Chapter Four

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“Where are we going?”

“Away.”  Far, far away.

“In which direction?”

“It doesn’t matter.  Just drive.”

 

* * *

Chapter 4

“I don’t think you’re going in the right direction.”  I wasn’t Sacajawea, but I was pretty sure we had taken a wrong turn three miles back.  After all, when you were trying to get somewhere you followed the signs clearly designated for the proposed destination.  The reflective metal was there for that very reason.

“What are you talking about?  The GPS says to take this road for another sixty miles.”

“Yeah.  But the map…” and the signs, and my memory…

Map?” Will sneered.  “Honey, there are reasons why advances in technology make other, more primitive navigational methods obsolete.  I downloaded the most recent maps before we left.  We are definitely going in the right direction.  Where did you even find that thing?”

“I bought it at the store in Lexington.”  An atlas was a logical, vital purchase for any road trip.  My father would be proud of my preparedness.

“That thing was a waste of however much you spent.”

“Call me old fashioned, but I don’t entirely trust a magical space voice that just happens to know where we are, where we want to go, and when we’re going to get there.”

He didn’t need to look my way for me to know that he was rolling his eyes.  “It works on satellites, Evelyn.  When was it printed?”

“When was what printed?”

Will huffed a frustrated breath before explaining.  “Look at the date on the back of your atlas.  When was it printed?”

I turned over the booklet and searched for the information he had requested.  “It was printed three years ago.”

“Three years,” he mimicked with a condescending chuckle.  “The maps I downloaded—for free—are updated daily.”

How often those maps updated and how much they cost were completely irrelevant.  “I don’t care what your space calculator says.  We are going the wrong way.”

“We are already on this road, and I’m not turning around,” Will said solidly, allowing no room for negotiation. It was a tribute to my patience that I remained silent for another five miles before erupting.

“You’re wrong, and we need to turn around before you put us even more off track.”

“Evelyn…” he warned, preparing to obstinately defend his actions.

“Of the two of us, who has already been to Nashville?”

My boyfriend let out an exasperated sigh before reluctantly answering.  “You.”

I nodded.  “Exactly.”

Before he could register what I was doing, I popped the suction cup connecting the Garmin to the windshield and started scrolling through the menu.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he shouted, attempting to grab the screen from my hands.

I shifted to the right to keep the device just out of his reach.  “Quit it, Will!  Pay attention to the road!”

“You are so ignorant sometimes.”

I ignored the jibe because I found the settings I had been looking for.  When I returned the GPS to its holder I couldn’t help but laugh victoriously as the electronic voice commanded him to, “Make a U-turn.”

“What did you do to it?” he snapped, refusing to listen to our electronic navigator.  She recalculated each time he passed another intersection.

“And you call me ignorant.  I fixed it.  You’re welcome, by the way,” I said snidely.

Fixed it?” he screeched.  “Now I’m going to have to pull into a rest stop to see what you did to it.  That’s going to take away from time on the road.  I hope you’re happy.”

“I thought you said we had time for excursions, a lenient timeline,” I reminded him.

“We do but not because you are trying to sabotage my Garmin.  It was working just fine before you started messing with it!”

“Yeah, if you wanted our adventurous road trip to take three hours longer than it was supposed to.”

At the rate we were going we wouldn’t get there until next week.  Of course, that wouldn’t be a bad thing except this drive was delaying the inevitable.  At this point I just wanted to get it over with, to rip off the band-aid and hope the wound beneath had healed enough to keep from oozing.

“What are you talking about?”

“You had the thing set to shortest distance instead of fastest route.  We were going to be on twisted back roads with crawling speed limits for the entire trip.  We’re going to be back on a four-lane road in no time.  So, you’re welcome.”

“I’m not thanking you,” he said stubbornly.

“That’s because you’re childish.”

I’m childish?  I’m not the one who had a tantrum and ripped off the GPS in a huff.”

The snide exaggeration pushed me over the edge.  “Come on, Will!  What did you expect me to do?”

“I don’t know.  You could have held a conversation like a normal adult and told me that the settings were wrong.”

“You weren’t listening to me!  I’ve been telling you that we were going in the wrong direction for half an hour.  But no, we’re already on this road, and I can’t admit I’m wrong,” I imitated.  “Who sounds childish now, William?”

“Very mature.”

“Same to you.”

