On the Road Again

Submitted into Contest #132 in response to: Write a story about a teenager whose family is moving.... view prompt

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Adventure Speculative

“How about some Willie Nelson?” Christine’s dad asked while popping a cassette tape into the van’s radio. He had just picked her up from school and were heading back to the apartment where they stayed. She was relieved. It was the third school so far this year and she hadn’t really made any friends she thought were worth keeping. It hadn’t been a surprise either since she heard her father talking to someone on the phone about the heat last night. Guess I won’t need to study for tomorrow’s test after all, she thought.

She didn’t have much to pack. They were rarely in any one spot long enough to unpack. There wasn’t much room in the van to store stuff anyway. It was one of those seventies flat front lime green Dodge panel vans with bucket seats in the front and wide open in the back. The engine compartment was positioned in between the bucket seats which was fine when she wanted to use it as a place to set stuff.

Christine remembered that one summer they were driving through the Nevada Desert. They had no air conditioning in the van, the breeze from the window felt like 100 degrees, and the engine compartment was radiating heat inside the van making everything feel hotter. There was a small town coming up according to the road sign and she needed to use the bathroom.

Her dad got the gas pump started then headed into the store for snacks and drinks while Christine grabbed the key for the restroom and headed around the back of the building. She felt so sweaty from the heat, even her underwear was sticking to her. That was the trip she got her first period. Of course, she would get it in the middle of nowhere when it’s a thousand degrees outside without any supplies. Luckily, it wasn’t much so she used a bunch of toilet paper in her underwear and was able to get a fresh pair out of the van. Her dad bought supplies for her and all was good. He never made a big deal about stuff like that.

Then, there was the time they were driving their maroon Cadillac El Dorado in Albuquerque, New Mexico through the craziest blizzard she had ever seen. It was late and they had been looking for a motel to stop for the night. It was like driving through white noise, but super-duper cold. The windshield wiper was frozen on Christine’s father’s side and clear on hers. They had to drive painfully slow with their hazard lights on while Christine told her father if she saw anything up ahead. It was a miracle when they finally came up behind a trucker and were able to use his lights as a beacon and the truck as a shield against the blizzard. They made it safely to the motel and vowed not to drive that late into the night in bad weather again.

She learned to drive in Uniontown, Kansas when she was twelve. A small country town of about a hundred people, everyone knew each other, and her great grandmother Cora had a farm a few miles out of town. Cora passed away and Christine’s grandpa was there by himself trying to sort things out and keep people claiming to be family away so they could figure out the will and stuff. They were there to help her grandpa decide what to do next.

The house was over one hundred years old, had a layer of dust on most everything, and the floors creaked a lot where ever you walked. The door knobs were set kind of high up on the doors and the pictures on the walls hung tilted downward away from the wall. Christine wondered if anyone else had died there. She wondered if the house was haunted. As she wandered through each room of the house looking at the history she never knew before, she would pause and wait to feel something from the past tug at her or move through her but it never did.

In the barn sat a 1961 light grey Ford Falcon. It barely had any dust on it so she thought it must not have been sitting for long. Christine sat in it, put her hands on the hard steering wheel, and imagined Cora driving into town wearing her Sunday clothes on the way to church or the store. She was lost in her daydream when she heard the sound of her dad’s voice.

“We need to go to town. Shall we take the Falcon for a spin?” This would be so cool, Christine thought, and started to move over to the passenger side when her dad said, “No, you’re driving.”

“But, I’m not old enough to drive.” Christine replied.

“As long as you don’t hit anything, we’ll be fine.” Christine had watched her dad drive a million times so she figured she basically knew how to do it. Her dad went over the gas pedal, brake, and the speedometer, and then handed her the key. She was really going to do it. She put her foot on the brake, the key into the ignition, and turned the key. The car fired right up! Christine was nervous but excited and tried to act as mature as a twelve year old driving for the first time could. She took her foot off the brake and gently pressed the gas. The car began to move! Her dad told her when to slow down, which way to turn, and when to stop.

She had only one close call with a couple of pedestrians who attempted to step out in front of her at the stop sign. She saw them there but was so busy watching them as she approached the intersection, she forgot to actually step on the brake. Thankfully, her dad broke the spell, she stopped in time, and no one was in danger of being hurt. Christine’s heart beat a bit faster after that but they made it to town without incident.

Her dad drove back to the farm but Christine was hooked so her grandpa let her drive his pickup through the fields while he stood up in the back looking for down fences or other things along their property lines. Christine didn’t care. She was driving and that opened a whole new world as far as she was concerned.

Christine still wasn’t legally old enough to drive, but that didn’t stop her dad from letting her once they got out of the city or when he had too many beers at the race track. She had become more comfortable behind the wheel and learned to dress more maturely so she didn’t look suspicious if she happened to drive past a police car looking for speeders. As she finished packing up the last of her stuff, she wondered where they would be heading this time.

She liked moving around. It was weird to her how some people grew up in the same house or town and never met any outsiders unless some came to visit. She couldn’t imagine living in one place that long. How would a person know what life was like in other parts of the country? How people lived? What they ate? What they did for fun? Christine found most of the people she met on the road were friendly and willing to talk about those things. Of course, she didn’t always ask people those questions straight out. She learned a lot just from observing people and they way they treated one another.

