Everything is white.
Covered in snow and excruciatingly bright fucking white.
The tires of passing vehicles crunch and slosh through the newly frozen tundra. The horses snort, the heat from their noses creating puffy little clouds that look similar to speech bubbles in comic strips. If I had an imagination, I would create dialog between them just to kill the time.
"What do you wanna be when you grow up, Max?”
“The only thing I can be, Joe--glue.”
...But I don’t.
I glance over at a sleeping Bug. Her mouth is slightly agape as she snores away soundly... She appears peaceful, her face relaxed and calm and I wonder if, today, she’s forgiven me yet.
I wonder if today she might speak to me again.
I wonder if she’s scared of me.
I wonder if anything between us will ever be the same.
I wonder a lot.
The semi slows. The trailer hitches and the horses start to vocalize their displeasure. A look outwards indicates that we’re pulling off the interstate into a rest area and my heart pumps faster.
The sign we pass claims we’re in Virginia... but this doesn’t feel like home yet so we need to go further.
That will not make Bug happy.
As the truck pulls into a parking space, I know I have to wake the sleeping monster.
My large hands look awkward against her thin and bony shoulders and suddenly I’m scared I may unintentionally crush them in my monstrous grasp. I hold my breath and concentrate on being as gentle as possible, leery of my newly discovered powers. The very last thing I need right now is to add another indiscretion to my already growing list.
Her eyes are barely open and she grunts at the disruption to her dreaming state. “We gotta go,” I whisper as I hear the trucker slam his door. Logic claims he probably stopped for a quick restroom break so we won’t have much time to sneak away... even less if he’s one of those repugnant delinquents that don’t wash their hands after using the toilet.
But when I turn to help Bug down and out of the moving horse stall, she eyes my outreached hand wearily.
And I recognize that look...
It’s the same expression she gives me when I tell her a joke that she considers lame.
The same look I received when I once told her we had to relocate because our favorite abandoned house was taken over by doped up squatters.
The same face she makes when I scold her for not eating her vegetables.
Its wariness and annoyance and aggravation and it silently screams everything she dare not say to me outloud: leave me the fuck alone.
“Bug, come on,” I sigh, running a hand through my hair. She is making me antsy and I don’t like it. Dread forms in the pit of my stomach, heavy and rock solid, “We don’t have much time.”
To my dismay, I realize she’s in no hurry to leave.
She’s in no hurry to leave with me.
Bug shoots me her deadliest glare ever. Her sleepy eyes harden with pain and distrust and sudden panic begins to taunt my insides.
It comes and goes like the wind...
Up and down like a rollercoaster...
Back and forth like a swing on a playground...
She’s my only friend.
She’s my only family.
But the look on her face only leaves me to question if she still feels similar, “Arabella, please.”
She turns away from me without a word, her cold shoulder sending a jab straight to my heart. Hugging her knees to her chest, her resolve is clear...
She will not be forgiving me.
Today, nor tomorrow.
And she will not be going any further with me.
The lump in my throat is heavy. It refuses to subside no matter how hard I swallow and while I understand it isn’t blocking my airway, I’m still going to blame it for refusing the oxygen to my lungs and making it hard to breathe. My stomach flips and suddenly all I want to do is vomit.
And as I unwillingly back away from the door, I realize this is how it was always meant to be.
Whoever I am--whatever I am--is not supposed to be around others.
I’m not destined for friends.
I’m not destined for family.
The only person I am fated to is Lina and even then, I have no idea why and if she really wants that.
I just have to find her.
I don’t know who she is and I don’t know where she is and it’s very possible that she will look at me the exact same way Bug just did.
But I still have to find her.
So, yeah... I am alone.
I was always doomed to be alone.
And Bug just confirmed that.
Most tractor trailers are locked, their haul too important to be quickly jacked during the few rest stops they actually make. So, imagine my surprise when I stumble across one that is not.
This should stop me in my tracks.
It should raise a million red flags.
It should cause me to keep searching.
But now, without Arabella, I don’t care enough to be bothered by it. There’s a part of me that is lonely and tired and would welcome death with open arms... the other part wants to fight, needs to find Lina, won’t stop, won’t slow down until I do. But currently, that part is not as loud. And it is suffocated to mere whimpers by my hand as it unlatches the door and tugs it open.
The load proves to be boxes. Large crates used to secure furniture and now I know why this particular trailer wasn’t secure.
The haul is too heavy to be stolen.
Chancing mere seconds to reconsider another attempt to sway Bug, I pause momentarily. While she carries many virtues, most (if not all of them), are double edge swords... stubbornness being my current primary adversary. She is hard, if not downright impossible, to sway in any other direction than the one she decides is best for her.
