“Okay, so we are definitely lost.” The trees that passed us as we drove were like the trees we passed an hour ago. Everything looked the same, and nothing gave any indication that we would find anything different ahead of us. Every now and again, we would catch movement of large animals roaming just behind the tree line supporting the fact that we were experiencing nature at its finest. Nature that surrounded us, encompassed us, nearly choking us with all its splendor.
“Nah, we cannot be lost. We have GPS!” With a cheeky grin, he looked at me before turning his attention back to the road once again.
Raising my eyebrows, I turned in my seat as much as my seatbelt would allow me to turn comfortably towards him. “Yeah, about that. What does it mean when the map shows nothing but green?”
His amused chuckle filled the car. It was so good to hear him laugh. “No doubt it means that we should have updated your GPS before we took this trip.” We both laughed at that as I put out an arm and nudged him slightly. “Maybe it should have been a clue when the pavement turned to dust?”
“You think?” I smirked.
Our boys were sleeping peacefully in the back seat, each with their heads propped on the other in a glorious mass of blonde and brown locks spilling over one another. It was definitely time to get them haircuts, but it was not a priority on this road trip. One day, once we were home again, I would make the necessary appointments to get their hair cut, but for now I just enjoyed being here with them all.
“It’s beautiful here. At least that is something.” His face was plastered with a smile, but there was something that I was only now noticing beneath the smile.
“Mark, are you okay?”
When he flinched at the question, it was as good as him answering my question. “Yeah.” His eyes flicked over to me, and I knew he would have seen my expression. My arms were crossed over my chest, and with a raised brow I frowned at him. It was the same look I gave him anytime he tried to tell me something that he thought I wanted to hear instead of simply answering the question.
He was always trying to protect me. It was his life mission to make me and the children happy, and he would go without so that we could have. That was my husband, the man that I have been devoted to for the last ten years of my life.
Attempting to change the subject, he asked, “You think they might be able to give us directions?”
Mark had already started to slow the car down and I snapped my head around. Men clad in dark blue uniforms were standing on opposite sides of the road. Each man was armed, though looking at them, I highly doubted they would have to use the weapons to intimidate any trespassers. My husband stood taller than me by a couple of inches, but these men towered over him by at least double that. Not to mention that they were in far better shape than any of us that sat staring at them through the windshield. It was not that I live at the gym bulky physique, but more that their lives made their slender, muscular physique a necessity. That thought set an alarm sound off in my head, but I put it aside.
Rolling down our windows, we rolled to a stop and waited for them to approach. “Good evening.” One of the men said as he gave a curt nod in our direction. Two of the guards stood back, and they looked to the horizon as if waiting for something to make an appearance. Their eyes focused on something that was not at all clear to me.
“Hi there. I think we might be a little lost.” My husband grinned and shrugged, but the movement made him wince. He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like his license and registration. I suppose he figured that these people should be treated as law enforcement, and wanted them to know we were no threat.
The two men that had approached the car frowned at Mark as they looked over the items that he had given them. “I suppose you are to have ventured this far.” One of the men stood straight for a brief minute, looking back from where we had come and sucking in a deep breath of the warm evening air that had started to settle in around us.
“How far off the track have we come?” I could not help but ask. Mark’s smile was so sheepish, but his face had gone pale.
The two men smiled broadly and looked at one another as if they shared some secret between them before they answered. “That would depend on where you were heading.”
Leaning forward once again, I tried to plaster a smile on my face, but my concern for Mark was growing. “I apologize, I imagine that this is a huge inconvenience for you all, but I really need to use the ladies’ room.” I shifted in my seat to draw my thighs tighter together to accentuate the statement in hopes that they would allow us through so that we could all rest for a few minutes before we were sent on our way once more. There was a building that was evident from here, and I could only imagine that there would be a place to sit and freshen up. “Would it be possible to relieve myself before we head back the way we came? I have not seen anything that resembles civilization for hours until now.”
This gave them cause to snicker. “That would be accurate. You all are about eight hours from any town that could accommodate you for the night.”
That made my face pucker. Eight hours of driving would not be a terrible feat if we had not already been driving for about that long already. My husband was feeling the strain, only having taken a break around lunch time to eat at a small clearing on the side of the road. It was at his insistence that we continued to head in this dead end direction. If only we had known. He needed to eat and take his medication soon to prevent his symptoms from becoming unbearable. “Oh, I see.” It was spoken softly as my mind was already trying to sort out another avenue.
A long pause followed, but one of them leaned forward. “Look, I think it will be okay if you go freshen up. It looks like you all could use a bit of a break.” His eyes scanned the car and with a furrowed brow landed on Mark, almost as if he knew that Mark was not well, or maybe it was something else entirely.
