I rubbed at them with the arm that wasn't pinned down by the body next to me. I could always have someone stab me again, and miraculously not die. I'd rather be a science experiment for the rest of my life than ruin Jason's. He stirred next to me, a hitch in his breath, and rolled off, the weight suddenly gone. I sighed and forced myself to sit up. This was it, time to see if I could go back to being normal. If this did work, we'd have to come up with some kind of story to explain our absence. Maybe we could pin it all on Amy, say she kidnapped us in Ohio. Or maybe I could say she kidnapped Jason after he called his mom, and I had gone off looking for him by myself. I had taken care to make sure I was alone when I bought the car and checked into the motels, just in case someone could ID me. Jason had figured that out early on, but he hadn't said anything about it. I think he knew that I was still trying to find him an out, but he stayed silent on the subject.
I got up and plugged the coffeemaker in, getting it brewing while he continued to snore. I had a fleeting thought of leaving Jason here and calling someone in to find him and take him back home, but he'd forgive me for that even less than for ruining his life.
I locked myself in the bathroom and sat on the toilet lid, head in my hands. I would just focus on one thing at a time, I decided. Find Horace and see what came of it. Everything else depended on what he had to say. The one thing that was giving me hope was Amy out there somewhere, looking for answers. It made me think she still had someone to find answers for, her brother most likely, which meant the same thing had happened to him, but he was still going. That was something, at least, even if she had sounded fairly ominous when talking about him.
I held onto that thought as I got ready for the day, and by the time I was out of the bathroom, Jason was up, drinking coffee out of the motel mug and packing his bag.
“So are you ready to find this guy?” he asked, as he zipped up his duffel and shoved the atlas into my bag.
“I'm ready for this to be over,” I replied, pouring myself a cup of the lukewarm liquid. “We'll have to figure out what we want to do once I'm fixed. Maybe find a library and see if there's anything in the papers back home about us.”
Jason shrugged. “We'll figure it out later. We should get on the road, this guy's house looks like it might be out in the middle of nowhere, and I don't really want to spend another night in a crappy motel when I could be blowing my mom's cash on a nicer place.”
“It would be nice to not jump every time I see a cop go by.”
Jason nodded, “very true.”
He picked up his bag and headed out the door to throw it in the car. I downed my coffee and followed him out, carrying my own bag, ready to get lost on the back roads of Wyoming.
Our drive quickly took us off of the interstate and onto smaller roads, but it was still over two hours until we got close enough to Lansing's house to pull onto regular streets. We were getting into wilderness surrounded by mountains, and I was worried about my little car if we were going to have to start driving through them, but the dirt road turnoff for the general area of his house appeared before we got close enough to the mountains to notice an incline. We had passed a lake and driven through some picturesque countryside, and if this were any other time, I might actually be enjoying myself. I had never really had the chance to do much traveling after my mom left. My dad had sunk into a depression, and money had become pretty tight. When I had turned 16 last summer and been old enough to drive off on my own, I hadn't wanted to spend the money on a car. I was already thinking about the future, and working over the summer precluded vacation. It was amazing to think about all the people out here who had completely different lives from mine, just based on where they were born or had settled down. I couldn't see anyone really getting by without a car out here. Of course, everything out here was probably cheaper than living in the city. It was a tradeoff.
We found the exact address I had copied out of a phonebook in Landon, where it had been amazingly listed, and approached it slowly. It was a small one story house out in the middle of a bunch of fields, that looked like it had seen better days. The paint was cracked and peeling, but I could tell it had once been a cheerful bright yellow with white trim around the windows, half of which were boarded up. It didn't look like anyone lived there, but there was a newer compact car in the long gravel driveway.
I pulled to a stop at the end of the drive and looked over at Jason, who was peering up at the house, frowning.
“This place is creepy,” he said, getting out of the car.
The day was mild, but I had Jason's jacket on again, pulled tightly around myself. I hadn't been able to get warm all morning, and I had forgone stopping for food in favor of finding the house quicker, so my hunger was like knives in my stomach, making me want to double over as the day wore on.
“Come on,” I said, slamming the car door shut behind me as I got out, “you said you were going to come with me. Let's get this over with.”
We made our way up the driveway and past the nice car, which looked too clean to have been there long. I led the way onto the front porch, floorboards creaking under my feet. I paused at the front door for a moment, before knocking forcefully. The sound seemed to echo, and I was starting to get jumpy. Jason was standing behind me, trying to peer in through the dirty glass to the side of the door.
