Riley looked out the window of the car as they drove through the Nebraska cold. He ought to be asleep by now. His shift to drive was in an hour and he hadn’t slept a wink.
Th dash clock told him it was one pm. By adding twelve hours and seventeen minutes, he arrived at the correct time, one seventeen am. Cold, dark, and lonely. Driving can be exilerating, but it was long days like this where there is only grass and maybe a cow or two for miles of highway when it really began to take it’s toll. What day even was it? Riley didn’t know, he only cared that they found a car in which the heat worked. Setting the dash on fire wasn’t exactly safe.
“So. uh, what do your folks normally do for thanksgiving?” Ari’s voice cut through the car’s incessant rumble over the pavement. “Well, you know, before all the death and sadness.” Her voice had a strange, sad ring to it. It didn’t seem right with her normally loud, electric words.
Thanksgiving was it? November 28 this year. Riley only shrugged. They never did anything really exciting. His college-age brother had come home once in a while, and his dad got off work maybe for six hours. He had never been close to his birth parents, despite living with them for seven years of his life. His mom had made golden chicken and let him slice the canned cranberry sauce. It was always small. His family was never rich, and the rest of his extended family lived in Washington state, he’d never met most of them, and as far as he knew only his uncle was alive now. After dinner Riley usually went to his room and played on his xbox, what else was a kid gonna do when the adults were in the living room talking about boring school things?
He remembered fondly, though, the nights with the Metimis family. They were different, softer, lighter, filled with same warmth that had always twinkled in Mara’s soft eyes. Like campfires and blankets, and the kind of warmth that fills the kitchen when you’re cooking in the oven. Something you never want to let go. They were always small too, but nights like those always took up the biggest place in his heart. All the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parades and the homemade breads made him smile in reflection. That had been home for him.
“You gotta stop that, I don’t care how. It’s creepy when I ask you a question and you respond with that longing look of yours.” Ari nudged him with a spoon left over from some Frosties they had gotten a few hours before.
“I know I know. And you need to stop poking me with silverware.” Riley smiled a little, chuckling, something happy despite the memories bubbling up inside him. It was a quiet, thankful peace. He patted the head of small Macy in his lap, where he had fallen during Riley’s vain attempts to sleep.
“You’re too attached to that thing, you know.” But there was too much caring in her voice for her to pull off the ‘hahh! I am annoyed and sassy’ tone.
“I know.” But Riley smiled down at it nonetheless, the tiny flames on his hand dancing happily, as if trying to warm his most prized possession, not burn it.
Riley sat silent for a minute. That minute turned into two, three, half an hour. He sat for almost an hour before the welcome tendrils of sleep began to finally pull him off into their own realms.
But not before the lights of a 24 hour gas station caught is attention.
“Ari, pull over at the station coming up.” He said, with urgence in his voice, sitting up quickly.
“Why we don’t need anything. We don’t need gas.”
“Just do it.”
She complied, pulling into a parking space near the front. Riley stopped her before she could shut off the car “You. Stay here. I’ll be right back in a sec.” He grabbed ten dollars cash and ran into the little convenience store.
A blast of hotdog smelling warm air hit him like a truck. “Wow. Not exactly what I was hoping for.” He thought, observing the grungy isles and dirty floor. “But I will make this work.”
Riley began to jog up and down the isles of the small place. Beef Jerky here, a few apples there, two cans of sparking water, a thing of cheese pringles. There! Some cranberry fruit snacks.
Two small pumpkin tarts and two turkey sausages from the roller on buns slathered with mustard finished Riley’s haul. He shoved everything in a bag, thanked the poor sleep deprived college kid behind the counter, asked where he could find a nearby Wal-Mart before running back out to the car.
“Riley, what in the world, dude?” Ari shoved open the door from the inside as Riley approached.
“Drive for another three miles, there’s a Wal-Mart on the left. We can sleep there tonight.”
“Hey, it’s to early to call it quits.” Ari protested, folding her arms defiantly.
“No, it’s not. Trust me.”
“Oh yes, trust the crazy kid who sees things. Great idea.” Ari rolled her eyes and started the car back up.
In the parking lot of Wal-Mart Riley climbed into the back of the old minivan and began to lay out the blankets over the folded down seats. His chest buzzed his happiness, like sparks and fireworks had embedded themselves into his lungs and heart. He opened his laptop and bypassed the codes for the wifi, setting it up like a mini cinema on top of the pillows.
“What are you doing back there. You’re smiling. Are you okay? Rilleeeyyyy.” Ari flipped backwards in the drivers seat and tried to poke him again, but he dodged easily.
“You just stay there for a minute.” Riley didn’t know what drove him to act in such a way as he opened Youtube. He knew Ari had been looking forward to the holiday back in July. She had always said it was her favorite. She got to see her family that lived all over the country and sit and eat and watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving as a tradition. It meant to much to her. But now she’s out here with him, running from this dumb scenario that was basically digging her own grave. It had made him burn for weeks. This was all he could do.
“All right, I’m done.” Riley motioned for Ari to join him in front of the old laptop and gas station food.
Ari raised an eyebrow. “This is dumb. What’s all this even for?” But he climbed over the seat anyway to sit next to him.
Riley lit a flame on his fingers and heated the sausages, he was suspicious when they came a little too lukewarm for comfort. He handed her one. “Happy thanksgiving, Ari.” It might have only been a sketchy road-side-gas station sausage in her hands, but you couldn’t tell by the light twinkling in her eyes from the flickering backseat light. It might as well have been the juiciest turkey roast right from the oven from the way she looked up at Riley with a smile to stop his worries in their tracks.
“I know it’s not much but I had to do-”
“Shut up. Just… shut up.” Ari looked over the rest of the food, “Eh. It’s good enough.” But her tone didn’t say good enough. Her tone said ‘perfect’.
And that was enough for Riley as he pressed ‘play’ on his old, glitchy laptop.
Awwww. This one was so fun and so cute to write. ^-^ I hope you enjoyed it as much a I did. And, yes, he did pull up A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for Ari. So sweet… My heart… I can’t..! D: ^-^
Have a Thankful Thursday!