The darkness around me moves by at a steady pace. There is the illusion that there is nothing surrounding me. The dark, having gripped the sides of the vehicle, seeming like the entire journey now, passes by my windshield in a movie-like glaze.
Even with the dull headlights turned on, I can barely make out the trees that canopy both sides of the road. The faded yellow lines of the lane dividers have now given the illusion of merging into a hypnotic crooked line, and the rhythmic up and down of the van creates a sort of comforting lull as the night continually wanes on, surrounding the car.
My eyes burn as I try to keep alert on the road, and when I start to succumb to sleep deprivation, twilight just barely starts to light up the sky from the foreboding black to a pale purple. The change in scenery, as the sky slowly illuminates more and more of the forest’s silhouette around me, is just enough of a change to keep me from having to pull over and waste precious time resting.
The van I am driving is stuffed. I guess that’s what happens when you try to move six people in one vehicle, but we didn’t have any other choice. Old cardboard boxes were balanced on top of each other, while clothes of varying sizes were wedged between the crevices. Empty chips and bottles were strewn over bundles of blankets, and amidst the chaos, I could see four silhouettes. Stuffed between the suitcases, piled under blankets, with limbs spread all over each other were the animals otherwise known as my four youngest siblings.
Moving my hand from the steering wheel, I fiddle with the temperature and fan to break the long drive’s continued monotony. The old vents pathetically sputter out some luke-warm air due to my fidgeting, and my hand finds its way subconsciously rubbing my now, dusty fingertips on the tops of my jeans.
Heaving a sigh, I try to distract myself with something, anything, just to help me stay awake a little longer. Glancing over, I see the center console is filled with various, emptied energy drinks and gas-station coffee cups that have accumulated over the long hours of driving.
As quietly as possible I reach over and gently shake some of the empty containers, hoping one of them has just a little more caffeine left at the bottom. After shaking the last drink, I let out a string of curses and frustratingly run my hand through my, now, slightly greasy blonde hair, from having traveled such a long while.
A long, long, while.
Even longer since I was last able to take a shower, or change my clothes.
I sigh and lean back into the firm driver’s seat trying not to think too hard about the specifics of the situation I am in.
I am fine, everything is going to be fine.
Slowly, the sun starts to formally make her appearance, and dawn begins to break on the road ahead of me. Just as the dirty van fills with morning, sudden movement from my side startles me.
The drowsy figure in the passenger seat begins to uncurl from the fetal position she was previously sleeping in. Long, stringy mousy hair peeps out from under her dull hood and thin legs stretch out in an ungraceful way as my younger sister tries to adjust her waking position.
“You’re up early, you should try and get some more sleep before the rest of the gremlins decide to rise with the sun,” I whisper over, trying to be as quiet as possible.
She rolls her eyes tiredly, giving me an indecipherable grunt as her only verbal response, while casually flicking her hand towards the back seats. As if to try and make the other passengers disappear with the action.
There were six of us in total, although none of the children looked anywhere near related. We are all half-siblings. Having kids was always an occupational hazard in mom’s line of work, but to have as many as she did was considered rather tragic.
While many men ran toward her, she was always proud and liked the chase, so she would always run harder; faster than any man chasing. Arrogant at the possibility of being able to string men along with her looks, and smooth tongue. But sometimes she was caught, and when that happened she never failed to fall harder than she ran...
The first time she tripped was with me. She was only sixteen at the time and saw Mr. tall, dark and handsome, at a bonfire party. While he wasn’t her first in bed, he was the first too, and I quote, “not have the fucking competence to pull out”. After her conquest, she decided that since I was a strong enough swimmer to get past a condom, birth control, and day-after pill, then she’d raise her finger to mother nature by letting two versions of herself cause chaos. True to her word, I was the most like mom out of all her kids. She taught me all the tricks she knew, ranging from her street smarts to street ways. I was the male version of her straight blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and golden skin, a younger lithe body just like her who knew when to use it.
Four years later Kelsey was born as the bastard offspring of an already married tycoon who lied about leaving his wife for mom. Kels was short and petite like mom, but other than that completely different. Pale skin, a small nose, with even smaller eyes hid underneath a curtain of dark, straight hair. Mom’s work and lifestyle always made Kels uncomfortable, so she tended to find comfort in the corners of a room rather than the center. Due to this, Kels always had a more unique perspective on our family. Quickly finding her place as silent overseer, she observed a lot more than most of us saw in the family, lending her silent, but tough spine whenever any of us needed a reality check.
I adjust my driver’s mirror as I look to the back of the van, eyeing the topic of frustration for Kelsey. My eyes first land on the infant in the back.
The youngest of us was baby Evie. At only fifteen months old the little curly-haired red-head was an inquisitive little demon. Able to walk, grab, and lift, yet unable to form sentences we were in a tough stage of mutual frustration between her trying to express her needs and the rest of the world’s understanding. Being the youngest, Evie was barely three months old when...
No, too soon. Don’t think about mom. Don’t think about the past, or what happened, think about the future.
I turn my gaze back to the road, not liking where my thoughts were headed. Involuntarily, I rub a hand down my left leg, feeling shooting pain in my upper thigh. The rough texture of my unwashed jeans begins to chaff my leg, and irritate the skin underneath the fabric. I must not have been as subtle with my movement as I had thought as I caught Kelsey sending a worried glance my way.
“How’s your left side?” she quietly asks.
“I’m fine, just the normal travel stiffness everyone gets,” I reply, trying to subtly shift more to my right side and hide the tension the trip has put on my left leg and shoulder.
Kelsey scoffs, “I’m not an idiot Brayden. You’re practically putting all your weight on your right side. If you need to stretch out I have my permit. We could switch so that...”
“I said I’m fine!” I whisper yell, completely irritated and slightly embarrassed with the conversation.
From the corner of my eye, I see Kelsey flinch at my harshness and I immediately regret snapping.
Rubbing a tired hand down my face I quickly try and rectify the situation.
“I’m sorry Kels. I know you were just trying to be nice. It was very considerate of you to ask how I was doing, and you didn’t deserve such a harsh response.”
She merely shrugs her shoulders curling in on herself slightly.
I internally scowl.
Good job idiot! You practically just reprimanded concern. What kind of person does that?!
I clear my throat in a sorry attempt of hiding my guilt, “In all honesty, it’s hurting. Before going to our new home, I was planning on stopping at a grocery store for some food and necessities. I’ll pick up some ibuprofen there.”
After a moment Kelsey snorts softly, and affectionately pats my leg.
“I suggest something stronger than ibuprofen, you’re a prima donna when it comes to pain,” sending me a teasing smirk.
I throw my middle finger up at her as we both chuckle and enjoy the quiet of the morning as the sun continues to rise.
The sky becomes more vibrant, the trees slowly continue to pass, the faded yellow lines become more faded, and a small sign eventually marks our entering into the city limits of Rocky Falls. On the map, the town had seemed desolate. Seeing the slightly rotted wood sign brings a light smile to my face at the hope of our new beginning becoming a reality.
We’re here and everything is going to be just...
“I HAVE TO PEE, NOW!”
“OW! BRAYDEN, CHARLIE KICKED ME!”
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