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Amy and Roger's Epic Detourby Morgan Matson
Eureka [I have found it]
—California state motto
I sat on the front steps of my house and watched the beige Subaru station wagon swing too quickly around the cul-de-sac. This was a rookie mistake, one made by countless FedEx guys. There were only three houses on Raven Crescent, and most people had reached the end before they’d realized it. Charlie’s stoner friends had never remembered and would always just swing around the circle again before pulling into our driveway. Rather than using this technique, the Subaru stopped, brake lights flashing red, then white as it backed around the circle and stopped in front of the house. Our driveway was short enough that I could read the car’s bumper stickers: MY SON WAS RANDOLPH HALL’S STUDENT OF THE MONTH and MY KID AND MY $$$ GO TO COLORADO COLLEGE. There were two people in the car talking, doing the awkward car-conversation thing where you still have seat belts on, so you can’t fully turn and face the other person.
Halfway up the now overgrown lawn was the sign that had been there for the last three months, the inanimate object I’d grown to hate with a depth of feeling that worried me sometimes. It was a Realtor’s sign, featuring a picture of a smiling, overly hairsprayed blond woman. FOR SALE, the sign read, and then in bigger letters underneath that, WELCOME HOME.
I had puzzled over the capitalization ever since the sign went up and still hadn’t come up with an explanation. All I could determine was that it must have been a nice thing to see if it was a house you were thinking about moving into. But not so nice if it was the house you were moving out from. I could practically hear Mr. Collins, who had taught my fifth-grade English class and was still the most intimidating teacher I’d ever had, yelling at me. “Amy Curry,” I could still hear him intoning, “never end a sentence with a preposition!” Irked that after six years he was still mentally correcting me, I told the Mr. Collins in my head to off fuck.
I had never thought I’d see a Realtor’s sign on our lawn. Until three months ago, my life had seemed boringly settled. We lived in Raven Rock, a suburb of Los Angeles, where my parents were both professors at College of the West, a small school that was a ten-minute drive from our house. It was close enough for an easy commute, but far enough away that you couldn’t hear the frat party noise on Saturday nights. My father taught history (The Civil War and Reconstruction), my mother English literature (Modernism).
My twin brother, Charlie—three minutes younger—had gotten a perfect verbal score on his PSAT and had just barely escaped a possession charge when he’d managed to convince the cop who’d busted him that the ounce of pot in his backpack was, in fact, a rare California herb blend known as Humboldt, and that he was actually an apprentice at the Pasadena Culinary Institute.
I had just started to get leads in the plays at our high school and had made out three times with Michael Young, college freshman, major undecided. Things weren’t perfect—my BFF, Julia Andersen, had moved to Florida in January—but in retrospect, I could see that they had actually been pretty wonderful. I just hadn’t realized it at the time. I’d always assumed things would stay pretty much the same.
I looked out at the strange Subaru and the strangers inside still talking and thought, not for the first time, what an idiot I’d been. And there was a piece of me—one that never seemed to appear until it was late and I was maybe finally about to get some sleep—that wondered if I’d somehow caused it all, by simply counting on the fact that things wouldn’t change. In addition, of course, to all the other ways I’d caused it.
My mother decided to put the house on the market almost immediately after the accident. Charlie and I hadn’t been consulted, just informed. Not that it would have done any good at that point to ask Charlie anyway. Since it happened, he had been almost constantly high. People at the funeral had murmured sympathetic things when they’d seen him, assuming that his bloodshot eyes were a result of crying. But apparently, these people had no olfactory senses, as anyone downwind of Charlie could smell the real reason. He’d had been partying on a semiregular basis since seventh grade, but had gotten more into it this past year. And after the accident happened, it got much, much worse, to the point where not-high Charlie became something of a mythic figure, dimly remembered, like the yeti.
The solution to our problems, my mother had decided, was to move. “A fresh start,” she’d told us one night at dinner. “A place without so many memories.” The Realtor’s sign had gone up the next day.
We were moving to Connecticut, a state I’d never been to and harbored no real desire to move to. Or, as Mr. Collins would no doubt prefer, a state to which I harbored no real desire to move. My grandmother lived there, but she had always come to visit us, since, well, we lived in Southern California and she lived in Connecticut. But my mother had been offered a position with Stanwich College’s English department. And nearby there was, apparently, a great local high school that she was sure we’d just love. The college had helped her find an available house for rent, and as soon as Charlie and I finished up our junior year, we would all move out there, while the WELCOME HOME Realtor sold our house here.
At least, that had been the plan. But a month after the sign had appeared on the lawn, even my mother hadn’t been able to keep pretending she didn’t see what was going on with Charlie. The next thing I knew, she’d pulled him out of school and installed him in a teen rehab facility in North Carolina. And then she’d gone straight on to Connecticut to teach some summer courses at the college and to “get things settled.” At least, that’s why she said she had to leave. But I had a pretty strong suspicion that she wanted to get away from me. After all, it seemed like she could barely stand to look at me. Not that I blamed her. I could barely stand to look at myself most days.
So I’d spent the last month alone in our house, except for Hildy the Realtor popping in with prospective house buyers, almost always when I was just out of the shower, and my aunt, who came down occasionally from Santa Barbara to make sure I was managing to feed myself and hadn’t started making meth in the backyard. The plan was simple: I’d finish up the school year, then head to Connecticut. It was just the car that caused the problem.
The people in the Subaru were still talking, but it looked like they’d taken off their seat belts and were facing each other. I looked at our two-car garage that now had only one car parked in it, the only one we still had. It was my mother’s car, a red Jeep Liberty. She needed the car in Connecticut, since it was getting complicated to keep borrowing my grandmother’s ancient Coupe deVille. Apparently, my grandmother was missing a lot of bridge games and didn’t care that my mother kept needing to go to Bed Bath & Beyond. My mother had told me her solution to the car problem a week ago, last Thursday night.
It had been the opening night of the spring musical, Candide, and for the first time after a show, there hadn’t been anyone waiting for me in the lobby. In the past, I’d always shrugged my parents and Charlie off quickly, accepting their bouquets of flowers and compliments, but already thinking about the cast party. I hadn’t realized, until I walked into the lobby with the rest of the cast, what it would be like not to have anyone there waiting for me, to tell me “Good show.” I’d taken a cab home almost immediately, not even sure where the cast party was going to be held. The rest of the cast—the people who’d been my closest friends only three months ago—were laughing and talking together as I packed up my show bag and waited outside the school for my cab. I’d told them repeatedly I wanted to be left alone, and clearly they had listened. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’d found out that if you pushed people away hard enough, they tended to go.
I’d been standing in the kitchen, my Cunégonde makeup heavy on my skin, my false eyelashes beginning to irritate my eyes, and the “Best of All Possible Worlds” song running through my head, when the phone rang.
“Hi, hon,” my mother said with a yawn when I answered the phone. I looked at the clock and realized it was nearing one a.m. in Connecticut. “How are you?”
I thought about telling her the truth. But since I hadn’t done that in almost three months, and she hadn’t seemed to notice, there didn’t seem to be any point in starting now. “Fine,” I said, which was my go-to answer. I put some of last night’s dinner—Casa Bianca pizza—in the microwave and set it to reheat.
“So listen,” my mother said, causing my guard to go up. That was how she usually prefaced any information she was about to give me that I wasn’t going to like. And she was speaking too quickly, another giveaway. “It’s about the car.”
“The car?” I set the pizza on the plate to cool. Without my noticing, it had stopped being a plate and had become the plate. I was pretty much just using, then washing, the one plate. It was as though all the rest of the dishes had become superfluous.
“Yes,” she said, stifling another yawn. “I’ve been looking at the cost to have it shipped on a car carrier, along with the cost of your plane fare, and well …” She paused. “I’m afraid it’s just not possible right now. With the house still not sold, and the cost of your brother’s facility …”
“What do you mean?” I asked, not following. I took a tentative bite of pizza.
“We can’t afford both,” she said. “And I need the car. So I’m going to need it driven out here.”
The pizza was still too hot, but I swallowed it anyway, and felt my throat burn and my eyes water. “I can’t drive,” I said, when I felt I could speak again. I hadn’t driven since the accident, and had no plans to start again any time soon. Or ever. I could feel my throat constrict at the thought, but I forced the words out. “You know that. I won’t.”
“Oh, you won’t have to drive!” She was speaking too brightly for someone who’d been yawning a moment before. “Marilyn’s son is going to drive. He needs to come East anyway, to spend the summer with his father in Philadelphia, so it all works out.”
There were so many things wrong with that sentence I wasn’t sure where to begin. “Marilyn?” I asked, starting at the beginning.
“Marilyn Sullivan,” she said. “Or I suppose it’s Marilyn Harper now. I keep forgetting she changed it back after the divorce. Anyway, you know my friend Marilyn. The Sullivans used to live over on Holloway, until the divorce, then she moved to Pasadena. But you and Roger were always playing that game. What’s it called? Potato? Yam?”
“Spud,” I said automatically. “Who’s Roger?”
She let out one of her long sighs, the kind designed to let me know that I was trying her patience. “Marilyn’s son,” she said. “Roger Sullivan. You remember him.”
My mother was always telling me what I remembered, as if that would make it true. “No, I don’t.”
“Of course you do. You just said you used to play that game.”
“I remember Spud,” I said. I wondered, not for the first time, why every conversation I had with my mother had to be so difficult. “I don’t remember anyone named Roger. Or Marilyn, for that matter.”
