I feel something heavy laying over me. I’m still asleep, barely, but enough that I can’t tell what is on top of me until I hear the loud snoring. Rory.
My eyes open sleepily to find him (currently a slightly blurry blob) splayed out on his stomach over my torso, trapping my arms at my sides. His hat is tilted back far enough that it might fall off of his head, and, as expected, his mouth is open and he’s drooling on my sleeping bag.
I turn and look at Avril sitting next to me, who is drawing something in her sketchbook and looking way too tired. A faint drumming sound fills the tent from outside, and she looks up. “Rain.”
Rory suddenly stirs awake with a snort and wipes the drool off his face. “Iss raineen?” He says through a yawn. He moves enough that I can free my arms. I reach behind me and grab my glasses out of my bag.
“Yep. Good thing we decided to buy the tent with the rain shield,” Avril replies, closing and putting down her sketchbook and then grabbing her phone from out of her shiny bag. She tucks her hair behind her ears, and starts typing something.
I sit up and push my glasses up against my face. “We still need to figure out the next clue.” I mention, listening to the faint vibrations of her phone's keyboard and moving my legs as much as I can to try and get the still very sleepy Rory off of me. He takes the hint after a few seconds, and then rolls onto his back.
I pull my legs in towards me and cross them, making sure I don't accidentally kick him in the process seeing as he has now fallen right back asleep.
“Trying to right now.” Avril looks up at me for a moment and then back down at her phone. “Since it blatantly states which state it's in, that narrows it down some.” She scrolls through something and then clicks. “Could this maybe be it?”
She holds out her phone to me and I lean forward. On the screen is a top ten article with a picture of a lighthouse on an island. I read the caption of the picture: “Cana Island lighthouse. Door County, Wisconsin. This lighthouse overlooks the beautiful lake Michigan, and the 100 steps up to the top take you high enough to see seventeen nautical miles.” I look at Avril. “That's pretty spot on, if you ask me.”
“Should we try it, then?”
“I'm in if you're in.”
Another snort. “Are we leaving?” Rory says, sleepily dragging out the word 'leaving’ for a couple seconds.
“Planning on it.” I say, looking at his messy hair that is sticking out in every possible direction.
Rory sits up, rubs his eyes, yawns for a second time, and stretches his arms over his head. “M'kay, I'm up now.”
Avril snickers and puts her phone back in her bag. “We should probably head off soon, I just checked the site and we're now in fourth with three. ” She says, slinging the bag over her shoulder and grabbing the lantern by the tent entrance.
“Fourth?” I ask.
“Yup. But we can do this. I believe in us.” With her free hand, she unzips the tent door and some drops of water plop in and onto our stuff. She tries to stand up inside but has to bend over. “Wish me luck,” she says, and then she darts into the warm, April rain with an excited shout.
“So we're going to Wisconsin?” Rory asks, scooting over to me while I roll up my sleeping bag.
“Come on guys! This is beautiful!” Avril cheers as she pops the trunk.
“Guess so.” I reply when she finishes, proceeding to give up and just stuff it in its bag however I can. “You have everything, Rory?”
“Yup.” He pats his black bag with his hand. “All right here in this bad boy.”
“Let's hope that bad boy doesn't mind possibly getting rained on for a few minutes while we dismantle this tent.”
Rory hugs the bag to his chest protectively. “I'm not sure this bad boy could handle that.”
The rain subsides and gives way to the blue sky as Rory pulls all three of our wet selves into a gas station somewhere in Minnesota. I've never been to Minnesota or Wisconsin, so today is going to be a first for both. Avril and I get out of the car while Rory, in his considerably damp clothes, tries to unscrew the lid of the gas tank. When we get inside, she grabs some bottles of water and a few snacks while I get batteries for our GPS (just in case).
I eye some of the disposable cameras sitting on a shelf in the aisle and grab two of them. I don't know what is so fun and endearing to me about weird old cameras and stuff like that. Maybe it's the fact that it's some old-school technology that has become archaic in today's world and it takes nostalgics back to a simpler time, or maybe it's just entertaining to me to own and use something that hardly anyone does. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to spend a little money on memories.
