Cross Roads

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Chapter Fourteen: Nowhere

“SPENCER!”

Ahh. The repetitive use of my name.

You know, once upon a time, I used to like my name. It was unique. Strange. Cool. But now, after hearing it over and over and over again . . . it’s simply just annoying. I know my own name, thank you very much. And, apparently, so do you. Kudos to you; go suck a lemon. Now let’s move onto more pressing matters. Like the reason that you are screaming my name, perhaps?

“Tootle-Loo. I’m so glad we had this time together. It’s been a long twenty-some years. I’d say I’m going to look back on this with a smile, but that’s definitely not going to happen.” I feel a tug on my backpack as I cross the porch. I stop, turn around, find my mom to be gripping tightly with my sister standing at her side. Behind them are my dad and dear, dear, Lorelei, both giving me what I assume is their version of the stink-eye but is actually just a strange looking squint. “Yes?” I ask patiently.

“Spencer,” my mom says. “Can’t we just talk about this? Your father didn’t mean it.”

I do not believe it for a second. “Sure,” I drawl. “Either way, we’ve talked enough. Or rather, you guys talked enough and I was just there being belittled and mocked. You know, there’s only so much belittle a person of my stature can take before—”

“WHAT is going on?” my sister interrupts, swinging her gaze back and forth. When she gets to immediate answer Anabelle throws her hands up in the air. “Will someone explain what is going on here? Mom? Dad? Spencer, where are you going? Hello? ANYONE gonna answer me?”

“Why don’t you ask Grandma?” I snap, throwing an actual and menacing glare at the crotchety old woman. “She seems to have opinion on everything, don’t you?”

My dad steps forward. “That is your grandmother you are talking to.”

I snort out a laugh, well aware of the entire family staring at us. We have a wonderful audience to this little debacle, which means that there won’t be any need for Lorelei to start blabbing her mouth to start rumors about what an awful child I am. Everyone will already know! “Oh really? Thanks for reminding me, Dad.”

“Spencer! Watch your tone!” my mom cries.

“Is anyone going to tell me what the HELL is going on!” Anabelle screams.

The fact that she has just used a potty word is enough to make all of us stop and stare – hmm, reminds me of a song . . .

“Well, big sis, Mom and Dad have been thinking these past few minutes, and after some careful consideration, and a bunch of input from Grandma, they have decided that I am no longer welcomed here,” I say, looking down at my nails. They appear to be slightly long, just barely any white growing, but long enough to risk breaking while I am at work. Whenever I figure out where I’m going to sleep for the night, I will search out a pair of clippers and remedy the issue. “Isn’t that just nice. Oh! Dad – can I still call you that? – I think I’ll be taking that TV back. You see, I bought it for someone who cared and . . . well, frankly I don’t think you deserve it. Besides, I’m going to need as much money as I can get since I’ll be living on my own now. Bills, bills, bills, you know? Oh, of course you do. You were just lecturing me all about them—”

“STOP THIS!” my mom snaps, holding her arms out as if my dad and I are going to come to physical blows. Who knows? Maybe we will. “Spencer, you’re not going anywhere,” she tells me before swinging to my dad. “And Jed, thinking about what you’re saying. She is our daughter! You can’t be serious about this!”

My dad says nothing, and that is all the answer that I need.

“I think he can be, Mom,” I say, stepping away from them all. “I’ve had enough of this. I’d say see ya later, but the last thing I plan to do is see any of you again. No, not you Belle. I work with your boyfriend so chances are we’ll run into each other. I’m mainly talking about you, Mom and Dad, and you Grandma. You know how you guys seem to hate me so much? Well, the feeling is mutual. Isn’t that great? Now none of us have to pretend anymore.” I reach into my back pocket. “Here’s my phone. Do whatever you want with it. I can get my own plan or whatever. I never liked that phone anyways. Too easy to break and all that jazz.”

My mom tries to stop me again. Anabelle pushes past her and cuts me off.

“Spence, please. Don’t do this. We can talk things out. I’ll make them listen. Please?”

I sigh and shake my head, glancing back to the wave of people that are behind me. It’s like the entire family is there – which, it pretty much is – and they have all seen me at my lowest. I’ve been kicked out of my own home because of something as stupid as school. I’d say I’ll never be able to live this down, but I won’t be seeing any of them probably ever again if Lorelei has a say in it – and she does – so that tiny issue isn’t really an issue.

This much be what my sister felt after Adrian dumped her.

Hmm. Food for thought.

“I can’t keep doing this, Belle. Everything I do is wrong and I just . . . I have to get out of here,” I explain quietly, hoping that I am making sense.

She nods once. “Okay. Then I’ll move out with you. We . . . we’ll get an apartment or something. Both of us are working full time so we can afford it, right? Just give me a minute and we can go—”

I cut her off by shaking my head. “Thanks, Belle, but I don’t wanna drag you into this. They don’t hate you so there’s no reason for you to come with me. This is my problem and I can deal with it. By myself.” I shrug, knowing that my excuse is pathetic sounding, but I really don’t want my sister to wreck her life with me. She’s got school loans to pay back and it wouldn’t be fair to her to move out and put herself even further into debt. The problem is me, not her and that is that.