We heard footsteps coming our way from inside, and I took a step back, waiting for the door to open. The person who greeted me was definitely not Horace Lansing. It was a woman in her mid thirties wearing a wrinkled suit and holding a clipboard in one hand. She opened the door wide and looked at us quizzically.
“You're a little early,” she said, looking down at her clipboard, “I wasn't planning on getting started until this afternoon. Actually, I wasn't really expecting anyone today, we just put the listing up.”
“I'm sorry?” I asked, and glanced back at Jason, who looked just as confused as me.
“The open house,” she said, looking at us with an uncertain smile. “I'm still cleaning up inside.”
I looked past her into the house and saw that the front room was empty, except for a few paint cans sitting on the floor.
“Um, I'm sorry,” I said, suddenly getting a bad feeling, “we were looking for Horace Lansing. A friend said he lived here.”
Her smile dropped from her face, and she was now looking at us with sympathy in her eyes.
“Oh, honey,” she replied, “I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Mr. Lansing passed away a few weeks ago.”
I suddenly felt faint, and Jason grabbed onto my arm as I stumbled backward. The woman, the realtor, I assumed, was watching me warily. I couldn't tell if she was concerned I was going to pass out, or that I was going to pass out on the front porch of a house she was trying to sell.
Jason spoke up from behind me, still holding me in a firm grip, “could you tell us what happened?”
She seemed flustered by the question. “Um, I'm not really sure I should do that. You'll want to talk to the police.”
“The police?” I asked, and my voice sounded far away, though I was regaining my footing enough for Jason to relax his grip on my arms.
She just nodded, biting her lip.
“Please, ma'am,” Jason said in a pleading voice, “we drove across the country to get here, if you have any details...”
She caved under his wide eyes, as most people of the female gender did. “Well, the police ruled it a suicide. But I don't really have any specific details. Apparently it was pretty gruesome.”
And, suddenly, my one chance at getting back to normal was gone, and I felt like crying. My stomach was a constant ball of pain, and I shivering under Jason's jacket.
“Okay, well, sorry for bothering you,” he said, pulling me towards him, “thanks.”
The lady just nodded, concern evident in her face. We trudged back towards the car, and I could feel her eyes on us, watching from just inside the front door.
Jason led me around to the passenger side, pulling the door open and pushing me down into the seat. He shut the door behind me and ran around to get behind the wheel. I looked up at the house. The realtor had gone back inside, the front door was now shut.
“Trish?” Jason asked, his voice soft, “what do you want to do now?”
I looked over at him and saw that he was watching me, his hands resting on the wheel. What did I want to do now? Another pain hit me and I doubled over, my arms crossed over my stomach and my head resting on the dashboard.
“Right,” he replied, mostly to himself, “food first, than a plan.”
He started the car and turned us around, heading back the way we had come, dirt flying up behind us.
He took us through the first drive through we could find, ordering a dozen burgers, plain, and tossing them in my lap. I was shaking and had some trouble opening the wrappers, but once I had eaten my way through half of the overcooked, over-processed patties, I was almost back to normal, the pain receding to a tolerable level. I ate the rest in silence, throwing the bags in the backseat when I was finished and looking out of the window, forlornly. The scenery passed by, and I didn't much care where we were headed.
When we got to the main interstate, Jason turned left, instead of right, taking us toward the Wyoming border in a different direction from how we had entered the state. I still couldn't find any words, and I could tell he was getting worried. Hell, I was worried. I had lost my one thread of hope, and I had no idea what to do now. All of my contingency plans had escaped me the moment I discovered that Horace Lansing was dead. We drove in silence for hours, Jason filling up the tank once and getting us more food twice. He was keeping up with my appetite, throwing food my way faster than he could even eat it. It would have been funny that I was now eating him under the table, but my sense of humor had left with my hope.
I hardly noticed as we passed into South Dakota, but a minute later I sat straight up in my seat and spoke for the first time in hours, as my earlier study of the map swam through my mind.
“Vermillion!” I exclaimed, my voice gravelly from disuse.
Jason gave a startled jump, looking over at me. “What?”
“Vermillion!” I was getting more animated as I came up with a plan that could keep me running on hope for a little while longer. “It's where Amy said she came from. Maybe we can find her through someone there.”
“Vermillion it is,” he replied, looking relieved.
