“Can we just stay here forever?”
She said this to me as we were laying on top of the roof at my favorite spot. It was the only place where I could clearly see the stars and the moon without any interference. This was the first time I brought anyone up here because of my fear that they might ruin it for me. Showing someone a spot you usually run off to allows them the opportunity to ruin it for you once the two of you do not work out because each time you try to run away, you keep remembering the memories you had with that person in that place so you don’t really run away from anything. I never found that right person to share it with until she came along. I know it was a bad idea sharing this place with her because I could have taken her to the park or we could’ve had a candlelight dinner on top of my Rover but instead, I took her to an old roof where we could watch stars which was more to me than just any roof.
She looked at me and repeated what she had said the first time as if I had not heard her. Truth was that it had registered in my mind the first time but the problem was that my mind had drifted off into Neverland. It was probably the drugs we were on but anyway I thought I had answered her and now I was trying to avoid answering her in the hopes of her giving up. Yes, it was definitely was the psilocybin we were on.
“These mushrooms were strong. Look at how they got us saying things we don’t really mean,” I finally said to ease the tension letting out a low pitched 3 second laugh at the end of the sentence.
“Matt?” She called out to me in a soft voice. I immediately turned my head towards her to show that I was paying attention to everything she was say and little did I know that the next words that were coming were about to change both of our lives forever.
“Let’s run away together. Leave this town, these people, go somewhere and start afresh boy.” My eyes blew right open as my pupils dilated in shock. There was definitely no way of holding back the extent of my shock.
“Are you serious?” I asked nervously even though deep down I knew she was serious. It was not like I had never thought of running away because ever since my 21st birthday it had been on my mind. Hitting 21 was the moment when I started to rethink everything in my life so for the past 4 months that is all I was doing, thinking. At 21, unemployed, having graduated with a college degree I was definitely planning not to use, single and still living with my parents, nothing was going according to plan. So, when the family celebrated my 21st birthday, it was more of a wondering moment than a celebration. I spent the entire night pretending that I was tired whenever anyone asked why I was quiet but of course that was the furthest thing from the truth because the entire evening was spent contemplating my next move. The only logical thing to do at the moment when she asked me to flee this town with her and start afresh was her suggestion because a clean slate could be all that I needed to reboot my life.
“Sure Claire. Let’s do it.”
There was a minute of awkward silence as we both gazed into space, into the Milky Way, wondering how everything was going to work. We were just about to run away from home and we had to do it properly. I was not going to mess this up since I was probably going to get one chance to do it properly.
I convinced her to go and discuss this further at the diner by 6th Avenue if we were going to do this properly. I was hoping that the car ride would be enough to change our minds and that by the time we reached the diner, which was on the other side of the city, one of us would have come to our senses and would have called off this outrageous idea. We stayed there on the roof-top until 2 in the morning, updating each other on what had been going on in our lives that week as we usually did. The longer we stayed on the roof, the more the idea seemed to be a good one just like wine aging in a cellar that is why I finally decided that we must leave for the diner.
At such a young age, most people would wonder why we were planning on running away from home. She had a more valid reason than I did to run away but we were still going to do it. Claire had a pretty normal childhood up until her mother left her father and moved to this town of ours. It has been a little more than a decade since they stepped into the city but in that time, they have relocated half a dozen times around the city, each time moving to a lesser nice house than the previous one. At first they stayed in my neighborhood at the Grand Esquet-state. That is how I got to know her. I actually met her the first day as they were moving in. Being a kid and quite inquisitive with a rather snoopy mother as well, the minute we saw a moving track pack down the street, we could not help ourselves but move closer to check who was moving in. She was so jolly at the time, with a smile so wide that even with a new tooth growing, still looked perfect. I still remember seeing her and liking her at that time but managed to remained just friends ‘til this very moment. We began hanging together, getting to know each other better and becoming the best of friends at primary school. Having just come from a marriage with a handsome settlement, Mrs. Jones, her mom, was always fond of giving. She gave me a $100 note one time when I asked for donations for a school project, even though my mom changed it for me and I only submitted $10 as that was what the school was asking for. As the months went by, the money began slowing down and they had to move to a more affordable house two streets away. I did not mind it because I could still see my best friend whenever I wanted to since it was only a ten minute walk from home, a three minutes bike ride on a good day. The most difficult part of growing up in this town was that people always had something to say so each time Claire and her mom moved, there would always be chatters and gossips about their lifestyle.
‘She [Claire’s mom] is a loose canon, cannot even find a stable job.’
‘She is a former drug cartel who went rogue and is now running from the gang.’
‘She is broke because her sugar daddy couldn’t finance her lavish lifestyle anymore.’
