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Fiction

I wanted to tell Kaitlyn to keep it down, but she just kept running her mouth. Dave’s Diner marked the last stop for a hundred miles before we reached the Cadillac Farm in Amarillo, Texas. Older couples and day laborers filled the surrounding booths, but they were keeping their conversations to themselves. Kaitlyn, on the other hand, exploded with laughter at the slightest suggestion of anything remotely funny.

“Why did the vegan cross the road?” Kaitlyn said.

“I . . . I dunno,” I said.

“To tell everyone on the other side that she was a vegan!” Kaitlyn rolled with laughter on her side of the booth. She wasn’t quite at the ROTFL stage, but she was far past LOL and well into LMFAO. 

I took up veganism about a year ago. I looked at my cat one morning and she seemed to get me. I realized, at that moment, that I couldn’t ever eat an animal again, nor could I enslave a sentient being to suit the whims of humankind. While not eating meat or animal products was fairly easy in our hometown, Greensboro, NC—a moderately sized metro—the bowels of Texas didn’t take kindly to me being vegan. Dave’s Diner had all three kinds of Texas cuisine: beef, pork, and chicken. I kept a small jar of peanut butter in my purse for occasions like this. I snuck a spoonful into my mouth and washed it down with Dave’s Diner’s black coffee. 

“I don’t understand why you can’t order hash browns,” Kaitlyn said. “I mean, they’re potatoes.”

“They’re potatoes cooked in butter and bacon grease,” I said. 

“Well, coffee harvesters use yaks to carry coffee beans away from the coffee fields,” she said.

I spit out my coffee in a magnificent spume. 

She spit out her coffee too and then we both burst out in the loudest laughter Dave’s Diner had heard in probably a decade. 

“Y’all want a refill?” Francine, the waitress asked. Francine swirled tepid coffee in a glass carafe, her arm fat jiggling wildly. Francine smacked her gum.

“No, no. I think we’ll take a check,” I said, snickering.

Kaitlyn burst out into more laughter. 

Francine jotted some notes on her pad and laid the guest check on the table. “Comes to $10 even.” Francine rolled her eyes and walked off.

“I got it,” Kaitlyn said. She placed a crisp ten dollar bill on the table. Kaitlyn and I headed to the car. 

“You’re going to love the Cadillac Farm,” Kaitlyn said as she climbed into the driver’s seat of her Prius. “When we were on tour, we stopped there. I spent about an hour just staring at the cars. They’re literally sticking up out of the ground.”

I didn’t mind Kaitlyn’s war stories. They were actually quite interesting. She signed a recording contract with a record label when she was 21 and toured the world with a band, Felix. Now at age 27, she says she’s moving on with her life, but all she ever talks about is the three years she spent on the road with Felix.

“Sounds great,” I said, not watching how fast and wide I was opening the passenger side door. I dented the side door of the pristine new red Camaro that Kaitlyn parked too close to. I felt every eye from every Dave’s Diner patron turn my way.

“Shit!” I said aloud. 

“Get in!” Kaitlyn said. “Get in, let’s go!”

I got in, shut the door, and we sped out to I-40 as fast as her Prius could. 

Once we reached a steady cruising speed, I turned to Kaitlyn and said,”Do you think we should go back? I mean, I totally dented that car.”

“Camaro,” Kaitlyn said.

“What?”

“It wasn’t a car. It was a Camaro.”

“I think we should go back.”

“Negative,” Kaitlyn said, speeding up a little. “Trust me. You don’t want to deal with that. No one will ever find out as long as you keep your mouth shut.”

“Ok,” I said. Kaitlyn was, once again, walking all over my conscience. 

“Here, let’s put some music on. How about some Beyonce?”

Kaitlyn cranked up “Crazy in Love,” singing along quite well to it. Kaitlyn was a vocal chameleon that way. Felix was a fairly heavy rock band, like a cross between Paramore and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, but she could sing like anyone she wanted to sound like, be it Beyonce, Ozzy, or Patti Smith.

I did some deep breathing and tried not to think about the consequences of denting that Red Camaro. That’s how I dealt with things—going inward. Kaitlyn handled her problems by either blowing them up or creating a larger than life smokescreen—moving outward. 

Then, Kaitlyn suddenly turned off the music.

“Al. Oh, shit, Al.”

“What?”

“I forgot to leave a tip,” Kaitlyn said.

“So what? Francine didn’t deserve a tip.”

“Everyone deserves a tip.”

“No, tipping, or in this case T.I.P.S., means ‘To Insure Prompt Service.’ We waited a long time—”

“Oh, no,” Kaitlyn said, looking in her rear view mirror. 

