Experience Et Cetera

Not what’s heading to the publisher… you’ll just have to wait and buy a copy like everyone else 😘

Experience Et Cetera

NaNoWriMo 2011

Final Word Count 25,016

 

If anyone had told me the events of my life would inspire me to write a book, I would have called them crazy, would have until the plan for my life got derailed by circumstance that is. The year was 2008, I had just graduated from university with honors, and everything was going according to plan. I majored in business management, and finance with a minor in liberal arts. As far as I was concerned my future lay in the corporate world, or at least the private financial sector. Full of ambition and tenacity I set out, resume’ in hand to start my new life.

Unfortunately for me, this was the start of the recession. Jobs were scarce, even for some one as motivated and well qualified as myself. When the first few job opportunities fell through I wasn’t terribly concerned. Both of my parents had come from very affluent families and had worked hard to see that both I and my younger brother were well taken care of. To put it bluntly, I was a trust fund kid. All of my schooling had been paid for upfront, I was already well into a mortgage on my cute little two bedroom bungalow, and I received a substantial monthly allowance. I didn’t start to worry until six months into my job search. By then my finances were dwindling faster than water through a sieve, and reality was setting in.

After many sleepless nights of deliberation I finally took a job at the local fast food chain, Zippy Burger. The hours were terrible, and the pay was worse, but at least there was something coming in as opposed to just racing out. Looking back on it now, I never would have enjoyed some of the most important influential experiences of my life if I hadn’t sold my soul to Zippy Burger.

There was a slight chill in the air. It was early September and the seasons where somewhere in between summer and autumn. The days were growing visibly shorter, and with night came the lingering scent of changing leaves and cozy fireplaces. I was making my way home from a double shift at Zippy Burger. The day had begun bright and sunny, but twelve hours later the storm clouds rolled in. My walk home in my neon pink and green Zippy stripes was never truly a joyous occasion, but walking home in the rain would only make it that much worse. As if tuned into my mental frequency the heavens opened with a deluge just as I turned down my quiet suburban street.

I paused momentarily to watch the rain glisten as it passed over the street lamps and porch lights just flickering to life. Curtains were drawn, televisions were silenced, a dog barked somewhere in the distance, and a raccoon skittered across my path into a storm drain. My little corner of the Earth was settling into a slumber. A car sped past waking me from my daydream and inspired me to hurry home. I began to jog the last few blocks until I reached my tiny lifeless home. Running up the few short steps from the sidewalk to my front door I noticed my house reflected my life. The poor neglected flower beds, chipping paint, and missing shingles gave off a worn and dilapidated appearance.

With my hectic work schedule I barely had time for sleep let alone house work. I let out a forlorn sigh and removed my sodden shoes. Picking them up gingerly by the laces I pondered on whether to bring them inside or leave them to fend for themselves on the patio. After a brief moment of consideration I tossed them aside, and opened the front door. Fumbling for the light switch I felt Stormy, my giant grey Tabby Cat brush past my leg.

“Stormy!” I yelped, tripping over my own feet and tumbling backwards on to the porch. A jarring pain shot up my spine as my bottom connected with the hard oak.

In the mayhem I had found the light switch. My neighbors now had full view of my soaking wet self sprawled out on my front porch, shoeless and crying for my cat. Stormy only looked at me with his enormous orange eyes and sauntered back into the house completely unaffected by my dire situation. I grumbled to myself, crawled back inside and shut the door. I rested my back against the door and closed my eyes still coping with the sting of the fall. Upon opening my eyes I was greeted by a ram shackled assortment of furniture, dirty dishes, and laundry that called itself my living room. Much like my outdoor chores, my indoor chores had also been moved to the back burner of my life. I closed my eyes again wishing that when I opened them again all of my mess would be gone, I would have an amazing corporate job, and meet a super awesome guy.

My eyes popped open to the same crappy job, same messy house, and all of the loneliness that came with it. I slowly drug myself off of the entry way floor and moped into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Just about the only part of my house that was clean and orderly was the kitchen. With the exception of my laptop and a few old newspapers strewn about the table, everything was in its place. I pulled a clean mug from its shelf and set about brewing coffee.

As the coffee maker began to gurgle and steam the whole house filled with the delicious aroma of fresh Arabica beans. I left the coffee briefly to change into some dry clothes. I gathered my favorite pair of sweat pants and a matching hooded sweat shirt. They weren’t clean, but until I made time to shower and do a load of laundry there was no point. The smell of deep fried heart attack stuck to me even after several days off. I wondered from the bed room into the bathroom and removed the rest of my sopping wet clothes.

Standing there in the buff I looked like a drown rat. My skinny boyish figure was nothing to swoon over, and my lifeless blonde hair was as limp as a wet noodle. I slowly pulled out the rubber band that held my hair into the tight, neat, Zippy required bun and let it fall down my back. I shook my head and tried to fluff as much as possible, but nothing short of a team of trained stylist could save it now. I eyed my blow dryer on the edge of the sink but decided against it. I toweled off, redressed; and then made my way back to the kitchen and my awaiting coffee.

Pouring myself a full mug, digging around in the refrigerator for a snack, and popping in a CD I settled down to my computer for the daily dose of rejection. The computer buzzed softly as it came to life and connected to the internet. I gave it a few moments to get started, and opened my mail client. Just as I predicted each and every new message began the same way: “Ms. Lorelei Nolandt, we regret to inform you, but your skill set does not meet our current needs…”

I lowered my head to the table and let out a groan. “This just wasn’t supposed to happen like this.” I thought to myself. “This is why I spent so much time in school, to avoid working in a dead end job like this. If I had known this is where I was going to end up, I wouldn’t have even bothered with school.”

Just as I was about to send out another round of resumes out I was interrupted by a knock at my door. I glanced at the small clock on my computer screen which read 10:30pm. Not really late, but later than one would expect an unplanned visitor. I hopped out of my chair and made my way to the door.

“Who is it?” I called.

“Lorelei, its Indra! Are you ready to go?” The visitor replied.

I opened the door slightly confused and Indra waltzed in. Clearly ready for a night out on the town her heels clacked noisily on my entry way floor as she gracefully brushed past me.

“Am I ready for what?” I asked closing the door and turning to face my guest.

“Lorelei, did you forget? Tonight we’re supposed to go to that new club with Dakota and Jesse. We’ve only been planning this for months! I’m bringing Tristan. This is his first appearance with us ladies.” Indra exclaimed with a giggle.

I stared blankly, searching my memory for these plans. My mental facilities failed, I couldn’t remember anything about it. Indra began tapping one stiletto heeled foot impatiently waiting for my answer.

“Well, clearly you aren’t ready so could I please use your phone?” She finally said breaking the silence.

“Sure. It’s right here in the kitchen. I’m sorry; let me go throw something on.” I replied leading her to the phone and darting into my bedroom in search of suitable clothes.

I shuffled through my closet, dresser, and various piles of clothes strewn about over the room. Where was that black dress? On my second trip through the closet I found it, thankfully, still in the bag from the cleaners. I rushed past Indra and the phone into the bathroom. Quickly I tore off my sweats and wriggled my way into the dress.

I threw on some quick foundation, eye shadow, and mascara, fluffed my hair again and stopped in my tracks. I still looked like I had been run over by a truck. Run over in a designer dress, but run over none the less. I stopped staring at my reflection, grabbed my blow dryer and attacked my hair.

Although I had known Indra since freshman year at the university and we were the best of friends, I envied her. She was a beauty queen. No matter how dire the circumstances she always looked like she had stepped off of the runway. Besides her amazing style, she had the perfect light mocha skin town and silky black hair. Her parents had moved from their native India before she was born to give their child a better opportunity at becoming the best possible medical professional she could be. Yes, she had her entire life planned out for her before she was even born, and she was betrothed to a man she had no feelings for, but she still managed to be a strong, positive, and determined beauty queen. If I could have just an iota of her looks I might have a chance to find my prince charming…

“Lorelei, let’s hurry!” Indra yelled over my blow dryer, interrupting my thoughts.

“Coming!” I replied ending my bout with the blow dryer and throwing my newly baked hair into an alligator clip. “How do I look?” I asked emerging from the bathroom.

“You look amazing Lori. Where are your coat and shoes? Let’s go!” Indra said rushing me towards the door. “Never mind shoes. I have some in the car. Here’s your wallet in your coat. Ready?”