I knew all of these were not true because of the amount of time I spent with their family so it did not worry me much. I had met Claire’s mom on a regular basis with the first time being when our family was invited for dinner at their place. She was a friendly woman with a great heart. A tall, full figured woman with blonde hair and a pretty smile. She was quite hilarious too because never was I at their place without laughing my lungs out. From embarrassing stories about Claire’s childhood to stories of her time as a teenager, she usually brought the best stories. You could always see that she was quite damaged from the previous marriage because if you ever watched her closely, you would see that behind that full, beautiful smile was a woman haunted by her past and hurting constantly. Claire once mentioned that she heard her cry in the shower a couple of times but she would come out smiling either way.
At the time she stayed only with her mom, her life was much better. Even though they did not have that much, they did have each other and this meant more to her than anything else. The attention of being the only child was sometimes overwhelming but always accepted with both hands. This meant that she rarely went out alone because her mom was rather overprotective of her. The only person her mother was ever okay with was me and we hung out a lot of times because of this. We took advantage of it a couple of times to go to clubs or parties our parents wouldn’t normally allow. The other advantage was that her mom entrusted the green ’76 Mustang with Claire and we used it all the time even though filling it up left a hole in our wallets, it was definitely worth it. The problems which led us to our current situation of wanting to run away started as soon as Penny, Claire’s mom, started dating her current husband Fin. Fin was a handful. Everyone in the town knows him as the electrician from Kings. He is an arrogantly large figured man with a bald spot on his head which he covered up either with his hat or by shaving his head clean. He is Irish and moved to the town 3 years ago because, according to his rumors, he was running away from businessman he owed from his past. He moved to town in order to start fresh in a place far away from everyone who knew him. Jenny and Fin fell in love right after he moved in town. It was a wild coincidence that their place had an electrical problem just three months after Fin started business. This meant that Fin had to handle and fix her house for about 17 days and during these 17 days, the pair connected and built a relationship which grew even bigger as 8 months later they tied the knot.
Having a step dad was not the problem for Claire though. The real problem was his temper and nasty attitude. Fin was not the friendliest of people and had a loud scary voice which he would always portray around the house. Since her mother married Fin, he moved in with them and was becoming quite the nuisance around the house. His shop shut down due to legal issues pertaining his past dealings with businessmen who sued him for everything he had, which was the store. So it had been about a year now with him doing nothing but pulling his weight at home and making life hell for everyone, especially Claire. Jenny seemed not to notice that her daughter was being abused verbally by her husband because she did not believe Claire whenever she told him. Claire would always run to me and talk for hours on end about the things he said to her that week or that month. Things took a turn for the worst when Claire noticed a bruise of her mother’s left wrist. Her mom had been wearing long sleeved clothes for the entire week and she had only thought it was because there was a cold front passing by town but it turned out that she was only hiding the scars of battle. She was not even supposed to see the bruise itself because she only saw it when she came into the bathroom with her mother having just finished bathing so she only had a robe on and that is when she saw it. She was devastated to see that her step dad was abusing her mother and confronted her mother about it. It did not go according to plan.
“…Baby, as an adult you do not just run whenever things get a bit rocky.” That is what I caught from what she told me about the conversation she had with her mom. That she was not going to leave him and that this was just a little hiccup, nothing to worry even though it was more than that; it was abuse.
Fin, like almost every abuser I have heard about, did not stop beating her mom. He even started hitting Claire herself. Just the past week, he had hit her to a point one of her lungs collapsed. She called me over and I rushed her to the hospital but she didn’t tell the doctors what happened because her mother had begged her. Fin was playing the blame game the entire time, blaming Claire for provoking him. This was the reason why she wanted to run. She knew that since her mother was not going to leave the marriage, she had to run. She had to go away before it was too late for her at least.
‘Save yourself before you cannot be saved.’
This was surprisingly her motto for the last couple of months and now she was actually doing it. Matter of fact we were both actually doing it. We were about to hit the road into the sunset.
I was running away for a completely different and less important reason. I was running away to just hit the reset button. My life had hit a standstill. I was 21 years without a plan. Without a job. Without a future in the place. Without a real relationship. Running away meant a fresh slate. A new dawn, a new hope. Probably on the other side I could do more with my life. I was running away to feel something, feel anything because for the last couple of months, I had not been feeling anything at all. Nothing. The thought of just sitting around and passing time in this ghost town was getting to me. I needed something new and interesting. The last time I felt alive was during a two month exchange program with students from Washington. Going to Washington turned into the highlight of my past decade, after of course, my friendship with Claire. The Washington experience was nothing extraordinary, just schooling and attending in a different place. What made me feel quite alive was the experience of meeting new people. The experience of learning about different cultures and seeing a different face at each pub I visited. I had never saw the same person more than twice unless they were my classmate or housemate or the matron. Most faces were happy and welcoming while quite a few were rather frightening. It was not like destination holiday as we stayed in hostels for the two months but it relit a light which had died a long time inside of me.
