Interstate 95 is a large multi-laned highway with few insecurities. It is, to be fair, a massive road by any measure and has nothing about which to be ashamed. It runs from Florida to Maine traversing all the states along the eastern seaboard, even Delaware, which is mostly just a strip of land with a tollbooth on it. The highway overpasses many roads in its journey north and south with one such occasion occurring in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Beneath this very overpass, a small collection of tents gathered. They were neither color coordinated, all of one style, or well-maintained, so the chance of this being the type of place with an overbearing neighborhood association was slim. Some things transcend socioeconomics, though, such as the ability of a teenager to be annoying.
“You're serious?” she asked in a way that made clear that if he was serious, he better not be serious, because seriously that would be some messed up shit he was going to regret saying.
“I . . .” Maurice started, but immediately reconsidered and went with, “we don't have any choice.”
“I would have let that cop haul you off for being an old pervert, if I'd known this was going to be your solution for the night,” the girl threatened, but tempered her words with a slight smile.
“Well, unfortunately for you you're only my daughter, not some high-priced hooker, so tonight we are sleeping out under the stars.”
“Next to a highway,” she added.
“Next to a highway,” he agreed, because really there was no denying its existence.
“And there aren't any stars,” she further added in that way that teenage girls add things that are intended to be annoying to adults.
“Behind the clouds, there are stars. I'm almost positive.”
“Inside the clouds, there's rain. We're likely to see that before we see any stars.” There was seemingly no end to her ability to annoy this evening, but she started unpacking enough things—mostly clean sweatshirts, sleeping bags, a canister of pepper spray, and a bunch of plastic bags in case she was right about the rain—to get them through the night.
Maybe tomorrow they'd find a bed. Hell, maybe even two. That would be something. Then a school. Kayla shook her head hard to clear such thoughts. Tomorrow they would stick their thumbs out for a ride to Washington, DC and the day would be a raging success if someone actually stopped. Anything beyond that was pointless thinking. She wasn't optimistic. The only thing worse than a homeless person asking for money, was a homeless person asking for a favor.
“You look like crap,” she admonished with a smile and just the slightest hint of seriousness to convey that while she loved him and recognized that they were is a bad situation where hygiene was a constant challenge, it was important that he get his act together sufficiently that someone with a decent heart and a bit of guilt might stop and pick them up off the side of the road, or they were going to be walking the hundred miles from Richmond to Washington. There is no boundary to the complexity of the feminine teenage mind.
Maurice looked down at himself and couldn’t argue with the harsh assessment. He was a mess. The blue and gray flannel shirt that had once been clean and pressed, was no longer either and a button was missing allowing a ridge of belly fat he didn’t used to have the chance to peek out and announce itself like an awkward uncle at Thanksgiving.
Probably Uncle Eddie, he thought. Eddie would be belly fat in another life. And, he was, of course correct. Eddie was just like that.
Aside from the extra pounds and the dirty shirt, Maurice thought he was holding up okay. His work boots were still in good shape and the jeans he wore were meant to go multiple days without washing. He was pretty sure that was true. He did wish he had a decent razor for his head, which was sporting a receding hairline that looked badass when shaved, but at the moment looked middle school substitute teacher.
Maurice stroked his four-day growth of whiskers and wondered how much dust had accumulated in his beard. “I promise to clean-up in the morning. We'll stop by the Salvation Army for a quick outfit. I'll be plenty respectable for a homeless hitchhiker,” he replied, missing all the subtlety of Kayla’s message, but nailing the thesis.
She placed her sleeping bag on the hard ground while kicking a lump of something better left unexplored down the hill toward the road. Any impartial observer would conclude that she was holding up much better than Maurice. She’d grabbed more clothes than he had from the piles scattered on the sidewalk in front of their former home and she cared for them much better than he did. A teenage girl was also a lot more welcome to use store restrooms than “dangerous looking” black men even though most of the stores claimed to have lots of friends who were black. It didn’t hurt that Kayla looked a lot cleaner than her dad, with her mostly dirt-free shoulder length hair in tight cornrows and t-shirts and jeans that she insisted on washing every couple of days.
“You sure that storm is staying south of here?” she asked.
“I told you what the weather guy said. Hurricane Carl gonna hit those islands off of North Carolina just a little bit and then head back out to sea. No big deal. Might get a sprinkle up this way, but nothing more.” He laid his bag a short distance away trying to give her the impression of some privacy where none really existed. “They may be wrong half of the time, but they're pretty good with these big storms, you know. We'll be fine.”
Sadly, Maurice was mistaken, correct, and mistaken. In fact, weather predictions, as they pertain to rain the next day, are about 82% accurate. Hurricane intensity and track within 48 hours is very good. Really, despite the jokes and ubiquitous water cooler hindsight, weather prediction and analysis has come a long way. Thanks to ever-increasing satellite coverage and computing power, not to mention the myriad of sensors, ships, planes and direct observations that are generating petabytes (aka a shitload) of data, complex algorithms can now spit out frighteningly accurate assessments of what is going to happen in the next ten days over any town and city in the world. And if you think that was way more information than strictly necessary to move the narrative forward, you’d be wrong. Despite these advances in technology and prognostication, Maurice and Kayla are not fine. Of course, were you to ask them, they’d readily admit things had not been fine for a couple months now.
The basics of their situation were thus. Maurice lost his job. Maurice did not have any money saved. Maurice lost his house. Maurice’s wife fell in love with someone else who did not do any of those things. Kayla felt sorry for poor pathetic Maurice and stayed with him out of pity. At least those are the basics from Destiny’s perspective in her role as Maurice’s ex-wife who has to still live in the town they grew up in and see their friends all the time and deal with Brianna giving her that look, you know the one that’s so damn arrogant and pretentious like her life is anything special with those two brats and Davon ain’t no football player no more. So, you can see Destiny’s got some strong points, and Maurice and Kayla, well, they got away from Destiny. We’ll call it even for now.
One might think that sleeping under several tons of concrete poured decades ago, rarely maintained, and driven on by more than 10,000 cars a day would be anxiety-inducing, but what was keeping Kayla awake at 2:00am was a small, but determined drip of motor oil-infused water that was landing two feet from her head in a metronomic consistency that was quietly, but quickly driving her insane. She tried wrapping the arms of a sweatshirt she was using as a pillow around her head to muffle the noise, but the cloth was no match for the steady drum beat of water molecules slowly growing into a full-on puddle.
“What?” Maurice was instantly awake, all too aware of the many dangers facing them out in the open in a strange city.
“That rain you promised was not going to happen is slowing melting my brain by dripping next to my head. I'm going to move.” She started to sit up when her father's voice stopped her.
“Damn!” he called out.
“It's not that big a deal. I'll just move,” she replied. What did he think she was a total baby or something?
“No, honey. I think if you look around a little more closely, you'll see that I am literally a dam and you are going to be swept away by this giant puddle, if I move. So, maybe you could hustle your butt try to save a few of the things we call possessions.”
As sleep fell away and the impact of poorly timed dad humor wore off, she saw that her father was in fact holding back a fairly significant wall of water that was building up against his sleeping bag and draining around each edge, reconnecting into a burgeoning creek just beyond where she was laying. When she looked to each side of the overpass, she saw torrents of water pouring from the sky.
“Oh my God!” she cried staring at the deluge.
“Kayla, seriously! Move your ass!” A well-timed crack of thunder punctuated Maurice's plea. The screenplay almost writes itself.
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