I turned around to look in the back seat, and was greeted with two pair of young eyes that were still hazed from sleep as they looked on curiously. No doubt they could use a break as much as we could. Placing my hand on Mark’s shoulder, I smiled at the men. “Thank you so much. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate this.” Mark grimaced as I spoke, but tried to turn it into something that might pass for a smile.
The men waved us through where we found others in the same dress guiding us and waving us through to the massive building in front of us. It was a beautiful log home that was large enough to constitute being called a mansion, if a log home could be referred to as such. There were windows that graced a large portion of the building that emitted a golden glow of the lights from within.
Pulling up to the spot the men indicated, we all started unfastening our seat belts. Before the car was even in park, I had flung my door open in anticipation of stretching my legs out and looking for the items that Mark would need. The boys were not too far behind me as they barreled out and started running around the car.
When they nearly ran into one of the guards, they both stopped short. The man leaned down and gave them a frown, and my oldest grabbed the younger’s hand. “Oh. Excuse us, sir.”
The man ruffled his hair and gave them both a grin. “Good manners, son.” Aaron was on cloud nine as he grinned up at the man, a look of understanding passing between them that was a bit odd in nature. But, then again, Aaron loved when others praised him. Wish I could say the same thing about my youngest son, Hayden.
As I sped to the trunk of the car, Mark had popped the trunk lid to give me easy access as I made my way around. Reaching in and shuffling the items there around, I scanned for the emergency bag that would contain Mark’s medication and easy snacks that would allow him to have something on his stomach before he took his medication. The dosage was strong, and he needed food to line his stomach to prevent it from eating through the protective lining. Finding what I was looking for, I snatched the bag and slammed the trunk closed.
Mark was already out of the car, and refused to lean against me when I went to stand next to him. In fact, the man took the bag from me and gave me a small push forward. “Go on ahead. I will catch up.” He smiled briefly before taking a step towards a small bench that overlooked a garden of sorts beside the building. It was filled with blossoms of every color imaginable, and the air here was so much purer than anywhere we had ever lived. It would do him good to simply enjoy the view and relax for a few minutes before he was forced to take his medication.
The medicine made him groggy, and made his stomach cramp. Not to mention that he claimed that it put him in a weakened state that he hated. He knew what needed to be done. My biggest worry has always been would he do it if I was not standing over him, but he seemed to have gotten better about it these last few months. Truth be told, these days he always made me leave before taking his medication so I could not be sure of anything but that the pills were disappearing.
Quality of life versus quantity. It was the same old argument, wasn’t it? Loved ones wanted as much as they could get, but individuals wanted to make the most of what they had. Who could blame me for wanting my husband by my side as long as I could have him as we watched our children grow up?
Realizing that my potty ploy was becoming a reality, I moved towards the building after making sure that Mark had made himself comfortable. Already I could see that there was some sort of small gathering beyond the doors. Several people were standing around in a group, while others were descending a flight of stairs.
There was enough people there that it gave me pause before opening the door. Before I could bring my hand to the handle, I found myself looking around the grounds. Maybe there was another facility here that would not be so busy at this time.
There were numerous other buildings that sprung up just a short walk from here and made their way across the landscape, making it appear as if this were an actual small city that had sprung up and survived in the middle of nowhere. Shops, stores and other buildings littered the area, and yet it looked like this little city rolled the sidewalks up in the early evening. Just my luck!
If you looked past the local businesses, you could see small neighborhoods that fell away from here as they crept up slowly over the hillside. Nearing close to the top where one would expect amazing views, you could see much larger homes that spoke of wealth and prominence. And if you stare long enough, you could make out a more massive building at the crest of this mountain than the one that I was about to enter. For a moment, I tried to think of where we had come from and imagine what it must be like to stare out those windows and behold the landscape below.
Inhaling deep, I decided to quit procrastinating and pushed the heavy wooden door open. As it swung open, the people that littered the area grew quiet. Men and women alike turned towards me as they gazed upon the one who intruded into their sanctum. The hairs on the back of my neck started to prickle, and my fight or flight instincts were imploring me towards the latter.
Squaring my shoulders, I scrunch my face as I gave them all a look that said I really, really hate to ask this, but...but I really didn't. I now knew that I would not make it far if I did not use their facilities. It must be that whole concept that if you think hard enough about something, it will come true.
“I hate to interrupt, but the gentlemen outside said that there was a restroom here that I would be able to use?” My gaze slid across those present, each in their own thoughts. I looked for a face that was friendly enough that I might be able to hold their gaze and convey the necessity of my request.
Women seemed to be sizing me up, each deciding what kind of threat I was to them. Though, looking at their elegant forms and beautiful features, they would have to dismiss the fact that I was any threat whatsoever. Yet, their expressions did not waver.
The men were a different story. Each one held a different expression. Some wary, some approving, and one…