She spoke in such short and sometimes curt terms, but she meant well and with her innocent smile it was hard to be offended. I slipped into my coat and followed her out the door, forgetting to turn out the living room light behind me.

The beat of the music throbbed through me like a kick in the chest as soon as we walked through the door. Indra was on the list, of course, so we waltzed right in to the dismay of every other want to be patron standing corralled behind the velvet rope in the pouring rain. Indra clutched my hand tightly and led me through the massive crowd. Bodies pressed against each other, strobe lights flashed, and music pounded with a frantic rhythm. It was all a bit overwhelming, so raw and animalistic. The crowd seemed to part with awe as Indra commanded her way through to a back table occupied by Dakota, Jesse and a mystery man I assumed was Tristan.

My suspicions were confirmed, when he stood and gave Indra a little peck on the cheek. Dakota, and Jesse raised their glasses to me and I nodded. It was too loud, even here in the very back of the club to communicate in anyway other than a throat straining scream or nonverbally. A waitress made her way over to me and took my order. I played it safe and went for a vodka and cranberry. I had a fleeting feeling that I would be retiring way before the rest of our little posse.

It’s not that I disliked going out every once and a while with the girls, but this insanity just wasn’t my cup of tea. I preferred the more quiet sports bar setting, or a nice restaurant/lounge, something where we could actually carry on a decent conversation. The waitress returned with my drink and I fumbled with my wallet to pay her. She smiled and pointed to a guy at another table who raised his glass and made a rude gesture. I rolled my eyes, and took a seat next to Dakota.

“Why is it that only the most obnoxious, drunk, and rude guys hit on me when we go to these clubs?” I attempted to yell over the music.

“What?” Dakota replied leaning closer to me.

“Nothing, that guy just bought me this drink.” I yelled again.

“What about that guy?” Jesse asked scooting around the table.

“He bought me this drink.” I yelled again.

“What about your drink?” Dakota and Jesse both questioned.

I sighed and came up with an elaborate series of hand gestures to explain my situation. Dakota and Jesse immediately understood and laughed.

“All of the good guys are home with their wives and/or girlfriends on a Wednesday night.” Jesse replied with a forlorn note in her voice.

I nodded. I had forgotten what days were what with my work schedule constantly changing. In fact I wondered if my night out would get cut short by a phone call from my beloved Zippy Burger.

“Let’s dance!” Indra yelled obviously already several drinks deep. She and Tristan had disappeared into the crowd nearly as soon as they spotted each other. Now they were very drunk, and very rowdy looking for partners in crime.

Before I had time to answer I was whisked back into the mass of swarming bodies. My drink was knocked from my hand somewhere into the deluge, and I silently hoped it hadn’t ruined an expensive dress or suite. I stood stunned and slightly out of sorts until Dakota’s familiar face popped up and she took my hand.

I watched her dance, as I moved awkwardly in an attempt to not be smashed by the others on the dance floor.

“Come on Lori! You need to relax! Let your hair down and just let go!” Dakota encouraged after observing my awkward “dancing”.

I shrugged my shoulders and tried to refresh my movements up a bit. I felt like I was an epileptic experiencing a seizure, and apparently I looked the part for all the bodies pressing against me began to move further and further away. Soon I was surrounded by only my friends and I started to loosen up a bit.

Before I knew it, the crowd was thinning out and the night was dwindling slowly away, but we kept on dancing, dancing the night away. Some how I ended up with more than a vodka and cranberry, SEVERAL more, and before long the four of us were stumbling out of the club and heading down the street to teeny twenty four hour diner to top off our evening with some greasy food in a vain attempt to sober up before venturing home.

We were I’m ashamed to say, the late night service person’s worst nightmare. We took forever to order, and when we finally did we couldn’t remember who ordered what. We were loud, obnoxious, and vulgar. Looking back on it now I’m amazed we didn’t get kicked out. After about an hour we finally settled down and began to nurse our imminent hangovers with a carafe of coffee.

“Tonight was the best night I’ve had in a long time.” Indra sighed snuggled under Tristan’s arm. “You should come out with us more often, Lori.”

I only smiled in response. It was kind of fun, and reminded me of my younger college freshmen days, but now as a responsible adult it just seemed like a waste of time. Indra was an enigma. She was ultra responsible, but so childish some times. I can’t really blame her. She only had a year or two to finish her degree until she was sent back home to India to marry her betrothed. After that her husband would rule her world, and she would lose all the freedoms that she had become accustomed to here in the states. If I were in her shoes I would probably be doing the exact same thing.

“It is great to get out again! I know we have a bunch of time off before the season starts but it just feels good to go somewhere that isn’t filled with crazy fans and football players all the time. They get insanely annoying after a while, especially after they’ve had a few drinks.” Dakota quipped in between sips of her latte.

“Totally! Yes they do! If I had realized that before I left high school I probably wouldn’t have entered cheer leading as my chosen profession.” Jesse laughed.

Dakota and Jesse were spit and vinegar, teeny size two, red headed cheerleaders for a local arena football team. They had it all the fiery red hair, long slender legs, and voluptuous curves, a teenage boy’s wet dream. They had always been super beautiful and super popular from the moment they entered a school yard. It was no wonder they had made so much of a pass time they enjoyed. They were both pursuing a double major in social sciences and psychology at the same university where I was finishing up my degree. We met by pure chance, for in addition to being the stereotypical physique of a cheerleader they also possessed the stereotypical personality. A personality that on most people I could not stand, but something about their spunk and pep caused a fast friendship to form almost overnight.

Indra had been dating a coach or a football player at the time, and in her zest for the current relationship had instead I join her to a game. I was in the process of finals for the semester, and was never really into football, but she insisted and when Indra insists there is no arguing. I ended up plugged into my mp3 player typing away on my little net book in an effort to finish my paper through out the entire game, but she was content that she had someone to oogle and ogle to over her man. Soon after the game had finished she carted me off to the locker room to meet the object of her ogling. On the way through the crowd we had run into Dakota. A brief exchange was made, and we were on our way. Several moments later while we were talking to Indra’s boyfriend Jesse had sauntered up and inserted herself into the conversation. We made a comment in reference to our, we thought, previous encounter, and she stared at us with utter confusion and amusement. She explained that she and her identical twin sister were both on the cheerleading squad and that we must have previously spoken to her.  That moment of honesty and amusement was what sealed the deal. We had all ended up at a small restaurant over drinks and a light dinner later that evening building the foundations of our lasting friendship.

A cell phone rang interrupting my reminiscing. Tristan excused himself and wandered outside to take the call.

“Isn’t he adorable?” Indra mused.

“He is quite a catch. Where did you meet him, and what does he do? Other than take mysterious phone calls and sit around with pretty women quietly?” Dakota asked on baited breathe.

“He’s finishing his internship at Valley Med. He wants to be a pediatric heart surgeon. How dreamy is that?” Indra replied.

We all let out a small laugh. Every one of Indra’s boyfriends always did some “dreamy” profession. Tristan however actually had some potential to win over her parents. Her betrothed was also a successful pediatric surgeon.

“Well it’s a very noble thing to do. Save the lives of children and all.” She retorted.

“It is a very noble thing to do, but cheating on his wife kind of takes away from that.” Jesse said calmly.

“Cheating? He’s not married!” Indra nearly screamed.

“He’s talking to a “yes dear” on the phone right now.” Jesse explained. She had a wicked talent for reading both body expressions and lips.

The crushing blow settled across Indra’s face softly.

I didn’t always approve of the way Dakota and Jesse bluntly dropped these bomb shells on Indra, but it had become a reoccurring theme in recent months. I don’t know if it was because she was always upfront with the men she met that she was betrothed and planned to marry a man in India that these men took advantage of her, or if they just generally didn’t care, but the men who she became involved with were increasingly more sleazy than the next.

Indra calmly rose from her seat and straightened her dress. She walked out next to Tristan, a few words were exchanged and then she turned around on her heels and waltzed back in to our table. The look of both shock and anger that shot across Tristan’s face was both amusing and scary.

“What did you say?” Dakota asked anxiously awaiting the impending drama.

“I leaned over close enough for his phone to pick up the sound, and whispered that he should come back to bed so we could discuss what to do about the baby on the way.” Indra stated as a matter of fact, returning to her seat.