I saw in his face how much my trip into catatonia had scared him. I'd have to make up for that somehow, but right now thoughts were swirling around in my head. If we could find Amy, maybe she could give us some better answers. She obviously knew more than we did, playing everything close to the vest, and she had been there that night in the alley. During all the craziness of skipping town, I had forgotten all about trying to figure out who had stabbed me and killed my friends. If she knew and was holding out on me, I was going to be pissed. More importantly, if she knew how I came to be the way I was, maybe we could help her find some answers. I was hanging on by a thread, but it was better than the nothing I had been living with for the past 6 hours.
We kept driving, but I filled the silence with plans on how to find Amy. We'd have to ask around about her, which I was wary of, but she hadn't given me a last name, so we couldn't just look her up in a phone book. I had thought finding the address for Landis had been a lucky break anyway, considering I only saw one pay phone anywhere nearby that was still working and had a phone book in it. I hadn't abandoned all other phones for a cell phone, but almost everyone else in the world had, it seemed.
I pointed Jason toward a small motel just off the highway in the middle of a stretch of bars and pawn shops that made up the part of the town we were passing that was visible from the light traffic. It had gotten dark, and we were close enough to Vermillion to stop for the night and still be able to pick it up the next day. Besides that, I had thought of a way to reward Jason for helping me and get rid of my sorrows for one night. I was going to borrow a method from my dad, and put my fake ID to some good use.
Jason didn't even complain about the small rundown motel that would undoubtedly contain small rundown rooms. He looked to be just as eager to take a break as I was. It was early for us, only about 8 pm, but I didn't know when the liquor stores closed in South Dakota. There was one across the parking lot from the motel, and its lights were burning brightly, beer names flashing on and off with a hum of neon that I could hear from our spot toward the end of the row of rooms.
I didn't even have to ask Jason to wait in the car, he just leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes as I hopped out, grabbing my bag, and jogged down to the office on the other end. The middle aged woman behind the desk glanced at me as I walked in, already pulling out a clipboard for me to sign.
“Just one of you?” she asked, looking behind me like she expecting an entire van-full of people to follow me in.
“Yeah,” I replied, passing her my ID and signing my name on the first empty line.
“$30 for the night,” she said, and I gave her the cash in exchange for the room key, this time a keycard, probably the fanciest thing about this place.
Even the office was rundown, the lights overhead buzzing and the dingy wallpaper peeling. There were two shabby looking chairs set against the wall to my left, with a dusty potted plant in between.
“You be careful out there,” the lady said, handing my ID back to me, “young girl like you shouldn't be traveling alone.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled in reply.
Well, that certainly sounded creepy. I felt a little better about Jason waiting for me back at the car.
I jogged back across the parking lot to where he was now waiting outside of the car, leaning against the driver's side. There were a few other cars in the lot, most of them in the same shape as mine, and two big motorcycles sat on the other side of where I had parked, looking better taken care of than the rest.
I took my bag from his hand and led him one door down to our room. The keycard worked on the second try, and I moved my hand around on the wall, until I found the light-switch, set farther away than the other rooms we had stayed in. The light was dim, emanating from two mismatched lamps on either side of the low bed. The room wasn't as dirty as the one from two nights before, but it was close. The floor was covered in a dark brown carpet, darker in some spots from years of use, and the walls were green. They had probably once been a nice forest green color, but they had faded with time, the sections by the window practically yellow.
“Brilliant,” Jason said, smiling at me.
My mood had gotten better as we had driven, so I just smiled back at him, ready to get back to our banter.
“See what you would be missing if you stayed in a 4 star hotel,” I replied, “all this character!”
He snorted and dropped his bag on the far side of the bed, plopping down next to it.
“So what's the plan? Food and TV?”
“I tell you what,” I said, putting the atlas and snacks next to him, but holding onto my bag, “you go find us some fast food, unless you're sick of burgers...”
He looked at me like I was crazy, so I continued, “and I'm gonna go run a little errand next door.”
Now he looked curious. Next door either meant the convenience store or liquor store. Or the laundromat down the way, which actually wasn't a bad idea, since I was quickly running out of clothes to wear.
“Go do your thing,” I said, giving him a smile and slipping the keycard in my pocket, “I'll be here when you get back.”
