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Hickby Andrea Portes
Somewhere between Palmyra and Alliance, a beat-up green and white pick-up truck, with a gun rack in the back, pulls up behind me while I'm singing to myself. I look inside and there, in the driver's seat, sits a skinny bug-eyed cowboy who looks like a turtle. He looks like he must have spent the last ten days straight chasing squealers in the rodeo and hasn't changed since. He's got on one of them old fashioned western shirts with a pattern of little rose flowers faded dingy into grey, mother-of-pearl snaps gleaming creamy in a line from his chest down to his jeans, untucked. He's got a look about him that you wouldn't be surprised if he just busted out of the nervous hospital.
He rolls down the window and shouts over the wind,
He looks me up and down.
"Aren't you a little bit young and, maybe say, innocent to be traveling to Las Vegas all by your little self?"
He's got this tone in his voice like he's got three friends snickering, hunkering down in the cab and this is all a little joke between them.
"No." I straighten up a bit. "What about you, mister? Where you headed?"
"Well, I don't see how that's any of your business...and my name's not Mister, it's Eddie. Eddie Kreezer."
I smile and make a bashful act, bending over myself, trying to let him sneak a peek of my newfound bubbles, hoping for a free ride. I figure I can turn his none-of-your-business into Las Vegas with a little bit of sugar. My age makes him nervous and shamey, cause his eyes keep heading southwards and then back up, guilty. I can tell I can make his eyes swirl and that's just about all I want to do.
"You some kinda runaway?"
"No. My dad ran away and left me."
"Yeah. I guess he thought I could fend for myself, but I sure could use a ride, Mister, Eddie, and I'm just worried sick that I won't find a place to stay before dark and I guess I'm just plum scared and all cause-"
"What's your dad look like? Maybe I seen him." He takes off his hat and squints at the brim like he's inspecting it.
There is a silence as he looks me up and down. Then he just starts laughing, real hard and loud, like his make-believe friends just jumped out the back and the dashboard just turned into a bar.
"Oh my God, what in the world is in store for me here." He says, shaking his head and smiling to himself, "Well, well, well..."
I don't really get his little private joke, but I smile anyways, not wanting to seem dumb or too young or rude even. I resolve to take the reins.
"You gonna give me a ride or are you just gonna sit there and laugh at yourself all day?"
"Oh, I get it, you're some kinda ten-year-old smart-ass or something."
"Try thirteen." I say, real smug.
"Well. You're just about old enough to have kids then, aren't ya?"
He sneers gritty through the corner of his mouth, like uncle Nipper used to do when the ashtray says he's been up all night and the bottle of Jack confirms it with two sips left. For once in my life I am struck dumb for words and I don't like it. I shift my attention to the ground and shuffle my feet through the gravel, praying he'll give me a lift, at least to Kearney. Later on I'll think of something good to say, some perfect comeback topped with whipped cream and a smile.
"Well, don't just stand there, git in if you wanna."
He unhitches the lock and stares at me through the window, like he's daring me. I have never turned down a dare in my life and I'm not about to start now, just cause I can't think of nothing clever to say to turn me into the starlet of his private movie. I put my head back on my shoulders, real high, open the door and hop in. There is a moment of silence while we both contemplate our new situation.
"You got any money?" He doesn't look at me when he says it. He looks straight ahead, calculating into the sun.
"No, but I'm good at stealing."
"Well, at least you're good for something."
Then he peels off onto the road so fast the back of the truck swishes out over the gravel in a C and something in my heart lurches forward, like a roller coaster at the very top, when you can't see what's coming but you're bracing for a steep drop.
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