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I took the curved exit ramp at fifty miles per hour, keeping the steering wheel, warm under my hands, all the way to the left to keep on the road. At the end I came to a sudden halt. There was a stop sign that seemed to come out of nowhere. It was weird driving somewhere other than my rinky-dink town, where the streets and signs were all unusual.
I saw the glow of a Kwik Trip sign, and pulled into the nearest gas pump.
My hand reached down to put the car into park, and then I gently pulled the keys out of the ignition. I took a deep sigh and swung the rusty, blue door of my car open. My feet found the pavement as I stood, unwrinkling my long sleeve blouse and pulling on my jeans. I hated that my clothes were always in a mess after a car ride. My small hands found the gas pump, and then there was the sound of gas flowing into my car.
I sat back down on the seat. I pulled down the visor above the drivers seat and looked at myself in the mirror, as if studying my all to familiar face. My green eyes were duller than usual, and my red hair loosely fell upon my face.
“You can’t leave.”
“I have too.”
A single tear rolled down my red and puffy cheek. My purse sat in the next seat and I slowly reached over and grabbed it. I took out a bottle of concealer and started to lightly dab it on my face. As I finished I put the bottle back in my purse and threw the bag into the back carelessly.
I got back out of the car and walked inside the gas station. It was a dingy place.
“Welcome to Kwik Trip! We hope you find whatever you need fast and efficiently! Because as your dutiful cashier, I must say, you rock!” the man behind the register said in an over-zealous voice.
Sarcastic cashiers, nice.
I walked past the counter and made my way through the aisles, keeping my head down, trying to find something to eat. Of course, I couldn’t find anything healthy. All I could see was candy bars and chips. No wonder America was fat.
Well, who needs food anyway? I walked to the register to pay for my gas. The cashier, whose nametag read ‘Joe’, greeted me with a plastered on smile. Poor guy was probably just trying to impress the boss, who by my guess was just around the corner.
“Credit, debit, check, or cash ma’m?” he asked while barely moving his lips from their upturned corners.
“Uhh…debit I guess,” I answered trying not to laugh at his attempts. I searched my purse for my debit card.
"Just gas. Nothing looked appat…”
I froze. At the end of the counter I saw a bag of sunflower seeds. That was all it took for me to completely loose it.
The school parking lot was always empty on a Sunday morning. Kevin and I usually came down here on Sundays because most kids were dragged off to church, and any one who wasn’t, was hanging around the railroad tracks. The school was the one place everyone else wanted to stay away from in our little town.
I looked at the pavement, which was now covered in sunflower seeds. More and more kept falling to the ground as Kevin spat them out. I never did understand that habit. Personally I thought it was disgusting, but Kevin didn’t care. He just kept chewing and spitting.
“What were you up to last night,” Kevin asked smiling. His arms were around me as usual.
“Umm nothing really. How was your night?”
“Our band got a decent practice in finally, so that was nice. Although, James didn’t show up again. He’s been missing rehearsals lately.”
“Oh, that sucks.”
“Ya. So…did you just miss my handsome face, or did you just have nothing to do when I called?”
“Handsome? Babe, I think you’re getting a tad bit cocky. Might want to work on that,” I said winking.
“Forget it,” I said throwing some cash towards the creepy cashier. I stumbled out of the store with a fake “Come again! We enjoyed your company!” coming from behind me.
I practically ran to my car. For about five minutes I sat in my seat. My arms wrapped around my stomach, as if I was trying to keep my body from crumbling into little pieces. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes. My hands were shaking, and it took several tries to steady them.
I felt weak. Such a small thing had set me off. Am I not going to be able to go in a gas station for fear of seeing a bag of God forsaken sunflower seeds? I needed to be stronger. That sweet guy spitting seeds, holding my hand, with the breeze blowing his curly hair was not here. So why couldn’t I stop thinking of him?
I couldn’t deal with this ongoing battle in my head, so I decided it was time to take off again. I put the car into drive and got back on the interstate.
Music always helped me relax, so I turned the radio on. As I turned the dial I tried to find stations that weren’t coming in all fuzzy.
It seemed that only depressing songs were playing, with their melancholy notes and slow chord progressions. This was just my luck. I needed music with tempo to cheer me up. I turned the volume to a reasonable level and then left the radio alone.
It was just my luck that the song best coming in was a depressing one. An upbeat techno song was more like what I needed; something to cheer me up. I didn’t want to think about why I had left, but it kept popping back into my head. I remembered it so well, but I was supposed to be out here so I could forget.
“I’m not cocky, just honest,” he bantered back, taking my teasing lightheartedly. I laughed and mumbled something about him being right.
The sun was up and shining down on us. My legs were warm as the rays beat down on my black pants. I sat there enjoying the warmth.
His voice brought me out of my little world. “Well, I actually needed to tell you something.”
“What? You’ve secretly gone gay with J.Z.?”
“Ha ha. No, it’s something important.” I tightened my grip on his hand.
“Ok. What’s going on?”
“Well I know you’ve been preparing for when I leave for college. But our plans aren’t going to work because—“
“Of course they’ll work.”
“Con, I’m telling you it’s not going to work anymore.”
“It’s only one year that I’m stuck back here. And then I’ll join you at the University. We’ll get an apartment together. We’ve got it all worked out.”
“It’s not going to work because I’m not going to the University anymore.”
“What? We’re just small town’s Kev. You know college is our only way out! I thought of all people you would want to get out of here. What are you—“
“I’m shipping out in a month Con.”
“Shipping? What…what are you talking about…”
“I can’t pay for it. The army is the only way to get to our dream. It won’t be so bad. And we’ll write whenever we can.”
The army. My chest felt heavy and my eyes started watering.
“You can’t leave,” I choked out.
“I have too.” I moved out from under his arm and staggered backwards a few steps. I couldn’t deal with what was happening. I ran to my beat up car, eyes blurry with tears, and pulled out of the school parking lot.
I’m sure Kev called my parents after I left, but they’re not ones to drive after me across state borders. As I was thinking, the radio station started playing a new song, but I paid no attention to what it was. I was probably five hours away from home now and I knew I should go back.
But, he was the best thing in my life and he was leaving in a month to go off and get shot at. And a month isn’t a long time. Then again, I should be with him in the little amount of time we have left.
A U-turn sign was coming up ahead. It was probably the last way to turn around until the next town.
Just then I heard the lyrics playing on the radio.
“Well I'm going home, back to the place where I belong, and where your love has always been enough for me. I'm not running from…”
My eyes watered as I looked at the upcoming turn.
“No, I think you got me all wrong. I don't regret this life I chose for me. But these places and these faces are getting old, so I'm going home—“
With a tearful smile I turned my blinker on.
“Well I'm going home.”