“What?” I heard the growl of what behind us before I turned around to look. It was the Red Camaro from Dave’s Diner. Red prowled ten feet behind us but was gaining ground. Red’s windshield and windows were completely tinted. I couldn’t see who, if anyone, was driving.

“Maybe we should have gone back,” I said.

“Fuck that. We’re standing our ground, Alice. Watch.”

Kaitlyn always talked about these Road Warrior retribution tactics that Melvin, the drummer of Felix, purported to have used on many an occasion. Kaitlyn’s favorite was slamming on your brakes whenever you’re being tailgated. I never hung out with Melvin, but he sounded like a serious bullshitter.

“No! That Camaro will tear us to bits.”

“I’m standing my ground.”

“Don’t do it, Kait.”

“I’m standing my ground.” Sweat beaded on Kaitlyn’s brow. Her hands began to shake as her eyes committed to the rear end crash. But then, the Camaro braked, fell far behind us, and sped off in the opposite direction. 

“Goddammit! I hesitated! Why do I always do that?!” Kaitlyn pounded on the steering wheel, veering into the median for a bit before correcting her steering. 

“Kait, if you were gonna do what I think you were gonna do, we’d both be dead right now.”

“Maybe. But shit, Red has no right to fuck with us like that.”

We rolled on in silence for another ten minutes or so. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing.

Kaitlyn broke the silence by saying, “You know Alice, we wouldn’t be here right now if I knew how to stand up for myself. We’d be in Malibu, chillin’. ‘Compromise’ they said. ‘Play the game,” they said. Well, being accommodating has just about killed me.” 

“Kait, I get it. Things didn’t work out, at least not the way you wanted.”

“But they had me change everything—song titles, lyrics, t-shirts. Talkin’ about ‘Kaitlyn, you need to lose 10 more pounds,’ when I’m already a size two. Fuckers.” Kaitlyn looked off into the wide Texas horizon. “You know they wanted me to fire Melvin. They thought I’d sell more records if I had a drummer with a neck tattoo.” 

“You didn’t compromise, there,” I said.

“But I fired Dan. He was fat and drank too much,” she said. 

“You did your best, though. I’m pretty sure you weren’t just sitting around at the pool goofing off all that time.”

“You’re goddamn right I wasn’t—”

“Kait!” I looked with horror out the driver’s side window.

Red was beside us, going 70, and revving back and forth ever so slightly.

Kaitlyn accelerated her Prius to what felt like as fast as it could go. Red pushed forward, going even faster. Kaitlyndecelerated.

“OK, fucker, top this!” Kaitlyn said.

I grabbed my oh-shit handle with both hands. 

With a quick turn to the left, Kaitlyn rammed Red on the side. The flimsiness of the Prius caused it to buckle and shudder.

“Kait!” I said.

Kaitlyn slammed on the brakes. We skidded for what seemed like an eternity before coming to a complete stop. Red continued on for a bit, maybe a quarter mile, before pealing out, doing a 180, and facing us head on.

“Are you OK?” Kaitlyn asked.

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe.

Red flashed its lights at us, revving its engine.

“I’m not backing down, Al.”

“Don’t,” I said.

Red hit the acceleration and headed toward us. Kaitlyn pressed the pedal to the floor. Red and she flew toward each other, an irresistible force running headlong toward an immovable object. 

“I’m not backing down, Al.”

Red sped closer and closer and closer. 

“I. Am. Not. Backing. Down.”

I closed my eyes and braced for impact. I heard it before I felt it. But, I didn’t feel a thing because what I heard was Red skidding out, crossing the median, launching into the Texas countryside, and finally crashing into the next available roadside object. 

Kaitlyn slammed on her brakes and came to a complete stop. 

“I didn’t back down. I didn’t back down, Al! Fuck that guy!”

I opened the door to the Prius and threw up peanut butter and coffee all over the asphalt. 

“Do you think Red’s alive?” Kaitlyn asked.

“Fuck if I know.”

Kaitlyn ran to Red, who had crashed straight into a boulder on the side of the road on the other side of the interstate. 

“Wait up!”

I ran and caught up to Kaitlyn just as we reached Red.

“Hello?” I said.

“Are you OK?” Kaitlyn asked.

After a moment, we heard a shudder in the Camaro but silence followed.

Kaitlyn grabbed the handle and pulled open the door. 

Francine, the waitress from Dave’s Diner, sat blood soaked and near death. She looked at us and gave us the finger. 

“Who’s laughing now,” Francine whispered, letting out her last words, blood spilling from her mouth. 

“Alice, would you mind if we skipped the Cadillac Ranch?”

“No.” 

“I think it’s time I moved on.”

July 29, 2021 10:05

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