He just raised an eyebrow at me as I slipped back out the door, heading off toward the row of businesses next door. I had made my way across a small side street to the next parking lot when I heard him start up the car and pull out of the space, heading back in the other direction to the highway. I walked past the empty convenience store and entered the liquor store, a bell jingling as I stepped through. The old man behind the counter looked up at me when I walked in, then continued reading a thick paperback, leaning against the glass counter that was full of an assortment of lighters and pocketknives. I wandered off toward the coolers lining the back wall. My dad always went for the cheapest beer available, but I had a feeling Jason would appreciate something better. I scanned the shelves, and finally decided to forgo the beers, heading back towards the front, and grabbing a bottle of mid-priced tequila. Liquor was quicker, or so the saying went. I put the bottle down in front of the guy at the counter, who, in turn, put his book down and gave me a once over.
“I'll need to see some ID,” he said, ringing up the bottle.
Well, this would be the ultimate test, seeing as it was a South Dakota ID. I handed it over, pulling out enough cash to pay for the bottle as he peered at it and looked back at me. He nodded and handed it back to me, taking the cash. I breathed an internal sigh of relief as he handed me my change and put the bottle in a paper sack for me.
“Thanks,” I said, grabbing the sack and heading outside.
“Stupid,” I thought to myself as I opened my bag and stuffed the paper sack inside. I had been so caught up in my better mood and trying to think of a way to cheer Jason up, that I hadn't even considered what would have happened if I had been busted for a fake ID. Oh well, too late now. I headed next door, and bought some shot glasses with pictures of Mount Rushmore and 'Welcome to South Dakota' printed on them in fancy script. The store had a tiny grocery section in it, so I grabbed a box of plastic knives and some sad looking limes on my way up to the counter.
My purchases secured in my bulging bag, I made my way back across the parking lot toward our motel room. One room past it, a large man in a leather jacket was leaning against the door, smoking a cigarette. Most likely one of the owners of the motorcycles that were parked nearby. He nodded at me as he exhaled and I flashed him a smile, using the keycard to get back inside.
By the time Jason knocked on the door, I had set up the shot glasses, cut up some limes, and found a variety show on the spanish channel. I opened the door for him, and was immediately assaulted by the smell of cooked meat. He handed me the bag before I could grab it from him, and I took it over to the counter by the bathroom, dropping it next to the bottle of tequila.
“You finally decided to use your newfound maturity for good, I see,” he said, spotting the alcohol and limes, “I approve.”
“Of course you do,” I mumbled out over the bite of hamburger I had stuffed in my mouth. It was another fast food burger, and I really could have gone for the raw patty, but I was past complaining.
“Can't drink on an empty stomach,” he said, grabbing his burger from near the top of the bag and digging in himself.
He handed me a napkin with a grin, and I sheepishly wiped the grease off of my face. My mother would be having a fit if she could see me now. Of course, I'd probably punch her in the face for what she did to the family, so we'd be about even. I was feeling more violent lately, but I wasn't going to let it bother me. I slowed down on the eating, taking time to pour two shots for us, and handing Jason his with a piece of lime.
“Have you ever even had liquor before?” he asked, accepting his glass happily.
“Have you?” I retorted.
We clinked glasses and downed the shots. I almost choked on mine, but managed to suck down the lime before my small coughing fit. I shuddered as the alcohol burned my throat.
“The trick is to get so plastered that you can't even taste it anymore.”
My doubts about his methods were plain on my face, but I poured us another shot, finishing off a burger before I handed his over. The second one went down easier than the first, but the shudder was still there. I was determined to push through and match Jason shot for shot. If there was ever a time to use alcohol as a mind eraser, this was it, even if just for the night. I wasn't looking to become a full-time alcoholic like my dad, but Jason and I needed a night of being teens. If there had been a party to go to, I would have taken him. I obviously meant business.
I sat for a minute, focusing on the grown man dressed in a bee costume on the TV.
“I don't feel anything,” I said.
Jason grinned at me, “wait for it.”
I sat back, done with my food, and let him pour the drinks. He slowed down a bit, and we spent some time trying to figure out the object of the game the brightly colored characters were playing on the show, providing our own commentary in a plethora of bad accents, his sounding mostly italian and mine sounding mostly irish. Trained thespians, we were not. About half an hour later, the drunkenness smacked into me like a freight train, and I fell right off the bed, cracking up as I hit the floor.
Jason doubled over in laughter, offering me a hand up, but dropping me as soon as he started pulling. I laid back and stared at the ceiling.
