I awoke on Wednesday morning with a huge smile on my face. I felt so lazy and yet perfectly refreshed, like I had been recalibrated. I was so warm and comfortable under the sheets that I was quite content to tell the world to go to Hell for a few more hours.
I reached over with my leg to play footsy with Thomas, but my foot just slid over the cool blanket. I opened my eyes and rolled up onto my side.
Thomas was gone.
I remembered what he had said the night before and instinctively ran my hand over my stubbly head and sat up to check my face in the mirror. Fortunately it was devoid of any more make-up. I glanced down and saw the Monopoly board upside down on the floor, money and hotels scattered everywhere. I knew that I would never see a Monopoly board the same way again, and I knew that I would never again pull a small red plastic hotel out from my butt crack.
The sun was bright outside and I could see blue sky through the lace curtain. I had a good feeling about the day and instantly battered thoughts of the recent past away into my unconscious to be dealt with at a later date.
I heard footsteps in the hallway and then the clink and rattle of the lock. The door opened and Thomas entered, beaming and with a large smile. He was wearing a new blue and red ski jacket and some new boots with snow still clinging to the toes and heel.
He closed the door.
“Get up, Matthew!” he said, with glowing cheeks. “We’re leaving Redstone and going on an adventure.”
“You know what?” I said, returning his smile. “I’m not even going to question it.” I swung my legs over the bed and found my underwear by my feet.
“That’s the spirit!” said Thomas. “Get packed up, because we won’t be coming back here.”
“We will be back in Aspen for our flights home, though, right?” I asked, fishing a new t-shirt out of my shopping bag.
Thomas collected up his bags. “Yes. But we’re going to this one place first.”
I sat back down and slid on my new trousers, socks, and boots. “Okay, Thomas. Can you give me any hints?”
“No,” he laughed. “But it has a mad name.” He strolled past the TV and saw the Monopoly board. “Oh, jeez,” he said. “Did we do that?” He pulled his camera out from the pack around his waist and took a picture. “That’s a keeper.”
We locked our room, leaving the Monopoly board loosely packed up on the bed, and descended the narrow staircase behind Thomas to the reception area of the small hotel. I had the hood of Thomas’ dark green puffer jacket up to hide my shaved head, and I also wanted to hide my face as much as possible.
Chester was chatting with a large man wearing thick black coveralls and a beige winter jacket covered in what looked like oil stains. The length of the man’s gray and black beard was mightily impressive, as was his hair hanging down to his mid-back. He also wore a denim cap emblazoned with the U.S. flag.
“Do we need to check out?” I asked, wondering where Thomas was about to lead me.
“Oh, no. I squared up with Chester earlier.”
To my surprise, Thomas walked straight over to the two men talking. “Hey fellows,” he said, and then he addressed the large man. “This is my friend, Matthew.”
I waved as the men looked over, but for some reason my feet didn’t want to move any closer. Thomas waved me over. “Come on, Matthew. I want you to meet Randy.”
I shuffled forward, but my mind was not sure how to process Randy into the idea of going somewhere with Thomas. Randy extended his gloved hand. “Good to meet you, Matthew,” he said in a gruff voice. “Or do they call you Matt?”
This guy was such a stereotypical American truck driver that I laughed out loud. Randy shared a surprised look with Chester. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I haven’t had much sleep. Matt is fine.”
I had never been called Matt in my life, but I was on holiday.
“Randy has agreed to take us to Salt Lake City,” said Thomas, who was clearly so excited that his words took him up to his tip toes and back down again.
I forced a smile. “What’s in Salt Lake City?”
“Us,” Thomas grinned. “In six hours!” He shook his head. “Salt Lake City! Such a mad name, isn’t it?”
“And Randy’s giving us a ride?” I asked, turning from Randy to Thomas.
“It’s no problem,” Randy explained. “I’ve got the rig parked up outside, and I’ll be heading back this way through Aspen on Thursday. I overhead Tommy here mention it to Chester that you were looking to go somewhere fun for a day. So, I offered him a ride to Salt Lake.”