“Well,” she said, and I could hear her voice straining to stay upbeat, “you’ll have a chance to get to know him now. I’ve mapped out an itinerary for you two. It should take you four days.”
Questions about who remembered what now seemed unimportant. “Wait a second,” I said, holding on to the kitchen counter for support. “You want me to spend four days in a car with someone I’ve never met?”
“I told you, you’ve met,” my mother said, clearly ready to be finished with this conversation. “And Marilyn says he’s a lovely boy. He’s doing us a big favor, so please be appreciative.”
“But Mom,” I started, “I …” I didn’t know what was going to follow. Maybe something about how I hated being in cars now. I’d been okay taking the bus to and from school, but my cab ride home that night had made my pulse pound hard enough that I could feel it in my throat. Also, I’d gotten used to being by myself and I liked it that way. The thought of spending that much time in a car, with a stranger, lovely or not, was making me feel like I might hyperventilate.
“Amy,” my mother said with a deep sigh. “Please don’t be difficult.”
Of course I wasn’t going to be difficult. That was Charlie’s job. I was never difficult, and clearly my mother was counting on that. “Okay,” I said in a small voice. I was hoping that she’d pick up on how much I didn’t want to do this. But if she did, she ignored it.
“Good,” she said, briskness coming back into her voice. “Once I make your hotel reservations, I’ll e-mail you the itinerary. And I ordered you a gift for the trip. It should be there before you leave.”
I realized my mother hadn’t actually been asking. I looked down at the pizza on the counter, but I had lost my appetite.
“Oh, by the way,” she added, remembering. “How was the show?”
And now the show had closed, finals were over, and at the end of the driveway was a Subaru with Roger the Spud Player inside. Over the past week, I’d tried to think back to see if I could recall a Roger. And I had remembered one of the neighborhood kids, one with blond hair and ears that stuck out too far, clutching a maroon superball and calling for me and Charlie, trying to get a game together. Charlie would have remembered more details—despite his extracurriculars, he had a memory like an elephant—but Charlie wasn’t exactly around to ask.
Both doors of the Subaru opened, and a woman who looked around my mother’s age—presumably Marilyn—got out, followed by a tall, lanky guy. His back was to me as Marilyn opened the hatchback and took out a stuffed army-style duffel and a backpack. She set them on the ground, and the two of them hugged. The guy—presumably Roger—was at least a head taller than she was, and ducked a little bit to hug her back. I expected to hear good-byes, but all I heard him say was “Don’t be a stranger.” Marilyn laughed, as though she’d been expecting this. As they stepped apart, she met my gaze and smiled at me. I nodded back, and she got into the car. It pulled around the cul-de-sac, and Roger stood staring after it, raising one hand in a wave.
When the car had vanished from sight, he shouldered his bags and began walking toward the house. As soon as he turned toward me, I blinked in surprise. The sticking-out ears were gone. The guy coming toward me was shockingly good-looking. He had broad shoulders, light brown hair, dark eyes, and he was already smiling at me.
I knew in that instant the trip had suddenly gotten a lot more complicated.
But I think it only fair to warn you, all those songs about California lied.
I stood up and walked down the steps to meet him in the driveway. I was suddenly very conscious that I was barefoot, in old jeans and the show T-shirt from last year’s musical. This had become my de facto outfit, and I’d put it on that morning automatically, without considering the possibility that this Roger guy might be disarmingly cute.
And he really was, I saw now that he was closer. He had wide hazel eyes and unfairly long lashes, a scattering of freckles, and an air of easy confidence. I felt myself shrinking in a little in his presence.
“Hey,” he said, dropping his bags and holding out his hand to me. I paused for a second—nobody I knew shook hands—but then extended my hand to him, and we shook quickly. “I’m Roger Sullivan. You’re Amy, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. The word stuck in my throat a little, and I cleared it and swallowed. “I mean, yes. Hi.” I twisted my hands together and looked at the ground. I could feel my heart pounding and wondered when a simple introduction had changed to something unfamiliar and scary.
“You look different,” Roger said after a moment, and I looked up at him to see him studying me. What he mean by that? Different from what he’d been expecting? What had he been expecting? “Different than you used to look,” he clarified, as though he’d just read my thoughts. “I remember you from when we were kids, you and your brother. But you still have the red hair.”
I touched it self-consciously. Charlie and I both had it, and when we were younger, and together all the time, people were always stopping us to point it out, as though we’d never noticed ourselves. Charlie’s had darkened over time to auburn, whereas mine stayed vividly red. I hadn’t minded it until recently. Lately it seemed to attract attention, when that was the last thing I wanted. I tucked it behind my ears, trying not to pull on it. It had started falling out about a month ago, a fact that was worrying me, but I was trying not to think about it too much. I told myself that it was the stress of finals, or the lack of iron in my mostly pizza diet. But usually, I tried not to brush my hair too hard, hoping it would just stop on its own.
“Oh,” I said, realizing that Roger was waiting for me to say something. It was like even the basic rules of conversation had deserted me. “Um, yeah. I still have it. Charlie’s is actually darker now, but he’s … um … not here.” My mother hadn’t told anyone about Charlie’s rehab and had asked me to tell people the cover she made up. “He’s in North Carolina,” I said. “At an academic enrichment program.” I pressed my lips together and looked away, wishing that he would leave and I could go back inside and shut the door, where nobody would try and talk to me and I could be alone with my routine. I was out of practice talking to cute guys. I was out of practice talking to anyone.
Right after it happened, I hadn’t said much. I didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t want to open the door for people to ask me how I was feeling about things. And it wasn’t like my mother or Charlie even tried. Maybe the two of them had talked to each other, but neither of them talked to me. But that was understandable—I was sure both of them blamed me. And I blamed myself, so it made sense that we weren’t exactly sharing our feelings around the kitchen table. Dinners were mostly silent, with Charlie either sweaty and jumpy or swaying slightly, eyes glazed, as my mother focused on her plate. The passing back and forth of dishes and condiments, and then the cutting and chewing and swallowing process, seemed to take up so much time and focus that it was really amazing to think we’d once had conversations around the dinner table. And even if I did think about saying something occasionally, the silence of the empty chair to my left killed that impulse.
At school my teachers had left me alone, not calling on me for the first month afterward. And then after that, I guess it just became habit that they didn’t. It seemed like people could revise who you were very quickly, and they seemed to have forgotten that I once used to raise my hand and give my opinions, that I once had something to say about the Boxer Rebellion or symbolism in The Great Gatsby.
My friends had gotten the message pretty quickly that I didn’t want to talk to them about it. And without talking about it, it became clear that then we really couldn’t talk about anything. After not very long, we just stopped trying, and soon I couldn’t tell if I was avoiding them or they were avoiding me.
Julia was the one exception. I hadn’t told her what had happened. I knew that if I told her, she wasn’t going to let me off the hook. She wasn’t going to go away easily. And she didn’t. She’d found out, of course, and had called me constantly right after, calls I let go to voice mail. The calls had tapered off, but she’d started e-mailing instead. They came every few days now, with subjects like “Checking In” and “Worried About You” and “For God’s Sake, Amy.” I let them pile up in my in-box, unread. I wasn’t exactly sure why I was doing it, but I knew that if I talked to Julia about it, it would become real in some way I couldn’t quite handle.
But as I looked at Roger, I also realized that it had been awhile since I’d had an interaction with a guy. Not since the night of the funeral, when I’d invited myself to Michael’s dorm room, knowing exactly what was going to happen. When I left an hour later, I was disappointed, even though I’d gotten exactly what I thought I wanted.
“It’s not true, you know,” said Roger. I looked at him, trying to figure out what he meant. “Your shirt,” he said, pointing. I glanced down at the faded blue cotton, emblazoned with ANYONE CAN WHISTLE. “I can’t,” he continued cheerfully. “Never have been able to.”
“It’s a musical,” I said shortly. He nodded, and silence fell, and I couldn’t think of anything else to say on the subject. “I should get my things,” I said, turning to the house, wondering how the hell we were ever going to get through four days.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll load my stuff in. Do you need a hand?”
“No,” I said, heading up the stairs. “The car’s open.” Then I escaped inside, where it was blessedly cool and dark and quiet and I was alone. I took a breath, savoring the silence, then continued into the kitchen.
The gift my mother had sent was sitting on the kitchen table. It had arrived a few days ago, but I hadn’t opened it. If I opened it, it meant that the trip was actually going to happen. But there was no denying it now—the proof was making comments about my T-shirt and putting his duffel bag in the car. I tore open the package and shook out a book. It was heavy and spiral-bound, with a dark blue cover. AWAY YOU GO! was printed in white fifties-style script. And underneath that, Traveler’s Companion. Journal/Scrapbook/Helpful Hints.
I picked it up and flipped through it. It seemed to be mostly blank pages, with a scrapbook section for preserving “Your Lasting Memories” and a journal section for recording “Your Wandering Thoughts.” There also seemed to be quizzes, packing lists, and traveling tips. I shut the book and looked at it incredulously. This was the “present” my mother sent me for the trip? Seriously?
I tossed it on the counter. I wasn’t about to be tricked into thinking this was some sort of fun, exciting adventure. It was a purely functional trip that I was being forced to take. So I didn’t see any reason to make sure I’d always remember it. People didn’t buy souvenirs from airports they’d had layovers in.