“I feel it now,” I said, watching the room spin around me.
Jason tried to pull me up again, and this time he succeeded. I landed half on top of him, our morning roles reversed. We both just lay there, catching our breath and breaking out into the occasional giggle.
“Thanks,” Jason finally said, after we got ourselves under control.
“For what?” I asked, shutting my eyes to stop the spinning.
Unfortunately, the spinning was in my head, because the feeling didn't go away in the darkness behind my closed lids.
“I know you, Trish,” he replied, “I know you did this for me.”
I just nodded, and when I opened my eyes, my face was a few inches from his. His eyes looked glassy, and I could feel his breathing under me. I knew I should move, but my body didn't want to comply. Mostly, I wanted stay right there and go to sleep, on top of his warm chest.
In the back of my mind, I knew this was a bad idea. This was something I had been pointedly avoiding for years, but my brain was fuzzy and it felt good ti stay right where I was.
“Trish,” Jason mumbled, half a question, as he stared at my face.
His eyes weren't really focusing on me, just jumping around, like he was trying to take in the whole scene at once. I could feel my heart beat a panicked rhythm as he moved his face closer. He exhaled, and I could feel the breath hit me, smelling like tequila, and warm on my cheek. I watched as he moved in closer, his lips just brushing mine. My eyes were open the whole time, his fluttering closed.
I froze, not knowing what to do. I knew there were reasons I shouldn't be doing this, but the alcohol had hit me hard, and my brain felt fuzzy. I finally just shut my eyes and went with it, pushing my lips back against his. He sighed and grabbed onto my waist, turning us over so that he loomed over me. He pushed himself up on his elbows, and stopped moving for so long that I had to open my eyes to figure out what had happened.
He was peering down at me, the oddest expression on his face. I had never before seen him look at me like that, half awe and half fear. When I stared up at him, he finally moved, reaching back down to kiss me again, like some trigger had been released. He was pushing his whole body into mine, and I could feel the warmth he was emanating.
I had lost all control of myself, pushing back against him, trying to get closer. He started pushing up on my shirt, whispering something that I couldn't quite hear over the white noise in my head and the loud music coming from the TV. It got louder and louder, until he was almost repeating it in a normal voice.
“I love you so much,” he said, and my brain kicked back into gear.
I stopped moving, and it took Jason a minute to realize I wasn't pushing against him anymore. He froze as well, his eyes opening wide. My stomach suddenly took a nosedive, and I started pushing him off of me. He quickly rolled over, laying on his back, breathing hard.
I jumped off the bed and ran into the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before I lost pretty much everything I had eaten only an hour earlier, most of it in big pieces that didn't taste remotely as good the second time. By the end of it, I was spitting up blood, but I just flushed it down. Everything had just gone to hell, what was a little blood coming from my mouth added to the mix.
I sat with my head laying against the cool toilet, grateful that it seemed to have been cleaned sometime in the recent past, trying to piece myself back together. I heard the TV turn off through the half open door, and then Jason's footsteps as he slowly approached. He peered around the opening, not quite looking me in the eyes, and asked if I was okay.
I had no way to answer that question. I hadn't been okay in a very long time. The room suddenly felt oppressive, with the smell of vomit and tequila hanging in the air, and I had to get out of there before I lost my mind. I stood up shakily and pushed the door open.
“I'm gonna go out for a while,” I said in Jason's general direction, too ashamed of myself to look at him.
He stayed silent as I grabbed the keycard and slipped out the door, shutting it behind me and leaning back against it for a moment, taking a deep breath. I should have rinsed my mouth out before I left, I could still taste the burgers, but I couldn't go back in there and face my friend, who I had just screwed with royally.
Instead, I wandered over to the end of the building, weaving my way down the sidewalk that ran in front of the doors to the rooms, the world a blur around me. It was still spinning, making me nauseous again. I stumbled around the corner, and it got darker the farther I went from the parking lot. I didn't have a destination in mind, I just needed to get far away from Jason, someplace where he wouldn't immediately come looking for me.
The motel was a one story structure than ran lengthwise next to the frontage road to the highway, and it sat in front of a stretch of trees that most likely qualified as a forest, especially at night. There were no lights to be seen coming from the direction of the trees, and the darkness looked like as good a place as any to get lost for a little while. I walked into the treeline, not noticing anything around me, especially not the crunch of gravel from footsteps following me into the woods.