I slept in! Shh. Don't tell the man. Okay, so he knows. He knows all. He's the god of my little world. But a benevolent one. He'd say, "you should have slept longer" but I felt guilty. So here I sit, coffee in hand, kidlets still out in dreamland, posting about Johnny Rose and ego checks. Check, check, testing one, two, three...
by Sommer Marsden
It was past five and we’d been on the road for going on seven hours. The bright lights of the toll booth made me squint and I continued to worry the watch in my fingers like worry beads. I was still dealing with the huge ego check of being dismissed so easily from my father’s life. On the radio Michael Hutchence sang in his honeyed tones, making me feel like a teenager again—and just as fucking confused. I had already been wondering what it would feel like to open the Chevy’s door and just fall free to the blacktop that rushed by us when he’d started crooning to me from the speakers:
Suicide blonde is the color of her hair…
The irony of him singing to me about such things was not lost on yours truly.
We crossed over into Indiana and finally, Johnny leveled those otherworldly blue eyes at me. “You never gonna speak to me again, Snowflake?”
“I’m speaking to you,” I said, stupidly. You’d have to be an idiot not to notice that I wasn’t. It didn’t feel good to do the silent treatment when you knew how childish it was. It also didn’t feel good to be called out for pouting.
But I couldn’t seem to help myself. I didn’t want to talk to him. I knew he didn’t get it, but I fucking could not swallow down the bitter taste of his laughter and amusement.
“Yeah, you’ve been a fucking chatterbox for the last three hundred miles. Oh, stop! Stop talking already,” he said in mock distress. “You’ll talk my ear off with your…word.”
I smiled. Fuck him. I did. What was it about this big scarred up odd-job boy that made all of my defenses fall away like water-soaked spun sugar dissolving in the rain. I shook my head and looked away.
Johnny piloted the car into the rest stop that almost always followed a toll booth. “I have to hit the head. And you might want to powder your my nose.”
“Have you seen me put any makeup at all on?” I countered.
“Figure of speech, sweetheart. Would you prefer I say go pee? Or take a pi—“
“Okay, okay!” I said, throwing my hands up. I popped my door and he laughed.
“Cock and pussy and fuck don’t bother you, but piss does?” He grinned.
I stuck my tongue out. Might as well go all the way with the childish behavior.
“It’s just crude.”
I passed by him and he caught me. Pinned me to the pitted ugly paintwork on his Chevy and kissed me. “Sometimes crude can be good. Remember that.”
I kissed him back. I would forsake my feelings for a kiss, I found out. I kissed him almost angrily and when he let me go, I swallowed hard and said, “I’ll try and remember that.”
“You do that. Now go and make use of the facilities. We need to find a room and food and then I plan to get you naked.”
“What if I’m still mad?”
“So? What if you are?” he asked, his face dead serious. And then he sauntered off to the left of the concrete block building. The façade of it squat and ugly and white as a ghost in the failing fall light.
There was a moon coming on. A harvest moon. No snow, no rain, the wind had a bite and when Johnny threw the headlights on the building in front of us lit up like the sun. The air was bluish purple and I shivered, loving the chill.
“Let me tell you a story, Snowflake,” he said, merging back onto the highway.
“Ooh, story time,” I said. There was still a bit of bitchy-bite in my voice. I rubbed the watch and tapped my foot and wished I didn’t sound so petty.
I waited. Said nothing.
He sighed and I had a split second to think that maybe—just maybe—what he was about to reveal to me was difficult for him. Then he started talking, his voice a freight train rumble over the radio he’d turned down to nothing but a melodic murmur.
“I don’t’ normally tell anyone this. Fuck, I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I can tell that me laughing at your…upset…pissed you off.”
I still said nothing, but suddenly I felt two feet tall.
“And for whatever crazy reason, I don’t like it when you’re pissed off. Or sad. Or angry. Or any of that greeting card bullshit.”
I tried not to smile.
“Don’t get cocky,” he warned.
I wrestled my facial expression back into submission, presenting him with nothing but an expectant façade.
“When I was a kid there was a broken arm. Just like in your past.”
My face went hot. I felt anxiety crawl under my skin. I already didn’t like what was coming and I didn’t know what it was. But I did. Some part of me did and my chest ached.
“But the arm belonged to me and the breaker was my mamma. There were also several broken fingers and once, a broken collar bone.”
I blew out a sigh and said “Jesus”
“Yeah, he did nothing to help me,” Johnny said, and cracked a smile. “Seems that I was—to my mother—the full reason my father left her. Didn’t matter that she was a drunk. Or that more than once he caught her hooking to get money for her booze and her card games at the bar.”
How mangled was this man inside? I felt damn near pristine to hear him talk. And yet, he dealt with all the bullshit of life way better than me. Maybe it was practice…
“Part of me thinks maybe the old man didn’t think I was his.” He snorted, reached past me and popped the glove box. He withdrew a cigarette and lit it. He dropped the pack in my lap as in invitation to join him. I ran my fingers over the cellophane and heard it complain, but I didn’t light up.
“You know, he might have been right. Who knows who I belonged to. But none of that matters, because to my mother, in here—“ he tapped his temple with a big finger and squinted against the smoke. “To her, where it mattered, he was the love of her fucked up life and I had driven him away. So I had to pay.”
I shook my head, considered the cigarettes but put them back in the glove box and waited for him to go on.
We passed a stretch of jersey walls and abandoned construction and I heard the sing of air and black top under and around the Chevy’s wheels. The streetlights were like miniature moons overhead and in front of us traffic zipped and wiggled because we had officially passed rush hour it seemed.
“So I paid for him leaving her. I paid and I paid and I paid. And when I turned fourteen, I figured I’d paid enough.”
“I bet.” It was whisper coming out of me like a breath.
“And I left. I packed a bag. I stole her money, I took some food, a few things I could sell and I fucking left.”
I found myself nodding. Christ, of course he had. Of course he’d left. Of course!
“And she didn’t look for me,” he said.
I took a breath. And there it was. The reason. The root. The laughter.
“And it was the sweetest fucking feeling in the world. Being out there, no one looking. Just out there and away and not paying for someone else’s sins for the first time in a long time.”
I put my face to the cool glass because I felt suddenly warm and ashamed. I hadn’t know, but still—
“And that is why I laughed. But I think we’re opposite, you and I. To me, the dismissal was the greatest gift. And all you want is for someone to seek you out.”
I nodded, my face brushing the window. I couldn’t talk.
“Well, I’m looking for you. I think there’s more to you, so I’m not hunting you down, but I am with you. And I’m still looking. Still searching for the real Aurelia. Someone is seeking you out, Really.”
I swallowed convulsively even though I could already feel how wet my face was. I reached into my purse at my feet and handed him the tie. “Here,” I said.
“I bought it for you,” I said. Softly.
I shrugged. “I wanted to.”
“But you were pissed at me.”
I shrugged again. Hell, I couldn’t explain it if that’s what he wanted.
“Thanks, kid.” He leaned across fast and kissed me. The Chevy swerved a little and I yelped. “Don’t worry. It’s fine.”
It’s fine. It’s okay. It will be alright…Stupid but his promises of rightness always worked with me.
I smiled. It felt odd on my face at that moment, but good, too.
“A real gentlemanly thing, this is,” he said, draping it across his thigh and studying the signs for lodging along the side of the road. “You know what this means?”
“I have to do something decidedly ungentlemanly with it.”
I found myself swallowing hard again. It was becoming a habit.