I walked through the rooms on the first floor of the house, making sure that everything was in order. And everything was—Hildy the Realtor had made sure of that. All our furniture was still there—she preferred not to sell empty houses—but it no longer even felt like ours. Ever since my mother hired her, she’d taken over our house to the point where I sometimes had trouble remembering what it used to feel like when we were all just living in it, and it wasn’t being sold to people as the place where they’d always be happy. It had started to feel more like a set than a house. Too many deluded young marrieds had traipsed through it, seeing only the square footage and ventilation, polluting it with their furniture dreams and imagined Christmases. Every time Hildy finished a showing and I was allowed to come back from walking around the neighborhood with my iPod blasting Sondheim, I could always sense the house moving further away from what it had been when it was ours. Strange perfume lingered in the air, things were put in the wrong place, and a few more of the memories that resided in the walls seemed to have vanished.
I climbed the stairs to my room, which no longer resembled the place I’d lived my whole life. Instead it looked like the ideal teen girl’s room, with everything just so—meticulously arranged stacks of books, alphabetized CDs, and carefully folded piles of clothing. It now looked like “Amy!’s” room. It was neat, orderly, and devoid of personality—probably much like the imaginary shiny-haired girl who lived in it. Amy! was probably someone who baked goods for various sports teams and cheered wholeheartedly at pep rallies without contemplating the utter pointlessness of sports or wanting to liven things up with a little torch song medley. Amy! probably babysat adorable moppets up the street and smiled sweetly in class pictures and was the kind of teen that any parent would want. She probably would have giggled and flirted with the cute guy in her driveway, rather than failing miserably at a simple conversation and running away. Amy! had not, in all probability, killed anyone recently.
My gaze fell to my nightstand, which had on it only my alarm clock and a thin paperback, Food, Gas, and Lodging. It was my father’s favorite book, and he’d given me his battered copy for Christmas. When I’d opened it, I’d been disappointed—I’d been hoping for a new cell phone. And it had probably been totally obvious to him that I hadn’t been excited about the present. It was thoughts like that, wondering if I had hurt his feelings, that ran through my head at three a.m., ensuring that I wouldn’t get any sleep.
When he’d given it to me, I hadn’t gotten any further than the title page. I’d read his inscription: To my Amy—this book has seen methrough many journeys. Hoping you enjoy it as much as I have. With love, Benjamin Curry (your father). But then I’d stuck it on my nightstand and hadn’t opened it again until a few weeks ago, when I’d finally started reading it. As I read, I found myself wondering with every turn of the page why I couldn’t have done this months ago. I’d read to page sixty-one and stopped. Marking page sixty-two was a note card with my father’s writing on it, some notes about Lincoln’s secretary, part of the research he’d been doing for a book. But it was in the novel as a bookmark. Page sixty-one was the place he’d gotten to when he’d last read it, and somehow I couldn’t bring myself to turn the page and read beyond that.
I still had no idea what Walter saw. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to know. But I wasn’t about to leave the book behind. I picked it up and tucked it carefully in my purse. I gave the room a last look, turned out the light, dragged my rolling suitcase out into the hall, and closed the door behind me. It was actually a relief not to see the room anymore. In the past month, I’d spent almost no time in it, crashing downstairs on the couch most nights and just heading up to get clothes. It was too stark a reminder of my life Before. And it still didn’t make any sense to me that absolutely everything in my life could have changed, that it all could have become After, but the pictures on my walls and the junk in the back of my closet remained the same. And after Hildy’s Amy! makeover, it seemed like the room had become a version of myself that I would never live up to.
I was about to drag my suitcase downstairs, but I stopped and looked down the hall to my parents’ bedroom. I hadn’t been in it since the morning of the funeral, when I’d stood in the doorway so my mother could see if the black dress I’d chosen was appropriate.
I walked down the hall, passing Charlie’s bedroom, which was adjacent to mine. The door to Charlie’s room had been closed ever since my mother slammed it behind her after she had literally yanked him out of it one month earlier. I opened the door to the master bedroom and stood on the threshold. Though tidier than it once had been, this room was at least still recognizable, with its neatly made king-size bed and stacks of books on each nightstand. I noticed that the books on my father’s side, thick historical biographies alternating with thin paperback mysteries, were beginning to gather dust. I looked away quickly, reminding myself to breathe. It felt like I was underwater and running out of oxygen, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay there much longer. The door to my father’s closet was ajar, and I could see inside it the tie rack Charlie had made for him in fifth-grade woodshop with his ties still hanging on it, all preknotted to save him time in the morning.
Trying to quash the panicky feeling that was beginning to rise, I turned away from my father’s side of the room and crossed to my mother’s dresser. On an impulse, I pulled open her top drawer—socks and stockings—and reached into the very back, on the left side. The drawer was emptier than usual, but even so, it took me a second to find it. But when my fingers closed around something smooth and plastic, I knew that Charlie had been telling the truth. I pulled it out and saw that it was an ancient pantyhose egg, with L’EGGS printed on the side in gold script that was flaking off. I cracked the egg open and saw, as promised, that the egg was stuffed with cash.
Charlie had told me that he’d found it sometime last year—I hadn’t wanted to ask how or why. But there was a piece of me that registered how desperate he must have been to have found the money my mother kept hidden in her sock drawer. That was about the time I started noticing just how far gone he actually was. Charlie had told me that he only dipped into it in case of emergencies and was always careful to put the money back, since he was sure Mom would notice. It always had six hundred dollars in it, mostly hundreds and fifties. Maybe Charlie had been too out of it by the end to care, or maybe he hadn’t had time to replenish it before he found himself on a plane to North Carolina, but there was only four hundred dollars in it now.
I heard the front door slam downstairs and realized that Roger was probably wondering why it was taking me so long to get my suitcase. Not stopping to think about what I was doing, I pocketed the cash, snapped the egg shut, and put it back in its place. A piece of me was running through justifications—you couldn’t trust these house hunters and shady Realtors, really I was just helping my mother out—but I knew none of them were the real reason I’d taken the money. So then why had I?
I pushed the thought away and hurried out of the room, closing the door behind me and dragging my suitcase down the stairs. When I reached the kitchen, I saw Roger standing in front of the fridge, staring at it. He looked at me as I thumped my suitcase onto the landing.
“All set?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said, then immediately wondered why I’d just started talking like a cowboy. I pulled the suitcase toward the door and glanced back at Roger in the kitchen. He was back to looking at the refrigerator, which gave me a moment to study him undetected. He was tall, and the kitchen, which had been so quiet and still lately, seemed filled up with his presence. My mother had told me that he was nineteen and that he’d just finished his freshman year. But there was something about him that made him seem older than that—or at least made me feel young. Maybe it was the hand shaking.
“These are incredible,” Roger said, pointing at the refrigerator.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, crossing into the kitchen, knowing he was talking about the magnets. The fridge was covered with them, many more than were needed to hold up Classic Thai takeout menus and grocery lists. They were all from different places—cities, states, countries. My parents had started collecting them on their honeymoon, and they’d kept it up until a few months ago, when my mother spoke at a conference in Montana and came back with a magnet that was just a square of bright blue with BIG SKY COUNTRY printed on it.
“My parents—” I heard my voice catch a little on the word. Words I’d always taken for granted had turned into landmines, traps for me to stumble over and fall into. I saw that Roger had averted his eyes to the fridge, pretending he hadn’t noticed anything. “They, um,” I continued after a moment, “collected them. From all the places they’d been.”
“Wow,” he said, stepping back and taking in the whole fridge, as though it was a piece of art. “Well, it’s impressive. I’ve never been anywhere.”
“Really?” I asked, surprised.
“Really,” he said, eyes still on the fridge. “Only California and Colorado. Pretty lame, huh?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’ve barely been out of California.” This was incredibly embarrassing, something I had told nobody except Julia. I’d been out of the country once—we’d all spent a very damp summer in the Cotswolds, in England, while my mother did research for a book. But California was the only state I’d ever been in. Whenever I had complained about this, my mother had told me that once we’d seen all there was to see in California, we could move on to the other states.
“You too?” Roger smiled at me, and as though it was an automatic reaction, I looked down at my feet. “Well, that makes me feel a little better. The way I justify it is that California’s a pretty big state, right? It’d be worse if I’d never been out of New Jersey or something.”
“I thought,” I started, then regretted saying anything. It wasn’t like I really wanted to know the answer, so why had I started to ask the question? But I couldn’t just leave that out there, so I cleared my throat and continued. “I mean, I thought my mother said your father lived in Philadelphia. And that’s why you’re, um, doing this.”
“He does,” said Roger. “I’ve just never been out there before. He comes out here a couple times a year, for business.”
“Oh,” I said. I glanced up at him and saw that he was still looking at the fridge. As I watched, his face changed, and I knew he’d seen the program, the one held up by the ITHACA IS GORGES! magnet in the lower left corner. The program I tried to avoid looking at—without success—every time I opened the fridge, but hadn’t actually done anything about, like removing it or anything.
It was printed on beige card stock and had a picture of my father on the front, one that someone had taken of him teaching. It was in black and white, but I could tell that he was wearing the tie I’d gotten him last Father’s Day, the one with tiny hound dogs on it. He had chalk dust on his hands and was looking to the left of the camera, laughing. Underneath the picture was printed BENJAMIN CURRY: A LIFE WELL-LIVED.
