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Chapter three: Grayson

It’s about 6 am now, and we’re long gone from our safe little town of comfort. The sun has already started to rise, it’s golden yellowish rays shining through the dark grey sky. “So,” I start to say as I put the car on cruise control, “What’s the plan?”

Emerson doesn’t react, just stares out the window, her head slumped up against it like she’s done for the past hour or so and I begin to think that she’s asleep.

“Emerson?” I whisper as a loud semi passes me, it’s wheels flying rocks and tiny pieces of dirt at my windshield. Great. I totally needed my mom’s windshield to have more cracks.

“Emerson?” I say this louder, and this time not caring if I woke her up.

She jolts awake, and I instantly feel bad for waking her up.“What?” She answers crabily. Oh lord, wish me luck, for i’d just woken the monster from her beauty sleep. The one thing that I wasn’t supposed to do.

“Oh… um.” I might’ve forgotten why I needed to wake her up in the first place. Shit.

“Hello? Earth to Grayson, why the hell did you wake me up from my AMAZING dream?” She exaggerates as I rack my brain to try to remember.

“Oh!” I say quickly, remembering, “What’s the plan?”

Emerson gives me a “THAT’S what you needed to wake me up for” look, but then says “I don’t know… find a gas station since we’re almost out of gas.” She says this so nonchalantly. My head jerks to look at the gas gauge which is on E. “We only have so many miles left” I say, trying to hide the sudden panic in my voice.

“Well. Isn’t that great. Why can’t you mom’s tahoe have good miles?” She complains as she turns back to look out of the window.

“Why aren’t you worried about this? The next gas station could be miles away Emerson. ANd we’re in the middle of nowhere!” Now I’m upset, upset that I went along with her plan, upset that I thought this would just be like in the movies, upset that I left mom without any explanation.

“Calm it down Gina.” Emerson shoots back at me, still not looking at me.

“We’ll be fine. I’m sure there’s one coming up soon. I’ll even look it up if that’ll ease your mind.” She adds, pulling out her phone and quickly typing.

Ease my mind? Ah, how stupid am I, of COURSE, let’s just chilll and mess around while we’re driving on empty and you know, who cares if my mom’s car stops and then we both get murdered in the middle of the fucking desert. Right… ease my mind. Got it.

My thoughts are interrupted by Emerson’s voice, “Look, there’s one about two miles from us, it’s called Vern & Verna’s Stop & Shop. That doesn’t seem too sketchy right? I mean, how scary could some old people named Vern & Verna be?” She laughs as she says this and I join her. Emerson might get on my last nerves and annoy the literal shit out of me! But… she’s my best friend, and here’s just one example why; she makes me laugh, even in the worst of moments.

We follow Siri’s directions to the gas station which I honestly thought was as sketchy as it sounded. When we got there I pulled into a gas tank and parked the car.

“Let’s restock and refill the gas.” I say, feeling like a parent with an annoying kid on a road trip.

“Okay daddy,” Emerson answers, like she’s reading my mind, “I need to go potty too though.” She says this in her best little kid voice, slurring the “t” and “h” sounds together to make the word dough instead of though.

“Ha ha, very funny, just go.” I roll my eyes and start filling up the tank as Emerson gives me a smirk and walks towards the shop, a bunch of dollars in her hand.

But as I go to pay the tank makes a loud “THUNK” sound which makes me almost jump out of my skin.

“What the fuck.” I say out loud, instantly regretting my choice of language because of the other custormoer around me. A mom driving a grey minivan gives me a “watch what you say ″ look and slams her door shut and drives off. Another man with lots of piercings and tattoos who kinda sends a shimmer of fear down my back gives me a “what do you think you lookin’ at punk” look. I turn my head and look at the ground, still hearing the “thunk” noise coming from my tank. I swear I didn’t break it. I did everything that I normally do. I think to myself as Emerson returns from her shopping spree, carrying bags of food and water.

I give her a look of help and explain that I didn’t do anything to the stupid gas tank, that it broke by itself.

She doesn’t believe me one bit.

Great. I think, looking around for help, ultimately deciding to go into the gas station to tell the manager or something. As I walk into the gas station the smell of smoke from cigars fills my nostrils, making me want to cough.

“Hello young man?” A frail older lady happily says as I make my way to the cash registers.

“H-hello.” I stammer, the old lady is bent downward, like a hunchback, and has glasses that enlarge her eyes which seem to be green. Her hair is curly and thin, colored as white as snow and tied up in a tight bun on the top of her head. Her purple gas station vest says V & V’s stop and shop and her name tag is pinned on the chest on the vest. It says Verna. As in Verna the lady from the sign.

