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ELEVEN

His parents were stunned when he announced that he had been selected last minute for an unpaid internship, but after that, they had assimilated the idea moderately well and quickly. They knew about NOAA and how much it had meant to him. So if he wanted to go off into the desert and fight brush fires with professionals, and it would be moderately safe, they guessed they could go along with it. Which wasn’t to say they actually liked the idea. Not much. But John was a big boy now. And they had to accept the fact that he had grown beyond his origins. From the instant he had first introduced the idea, they had known that they were experiencing one of those parent rites of passage. And they decided it was long delayed.

The closest he ever came to being blown was when the passport came in the mail, in an official government envelope. John had started to open it when his father had walked into the room. John had quickly ceased opening the envelope, which of course had prompted his father to grow suspicious. But a few moments later, he had left, not certain what was going on but opting to watch the football game in his room. John never did anything that careless again.

On the day of the flight, he didn’t get much sleep. It was too exciting. He’d done it. He’d really done it. The plan had really been that simple. Plant some maps of Arizona, dot some i’s, cross some t’s and that was that. My God. Could it really have been so simple? It suddenly threw everything out the window. You could go anywhere. Do anything. All you had to do was do it.

Till the day he died, he’d remember this trip. And how completely absurd it was. Of course, his parents could never know. He accepted that wistfully. That was the penalty for adventure. That was the penalty for freedom.

The flight was at six am, which meant he would get there at about two pm local time. He wondered what jet lag would feel like. God, he couldn’t wait to find out. To know what it felt like to throw his circadian rhythm totally out of whack. To throw himself at the mercy of his own decision-making. He finally managed to fall asleep around three, but he had to be awake again at four to get dressed, drive to the airport, and pick up his reserved ticket.

Breakfast was a bust. His stomach was too queasy for that. But he managed to gulp down some orange juice, at the insistence of his parents, who were both coming with him to the airport. To tell the truth, he hadn’t really given them much thought as he pondered the morning’s coming events. But then he had gone downstairs to watch a little TV and both of them had come down in their sweatpants. His mother with her pocket book. His father with a Yankees baseball cap. And suddenly John felt like a bastard for deceiving them. And they didn’t know why he looked at them the way he did. They just assumed he was happy to see them, and he was.

Together they drove to the airport, John in the back seat. He started to dose off but it seemed like almost as soon as they left, they were there. They pulled up to the terminal but they couldn’t stay there long. One of his parents was going to have to park the car. His mom opted to do it and John climbed out of the car and immediately went to the trunk. He hadn’t wanted to put his bag in the trunk but his parents had insisted and he just capitulated. Agree, get there, fly. That was the only reasoning that mattered right now. Just shut up, get on the plane, and get away.

His father wanted to help carry his duffel bag. John bit his lip and agreed. As his mother pulled away, John peered down the rows of entrances. At the throng of people dragging suitcases from taxis and parked cars. He sucked in hard and cocked an eyebrow. Heavy backpack slung over his back, he walked through the nearest pair of automatic doors and entered the airport.

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