The next day we were back on the road. The traffic was good, and the highway was nice and clear for us. Josh still didn’t speak to me, and I was starting to wonder if he ever would. He seemed to be in a daze of sadness, again, and I was worried for him, again.
The feelings between himself and I seemed to loop around in this large circle of confusion and loneliness. I hated it as well; he seemed even more distant than normal.
“Hey guys,” Aubrey said from the front. “I was thinking that we could stop at a hotel for a few days. Get a good rest and actually have beds for a change. We’re getting low on food as well, so we need somewhere with stores.”
I liked the sound of this. Having a bed to sleep in made my body relax a bit.
“That sounds great,” Josh said from beside his sister in the front. “Can we go to one that has breakfast involved? I don’t like having cold breakfasts.” He sounded both delighted and disgusted with his sister, which was a whole new side of Josh. Aubrey shook this off though, like it was nothing. I stared at him, my eyes wide in shock. ’How can he say something like that to Aubrey? He’s Josh he can do whatever the Hell he wants. Hey, he’s the one that broke up with you not me! WE WEREN’T DATING!’’
I looked out my window again when he didn’t return my gaze. Not that I cared. If he wanted to be an ass then I would let him be an ass.
Aubrey turned on the radio to ease the tension. The music was slow, and catchy, but I wasn’t really listening. My thoughts were deafening and I got lost in them.
Aubrey turned off the music and asked us, “If a redhead goes crazy, does that make them a Ginger Snap?” Josh roared with laughter, and I could tell that that was what she wanted. She wanted him to laugh and smile. That was what she had always wanted from her little brother.
“I don’t know, Aub,” Josh answered his sister and tried to stifle his giggles, “Maybe redheads go crazy so much that there’s a medical care center just for them.”
It was pretty lame joke, but I didn’t want to tell him that. Josh had this untamed way of emotions. One minute he would be super happy, and the next he’ll yelling at you over nothing. This was another thing that confused me about him.
When we got to the hotel, Aubrey immediately said that she wouldn’t be sleeping with neither Josh nor me. She said that Josh was a ‘blanket hog’ and that she didn’t know me very well. ’Touché, Aubrey, touché.’ In which Josh and I had to share a bed, which was very awkward both of us. I still liked him, and I thought he still liked me, but I knew it would never happen.
’He doesn’t love you. Shut up. He doesn’t, he would’ve said so. Shut up... Wow, he’s really pretty right now, the way the sunset light hits him from the window. Oh, and look at that, he’s taking off his shirt... YOU SHUT UP!’ I breathed in and out slowly, and changed into my pajama pants and plain t-shirt.
Josh and I lay awake beside each other for hours, just looking at the white popcorn ceiling above; not a single word spoken between us. He seemed to be asleep, but I knew he wasn’t, the air he breathed sparked against my skin until it puckered up in goose bumps.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said, “I should have never said that to you yesterday. I just,” he paused and gulped down his spit, “I just wanted you to know before it went too far.” I smiled at this because I knew what he meant by ‘too far’. But sex was not on my priority list at age fourteen. Grade eight was much too young, even if it was the end of grade eight.
“We seem to say ‘I’m sorry’ a lot to each other,” I responded. “I think we’re getting addicted.” Josh chuckled and we heard Aubrey turn away from us in her bed. “But yeah, I know what you mean. I still like you though.” I turned to face him and he turned to face me. We smiled at each other and then faced the ceiling once more.
“I still like you too,” he said without looking at me.
“Then why?” I asked him.
“I dunno,” he mumbled. “Sometimes I just do stuff and don’t know why I do them. It just feels right.” I could tell that his face was twisted in confusion, and I hated to imagine it. I turned to face the wall beside me and tried not to fall off the edge.
“I talked to your father before he left,” Josh said suddenly. I flipped over to face him.
“What?” I demanded.
“He stormed out your house, sat on your porch, and started to cry into his hands,” he said and I tried not to imagine it in my head. “I was outside playing basketball by myself, and I saw him there. Sitting and crying. I walked over to him, and he gave me a USB drive, said to give it to you when I saw you. He got into his car and drove away after that.”
’He had cared! He wanted to say goodbye one more time! Yeah, but he didn’t care enough to actually talk to you.’
“Where is it?” I whimpered.
