Beautiful Distraction(7)

By: J.C. Reed


There, she just said the word.

Oh, my frigging God.

The wind howls louder, the trees whip back and forth in a wild frenzy, and the car trembles with the force coming sideways. Mandy tries not to show it, but I can see the whites on her knuckles as she holds on tightly to the wheel, forcing the car to stay on course.

I try to calm my thumping heart, but it’s hard. Hurricanes are unpredictable. Mandy might even be right about the last part, but I don’t want to be outside, in the middle of frigging nowhere, to find out. I sigh and slump into the passenger seat, keeping my eyes focused on the road ahead, praying we’ll reach our destination soon—a hotel near Madison Creek.

The tickets couldn’t have come at a more fortunate time. Mandy had been a fan for ages. She had also been talking about looking forward to a last adventure together. With my career as a journalist really taking off, Mandy figured we might as well see more of the world before we end up stuck behind a desk in an air-conditioned office in stuffy New York City. Not that I don’t like NYC; I’ve lived there my whole life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world. But lately, it’s been oppressing…filled with people and memories I want to push into the proverbial filing cabinet deep inside my brain.

That was the only reason why I agreed to trudge along.

“This kind of wind rarely lasts more than an hour,” Mandy says, resuming the conversation.

“I hope so,” I mutter and close my eyes, slumping deeper into my seat. “So, where are we exactly?” I ask for the umpteenth time.

“It’s a road trip, Ava. The beauty of it is that you don’t know where you are,” she says dryly, leaving the rest open to interpretation.

I watch her in thought.

Her lips are pressed together, and her grip on the steering wheel has tightened.

“Basically, you have no idea where we are,” I say matter-of-factly.

She shrugs. “You’re wrong.”

“I’m so not wrong.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she hasn’t thought about a stopover to get dinner either.

I should have known better than to leave the planning details to her. Now, with thick rainclouds roiling and twisting over our heads, and the wind picking up in speed, I can only hope the satnav will guide us safely to the nearest town.

I groan audibly to communicate my displeasure. “You said you were taking a shortcut, but this shortcut is taking longer than the estimated time to arrival. How do you explain that?”

“Fine. If you must know.” Mandy shoots me a disapproving look. “We sort of got a bit off track, but don’t worry, we’ll get there eventually.”

I sit up, suddenly alert. “What do you mean by ‘off track’?”

Warily, I peer at the satnav, which is a palm-sized black device attached to the windshield, its screen turned to Mandy. Given that neither I nor Mandy are particularly adept at reading road maps, the whole purpose of buying the thing was to get us from A to B without the need for a map. I realize it’s been at least two hours since we last stopped at a petrol station. It’s been even more than that since we last drove past a city.

With a strong sense of foreboding in the pit of my stomach, I turn the screen toward me and realize in horror that all it shows is a country road surrounded by a huge patch of green and a message stating ‘no service available at this time.’ There’s no street name, no information on the nearest highway, no sign of a petrol station or motel. Wherever we are, it’s not on the freaking map.

Shit!

We probably left civilization behind a few hours ago.

“We’re off the grid,” I say, mortified, as I stare at the screen. “Mandy!”

“It’s not a big deal.” She shrugs again.

“How can you say it’s not a big deal? We’re lost.”

“We’re not lost,” Mandy protests feebly. We’ve been friends for ages, which is why I know she’s lying. She catches my glance. “As soon as the storm calms down, the satnav will start working again. I’m pretty sure we’re headed in the right direction anyway.”

“How do you know?”

“Call it my gut feeling.”

“Is this the same gut feeling that almost got me expelled from school after you suggested we paint the walls red as a means of protest against the lousy food?”

Mandy remains quiet, so I ask the most obvious question in a voice that can barely contain my anger, “How did this happen?”

“I took a shortcut.” Her words come so low I’m not sure it wasn’t just the howling wind gathering around the car that spoke to me.