“Come on, slowpoke. We’ve got to get going!” Avril shouts from the entrance as she opens the door, the magnetic doorbell chiming over her head. I must really lose myself in these dingey roadside gas stations. I hurry to the cashier, who seems more than happy to scan my stuff and get me and my soaking hair and clothes out of his precious store as fast as he possibly can so he can return to messing around on his phone.
I join Avril in the backseat, since the passenger seat is packed with our bags and the rest of our food. The camping stuff occupies almost the entire trunk and the middle seat, where two, messily rolled sleeping bags separate either side. She is drinking a glass bottle of Fanta and listening to music on her IPod. I peek over to see what song she's listening to, but she has her screen brightness turned all the way down. Maybe she isn't listening at all.
“Alright, guys,” Rory says when we all get situated, “we’ve got only like— 250 miles to go?!” He throws his head back against the seat and groans. “Everything is so far apart!”
“Yeah.” I agree. “After this thing is over, I don’t want to ride in another car for a month!” I shift in my seat, already feeling my legs falling asleep. Avril pulls her earbuds out of her ears, rolls them up around her fingers, and then stuffs her IPod into her bag.
Rory starts up the car and then scans through radio channels. He stops on a rather energetic morning talk-show with a perky host talking about people in the news who got arrested for the most hilarious reasons. One of them is someone who dressed up as Ronald McDonald, drove a hotdog car into a Chick-Fil-A, hopped out of the car, got up on the counter, shouted “Let’s get this bread!”, and then proceeded to do every Fortnite dance in existence while blowing an air horn and screaming. An audio recording plays over the speakers and the three of us cringe and laugh at the same time.
When the sound of the air horn is eventually replaced with the host’s voice, Rory switches the station to something about classic rock, “Sorry, guys. Need to concentrate so I don't kill us like that thing almost did,” He states, wiping a stray tear from his eye.
“Understandable.” Avril downs the last bit of Fanta in her bottle and then unwraps a frosted honey bun and bites big piece out of it. Rory pulls out of the parking lot and we head off down the road. And of course my legs already feel like the physical equivalent of TV snow.
“Do we have any more drinks?” I ask. “I’m suddenly super thirsty.”
“Yeah, we have some juice boxes or something in the back, I think.” Avril says nonchalantly and gestures to the trunk of the car.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and turn around to shuffle through the few plastic bags of food we have left from our grocery store run on day two. Man, do three teenagers eat like mad. I find a six pack of apple juice boxes almost crushed by the tent bag, the ones with the little face made of apple slices on them, and I rip it open. I take a bendy straw out of its wrapper and poke it through the foil circle on the top of one of the boxes.
I gaze out the window at the fields and occasional patch of trees, thinking of something that I can’t quite put my finger on. It's like, a feeling, or something. It just rose up in the pit of my stomach all of a sudden and is filling me with a sense of dread… or maybe it’s worry? I’m not exactly sure, but it’s making this juice taste bitter, whatever it is.
I look at Rory up in the driver's seat. Is it him? I think. Did he understand what I said last night? It tried to be as blunt as I could, but I’m still keeping part of it from him. He’s strong, but I know he just wouldn’t be able to handle it. If he did understand, is he afraid for me? Angry? Is this just going to be a big cycle of fury and fear until we both end up spilling every coherent thought we have in our heads to try and make each other happy? I really hope it doesn’t come to that.
I glance over at Avril. Maybe it’s her. She seemed pretty serious talking about that one girl Dayna last night and how she was super bad news. Maybe Dayna is… no, the odds of that are way too high. Maybe it’s just me.I Itake another sip of juice and put my head in my hand. I look out the window and see the blue sky dotted with rows of fluffy little clouds. Yeah it’s probably me.
We drive through a tunnel formed from the canopy of the trees dotting either side of the road. The midday darkness distorts everything around us with a hint of green light. I peer into the thick woods that our home state is practically devoid of and spot a small group of deer grazing on tall grass.
“About an hour left till we get there.” Rory says, tapping aimlessly on the screen of the navigation system, trying to do god knows what with it. “Hope you're right, Avril.”
“I hope so too. Like, we can't risk wasting time driving around to places and doing stuff and finding out they're not the right ones. Y'know?” She pulls her almost-dry turquoise hair back into a tight ponytail again, but this time at the nape of her neck, which pulls her face down and back, making her look kind of sad.