“Wow! Harsh!” Jesse laughed.

“Was he talking to his wife?” I asked, concerned that we had initiated some unnecessary drama.

“I don’t know, but even if it wasn’t a wife it was just another girl on the side, she didn’t deserve to be lied to.” Indra sighed.

“But… aren’t you kind of doing the same thing, Indra? Dating all these guys and having no intention of pursuing the relationship, all behind your Betrothed’s back?” Dakota asked.

“No, my betrothed and I came to an agreement when we were first introduced. As long as we are faithful after we are married we can do what we want while we are apart. Especially since there is so much distance between us right now. You have to have some release from all the stress of school and social duties.” Indra explained.

“So he’s okay with you sleeping around?” Jesse asked, refilling her coffee cup.

“Well I don’t sleep around. I DATE around. It is completely different. Going out with guys and having a good time is definitely not being a whore.” Indra retorted.

“So you’re saving your virginity for your husband?” I asked intrigued at where this conversation was going. This was the most involved I had been in the conversation since Indra arrived at my door almost twelve hours previously.

“I didn’t say THAT, but I don’t sleep with every guy I date. Well… I am still technically a virgin, but there have been a very select few guys that I WOULD have slept with. I don’t expect him to be a virgin when we wed any more than he expects me to be.”

“Well… okay, I guess if you’re both okay with it…” Jesse trailed off thinking about what Indra had just said.

“I think it’s still something we have a hard time grasping because we’re not accustomed to the arranged marriage thing. If it works that way, then so be it. I just can’t believe your parents moved here, but still expect you to adhere to the customs of India. What was the purpose of moving here if they were just going to ship you back to the same life they left for what ever reason?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never asked why, it’s just something that my family has been doing for generations, and it’s a matter of respect for my elders and family that I comply. It isn’t that bad. My betrothed isn’t a bad man. He will be able to provide for me where ever we live. After we get married we may move back to the US depending on what he wants to do and if our papers get approved. I love my country, and everything there. I like it here because it’s so different but either way really I will be happy. It’s not like they’re marrying me off to a complete jerk that hates women and treats them like objects. He has a very modern out look on the whole thing. Well I mean obviously since he is okay with having me see other people before we are married.”

“I still think its super old fashioned and not a good idea. I mean, I respect you for being so committed to your family and all that, but really I couldn’t do it. I would pack my bags and take off for Mexico before I would marry anyone my parents arranged for me.” Dakota said glancing at her phone and checking the time. “Oh wow! It’s almost 6am. We should probably get home.”

I also glanced at my phone and saw that I had a missed call from my ball and chain. The good old Zippy Burger.

“Ahh… I missed a call from work. Hopefully the place hasn’t burnt down or anything crazy.” I said checking my voice mail.

As I listened to my message, I was mentally slapping myself in the face. It was my assistant manager who had came in to open the store a few moments earlier. He was calling to report a massive shortage in the night till, and a grease fire. Every one had been evacuated safely and the fire department was on the scene, but he was fairly certain they wouldn’t be able to open today.

“Well that’s what I get for sarcasm. The place actually DID burn down.” I sighed and began to gather my purse and pay my check.

“Seriously?? Zippy Burger burnt down?” Jesse and Dakota gasped in unison.

“There was a grease fire this morning and they aren’t sure if they are going to be able to open. I need to get over there. Indra are you still okay with giving me a ride?” I asked thanking the waitress who had returned my credit card.

“Oh certainly! No problem at all. Are you ready to go?” Indra answered also quickly gathering her clutch and paying her bill.

“As ready as I can be considering the circumstances.” I replied heading for the door.

Dakota and Jesse said their good byes as we all walked out to our cars and Indra rushed me over to Zippy.

When we pulled up to the restaurant the scene was complete chaos. Fire and emergency crews were scattered through out the parking lot, my employees were scattered through out the emergency staff and my boss was yelling into his cell phone presumably at our maintenance staff, and hopefully not to my voicemail. My phone had died shortly after I received the original message.

Indra pulled up to the perimeter of the insanity, I hopped out, thanked her and started to make my way through the caution tape and emergency personal towards my boss. I was surprised that I was able to walk right onto the scene without any one really questioning my presence, but then again there were more important things to worry about at that particular moment.

“Steve! What’s going on?” I asked walking up to my boss, who was shortly, joined my Jason my assistant.

“Lori. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for over an hour. As the store manager you should have your phone on at all times. It’s not my responsibility to come out here and deal with things like this. If you can’t take your job seriously we’ll have to find some one else to do it. Look at this mess! Who closed last night? This is unacceptable! The fryer banks were left on over night with little to no oil in them. They burnt to a crisp.” Steve lectured as he was accustomed to doing any time I spoke to him.

“I just walked in and started counting the tills like I always do in the morning before Jose gets in to start the food prep and I smelled something burning. Before I knew what was going on the entire fryer bank was a wall of flame. The hood didn’t activate either!” Jason spat quickly, trying to save his job.

“Rhonda closed last night with Philip and Jessica. I’ve been calling maintenance for weeks about the hood not working right, and we ran out of oil. Our truck should be pulling up any minute. I’ve been after them for a few days now to remember to turn off the fryer bank. That’s why we were running short on oil. They’ve been forgetting to turn them off all week. I went downtown with a few friends tonight, and as soon as I got the message I rushed over here, but my phone died in transit. It is supposed to be my day off, and I’m still here even though I haven’t made it home from my night out. That’s right I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours at this point, and yet here I stand. I think that’s pretty responsible thank you very much. Even if I  had been here, I still would have called you and you would have had to come out here because as soon as Alan hears about this he is also going to make his way down here and if you weren’t here you would get your ass reamed Mr. Benson.” I retorted, highly annoyed and upset at the whole situation. The fire was stressful enough I didn’t need people trying to pass blame around onto me especially since I hadn’t had a chance to sleep at all.

“I don’t think I like your tone Ms. Nolandt. I know we all need a break every once and a while, but we still have a responsibility to Zippy Burger. You knew this when you accepted the offer for employment. It’s not a new thing. Some one has to take responsibility for this, whether it’s you or Rhonda, some one will have to account for the mistakes made and the damage done. You need to get all of your closers on the phone and here NOW for an emergency meeting. I don’t want any excuses.” Steve replied.

“Well we’re going to have to wait until the office opens because I don’t have my employee numbers on me right now. They are in that charred mess over there on a hard drive somewhere. Don’t even start about how irresponsible that is, because why on Earth would I have employee’s personal numbers in my personal phone? They are my employees not my children.” I fired back with a bit more attitude than I had intended.

“I have Rhonda’s number, Steve. I think I have Philip and Jessica’s too.” Jason squeaked, quickly pulling out his phone to check his contacts.

I ignored Jason’s blatant attempt to out do me in Steve’s eyes. He was a high school drop out whose entire life revolved around Zippy Burger. He had worked for the company since he was sixteen; this was probably the best possible job he could hope to get especially in the job market at the time. He needed to be a kiss ass in order to support his family, so I harbored no hard feelings toward him. It was kind of annoying and hard to work with some one who was constantly trying to stab me in the back and take my job out from under me, but really it was only a minor inconvenience. Especially since his shifts were sub par and the employees took advantage of him left and right. He did know the company inside and out, but he had no chance of moving above an assistant for a very long time.

“Thank you Jason.” Steve said as his phone began to ring.

While waiting to hear from Rhonda, Philip and Jessica I observed what had happened to my store. The entire back half was a smoldering mess. It was a fast food joint after all and we had an entire wall of fryers to meet our customer’s insatiable apatite for fried foods. I assume once one went up in flames, the rest were soon to follow. With the malfunctioning exhaust hood anything really was possible. It could have started as a grease fire and spread from fryer to fryer, or the actual unit could have ignited due to the lack of oil in the basin. Regardless of how or why it happened it was all a big mess, too much of a mess for me to deal with at that particular moment in time. I don’t know what triggered it, but my drive to succeed at even the most demeaning job just broke down. I slipped into a quiet state of apathy about both the specific ordeal and the entire job in general.