“I seriously can’t believe you’ve already been to Nashville,” my boyfriend said a while later, breaking the silence that had thankfully kept us from continuing to bicker like ten-year-olds.

Everything was back to normal between us.  We were on the correct road, and he had recovered from the fact that I had been right.

“Yeah, I know.”  At that very moment I didn’t even feel like the same person who had made the spontaneous voyage ten years earlier.

The rolling landscape shouldn’t have been familiar, but it was.  Didn’t things change anymore?  Where was all of the construction and expansion everyone was continually complaining about?

“When did you say you were there?”

To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t mentioned that particular detail.  “Ten years ago,” I said.

He let out a low whistle.  “That’s a long time ago.  Way before I ever met you.”

“Yup.”  There had been a black hole spanning the three years between Nashville, Tennessee, and Russell, Kentucky.  By the time I met Will I had become a semi-normal person again.

“I bet you didn’t get to stay for two weeks though, did you?”

I tensed.  “Nope.”

“How long did you say you were there?”

I hadn’t mentioned that either.

“Woah!  Did you just see that?”

“What?”

“I think it was a fox.”

“Really?  Where?”  Will checked his rearview mirror for a glimpse of the creature along the tree line.

“It just disappeared into the woods.”

“It was probably a dog.  Seeing a fox in daylight is pretty rare.”

“No, it was definitely a fox,” I said adamantly.  I should know; I had been the one to make it up.

“Huh.  I must have just missed it,” he mused, checking the rearview once more.

“I guess so.”

My imaginary, furry friend didn’t deter Will for long.

“What was I saying before?”

“I don’t remember.”  And I prayed he didn’t either.  I was granted a three-minute reprieve while my boyfriend attempted to recall our pre-fox conversation.

“Oh!  I remember now.  How long were you in Nashville before?”

Crap.  “Um… eleven…”

“Days?” he guessed.

“No.”

“Weeks?”

“No.”

Months?” he stuttered, nearly colliding with the blue Sentra in front of us.  It was fitting that the license plate said Davidson County.

I grimaced at the dust insulating the dashboard but stayed silent.

“So what you’re saying is that you lived in Nashville?”

“You need to quit driving like a drunken maniac.  I’d like to survive this vacation, if possible.”  If the road trip didn’t kill me then the memories from the city would have their shot.  At this point I couldn’t honestly say which death would be worse.  A fiery car crash would be bloodier but the memories would be slower, more painful.

Will didn’t pay attention to my plea or my weak attempt to change the subject again.  He swerved onto the rumble strips, nearly hitting the remnants of a blowout.

“Evelyn?”

“Yeah.  So what?  I used to live in Nashville.  It’s not really that big of a deal.”

“I disagree,” he countered.  “It is actually quite a big deal to me.”

“I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this then.”  I wasn’t budging.

His face took on an odd grayish tint, and he gripped the steering wheel with enough force to leave an imprint in the leather. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It never came up.”  I had never allowed it to, but that part was irrelevant.

“What about when I told you we were going for a two-week vacation in Nashville?  What then?”

“What about it?” I asked petulantly.

“Don’t you think that I may have been interested in knowing that you used to live there?”

The way he said it made it sound like I had committed some grave sin instead of an inconsequential omission.

“No.”  He may have been interested in hearing, but I had not been inclined to share.

“But—”

“But nothing,” I interrupted.  “You said a minute ago that it was way before we had even met.  You know we don’t talk about everything that happened back then.”

“Yeah, I know,” he shot back, his voice as frigid as the air pouring from between the slats in the vents.

As irritating as it was, I felt guilty for keeping him in the dark. “Come on, Will.  I don’t see why this upsets you so much.  There’s still a lot of stuff I don’t know about you either.”

“Like what?”

“Like… I don’t know all of the places you’ve lived.”

“Yes, you do,” he countered.

“No, I don’t.  You have never talked about any other place beyond Russell.”

“I know.”

Wait a minute… “You’ve lived in Russell your entire life?”

“Yeah.  I was sure you knew that.”  He shrugged as though the fact should have been common knowledge.

“No!  I thought you had escaped at some point.”  How was he not completely insane?  Russell was okay, but forever in Russell?  No, thank you.  I had only been there for six years and sometimes I felt like my head was going to explode.  “Didn’t you go to college somewhere in West Virginia?”

