September 25, 2001
“Do we really have to leave?”
I smiled at Grant’s question as I returned our suitcases to the car. “Though I’m sure we could stay here for a couple of weeks without getting bored, I’m afraid so,” I said. “We’ve still get a few more stops to make. And, although this would be a nice place to settle, we can’t stay here forever.”
Though Grant pouted, he climbed into the passenger seat, abandoning the sidewalk of the hotel.
To our luck, we got back before the hotels got too crowded the night before, allowing us to secure a good hotel room. Gifted with the luxuries of warm beds and a functioning shower, we both rested significantly better than the last time we settled in for bed, Grant getting to sleep in the next morning. I was just happy that I didn’t have more nightmares.
With roughly three hours between Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, we had a long drive ahead of us. Hopefully, this one wouldn’t be spoiled by petty bickering that suddenly turned personal.
I did my best to prevent this by switching off the unpredictability of the radio in favor of the CD I had in, Green Day’s most recent album.
As “Warning” played, a question popped into my head. Considering how effective my question ban had been as of late, I figured there was no harm in asking it.
“Do you know how to drive, Grant?”
Grant seemed to ponder this for a while before he responded. “Not in detail,” he said. “But I probably could if I had to.”
I nodded before allowing us to return to our silence, mulling his answer over as I went through the motions of navigating my way out of D.C. Despite my distrust of its mechanics and disdain for the risks that came along with it, driving practically came as second nature for me at that point. I knew exactly when and how to brake, switch gears, and steer gracefully. I imagined that Grant did, too, at some point. Of course, whenever it was that he lost his memory, this and plenty of other things flew out the window, blank like the rest of him.
Well, I thought to myself. I might have to do something about that.
We stopped for lunch at a fifties style diner in Edgewood, Maryland, where everything looked as if it came straight out of Grease. After the poodle-skirt donning waitress took our order, we sat, marveling at the actual jukebox in the restauraunt and discussing our travels the day before.
“So,” I said. “The Reflecting Pool was nice.”
“It was,” Grant agreed. Quieter, he added something. “And so were you.”
I laughed. “What?”
Though he looked a bit startled by my question at first, he made a quick recovery. “Nice,” he said. “You were really nice yesterday. Not that you’re really mean all the time or anything, but…” He paused, seeming to search for words. “It just… takes me aback sometimes, you know?” he continued. “Like, you can be really standoffish, and I don’t really blame you for that. This is kind of a trying situation, after all. But it sort of amazes me that you not only put up with me after that first day, but stepped up to take me on this trip like you did.” He met my eyes, smiling warmly. “You’re really kind, April. Whether you know it or not, you are.”
The feeling of affection from the day before returned, unfolding in my chest like a blooming flower. It surprised me that I’d feel it in that moment, causing me to question what, exactly, it was. I had assumed it to be sympathy when it hit me in front of the White House, remorse for how I had acted previously. What was there to make me feel sorry for him now, though, when we both seemed so happy, stuffed into the red vinyl booths of this cheery little diner while we listened to Elvis on a real jukebox?
Attempting to shake off the slew of questions pouring into my mind, I smiled at him. “Thank you, Grant,” I said. “That’s very nice of you to say.”
The waitress soon brought out our grilled cheeses, momentarily cutting off my thoughts.
I left the diner feeling much more anxious than when I entered it, trying not to focus too much on the fond feeling I felt as Grant laughed at something he heard someone say on the way out.
Whether I liked it or not, I was growing attached to Grant, and, quite frankly, I was terrified by it.
In my experience, attachment was only a one way ticket to the grief of bitter failure. I was not about to let my plans for this trip fail, so I had to nip these feelings in the bud as quickly as possible.
Listening to the sound of Grant’s laughter, however, I got the feeling that it might not be so simple.
Philadelphia’s welcome sign begs its guests to “enjoy our past, experience our future.”
Apparently, the future includes cheap hotel rooms with room service, because that’s exactly what greeted Grant and I when we escaped the crowded urban parts of the city for a more deserted area.
We somehow managed to fit into the cramped room, each of us getting a twin bed on opposite ends of the small space, though, considering the room’s size, that wasn’t saying much. Though there was hardly enough space for it, a computer sat on a desk in a corner.
We ordered a pizza from room service, eating it in near silence while watching some generic sitcom before Grant resigned himself to his all-too-small bed.
Though I was tempted to do the same, the insomniac within me told me that it wouldn’t be that easy. So I turned on the lamp by my twin bed and pulled my purse into my lap, retrieving my phone from beneath various receipts and candy wrappers.
As soon as I turned the phone on, it notified me of the remaining unopened message in my voice mailbox. Though I was tempted to go back and listen to Dory’s old message first, I decided to listen to it. I just hoped it wasn’t Zoe trying to offer some phony apology.
Upon opening my voicemail, however, I knew this wasn’t the case. The number that the message had come from was not saved in my contacts, which made me uneasy. Hundreds of horrible possibilities came to mind.
Maybe something happened to Mom or Dad. Maybe someone from school tracked me down. Maybe Angeline died in some freak French Polynesian accident and her body is stranded in Bora Bora.
I stopped, doing my best to halt the anxious runaway train of my thoughts. I ruled out the death of a family member first, telling myself that they would hopefully try to contact me more than once. I liked to think that they’d at least want me to show up at the funeral. Though I was less sure that no one had searched me in the phone book in hopes of seeing me at a high school reunion, I was pretty sure that the few people who would remember me were in jail or bumming around within the fish bowl of our old hometown, living in their mothers’ basements whilst occasionally pilfering drug money from her purse.
Most of my worries cleared, I opened the message.
Beginning with a beep, followed by someone clearing their throat, my anxiety only heightened when the caller began to speak.
“Hello, Miss Fielding,” began the formally-spoken young woman. “This is Clara with the landlord. I’m calling because we haven’t recieved your last rent payment. As of today, you have a week to send in adequate payment before we begin the process of eviction. We hope to hear from you soon. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.”
My heart pounded against my chest. With everything that I had experienced over the past nine days, rent was the last thing on my mind, let alone the possibility of my apartment going into forclosure. Now I only had a week to send my rent money back to Stoneview before they changed the locks on the door, kicking me out for good. Would it even have time to arrive before then?
Looking at the date of the voicemail, my panic worsened. September twenty-fifth. In a few hours, it would be the twenty seventh.
There was no way that any check I sent now would get to my landlord in time. No way in hell.
I tossed my phone to the side and buried my head in my hands. I let outt a quiet scream, cursing myself for becoming so invested in quitting smoking and doing my part to save the world that I neglected to pay my own rent. To make matters worse, I was now four states away, chasing the past with a stranger. Really, how much of a ******* was I?
In order to refrain from trying to throw myself off yet another balcony, I stood up, attempting to find a distraction from my personal pity party. The computer across the room caught my eye, its screen reflecting in the light of the lamp like a digital version of Pandora’s box.
Soon, I was sitting in the beat up desk chair, typing and scrolling fervently. Though I knew what I was about to do was probably extremely stupid, I also knew that my stupidity had just brought me past the point of no return. Why bother trying to save myself now?
At the very last minute, I put the money that should have gone towards my rent towards something that was considerably less important, but a hell of a lot more fun.
Making sure that I had cleared my billing information, I shut down the computer and retreated back to my bed. Apparently, all it takes to wipe an almost-insomniac out is losing their home.