What I wouldn’t give to still be laying on the cold hard dirt ground. Our bodies naked and entangled around one another with only a thin blanket bunched under us and a sleeping bag spread out on top of us.
When we woke this morning, the sun had barely broken the horizon, and our fire was nothing but embers. But I wrapped Ryann in one of the blankets, and we slowly made our way down to the lake and had breakfast down on the shore. I wished we could have spent all day down by the lake. Today would have been perfect to go swimming and kayaking. I even tried to persuade Ryann to skip going back to Indiana and for us to enjoy the day on the land that will soon be our new home.
But that was a no-go. Instead, we are cruising the interstate at a surprisingly leisurely pace. Travis is sitting in the backseat on his phone with an annoyed look on his face. I’m not sure what he’s looking into, and I want to ask, but with anxious tension rolling off Ryann, I’m afraid to poke the bear. Especially in a three-ton vehicle which Ryann is surprisingly driving the speed limit.
The music is a whisper in the background as Ryann focuses on the road in front of her. Almost like she’s on autopilot or hypnotized by the smooth surface of the road, with the occasional orange construction traffic barrels. And the further north we go, the whiter Ryann’s knuckles become.
Merging off the interstate, Ryann takes a ramp that curves up and over the interstate, and now we’re on a four-lane highway heading north. Looking out the window, we drive past a few farms, and houses but it’s mostly fields out here of corn and beans. I feel very entuned by the scenery around us as we drive by. Mainly because this is where Ryann grew up. For the first time, I’m seeing the roads she would have driven up and down and the places she would have passed along the way or gone.
And then my mind runs away from me. Because I know down these side dirt and gravel paved roads are fields that hold terrible memories for Ryann. I know some of these houses we’re passing along the way could possibly be owned by old classmates who assisted in Ryann’s torturous years. Not to mention…..some of these homes look like they’ve taken a beating from the elements over the years.
At the sound of tapping that could go along with the beat of the song softly playing, I find Ryann lasered focused, her knuckles white as clouds outside, and her left leg bouncing up and down as her foot taps against the floorboard. And she looks a little green. I know she can get car sick, but it’s not typically in weather like this and not with the A/C on full blast.
“Ryann? Are you okay?” I can feel Travis stare from the backseat of the car. “Babydoll, pull over.”
Without argument, the car pulls off to the shoulder of the road. And as Ryann peels her fingers from the steering wheel, her hands and entire body begin to visibly shake. Without warning and without checking for traffic, Ryann throws her car door open and runs to the side of the road, hurling into the grass. Pulling her hair back, I look over my shoulders to find Travis standing at the front of the car and close. His eyes not moving from Ryann’s back as he gives me a sad, knowing smile of sympathy. I can tell he wants to comfort Ryann but is keeping his space.
“Babydoll, you okay?” She nods her head as she spits to the ground below. “We don’t have to do this; we can turn back around and go back to Tennessee. Or do something else in Indiana if you want.” She shakes her head as I feel the rise and fall of her back with deep, counted breaths.
“Thomas,” I feel condensation against my bicep and take the water bottle Travis is handing me.
Giving him a tight smile, I take the water bottle and hand it to Ryann. She takes a sig, swishing it around in her mouth before spitting it back out. When I think she’s no longer going to vomit, I let her long auburn hair fall behind her but continue stroking her back. A comfort I feel Ryann lean into the longer I do it.
“Ryann, babydoll, talk to me. What’s going on in that head of yours.”
Standing back up, Ryann pushes her hair from her face as she looks around her surroundings like she just woke from a dead sleep, and she’s confused as to where she is. “It’s just……I haven’t been…..I never thought I’d come back to Colfax to confront my past. Like……my memories of this place, they’re no longer pleasant. And it’s like every fucking emotion I’m feeling, they’re all bombarding me.”
“Babydoll, we don’t have to do this.” When I know this is precisely what she wants to do. She wants to officially close this part of her life and, in a way, lock it up only to be open when she wants to. No one will have any type of control over any aspect of her life ever again; this is it. This is Ryann severing the cord like I did with Pearl. I know she needs to do this, but it won’t stop me from allowing her an out if she wants to take it.
“I do, and you know I do.”
Ryann takes a deep breath as she cranes her up towards the sky, just as a car whooshes past us. “They don’t know I’m coming.”
Arching a brow, I catch Travis folding his arms across his chest, and I know he’s frustrated by her admission. Whatever safety protocol he had in his head is now out the window. His least favorite thing to do when it comes to making sure Ryann stays safe, just going with it. Which by now, should be something he’s used to.
“What do you mean they don’t know you’re coming?” Travis ordered. “You lied to me, Ryann.”
Ryann flinches at the authoritative dad tone coming from Travis, “I…..I didn’t want them to know I was coming.”
Stepping out of Travis’s way and beside Ryann, he stands in front of her. Searching her out, hoping he can find some sort of answer and understanding in her eyes. “Why?” He finally asks.
