There's so much dirt in my shoes I feel like I'm not even wearing them anymore.
I've been walking for hours on end by the side of the road. This far out, nature has claimed everything but the dark road, striped down the middle with yellow, that splits the desert. Still rocks and settled dust swallow the rest. Patterned lizards weave through the bushy faded green plants, complicated mazes of leaves and rigid stems. Outlines of dark birds often fly overhead, their wings wavering in the soft wind. The occasional car darts by me in a rush of wind and color, reminding me each time of how much farther I have to go.
By now the sky is a dark violet, pin pricked by stars in the sky. I'd never seen them so clearly in my whole life, and so many of them too. My father always told me how farther out in West Texas the sky almost opens up. It turns into something else entirely without all the light pollution from the city. He was good at that, telling stories, and making them come alive with the slight movements of his hands and the patterns of his voice. He was soft and quiet, my dad. He would lull us to sleep with his words. His hooded eyes lit up just a slightly as entire worlds bloomed up from his mouth. And he wrote them all quietly on napkins, and papers, anything he could find, eventually making their way to his centuries old Mac, perched on a desk in his shrinelike writing den. He could make impossible things seem so real. On paper, at least.
I tried my hardest to ration the water, only taking a little less than a fourth from the bottle. Even that might not be enough now that I have no money left. A lump forms in my throat when I remember my lack of money.
Everything is different, now that my money's gone and I'm relying on my own to legs to get me to L.A. It's different than before, when I would walk alongside the road. I always had somewhere to go. A bus stop at least 30 more minutes away, that would take me to the nearest city and another bus stop, which would take 15 minutes to get to. It's just miles out here. Just walking, and maybe walking a little faster. I count the time in steps. In the beating of my heart. I feel so trapped out here now.
When I was running away I was filled up with giddiness of how totally free I'd be when I was finally out here. No father, no mother and all of the past. My veins were writhing beneath my skin with nervous adrenaline, that night. My bag was stuffed with clothes, and the few things I wanted to remember when I was free of them: a few letters Di had written me from college, a snow globe, and my dad's jacket. My eyes had been closed in my doorway, and I was gripping the doorframe much too hard. Trying not to think of how my father would wonder where I had gone, and Olive and Di.
And how I knew my mother wouldn't care. How ashamed I felt of how badly I hoped she would.
But I pushed it down and kept walking. I stepped slowly down the stairs, taking them one at a time. My hands were shaking, I was so scared. And as I took to the final step, a creak escaped it.
I froze; I could not breathe. Everything was still in the house right then. The dust in the air was suspended. Only my blood moved. I felt like I was about to wake up the earth; like it would break beneath me.
My lips parted and I breathed out with a sound like a petal falling to the ground.
I ran from it, and from the house I grew up in. The one I thought I would've liked to die in. I bolted through the door, slammed my sneakers against the hardwood floor and wrinkled the skinny carpet lying against it, I didn't bother to shut it. And goosebumps rose on my skin from the chilled night air. I kept running, I couldn't stop. I ran until the soles of my feet ached, and my breath stopped coming out in sobs that rubbed my throat raw. I ran, and I ran, and I ran.
It feels like that night out here.
I thought once I was out I'd be free. But it's so quiet, and so full of nothing. All I can hear is the wind and the rustling of animals and the thoughts banging against my skull: they echo and drip and scrawl in chicken scratch, so that there is nothing else but this and the road I will be walking my whole life.
I don't feel free. I feel anything but. I just feel dirty and sticky and my head is throbbing and my limbs feel heavy.
The sound of a slowing car behind me, makes me spin around. White headlights blind me annoyingly, so I put my hand up to shade my face. I know it's not the British guy, now. The trucks not the same color.
And why would he stop for me anyway? He made it pretty clear he was only looking out for himself.
"Well hey there, darlin," I hear a gruff voice call out, the man climbs out of his car. His shoes land in the dirt with a thud, scaring away the animals with rustling sounds.
"And how are you doin' on this fine evenin'?" He saunters into the light, his hunched silhouette coming into view. His jeans are belted tight and dirty at the knees. He's dirty all over in fact, from his dark tee shirt to his brown cowboy boots.
"I'm...fine," I say uneasily backing up just slightly as he advances towards me. His chapped lips form a sickening grin, and he spits off into the bushes. His bloodshot eyes are too bright, and too wide. Too excited for me to not be scared.
"Do you um, do you--need help, with--with something?" I choke out the words, my heart starting to pound.