“At Marshall University in Huntington.”

“Ha!” Escaping for a stint in college, although brief, was still an escape.

“Evelyn?  Huntington is twenty minutes away from Russell.  I lived at home to help save money on rent.”

“Oh, that Huntington.”

At thirty-six, Will had barely lived at all.  I found myself pitying him and his lack of life experiences.  I may have been younger than him in years but I’d had opportunities that most people would only dream of.

“I can’t believe you didn’t know that.  We’ve been dating for forever.”

It certainly felt like forever.

“I guess I never really thought about it.”

“Nice,” he said sharply, an accusation in the single syllable.

“Why does that annoy you so much?”

“It doesn’t annoy me,” he lied.

After five years together I could read him like a children’s book.  “Yes, it does.”

Luckily, he caved without much of a fight.  “Fine, it does kind of annoy me.”

“Why does it bother you so much?”  It hadn’t bothered me that he hadn’t known that I had lived in Nashville.  In fact, I would have loved it if he still didn’t know.

“It bothers me that you haven’t even thought about my past,” he confessed.

“I’ve thought about it.”  It just didn’t matter to me either way.  What I cared about was his present and future—the parts in which I could play some role, have some impact.

“You really have?”  His voice hitched with genuine surprise.

“Of course.”

“You know you can ask me whatever you want and I’ll answer.”

And I would undoubtedly be required to reciprocate.  “I know you would.”

We both fell silent; he waited for question I would never give, while I struggled to find a neutral topic.

“I’ve thought a lot about yours too,” he admitted eventually.

The confession sent chills down my spine.  He had never mentioned my past beyond a few questions I had dodged.  It made me uneasy to know that he had probably dwelled on the very unknown that I had purposely kept from him.

“I think it is human nature,” he continued.  “I’ve wondered what all you’ve done and where you’ve been.  It’s like we’ve been together for five years and you’re still a mystery to me.”

“Stop being dramatic; you know who I am,” I dismissed.  At least he knew the me who mattered.

“I guess.  But who were you before I met you?”

“That’s silly.  I’ve always been me.”  Although I used to be more spontaneous, and carefree, and fun, and…

“I guess.”

“It’s not as if I’m some sort of spy or secret agent,” I said playfully, imagining a Mr. and Mrs. Smith scenario.

“How would I know?”

“Don’t be dumb, Will.”

“Did you know I’ve even wondered about your ex-boyfriends?”

I nearly choked on one of the BBQ chips I had been munching on.  When I was nervous I developed hand-to-mouth syndrome.  The salty snacks I was devouring had taken the least amount of effort to reach.

“Why have you been thinking about them?”

“Because at some point they were an important part of your life just like I am now.”

How was I supposed to circumvent this particular subject?  Until now, Will had never come outright and said something about my previous love life.

“Yeah, they were.  But there’s a reason they’re not part of my future.”

“Don’t you want to know anything about me?  Like the women I’ve dated before you?”

“Nope.”  Case closed.  There really was no room for negotiation on this particular subject.  If he told me even the tiniest, most trivial detail then he would never let me live it down if I refused to reciprocate.

So I punctuated my sentence by turning up the volume on the radio and adjusting the station.  Will endured ten minutes with Dierks Bentley’s song Home and Gary Allan’s hit Bones before he turned down the music.

“Hey!  What do you think you’re doing?  There were no commercials.  You have to get used to this stuff if you expect to fit in down in Nashville,” I teased, attempting to ease the depressing atmosphere.  The heaviness in the space between us was no way to start a vacation that I was already dreading.

“I was just thinking,” he began.

Thinking was hazardous, especially when dealing with the list of topics previously covered.

“About what?”

“Of what we’re going to do when we get there.  Is there any place in particular that you want to go first?”

“Nope.”  Although there were a few establishments that I’d be more than happy to avoid.

“Is there anywhere at all that you want to visit?  Some old haunts perhaps?”

“Nope.”  Especially not those.  “I can’t even remember most of the places I used to frequent,” I lied blatantly.

“Well, you’re going to be my tour guide so I hope there are at least a few good spots that jog your memory.”

Something told me we wouldn’t have a problem finding those.

“Honestly, it was so long ago that most of them are probably closed.”  At least I hoped so.

