Atlanta

Nicholas waited for me at the top of the stairs, holding a bottle of Tequila. I jogged up the concrete steps, sweating. “I am leaving,” I said, out of breath. “Have you decided whether or not you are coming with us?” He looked incredulous. “You are really going to leave town with those two,” he scratched wildly at the back of his head, something he did when he was agitated. He turned, looking down at the car, its headlights glaring back at him. The sun was in its final stages of setting in the east, its dwindling rays spread across endless creeping ivy which grew, rather ferociously, around every single telephone pole and street lamp on the block.
After several moments of uncomfortable silence, I spoke again. “Listen, I need to go. There is no reason for me to stay here. Either you are coming with me, or you can stay behind.” He took a few steps down the staircase, away from the obscene glare radiating from the cheap plastic overhead lamp. Pulling a pack of cigarettes from his black shorts, he sighed heavily, whacking the pack hard against the palm of his hand. Forlornness began to set in. I wiped my brow and touched his arm, leaning in for a kiss. He quickly turned away. “Just go,” he barked. I began to speak, but hesitated. We stood there together for a few more moments, in the setting sun. “Alright, well, good luck to you,” I muttered. Those were our final words.
I bounded down the stairs, my backpack bouncing wildly against my back. I made my way into the back seat of the rumbling car. “Lets go,” I told the girls. I craned my head around to catch a glimpse of him as our car sped off down the street towards the 402. I slunk down against the hot vinyl seat and pulled a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 from my pack. An immense feeling of relief swept over me. Swigging from the bottle, I gazed out the car window at the flurry of neon lights and purple sky. Cars barreled down the highway as if the gigantic city they were leaving behind was on fire and about to explode. Remnants of trash blew across the busy lanes. A large trailer carrying hogs cut us off, causing me to spill cheap wine all over my skirt. My heart began to beat wildly in my chest. Maribel hit the gas and we sped up, surpassing the legal speed limit. We weaved in and out of traffic until we hit our stride in the center lane, catapulting ourselves into an unknown future.

It wasn’t the searing heat that woke me, but a nightmare. Rattled, I sat up and looked out the car window. We were parked at a rest stop, which sat quietly off the side of the highway. An old blue Toyota pickup sat a few yards away, a lone driver fast asleep in the front seat. The rest of the small parking lot was empty. Terribly thirsty and needing to urinate, I looked around for a water fountain and spotted it near the entrance of the small tan building. I opened the car door slowly. Maribel and Cyndie slept soundly in the front seats, their mouths agape like dead things. Beads of sweat trickled down their faces. The heat inside the car was unbearable. I decided to leave the car door open, letting some air in. The heat felt like an inferno. I ran across the scorching pavement towards the fountain. The water came out warm and slow, a trickle which was barely enough to wash my hands and face with. I washed my feet then walked over to the restroom, passing a faded wooden bench surrounded by flowering dogwood. I pushed against the heavy door and into the dark bathroom. The broken tiles were slippery under my bare feet. The light switch on the wall was broken, and I couldn’t see anything. I grabbed a nearby trashcan and propped the door open, letting a stream of early morning light in. With a slight push, the door to the lone stall swung open. Former vagabonds had left their drunken musings scrawled across the door. The toilet seat was broken, as was the latch to the door. I sat for a few minutes, staring down at my dirty feet. Pulling my panties over my knees, I heard Cyndie’s scratchy voice outside. “Hey Leah, where’d ya go?” “I’m in here,” I muttered, my mouth still dry. I stepped outside and into the glare of the sun. Cyndie and Maribel stood next to the car, stretching. I looked over towards the highway. “Where the hell are we?” I asked, scratching my back.

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