“I’ll see you later, Randy,” said Chester. “Have fun, boys.” Chester lifted the wooden gate at the check-in desk and disappeared into another room.
“Your rig?” I followed, failing to understand.
“Yeah. Ol’ Bessy. My truck.”
“You have a truck called Ol’ Bessy?”
Thomas laughed and slapped Randy on the shoulder. “Isn’t it great!”
Randy appeared to be amused and taken with Thomas. “Let me show you,” he said. He turned and headed out through the door.
We followed Randy outside into the bracing clean air and immediately noticed the huge bright red truck hitched up to a long white trailer. A car behind it made the daring attempt to get around, only to find out there were no cars coming the other way.
“Are you okay with this?” I whispered to Thomas. “I’m not entirely sure it’s wise to get into a strange truck with a fellow named Randy.”
“Oh, don’t be so prejudicial,” said Thomas, dismissive. “So what his name is Randy? Just because that word has no end of unflattering synonyms. He’s a lovely man and has offered to return us to Aspen by tomorrow evening.”
I wanted to find a reason to return to our room, but I was already holding everything I owned that wasn’t in our hotel in Aspen, and we had already checked out of this one. I looked Thomas hard in the eyes. “Are you sure about this?”
Thomas placed his hand on my shoulder. “Yes, Matthew, I am.”
I nodded. “Then let’s go.”
We walked down the snow laden path and the snow compressed and crunched under our feet. Randy stood by the driver’s door. “You’ve got everything?” he asked, flashing a brown bolus between his teeth.
“Yes,” Thomas replied. “What’s in the back there?” he asked, pointing at the trailer.
“Ah, just some toys,” said Randy, waving his arm. “You’ll have to get in around the other side.” Randy spat out his tobacco, opened the door, and pulled himself up and into the cab.
“He’s delivering toys in time for Christmas, Matthew. That makes him A-okay in my book.” Thomas marched around the large nose of truck to the passenger door, but I remained motionless and stared down at the brown hole in the snow where the tobacco had disappeared. “Matthew!” Thomas called from the other side.
I snapped out of my trance, took one last look at the beautiful mountain town of Redstone, and joined Thomas by the door. He reached up and grasped the large steel handle, pushed a button, and the door swung open with a well-worn creak.
We had to pull our knees up high to make the step, but once our feet were up it was easy to climb into the cab. I shuffled in next to Thomas on the large worn beige leather seat and pulled the door closed and was immediately struck by the space. I put my bags down next to our feet.
“You’d better put your belts on just to be safe,” said Randy, clicking his own into position. He checked the large wing mirrors on both doors and then started up the engine. I felt the whole cab vibrate and was reminded of the small plane that flew us from Newark to Aspen.
Randy slipped the truck into gear and we pulled away from the curb at a slow and steady speed. “It’ll take us about half an hour to get onto I-70. Don’t want to rush things in all this snow and ice.”
I shook my head. “No, don’t rush things. We can take our time.” I gripped the side of the seat, and tried to banish thoughts of the truck sliding off a cliff.
“Do you think I can have a go later, Randy?” asked Thomas.
Randy leaned towards him. “What’s that?”
We came to a steady stop at a traffic light. “Drive the truck,” said Thomas.
Randy laughed. “Oh, heavens no, boy!”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Do you have any idea how much trouble I’d be in if I let you drive?” Randy continued. The light turned green and we eased on over the intersection and made a left turn.
“Worth a try,” said Thomas. “It looks fun.”
Randy chuckled. “It can be. But make no mistake, it ain’t as easy as it looks.” The truck pulled onto a larger road surrounded on both sides by dense snow covered fir trees. I noticed that all of the traffic had stopped to let the truck turn. From my position up on the seat I could only guess how a car would fair getting sucked under the wheels of this beast.
I noticed the trailer pull in straight behind us in the left wing mirror. My palms had broken out in a sweat. “This lorry has to be about a third larger than the ones back home,” I said.
“This what?” Randy said as he shifted into a higher gear.
“Lorry,” I repeated. “It’s much bigger than the ones back home.”
“Did you say Lorry?” Randy asked. “You mean truck? I’ve never heard it called lorry before.”