Roger looked over at me, and I knew that he was about to say a variation on the same sentence I’d been hearing for the past three months. How sorry he was. What a tragedy it was. How he didn’t know what to say. And I just didn’t want to hear it. None of the words helped at all, and it’s not like he could have possibly understood.
“We should get going,” I said before he could say anything. I grabbed my suitcase by the top handle, but before I could lift it, Roger was standing next to me, hoisting it with ease.
“I got it,” he said, carrying it out the front door. “Meet you at the car.” The door slammed, and I looked around the kitchen, wondering what else I could do to delay the moment when it would just be the two of us, trapped in a car for four days. I picked up the plate from where I’d left it to dry in the empty dishwasher, put it in the cupboard, and closed the door. I was about to leave when I saw the travel book sitting on the counter.
I could have just left it there. But I didn’t. I picked it up and, on impulse, pulled the program out from behind the Ithaca magnet and stuck it in the scrapbook section. Then I turned out the kitchen lights, walked out the front door, and locked it behind me.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see. But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot, if you ain’t got the do-re-mi.
I got into the passenger seat and slammed the door. Roger was already sitting in the driver’s seat, moving slowly up and down, then back and forth, as he played with the seat adjustment. He must have found the setting he liked, because he stopped moving and turned to me. “Ready?” he asked, drumming his hands on the wheel and smiling at me.
“Here,” I said, taking my mother’s itinerary out of my bag and thrusting it at him. It had the list of towns she’d chosen for us to stop in, MapQuest directions, and a list of hotel reservations—for two rooms in each place—along with the estimated driving time and mileage for each leg of the journey. And if she had tried really hard, she wouldn’t have been able to pick less interesting places to break up the trip: Gallup, New Mexico. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Terre Haute, Indiana. Akron, Ohio. “That’s what my mother mapped out,” I said, as I pulled on my seat belt and snapped it in, taking a deep breath and then letting it out. I could feel my heart hammering in my chest, and we weren’t even moving yet, which didn’t seem to me to be a good sign.
“Do you have GPS?” he asked, flipping through the pages. I saw his expression grow less cheerful as he did so, and I figured that he must have reached the part about Tulsa.
“No,” I said. We’d had it in the other car, but we no longer had the other car, and I didn’t really want to go into why. “But I’m a pretty good navigator,” I said, reaching around to the backseat and grabbing the road atlas. “And I think she printed out the directions for each location.”
“She did,” Roger said, still frowning down at the papers. “Do you know why she planned the trip this way?”
I shook my head. “I think she did it by mileage.”
“Oh,” he said. He looked through the pages again, at the maps and lists of hotel reservations, and seemed a little disappointed. “Well, that makes sense.”
“You know that I don’t …,” I started. I wanted to find out what he knew without actually telling him anything. I cleared my throat and started again. “You know I’m not driving, right?”
“That’s what my mother told me,” said Roger, putting the stack of paper on the console between us. “Do you not have your license?”
I look at him, shocked. I studied his expression for a moment, trying to figure out if he was asking this question genuinely. He seemed to be. I felt my heart start to beat a little faster, but with relief this time. He didn’t know. He hadn’t heard the details. He had no idea what I’d done. It felt freeing, like I could breathe just a little bit easier. “No,” I said slowly. “I have my license. I’m just not … driving right now.” Which was a terrible explanation, but it was all I could come up with on the spot.
“That’s too bad,” he said. “I love driving.”
I had once too. It had once been my favorite thing to do. Driving was when I organized my thoughts and listened to music, my therapy on wheels. It seemed wrong that in addition to all the things that had been taken from me, that had to go as well. I gave a shrug that I hoped seemed nonchalant. “I guess it’s just not my thing.”
“Well, okay,” Roger said, handing me the stack of papers. I flipped through to the first set of directions, which would take us to Gallup in approximately nine hours. “Ready?” he asked again, seeming much less enthusiastic now.
I nodded. “Let’s go.” I handed Roger the keys, and he started the car. I closed my eyes for a moment as the car moved forward, trying to tell myself that I was fine, that everything would be okay. I opened them in time to see the garage door closing, as Roger signaled to pull around the cul-de-sac. I took a last look at the house, realizing that the next time I saw it—if I ever saw it again—it wouldn’t be mine anymore. WELCOME HOME, the sign exclaimed, and it was the last thing I saw before the house disappeared from view.
I turned to face forward, reminding myself to keep breathing and taking in the neighborhood flashing past my window. I glanced over at Roger, feeling that the reality of this situation hadn’t hit me until now. I was going to be stuck sitting very close to a guy I didn’t know, constantly, for the next four days. A really cute guy I didn’t know. I looked out the window as Roger made his way toward downtown Raven Rock. It was the all-day-every-day aspect of this that was troubling me. I knew I could seem like I was actually doing okay, so long as you didn’t talk to me for too long. I wasn’t an actress for nothing. But I knew that if anyone looked too closely, they would see that I was so far from being okay that it was laughable. And I was just worried that so much time together would give Roger the opportunity to see that.
As we headed to the main street downtown, and Roger sped up to match the traffic, I found I couldn’t help wincing and pressing my foot down, hard, on the phantom brake every time it seemed like he got too close to the car in front of us. And the cars in the other lane and across the intersection were just flying by. Why did everyone have to go so fast?
The car behind us honked, loud, and I felt myself jump a little. I saw Roger glance over at me as he put his turn signal on to make the right onto Campus Drive. “You okay?” he asked.
“Fine,” I said quickly, staring at the small green arrow blinking on and off, fighting down rising panic as I realized how he intended to get us to the freeway. “But you know, it’s faster if you take Alvarez.”
“Really?” he asked. “But we can just cut over to—”
“No,” I said, more loudly than I’d meant to. “If you just go straight here, you can get to the 2 that way. It’s faster.”
The light changed, and Roger paused for a moment before turning his signal off and going straight. “Sure,” he said.
I stared out the window, taking deep breaths and trying to calm myself down, trying not to think about how close I’d just come to seeing the intersection at University. I had no idea if the ribbons and signs were still there, or if they’d disappeared into recycling bins and birds’ nests. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to get away from it as fast as possible.
As we got closer to the freeway, it struck me—probably a little late—that this would be one of the last times I would see my town. Raven Rock wasn’t going to be my home anymore. And I’d never even really taken the time to think about it. It was just the place I’d always lived, kind of boring, kind of confining. But mine, with all my history, good and bad, wrapped up in it. I saw landmarks from my life passing the window at faster speeds than I was comfortable with. The Fosters Freeze where Charlie and I used to walk to get shakes, and the Jamba Juice where he deeply humiliated me when we were twelve. He told me that if you yelled out “JAMBA!” at full volume, all the employees would yell back “JUICE!” He lied.
I turned in my seat to try to see as much as I still could, but then Roger was turning onto the freeway’s on-ramp, and thankfully not saying anything about the fact that we’d taken the scenic route to get there. I looked in my side mirror to see Raven Rock getting farther away, turning into just another dot on a map, just another anonymous town to be driven past. And as I watched, it disappeared from view until all I could see behind me were the other cars on the freeway.
We drove for about twenty minutes in silence. Once we were out of Raven Rock and off the surface streets, being in a car was bothering me less. On the freeway, where there were no stoplights or people who ran them, I could feel myself relax a little bit.
And Roger seemed to be a good driver, much more comfortable in my mother’s car than I had expected him to be. I kept sneaking glances across the car at him. I had never realized just how small the front seats of cars were. We seemed to be in closer proximity to each other than I had anticipated. Every time he moved, it caught my attention, and I was sitting at the very edge of my seat, pressed practically into the door, so that we wouldn’t bump elbows on the console or anything. Roger just seemed to take up a lot of space, driving with the seat pushed far back, his long jeans-clad legs looking like they were almost fully extended. He drove with one hand on the wheel, the other resting on the glass of the window. This hadn’t been my style—when I’d been driving I’d been a strictly ten-and-two girl. But he was in control of the car, not driving too fast, but fast enough to keep up in the carpool lane. Traffic was moving, thankfully, since on the other side of the freeway it was bumper-to-bumper—for no apparent reason, at noon on a Thursday.
“Hey,” Roger said, breaking the silence in the car. He tapped the glass on the driver’s side. I looked and saw a familiar yellow arrow and red sign across the freeway. “What do you think?” he asked. “You hungry?”
“I’m going to miss this,” Roger said, reaching into the white paper bag sitting between us and pulling out a french fry. “I love fast food in all its forms, but nothing really compares to In-N-Out.”
I took a careful bite of my burger and nodded in agreement. We were in the back of the Liberty, what Charlie and I had always called the way-back, the open space designed for storing things. The door was raised, and we were sitting with our legs dangling over the edge. The sun was getting strong, and the glare made it harder to look
directly at Roger. But my sunglasses had shattered three months ago, and I’d gotten used to squinting. The cars on the freeway rushed past to the right of the car, and to the left of us an In-N-Out employee seemed to be breaking up with her boyfriend—loudly—over the phone.
We’d taken the food to go, but when Roger struggled to take a bite of his burger while pulling out of the parking lot, it became clear that this was an eat, then drive situation, and he’d pulled back into the parking lot. I hadn’t realized until Roger told me, after we’d ordered, that In-N-Out was a West Coast-only burger chain. There was no In-N-Out in Connecticut, because clearly that state was an inhospitable wasteland.
