Norms had never favored Kim.
The day a girl clocks sixteen, norm demands her to wake with a large grin smeared on her face, plait her hair in buns held by pink rubbers, paint her lips in blood-red lipstick, and don a large fuchsia sweater with Sweet Sixteen inscribed in block white fonts.
Not so for Kim.
Sixteenth year was the day she received her first slap from her father. Sixteenth year was the day she last saw her father. Receiving the five splayed fingers against the soft of her cheek had her thinking life was full of surprises. Terrible surprises.
At the moment, she was having the exact feelings awash her.
Colt leaned on the left door of the Four-Runner, chewing a finger, watching the full moon dance, muttering to himself, running his eyes over and above Kim’s face, nudging gravel with his foot. Everything but behold Jon.
Jon Osback slung thick leather straps of a bag over his shoulder, balanced two guns on his hand like it was an every midnight routine, and walked towards the car, done with easing himself, as he had said.
Jon had led them through thick woods, cutting off the heads of towering palm trees with a swing of the bow-knife lining his thigh, ran north as they headed away from the cabin filled with more slugs than concrete. They travelled for what Kim summed as half an hour, jogging, walking, doing stints of sprints. Jon seemed specially interested in her safety and wellbeing, arousing suspicion that he wasn’t here for what he claimed.
Truth was, Kim didn’t know what he claimed.
It was nearing two hours since the man with thick beards emerged from the dark shadows and he hadn’t exchanged two paragraphs of words with Colt.
And there were no signs of one coming in Kim’s wake.
Her eyelids felt like cotton dipped in methylated spirit. Like bread forgotten in a cup of tea. Like the head of an elephant. It was hard remembering the last time she’d passed the night awake.
“Colt.” Jon dragged the name for several seconds, like it was an exclamation and not a costume tag. Something that read like Colt, colt, colt all packed into one Colt.
Kim knew certain that they’d have moved if they were on colts, and not a four-door black vehicle in the middle of the night in a vast land while the moon continued its journey, clearing the path for the midnight seekers.
“Jon,” Colt said.
“There’s something I don’t get,” Colt said, incisors intent on his thumb. He’d done a laudable work with the four fingers on his left palm and was ready to bestow such honor on the fifth finger.
Kim moved two paces to her right, placing herself in the adjacent center of the two men, gaining direct views at their faces.
It was a good night for a full moon.
“What is?” Jon asked again.
“I mean. When last did we see? Three years. Three blissful years. And you pop up one night.” At the time Colt said pop, Kim imagined a small can filled to the brim with circular candies. Pulling the lever aside caused a push from the inside particles, resulting in colored candies filling the air.
Colt looked away from his finger. “Why are you here?”
“To help you, kiddo.”
“Well then. Thanks for your help. Can we leave now?”
“Yeah,” Jon answered, going for the door by the driver’s seat. “Let’s open the doors and we –”
“I meant Kim and I,” Colt said.
Kim and I? Wasn’t it Kim and me?
Jon stopped midway from plucking the key into the keyhole. “Oh.”
Colt gave a curt smile as if to say Oh…
Jon turned and resumed his vacated position in three strides. “I don’t think that works.”
Colt stared long at his fingers, his teeth clenched behind his tongue, considering if he had to chop off the thumb for its resistance or chop off Jon’s thumb for his …
Kim didn’t know. Maybe it was fragments of her imagination. She didn’t know certain if Colt was uncomfortable with Jon’s presence. Funny the rapid occurrence of events.
Twelve hours back, she was making mental plans for a Chinese dinner. Ten hours, she was winding past racing cars as they crossed the interstate. Six hours, she was in a steakhouse, taking a gulp at the wine with slight alcohol, thinking she was likely beautiful. Four hours back, they were escaping the trail of Mason, rolling down sandy paths as they fumbled for the barn.
She’d had the dream then. The odd dream.
“What do you say, Colt?”
“What do you expect? Hop in and ride along with Jon Osback?”
“It’d be just like old times,” Jon said, unnerved by Colt’s sharp tone.
“Old times. Can’t we just close that episode?”
“It’s your ballgame,” Jon replied, much to his delight. “Time on my watch says 0215 hrs. I suggest we be clear of this environment, find a downtown motel to pass the wee hours, and resume the journey when we’ve all had something to throw down.”
Jon considered the question for several seconds passing with his eyes leveling on Kim. The night wasn’t so bright for her to register the depth of the colors – a blend of blue and brown that was like a bright Calloway morning sky clashing with…
A faint rumble dislodged her track of thoughts.
A gust of wind whipped the heads of grasses to the left, then to the right.
A slight whistle cut through the taut silence. Colt.
A harrumph, the sound of a draw from the down of a barrel, marked the end of the whistle. Jon Osback.
“Anybody hear that?”
The full yellow hue seated in the skies vanished for an instant, replaced by white tracks that were traces of jet smoke trailing a plane.
But this was no plane.
This was no jet smoke.
This was thunder. Thunder in the middle of the night, in a vast field with trimmed grasses – soft blades that had warmed the soft on her skin when Kim collapsed earlier onto the grass.
“We really need to move,” Jon said.
“Where to?” Colt said, his concern evaporated. Colt was natural at switching moods with as much ease as a chameleon changes costume.
“What’s with the ‘where to’, Colt?”
Colt turned at looked at her. Kim hadn’t addressed him with such a tone in an hour. She hadn’t addressed him at all.
Colt pulled her close. His pupils were set in the corners of the eye socket. “He’s not what he’s painting himself as,” Colt said, eyes above Kim’s packed blonde hair. Kim wanted to look when he snapped, voice at a whisper, “don’t turn.”
“Poisoning the girl’s heart?” Jon asked.
“You don’t trust him?”
“I barely trust myself,” Colt said, then likely watched her pale. “If this guy is the same Jon Osback I worked with four years back, he’s no good news.”
“What exactly went down then?”
The rumble boomed again, lasting a few seconds more than its predecessor.
“Story for another day,” Colt said. “What I’m saying is, we go with him just till he gets us safely into another state.”
“But, shouldn’t we –”
“I decide here.”
Kim felt a clog holding her next breath. “You’re hurting me.”
“My arm.” His gaze released his grasp.
“Sorry. I guess I’m just tensed.”
A splash fell on her exposed arm. At the same moment, Colt brushed a drop of water aside from his cheek. Jon was running for the driver’s seat, flinging the door wide, making a leap, and jamming the door close.
“We have to go, Colt.”
Colt’s face went icy.
“Oh, yes.” He started for the car, then stopped, reached for her, kissed the spot his fingers had marked on her arm, and pulled her. They ran together to the car.
Colt opted to seat at the back and ensured she did too.
A crash of rain settled into the plains.
Colt leaned into her until his breath matted her hair. “Remember what I said earlier about the past. It doesn’t just go.”
Kim waited for more.
Jon was observing through the rear mirror. He gave a large grin and, just as the rain slammed as an avalanche against the windshield, said, “Fasten your belts, fellas. It’s going to be along ride.”
Afterword: Summing the number of words that has gone into this story, it’s over 10,000. Am I surprised? Very. There’s even no outline. I’m just writing. And I’m just enjoying it. Thanks for reading. Share with others please.