He frowned, and I wondered if I had been too obvious in my attempt to close the subject.  “You know that we don’t have to stay in Nashville the entire time if you don’t want to.”

“Really?” I asked, afraid to hope.

“Yeah.  Especially since you’ve already been there before.  I don’t want you to get bored.”

“Me either. There’s really not a whole lot of stuff to do besides go out in the city.  And that gets old after a few nights.”

“I read something about the Yazoo Brewery. If that’s close maybe we could go there.  Oh, and the Parthenon.  I hear that’s pretty impressive.”

“I guess so.  Still, two weeks in Nashville is a long time.  I’d love to see Memphis.”  And any other part of Tennessee that kept me away from the country-music infested capital.  If I made enough excuses then maybe we wouldn’t make it to our destination at all.

“Me too!” he agreed.  “We can spend as long as you want in Nashville then go somewhere else.  I only need to give the hotel a twenty-four hour notice so we’re not out any money.”

So much for skipping town altogether.  “Oh, okay.”

“You know, I think that maybe it’s a good thing that you used to live in Nashville.”

“Why the sudden change of heart?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I keep thinking that maybe you’ll let me into that piece of yourself that you keep locked away,” he said quietly, holding his gaze toward the empty road ahead.  Our speed connected the white dashes into a solid line, guiding us south.

“What are you talking about?” I asked breathlessly.  Had I really been that transparent?  If so, why hadn’t this conversation occurred before today?

“I know you don’t want to talk about Nashville, among other things.  Maybe coming back will make you more willing to open up about your past.  It can only help us grow closer, Evelyn.”

He was wrong about the last part.  As optimistic as my boyfriend was, I knew my past would only drive us apart.  Instead of responding, I turned the music back up.  Will promptly turned it off.

“Oh, come on, Will!  I love that song.”

“I just thought of something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

“What is it?” I snapped.

“Josh and Miranda got engaged.”

“They did?”

How had I missed this news?  Miranda was one of my colleagues; she taught freshman and sophomore math classes. We weren’t particularly close, but the school was a known breeding ground for gossip.  Teachers were worse than students in that respect.

“Yeah.  I think he proposed last week.”

“Huh.”

“You’re not surprised?”

I shook my head.  “They’ve been together forever.”

“Five years,” he confirmed.

“Is that all?”  It felt like a lot longer than that.  For as long as I had known Miranda, Josh had been in her life.

“Yeah.  I think they’re wanting to get married in the winter.”

This year?”  Nowadays it was rare to hear of a couple willing to undergo the ominous task of planning a wedding in less than one year.  The time frame he presented made the cynic in me think they were rushing into the decision just in case they changed their minds.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I wonder why they’re rushing into it?”  They wouldn’t have a very long time for the honeymoon and they’d be battling Mother Nature for a snow-free event.  I suppose a more romantic individual would say they were probably in love and as a result, hurrying to make it official.

“You’re like no other girl I have ever met.”

“Um… Thanks?”  I guess I’d take that as a compliment seeing as the alternative would lead to another argument.

“I love that there’s never any pressure from you.”

“Pressure?”

“Yeah.  All of the other guys I know with girlfriends constantly have to dodge the big-question conversation after about six months.  You’ve never once brought it up.”

“The big question?”  There were a number of subjects I had chosen to never bring up, but none of them seemed that significant.

“Yeah.”

“Huh?”  I scowered my mind, no big questions coming to light.

“You know.  Engagement,” he said plainly, rolling his eyes at my slowness.

“Oh, that question.”  I didn’t share that the reason I’d avoided the topic was because that life wasn’t for me.  Marriage, kids, life-long commitment…  I’d given up on that avenue nine years earlier.  Even thinking along those lines sent me into the beginnings of a panic attack.  My stomach clenched and my breathing became shallow and labored.  This conversation was nearly as bad as the one involving ex-boyfriends.

“Yeah.  So, I just wanted to say thanks for being so cool and laid back about that stuff.”

“No problem.”  I’d be willing to avoid that particular conversation for the rest of my life.  “Am I allowed to listen to music now or is there more exciting news you wanted to share?”

“Go ahead.  I suppose you’re right.  I might as well get used to this shi—”

“Will!” I interrupted before he could defile one of the greatest country artists of all time.  “You need to watch yourself.  You could get lynched for saying something like that down here.”

He laughed, under the impression that I was kidding.

 

* * *

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