"Well I was just thinkin'," he begins, sarcasm lining his words. And something else too, "What would such a pretty girl like you be doin' out here on the road, all alone?" His badly cut hair cocks with his head at the last two words, and he says them so slowly it makes me want to puke.
"I--I really can't help you right now, I need-I need to find my--a pair of my shoes. I think I lost them somewhere," I ramble, fear scrambling my words.
"I can help you, honey." I see every speck of black stubble and scarring on his face in the bright light of his car, and that is too close.
"Girls like you, quiet little things," his raspy voice grates over the words, and his eyes are moving all across me,"They need company."
He grabs my arm, hard, squeezing my veins, bruising my skin, and pulls me toward him. This is wrong wrong wrong.
His yellowing eyes trail my neck, and he leans to my ear, yanking me closer as he does. I have to bite my tongue to not yelp when his flaked lips drag against my ear.
"Don't you want some company, little girl?" Alchohol and rancid lemon waft off his hot breath and cries are escaping me now. I am furiously pushing, twisting against him, and trying to get away but his bones are stiff around me and I'm to close to even move. I want to rip off all the skin his black fingernails rake over.
"Stop, please--," I'm yelling out.
"Ah ah ah," he chides like a school teacher. His thick fingers press quickly over my mouth. I taste sweat and wood and the metallic twang that is my fear.
He coils around me like a snake.
He shakes with excitement.
Laughter like the sound of ripping fabric shakes him against me as he pulls me to the ground with him and I am screaming like mad beneath his hand. My eyes are grabbing at every color and every movement looking for help, and I try not to think about how much my closing throat hurts or how weak man must think I am when I whimper like a child.
Not like this. It's not supposed to happen like this. Not with the lizards and the dead plants and the insects, watching with tiny eyes.
His belt jangles, one hand fumbling with it, the other pinning me down.
"NO!" I manage to shriek between his fingers.
"Don't make this harder than it needs to be," he growls. But I jerk on the rough ground, and scrape up my arms and back because I don't care and I don't care and I don't care this can't happen to me here, not with my family a million miles away, in the night by a highway with his sweat in my mouth.
There's no one to hear me cry. I don't think there ever will be again. And when he rubs my sweat coated skin into the sand, I know no one who will ever really hold me ever again. I know I will be gone and nothing and not even a past or a future when he finishes.
I will be made of rocky ground and I will be alone.
"GET THE FUCK--,"
The man's hovering body is yanked upwards and off of me, and falls again with a thud. I hear dirt shifting as the the man who just spoke drags his body away.
"AWAY." Thud. He sobs.
"FROM." Kick. He cries out.
"HER." Something cracks.
It cuts into the night, like a jagged knife.
And if I didn't feel like a slug, lying here with sweat and tears and red dirt smeared across me, it would be the best sound I've ever heard.
The man standing breathes hard and his shoes scuff the dirt, coming closer.
My eyes shoot open but I don't need to see. I know who it is. The brown curls, those pink lips, that same strong jaw that clicked and clicked and clicked.
"Come on," he says quietly, and I feel his hand in a light grip on my arm.
"No," I strain out, just above a whisper.
"Come on, just try to--"
"NO!" I jet away from him, pushing myself to my feet. "NO GODDAMNIT! DOESN'T ANYONE AROUND HERE UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT WORD FUCKING MEANS?!"
His surprised expression turns angry.
"I'm trying to help you," he fumes at me with flaring nostrils.
"I don't want your fucking charity," I counter sharply, "I can take care of myself."
You know you can. You have to know you can.
"Oh yeah," he laughs, sneeringly, "because that's been working out so well."
"Go away," I snarl weakly. My shaky legs can't hold me up another second and gravity pulls me hard to the ground but I wish it would just pull me through the hard earth. I wish it would scarpe me clean of skin and flesh and keep me safe and burrow me like an animal to somewhere small where the light is soft and the air is cool and sgraggly roots hang from the ceiling. Where I can't hear this man yelling all of the things I really don't want to hear.
"So you can, what? Lie in the dirt until you forget about--"
I glance up at him as he stands before me. The white light illuminates his face almost angelically.
He stares hard into my eyes. "Did he--"
"No," I cut him off, and hate the way my voice cracks when I do,"But he would've. He wanted to."
The guy nods, "Well I don't really give a shit either way. You can't just fucking stay here."
I rise, suddenly and stroll over to retrieve my discarded backpack, just next to the road.
"You're still going?!" Does this girl have some kind of death wish?
She turns back to me, annoyance clear on her face.
"You said I can't stay, so I'm not going to," she explains and starts to walk, sliding her bag over one shoulder. Jesus Christ, I don't understand women.