“Never seen a lighthouse either.” I add, but I'm not sure if anyone cares. “Probably pretty cool, seeing all the way out across the lake. Which lake is it again?”
Rory slows down a bit and, his eyes flicking back and forth from the screen to the road, zooms in just enough so that we can see the name of the lake over the blue shape representing it. “Michigan.” He zooms back out far enough to see the little arrow that is supposed to represent where we're at.
A sudden, sharp buzzing breaks the relative silence in the car. I recognize it as my ringtone, and I scramble to grab my phone out of my pocket. I take one look at the screen and sort of half-gasp, half-groan. “It's my mom.”
Rory quickly glances back at me with a look of either worry or some other emotion that I can't think of a word for on his face, but it seems like he wants to burst out with nervous laughter. When he turns his eyes back to the road ahead, Avril looks over at me. “Wait, your parents do know you're doing this thing, right?”
I wave her off. “They think I'm camping.” It's no big deal, honestly, but my stomach is churning wildly as I click the green phone icon on my screen and put it to my ear. “Mom?”
“Hi, honey!” My mom says, her loud, cheerful voice blasting into my brain like a huge bullet. “Wow, you must get really good reception wherever you're at!”
“Mom, tone it down! I've already got enough problems and I don't want hearing loss to be one of them” I hiss as I take the phone away from my ear and put it on speaker. I put my finger to my lips to signal to everyone else to be quiet.
“Oh, sorry, honeybunch.” She says in a mushy, gross, mom voice. “Are you having a good time? Have you gone fishing? Hiking? How's Rory doing? Have you taken your meds?”
At the word 'meds’ I glance up at Rory, who has stopped us at the side of the road. He is looking back at me, and I know exactly what he's going to do. I wave my hands and mouth the word 'DON’T’ to try and get him to stop, but the second that he smirks his signature Rory smirk, I know my attempts are nothing but futile. “Hey, Samantha!” He says in an attempt at a cutesy voice. I put my face in my hands. Here we go.
“Hi, Rory! How are you?” My mom nearly squeals like an excited pig when she hears him. I look at Avril next to me, and her face is bright red with suppressed laughter.
“Doing good! How are you?”
“Fine, just fine. Has Oliver taken his meds yet? Y'know he never likes to talk to me about that stuff. He says it's awkward and makes him look like a 'undignified pansy baby’.” If we had a big enough floor in here, Avril would be rolling on it. I can feel my face getting hot as my mom continues her little monologue about my meds. I just hope—
“Now, what meds were those again, Samantha?” Rory stares me straight in the face with a sly grin. HE DID NOT. HE. DID. FREAKING. NOT.
“Oh, you know, the ones for his chronic Enuresis, among other thi—”
“MOM!” My voice cracks as I shout at her. Rory quietly snickers and goes back to concentrating on the road.
Avril, just as my mom goes into her long, draw out speech about how she misses me, can't help it anymore, and she loudly bursts out laughing. I so badly want to throw my phone out of the window right now and end this whole conversation.
“Who is that, Oliver? Is that Rory laughing?” My mom switches topics faster than a train switches tracks.
Avril grabs my phone off the seat and holds it up by her face. “Hi, Mrs. Tretz.” She wipes a tear from her eye and sighs. “I'm Avril, one of Oliver's... friends from school.”
“Avril...John Kalici’s daughter?”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that, honey.”
“It’s fine, ma’am. And I have to say, I wholeheartedly appreciate how much effort you put into making sure your son is,” She looks over at me and nearly laughs, “nice and healthy.” She squeaks out the last few words as she tries not to crack up.
“Oh, thank you, dear. You know, Ollie has always been embarrassed by this and has never wanted to have sleepovers with anyone except Rory because he was afraid he would forget and have an acci—”
I grab the phone from Avril and shout right into the mouthpiece. “OKAY, MOM, THAT'S ENOUGH, THANKS FOR CALLING, YES, I'VE TAKEN ALL MY STUFF, I LOVE YOU, BYE.” I end the call before she can say anything more, stuff my phone back in my pocket, and sink down in my seat with a groan. I press the heels of my hands into my eyes, which in turn pushes my glasses up.
Rory starts driving again, a little faster than before, and I sit in embarrassed silence for what feels like an entire week.