I needed to DO something with my life. This job was merely existing I wasn’t truly LIVING. I went through the motions hating every minute of it, much as Indra was going through the motions of her arranged marriage, and Dakota and Jesse were only going through the motions of cheerleading because that was all they had known. None of us was truly satisfied with our lives. In fact we were all fairly miserable. We needed an adventure something to spice up our existence something more than one blunder or mistake after another. I had no idea how to make this adventure appear out of nowhere or even if Indra, Jesse and Dakota would be willing to put their lives on hold to join me in my soul searching.

As the emergency crews, news crews, and various Zippy employees swarmed, yelled, talked, and fretted around me something inside of my soul told me to walk away from it all, just turn on my heels and go. I weighed my options watching everything happening around me in what seemed like an out of body trance experience. If I chose to walk away, what would become of my finances? I really didn’t need the job; it was more of a security blanket to calm my nerves. I always had plenty of money in the bank, and probably always would due to my father’s hard work and dedication to our family, but I felt like a child not attempting to make it on my own especially at 29. Maybe sitting in one place so long was curbing my potential. Maybe I needed to rent out the house and try to get a job in another state? Was that even feasible?

Still, after all the contemplation, I couldn’t help but feel the urge to just walk away from it all. My brain was telling me not to do anything drastic, and yet my heart was crying for something more. I’m sure I looked like a fool standing there in my evening wear with a terrible hangover headache setting in while my restaurant was in ruins less than six feet in front of me, and yet I was powerless to change any of it. Everything had happened by pure chance. Should I follow my heart, or should I follow my brain? In the end I believe I made the right choice, but still to this day I wonder what might have become of me if I would have stayed the course and stuck it out with Zippy.

Instead I threw caution to the wind and walked away. I walked through the frenzied emergency crews, past my concerned and confused crew members, and down the street toward home. I wasn’t too concerned with how the fire would effect my professional reputation, or my resume. True it did look a bit odd that after this happened I was walking out with no notice or job prospects, but honestly I probably would have been fired regardless especially in the current situation. Some one had to be made an example of, and I was just as good a scapegoat as any.

I took off my shoes as I made my way down the street. It was chilly, but walking along the cold wet sidewalk was soothing to my new forming blisters from the night before and subsequent unexpected walk home. Several cars drove past the occupants in a great rush to go off to their own jobs. I watched business people exit their homes coffee in hand, fumbling with briefcases, laptops, purses and suitcases. I watched children running and playing tag making their way to the school bus stop. It occurred to me as I saw them back packs in tow that I hadn’t realized it was a weekday. In fact the more I thought about it I couldn’t remember what day it actually was. I reached for my purse to check my phone and realized that the battery was drained. I would have to investigate when I got home.

My little ram shackled home welcomed me with warm glow from the living room light I had forgotten to turn off. I stepped onto the porch and turned the key. I bent down as I opened the door and swiftly captured Stormy as he tried to escape yet again.

“Ah ha! I was ready for you this time obnoxious little twit.” I said setting Stormy down on the couch after I stepped in and closed the door.

Stormy glared and let out a low grumbling meow and gave me a nasty look before hopping off of the couch and making his way to his food dish.

I tossed my shoes by the door, sauntered into my bedroom, climbed over the mountain of dirty laundry and curled up under my comforter falling fast asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

I’m not sure how long I was asleep, but it felt like I had slept for days. I had that groggy feeling of too much sleep, and a terrible hang over head ache. I found my phone and plugged it in. Once it started up I had seventeen missed calls all from Steve. I didn’t even bother to listen to the five voice mails, or read the email he has sent me. I would eventually return his call, but at that moment all I wanted to do was shower and change into something comfortable. This was the first morning of my new relaxed life, and I had every intention of fully enjoying it.

I drew a hot bath and added my favorite lavender scented bath salts, took a lavish hour and a half soak, did my nails, put a deep conditioning treatment in my hair, and applied a mud mask to draw all the Zippy grease out of my pores. After I finished my mini spa treatment, I slowly started to organize the messy house. I loaded the dishwasher cycle after cycle until I finally finished all of my dishes, gathered all the laundry and various other miscellaneous things cluttering the living room, vacuumed and began to mop the kitchen. It took almost the entire day, but finally I plopped down on the couch next to a sleeping Stormy and turned on the television.

I flipped through channel after channel looking for any shows that might catch my interest. To my disappointment none of the shows I had been following before Zippy Burger took over my life were still on the air. It was a rather surprising revelation actually. Had Zippy Burger really taken that much out of me, I couldn’t even sit down and watch a television program every once and a while? I finally settled on a random channel with various detective shows playing in marathon, and began to relax.

No sooner than I had put my feet up, there came the knock at my door. It was an authoritative knock, and slightly startled me. I figured it was Steve or Alan wondering why I had abandoned my store in such a time of need. I really didn’t want to deal with them, but it was inevitable and better to get it out of the way now when I was relaxed than some other time when I was stressed out and high strung.

As I predicted, I opened the door to a very agitated Steve.

“What happened to you this afternoon? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day. Did you forget your responsibility to your store, Lori? I can’t believe your behavior! You are supposed to set an example for your crew, be a leader, and take initiative, not run away at any crisis. How can a company expect to make a profit with its foot soldiers running away? What do you have to say for yourself?” Steve berated me nearly as soon as I opened the door.

“Well I have to say this: I could care less about Zippy Burger and all of that. It is a crappy company ran by incompetent blow hoards. I realize I shirked my responsibility by walking away, and not answering your phone calls. In fact I release all of my responsibilities to Zippy Burger. In case you didn’t get the point. I quit Steve.” I fired back.

There was an awkward pause as Steve was trying to figure out what to say. I could see the anger bubbling up with in him. One of his poor management flaws was his tendency to take every thing personally.

“Well than, I guess since I’m here I will pick up your keys and uniforms.”

“Thanks for saving me the trip to the office. Would you like to come in while I round them all up?” I asked standing aside and inviting him in.

“No I have to be getting back to the store. Just get your things.” He replied harshly.

I quickly gathered my uniforms and keys and threw them into a garbage bag. I shuffled from the laundry room through the kitchen and living room lugging the straining bag.

“There you go all of my uniforms and keys.” I said plopping the load in front of Steve and slamming the door in his face.

It felt a bit harsh, but he wasn’t my boss anymore. I had no need to be polite in any circumstances. I had already ruined my employment reference by quitting without notice. I really couldn’t do any further damage, could I?

“That was exciting.” I mumbled to myself returning to my seat on the couch and the television.

I only sat for a moment before going into the bedroom and fetching my phone. I shot Indra, Dakota, and Jesse a quick text asking them to join me for some coffee and dessert. It was time to throw my plan into action. Hopefully they would go for it, and I wouldn’t be adventuring by myself. I had been working things over in my head all day. I would take Stormy to my parent’s house, sell all of my unnecessary belongings and head out of town in search of employment. I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure where exactly I was going, but somewhere. I had a burning desire to head out West for some reason. It was probably because I had never been farther West than Steubenville Ohio. My home had always been in our tiny little sea side community here in the grand state of Maine.

There was nothing wrong with West Moor, my little community. I had loved growing up there, my brother and parents were close by, all of my friends from school days past were firmly rooted and raising families, overall it was a great place to live. A great place to live if you could find gainful employment that is. There was still a fleeting glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that before I set out on my adventure I would get a call for an interview. I really didn’t want to leave, but at the same time there was nothing there for me.

One by one the replies to my text filtered in. Everyone had agreed to meet me at the local coffee house in about an hour. I got up, threw on my shoes and a coat, grabbed my keys and headed toward town. I figured I would stop by and visit my brother to get his opinion on all of the chaos that seemed to be filling my life at this particular moment. I was actually surprised that I hadn’t already heard from him. Normally he was on the ball about current events in town especially when they had to do with family, although he very well could have been one of my seventeen missed calls from earlier. I still hadn’t actually checked to see who the missed calls were from I had merely assumed that they were all from Steve and the Zippy Regime.

I dashed out to my car, opened the door, hopped inside and started the engine. It wasn’t too cold, but the temperature had dropped dramatically from the previous evening. I figured I would give my car a little time to warm up. I hardly ever drove it to begin with and I felt it a bit cruel to just start it up and take off with the chill in the air. As I was waiting for the engine to warm, I checked my missed calls. My original assumption was correct; Lieland had called earlier this morning. I clicked on his number and pressed the send key.