"You think it's gonna be any different the farther you go?" She keeps her brown eyes trained in front of her, and keeps walking like some asshole piece of fucking shit creep didn't just violate her and her damn tank top isn't falling off.
"This wasn't just some fucking rite of passage. This shit's gonna happen again and again, this highway is fucking crawling with creeps like him."
She finally stops to look at me. "Can you just fuck off please? And stop wasting my time by pretending you care?"
"You know what no, I'm not gonna fuck off, cause you're being a fuckin dumbass."
She whips around at that, red with anger. I smirk at the little frown on her face.
"I am not a dumbass! You don't know me, you don't know anything about me!"
"I know you're money's gone," I say and she stiffens, "And those crisps won't last."
"What is your point?," she inquires impatiently through gritted teeth.
I sigh heavilly. Turn the fuck around, Harry.
"I'll take you. I'll take you to L.A."
God, what am I doing? What am I saying? I know this can't work. She'll slow me down, and when the police catch on (and I know damn well they will) she'll run and she won't look back. But if my mom saw me leaving some girl on the side of the road, she'd be pissed at me. She'd sigh really deeply and shake her head at me and say, "How could you do something like that, Harold? You just left her out there? After you saw someone hurting her, and after you knew it would happen again you just left? No, don't you dare roll your eyes at me, young man, you know better than that. I taught you better than that..."And it's fucking worse when they act so disappointed in you, all quiet and sad, then when they're just full out screaming at you. If I heard her like that now...I wouldn't be able to take it. And even though it is literally the last fucking thing I want to do right now, I have to. Cause it's right.
"At that petrol station--I mean you tried to steal my damn car--"
"Oh my God, I was not trying to steal your shitty fucking car!"
"--that didn't exactly make me trust you. But you aren't that person though. You're...I don't know, you're just young, and there's things you don't know." She scoffs, and I roll my eyes.
"I'm not just gonna drive off and let other dickheads like him take advantage of that shit."
She's staring at my shoulder, chewing on the inside of her cheek.
"Hey, with the amount of shit I've done, I'm probably already going to hell. But I'd fucking deserve it if I walked away from this."
There's a long pause, and it seems like hours before she says something. "How long?," she finally speaks up.
"Five days, max. Three, at the least." I smirk, "I mean, if think you can take it."
Her eyes narrow. "I can take it."
"Well, alrighty then cowgirl," I mock her, and she rolls her eyes, and follows me to my old pickup.
"Wait," she calls, and I turn back to face her.
She nods to the guy lying face down in the ground, breathing shakily and whimpering like a sad dog. Even now, seeing him so weak I want to break him until he's mush and grind his ugly face into the dirt for fucking touching her. Real men don't try shit like that. They take it when a girl says she doesn't want to, and they deal with it and they fuck off. They don't force them and grab them and slap them to get what they want.
Like he did to mom, I say in my head and squeeze my eyes shut blocking out the memory.
"Did you break anything?" She speaks quietly, like she's ashamed of asking.
"Couple of his ribs, yeah."
She nods and smiles. Just a little. Just the corner of her mouth quirking up.
"Good," she utters, and opens up the door to the cramped backseat to crawl inside. She lets out a heavy breath as she curls up, bringing her dirty hands to her chest and bending her legs to fit into the small space. I slam the door once she's in and stride around to the drivers seat, sliding in easily. Biting my lip, I try to get the key to turn the ignition.
"Yes," I whisper to myself on the third try, feeling the engine vroom to life.
I glance back seeing her curled into a tiny ball, eyes shut and I smirk at the way her mouth droops open. This is gonna be fine. We'll get there in no time, and her annoying ass won't be my problem anymore. That's is if the truck stays together.
Okay, so this car isn't a fucking Mustang. But my best mate Louis offered it to me for a decent price when I got to the U.S.A.
Though he conveniently left out the part where it's a piece of shit.
He was the first and last person I talked to before I had to start running across the country, hiding in alleys and whatnot. He didn't question me, he didn't judge.
And after what I did, that's saying a lot.
"Do what you have to do, Harry," he'd said. And Jesus, that shit made me want to cry. I remember those words. I live by them now. That's how I get my sorry ass out of bed every morning, and how I sleep at night. That was the last piece of him I might ever have, and I hold on to it. It's how I say fuck you to these damn American police I'm running from like I'm some fucking pussy.
Like I'm a coward. Like I'm my father.
But I have to run for the same reason I have to chauffeur this girl cross country. For mom, and Gemma. I do it for them. Not for this girl, and definitely not for me, I remind myself, as I pull back onto the darkened road.