My heart wants to go back... begs to try again and again and again until she finally concedes. But my brain... my fucking shit brain knows it would be all for naught.
A waste of time.
An unnecessary risk.
The events of last night are still fresh and it’s almost certain we hear every news story from here to California.
Someone will find Bug.
Someone will take her in, feed her, love her, adopt her and make her life a thousand times better than what it could be with me and as much as I want that, as much as that fills me with joy and happiness and peace... it still stings.
What hurts more though, what chills my blood and stills my heart and shreds my soul into a bazillion pieces is the realization that I will never have another Bug. And it isn’t just because no one can replace her, because no one can, but the fact of the matter is I can’t permit it.
I cannot make friends because I cannot keep friends.
I cannot let them in because they won’t stay once they discover my truths.
I cannot protect them because danger follows me wherever I go because there is only one fate for me, one destiny written in stone and one door that I am supposed to go through and at the end of each one, on the other side of every entryway, is the reality of my precarious situation: nothing.
Just me, myself and I.
And maybe a Lina if I can ever find that damn lady.
With no other choice than to forget friendship and family and every other fluffy, warm, nauseatingly feel good word that is now worthless to me I prop one foot onto the underride guard.
No more doubting.
No more second guessing.
No more waiting.
No more looking back.
Its time to embrace my purpose... whatever the fuck it is.
Two simple consecutive sounds hitch my breath and freeze my actions. Cold metal presses against the back of my neck at the base of my skull and I understand exactly what is happening... and this is the very last situation I want to be in right now.
“Turn around now,” he orders, “nice and slow.”
There’s an accent, a southern twang to his voice that tickles the back of my brain urging me to remember something...
But I can’t.
Hands up in submission, I move at a snail’s pace, backing away from the step and turning around.
A barrel of a gun is staring me straight in the eyes, an action that brings around a strong sense of deja vu. The force is powerful, almost betraying my slow movements and threatening to throw me off balance.
“END IT! END IT NOW BEFORE I END YOU BECAUSE I WILL NOT HESITATE!”
Piercing blue eyes fix me down, “Whatcha think ya doin’ boy?” White hair sprouts from beneath his trucker hat, curling upwards and out. His frown is serious and deadly and I take note of the way the gun does not shake in his grasp.
He is not intimidated.
He is not scared.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you Mister,” another sassier, more familiar voice sounds from beside me and instantly, Life seems less bleak.
Instantly, my world begins to revolve again and I feel like I can breathe.
She throws her thumb in my direction, “My friend here’s a bit unhinged.”
“You stay out of this, little one. Don’t want no one to get hurt now, ya hear?” The trucker’s glare strays from me to Bug and it is that small, seemingly insignificant action that makes all the difference in the world. Quickly, powerfully, one hand lands on his gun and the other his forearm and now I am the one pointing the rifle at his face.
His eyes bulge in shock and dismay and suddenly his hands are raised in the air and the tables have turned.
“Thought you were staying behind,” I grumble, not turning my head to acknowledge her. I will not make the same mistake he just did.
Bug sighs, hands on hips like the brat she is, “Yeah, well, I leave your ass alone for like two fuckin seconds and look at ya! Already in trouble. I swear to God man, I ain’t got no clue how ya survived before me.”
She switches her attention to the confused trucker, “Look, sir, this is just a misunderstandin’. We need a ride if you’re kind enough, please. No harm will come to ya. I promise.”
I watch the man’s expression soften as he examines Bug and I wonder if she has the same affect on him that she did on me the very first time I met her. What he finds there to make him trust her words is beyond me, but he does, and he does it without question, “I’m only going as far as Gatlinburg.”
She scrunches her tiny nose, “Where’s that?”
“Where--where’s that?” He looks at me incredulously, “Aint she got an education?”
I open my mouth to speak but Bug doesn’t need me to.
Doesn’t want me to.
She’s got it handled, “My dad abandoned me and my momma’s a crack whore. I ain’t got the pleasure of no education. The streets raised me you judgey backwoods hill whop.”
I swallow my smirk as the trucker’s brows raise to his hairline, a mix of surprise and impress colors his face in an amusingly red hue of embarrassment, “I ain’t mean no disrespect.” Her silence is taken as pending anger so he proceeds, clearing his throat, “Tennessee. Gatlinburg is in Tennessee.”
She sucks on her front teeth, before exhaling in irritated surrender, “Guess you’re takin’ us to Tennessee then.”
“Guess so,” he mumbles, his words dying as he watches me bend the tip of the rifle upwards. The previously straight copper now hooks at the tip, effectively making it nothing more than a paper weight.
“I’ll fix it after you drop us off,” I assure him as I silently follow Bug around to the passenger side door.
We’re headed to Tennessee...
I’m not entirely sure why that excites me.