“What can I get for you honey?” The lady asks as she murmurs numbers as she counts some coins. Her voice is comforting and kind, simple and welcoming. It reminds me of my grandma.

“Um. One of the tanks, like, broke.” My voice is monotone and deep.

Verna looks at me, gives me a quick nod then says “Just wait right here darling,” in a happy tone.

“Pi!” She suddenly screams to the back of the room.

A girl about my age, tall and skinny, with dark brown hair and a purple backwards hat appears from the back of the counter.

“Yeah.” She asks, not noticing me at first. She looks familiar, like someone I’ve seen or met before but I can’t place it.

“Go help this boy. Another tank broke.” Verna complains to the girl who rolls her eyes and for the first time looks up at me.

She hesitates for a moment, as if she was thrown off guard by seeing me, then says “follow me.”

We make our way out of the gas station but not before Verna convinces me that I need to buy some of her world-famous, homemade lemonade. How can you say no to her. A frail, little old lady, I sure can’t say no.

“Don’t drink that.” The girl says as we walk to the Tahoe, two cups of Verna’s lemonade in my hands.

“Why?” I respond and the girl laughs.

“Let me be the first to tell you that it’s not world-famous. It’s more like the lemonade you’d serve to prisoners to tourture them.”

I catch a glimpse of her eyes, they’re lime green and stand out because of her light skin but dark brown hair, which is straight and long, about to her chest.

“Do I know you?” I say as we get to the tank.

She doesn’t look up at me or respond to my question as she does something to the tank. While she does that I hand Emerson her lemonade and she gives me a suspicious look, “Did you poison these?” She asks, eyeing me.

I roll my eyes and say “Maybe, but it’s not like it matters, when my mom finds out I snuck out to go on a road trip she’s going to literally kill us. So why just die now.”

Emerson laughs and then takes a big sip of the lemonade.

“WHAT THE HELL!” She yells as she spits out the lemonade through the passenger window.

“What?” I ask, noticing the girl leaning up against the tank directly across from us, her face has an “I told you so” look on it.

“Ewww.” That was gross.” Emerson answers as I pour my lemonade onto the ground, not really thirsty anymore.

After I finish filling up the tank all the way I give Pilot a gracious nod and head into the car. But as I turn the key I notice something on Pilot’s face; it’s sadness mixed with a hint of jealousy. Pilot doesn’t make eye contact with me as Emerson asks in an excited voice “What are we waiting for, Grayson? Let’s get this show on the road!”

I ignore her, turn off the car and get out, despite Emerson’s confused looks.

“I’ll uh, be right back,” I just say as I head straight towards Pilot, who’s walking away from us, headed back into the gas station.

“Um P-Pilot!” I call after her and she turns, giving me a surprised look.

“What are you doing her-?” She asks.

“Come with us.” I blurt out, cutting her off.

She stands there, speechless, just looking at me like I’m crazy.

This was a bad idea. Oh jesus. Come on Grayson you idiot. Why would you ask her to come with you!?

“Yes.” My thoughts are interrupted by this. “Wait what?”

“I’ll come.” She answers again, quickly heading off into the station only to come out a few seconds later with money, a water and jacket, and by the looks of it, it’s an air pilot jacket. My uncle Chris is in the air force so he’s taught me a few things I guess.

I head back to the car and move around some things, making room for the Pilot.

“What the heck is going on?” Emerson asks, and I can tell she’s annoyed with me.

“Pilot is coming also,” I answered.

“Um… what?” Is all Emerson says before I cut her off.

“Can she sit in the front seat?”

“Um…” Emerson starts to say just as Pilot opens the passenger door.

Emerson rolls her eyes and gets out, moving her things to the back middle seat.

“Do you want me to drive?” Pilot asks me as she gets situated in the seat, her pilot jacket proudly on her.

“No. I’m good for a few more hours.” I say, now realizing how weird this is gonna be.

“So, where are you going anyway Grayson?” She asks, as she fidgets with the hem of her pilots jacket. I don’t answer her, mostly because I have no idea where we’re going.

“This is kinda seeming weird now to be honest. Are you going to murder me and hide my body in the woods?” Pilots asks, laughing

I don’t respond and Pilot clears her throat awkwardly. She looks uncomfortable and is now just staring out the window. I can hear Emerson in the back humming to the song on the radio which is “So Alive” by the Goo Goo Dolls. I listen closely to the lyrics and like the song says… you’re never gonna live if you’re too scared to die.

I let these words repeat in my head as I roll down the windows and push down on the gas. Pilot gives me a worried look.

“We’re never gonna live if we’re too scared to die.” I simply say as she gives me a light laugh and sticks her hand out of the window, now singing along as we drive through the endless countryside.

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