“Lorelei Nolandt speaking, how can I help you?” Lieland mocked as he answered the phone.

“Wha… Ah! Stop that! You know I hate when you do that.” I scolded.

“I know this, and this is why I do it.” Lieland laughed. “So you finally when nutso and burnt down your store, eh?”

“I didn’t burn down the store, but I am having a bit of a nutso moment. Are you super busy or can I swing by for a moment?”

“I SUPPOSE I can fit you into my busy schedule. I’m just putting the finishing touches on Mr. Gentries’ Porsche.”

“Great. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Bah bye!” Lieland exclaimed obnoxiously as he ended the call.

He was a good kid, but the very stereotypical little brother. Even now as adults he annoyed me constantly with his bizarre antics and practical jokes. There were only two years between us although it seemed like I life time. He was still working at his mediocre job taking a slew of different courses about a little bit of everything in a local community college. He was nearly 30 and still hadn’t decided what he wanted to be when he “grew up”. His major and his girlfriends seemed to change with the weather. One week he was going to be a cop, the next week he was going to be a doctor. One week he was dating Eleanor, the next week he was dating Louise. It was a constant upheaval that the rest of the family had a hard time keeping up with. We rarely invested any time getting to know his class schedule or the girls who showed up on his arm at various family functions. Honestly I think it had a lot to do with our father. Not in a bad way by any means, but the way he had set up our trust funds required us to finish school, or be married and have a family before we were able to access any of the funds. In my opinion, Lieland didn’t want to do either of those things, but he was very insecure and on a personal mission to live up to father’s expectations in one way or another. I’m not sure what caused his insecurities, Dad was always telling him how he was proud of him and that he was doing well in school. It was all a mystery to me. Anytime I tried to discuss the subject with Lieland he changed the subject or found a reason to leave.

I started off toward the other end of town and Leyland’s detail shop. He had worked there for years ever since he had graduated from high school. I don’t know what it was that kept him there for so long, other than our parents knew Mr. McMillan, the owner, and he would put up with Lieland’s various shenanigans. Or it could be the fact that he got to deliver expensive cars back to their owners all over town, which made him look extra good in front of all the ladies he was courting. Either way, his job was the only consistent part of the enigma that was my little brother. I rolled into the parking lot, parked my car and hopped out.

Lieland greeted me with an obnoxious bear hug and ushered me into the office.

“I’m going on lunch, Al! Be back in a few.” Lieland called as he went to the key box to drop off Mr. Gentries’ keys. “What will it be my lady? Could I interest you in some Zippy Burger perhaps?”

“Oh very funny Lei, I’m actually meeting the girls for coffee in a few I just had to run something by you.”

“Man troubles? Well let me tell you, the way to a man’s heart is through his…” Lieland started with an obnoxious smirk adorning his face.

“NO.” I interrupted. “Not men trouble. I’m thinking about moving. I have been looking for a job here for months, and nothing has popped up, now my secondary job is burnt to a crisp and I’m just feeling the need to branch out a little. Spread my wings if you will. I mean all this time since right after high school I’ve been ultra responsible, and what has it done for me?”

“Well, look at me. I’ve done nothing but be IRRISPONSIBLE, and what has it done for me?” Lieland replied as we walked from the office outside toward my car. “We’re, ironically, in the exact same boat. With the exception that my job hasn’t burnt down, that reminds me we should get you out of here before you have another “episode.” Lieland teased.

I laughed as we both hopped into my car and I started the engine.

“I’m serious though, Lei. I’m really thinking about cutting ties with West Moor and hitting the road.”

Lieland chewed on that for a second as he realized how serious I actually was about leaving.

“Well… have you talked to Mom and Dad about it yet? Would you be able to travel? What would you do with your house, and would you be traveling alone?”

“That’s why I’m on my way to meet the girls. They are all in the same situation. Well not the EXACT same situation, but everything about West Moor just sucks the life right out of you. They all feel the same way. We were talking about it last night. Hopefully at least one of them will join me. I don’t really want to be traveling alone, but I can’t make them go.” I replied.

“What about Zippy? Surely they’ll be back up and running in a few months? Besides that, they should send you to another store while the construction is going on.”

“I’m sure they’ll be back up and running, this town has burger grease for blood, but I won’t be there. I walked out this afternoon. This is why my phone wasn’t on when you called me.”

I was greeted by another uncharacteristic silent pause from Lieland. I hadn’t expected him to be so quiet about things. Normally Lieland was full of opinions whether you actually wanted to hear them or not. This was a bit disconcerting. If Lieland my irresponsible younger brother was having reservations about my decision to leave, what would my parents say? What would the girls say? Did I over react about this fire, and flip out because of all the stress that had been weighing me down these past few months?

“So you quit Zippy Burger? You burnt it down, and then quit? Well there goes your resume!” Lieland quipped sarcastically. At least he was back to his normal self and not this silent thoughtful persona he was trying to project.

“Yes. I quit Zippy Burger, but I didn’t burn it down. Rhonda my incompetent closing manager did.”

“You should take her with you on your road trip. You could start fake businesses and burn them down to get the insurance money and fund your reign of destruction all across the US and Canada.” Lieland laughed. “Speaking of roads and trips, you should practice driving and take me to Taco Hut to get some lunch.”

I laughed and put the car into gear and drove off to Taco Hut. We pulled up to the drive through and Lieland ordered his food. I added a small diet soft drink, and once we got our order I quickly dashed back to the detail shop to return Lieland. He hopped out of the car almost before I was able to put it in park, grabbed his food and jogged around to the driver’s side window. I hit the button and the window slowly slid down into the door.

“Are you going to talk to Mom and Dad about this, or should I keep it a secret?” Lieland asked carefully balancing his food and drink on one hand, and bracing himself while he bent down to talk to me with the other.

“I’ll talk to them, but I don’t know when. I mean I haven’t really even officially decided that I’m going yet, so… you know.” I answered.

“Alright Sis, let me know. I’ll see you later!”

“See you later.”

I hit the window button once more in the opposite direction and it rose quietly from the door and squeaked firmly into place. After watching Lieland disappear inside with his lunch I sat and pondered my perhaps too hasty decision. As I did so it started to drizzle again, and my phone beeped. I fumbled around through my purse until I found it, and tapped the screen to see what I had missed. It was a text from Indra. She had arrived at the coffee house and was waiting.

With a sigh I slid the car into reverse, backed out of the drive way and made my way through the late afternoon traffic toward the only independent coffee house in town. The name of the establishment was Cakes and Crumpets. It was a small little store in a quiet part of town. Once it had been a stationary store, but with the newest developments in technology stationary was becoming a thing of the past. As many other businesses had come and gone in recent months, Cakes was the only one to actually survive and turn a profit. I’m not sure how, because they always seemed to be empty. Any time of day you could drive past during their business hours you would be lucky to see maybe two or three people sipping coffee by the store front, but never a giant crowd like those other cooperate national coffee chains, which was a complete surprise to me. In my opinion Cakes had comparable if not better products, and slightly lower prices. They were also much faster with the service than many of the big chain coffee stores I had been in. Maybe that’s why there were never more than two or three people in line at any given moment? How ever they managed to stay in business it was still the favorite of West Moor.

When I pulled into the parking lot I saw Indra sitting at a table near the window quietly nursing a hot beverage and fiddling with her phone. Dakota and Jesse had yet to arrive; they said they would be a few moments late due to a prior engagement. I parked the car and hopped out into the blustery afternoon. The weather had gotten progressively worse as the day went on. It was now quite chilly with dark clouds looming, and a robust breeze coming off of the Atlantic. It was one of the staple September afternoons on the East Coast. I hurried into the shop and made my way to the counter to place my order. I waved to Indra, who returned my gesture with a nod.

“Hello, what can I get to warm you up this afternoon?” The cashier behind the counter asked cheerfully.

“I think I’ll have a light chai latte, large please, and a raspberry scone.” I answered while digging through my purse for my wallet.

“Right on, I’ll get that for you. It’ll be $6.50. Give me just a moment while I get that together.” The cheery cashier said as he dashed around behind the counter gathering my drink and scone.

A moment later he returned with my treats, I paid him, and went to join Indra.

“What’s up, Lori?” Indra asked as I sat down and pulled off my hat and scarf.

“I quit Zippy today.” I answered cautiously waiting for a reaction.