Ryann looks at me, and I can understand the reasoning before she even speaks. It’s the same reason I had for surprising Pearl. She doesn’t want to give anyone the chance to think of an excuse to further distort the truth or even attempt to keep a grip on her life by fleeing. “Because if I told my family I was coming, my dad would find a way to not be home. He would try to come up with an excuse. Anything to not be in the same room as me. Travis, I need to confront him. I need him to know that he’s to partially blame for what happened to me. I need him to understand…..” Ryann breaks off with a violent sob.
Without another word, Travis immediately embraces her into a hug, holding her tightly and comforting her. His eyes are closed tightly as he whispers softly, “I’m sorry, Ry.” The use of her nickname tells me Travis is no longer acting as security. But instead, the adoptive father he’s become to Ryann in an attempt to console her. “Listen, I’m not crazy about this plan to ambush your family. Especially after the last time I had a little chat with your father.”
Little? You straight-up decked him. There was no chatting.
“But if this is what you really want to do, I’ll support you.” At his words, Ryann clings to him. Words she so desperately wanted to hear for so long from her own father, she’s finally hearing them from a man who has never judged Ryann.
“I…..thank…thank you,” Ryann stutters around her words as tears fall from her eyes.
Gently, Travis pushes Ryann from his embrace as Ryann quickly wipes away her tears. I can see the pain and understanding in his eyes. “Ry, you know I’d do almost anything for you. And if you’re one hundred percent sure, I’ll support you. I only want to you see you and Thomas succeed in life.” Ryann takes her trembling lip in between her teeth as her tears fall faster. “And I’m sorry, you never had that support as a teenager. If you did, I don’t think we wouldn’t be standing here, and your life would be so much different.”
“But I wouldn’t have met you.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Life has a funny way of bringing people together who need it. We may have met at some point. Just maybe not as early on.” Travis nearly whispers as he tucks a strand of hair behind Ryann’s ear. Giving her a small adorning smile, “How about I drive the rest of the way, and you and Thomas ride in the back.” Ryann meekly nods her head in agreement. Embracing her into another loving hug, “I’ll wait in the car. When you’re ready, we’ll leave.”
Nodding her head as her body trembles, Travis gives me a slight smile and a small wave of his hand against Ryann’s back, signaling me to cut in. Gingerly, I tug on her arm, and she immediately crashes into my chest, her hands coming up to hide her face as she buries into my chest.
“Thanks,” I mouth my appreciation as Travis gives a slight nod of his head and heads to the driver’s side of the car and slides in. Leaving Ryann and me on the side of the road as I rock us slowly side to side.
The cars passing us by at a high rate of speed come in random spurts. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s ten passing all at once. And other times, we’re left on the side of the road alone for minutes on end. But it doesn’t matter how long we stand on the side of the road. I’ll keep holding Ryann until she no longer wants to be in my arms. Because her breaking down like this shows the strength she has to even go through with all of this.
If I was able to confront my dad today, I’m not sure I’d be able to. Even the idea causes my blood pressure to rise, and I already feel the need to put as much space as fucking possible from me and that damn idea. I can’t tell you the last time I went and visited his gravesite because I’ve never been to his gravesite. His parents are lucky I even showed up for the fucking funeral. Actually, the only reason why I did was because my grandparents forced me to go. My grandma was convinced I would one day regret my decision, and she wanted me to be able to say goodbye.
And I did. I gave Dad a giant fucking fuck you goodbye and screamed, he’s to blame for Mom’s death and everything that’s happened to our family. Caused quite the scene.
“Babydoll, are you…..”
Pulling out of my hold slightly, her hazel eyes are soft and slightly pink, and the panic that was once on her face has been erased. “I’m ready.”
Searching her out, “Are you sure?”
Looking over her shoulder towards Travis, she nods her head slowly. “Ya, I’m sure.”
Taking her hand in mine, I guide us over to the back passenger side door and allow Ryann to get in first. Watching her slide into the backseat, my body tenses, and I instantly want Ryann to trade me places. “Babydoll……”
Snapping her wide hazel eyes towards me, she instantly senses my fear. I’m waiting for her protest to tell me that I’m overreacting and that everything will be fine. But she doesn’t. Instead, she somewhat stands in a hunch fashion and allows me to slide into her spot as she maneuvers back over to the passenger side of the backseat.
With the sound of our seatbelts clicking into place, Travis merges back out onto the highway to finish the rest of the road trip. Which I’m hoping isn’t very far.
Reaching for Ryann’s hand, I immediately lock my fingers perfectly with hers and watch her melt into the side of the door. Her sights locked on the blur of fields. Ryann hasn’t retreated, I can still feel her in the now, and I’m praying I can keep her in the now.
Because what I hate most about driving to her parent’s house is I don’t know what will happen or the vile words that could come. My hope is Raymond has had some sort of epiphany and change of heart.
I’m just not confident it’s possible. Not from what I saw in New York. Today, Ryann may fully cut her father from her life. The positive, she has an amazing step-in Dad who has proven time and time again that he’ll always be there when she calls.
And Ryann knows Travis sees her as a daughter, and if it wasn’t evident before, today easily solidified that bond.
I was dreading this trip and tried every way possible to suede Ryann from driving up here. But with Travis behind the wheel, I know today can’t entirely go to shit…..right?
At least, I hope.