Note: This is a two part story. The second part will be submitted as soon as this part hits the site.
“Oh Christ, are you kidding me with this? Another one?” the whiny voice of my youngest brother, Tyler, called from the backseat of my cramped, ancient Volkswagen Jetta. I smiled sadistically, but didn’t turn around. Instead, I reached forward and pressed the ‘volume up button’ about fifteen times in quick succession. In a matter of seconds, the cab of the car was filled with the soulful harmonizing of those 90’s pop gods, the Backstreet Boys. I could barely hear the groaning over the pounding chorus.
“Okay, it was funny the first time, but this is vicious,” my other brother Brandon screamed from the shotgun seat. I shrugged my shoulders like I couldn’t hear him.
“Can’t we listen to like…One Direction or something,” my younger sister Victoria called from the back seat, high voice barely carrying over the noise.
“First of all,” Tyler screamed next to her, “You are 18 years old, you are way too old to be into One Direction. That is for middle school girls still learning about their bodies…”
“Gross!” I called back over the noise, but my smile grew wider. Tyler ignored me.
“Second, One Direction and N’Sync…”
“Backstreet Boys. They are saying ‘Backstreet’s Back’ as you speak dumbass,” I corrected and heard Brandon laugh. Still Tyler pushed on.
“One Direction and the Backstreet Boys are the same fucking thing!”
“No they are not!” My sister and I both yelled at the same time.
“Come on Nicole, turn it down!” Tyler whined again. I rolled my eyes and reached for the button, turning it down to a normal level. There was still a buzz in our ears from the loud noise and it felt like some of the oxygen had been sucked out of the cab. I clicked over to the radio. It came in crackling, a news report about some sort of liquor store robbery in some town I’d never heard of.
“Christ, thank you!” Tyler said finally.
“What would Dad say if he heard you talking like that?” I asked good-naturedly.
“Probably, ‘hey, uh…Hey…Your…uh… Your mother… don’t talk like that in front of your mother,” Tyler said, doing a spot on impression of our father’s halting attempts at discipline. We all shared a laugh over that and settled down more comfortably into the car. I could hear Tyler and Victoria bickering still but I was hardly paying attention. I returned my focus to the road.
I checked my mirrors and saw that no one was behind me. No one was in front of me either. It seemed that far off in every direction there was nothing but endless desert. It had been that way for nearly an hour now. Somehow I found that peaceful and I breathed in deeply, hunkering down in the seat. I sighed and soaked in the warm atmosphere, either from the desert or my family. Probably both.
“How’s the gas looking?” Brandon asked, leaning over slightly to look at the gauge. I looked down and saw that there was a little less than a quarter of a tank left. My car had a tendency to say a quarter of a tank for hundred miles before it was suddenly empty, so I wasn’t really sure what I was working with. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to look off into the distance. In the vast, flat expanse of the desert, you could see a long way, but there was still nothing around. I guess that some of it could have been that it was starting to get dark. I checked the clock, it was nearly 8 o’clock.
“I guess the next time we see a gas station we should stop,” I said.
“The next time we see a restaurant we should stop,” Tyler groaned from the back seat.
“You’ll live,” I shot back, but I felt a rumbling in my stomach as well. We hadn’t stopped since we gassed up and ate at noon. No one ate in my car now. Not since the incident in Texas. I didn’t want to think about that, the smell of chili was still everywhere.
“I don’t think we are going to make it to LA tonight,” Brandon said, “We aren’t even in California yet.” We were on Interstate 40 somewhere in the Arizona desert. We’d gone through Flagstaff…a little while earlier. I didn’t really know where I was other than that it was somewhere around seven and a half hours between Flagstaff and L.A. I thought we were still several hours away and I knew Brandon was right. We had been driving for days from home in North Carolina and I didn’t have the stomach for much more driving today. Nonetheless, I bit my lip a checked my fuel gauge again. Brandon was looking over at me, noticing my actions but I tried not to notice him.
“I can help you know,” he said, “You don’t have to pay for everything.” It was like he was reading my mind.
I had volunteered to drive all of my siblings out to L.A. almost on a whim about a month earlier. It hadn’t been a normally scheduled trip and the lack of planning was starting to show. In fact, my family’s seams were starting to show. But, you have to understand, that was really, really not my fault. As any child would tell you, it was my parents’ fault.