“So how are we going to do this?”
I probably said what was on both of our minds but was never aired. I was never the type to sit in silence, it never went well so I had to utter something out before the silence and awkwardness devoured me whole like a snake does to a rat.
The end decision was that we would discuss it at the local diner over waffles, hot chocolate and cups of coffee. With her mom’s car available at our disposal, she drove us there at that time in the morning. Lucky for us, the diner was open 24 hours so we had an opportunity to have our favorites at anytime.
“Thanks God for 24 hour diners.” She said jokingly as she drove us there.
The one thing which had kept our friendship strong and going for so long was that we usually agreed on most things and even had similar taste in music. On our way there, she pulled out a CD from the closet and put it in. That was our thing really; CDs. No matter how old fashioned it was, we stuck to the principle either way so this was not a shock at all. I let her put random CDs even the ones I didn’t know because it was fun guessing which artist or what song it was. This time though she played a familiar tape by The Lumineers. Matter of fact, our favorite band. As soon as the chords began, I knew it was them. There was something familiar and soothing about their music. The ride to the diner was smooth and didn’t feel like the 30 minutes it actually was. We were both easy laid back drivers because we enjoyed the sounds as we rode. It was more of enjoying the scenario and atmosphere around us than the actual ride itself.
The diner was the usual feel especially at this time of the morning, or should I say night. The red neon ‘OPEN 24 HRS’ sign seemed to illuminate from a mile away because it always gave a feel that we were welcome. From the outside you could always see the number of people who were inside through the very large windows and because of the time of day, there were of course very few people. At first thought, I saw two booths occupied, luckily not ours. I saw a couple enjoying a milkshake together right by the entrance seeming like they were from a very good date because they were cosy on one side of the booth laughing and feeding each other. The other booth had a young adult female who had tattoos all over her arm. She looked like a loner who enjoyed the company of herself and had headsets on to block out anyone. The distinct smell of the coffee she had as I passed her both told me that it was an expresso shot and it smelled like Bronx coffee. Yes, my obsession for coffee led me to know which coffee someone was having by just a minor smell of the coffee. Our usual booth was on the East wing of the store. The east wing was the perfect place. It was a place to go to hide because the booth was also quite hidden away from people. The booth looked like a secret entrance into a cave which luckily for us, very few people sat on it. There was a time though we found a couple making out in the booth but they both ran in embarrassment the minute they noticed us starring in front of them. We called the booth our ‘Bat Mocave’ because it was like a hideout for us and a place to recollect ourselves especially after a disastrous day.
Arriving at our booth, we sat down and sank into our seats just like that as we threw ourselves and hopefully our thoughts onto the red leather chairs. A waitress, which according to her name tag was called Patricia, came to take our order and left as fast as she came through because our minds were already made up. We had a usual meal for each type of occasion. On a serious day such as today, we ordered waffles, with extra cream, a big sharing milkshake and two large mugs of coffee to start us up before the waffles were brought to the table. We both knew what to order so Claire was the one who put through our order.
“Oh, with a tad bit of milk in the coffee,” I added as she was leaving with our order.
The rule was always not to talk about whatever was bothering us until our main order had arrived at the table because we didn’t enjoy the occasional ‘waitress interruptions’ so we allowed them to finish serving us our meal before we started any conversation and today was no different. The coffee took under 2 minutes to be brought and it was served just the way we preffered it. Even though at first I was concerned that the new waitress wouldn’t get it right the first time, she did surprisingly well. As I was reaching the base of my mug, the waffles and milkshake arrived on our counter. That is when things became serious.
“So… Are we sure about this?” I questioned one last time before we actually went through with this.
“Matt…. You know I never joke like this. If I was joking I would’ve said so before the waffles even arrived to the table.”
“So how is this going to work?”
“I thought you would plan this out. You are the ‘plan’ guy,” she said the last part using air signals of quoting the plan part in her sentence.
I immediately knew that I was up next on the podium and all eyes were on me. That is when my impromptu self kicked in, I picked the napkins by the corner of the table and drew out the marker in my bag. I then began to write down the general plan and sketch the way forward.
After a while of writing I handed her the napkin I had sketched on. I did not notice the entire time I wrote on that paper that she was half way done with the waffles. As I rose from writing, I noticed that she was there and done. Baffled by this, I just pulled the plate away from her before she finished the edibles before I had my chance with them.
“Oops. Sorry.” She finally let out.
The plan was straight and simple. With each bulletin marked out and planned properly, this plan could work out perfectly and we could in future look back at this life defining moment and be happy for the decision we made. She looked at it for a bit then finally agreed that it could work and we then decided to convene at the same spot in 7 days, having put together the money and stuff we would need for the road.