“In my bag,” Josh answered. I hugged him, and started to cry into his bare chest. He held me close. It was caring and loving, but not the love from the night before. It was the family love; it was the love I had shown my mother when she was soaking up my sweatshirt. This love was the best love, it was the love that never cheated or left, it was the love that expanded forever.
“You can watch it in the morning,” he mumbled into my hair.
I awoke at five in the morning completely energized and ready for the day. I didn’t even know where we were, but I wanted to explore every inch of it. But before it all, I had to watch (or listen to) my father for the first time in a very long time.
Shaking Josh was the only way to wake him up, and he did.
“What? What is it? Because if the building isn’t on fire, I’m going back to sleep” Josh barked at me with his adorable morning voice.
His breath stunk like skunk spray though.
“I need that USB.” I said to him and gave him my greatest puppy-dog face. He smiled.
“You’re too cute, you know that?” he asked and I shook my head no. Josh reached over and stroked my cheek softly with his hand.
I relaxed more than I should’ve and my head hit his stomach. I could feel his muscles flex under my cheek as he started to laugh. A deep blush came to my cheeks as I looked up at his smiling face.
“That hurt,” he giggled at me.
Aubrey hurtled a pillow in our direction that missed us by inches. She then yelled at us to shut up and go back to sleep; but we laughed even harder. Aubrey growled at us (a literal growl) and threw another pillow that barely made it onto our bed.
Josh snorted like a pig.
“Awe, you made me snort,” he imitated Pearl from Finding Nemo perfectly. Aubrey giggled softly at her brother, but started to snore again halfway through her fit. Josh finally rolled onto his side and grabbed the USB out of his bag; he also grabbed his laptop and earbuds; which I did not know he had.
“I don’t need to hear it,” he answered before I could ask any questions.
I grabbed the devices out of Josh’s hands, plugged in the USB and the earbuds. An icon showing the USB popped up and I clicked on it. It was empty except for one video that was title: “To Ben”.
My heart leaped into my throat.
I clicked on the icon.
“Hey buddy,” my dad’s voice rang through the ear buds clearly, but there was no video, “I’ll probably be gone by this time and I wanted you to understand. Also, can you show this to your mom? She’ll want an explanation as well. Anyway, here it goes:
I really love your mother, Ben. I really do, and I know that you don’t believe me, but you have to. This just happens sometimes, okay? Her name is Charlotte and lives two towns over. No, she’s not as pretty as your mom. God no, your mother is the most beautiful person there is.
But Charlotte is different, she understood me in a way your mother never did. I left not because I didn’t love you or your mother, it’s just because,” he sighed and I could tell he had scratched the back of his head. He always did that when he was nervous. “I just needed a break from being a dad, a husband, someone who has to take care of bills, taxes and a kid. I needed a break. Anyway, happy birthday bud. I am hopeful that I’ll get to sing you Happy Birthday, but if I don’t I’ll do it now.”
And he sang, and I cried as I heard his scratchy and untalented voice sing the song he had sung since I was one years old.
The tears kept coming down, and I could tell Josh was watching me, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to listen to my father’s voice.
Then it ended, and I played it over ten times so I could memorize how sad and happy he sounded. I wondered when he had done this; when mom and I were gone, when he was at work. It didn’t matter, I was grateful for this tiny piece of him I could hold onto.
Josh put his arms around me and we hugged while I sobbed into his shoulder.
I was in a daze the rest of the day, everything we did was a big blur of colour and faceless people.
It was strange, how one simple thing could change my mood so quickly. My dad had cared enough to say goodbye, but not the goodbye I had expected. The one thing that irked me was that Josh had it all along and hadn’t given me the USB. I tried to say that he was selfish and cruel, but he was only worried and curious. Like most people who didn’t understand me.
“Get down, Violet,” Josh said from beside me in the bed. We had gotten a room where pets were allowed. “Guys, I don’t think she likes it in here. There’s no space or fresh air.”
“And there is in the van?” I snapped rudely at him. I was mad at him, but then I was even madder at myself for being mad at him.
“Look,” Josh started. “I know that was hard for you...”
“Oh, you know, do you?” I hollered at him, “You understand what it feels like to trust someone, but then find out that they’re hiding the one thing you need? You understand what it feels like to be left by a person you loved, and feel like your world is crumbling around you? Well, guess what? You don’t Josh!” I was crying, “You don’t understand, okay?” My voice cracked on the last word.
Josh and Aubrey looked stunned at my outbreak and stared down at the floor shamefully.