“You quit your job?! Was it because of the fire, or what?” Indra yelled nearly spilling her drink in surprise.

“Not because of the fire, I was just fed up with everything going on. It’s not that the job itself, nor the people were terrible, I just feel trapped and claustrophobic here in West Moor. I’m thinking about setting out on a road trip. Something serving a duel purpose, both to find employment at a job where I can actually use my skills and schooling, and just to get the hell out of here for a while. I haven’t left in years, Indra.”

“Do you have any idea where you are going to go?”

“No. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with the house and Stormy. This just sort of happened today. The reason I called you here is to see if you could fit a crazy road adventure with a good friend into your busy schedule. You especially should go with me and see more of this awesome country before you have to return to India.”

“Lori… I don’t know. I don’t think I can take time off from my studies and…” Indra began, but trailed off as Dakota and Jesse wandered in.

They both walked directly past the counter to join us at the table.

“Hi ladies, what’s going on?” Dakota asked playfully.

“Lori burnt down Zippy Burger so she could go on some soul searching road trip.” Indra replied sarcastically in her very blunt yet charming way.

“Do what?” Jesse asked giving me a look of confusion and disapproval.

“I did NOT burn down Zippy Burger just to take this trip, but it’s no longer an issue anyway. I quit this afternoon. I just feel so trapped and dead here. I want to get out and explore a little bit. I called you all here to ask you for your honest opinions and extend and invite to you. From our conversation last night I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. Indra, you are dreading going back to India, Dakota and Jesse you are fed up with foot ball players and all the drama associated with all that… we’re young, capable, free women. We need to take an opportunity to get out and live a little with out the constraints of our teeny little town. When else are we going to get a chance to do this? When we’re old and saggy?” I explained with a bit more passion than I thought I even had for this whole plan. The more I thought about it the more I realized how important it actually was for me to do this.

“Have you talked to your parents at all?” Jesse asked.

“Yeah, what do they think? What are you going to do with the house, rent it out?” Dakota mused.

“I haven’t talked to my parents, and I’m not sure what I’ll do with the house. I mean really this whole thing has just started to take shape today.” I answered honestly.

There was a pause and silence reigned over our little group. The only sounds that could be heard were the rattling of the employees keeping the kitchen tidy and stocked with an occasional burst of wind against the window pane.

“Well…”Jesse began.

“I think the idea is a good idea, but with a terrible execution. You can’t just pack up everything and leave with out experiencing some sort of set back or negative repercussion. Things like that only happen in movies. Clearly we are not in a movie of any kind. This is real life, besides my parents would kill me if I just packed up and left.” Indra finished.

“I see your point, but I also get where Lori is coming from. We’ve been here, and our families have been here for ages. Our entire world consists of West Moor and the surrounding area. There is so much more out there to see and to experience. Why can’t we do it now, while we’re young?” Dakota added.

“Responsibility, we aren’t kids anymore. We are adults. We have bills, jobs, and some of us have school.” Indra argued.

“We have minimal responsibility right now, if we wait we’ll just gain more and more. We’ll never get out of here.” I pointed out as a matter of fact.

“Excuse me for saying so, but I think you are all crazy. This is a terrible idea. A road trip for a vacation is one thing, but just taking to the road for the pure adventure of it is not a smart idea.” Indra said finishing her beverage and inadvertently slamming her mug on the table.

The sound echoed through the empty little dining area. It was Indra’s declaration of judgment on the whole idea. She had spoken her piece and as far as she was concerned the conversation was over and onto other things. This was a characteristic I loved about her, but some times it made her seem incredibly difficult. She wasn’t, it was just part of the cultural differences. In India, the authority figure spoke, and it was done whether it was regarding a choice of menial importance or some one deciding world affairs. That was just the way it was. I couldn’t really hold it against her. Her decisiveness was a great compliment to my flippancy. Dakota and Jesse however, were much more imaginative. Even though they were silent I could see the wheels turning in their heads as they were thinking of a plan on how to actually rearrange their schedules to fit my random trip into their schedules.

Really they had taken it much more easily than I had expected. I often dropped crazy imaginative ideas that were met with a resistance of hellfire and brimstone. For seeming so put together in life, I was actually very spontaneous, and driven by my emotions. How I had managed to finish school, own a home, pay my bills and maintain a relatively responsible adult life in the midst of such turmoil was a mystery to me. I suppose I took life as it was as a challenge. If things became too easy I became bored and complacent.

“Well in all honesty, I think it’s a great idea. I’m with you Lori.” Jesse said, interrupting my thoughts.

“I agree. I’m with you too.” Dakota agreed.

“Wow, you are seriously coming with me?” I asked in disbelief.

“Sure. It’s not like we have anything better going on, and I think you’re right. When we stay in the same place too long it just sucks out your soul. West Moor is great, but it is one soul sucking town.” Jesse reiterated. “What about you Indra? Are you going to join us? Even if it’s just for the first leg of the trip, it would do you some good to take a break for a while.”

“Surely you could convince your parents to loosen their grip on you for a week or two.” Dakota teased.

Indra glared at Dakota and Jesse. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, but she was thinking. Normally she just spouted off whatever first entered her head, to get her thinking usually met that she was going to be easily persuaded to change her mind. After a few more moments of silence, she sighed and delivered her answer.

“If it will help you get back on your feet Lori, I think I could arrange taking some time off.”

The table erupted into a chorus of excited girly giggling and hoorahs. So our adventure began. There were still many things to accomplish before we could actually leave West Moor, but the basic foundations were laid that afternoon.

A few weeks later I dropped the bomb on my parents. It was Lieland’s birthday and we had all gathered for a dinner celebration. We were sitting at a quiet little beach side restaurant watching the cold winter weather roll in off of the ocean through the giant elegantly designed wall of windows. It was almost like a ski lodge high in the mountains, but instead of looking out over the inviting slopes it was looking out into the tumultuous sea. It had been snowing the better part of the week and the landscape was beginning to take on a sparkly white façade.

“So Lori, what have you been up to lately? Have you found another job yet?” Dad asked after ordering a bottle of wine and appetizer for the table.

“Yeah, Lori, what HAVE you been up to?” Lieland added with an obnoxious grin.

I resituated myself in my chair, straightened up, and cleared my throat.

“Well… I have actually been filling out applications across the country. I am thinking of taking a road trip over the next few months with a few friends.” I said cautiously waiting for all hell to break lose.

Again I was met with silence from the table. Immediately after I spoke I regretted saying anything.

“Where are you going, and who are these friends?” My mom asked casually, as if I announced I was setting out across the country every day.

“Well, I’m not sure where we’ll be going actually, but I’m going with Dakota, Jesse, and Indra.” I answered.

“They’re really just hooking across the country. Don’t let her fake innocent persona fool you. I know how she really is when you’re not around. All those parties when we were young and you left us at home? Totally her idea.” Lieland joked trying to lighten the mood.

“What are you going to do with the house? Are you going to rent it out?” Dad asked, ignoring Lieland, also surprisingly calm.

“I was hoping you could help me with that. I’m not sure what I want to do with it. I mean I’d like to sell it, but the way the market is going at the moment I doubt I could before our scheduled departure date. I’d also like a place to come home to if things don’t work out. So…” I answered.

“I could keep an eye on the place for you.” Lieland offered.

“What about your apartment?” I asked, slightly surprised at Lieland’s offer.

It’s not that we didn’t get along or anything, but we weren’t super close. It was also out of character for Lieland to do anything for anyone with out expecting something in return.

“My lease is up, and besides that I could use a break from annoying neighbors.” Lieland replied as a matter of fact.

“Well that’s a surprising turn of events, Lieland being kind to his sister.” Mom said sarcastically. “What will you do if Lori comes home, with out an apartment?”

“Mother, I am always kind to my sister, and if I need to get an apartment I can get an apartment.” Lieland retorted just as sarcastically.

“I think it’s a great idea, as long as you have a plan and you stick with it. You deserve to take a break for a while. You’ve been working hard with school and all.” Dad said to me smiling. “When are you planning on leaving?”

“I’m not exactly sure. It all depends on Indra’s school schedule and when her spring break falls. We are going to try to keep the initial trip under a month, and if I end up getting a job we’ll go from there. Indra can’t miss too much school, and I can’t be off work for too long. I mean, if I don’t find a job in my field somewhere out there I’ll need to get a new job here.”