“It’s annoying,” Roger said, shaking the paper sack. We’d long since finished our individual containers of fries, but apparently there were still a few stragglers rolling around the bottom. Sure enough, he pulled out a small handful. “Because I missed this all year while I was at school. The closest one to Colorado is in Utah, which is a little far to go for a burger. But it might have been doable. Except for the fact that I didn’t have a car.”
I took a sip of my milk shake to buy myself some time to think about a response. “Colorado?” I finally asked, remembering the bumper sticker. “That’s where you go?”
He nodded. “Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. It’s a good school. And I have a lot of great friends….” I thought I saw something pass over Roger’s face for a second when he said this, but then it was gone. “Anyway, I’d planned on being here all summer. But after finals, my father began insisting that I spend the summer with him in Philly.”
“That’s where your father lives?” I regretted the sentence as soon as I’d said it. First of all, he’d told me that back in the kitchen. Second of all, I’d already known it. Third of all, I had a feeling that it was going to be a very long four days unless I could stop acting like such a moron.
But if Roger noticed, he wasn’t letting on. “Yeah,” he said, shaking the bag again and coming up with more fries. “He lives there with his new wife and her son. He freaked out when he saw my grades and said he wanted me there so I can, and I quote, ‘learn some discipline.’ Which sounds like a great way to spend a summer. I don’t know anyone there. And what am I supposed to do in Philadelphia?”
“Eat cheesesteak?” I asked, on impulse.
Roger laughed for the first time, a loud, reverberating laugh that seemed to fill the whole space. “Right,” he said. “Cheesesteak and cream cheese.”
I guess neither of us could think of any more Philadelphia-related foods after that, because silence fell between us. I took another long sip of my milk shake and could feel Roger looking at me. I glanced over at him and saw that he was reading the back of my T-shirt, with the list of the cast members printed on it.
“This musical,” he said. I noticed he pronounced “musical” like it was in a foreign language, like it wasn’t a word he’d said very often. “You were in it?” He sounded surprised.
“Yeah,” I said, turning to face him so he would stop reading my back. “I was, um, the lead.” I saw Roger’s eyebrows shoot up, and I looked back down at the plastic lid of my milk shake cup. I could understand his surprise. Even before it had happened, people had always seemed surprised to hear I was an actor. But I’d always loved the chance to become someone else for a few hours. Someone for whom the words had been written, every gesture and emotion plotted, and the ending figured out. Almost like life. Just without the surprises.
“So,” I said after a moment, “we should probably get back on the road, right?”
Roger nodded. “Probably.” He took a sip of his root beer and looked out at the freeway. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I don’t think it’s going to take us four days. Some friends of mine drove cross-country, and they did it in thirty-six hours.”
“Yeah. Though I don’t think they ever stopped—I think they just drove straight through. And they probably sped a lot,” he added.
“Huh,” I said, not exactly sure how to respond to that. It hit me that, while I didn’t want to do this, Roger probably wanted to do it even less. Why would a college almost-sophomore want to spend four days transporting a high schooler across the country? Maybe this was Roger’s way of saying that he wanted to get it over with as fast as possible.
“Have you ever taken a road trip?” he asked.
I turned to squint at him and shook my head, feeling very lame. I knew that he didn’t mean a family excursion to see a historical landmark. He meant a road trip, the kind that cool people took in college. “Have you?” I asked, even though I had a feeling the answer was yes.
He nodded. “Just in-state, though. Up to San Fran, down to San Diego. And I don’t know …” He paused and peered into the bag. He shook it hopefully, fished around inside, and came up with three fries. He took one and offered the rest to me. “Last two,” he said. “Go for it.” I took one, leaving one for him. He smiled and ate it, looking pensive. “I guess I just thought that this trip might be more of a real road trip,” he said. “I don’t know. More interesting places. And at least a route we could pick ourselves.”
I took a sip of my shake, hoping my relief wasn’t obvious. So it wasn’t me he had a problem with, just my mother’s version of the trip. Which was entirely understandable, given the places that she’d chosen for us to stop.
I thought about what I’d just reread in my father’s book. About going out and just driving, and how you can only do it when you’re young. For the first time, it struck me that this trip could be something worth recording in the scrapbook, after all. “Well,” I said, not entirely able to believe I was about to suggest this. “I mean, I guess we could go other places. As long as we’re there in four days, does it really matter which way we go?”
“Really?” Roger asked. “What about your mother’s reservations?”
I shrugged, even though my heart was pounding. It was a legitimate question. Knowing my mother, she’d probably be calling every hotel to make sure we’d checked in. But there was a tiny, reckless piece of me that wanted to be the difficult one for once. That wanted to make her worry about me for a change. That wanted to show her what it felt like to be left behind. “I don’t care,” I said. This wasn’t exactly true, but I liked the way it felt to say it. It was something Charlie would have done. And something Amy! would never do in a million years. And as I thought about the four hundred dollars in my front pocket, it occurred to me that we might be able to use it to buy just a little bit of freedom.
Roger blinked at me. “Okay,” he said. He turned to face me more fully and leaned back against the window. “So where should we go?”
“We’ll still get there by the tenth, right?” I asked quickly. My mother was not going to be happy we were ignoring her route, but I knew she would have a conniption if we took longer than the allotted time. “This is just a detour,” I clarified.
“Just a detour,” Roger agreed, nodding. He smiled at me, and I felt the impulse to smile back. I didn’t, but the feeling was there, for the first time in months.
The In-N-Out employee to our left suddenly raised her volume and began screaming at her soon-to-be-ex. Apparently, his name was Kyle, and he knew exactly what he’d done. Feeling like I was overhearing something I probably shouldn’t, I jumped to my feet and began to walk around to the front of the car when I saw that Roger hadn’t moved. He was still listening to the breakup with a slightly nauseated expression on his face.
“Roger?” I asked.
“Right,” he said quickly, getting up as well and crumpling the white paper bag. We buckled ourselves in, and Roger started the engine. “So if this is going to be a real road trip,” he said, backing out of the parking space and heading toward the exit, “we need to get some road trip essentials.”
“No,” he said. “Well, yes,” he amended, looking down at the gauge. “But there are two things that are absolutely necessary if you’re going to be hitting the road.”
“And what are those?”
Roger smiled at me as he paused at a stoplight. “Snacks and tunes,” he said. “Not necessarily in that order.”
“How do you feel about Billy Joel?” Roger asked, scrolling through his iPod. We were still sitting in the parking lot of the Sunshine Mart, as Roger insisted that we couldn’t start driving until there was a soundtrack. He’d offered to play one of my mixes, but I had put him off, letting him pick the music. Most of what was on my iPod was Broadway musical soundtracks or oldies, and it didn’t seem like Roger was a secret Andrew Lloyd Webber fan.
I looked up from the road atlas. “Fine, I guess.” I didn’t want to tell him that most of my knowledge of Billy Joel came from the musical Movin’ Out. I retrieved my snacks from the plastic bag, placed my cream soda in the back cup holder, and opened my Red Vines. Roger had loaded up on Abba-Zabas, telling me that they could only be found in California—making me wonder yet again why on earth anyone would ever choose to live in Connecticut. I pulled out his root beer and placed it in the front cup holder for him, then placed the snack bag behind me in the backseat.
“So Billy’s in,” said Roger, spinning his track wheel and clicking on the center button. “Excellent.”
I focused back on the map, tracing my finger over all the freeways that crisscrossed and bisected the state of California, which seemed impossibly huge. In the atlas, it took up five pages. Connecticut, I’d seen when I flipped past it, shared a page with Rhode Island. I turned to the page that covered central California, and as soon as I saw it, I knew it was where I wanted to go: Yosemite National Park. It was a six-hour drive from Raven Rock, and part of it had been founded by my ancestors on my father’s side. We used to go up every summer for two weeks—my father, Charlie, and me. We’d stopped going a few years ago, not for any specific reason. It just seemed like none of us had the time anymore. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it until I saw it on the map, just up the interstate, half a state away. “I think,” I started, then cleared my throat. Roger looked up from his iPod and at the atlas on my lap.
“Do we have a heading?” he asked, smiling.
“Maybe,” I said. I looked down at the map, at my finger resting on the blob of green that represented the national park. What if he didn’t want to go? What if he thought it was stupid? I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to go. Lately I’d been doing my best to avoid places that reminded me of things I didn’t want to be reminded of. But it was suddenly the only place I wanted to be. I took a breath. “Have you ever been to Yosemite?”
You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.
NINE YEARS EARLIER
“Are we there yet?” Charlie whined, kicking the back of my seat. I turned around to glare at him, slouched in the backseat and staring out the window.
“Stop it,” I said. “It’s annoying.” Charlie responded by kicking my seat again, and harder this time. “Daddy!” I said, turning to my father, who was driving.
“Yes?” he asked. He was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with Elvis, totally oblivious to what was going on behind him.
“Charlie’s kicking me.”
“Is he really?” My father shifted his eyes to the rearview mirror. “That’s an impressive reach, son!”
“I mean,” I said, frustrated, “he’s kicking my seat.”
“Ah,” my father said. “Well, in that case, please refrain. Your mother isn’t going to want footprints on the upholstery.”
Charlie muttered something I couldn’t hear and, I saw in the rearview mirror, slumped even farther down in his seat. On these trips, I was always allowed to sit in the front seat, because when I was little I’d gotten carsick. I no longer did, but now it was habit. When my mother drove with us on long trips, she sat in the back with Charlie, and the two of them read their respective books the whole time, the only sound being an occasional burst of laughter from something one of them had read. I’d see Charlie pass my mother whatever he was reading at the time, his finger on the page to mark what had made him laugh, and I’d see my mother smile in return.
