It was getting darker out. The moon suspended from the pitch-black sky, shining like an unblemished coin. Stars suddenly appeared, following each other in patterns. I looked over at Emma. She was sleeping, her sweatshirt curled into a ball and pressed against the window, forming a pillow for her head. Smiling to myself, I turned down the radio so it wouldn't disturb her. We'd been on the road for little over an hour now, after our lovely grease-induced meals at the diner. Emma, soon after departing the restaurant, launched into an 'eighty-words-a-minute' verbal tirade concerning our arteries and intestines, claiming that eating at the diner would ultimately lead to our untimely deaths. Fifteen minutes after the beginning of Emma's lecture, I had successfully learned how to turn her voice out and instead, hum along to the bluegrass on the radio.
A part of me wanted to believe that we were far, far away from Canada, and well into the states, where bluegrass existed. Unfortunately, it turned out that there were actually bluegrass fans in Canada. That, and a sign a few miles back letting me know that Toronto was only two-hundred miles away. I briefly contemplated the possibility of a Toronto in the United States and then proceeded to curse myself for not paying attention in grade nine Geography when my cell phone began to ring. I raised an eyebrow at the ringing device, which laid on the headboard, and then looked at Emma. She was still asleep, the irritating tone of my cell phone not tainting her slumber. Sighing, I reach over and grab the cell phone, looking at the top of it. The caller ID flashed 'HAZEL' in bright blue against a gray background. Looking at Emma again, I chewed on my lip.
Debates went on in my head. Should I answer it? Should I ignore it and continue driving? Should I wake up Emma and tell her that snoring isn't attractive?
I decided to go for it; either way, I would have to confront those who I left behind at some point in time. And afterall, Hazel was supposed to be my best friend. I couldn't just ignore her, despite usually doing so on a regular basis.
Flipping the top cover of my cell phone, I pressed a nail against the accept button and raised the receiver to my left ear, keeping my right hand on the wheel, and prepared for the inevitable headache.
"Paige?" Her voice sounded frantic, as if she had been up all night, worried about my whereabouts. For a brief moment, I felt touched. "Where are you? I've been looking all over for you."
"I'm, uh.." Pausing, I try to think of an answer that would please Hazel and at the same time, halt her inquiries. "At the mall."
"The mall? And you didn't invite me?" She tries to joke. I roll my eyes and lift my foot off of the gas when another car pulls in front of me, giving way for clearance.
"It's okay." I can feel her hesitate. Even miles away, I know Hazel too well, for both of our own goods. She's probably biting her inner cheek now, trying to think of something to say, something to impress me. I wait, like I usually do, and when she doesn't say anything, I take it on myself to talk.
"Look, is there something you wanted? I'm kind of busy."
She's raising an eyebrow now. Either annoyed with my tone, or afraid that I'm going to start screaming at her. "Don't blow a casket. I was just worried about you."
"You don't need to worry about me. I can take care of myself," I say, almost colliding with a pick-up truck.
She sighs, a hint of irritation along with it. "Whatever, Paige. Apparently, it's not okay to be the slightest bit worried when your best friend doesn't show up for her last two classes and cheerleading practice, and fails to call you with an explanation."
No, she's definitely not afraid.
I'm not either. "What, I owe you explanations now?"
"I didn't say that."
"What are you trying to say then, Hazel? I'm not seeing a point."
"For God sakes, Paige, are you stupid? I thought I made my point clear. I was worried about you." She pauses, and when I don't say anything, she continues. "It's just not normal for you to miss Spirit Squad when you're the head cheerleader. I know you've been going through a tough time with that break-up with Spin, but--"
I cut her off. Spinner is the last thing I want to hear about now. "It'll be the day that the world is spinning backwards and pigs are flying when Spinner friggin' Mason breaks my heart. We broke up. I'll deal. It's not the end of the world."
"Yeah? Well, It sure seems like it."
"God damnit, Hazel," I hear my voice rising in aggravation. Emma starts to stir, burying her head farther into the sweatshirt and mumbling quiet nothings, but I don't notice. My head is about to explode. "Spinner is the last of my worries right now. Let him have Manny. They deserve each other!"
The phone line connecting us is silent. For a few moments, it's just me breathing heavily, working on regaining my strength from yelling. Hazel's on the other end, not saying anything. I can't handle the silence; it's almost like it's taunting me, and I want it to end.
Fortunately for me, it does. Hazel, in between a sigh, breathes out, "I'm sorry, Paige."
Unfortunately for her, the amount of time it took Hazel to speak up again drove me to the brink. "I don't want your apology. Keep it, wrap it, and shove it up Spinner's ass," I snap, and before I know it, I'm pressing my thumb into the cancel button. I throw my cell phone into the backseat and let out an enormous sigh I didn't even know I was holding in.
By then, Emma had regained consciousness and was sitting up, yawning. She stretched her arms behind her head and let her cheek roll onto her shoulder, and I could feel her eyes on me. Refusing to take my eyes off of the road, though, I gripped the steering wheel tighter, my knuckles fading into an unattractive white as I sped past a white sedan.
Raising an eyebrow, Emma finally quipped up. "What was that about?"
I beep at a car that swerves in front of me. "What do you think?"
"I heard Spinner."
"Spinner's an asshole."
Emma smirks, amused. "O-kay. Manny?"
"Tell me about it," Emma sighs, shaking her head. I look at her from the rearview mirror, lifting a curious eyebrow. Emma notices and shrugs, as if what she had said previous was completely normal Emma Nelson talk. "What?"
"Emma Nelson just called her best friend a whore," I muse, tilting my head to the side sardonically. "Never thought I'd see the day."
