“Have you started packing?”
“I found my gloves!”
“You don’t need gloves.”
“Well, they’re good to have.”
It’s 8:53 AM and way too early for Ben’s shit. Sara looks over at her neatly packed suitcase, glossy pink with white polka dots and four grey wheels at the base. It’s covered with stickers of illustrated Disney characters and maps and landscapes. She used to carry a duffel bag until her friends pooled together money to get her a proper luggage for her birthday the week before.
Ben’s room, however, is a mess. There’s underwear by Sara’s crossed legs where she’s sitting underneath the window, t-shirts under the desk, shorts and pants next to the door, and a pile of stuff beneath the bed. The boy himself is rummaging through the hallway cabinet for toiletries. “You have soap, right? Will we even need soap? The hotel should have some! So I don’t need to pack any,” he rationalises as he steps back into the room. Sara’s absentmindedly started folding anything she can get her hands on, and now his underwear sits in a neat stack on his bed.
“Hey, thanks,” Ben says as he takes the underwear and tucks it into his canvas bag, inadvertently messing it all up. Sara huffs and blows a lock of hair away from her face. “Are you anywhere near done? My dad’s reaching soon and you know he hates waiting.”
“Yeah, I just gotta get everything in this bag and we can go.”
‘Getting everything into the bag’ ended up taking twenty-five minutes, Ben squeezing every single pair of his bermuda shorts in next to his ragged tees and pushing them aside to make room for his shoes. Sara is equal parts disgusted and impressed.
They haul ass downstairs as the car pulls into the driveway. “Nice timing!” Sara shouts as she lifts her hand for a high-five. Ben slaps it before bounding out the door and loading the trunk. Their ride’s a small red two-year-old van, with three front seats and three in the back. They figured they could take turns driving while the other rested. Sara just got her license last week, which means technically she should still be driving supervised, but how much trouble could they get into on a stretch of open road?
Ben’s left hand is in Sara’s chocolate brown locks again, combing through and twisting between his fingers. Her slightly-sweaty hands grip the smooth leather steering wheel tightly. The air-conditioning is on full-blast, because Ben is the kind of person who eternally feels like he’s in a sauna. Sara is in a jacket with the hood up, sleeves pulled over her fingers, because she’s the kind of person who is constantly freezing. They travel in silence, the radio filling the cab and Ben occasionally singing (screaming) along.
They have their first argument two hours in, Ben whines that they should have stopped a kilometre back for the loo. Sara turns the air conditioning off in frustration, and it turns into a screaming match, sweat pouring down their faces and the heat making everything worse. They yell themselves exhausted. Sara, in her white tank top and cutoff shorts, glares out at the road. Ben, in his grey muscle tee and brown Bermuda shorts, fumes in equal silence. Ben turns the radio off. “Pull over.”
Sara turns the keys over in her hands. She digs her sandals into the dirt by the side of the road, and Ben feels bad. “I’m sorry. Look, let’s just get to the next rest stop ASAP, and I’ll take over the driving from there. It’s only-” he consults the map, “-about a twenty minute drive from here.”
She nods, eyes unreadable, and climbs back into the driver’s seat. The next thirty minutes are quiet, only broken by Ben’s occasional rustling of the map and mumbled directions. He wonders if he’s really done it this time.
They arrive at the rest stop – Oasis. There’s a girl working the till, and she looks them over with disinterested eyes before going back to flipping the pages of a gossip magazine. A TV drones in the corner, a steady stream of news bulletins and infomercials occasionally interrupted by static. The aisles are stocked with tins of food and packets of chips. The fridges held some water, some ice cream, and a whole lot of alcohol. A small standee with a small screen hawks some odds and ends, a bunch of oddly-coloured striped towels and a stack of navy-and-white collapsible cooler boxes. Sara picks one up, turning it in her hand as she watched the man on the small screen talk. “Let me tell you, Lucy, these boxes are incredible. They hold up to ten bottles, twenty if we’re talking cans. They’re leakproof, they’re light, and they’re durable. Say goodbye to messy picnics and warm sodas in the car! Get one of these Magic Cool Boxes now for just $7.99 and enjoy…”
They forgot to bring water bottles, so Sara grabs three from the chiller, tucking them under her arm with the Magic Cool Box. She takes some Bailey’s for herself and Jack Daniel’s for Ben, too, for tonight or some other time. A box of Panadol. Two boxes of tissues. A red-and-blue checkered scarf.
Ben looks at her over the aisle racks. Her brown hair is messy and frizzy, no doubt a result of car naps and his restless hands constantly ruffling it. A memory pops into his mind, unbidden, of four-year-old Sara in his family’s living room, surrounded by Legos. She has a blue ribbon holding her bangs out of her hair, and she’s wearing blue pyjamas dotted with elephants. He chuckles under his breath and Sara looks up. Her eyes narrow when she sees him, and an eyebrow lifts. He just shakes his head. Some things are better left in the past.