‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’ A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister? ©️ Crystal Lake PublishingView More
EpilogueSusie and me, we’ve decided my real age is seventeen. No more plastic bead bracelets, no more pigtails. No more cherry-scented lip gloss or strawberry-flavored gum. My real age is seventeen, we’ve said, but if anyone asks we tell them I’m eighteen. It was like a scene from the movie, the way we drove out of town. I sat in the passenger seat with the window rolled down, and it wasn’t so cold that I needed any arms around me. I wasn’t shivering so bad I couldn’t breathe. Maybe it was better than a movie, because usually in real life nobody cares that much. All those close-ups on faces. Panic or tears in the eyes. The parents rushing to the child. The kids rallying around their friend. All those understanding expressions, those touching words and heroic promises. In a movie, the star gets to be everybody’s priority. But nobody makes another person more important than them. Nobody puts everything of theirs on hold like that, not f
40She used to call me Angel-Kid. She used to call me Doll.Look, I hardly knew the woman. At least, that’s what my mother said, but I think she tried to help me once. I think she tried to stop this thing.“Little girls don’t need more than two eyes.”I know she never said this. Still, it’s her voice that speaks.
39I drink coffee until it makes my heart beat too fast. The refills are free and the waitress doesn’t talk to me like I’m a kid. This is why I stay, I guess. The way it feels like I’m okay to be here. The way it feels safe. The seats around me fill up with singles and duos. Laptops and notebooks. Actual books, too. I don’t have anything to occupy my hands or my eyes except the cup in front of me. I test out white sugar versus brown sugar. Sweetener. Sweetener and white sugar. Sweetener and brown. Cup by cup. I don’t look at the people around me. Something about them seems too real. The things they’re frowning at, mouthing at, even as they sit alone and type stuff or write stuff or make their notes on printed pages. Like the thoughts they’re having might really be real.I only leave the coffee shop when my bladder fills up, my belly pressing too tight against my button-up jeans. I pay. I stand. Probably the coffee shop has its own restr
38None of this happened in any way I really know. I see it anyway. I don’t know how much of it is crazy kid-nonsense, tossed together like a junk pile of barbed wire and blunt razor blades. I feel it anyway. The rust, the scratch. The facts.Uncle Steve waited down at the gate in his car. The drive was long, and mostly through darkness. Backstreet twists and dirt-track roads. I rode up front in my mother’s lap, her arms wrapped so tight around me I didn’t need my winter jacket, not with her and the heater, and the glowing buzz of Uncle Steve’s voice. “You’ll be all right,” I heard him say. Over and over again. Talking to my mother, and not to me. “You’ll be fine. You’ll do great.”The cellphone he gave her was a Nokia, small and black. They don’t make those anymore.“There are people in this world who dream every damn minute of meeting a girl like you. Girls like the two of you.”“I don’t know if we can make it alone.”“You’d rat
37Susie drives me to the strip mall twenty minutes out of town. I sit easy in the passenger seat of his old Camry, my hands folded between my knees. The day is rising bright and blue.I would be afraid, except I’m with him.I should be afraid, but I’m not.The strip mall peels into view ahead. A long, flat building with sunshine sparkling white on its roof. “Go see a movie or something,” Susie says. “I’ll meet you out front at five. To fetch you, I mean. And bring you…home.”The last time I went to the movies, Momma and me sat in the back row. It was the middle of the day, but it was dark in there. Giant people loomed on the screen in wide-angle views and close-up shots. When they spoke, their voices came from all sides. The Uncle who sat next to me told me what to do. I heard his voice just fine, even across all the noise. I fell asleep right after. Mom didn’t wake me until the end.I don’t remember what the movie was about.“Y
36“It’s cold outside.”My mother said this, too. Zipping my jacket. Flipping the collar. Covering my feet. That last night in Carris. The night we left.She was shaking, but not from the chill. Something shooting through her in liquid pulses, stinging her from the inside.Momma’s scared.I don’t know where I was when this came back, but a voice is asking: Can she take those off?Who asks what? What ‘those’ are. I don’t know. I don’t know.“We have to get out of here, honey.” She was in her sheepskin jacket. Her mouth was very red. “Where’s Clem?” I said.And she started crying like she didn’t care I could see.When this memory came back to me, I was sitting cross-legged on Susie’s bed. My mother was fanning fresh Polaroids and I was imagining her and Susie having sex in the space where I sat. My mother’s thighs, the curve of his shoulders when they hunch. The lube my mother secrets up herself leaking past the sheets. She’d u
35This is your Uncle. This is my Friend.That slow, sick wave coming up my insides and sloping down my scalp. Those other things she’s said to me.Open your legs.Flash.“Fuck you, Susie.”I say this out loud, looking at my mother as she lies asleep across from me. Naked and weak on murky-white sheets. Passed out, wasted, drunk, drugged, or just very tired, or sexed-out, or whatever. I don’t know and I don’t care. Her breath catches in the back of her throat in half-snores. She won’t wake up. I guess this is rage, spitting through my nerves so my hands shake as I look through her jacket. Mock-zips, half-sized pockets. But of course she wouldn’t leave them there. I dig the blue bag out from under the bed. She’s already split the new pictures into their own envelopes. Three packs of three. It doesn’t matter which shots are inside. They’re all the same, even when they’re not. Behind me, Susie clears his throat. “I didn’t know Po
34Look, I hardly knew the woman. I mean, I barely remember her now.Clementine Elizabeth Bough. I once saw a man on a jet-ski shatter through a wave. That’s how thinking about her feels. Careening. Crash. I wondered how different it would be if the wave was a brick wall. How he would look on the other side. Remembering her is a lot like this.The man who came to visit that night, his name was Lance. Lawrence. Something. “Your momma’s friend Lance is coming by,” Momma said. She was smiling at herself in the spare bathroom mirror, her makeup bag opened up in the sink. Bottles and tubes and shiny plastic pencils. It was the bathroom with ‘the best light’ she said, softening the color of her cheeks and darkening her mouth. She couldn’t stop smiling, her hands trembling, smearing mascara on her cheek. She’d brought the radio in with her, and she was listening to something with acoustic guitars and high voices, a steady beat. Somethin
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