But when we were in the car, their private world of books didn’t bother me for once. Because my father and I had our own routine in the front seat, and I had responsibilities.
He had taught me to read a map about the time I was learning to read, and I was always the navigator. “All right, my Sancho Panza,” he’d say. “Tell us our course.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I didn’t care. I was important. I was in charge of making sure we were going the right way and, if there was traffic or a road closed, finding an alternate route. When a CD needed changing, I was in charge of putting in the next one. But it wasn’t like there was a lot to choose from. Generally, when my father was driving, it was all Elvis, all the time.
He’d put two packs of Life Savers in the cup holder, and I was allowed to have as many as I wanted, provided that when he held out his hand, I was ready to unwrap one and drop it in his palm.
Charlie kicked my seat again, this time a repetitive pattern that grew increasingly annoying. Rather than giving him the satisfaction of turning around again, I just stared straight ahead and helped myself to another Wint-O-Green.
Whenever it was just the three of us, Charlie became especially annoying. He was always more fidgety than I was, and reading was the only thing that had ever calmed him down.
The kicking grew harder, and I whirled around in my seat again. “Stop it!”
“Come on, son,” my father said, looking behind him. “Tell you what—you can pick out the magnet this time, how about that?”
“Whatever,” Charlie muttered, but he sat up a little straighter and stopped kicking.
“And do we see it approaching?” asked my father, turning down “Hound Dog” for the occasion. I looked out the window to my left, and there it was. Yosemite. There was the small wooden guardhouse, and the guard in his green uniform outside it, collecting twenty dollars from every car that passed through and giving them a permit and a map. Then he would wave us through the gate, allowing us to enter another world. I tipped my head back as far as it would go to look up at the trees.
“We see it,” Charlie called from the backseat, and I held my breath, waiting for my father to say what he always said when we passed through the gates.
“We’re back,” he said, “you glorious old pile of rocks. Did you miss us?”
I’d like to dream my troubles all away on a bed of California stars.
“Wow,” Roger said as we stepped out of the reservations office. “Bears, huh?”
“Bears,” I confirmed. I was relieved that there had been a cabin available at all. Apparently, most people made reservations for their cabins months in advance, something that hadn’t occurred to me, as my father had always taken care of that. But they’d had a cancellation, and we’d gotten the last available cabin. Not the kind of cabin we always used to stay in, but one of the canvas-tent cabins. It had only one bed, which I was trying not to think about at the moment. But it had taken us so long to get there—and then an hour just to get to Camp Curry once we’d reached the Yosemite gates—that having to turn around would have been really depressing.
After we’d paid for the room, we’d had to watch a video of a bear mauling a station wagon, then sitting on the ground and eating the chips the owners of the station wagon had left behind at their car’s peril. Watching it, I actually wondered why the camera operator didn’t do something, or at least send someone to warn the station-wagon family. But the message we were meant to take away was that bears at Yosemite were dangerous, especially to vehicles. And then we’d had to sign releases saying that we wouldn’t sue if our car got mauled, even if we had taken the chips out.
We walked back over to the main parking lot, down by the Curry Dining Pavilion—what we’d always called the lodge. Although it was growing dark, there was still enough light to see to get around. Which was a good thing, because when it got dark at Yosemite, it got dark. There were no lights around anywhere, except by the lodge. Which made it easier to see the stars, but harder to find your cabin. As we walked down the paved path, I noticed Roger looking up, mouth hanging slightly open. I looked up as well, at the scenery that I could still make out. Even though it wasn’t my first time there, Yosemite was still stunning. There were mountains and huge, ancient trees everywhere, making you feel tiny. The air was clearer, and crisper, and had always made me want to take more deep breaths. It had always seemed to me to be a place apart, with none of the normal rules that applied elsewhere. For example, having to take your shampoo out of your car to stave off hungry wildlife.
We packed up all the snacks, and took my one suitcase and Roger’s two out of the car. Then we set off to find Cabin 9. I soon realized, when the paved path turned to gravel and wood chips, that there was a reason most people coming to Yosemite didn’t bring big rolling suitcases. Mine kept getting caught on the wood chips and flipping over, and refusing to roll. Not to mention the fact that the people walking by—the ones who’d prepared to be at Yosemite, carrying flashlights and wearing fleece vests—probably thought I looked ridiculous. But I finally got it up to the cabin, where Roger was standing outside, looking down at his phone.
“All set?” he asked, looking a little distracted.
“Yep,” I said, then inwardly cursed myself. The cabin, as advertised, was made of white canvas, with a green-painted door. A set of four steps and a railing, also painted green, led up to it. The bear locker was at the bottom of the steps. Roger and I went through our things and locked anything that bears might think was food—that is, everything—inside the metal box, making sure that it was latched closed. I looked at it a little dubiously. The cabins we used to stay in hadn’t had these, and I wasn’t confident that this little metal box could withstand hungry bears, especially when station wagons were no match for them. I also didn’t like the fact that it was so close to the cabin. Wasn’t that kind of like setting the appetizer right next to the main course?
Trying not to follow this line of thought to its conclusion, I took the small brass key they’d given me and opened the cabin door. I found the light switch just inside and turned it on. The cabin was very small, with the one bed taking up most of the room. The bed was metal, painted white, and unmade, with a set of sheets and two gray scratchy-looking blankets resting on top. Clearly these were not luxury accommodations. But the bed looked small. I doubted it was even queen-size.
“Rustic,” Roger said, looking around at the cabin, which was the same white canvas on the inside, with green-painted wooden beams crossing it. There was a chair in the corner, and a wooden dresser with a wood-framed mirror. And that was it. “But I’d expect nothing less,” he added, setting down his duffel bag and backpack and taking out his phone again.
I looked back at the bed, which seemed to be drawing all my attention. “Look,” I said haltingly, not exactly sure where I was going with this. “About the bed situation …” I didn’t want him to think that I’d wanted a cabin with only one bed. “I’m really sorry about it.”
“Why?” asked Roger. “Do you snore?” He smiled as he asked this, but I could see that he was blushing a little. “And it’s just for tonight.”
“Right,” I said. Since we hadn’t actually left the state of California, but had just moved up it—when we were supposed to be in New Mexico—I knew we were going to have to do a lot of driving tomorrow. But presumably, wherever we ended up, there would be two separate hotel rooms.
“My only thing is that I have to sleep on the right side,” he said. “My girlfriend—” He stopped and cleared his throat. After a moment, he continued, “Well, I mean my ex-girlfriend, she always had to sleep on the left. So I guess it’s just ingrained.”
“Oh,” I said, turning over what he’d just said. That right now he was single. But that there had been a girl in the picture, one who’d changed his sleeping habits. And that the way he said “girlfriend” sounded a lot like the way I said “parents.”
Even though I hadn’t realized I’d formed an opinion, I guess I’d just assumed that Roger had a girlfriend. He seemed too cute and too nice not to have one. And there was just something about him that made him seem taken. The fact that he wasn’t suddenly made me a little nervous.
“Well, the left is fine for me,” I said, hoping it would be. I had never stayed the night in Michael’s dorm room, so I hadn’t shared a bed with anyone since Julia, when we were in seventh grade and sleeping over at each other’s houses every weekend. I had no idea what it would be like to share a bed with a guy. Especially a cute, older, apparently single guy.
“Awesome,” Roger said, still sounding distracted. “So, I’m going to make a phone call.” He headed for the door.
“You can make one here,” I said, taking my own cell out of my pocket to check for bars and seeing I had a missed call from my mother. “There’s reception.”
“No, that’s okay,” he said, speaking quickly. “I’ll give you some time to get settled, and then I’ll meet you down by the lodge, okay?”
“Oh,” I said, realizing a moment too late that he obviously wanted privacy to make the call. “Sure.”
He was out of the cabin a second later, raising one hand to me in a wave and letting the door bang shut behind him. I waited a moment, then snapped off the lights and stepped out of the cabin, locking it behind me. Then I sat on the top step and looked around, shivering slightly. I’d forgotten how cool it could get, even in the summer. It was almost totally dark out, but the trees were casting their shadows on the ground because the moon was out—and it was incredibly bright and clear. I could see Half Dome, Yosemite’s most famous mountain, to my left, and it was all achingly familiar.
It was just me—and who I was with—that was completely different. “I’m back,” I said softly, “you glorious old pile of rocks. Did you miss me?”
“Hi, you’ve reached Pamela Curry. Please leave a message with your name and number, and I will return your call as soon as I am able. Thank you.”
“Hi, Mom, it’s Amy. I guess I missed you. Darn. But things are fine. The drive was fine. And now we are at our hotel and checked in and everything. So everything is going according to plan! I’ll try to talk to you tomorrow. Tell Grandma hi for me.”
I stood on the steps outside the cabin and tried to make myself go inside. This had been going on for a while now. I knew that with every minute that passed, Roger was probably thinking I was having some sort of intestinal problem, since I’d left to walk to the bathrooms to get ready for bed about twenty minutes ago.
I thought I’d be okay with the whole sleeping-in-the-same-bed thing when the moment came. I really did. I’d met Roger at the lodge, where we’d had dinner and been talked at by two incredibly loquacious dentists from Palm Desert. Then we’d watched the evening entertainment, an informational video on Yosemite and Its History, and then we’d headed back to Cabin 9 to go to bed.
