Chapter 39: Gasoline
“I can now say with confidence that I have no idea where we are.”
The roads we drove down were unfamiliar, and instead of leaving Gravelstone Drive and heading back from where we came from, we continued to drive into the unknown. There was something thrilling about not knowing where you are going to end up or if you’ll even be able to find your way back. We felt like we had the world at our feet.
It was exhilarating.
Wind whipped hair across my face, the bitter air making blood rush to my cheeks. I breathed in deeply, wanting to capture every rush of fresh air that burst into the truck. We’d cut the radio off this time, basking in our own silence, and I watched his eyes flicker from me to the road and back again.
There were no streetlights guiding us, only the haze of the moon and the headlights spilling lazily out onto the road. Miles pressed his foot down, causing the truck to jolt forwards and the purr of the engine to turn to a growl. I felt it in my core as I hung one hand out of the window, fingertips icy cold.
An unusual smell masked my senses, mixed with damp wood and honeysuckle.
My eyes scored the heights of the trees, so tall that they seemed to be reaching for the sky. There was something haunting about them — almost precarious — but we were untouchable as we sped down the unoccupied roads, weaving in and out of oblivion.
Miles’ fingers clasped tight around the wheel, veins in his arm popping. Running one hand through his hair, he bit his lip in thought. His hair was almost platinum now, the brown streaks having faded since he’d had a shower back at the motel. He was fresh faced, eyes shining, and he smelt like lemonade.
“Do you want any food?” I asked, unclipping the seatbelt and leaning over into the back. I grabbed the duffel bag with one finger, hoisting it up onto my lap.
“Yes, yes, yes a thousand times over,” his face lit up, “I’m starving.”
“How are you starving? We just ate.”
I licked my lips, savouring the taste of the cheese toastie my dad had made us before we left. Just the thought of the melted cheese and crisp bread slathered in butter made my mouth water. He used to make them a lot when I was younger, since he had no time to make anything else, but they tasted amazing all the same.
“Driving is a hungry job Kirsten,” he thankfully swiped the bag of crisps from my hands before pausing to look at me. Quickly, he leaned in and placed a kiss to my head, so light that I almost didn’t notice he’d done it.
I shivered, heart racing. His random bursts of affection had become a regular thing now, but every time our skin touched it felt like a lighting bolt had stuck through me. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to his hand in my hand, his lips on mine, because every time we embraced, every time our breaths collided, I felt myself swooning over him in a ridiculous way. He left me dumbfounded. Breathless. But most of all, he left me wanting more.
The shrill sound of a phone ringing made me jump as I lifted a bottle of water up to my lips, causing the cool water to spill out onto my chin. I fumbled for my phone in the back pocket of my jeans, goosebumps beginning to pool out over my skin. I knew who it was before I even answered.
“Kirsten?” her voice was hoarse, grating at the edges, “Is that you?”
I swallowed, taking a deep breath before I choked out a simple, “Yes.”
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” I could hear the aching worry in her voice, the watery overtone that made it hard to hear what she was saying.
“What? Yes mum, I’m fine.” I couldn’t hide the irritation that seeped through, and I flinched as soon as I heard it. Because words are dangerous. Once they’re said there is no taking them back.
“Where the hell are you?” Now I could imagine her biting her lip and holding back from erupting into anger, could almost hear the grinding of her teeth as they clenched together.
“I’m with Miles. On our road trip. Where do you think I am?”
“Miles.” She said his name like she’d never heard it before, and it took me a few seconds to realise that she hadn’t. I nodded, before I realised that she couldn’t see me.
“Yes.” I didn’t know what answers to give her, it wasn’t like I could just come right out and say it. ’I’m not coming back.’
“But where-” there was a long pause, “Where are you?”
“We’ve just come back from Gravelstone Drive.”
Once words are said there is no taking them back.
“Gravelstone Drive…” her voice went stone cold with realisation.
The static buzzing through the line became louder than it had before, ringing out almost like a warning.
“Gravelstone drive,” she repeated, voice breaking.
“Mum I-” I began to explain before she cut me off.
“And why, Kirsten, were you in Gravelstone Drive?”
She’d steadied her voice now, and I could imagine her re-positioning herself in a chair, holding her head up that little bit higher and setting her shoulders back further like she always did before we had an argument. She knew it intimidated me, but somehow it felt different all the way out here with him. Because I knew that she couldn’t just get up and find me. For these two days we’d been free of the shackles of life. We were untouchable.
I decided that it was pointless to lie, she knew it before I’d even said the words. She couldn’t do anything about it even if she wanted to. It was done now. I had seen my dad for the first time in years.
“I went to find my Dad.”
My heart hiccuped, waiting for the storm. But she was quiet, so quiet I thought the line had gone flat. This was worse than shouting and screaming. Everyone knows silence makes the most noise.
I glanced at Miles who was looking at me wide eyed. He mouthed the words “what is she saying?” but I just shook my head and gestured at him to pull over.
He stopped near a cluster of trees, the darkness immediately forming a cloak around us. I peered into the distance holding my breath as I watched how the trees began to part off the further you went, leading into a huge field. Nodding towards it, I saw Miles’ expression shift into an epitome of excitement.
Now that the engine had cut off, we’d plunged into one of those silences where you become aware of your own breathing. I was also becoming aware of the buzz that nighttime brings, an echo of all the noise that had faded out at sundown.
Your thoughts seem to shout at you in those kinds of silences.
“It’s been two days,” I almost dropped my phone at the sound of her voice, which sliced through the receiver suddenly, “I told you to come back.”
Anger began to burn away at me, lighting up every inch of my body. She was the problem. She was the gasoline that started this fire.
“And why would I do that mother,” sarcasm dripped off my tongue, each word I spat driven by toxicity and outrage, “Why would I want to come back after I’ve found out what you’ve done.”
Another long pause suffocated us.
“Kirsten ...” she sounded desperate now, voice softer.
This was the first time I’d spoken to her since I’d uncovered the truth. The lies she’d buried me in, leaving me to crawl six feet up to escape. Calming me down now would be like trying to piece shattered glass back together.
“Don’t,” my voice was hostile, each breath I took sharp and quick, “Don’t you dare try and talk your way out of it.”
“I told you it wouldn’t be the fairytale reunion you were imagining.”
My head span at the familiar words of what she’d said to me the last time we’d spoken. The reunion with Nala she’d always feared because of the truth that it would unravel. A lump rose rapidly in my throat, eyes stinging.
“You. It’s all because of you. How can you live with the guilt? Why didn’t you tell me the real reasons behind why Nala left, why Dad left. That my sister had a baby. How could you leave me thinking that I was the problem. Hating myself because I thought everyone was running away because of me? Because they didn’t care about me.” My face was red hot, tears pricking my skin like one thousand tiny needles.
Miles was squeezing my clenched fist, and I hadn’t even noticed until now.
“It was for the best-”
“You do NOT get to decide what is best for me anymore. Only I get to decide that. You were clinging onto me like some last hope because every one else left you. Well, guess what? You’ve only gone and made it worse because now you’ve lost me too.”
Guilt panged through me as I listened to her sob down the phone, heart breaking into a million pieces. Miles raised his eyebrows at me, concern narrowing his eyes.
“W-what do you mean I’ve lost you?” she barely choked.
The words came out hard and fast, and afterwards, I was breathless.
“I’m not coming home.”