“Spence . . .”

“I’ve gotta go. Whenever I figure out where I’m going I’ll call you. I’ll have to get the rest of my stuff; especially that TV.”

She gives me a hug, unexpectedly tight. “I’ll talk to them, okay?” she promises. “This isn’t fair. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I’ll talk to them. They’ll probably be sorry tomorrow.”

I don’t think the same as her, but I keep my thoughts to myself. I go over to my grandpa who has stayed off to the side of my booing-gallery. “See ya, Gappy,” I tell him, forcing a smile. “I love you.”

He lets out a heavy breath, shuffling forward and pulling me into a crushing embrace. “I love you too, kid. I’m sorry. Don’t listen to what your grandma says. Or your daddy. They just don’t understand. You’re a good kid, Spencer. You need anything you give me a call. I’ll be right over, okay?”

I nod because I can’t talk right now. My entire life is falling apart beneath me and I just . . . it’s not fair, but then again, when is life ever fair? I pull away and march over to my jeep, jumping inside and revving the engine. I back out of the driveway, driving faster than is probably good, but I need to get out of there. I can’t watch the crowd that is watching me, knowing that all of them – except for Anabelle, my grandpa and probably Wolf – are thinking about how pathetic and what a waste of space I am.

They’ll probably be bringing out the s’mores the second they can no longer hear my jeep down the road.

And I always liked the s’mores.

I drive around for an hour, playing over that last confrontation. It’s on repeat and I can’t turn it off. I just don’t understand where everything went so wrong. Yeah, I know my parents were getting irritated with my avoiding the thing with Adrian, but in my defense, it really had nothing to do with them. I’d handled it, and that was all they really even needed to know.

At least, that’s what I’d thought.

Turns out I was very wrong. Maybe if I’d had that exceptional college education I would have known that, but the likely hood is very unlikely. I am still a blonde, remember?

I keep coming back to Lorelei. She’s the only one who would have pushed for me to be kicked out. She hates me – I honestly don’t get why – and she hates me a lot. She’s never liked me being around, and this seems like a devious plan to get to that end. I just never thought she hated me that much.

I end up sitting in the parking lot to the nearby park, staring out my windshield. I have to figure out what I am going to do now. I need a place to stay – a motel will do for the night, but I need a place to live. I’ll need to change the address on my driver’s license, figure out about insurance because I will not rely on my parents for that. I’ll need to get a new phone – okay, maybe I could’ve kept my old one and gotten a different plan, but I needed to make a point. And none of that even covers the important issue. What am I going to do about food? I don’t plan on eating McDonald’s unless I am desperate, and I refuse to get to that point – or even acknowledge I am at that point.

Besides, I know how the food is made and unless I am the one actually making it I do not trust the rest of the employees.

Another hour passes, and then I force myself to admit defeat. I pull away and go to the cheapest motel I can find. I pay for a room for the night – thirty dollars, and that is even pushing it for such a crappy dump – and move in.

The inside smells like butt.

It looks equally disgusting.

I change my mind about staying the night.

After using the bathroom I go back to the front desk and demand for a refund. The lady doesn’t seem to care as she chomps on her gum and twirls her cigarette. She takes back the key and gives me my refund, never once making eye contact. No sooner have I pocketed my cash than she is back to her magazine, flipping the pages and staring longingly at the healthy complexion of Hollywood’s elite.

My night is spent back at the park, in my jeep.

At least, that was my intent.

Sometime after midnight I am woken up by a dog’s bark. The next thing I know and something slams into the side of my jeep, rattling it and knocking me clear off the back bench-seat. I glance up and see a Mastiff fogging up the glass but clearly seeing me inside.

With a groan I climb back to the front and drop down.

Benji is upon me almost instantly, rubbing up against my thighs and drooling onto my gut. He barks twice more, tail thumping back and forth so fast that you almost can’t see it.

Finally, someone – okay, some dog – that is excited to see me.

I sit down on the pavement, leaning back against my rear wheel. Benji joins me, head squishing my lap, which I find to be a little strange. Looking around the dimly lit parking lot and what I can see of the park, Dog-Tags isn’t anywhere. And that is very odd. Never before have I seen him and his dog apart. They stay up together, practically go shopping together. I doubt Benji has run away, and I doubt Dog-Tags would let his precious Mastiff out of his sight for long.

“Where’s you handsome owner, Benji?” I ask the dog, rubbing his massive head and wondering if it’s possible to be knocked out by it. I mean, seriously, the thing is massive. Bigger than my head. All it would take is for him to turn the wrong way and BAM! I’ll be seeing stars.

“Handsome, huh?”

I jump, glare and mutter under my breath all at the same time.

Dog-Tags laughs as he walks around my jeep to stand in front of me. “Sorry about this. We were just walking and then he took off. I hope he didn’t scare you.”

I snort. “I don’t get scared by harmlessly large dogs,” I say dismissively.

He laughs again, squatting down and tapping Benji on the head. “Okay. Then I hope he didn’t jump you and that’s why you’re on the ground.”