"Manny is far from being my best friend, Paige."
I feel my eyebrows coming together at the bridge of my nose. Confused would be an understatement. "When did that happen?"
Laughing bitterly, Emma shook her head. "Oh, a little after I found her making out with Craig in my bed."
Scrunching my nose, I groan unpleasantly. "Bad images. I hope you washed your sheets."
Emma shifts, turning in her seat a little. I watch her look out the window, her eyes following the cars we pass. "Where are we?"
I tap my hand on the steering wheel, absentmindedly following the bluegrass beat. "No clue. Toronto's supposed to be two-hundred miles away."
Shifting again, Emma moved to open the glove compartment. I watch her, once more confused. "What are you doing?"
"Seeing if you have a map."
"Why on earth would I have a map?"
Emma looks at me, and I look back at her, and she's holding up a small traveler's map with a triumphant smile curling her lips. I open my mouth to say something but pause, having nothing to say. She laughs and unfolds the small map.
"Parents usually put these in their kids' cars."
"I don't even want to know how you know that," I remark, switching lanes. Emma chuckles again, while turning the small map around in her hands.
"You said two-hundred miles from Toronto?"
"Hmm," Emma muttered, turning the map some more. "We can be in a lot of places. Cochrane, Quebec, Waskaga-something." She stops playing with the map and looks at me. "I think we should stop somewhere and ask."
"I'm not asking a stranger for directions."
"Because," I look at Emma, who's raising her eyebrows, expecting a good answer. "I mean... you saw those guys at the diner. Total pedophiles in training."
Emma is unfazed. "So? Ask a woman."
Sighing, I turned back to the road. There's a green exit sign, with Exit 201 occupying the center. "Fine."
Emma smiles triumphantly, folding the map up again. She carefully places it in the glove compartment and shuts the door with a resounding click. Meanwhile, I'm turning on the exit, driving down what seems to be an isolated street. The entire street is vacant, save for one or two street lights swaying in the quiet wind. Glancing at Emma, I raise an eyebrow.
"Great idea, genius."
"What?" Emma stares at me, obviously not concerning herself with the fact that we chose ghost exit. "I'm sure there's someone around here somewhere."
"Oh, for sure." I say, sardonically. "And maybe if we're lucky, we'll stumble along Disney Land."
Emma shoots me a look. I return it. The contest doesn't last long after Emma spots what looks to be a gas station out of the corner of her eye. Smiling suddenly, she points towards it. "Look! I knew there'd have to be some civilization around here."
Rolling my eyes in defeat, I pull up into the gas station. The majority of the parking lot is empty, not including two pick-up trucks off to the side, more than likely belonging to the employees. After I turn off the ignition, Emma and I sit in silence.
She turned to me a few seconds later. "Aren't you going in?"
I look at her incredulously. "Yeah. No."
"Someone has to ask."
"There's two people in this car," I point out.
"I'm so not going in there," Emma argues.
"Neither am I," I respond.
"But you're older!" Emma whines.
"Your point?" I challenge.
Emma sighs. "We'll both go in. How about that?"
"Works for me."
Moments later I'm pulling the door open, shuffling in with Emma trailing behind me. A tall man stood behind the counter, smoking a cigarette and watching a small television that resided on the shelf next to him. When the bells ring above the door the man looked up at us, raising his eyebrows.
Emma cowered behind me. I roll my eyes at her behavior and amble towards the counter. "Excuse me, but do you know where we are?"
The man laughs throatily, pulling the cigarette away from his lips. "Why little lady, I only work here. Do you really think I know where we are?"
Catching his sarcasm, I restrain the urge to smack him. "Maybe that was the wrong way to phase the question," I reply, "Let's try again. Where the hell are we?"
Smiling, the man tips his head to the side a little. "Much better, if I do say so myself. You're in Cochrane, darling."
"Thank you," Emma said, heading for the door.
The man, seeing Emma for only the first time, quipped up again. "Ah, there's two? You girls can't be a day over seventeen."
Emma turned around and looked at me, and then at the man. "I'm sixteen, actually."
Mister I-have-to-know-everything chuckled. "Oh?" He turned to me. "And you? Sixteen too?"
"Seventeen," I replied, annoyed. The man seemed to know this, and continued to pursue his interrogation.
"What are you two gals doin' out in Cochrane all by yourself?"
"We're sisters," Emma replied quickly, beating me to the punch. I looked at her strangely and she returned the look, silently telling me to go along with it.
I nodded. "Yeah. We're... visiting family. Here. In Cochrane."
"Mmm," The man voiced skeptically. After taking a long drag from his cigarette, he spoke again. "Well, don't let me keep you from your folks. You two have a nice night, you hear?"
Emma and I nodded simultaneously. Within short seconds we were back in the van, thankful towards the fact that we no longer had the share the same space as Mr. I-have-to-know-everything.
I was the first one to speak up. "I'm never listening to you again."
Emma looked at me, confused. "What?"
Turning on the ignition, I mocked what Emma had verbalized earlier. "Oh, I'm sure there's someone around here somewhere!"
Emma struggled with her seat belt. "I didn't know that we were going to turn on friggin' stranded exit!"
"Yeah, okay, Ms. Let's-go-to-the-gas-station! I'm sure there'll be some gentle old woman to help us there!"
"Shut up!" Emma said, but not forcefully. I turned to her with a grin firmly planted on my face.
Emma rolled her eyes, but not without a little smile. "Just drive, Paige. The further we get away from that creep, the better."
"Sure thing, little sis."
And I did. Drove even further into the night, with Emma sitting in my passenger seat,complaining about Mr. I-have-to-know-everything's cigarette breath.
For some strange reason, it felt right.