When my parents retired, my mother announced that she had always wanted to live in Southern California. She was a small-town, dinner theater actress and was as pretty as a movie star. I guess Escort she wanted to pretend she was a Hollywood big shot in her retirement years. So the move might have been a relatively normal thing to do under some circumstances. But for my family, it had been a bit of a strain. My parents had put away a good deal of money and they’d sold their house at a profit, so they were able to retire young. My brothers and sister, still technically lived in the family home when my parents decided to split for the left coast. Both of my brothers were in college and my sister had just graduated high school (though she was already accepted to the college of her choice). My parents basically told them that they would help them rent small apartments near their various universities. My sister was supposed to live on campus if possible, even through the summer. Whether anyone said it or not, my studio apartment in Raleigh was going to become the de facto family home for an entire younger generation of the Wilson clan, just like that. In fact, Victoria had actually been forced to crash on my couch (with me) from about the time she graduated high school.
The whole move had occurred in a sort of whirlwind. It seemed like the instant my parents both decided they were ready to retire they were gone. They announced their plans in May and they were moving into a new place in June. Needless to say, the whole thing had been a bit traumatic for my younger siblings. I was 27 at the time, out of school and starting a nursing career. But the rest of them were young and felt a little like they’d been set adrift too early. Brandon at 22 was almost ready. But Tyler was only 20 and Victoria was 18, they felt like they were homeless.
So with my big heart and my small brain, I had decided that, as the eldest child and the closest thing to an adult left in North Carolina, that I would try to take care of things. With about as much foresight as my parents had shown in moving, I had suggested that in the two weeks before fall semester started, that we all drive out to California and check out my parents’ new place. Maybe do a little sightseeing. It had seemed like a fun idea. Give everyone a chance to get over this little trauma in our lives and go out to visit. Make the move feel normal by seeing everyone in their place. More importantly, it would give us all a chance to be together for a while, do things as a family. We were all adults now, it seemed like it was important that we remain close (or, in some cases, get close). Our parents weren’t there to ensure that we maintained our relationships anymore and I decided to take on that role as the oldest child.
And it had really worked. I mean we had had a blast on our trip across country. We’d seen the sights, we’d bullshitted about everything, and we’d had a bunch of laughs. It was everything I could have possibly hoped for, except that everything cost about twice as much as we figured. I had set aside a little bit of money but I had no real savings. My credit cards had very small limits and I was already having a hard time making the monthly payments. I was already cutting deep into my return trip money. I had really hoped when we started that morning that we could make a great pace and get to L.A. Then it was only a matter of tucking my tail between my legs and asking my parents for a little cash to get home. Now it looked like I would have to ask for a little bit more.
“No…” I said after a long pause, “You don’t have to do that. This is my treat.” I turned to my eldest brother and gave him a wan smile. I was in trouble, I knew that. But part of the motivation on this trip was to show everyone (including myself) that my parents being gone wasn’t going to result in chaos. There was still a responsible adult who was totally on her feet and together. She would be able to take care of things, even if she had to do it alone. Brandon gave me a long look as though he were questioning whether I was telling the truth. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and turned back towards the window, looking out into the fading desert light.
* * * * *
Half an hour later (and not a moment too soon the light on my dashboard had indicated) we flopped into a booth in a sweaty little diner that was buzzing with flies. The place had a sort of drab, old-fashionedness to it. There was a long, white counter, pastel orange tiles on the floors, big windows, and crumbling furniture. Maybe it was because of this that there was no one else in the place. But my stomach was rumbling and I didn’t care.
Not that I really had a choice. This little one-stop oasis was pretty much my only option. There was an extremely expensive pair of gas pumps sitting up front that still used mechanical dials to tell you how much gas you pumped. Behind the diner, stretching off into the desert, was a dilapidated motel. Just a single story with doors opening up onto a baked concrete parking lot (that contained only four cars, including mine). The curtains looked dirty from outside and the whole complex had a strange smell. But surrounding the hotel in every direction as far as the eye could see was sand, dirt, and scrubby little plants. In fact, it even sat about three miles off of I-40, on Escort Bayan some incredibly straight, incredibly dusty “county road.” I hadn’t even seen it, Brandon had noticed a fading sigh and we decided to try our luck. So, even if I was going to turn my nose up at this place, I didn’t have an option. I was going to eat something greasy, I was going to overpay for gas, and I was going to sleep on top of the sheets, right here at the Budget-Safe Lodge.