“Did Aubrey know too? Or did you just keep all to yourself?”
“Ben!” Josh screeched at me, “I wanted to help you!” He was crying now too. “I wanted to help you because I do understand! And trust me, a frickin’ sorry or a goodbye won’t make you feel any better.”
I rolled over and lay down on my side of the sheets. My mind was whirling with a lot of things I could yell at them, but I didn’t utter a single thing. ’There’s no point in this anymore. I know, they still don’t understand.’
“Josh, stop it,” Aubrey said in a calming tone, “It’s not going to help him get better.” Rage boiled in the pit of my stomach like a miniature sun. They didn’t understand my feelings. The confusion, the sadness, the loneliness, the loss and the insecurity I had bottled up inside me. These feelings I had were mine, and they would never understand them.
“What? You’re my therapist now, huh Aubrey?” My voice sounded like how I felt. “You seem to know how I feel and what to do with me. Why don’t you prescribe a pill to me to make it all better?” Aubrey turned to face the other way and Josh put a hand on my shoulder as a signal for me to stop.
I shook him off.
“Okay,” Aubrey said standing up swiftly. “I’m going to the store to buy some things. You guys are gonna stay here and make up while I’m gone. Got it?” Her voice was fierce and strong, like a panther’s. I nodded into my pillow and heard Josh mumble something about having a headache.
Aubrey clapped once and left with a swing of her purse over her shoulder.
Josh flopped down beside me and onto his side of the bed. He sighed quietly and I could tell that his eyes were on the back of my head.
“You kept it from me,” I whimpered out.
“I know,” he spoke clearly.
“It was the one thing I needed.
“No it wasn’t.”
“Look, I’m not going to fight with you anymore.”
“Why did you keep it from me?”
“Because I knew this would happen. You would get all upset and get distant from us.”
“You didn’t know me. You didn’t plan on taking me.”
“I mean, once we started traveling. I did think about giving it to you, but I couldn’t. You were so happy, I just...”
“Happy? You thought I was happy? I was dying from depression, Josh. How is that happy?”
Josh fell silent and I regretted that I started to talk to him. ’Great, you made him upset.’ But instead, Josh rolled over and put his arms around me again.
’I will not be defined by any gender, stereotype or religion there is. I am neither boy nor girl. I am neither gay nor straight. I am what I am.’ I turned over so I could face him and looked at me in the eyes.
Josh smiled and I found myself starting to smile back.
“L’amour est comme l’oiseau de Twitter
On est bleu de lui, seulement pour 48 heures
D’abord on s’affilie, ensuite on se follow
On en devient fêlé, et on finit solo”
Aubrey had flipped to the French radio station in the van, and I surprisingly I knew what was playing. It was the song Carmen by Stromae.
My French teacher had made us (meaning my class) do a dance to it. It was fun to do so, even if my friends and I kept messing up from laughter. I sang along while Josh looked at me with a big grin of happiness and confusion plastered onto his face.
Aubrey laughed at me, but I kept singing.
I probably looked hilarious to them, but I didn’t care. The song was fun to sing, and then it ended. I felt the lyrics slipping from my brain and I couldn’t sing it from memory. That was how my brain worked; I could only recite music or poetry when somebody else was saying it along with me. Unlike Josh, who seemed to know every single song there was.
Josh smiled at me some more and I was tempted to smirk back to his Cheshire grin. He was nothing like the grim boy who had started this trip, instead he was this funny, and lovable person who cared about anyone and anything.
Violet started to lick the side of his face and Aubrey giggled from beside him. ’I love him. Stop it, he’s nobody. But he’s so beautiful. Stop it; he hid the USB from you. Yeah, but I forgive him. No you don’t, you hate him.’
Aubrey switched off the radio. “Hey Joshy-Boy?” she asked.
“Hmm?” he replied.
“Can you sing Jack’s Lament from The Nightmare before Christmas for us?” Josh started to blush, but I could tell that he was going to sing it.
“There are few who’d deny, at what I do I am the best/ For my talents are renowned far and wide/ When it comes to surprises in the moonlit night/ I excel without ever even trying/ With the slightest little effort of my ghostlike charms/ I have seen grown men give out a shriek/ With the wave of my hand, and a well-placed moan/ I have swept the very bravest off their feet.” Josh sang it in The All American Rejects version, which made my spine tingle and my heart prickle.
Aubrey smiled and I closed my eyes at the sound of his voice.