I’d even been fine with it when Roger had gone out to the bathrooms to get ready. It was only when he came back, wearing a blue and gray Colorado College T-shirt and a pair of black mesh shorts, that the reality of it hit me. Not only would I have to sleep next to Roger, but I would have to sleep next to him while he wore pretty much just his underwear.
I gaped for a moment, then grabbed my own sleep things, retrieved my toiletries from the bear locker, and headed to the bathrooms to get changed. The bathrooms were located down the path from our cabin, and I walked down it, keeping an ear out for the sound of bears and trying to seem as unappetizing as possible. I put on the least-revealing sleepwear I had—sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt—then brushed my teeth and washed my face, taking my time, hoping against all odds that by the time I got back, the reservations office would have miraculously found another cabin.
But I knew this wasn’t really a possibility. I’d locked my things in the bear locker and was now trying to get myself to open the door and go inside.
I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to sleep in the same bed with someone I barely knew. I wanted to be back home, in my own bed, with my parents down the hall and Charlie next door. I’d just always assumed those constants, so basic, would never change. I hadn’t even realized they were anything special at the time. And now I would have given anything to be back there again.
Amy! was probably having a burger right now with her football-playing boyfriend, and her biggest concern was that zit on her cheek that just wouldn’t go away, darn it!
I heard Roger moving around inside the cabin, and I knew I was going to have to go in eventually. I took a breath and opened the door, feeling my palms get sweaty. I saw that Roger had made the bed, and neatly, the top blanket folded down. He was sitting on the bed, on the right side. I set my clothes down on top of my suitcase and walked around to the left side of the bed, feeling incredibly self-conscious and wondering what it was that I normally did with my hands. As I got to my side of the bed, I saw that Roger’s T-shirt had risen up a little, exposing a strip of his back above his shorts. I looked away quickly, wondering what to do. Should I sit on the bed as well? Pull back the blanket? Wait for him to get under the covers first?
Roger turned to me. “Everything okay?” he asked. “I was starting to get worried a bear got you.”
“Oh, ha ha,” I said, trying for a light laugh but, even I could hear, failing miserably. “No, I’m fine. I was just, um …” I had no idea how to finish that sentence, so I didn’t even try, and it just hung there in midair between us. “Thanks for making the bed,” I said finally. “You didn’t have to.”
“It was no big deal,” Roger said with a smile. He stood and looked at me for a moment, taking in my outfit. “You look hot.”
“What? Me?” I stammered, completely flummoxed.
“Yeah,” he said, still looking at me.
What? Was this some kind of come-on or something? Right before we were about to sleep in the same bed? Like this wasn’t complicated enough already. “Oh. Um, thank you. I mean, not that you don’t, but I’m not sure that you should—I mean …”
“Oh, no,” Roger said quickly, and I could see that he was blushing again. “No. I mean—I meant what you’re wearing. Are you going to be too warm?”
Oh. I momentarily wondered if it would be possible to get one of the bears lurking outside to come in and kill me. “Oh, right,” I said, trying to force my voice to stay upbeat. “Um, I think I’ll be okay. I always get pretty cold here at night.” Roger nodded and stretched, revealing a flat strip of stomach this time, and I looked away again, wishing that he could have worn a slightly longer shirt. “Are you going to be okay?” I asked. “Warm enough, I mean?”
“Oh, sure,” he said, pulling back the covers on his side. Relieved to have some direction, I pulled them back on my side as well. “I’m always hot at night. Hadley used to call me the space heater.”
I walked over to the door, checked that it was locked, and turned out the light. But because of the white walls, and the moonlight filtering in, there was still enough light to see to get back to my side of the bed. Roger got in, and I climbed in as well, staying as far over as possible on my side while still actually being on the bed. I kept both arms pressed against my sides and looked up at the ceiling, acutely aware of how close together we were. I could have reached out and touched him without even extending my arm. I could feel the rhythm of his breathing. “Hadley?” I asked after a moment, figuring this was the ex-girlfriend—the one whose side of the bed I was now occupying.
“Yeah,” said Roger, and I could hear a strain in his voice. “My girlfriend. My ex-girlfriend,” he corrected immediately, sounding annoyed with himself. “She … she was just …”
I waited, turning my head slightly to look over at him, but apparently what Hadley was wasn’t going to be articulated. Roger sighed deeply, then tucked his arms behind his head. I took in the gun show for a moment, then looked fixedly up at the ceiling.
“What about you?” he asked, turning his head toward me. “Is there anyone in the picture?”
I immediately thought of Michael, but wasn’t sure how he fit into any picture I wanted to tell Roger about. “Um, not really,” I said. Then, thinking that made me sound too pathetic, I added, “I mean, there was this guy, but it was just … I mean it was mostly just … I mean, it wasn’t really …” I stopped, wondering where all my adjectives, nouns, and verbs had gone. Mr. Collins would not have approved. “I don’t know,” I finally concluded brilliantly. “Not really.”
I looked over and saw that Roger was now on his side, facing me, curled up a little bit. I usually slept—or tried to sleep—on my side as well. I looked up at the ceiling, mentally preparing myself for another long night. I’d started having insomnia for the first time in my life over the last month. I’d lie awake for hours before finally giving up and going to watch the Weather Channel. For whatever reason, I found it soothing—the preciseness of it, the way it essentially predicted the future. I liked that the meteorologists could tell people across the country what their days and weeks would bring. They were preparing people, letting them know that a storm might be coming toward them. And that way, you weren’t caught totally off guard and unprepared when it finally hit you. After watching the Doppler radar for a while, I could usually doze off for an hour or two. But here, without the seven-day forecast, with bears potentially hanging around outside, and sharing a bed with Roger, I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep.
“Well, good night, Amy,” Roger said.
“Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bears bite,” I added automatically. It was how my father and Charlie and I had always said good night when we were here. I hadn’t thought about it in years, and yet there it was, just waiting for the right prompt.
Roger laughed, a quieter version of the laugh I’d heard earlier. “Right,” he said. “You too.” I saw his eyes close and figured he’d probably be asleep immediately. I felt irrationally envious of him—someone who could just drift off, someone whose thoughts didn’t keep him up. Someone like I’d once been.
Roger’s breathing got more even, and slower, and I could feel myself start to relax a little on my side of the bed. There was a little stretch of bed between us that Roger didn’t seem to be drifting toward. Moving as incrementally as I could, I turned myself over to lie on one side, facing Roger, and curled up.
And even though I knew that sleep was going to be impossible, I let my eyes close as well.
The next thing I knew, I was awake again. I squinted at my watch and was shocked to see that it was three a.m. I’d fallen asleep—even without the benefit of the Doppler radar. I sat up and looked around. The cabin was darker than it had been before—maybe the moon was behind a cloud—and I was alone in bed. I immediately felt myself begin to panic, which was ironic, considering how much I hadn’t wanted to share the bed in the first place. But now it felt much too big. I was starting to run though a list in my head of where Roger could have gone—the bathroom, off to do a little late-night stargazing—when I heard his voice outside. I looked to the door and saw that it was slightly ajar, and I could hear him talking.
“Hey, Hadley,” I heard him say, “it’s me again.” I looked around and wondered what I should do. Turn on my iPod? I knew I wasn’t supposed to hear this, but at the same time, I really, really wanted to. Before I could make a decision, Roger continued. He sounded nervous.
“So I guess you’re not in. Or maybe you’re sleeping. I guess it’s pretty late there. Or early. So if this woke you, I’m sorry….” He paused. “I’m up in the mountains in California, and the stars are so beautiful here. I wish you could see them. I’m …” His voice trailed off. “I just don’t understand what happened, Had. Or why you haven’t been in touch. It’s not really like you. So I … I don’t know. Anyway, give me a call if you get this, okay?”
I waited to hear him say good-bye, but nothing followed that. Figuring that he’d be heading in soon, I lay back down and closed my eyes, pretending to be asleep so he wouldn’t know I’d heard him.
But the next time I opened my eyes, it was fully light out, and I could hear birds—some chirping, some squawking—all around me. I looked at my watch and saw that it was eight o’clock. I looked across the bed at Roger, his head just a hand’s distance away from mine. He was sleeping soundly, the covers falling off his shoulder. I watched him for a moment, hoping this wasn’t creepy, just taking in what it was like to see someone when they looked so peaceful, when all their defenses were down. I looked away, then rolled out of bed and stretched. I’d just slept more soundly than I had in months.
You’ll be missed, Miss California.
After Roger woke up, we headed to the lodge, a building I’d always loved. It was stone, with an enormous fireplace where people tended to congregate. Between the wooden decor and the constantly burning fire, it was the kind of place that made you want to curl up with hot chocolate, even in July. And decorating it were pictures of my long-ago ancestors, who’d descended on Yosemite more than a century before and set up a camp for profit. Eventually it had been made part of the park. It seemed like the main thing my ancestors had been responsible for was the “Firefall,” in which flame was poured, nightly, down a chute carved into a mountain. The Firefall was stopped in the sixties, mostly because people were amazed that it hadn’t killed anyone yet. After I’d given Roger the brief tour of my family history, we ate breakfast.