People are the same no matter where you go, she decided. They may look different or speak with an accent, but really, they were no different than her. They wanted to live, eat, see things, experience love, work, and play. Some were fancier and some were so poor, Christine felt sorry for them. All of them fascinated her. She was so curious about how they made their living and took care of their families. She wondered if any of them felt like packing up and moving at a moments notice. Or even if they could.

Christine and her dad had been moving around for years. She couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t. Her dad always seemed to find a furnished apartment to stay in so it felt less temporary. She was the perpetual new girl at school which never bothered her because being the new girl brought a lot of attention from the other students. Especially, if they found out she was from Southern California. They would always ask if she had ever met any movie stars.

Of course, she would tell them, and spin some sort of tale about meeting someone famous while at a restaurant or something. They wouldn’t know the difference, so she didn’t feel like she was lying. Sometimes, she would tell them of the tv stars she really did know like Vic Tayback from the show Alice. He was the cook at Mels’ Diner. His box seats were right next to theirs at the race track and he would always buy an extra ham sandwich for Christine from the track vendor. They would eat big slabs of ham stuffed between buttered white bread and go over their horse picks for the day. He even placed bets for her if he thought her long shot might have a chance.

She always met someone interesting whenever they went to Vegas. Christine’s dad just seemed to know people where ever they went. They stayed in nice places and were treated well. They would dress up and see shows on the strip and eat medium rare steaks with big baked potatoes smothered in butter, sour cream, and chives. People would come up to the table and motion to her dad they wanted to talk business, but Christine’s dad always told them she would run the business one day, so they had to say whatever they needed to say in front of her.

She liked the thought of running the business. She was good with numbers and people. Over the course of their travels, she had learned to treat everyone equally and fairly but also with curiosity. Christine’s dad used to tell her not to take things people say at face value because sometimes people lie to protect themselves and you have to be able to separate your feelings from the action. And, always take a different route when going somewhere so it makes it harder for people to follow you or anticipate where you’re going. Sounded like good advice for life.

If people ever asked Christine what her dad did for living, she told them he was in construction. It was simpler than explaining what he really did, which was illegal even though no one really got in serious trouble. Still, they always played it safe and moved when the heat got a little too close for comfort. The law likes to make examples of people sometimes and her dad wasn’t interested in being used as one. There were a couple of cops who were clients of her dad and she figured they were probably the ones who tipped him off so they could be out of town whenever a bust was getting ready to go down.

Christine was only a teenager but even she knew it was all for show. Gambling and running numbers weren’t hurting anyone except maybe the track owners and casinos. And were they really hurting? Christine’s dad dumped a lot of money into both the track and casinos for his clients and himself, so she thought the busts were to keep the few known bookmakers from getting too big for their own good. Christine’s dad was smart. He didn’t drive fancy cars and flash money around. Sure, they dressed well and ate at nice restaurants when in Vegas, but mostly, they were just regular people.

Christine was ready. She never had any trouble waking up before the crack of dawn on the days they left. It was good, her dad would say, to get some miles behind you before the rest of the world woke up and clogged the freeways. She loved the open road. It could take you anywhere. You just had to get in the car, or the van in this case, and drive. She hoped they were going somewhere they hadn’t been yet. Maybe farther East. Christine wanted to know more about the towns in Texas. She imagined cowboys riding horses on ranches and women with big hair ending all their sentences with “ma’am”. Or Florida with the fresh fish, people with sun kissed hair, and the long stretches of beaches…

It didn’t matter to Christine as long as she was with her dad. She could talk to him about anything. He took care of her when others hadn’t, he taught her things about life she wouldn’t have learned in a classroom, and he always had a plan. Christine took one last look around the apartment but didn’t feel anything. She laid her key next to her dad’s on the small table next to the door, locked the door knob from the inside, and closed the door as she stepped out. The van was warmed up and when she climbed inside, she heard the familiar anthem of being on the road again, which started all of their trips, and was hopeful about where they were going, what they would see, and who they would meet along the way.

February 10, 2022 23:33

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6 comments

Mike Panasitti
17:30 May 02, 2022

Jeannette, I was lured by the mention of Willie Nelson in the first sentence. I agree with Amanda, the blocks of text and copious exposition--telling instead of showing--made the interesting story elements cumbersome at times. Perhaps some laconic, countrified dialogue could have helped the pacing in this story. I made a first go at a dialogue-centered story in "Stick." I'd greatly appreciate if you could let me know whether this approach worked or not. Thanks, and take care.

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14:34 May 03, 2022

Thanks for reading it and commenting. I'll probably rework it for my collection but not on here. They aren't country people. They're from California visiting Kansas, so...I'll think about how it would work. Thanks! I'll take a look at Stick :)

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Amanda Lieser
22:08 Feb 17, 2022

Hi Jeannette! I was so intrigued to get this story in the critique circles. I loved the intense detail that you described. Especially that scene in Arizona. I recently got the feedback that I tended to have too many blocks of texts in my submissions which made them feel like info dumps and I felt that may be a bit true in the beginning of your piece. Maybe you could add a bit more interactions between the MC and her father. Thank you for writing this piece. Overall, I really loved this piece and I’m excited to hear your feedback on “First L...

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01:00 Feb 18, 2022

Thank you Amanda! I appreciate you reading my story and the feedback :) I'll keep that in mind! I'm looking forward to reading and commenting on your story!

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16:46 Feb 14, 2022

Great story, sounds like you lived it

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00:54 Feb 15, 2022

They say write what you know :) Glad it sounds real!

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