on my arm on a Sunday morning, miles from home. I wondered at the origin of this brazen voice, as it certainly couldn’t truly belong to me. This reverie ended when I came to a stop light, and had to slow down. I checked my arm, and was surprised to find that I was to turn in at the diner on the right, just a few feet ahead. My stomach grumbled in agreement and I thought what the hell? If nothing else, I could get some breakfast. The parking lot was empty, so I found a spot close to the entrance with ease. Once the engine was silenced, nervousness and nausea assaulted me in alternating waves. What if there was a masked gunman waiting inside, and I was his getaway driver? What if everyone inside was dead, because some virus had infiltrated the diner and though I had the antidote, I had been too late? Or worse, what if there was nothing at all inside? Disappointment scared me more than anything else, and I decided to take a moment to prioritize and get a grip. I flipped down the visor and did my best to make myself look presentable in the mirror. I pulled my hair up and back, aside for a few loose strands that hung casually about my face. I wiped dark eyeliner from beneath my eyes with my thumb, and did the same with the excess lipstick around my mouth.

I didn’t think I looked too bad, and smiled with a strange kind of confidence that felt out-of-place. Then again, nothing I did that morning was making any sense so hey – why not feel pretty? I climbed out of the truck, and the door slammed shut loudly behind me. No one else seemed to be moving about, and I pulled my coat tight around me, warding off the cold and the sinking suspicion that I was doomed to life of mediocrity and that even when I did something crazy, like get a tattoo, it was still mundane.

The bell above the door rang as I entered and I released a breath I had only been
vaguely aware of holding. There were a few people inside, none of whom were dead. Two old men in flannel coats at the counter turned to observe me, then turned back around, as if I was more of an irritating disturbance than I was interesting. A harried looking older woman came out from behind the hostess stand and asked me how many. My face fell. I was always just one and it was taking its toll. Even drunk in the Big Apple, I had been lonely. So many bodies packed crowded bar after crowded bar, and not one male had been intrigued to ask my name, or offer to buy me a drink. The confidence so recently enjoyed fled, and I opened my mouth to tell her I was still just one, when a masculine voice said, “There you are.”

Both the hostess and myself turned to the voice. A handsome young man was standing beside a booth. He had dark hair that was in danger of being too long, and dark eyes that shone in a peculiar, unexpected way. A small, coy smile played upon his thin lips, and his hands were shoved deep in the front pocket of his jeans. His flannel shirt hung off his thin but strong body. I smiled in spite of myself, and turned to look behind me, just in case the real object of his attention was somewhere else. When I turned back around, he was laughing and waving me over. I looked to the hostess for some help or clarification, and she offered none, but returned to her station, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. On ankles that were once again wobbly, I walked over to the booth and sat across from the young man. He sat, only after I was seated, and said, “I thought you weren’t going to show, and then I would have been heartbroken.”

I raised an eyebrow, and leaned forward to whisper, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are.”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, the smile fading ever so slightly, and he leaned back in the seat. “I’m Sam. We met last night, remember? We were both at McSorely’s.”

I covered my face with my hands. “I am so sorry, but I don’t remember anything from last night.”

“Then why are you here?”

I lowered my hands and looked at Sam. He wasn’t smiling anymore. The humor had left his expression entirely, and I was afraid he was insulted. Did he think I was lying? I laid the forearm with the tattoo on the table and lifted my sleeve. “I woke up, saw the tattoo and thought it might be important. I followed what my arm said, and it brought me here.”

Gently, he took my arm into his hands to better study it. The physical contact sent shivers along my body, and I wondered if he felt the tremors. If he had felt them, did he chalk it up to the cold, or did he suspect something else? He laid my arm back down on the table, and met my eyes. “I drew this on your arm last night. I was not with you when you decided to get it tattooed there, though.” It was obvious to me he was trying to hold back laughter, and my face grew hot. I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I was done being embarrassed, so over it. I snatched my arm back and rolled down the sleeve.

“Why did you draw on me?”

“So you would know where to meet for breakfast.” He paused a moment before asking, “Do you really not remember?”

“Why would I lie to make myself look like a jackass?”

Absent-mindedly, Sam rubbed his lips with his palm. He was deciding something and whatever he decided, it made him lean forward to talk in a serious tone. “Last night, or really early this morning, I saw you sitting at the bar. I thought you were beautiful, so I sat down next to you, and started some lame conversation about snakes in Ireland.” He paused again, watching my face closely for expression. He must not have been deterred or alarmed by what he saw because he continued, saying, “It worked, and we had the best conversation I have ever had in my entire life. I don’t know how long we would have sat there. You told me about your book, and how you wanted to move to Maine. You told me about how you were terrified of being boring, and that you wanted to stay young and reckless forever. I was going to ask you something else, but your friend came over and said you had to go.” Sam suddenly dropped his eyes. “I couldn’t let you leave without making plans to see you again, so I invited you to breakfast, because we had also discussed how we both can’t sleep in after drinking.” He leaned back in the booth, and still didn’t raise his eyes to mine. I thought he was finished, but he cleared his throat. “Your friend told me you couldn’t, because you didn’t live in the city and that the two of you were going back to her house, which you told me was in Jefferson. I just so happen to live in Jefferson, so I suggested the diner and you said yes.” Here, he raised his eyes to mine and said, “You said yes without hesitation.”

I was blushing. The heat ran from my neck all the way through the top of my head. I dropped my gaze and tried to breathe smoothly. Idly, I picked at the paper placemat and again, I waited for him to continue. Sam wasn’t saying anything though, and the silence was building and becoming uncomfortable, so I decided to break it. I said, “So you drew the map on my arm so I would know how to get here?”

Sam nodded.

I laughed. “Then I must have gotten it tattooed because I was afraid it would wash it off, and then I wouldn’t-“

“You wouldn’t remember,” Sam finished. He ran a hand through his hair and started to slide from the booth. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to – I just wanted – ugh, forget it.” He went leave, and I panicked. I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall. He could have been a serial rapist and murderer, but I didn’t want him to leave. I reached out across the table and grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Please don’t leave. I’m sorry I ended up being such a drunk, sloppy mess, but look – I got it etched on my skin with a needle because I wanted to make sure I made it here.” Sam looked at me. I didn’t know if he was waiting for something else, but I said, “Let’s have another great conversation, okay? Hell, it could be exactly the same if you wanted. You have a second chance to wow me.” I smiled lamely, knowing I sounded desperate and dumb. I slowly slid my hand from his arm, more than ready for his departure.

Instead, Sam surprised me. He slid back down the booth to seat himself across from me. He smiled genuinely and asked, “So what time did you get up this morning?”

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