“Yeah, in England this would be a lorry,” I clarified. “Only the ones over here are much bigger.”
Randy kept one hand on the wheel and reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a round metallic tin that I at first thought was shoe polish, but when he popped the cap off in his giant hand I could see it was chewing tobacco. “Just hold that, son,” Randy said, passing the tin to Thomas. Thomas did as he was told and once it was in Thomas’ hand Randy pinched out some tobacco and stuck it in his mouth. Thomas and I both stared at him.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Randy, noticing. “You want some?”
I shook my head as the word cancer flashed through my mind in large bright red letters. “Yes please!” said Thomas with the zeal of a child opening a Christmas present.
Randy shifted up to the next gear. “Help yourself.”
Thomas pinched out some of the brown moist shredded leaves and popped it in his mouth. I sat mortified and watched Thomas move it around like it was mouthwash.
Randy put the lid back on the tobacco and tucked it away in his pocket. “Funny how we all have different words for the same thing,” he continued. A small blue car zoomed passed us on the two lane road. “Ah, another example,” said Randy. “You see that guy?”
“Yeah,” I replied, watching the car gain some distance ahead of us.
“He’s what we call a jackass.”
I laughed and felt myself relax. I was now convinced that Randy was a sensible driver and would be good company for the rest of the trip. Thomas was still chewing his tobacco like a goat munching out of a feed bag. From what I could gather Randy had just pushed the tobacco into the corner of his mouth and left it there.
“Once we get onto I-70,” said Randy, “it’ll be smooth sailing. Just got to get off these little roads.”
“What’s it like being a truck driver?” I asked. “There was a time when I thought about it because it just seemed kind of peaceful. Just you and the road. Alone with your thoughts. Listening to good music and chilling out.”
“I don’t know about any of that,” said Randy. “You have good days and you have bad days. I usually end up missing my wife and kids because I’m on the road so long. Of course, other times I can’t wait to get away from them.” Randy laughed hard and I noticed his cheeks flush red. “Nearh,” he continued. “God bless ’em!”
With his gray hair and subtle wrinkles, Randy looked like he should have had grandkids.
He belched hard and then continued. “Of course, she’s my fifth wife, but I think I’ve got it right this time.”
“How do you know?” I asked, amused.
Randy glanced over. “She asked me to marry her. So she must’ve known what she was getting herself into. It’s been three years now.”
“Congratulations,” I said.
“You married?” Randy asked.
“No. Never quite got there yet.”
Randy sighed. “There’s plenty of time. Don’t be hurried into it.”
“What do you have to do in Salt Lake City?” I asked, changing the subject.
“I gotta drop off this cargo here at one of the stores. Then I’ll be crashing for the night and heading back down this way tomorrow morning. I can give you my cell number so you can call me tomorrow and I can give you a ride back.”
I nodded. “Cool.”
“In fact,” said Randy. “Why don’t you take a look in the glove box? There should be a pen and paper in there.”
I popped open the glove box and saw that it was stuffed full of receipts. I was amused by the different colors; red, yellow, and white. I noticed a yellow stack of post-it notes and a blue pen. “Go ahead,” I said, readying myself to write.
I scribbled it down, tore off the top sheet, and put it in my inside pocket. “Thanks, Randy.”
“Don’t mention it.” Randy stole a glance at Thomas. “You all right there, buddy?”
Thomas had stopped chewing and his face had blanched. He was staring hard and direct through the windshield. “I feel funny,” he said, and then began to choke and wretch in his seat.
“Thomas?” I yelled, scared. “Are you okay?” He nodded and held his hand up to me.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he stuttered. “I think I swallowed it.”
Randy chuckled and shook his head. “Tommy, you might want to switch seats with Matt there, because very soon you’re going to need that window.” Randy continued to bounce and giggle in his seat.
We unbuckled our seat belts and Thomas stepped over the top of me as I slid underneath him. I immediately pulled my new seat belt around my body and clicked it into place, but Thomas was busy winding down the window.
“I can’t really stop here,” Randy explained. “So just go for it, Tommy. Let it go.”
As if on cue, Thomas vomited hard out of the truck window.