A road trip sounds like a good thing. It sounds appropriate after graduation and before university, before the start of the rest of their lives. She tells Nate as much – they’re sitting on his bed, what’s new? – and a crease appears between his eyebrows. It’s that look he gets when he doesn’t think something is a good idea.
“We don’t have a car.”
“Sure we do. You can drive, and I’ve already asked Uncle Elliot.”
Nate harrumphs. Trust Sara to go straight to his dad. Elliot can’t deny Sara anything. She’s too charming to be turned down and he’s too old to be mean.
“We don’t have money.”
“Don’t bluff. You’ve been working and I’ve been saving up. Why do you think I’ve been carrying the same bag for two years?”
“You carried the same Barbie bag from ages five to eight.”
She sighs. The crease deepens.
He’s run out of excuses. Sara slips her arms around his shoulders and squeezes.
“I packed last week.”
It’s a hot afternoon when they bundle into the car. Three teenagers and a nearly-adult and about a dozen duffle bags. Sara had asked her friends along, all girls, and Nate curses inwardly. He realises (a little too late) that maybe he’s been asked along as the chaperone.
“Bye! Take care of yourselves!” Esther kisses them all, once on each cheek. Nate is the last, and she pulls him into a hug. “Try to have fun. And call me if anything happens, at any time of day. I probably won’t be sleeping, anyway,” she says quietly into his ear.
“Don’t worry, auntie. I will,” He claps her on the shoulder and turns to get into the driver’s seat.
As the pull away, Esther yells, “Don’t let Sara drive!”
Sara doesn’t tell him where they’re going. He assumes (hopes) Esther knows. She gives him directions as they go, her friends singing along to the radio and gossiping in the back seat. It’s still hot out but they roll the windows down, and Nate immediately regrets his wardrobe choice of tank top and flannel over shorts. He shrugs his shirt off and the girls whoop. Nate learns that you can’t put a crease in a crease.
Twenty minutes feels like two hours to Nate, and he’s more than happy to be left alone to transport the two billion bags from the car to the beach. The girls scream and run to the sea, splashing water on each other and shouting when the salt spray hits their eyes. Nate settles down in the shade of a palm tree and sighs as he once again wonders what his role is in this.
Sara comes up the shore and asks him to join, but he declines. He has his guitar and a book, he assures her, he’ll be fine. Day turns to night and soon the girls whine up next to him, salty and sweaty, and hungry. They walk down the road and buy bags of junk food.
They’ve built a campfire of sorts and Nate is strumming absentmindedly. It’s cold now, and the girls’ heads are lolling, long hair swaying with the wind. Sara’s head bumps against his shoulder.
Do you know where I can get me some momentum?
The strings cut his fingers and the salty air makes them sting, but the fire is warm and the sand is velvet underneath the blankets. The girls lay down, facing the sky, watching the stars.
I’ve been looking but there isn’t much to spare
How long has it been? Nate can see other fires in the distance. Other people out there. Sara mumbles something about what are we going to do and I have no idea what to do with my life. Nate hums in response. He doesn’t know what to say, if he should say something. He pulls two bottles of beer out of his bag and hands one to Sara.
I’ll be honest if you lend me your attention
As they drink, he plucks a melody and Sara perks up. It’s a song they heard on the radio a few weeks ago, on the way to her graduation. She sings softly at first, then loudly, her friends too deeply asleep to be roused. Thank god, Nate thinks. It’s too late to deal with these brats. Some teenagers from the neighbouring campfire tell her to shut up.
We can figure out the details when we’re closer
He doesn’t remember when they fall asleep.
They pack up the next morning, after Sara (annoyingly) wakes them all up to watch the sunrise. They have pancakes for breakfast on the way home, and Nate drops the girls off at their doorsteps.
Sara yawns as Nate backs the car into the parking lot. He switches the engine off and looks expectantly at her.
Nate calls Esther to tell her that her daughter is very safely on his couch.