“Hiya, welcome to the Budget Lodge Diner, I am Meredith can I take your order?” a pudgy, middle-aged waitress with (I swear to God) a cigarette dangling from her lip breathed in a single, droning stream. I looked around at my siblings. They were smiling sheepishly.
“Oh, uh…can we see the menus?” I asked, smiling. Meredith didn’t speak. She just rolled her eyes and walked away. As soon as she turned, just like we were kids, we started laughing.
“Hiya, welcome to here, can we be done now…” Tyler said in a breathless haste, perfectly capturing Meredith’s annoyed drawl.
“She is going to bring back the menu and it is just going to say “Food…$3.00, Drink $1.50,” I said, laughing.
“Do you think she makes the food too? Is tobacco ash a serving of vegetables?” Victoria asked.
“Shh…Shh…Shh…” Brandon said, stifling his own laughter, “she’s coming back.” Meredith returned with two menus and dropped them on the edge of the table. She nodded as though she were annoyed.
“I’ll bring you water, figure out what you want,” she ordered. Then she turned and walked away. We could barely control our laughter before she walked back into the kitchen. I guess we were all feeling a little bit stir-crazy from all of our time in the car. A little punchy.
“They had even less drink selection that I thought!” Tyler said.
“I guess we should be flattered,” I said, “They have to ship water in from 200 miles away.”
“I think we should figure out what we’re doing,” Brandon said, “I don’t think she is going to give us a second chance if we don’t order now.”
“Jeez, thanks dad,” Tyler said sarcastically. Victoria laughed and Tyler mugged, happy that he’d gotten some recognition.
“Hey!” I said sharply. Everyone turned and looked at me. I placed a scowl on my face. My siblings looked a little confused. I held my angry gaze for a moment longer, then I let it break out into a smile, “You kids listen to you father!” I said. Tyler and Victoria laughed, Brandon rolled his eyes. His cheeks got a little bit red, like he was embarrassed about being the most responsible one.
“Fuck off,” he said softly, but he didn’t sound particularly angry. Nonetheless, I heard a gasp.
“Hey, none of that language: this a family place!” a voice, Meredith’s, called from the back. We all dissolved into giggles again.
“We apologize to all the other families,” Tyler called out, waving his hand dramatically around the empty room. I laughed harder but shushed him.
“Do you think they can hear us back there when we are talking?” Victoria asked, leaning in towards the center of the table and whispering.
“Oh my god Vic, are you really that stupid? I mean she clearly heard didn’t she?” Tyler asked. I winced. My little sister was very smart, but a total ditz. She had a way of making even her intelligent questions come out in a particularly unintelligent fashion.
“Don’t be a jerk Tyler,” she spat back, “You knew what I meant, I mean would she hear us if we talked quietly. Or did she only hear us because we were talking loud.”
“Stop it,” I said in a harsh whisper, “Let’s just figure out what we want and let it go.” This seemed to shut everyone up. On our side of the table, Victoria picked up the menu and opened it. Brandon did the same on the other side. The selection was exceptionally limited. There was a burger, about three other sandwiches, a soup, and a coffee cake. They had Pepsi. I figured I was ready for Meredith’s imminent return.
“Move your thumb, I can’t see,” I heard Tyler whining. I rolled my eyes and looked over the top of the menu at the boys on the other side?
“What is there to see on the edges?” Brandon asked, “There is next to nothing here.” He then flopped the menu down. I could now see them both clearly across the table. I rarely faced them both at the same time while they were both so close together. I guess I shouldn’t have been, but I was shocked by how much they looked alike. They both had relatively short cropped brown hair, soft brown eyes, and wide, mischievous smiles full of white teeth. They were both skinny, but not quite to the point of being scrawny. They had narrow shoulders, youthful chests, thin legs, and gunboat feet. Tyler had even closed the gap on height, they were both around 5’10 now. The only real difference was that Brandon had a more “adult” bearing about him now and I could see a smattering of chest hair poking up through the collar of his shirt. Handsome young men, it was hard to believe. I could remember when they ate bugs.
But then, I guess, they could probably have said the same thing about Victoria and me. I glanced quickly over at my younger sister. It was always shocking to see that she had Bayan Escort become a woman. But there she was, with her long, straight auburn hair, her wide brown eyes, her small nose, and her full lips. She had a womanly, hourglass build now with high firm breasts, a narrow youthful waist, flared hips, and muscular thighs. She had our mother’s bubble butt that she used to hate but now loved. Her feet were as tiny as our brothers’ were large. And, it was kind of like looking into a mirror that sent me ten years into the past. And really, I didn’t look that much different ten years older. My hair was the same color, if a little shorter, my breasts were a little bigger and hung a little lower (but not badly, I should say) and my ass was a little thicker. But we were the exact same height, around 5’3.