Or, more accurately, I ate breakfast. Roger ate the kind of meal usually reserved for holiday dinners and people with tapeworms. Luckily, it was a buffet, and all-you-can-eat, a policy I had a feeling they might be revising after our visit. As Roger came back with his third heaping plateful—this one focused on various meat groups—he raised his eyebrows at my plate. “Is that all you’re eating?” he asked.
“It is,” I said, taking a sip of orange juice. I’d already had oatmeal, two muffins, and a banana, which seemed like more than enough for me. “I’m pretty full.”
Roger shook his head. “You should carb up,” he said. He settled into his chair, picked up the Yosemite Guide we’d taken on our way in, and began reading it while eating a piece of sausage. “There’s a lot going on today—hiking, walks, something called Badger Pass—and you’re going to need the energy.”
He handed me the paper, and I pretended to read it as I looked at him over the top of it. “So how’d you sleep last night?” I asked as casually as I could.
“Great,” Roger said, but I noticed that he was concentrating very hard on his Canadian bacon. “I was out like a light. How about you?”
“Oh, fine,” I said lightly. I looked across at him and realized that there was more to Roger than I’d assumed. And that I was not the only liar sitting at the table.
“Hi, it’s Amy’s phone. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you. Thanks!”
“Hi, Amy, it’s your mother. I guess we’re playing phone tag. Glad you made it to New Mexico, and I hope by now you two are well on your way to Oklahoma. I called the Gallup Holiday Inn to make sure you’d checked in, but they had no record of you. But I didn’t get the impression the desk clerk really knew what she was doing. So just call me back so I’ll know everything’s on track.”
“This is beautiful,” Roger said, stretching his legs in front of him and looking around. We were sitting on the outside patio of the Curry lodge, taking in the scenery—the enormous pines, the stunning mountains, the sunlight filtering through the trees. We’d checked out of the cabin and put our things back in the car, but we were close enough to it that we would be able to see if some hungry-looking bears came wandering by. Roger held up his hand to block out the sun and pushed himself to his feet. “Sunglasses needed,” he said, pulling the car keys out of his pocket. He looked down at me. “Want me to get yours?”
“That’s okay,” I said, but I had a feeling this statement was belied by the fact that I had to squint to look up at him.
“Well,” I said, trying not to squint, but finding it physically impossible, “I don’t actually have any right now.”
“They had some in the gift shop,” Roger said. I’d seen them—they were mostly the sporty mirrored wraparound kind that people who were actually going to be climbing mountains bought. But I didn’t want any sunglasses.
“I’m okay,” I said firmly. Roger looked at me for another moment, then shrugged, heading to the car.
I closed my eyes and tipped my head back. It felt nice, like it had been awhile since I’d felt the sun on my face.
I opened my eyes and saw an older woman standing in front of me, looking at me intently. She was standing right in front of the sun, and I could barely make her out. I stood up to see her more clearly. She was wearing hiking gear with a windbreaker tied around her waist, and she had close-cropped, curly gray hair. I took in all these details before something clicked into place in my memory. This was Cathy … Something. By coincidence, she and her husband had followed the same schedule as us for years. We’d always run into them when we were here, and we’d usually all end up sitting together in the dining hall. I think they’d even sent us a Christmas card once. Happy Holidays from the Somethings.
“Hi,” I said, trying to look like I hadn’t been just trying to place her. “Cathy,” I said, hoping that I’d remembered her name right, and dropping my voice a little on the last syllable in case I hadn’t.
“It is you,” she said, reaching out and hugging me quickly before I realized what was happening. “I’d recognize you anywhere, though my goodness, you’ve grown up! You’re such a beautiful young lady!”
Why were older people always saying things like this? Even after they were always telling us not to lie. I just nodded, because what was I supposed to say to that?
“So where are the rest of you?” Cathy asked, looking around. “Your brother and father? Are they inside?”
I could feel my heart begin to hammer, and I was starting to get the panicky feeling that I always got whenever I thought I might have to Tell Someone. I hadn’t had to say the words out loud yet, and I honestly didn’t think that I could. Even the thought of saying them made me feel panicky.
“Oh,” I said, hearing how my voice was already strained, feeling like my throat was closing around the words even as I tried to force them out, and hating myself and the fact that I couldn’t even form a simple sentence. “They’re not here this trip.” I was blinking very quickly, looking down at the scratched wooden deck, hoping against hope that Cathy Something would leave it at that and go away. In my peripheral vision, I saw Roger, sunglasses on, heading toward me from the car, slowing slightly when he saw me talking to someone.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said. “Your dad was always such fun to have at dinner! How’s he doing? He’s well?”
“Um,” I said, feeling my breath come shallowly and furiously blinking back tears. I wanted nothing else than to just disappear, go back home where I was alone and there was nobody to make me feel these things. I could feel myself very close to losing it, breaking down right on the spot, in front of Cathy. But it wasn’t like I could escape—I had to stand there and let it happen. And knowing that was only making it worse. I could feel my pulse beating in my throat, and it was getting harder to breathe. The underwater feeling was creeping in. “Um,” I said again, my voice breaking. Cathy seemed to notice that something was wrong—her eyebrows went up, and she frowned slightly. “He’s actually … he’s …” A strangled sob escaped my throat, and I looked away, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to continue.
“Hi,” I heard Roger say, as he approached Cathy’s other side. He stuck his hand out, turning her away from me. I noticed, even though my vision was blurred, that he was watching me over her shoulder. “Roger Sullivan. I’m a friend of the family.”
“Cathy Summers,” said Cathy, and I registered the last name dully in my head, crossing my arms and pressing my lips together as hard as I could. Despite this, I could still feel how they were shaking, how my chin was trembling uncontrollably. “I was just asking about the other Currys,” Cathy said, her voice rising on the last word, making it a question.
Roger looked over at me, and I looked straight ahead, blinking fast, trying to force this back into retreat, trying to find the edge of okay and hang on to it. Roger took a step closer to Cathy and lowered his voice a little. “It’s actually …,” he said, then paused and cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, Mr. Curry passed away recently.”
It was all I could stand to hear. I walked toward the lodge, keeping my head down, and yanked the door open, but not before I heard Cathy’s shocked gasp and the sympathetic sounds that followed. I walked as fast as I could toward the bathroom, not needing to be there to know what would follow. How shocked she was. How it was such a tragedy. And then, of course, the Question: How had it happened? Roger, at least, didn’t know the answer to that one.
I pushed open the door to the bathroom, which was thankfully empty, and locked myself in the nearest stall. Then I leaned back against the cold metal door and let the crying take over. I cried into my hands, big, horrible sobs that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside. I’d never cried like this until it happened, and I hated it. This crying was huge and uncontrollable, and it also never made me feel any better. It only reminded me that I hadn’t cried much yet, and so of course when I did, it was wrenching and violent. The crying attacks just seemed to point out that as much as I might want to pretend otherwise, there was a big, gaping hole in my chest, one I’d tried to cover over with leaves and a few branches. The pathetic camouflage that wasn’t even fooling myself.
When the worst of it seemed to be over—when my breath was coming more regularly, with only an occasional hiccup in the rhythm—I wiped my hands over my face. Then I unlocked the door and stepped out, wincing when I saw my reflection. My eyes were bloodshot and puffy, my nose red, and my skin blotchy. I ran my hands under the water, as cold as I could get it, and splashed some on my face. Then I patted it dry with the scratchy brown paper towels, which actually seemed to make things worse.
The door swung in, and a mother entered, shepherding her little girl toward the sink. She stared at me, then looked away quickly, and I knew hiding in the bathroom all day—appealing as it sounded—wasn’t really an option. I pushed open the door and almost tripped over Roger, who was sitting on the floor to the right of it.
“Hi,” he said, standing, and I saw he had my purse with him. “Um, you left this outside.”
I nodded and took it, staring down at the gray-brown carpet. “Thank you,” I said, hearing that my voice still sounded raw. But thankfully, no longer out of control.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Since the answer was so clearly no, there didn’t seem to be any point in telling him that I was fine. I didn’t think I was that good an actress. I just shrugged.
“Well,” he said, then paused a moment before going on. When he did, it was hesitantly, like he was searching for each word before speaking it. “If you ever want to talk—or just want me to listen—I mean, I could …”
“Who told you?” I asked, saying the words very quickly, as that seemed to be the easiest way to get them out. “Was it your mom? Or the program on the fridge?” I didn’t trust myself to look up yet, so I asked the carpet these questions.
“My mom,” Roger said after a moment. “I think she went to … to the service.” She might have. She might have ridden into St. Andrew’s on an elephant and I wouldn’t have had a recollection of it.
I nodded. “Do you …” I took a breath and forced myself to say it. I didn’t think he knew. But I needed to be sure. “Do you know how it happened?”
“No,” he said. “Do you want to tell me?” I shook my head, just once to either side. I could feel my lip begin to tremble again, and I bit down on it, as hard as I could. “Well,” he said, after a moment. “We should probably hit the road, don’t you think?”
I nodded, and when I looked up, I saw that Roger was holding out his sunglasses to me. I didn’t even think about refusing, just took them and slipped them on. They were too big for me, heavy square guy sunglasses, and they slid down my nose. But at that moment, I was just grateful to have a bit of a barrier between my face and the world, if only so I wouldn’t frighten Yosemite’s children. We headed out of the lodge, and I gave it one last look before I stepped outside. It no longer seemed like the cozy place it had this morning. I let the door slam behind me and followed Roger to the car.
© 2010 Morgan Matson
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