“What on Earth happened to Zippy Burger anyway?”  Mom asked.

“Something about the fryer bank being low on oil and igniting or an incompetent employee in one form or another. I didn’t stick around long enough to really hear the results of the investigation.”

“She burnt it down in a fit of rage so she could plan her vacation.” Lieland teased.

“Ha ha Lieland, you are too funny.” I said rolling my eyes as the waiter dropped off our food.

The rest of our time together as a family was rather non eventful. We all got caught up on what was happening in each other’s lives, discussed the incoming weather and up coming holidays, enjoyed some amazing dessert and parted ways. This was how the Nolandt family operated. We all lived together in our little West Moor, but only interacted on rare occasions. It’s not that we weren’t a loving family; we had just each grown into our own individual lives, and separated from our “family unit.” I talked to dad at least once or twice a week over the phone or via email. Lieland and I ran into each other quiet frequently around town, whether at the local restaurants, bars, and clubs, or the grocery store. Mom and I would run into each other every once and a while at the local salon, or spa. It was a small town. Even though we didn’t get together for planned family functions often, we were more than complete strangers.

I was so relieved to get the announcement of the trip off of my chest, and very glad the family was taking it so well. I was still suspicious of Lieland’s offer to watch the house, but I would have to talk more to him some other time. I got the feeling that he was hiding something from Mom and Dad, but couldn’t tell what it might be. I wasn’t the type to call him out on it either.

As if by some strange ESP, while walking to my car a voice from behind me called: “Lori! Hey wait a minute!” It was Lieland jogging toward me.

“What’s up?” I asked when he got into earshot. “I was just thinking about you, you crazy psychic.”

“So, the house thing, I know it was kind of out of the blue, but I really need some extra room. I’ve kind of out grown my apartment. Well, that’s not true, I personally haven’t out grown the apartment, but my girlfriend has.” Lieland explained, rubbing his hands to keep them warm in the chilly night air.

“What do you mean your girlfriend has out grown your apartment? When did she move in with you? Which girlfriend are you talking about?” I asked, also starting to rock back and forth to keep some circulation going. “Actually before you answer lets get in the car. It will be a little bit warmer in there.”

I hit the unlock key on my car fob, and we both opened our doors and slid into the front seats.

“Lindsey. She moved in like six months ago, and she’s pregnant. So I guess technically we have out grown the apartment.” Lieland answered.

I was shocked. Not truly surprised by the way Lieland had delivered the news, but shocked at all the implications that came with the aforementioned news.

“Have you told Mom and Dad?” I asked, still in relative disbelief.

“No. I’m not going to tell Mom and Dad until I know for sure what we’re going to do. I mean she is having the baby there’s no doubt about that, but as far as if it’s mine, if we’re going to get married… all of that is still way up in the air. I just wanted to take over your place if you weren’t going to be around. It would just be the least expensive option.” Lieland explained.

I was dumb founded. I had absolutely no idea what to say. Should I be excited for my brother, or should I be afraid for him. So much about what he had just said seemed so wrong.

“If it’s yours?” was the only thing I could think of to ask.

“Well we were seeing each other, but not really. I mean… it could be mine, but it could also not be. We aren’t really a serious couple. At least we weren’t… which will change if the kid is mine, obviously. So really that’s what this whole thing is riding on.”

“Lieland James-Bryan Nolandt. How did you get yourself into this mess?” I asked shaking my head.

“It’s not a mess. It was just really unexpected. Not a mess though, I have every thing under control, Lorelei Rebecca Nolandt.”

“You should be looking for a house of your own if you have a kid on the way. I mean you are welcome to mine, but I don’t plan on being gone for more than a few months, and what are you going to do if I have to come back? Where are you going to go? When is this baby even due?” I scolded.

“She’s thirteen weeks along, so… it’s not like I need to move in tomorrow, and you’ll find a job out there. You have to. If you, a hard working, smart, educated, ambitious woman can’t find a job somewhere then we’re all screwed.”

I sat on that for a moment. He was right. If I couldn’t find employment some where in my journey, the whole thing was pointless and I would have spent all of my savings for nothing. We were all screwed.

“This is just all so crazy. I can’t believe you haven’t told Mom and Dad. Why didn’t she come to dinner with us tonight, if she is potentially the mother of your child?”

“She wasn’t feeling well. I really should be getting home to see how she is by the way. I just thought you should know, in case you come home for something after you get a killer job and there’s a baby in your house.” Lieland said checking his phone.

“Well… thanks for that I guess. Have I even met Lindsey?”

“Yeah I think. We were coming home from somewhere and she was with me when I stopped at the store? You were in line in front of us?”

I searched my memory to attempt to put a name to a face. I had run into Lieland with so many different girls it was hard to keep track.

“Was she the Goth looking girl at Save-A-Cent?”

“No, that’s Tori. Lindsey is the blonde with the cute ass.”

“Oh, I suppose that’s why you knocked her up instead of this Tori person.”

“There was a small scare with Tori, but yeah. Basically that’s why.”

“A small scare? Lieland! You work in a detail shop making ten dollars an hour. How are you going to support yourself let alone a child? Dad won’t give you access to your money just because you have a kid. You aren’t responsible enough to raise a child, you can barely raise yourself.”

“Listen to you lecture me on responsibility Ms. Take a Random Trip! Your store burnt down and you’re traipsing around the country on a whim. That’s really responsible. I have seen the error of my ways, and shall bow before you oh Queen of Responsibility.” Lieland yelled as he threw open the passenger door and stormed off.

“Lieland!” I called after him. “Lieland come back here! Don’t storm off like this! You’re only proving my point! We should discuss this like calm adults!”

He ignored me and kept walking, as a burst of wind caught the passenger door and slammed it closed.

I don’t know what stung most, whether he was right about my insecurities and irresponsibility or if it was because he was living this fringe life that he felt the need to keep hidden from the rest of the family. He was my little brother after all, no matter how haphazard and different the way he chose to live his life was from mine. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so harsh on him, but it just felt like the right thing to say, it was something he needed to hear, and he certainly was going to hear it from Dad if not from me. Lieland wouldn’t be mad at me forever; he would come around eventually and probably still watch the house for me. I hoped he would still watch the house for me, anyway.

I sat there for a few more moments going over the events of the evening. It seemed too surreal, all of this new information floating around in my head. Not only did I have my parents blessing to take off to God knows where, but my brother was about to become a father. It was as if I had left reality and entered this new world of constant change and chaos. My little bubble of sheltered world had been shattered over the course of less than a month. Emotionally I was drawing a complete blank. How did you react to everything you had known and become accustomed to flipping upside down? Even mentally I was having a bit of difficulty with it.

A light rain/snow shower broke my train of thought, and I realized I had been sitting in the car for over two hours. It had been idling so long that I was nearly out of gas. I put the car into gear, backed out of my parking space and began the short trek home. As I drove through sleepy little West Moor I watched people I had known my entire life going in and out of businesses, arguing with their spouses, enjoying a hot beverage while window shopping in the town square, rushing home after a late night at the office, and any variety of other chores or pass times just as it had always been and probably always would be.

The next few months passed in a blur of mundane West Moor life. Lieland had confirmed the paternity of Lindsey’s baby, and they wed in a small court house ceremony. I had moved out of my house and back in with my parents to give Lieland and Lindsey time to get settled before the arrival of their little one. Dad offered me a part time job as his teachers assistant in the local community college to pad my income until I either heard back from one of the literally hundreds of applications I had continued to send out, or the date of my trip came around. He was an assistant professor in the anthropology department, and my duties as his assistant included mostly making copies and scheduling meetings with struggling students. It felt good to be working again, even if just in the sense that it was just busy work to get me out of the house. I was spoiled with the light office work, but it was still nice. It was also nice to be more involved with my family. I hadn’t realized how much I had actually missed it until I was thrown back into it.

It was the week before our scheduled departure date in early May, and I was finishing up some minor laundry and last minute packing when my phone rang. It was Indra.

“Hello?” I answered while balancing the phone on my shoulder and folding a pair of jeans.

“Lori! We need to get together as soon as possible. I have an issue I need to discuss with you. Are you free after six this evening?” Indra replied, sounding incredibly stressed.

