“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat, idiot,” Marah said.
Arizona shoved a pair of thin leather flats into her suitcase and zipped it up.
“Why’re you even going on this trip if it’s not going to do anything?”
“It’s going to do something,” Arizona said. “That’s why I’m going.”
“Sure. So then why are you scheduling therapy appointments right after you get back?”
Arizona shrugged. “Just in case. You never know.”
“You’re going on this trip to get better. To not be so depressed. Isn’t it depressing to you that you don’t believe in yourself?” Marah leaned forward intently. She sat cross legged on Arizona’s bed, a teddy bear in her lap.
“You know what’s not helping, Marah,” Arizona said hotly. “You. You’re not helping. You’re not making me feel better. I’m going and you can’t stop me.”
“I don’t want to stop you. I think you should go. But I don’t think it’s going to help if you don’t believe it’s going to help.”
“I’m not listening to you anymore.”
Arizona picked up her suitcase and leaned to one side to counter the weight. She walked out of the apartment’s bedroom and into the small living room, leaving her former best friend, mouth pressed tight to keep in angry words.
The little battered Jetta grumbled to a start in the cold, windy November morning. Arizona straightened the rearview mirror and looked herself in the eyes - she looked tired, lonely, almost grey.
She smiled at herself and started to back out of the driveway.
Out on the road, Arizona looked back. Marah stood in the doorway, arms hugging her thin elbows, smiling. As she watched, Marah lifted her hand and waved, a big sweep of her arm, and shouted something. Then she turned and went back into her own apartment.
Arizona shook her head, though Marah couldn’t see her, and drove away. Dappled sunlight fluttered down the windshield as the Jetta passed beneath old tamarisks and tired, twisted pines. As she left the dingy apartment behind, she felt a gentle weight rise from her shoulders and settle itself elsewhere.
Arizona stopped just outside the border into Pennsylvania and picked up Jose. He was waiting for her outside the post office, a large cardboard box sitting on the ground beside him.
“Hi, Jose,” she said. “You ready?”
“Sure,” he said. He lifted the box and she helped him shove it into the back seat. Arizona went back around the car and slid in, and Jose crawled over her backpack and sat in the passenger seat. “I’ve been ready since November 20, when you called me up at three AM.”
“That’s two weeks ago.”
They looked at each other and laughed, and then Arizona leaned in and kissed him on the lips. He sat back, surprised, and stared as she started the car and pulled out.
“What was that for?”
She grinned. “Haven’t seen you in six months, lovey,” she said.
“We broke up between July and now.”
He leaned his head back as she accelerated on the highway, as if to accept the new relationship. “Might as well,” he said with a sigh. “If you think it’ll help you feel better.”
She glared at him out of her corner of her eye. “Oh, please.”
They drove in silence through Pennsylvania. The state was steeped in red and brown, the colors of autumn and a deep sunset. It was lush and chilly, and Arizona rolled the windows down.
Jose had lived in Pennsylvania right after college, but moved to Baltimore a year later. They’d met on a spring evening at a friend’s wedding. The friend’s backyard was lit with string bulbs and alive with guitar music. They’d eaten sushi together and mutually agreed to never eat it again unless they ate it together. Only the company of someone you love can wash out the ugly taste of raw fish and oily rice.
They left Pennsylvania and entered New York. Jose put his feet on the dashboard and started to doodle on a blank piece of paper, whistling through his teeth.
The Jetta drove through a tunnel of old, bent trees, crackling and grumbling along an old gravel road. The highway stretched on in the distance, far to their left, but Arizona made no effort to cross over and merge. As she passed under shrivelled, shedding cottonwoods and golden baby faced sugar maples, she felt a lump rise in her throat at the familiarity of it all.
Jose saw her staring hard at the windshield, blinking fast, and said, “Brings back memories, doesn’t it?”
She nodded, relaxed, and laughed.
“Remember when Pacey tried to climb the tree in Central Park and stayed up there all night?”
“Yeah, we were all there, but it was getting dark and she said she was scared to climb down and walk home through the park.”
Arizona threw her head back and laughed. “But staying the night was better? What if she fell?”
“Jack stayed with her, if I remember right. Pacey didn’t fall but Jack did, sometime at night.”
“I do not remember this.”
“Too bad. He wasn’t too hurt, he was on a lower branch.”
“Pacey’s always been insane.”
“Jack was too in love with Pacey to listen to reason.”
“Got that right.”
She smiled now as she drove, and when they neared New York City she turned the radio on and they sang Johnny Cash all the way down I-95.
“You don’t want to stop here?” Jose asked a few minutes later.
“I hate New York,” Arizona said suddenly.
She sat forward in the seat, hands perfectly aligned on the wheel, head forward. Jose watched her. “You sure you’re okay?”
She glanced at him and sat back. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Why do you hate it? You used to love it.”
“I did six months ago.”
He was silent for a minute. “Did something happen to you here?”
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and whispered, “Yes.”
“That’s why you moved,” he said, no longer asking questions. He realized her meaning. “I’m so sorry, Arrie.”
She nodded, eyes rimmed with red.
“This is why you’re going on a trip. To get away.”
She nodded again.
“But why did you want me here?”
Arizona’s shoulders fell back against the grey cloth seat. “I trust you,” she said simply.
“Marah would’ve gone with you.”
“Marah’s annoying and self-righteous. She doesn’t know when to shut her mouth. You do.” Then she added, “And I loved you once.”
He wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d started crying, but instead she laughed. “Once,” she repeated.
He grinned. “Do I have another chance?”
They pulled off the road in Vermont and parked next to a huge white cedar. Arizona stretched and Jose ran laps with his hands held ridiculously close to his sides. She laughed until her stomach ached, laughed as she leaned against the car to hold herself up. He saw her laughing and made a face, but kept running, so she kept laughing.
“You know,” she said through giggles, “This is better than therapy.”
“Your therapist must suck.”
“Fire him, then.”
She smiled as he jogged away again. Then to herself she said, “You know, I think I will.”
After all, she didn’t need him anymore.
When they got back inside and started driving, she felt empty inside, the good kind. A hollow, tired kind of empty hunger, which you can fill with good things without feeling guilty. She was tired but open. Ready to start over.
Dusk began to fall as Arizona and Jose drove through Vermont.
They stopped on the border of New Hampshire and Vermont. Arizona pulled into a dingy concrete parking lot of a tiny sushi place whose sign was just a little plastic stand-up board. It said Spicy Sushi but it looked like home, so they got out and went inside.
Arizona ordered tuna with seaweed and extra spice and Jose ordered sailfish with rice. They sat together on the cold curb by the rusting little Jetta and ate with their fingers.
It was sticky and raw and sour-tasting, but they ate together, knees almost touching, as if six months had never passed.
When they were both done, napkins thrown away and receipts tucked into pockets, they looked at each other a split second, standing by the Jetta, dusk seeping around them. Then Arizona grabbed Jose’s hand and held it tightly, smiling genuinely for the first time, all twenty fingers still sticky from shared sushi.