It was strange, I guess, all of us being adults all of the sudden. It was hard to realize when it had happened. One day we were just kids running around
“What’ll it be?” Meredith asked and I jumped a little, I didn’t even realize she was back.
“We’ll have the food,” Tyler said, looking around the table for laughs. But it wasn’t really funny anymore.
“Forgive my brother, he died at birth,” I said and even Meredith laughed a little. Tyler sneered, but he seemed he enjoyed it anyway. I ignored him, “We are ready to order.” I said and pointed to the menu. I started to speak, but Meredith cut me off.
“Hey, you kids looking for a room too?” she asked abruptly. I sort of shrugged my shoulders. It seemed like an odd question to come over dinner.
“Well yeah, we haven’t gone over to the hotel yet but…” I started.
“I’m the clerk over there too, I will just throw it on your tab here,” Meredith explained.
“Do we have to tip on the room?” Tyler asked and Meredith gave him a cool look. I looked back
“I’d like to put twenty dollars in my gas tank too…” I said.
“Yeah, I can take care of that too,” Meredith explained. Well what the place lacked in charm, variety, and breathable air, it made up for with convenience.
“Well would you look at that,” Tyler said spreading his arms out across the table, “We have everything in the world that we could ever need right here. A little slice of heaven.”
* * * * *
For a brief second I could see a flash of red and then my eyes opened, startled. It took me a minute to get my bearings. I looked up at the ceiling and I could see the dingy paneling. I could feel the cheap, paper-thin “comforter” underneath of my body. I could smell mildew and dust. I remembered where I was, that hotel in the desert. We’d come back here after dinner (Meredith gave us the key at our table), I’d run back out and filled up the gas tank. Then we’d come back here, watched a movie, and passed out in our beds. A pretty run of the mill night.
I could see the alarm clock sitting on the nightstand between the two twin beds. It was still 2:30 a.m. The sun wasn’t up, someone had turned the lights on. I groaned. I could feel Victoria lying next to me in the bed, in the spot closest to the door, (in fact I could still hear her snoring softly) so I knew it wasn’t her. I looked across the two-foot gap separating the beds and I could see Brandon rolled onto his shoulder facing towards me. His eyes were open, but he looked as dazed as I felt. I couldn’t see over him, but there was really only one possibility left.
“Damn it Tyler! Every hotel room ever made has the same set up, can’t you find the damn bathroom?” I hissed.
“Huh?” a familiar voice said and, over Brandon’s shoulder, I saw Tyler sit up, rubbing his eyes in bed. For a half second, I could not figure out what was happening. Everyone was in bed, but overhead light had suddenly come on. Then my blood ran cold. That wasn’t possible. I turned quickly, nearly flailing, as I spun over on the bed and looked toward the hotel room door. For half a moment, I swear to god, my heart stopped beating. My mouth went instantly dry and I could taste bile in the back of my throat.
There was a figure next to the door.
“Yeah, Christ Ty, get your head out of your ass,” the figure said. She had a deep, throaty feminine voice, but she had a little Valley-Girl accent layered on top of it. I could tell that it was affected. She was mocking me. At the sound of her voice, all of my siblings jumped up in bed and turned toward the source. The figure standing by the door laughed.
“What?” I managed to ask. My throat clicked slightly and I couldn’t say anything else. I was breathing heavily and I couldn’t even begin to fathom why this person was in our room. My eyes began to adjust to the light and I could make out the woman’s features. She was short, probably only a little more than five feet tall. She had long blonde hair with dark streaks in it. She was probably in her mid-thirties, but she wore a stunning amount of makeup. Her eyeshadow was incredibly thick, her eyelashes were fake-long, and her lipstick was laid on particularly thickly. She had an impressive body and she was showing it off. She had a short, tight jacket on that was unbuttoned in the front. She had a skin tight tube top under it which squeezed her ample breasts up toward her chin. Her midriff was exposed and she was wearing a very short skirt. Her boots were long, like a hooker in a movie. She was leaning nonchalantly against the door. One of her hands was running through her hair and the other was down by her side. She was smiling.