I shake my head, smiling. There’s just something about such a cute guy acting all concerned that makes my day – er, night. “No, but he did wake me up. Apparently he recognizes my jeep. Slammed right into it.”

Dog-Tags looks behind me, narrowing his eyes in thought. “You were sleeping in your car?”

I nod. “Yeah. Not the first time.”

He turns his gaze onto me. “Everything okay?”

“Oh yeah. Definitely. Just one too many arguments. I was going to stay at a motel, but all I’ve got is forty bucks and the one place within my price range smelled like butt. Sure, my jeep’s not the roomiest . . . or the cleanest, but at least I know where it’s been and what’s been inside it. And I’ve gotten used to the smell of gasoline, so that doesn’t bother me, either. Anything’s better than butt at any rate.”

“True,” he allows.

“So, what are you doing out? Insomnia again?” I ask, moving over to give him room to sit next to me and lean against the wheel.

He lets out a breath as he takes my not-so-subtle hint. “Yeah. Couldn’t really sleep.” The way he says it, it sounds so heavy and . . . and angst-y, I guess. He twiddles his thumbs between his knees, suddenly very interested by his nails. It’s a distraction, I know, and suddenly I feel very, very, very stupid.

“Oh. Yeah,” I say, as I remember that just a few minutes ago it was actually Memorial Day. “That question was kind of insensitive, huh? Sorry. Forget I opened my mouth. I tend to do a lot of speaking before I think. It’s a habit. A really bad habit. My foot is very acquainted with my mouth and yet I still haven’t learned. Sorry again.”

“No, it’s fine. That’s kind of the reason I had to get out of my house. My family, they understand, but they always seem to be walking on eggshells around me. I get why they do it, but honestly, I just want to be normal for a little bit. It’s kind of hard when they’re always asking what it’s like overseas; what I’ve done; war stories; and then clamming up the second that they bring up a difficult topic or hear something they don’t want to. I get it, really I do, I just . . .”

“You wanna be you,” I finish when he trails off.

“Yeah.” He tips his head against the side of my jeep, staring up at the stars. “I don’t want to always be worrying about what others are thinking when I say something. I don’t mind talking about my time overseas. I don’t mind talking about anything. I just don’t like when people ask something and then they get upset by my answer. You know?”

I nod. “Like there’s no pleasing people.”

“Exactly.”

“I hate to break it to you, Dog-Tags, but even us civvies have that issue.”

“Civvies?” he wonders.

I wave a hand. “Yeah. You be Soldier Boy. I be Civilian. Civvies. Make sense?”

He laughs. “Whatever you say, Spencer.”

“So, if you don’t mind my asking . . . did you lose a friend, then? Is that why you seem a little bit depressed?”

The frown is back and I congratulate myself on once again sticking my foot straight into my mouth, and all the way down my throat. I am such a wonderful person, I know. The guy just admitted to wanting to be treated normal, so what do I do? I bring up the hard stuff.

“Yeah. Best friend, actually. We enlisted out of high school together.”

I’d say I understood, but I really don’t. I haven’t lost anyone I was ever close to. I never had a best friend. “That sucks,” is all I can think to say.

“Yeah. It does.”

“Did . . . did you go and visit him? Or is he not . . .”

He nods. “Yeah, I did. Before Benji and I came here. It’s almost been two years, but it still . . .”

“Hurts.”

“Yeah.”

“. . . You wanna get ice cream?”

“What?”

I force a laugh, wondering what he must think of me. I am definitely a strange one. Strange and with the attention span of a gold fish. “You wanna get ice cream? Apparently chocolate makes anyone feel better. It’s supposed to be a great pick me up.” I think back to over two weeks ago when Noah did just that for me.

He must do the same because he smiles, dimple appearing and drawing my attention away from everything else.

“Is that so?”

“Of course!”

Dog-Tags shakes his head. “I’m actually still stuffed from earlier. Three hamburgers and all,” he says, patting is incredibly solid mid-section. “Maybe another night?” he asks me, flashing that dimple again.

I return the smile. “Definitely.”

There is a moment of silence, and then Noah pushes to his feet. “Well, Benji and I need to be going; got an early start tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I say, even though I kinda don’t want him to go.

“You going to be okay?”

“Of course.”

“You’re not going to attack any unfortunate creepers, are you?” he teases.

I shrug. “Not making any promises.”

He looks down at me for a long moment. “Take care of yourself, Spencer,” he finally says, whistling and having Benji stand up. “I can’t have you going to jail. You owe me some ice cream.”

I laugh, joining them on my feet. “I’ll do my best. See ya around, Noah.”

He waves, and then he and Benji disappear into the park, leaving me once more alone. I sigh to myself, climbing back into my jeep. Lying back down, I stare up at the roof, trying to fall back to sleep but being unable to do so. My thoughts are running too fast. There is no way I’ll be catching anymore sleep, so I decide that I might as well go to work. I open in a few hours, and at least this way I won’t be late. Maybe I’ll even get a head start on making those damn burritos.

They’re the bane of my existence, after all.
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