My hands were shaking again.
I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles were white, but the tremors continued up my wrists and through my arms until I was shivering violently, despite the warmth of the evening.
“It’s okay. It will be okay. Have faith,” I told myself over and over and over, hoping to glean some comfort from the words. The knot in my stomach grew tighter.
Annoyed with myself, I flicked on the radio and scanned until I found a station. It was all in Spanish, but whatever, it was better than the silence that was threatening to choke me. I listened to the upbeat sounds of Latino rock music as I hurtled through the Northeastern corner of Arizona into New Mexico, the safety of Phoenix far behind me.
The mundane scenery was beautiful in a wild sort of way; it made sense to me why people would be drawn the vastness of the desert, broken here and there by gargantuan plateaus. I wish he was here, I kept thinking. He’d love this. Why did he have to go to Chicago, dammit?!
In the distance, lightning flashed and dark clouds roiled. I clenched my teeth and told myself that it wasn’t an omen, that it was another storm to take delight in. But fear gripped my heart with unshakable claws, and coldness seeped through my blood until I was shaking again.
The radio station turned to static. I turned it off, reached behind the seat to where I knew Babydoll would be sulking, and buried my hand in her fur. I recited The Plan aloud once more, trying very hard to ignore the voice in my head screaming that it was all going to go sideways.
“Drive tonight. Find a hotel in Albuquerque. Drive tomorrow, through the night, get to Chicago. Find him. Plan from there.”
GALLUP, NM 129
ALBUQUERQUE, NM 267
I swore under my breath as I passed the sign. It was going to be a long night.
It was well past dark when my phone rang for the first time in several hours.
“Hey hon, where are you?” he asked when I picked up.
“I just passed through Gallup, New Mexico,” I told him.
He asked where I was planning to stay for the night and I told him. He asked how much money I had left and I told him.
There was a painfully long silence.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Don’t come out here, Mouse,” he said. I demanded to know why, and he said it was because he didn’t have enough money to move me from Chicago to Savannah, Georgia, our final destination.
“It could take weeks for us to actually get married and get the paperwork through the Army before we can get a house, and I don’t make enough money to put you in a hotel the whole time, and I absolutely will not have you and the cat staying in your car,” he explained. “It reaches over a hundred degrees out there every day still, and if that doesn’t hurt you, the humidity will.”
I was adamant about going to Chicago.
He was adamant that I turn around and drive to my parent’s house in Washington State.
We fought for the umpteenth time that week, arguing about communication, and why didn’t he tell me sooner, and what if there was a way around it, and so on.
WELCOME TO JESSUP, NEW MEXICO
“I’m passing through Jessup,” I told him. “It doesn’t look like there’s much here, but I can turn around and find a hotel in Gallup or something, and we can talk about this in the morning.”
As I turned around and got back on the highway, there was another silence that had me cringing.
At long last he said, “Now is probably a bad time to tell you I started smoking again.”
“Now is a really bad time to tell me,” I said through clenched teeth. I didn’t tell him about the impulses I had been fighting.
We argued about smoking, and hung up.
I called him when I found a hotel in Gallup; it was a cheap, scummy-looking place, but it was safer than camping out in my car.
No decision was made, but intuition continued screaming at me that, regardless of where I went, it wouldn’t end well.
I slept in a cold sweat that night.