“Sure, what’s going on?” I asked concerned.

“My HUSBAND is here. He randomly showed up on my front door two days ago!” Indra yelped.

“Your husband is here? Like from India?”

“Yes! It was completely unannounced. He wants to get married before I graduate! Here in the US!”

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to this. The entire duration of our friendship, Indra had always spoken of returning to India to marry and live with her husband. I didn’t know what the cards held for her if her husband randomly showed up here. In all honesty I don’t think she knew what was in store for her either. She sounded panicked, and frazzled which was very out of character for Indra.

“Not to sound selfish or anything, but how does this affect our plans for next week?” I asked, possibly more bluntly than I had intended.

“Let’s get together to discuss it.”

“Okay, we can do that. Do you want to meet at Cakes?”

“No, can you meet me at work?”

“Um sure, after six you said?”

“Yes. I’ll meet you at the reception area.” Indra said shortly as she ended the call.

I was concerned there was something Indra wasn’t telling me. She sounded scared for the first time since I had met her. What ever she wanted to tell me was not good news. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was nearly five. I grabbed a clean pair of jeans and a light sweater from my pile of laundry and dashed off to the shower.

After a quick shower and a snack I started off toward the hospital where Indra was completing her residency. It was outside of town by several miles, and it was a giant medical complex. In fact I think the entire town could be inside the hospital at one time and it still wouldn’t feel crowed in the least. I parked in the visitor parking and made my way through the main entrance. She hadn’t said what department she was working in, only that she would meet me at the reception area. I made my way to the front desk and asked the receptionist where I could find Indra.

“Are you Lorelei?” The receptionist asked.

“I am.” I answered.

“She’s expecting you. Hold on and I’ll have her paged. You can have a seat over there in the waiting area if you like.” The receptionist answered smiling.

“Thank you.” I said as I made my way over to the small bank of chairs in the waiting area. As I walked over I noticed several very well dressed Indian men occupying the rest of the waiting area. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but a few moments later when Indra appeared out of the Malay and took my hand, I understood completely.

“Ms Nolandt? It’s good that you are here. Please walk with me this way and I will take care of you. How is your fever?” Indra said as she grabbed my hand and led me away from the waiting area to a wheel chair and nurse. “Please have a seat Ms Nolandt. You shouldn’t be walking in your condition.”

I was confused and began to ask what Indra was doing, but the look in her eyes made me change my mind and decide to play along.

“Oh I’m doing relatively well in my condition and all. I did have a slight memory lapse this morning, what is my condition called again?” I said feigning some unknown disease.

“Why Ms. Nolandt, you have stage three liver disease. You can barely eat or drink anything, and your fever has spiked repeatedly in the last twenty four hours. I’m not surprised at your memory lapses with your fever delusions are common.” Indra explained as the orderly wheeled me around the corner and into an elevator with Indra close behind.

The doors closed and Indra dropped her façade.

“Lori! He’s here! He’s been with me every second of the day since his arrival! I feel so trapped! He won’t let me leave his sight. He wouldn’t even let me drive this morning.” Indra gasped tears forming in her eyes.

“Who’s here? Your husband?” I asked standing up.

“That prick, in the waiting room with an entourage.” The orderly spat hatefully.

“That guy was your husband?”

“Yes! Ashradi, the one with the six hundred dollar suit, he is a hundred times worse than I ever imagined Lori. He won’t let me speak unless I am addressed, and he made me sleep with him last night. Not in the sexual sense, but in the same room and the same bed. Lori, it’s awful.” Indra wept. “I won’t be able to join you on your trip as planned. I won’t even be able to see any of my friends before we return to India.”

I stepped around the wheel chair and put my arm around my embattled friend. She was a complete mess, and it was pulling at my heart strings.

“Let’s just see what I have to say about that.” I said, digging a tissue out of my purse and offering it to Indra. “I’m going to make a few phone calls when we get out of this elevator and see what I can do.”

The elevator dinged as we reached our designated floor, and in an instant Indra simultaneously composed herself and pushed me back down into the chair. As the doors slid open we were greeted by Ashradi and his entourage. Once we disembarked they turned to the nurse’s station and another small bank of chairs in the waiting area. Not a word was spoken between Indra or anyone of Ashradi’s goons.

“As I said Ms. Nolandt, this treatment is very tedious and involved. It may take up to several hours to work effectively. Not to worry, I will be by your side through the duration.” Indra said loudly as we walked past the nurse’s station into an unoccupied room just past the earshot of the goons.

“What the hell?” I nearly yelled as Indra closed the door and the orderly left us.

“They have been following me floor to floor all day! I can’t escape! I was only able to call you because a radiologist was able to light the in use light remotely without having the MRI machine actually in service. I risked damaging a lot of expensive equipment to make that phone call Lori.” Indra said, once again letting the tears spill onto her cheeks. “I don’t know what to do! This is nothing like I expected. I know India and the US are completely different worlds, but I couldn’t imagine anything like this. I’m scared Lori. Not only will our marriage and subsequent move ruin my medical career, but I will be treated like a slave! Ashradi has never behaved like this before. I’ve known him and spoken to him for months!”

Again I cradled her in my arms as we took a seat on the empty bed.

“I know you’ve always spoken highly of him until now. What changed? Do you know, has he told you?” I asked, grabbing another tissue from the depths of my purse and sharing it with Indra.

“He won’t allow me to speak unless he wants to ask me a question. It’s almost as if he is a completely different person.” Indra answered taking the tissue and blowing her nose.

“What’s with the goons? Is he some sort of prince or something?”

“They are his uncles. His father sent them.”

“Do you think that’s why he’s behaving so differently? Maybe it’s what his father expects?”

“But why would he continue to behave that way when they weren’t around if the only reason he is being such a fascist pig? He made me sleep with him Lori! He watched me undress and made me get into the same bed he touched me not in love, or in lust but in a possessive way as if I was just an object for his amusement.”

This statement made my blood boil. It took everything I had in me not to storm out of the room and stab him with a dirty syringe.

“Did he hurt you, Indra?”

“Not in the physical sense no. It was thwarting, and humiliating. My pride as a human being was hurt more than anything else.”

I was seething. I knew this was still happening in the world, the stories were all over the news and current media, but to have it hit so close to home was appalling.

“Indra, I can’t even begin to know what to say. I’m mad, and sad, and… I just have no idea. I won’t let him treat you like this. I won’t let him ruin our trip. I don’t know how, but I swear to you I won’t let it happen.” I said with angry tears welling up inside of me, and my voice cracking.

“Thank you Lori. Thank you.”

We sat there in silence for a few moments, Indra sobbing softly on my shoulder, and I still in shock from the recent turn of events.

A few hours later Dakota, Jesse, and four beefy football players arrived at the front desk.

“We’re here to see Lori.” Dakota casually said to the receptionist.

“Lorelei Nolandt? Sure. I’ll have some one come down to escort you to her room. If you’ll just have a seat next to those fine Indian gentlemen, I’ll have some one down in a jiffy.” The Receptionist answered with an unabashed tone of spite in her voice.

Dakota and Jesse stood as the seats around Ashradi and his goons filled with the sheer muscle mass of four line backers. Dakota looked around for Indra, and casually pulled out her phone. She sent me a text.

I was still sitting in the room where Indra had left me to make her rounds. As soon as I received the text from Dakota, I made my way to the staff elevator and out the back side of the hospital. I hurried to my car, got in and started the engine, then pulled into the patient drop off and pick up area. Thankfully my windows were tinted, and my license plates were due to expire. I was about to have several very angry Indian men looking for me, and I didn’t want to give them any more advantage than they already had. My phone beeped again, and the plan was set in motion. I hit the unlock button to unlock the passenger door, and waited.

Mean while inside the hospital, Dakota and Jesse had disappeared into the women’s restroom near the lobby. They heard the nurse page Indra over the intercom which was uncommon, but all part of the plan. At the sound of her name, Ashradi and the goons were on full alert. Looking for Indra to dutifully show up at the reception area, the ball players that had accompanied Dakota and Jesse were also sitting on the edge of their seats.

Several very tense minutes went by before Indra stepped into the women’s room meeting Dakota and Jesse.

“Are you ready for this, girly?” Jesse asked giving Indra a quick hug.

“I’m not sure. I don’t want to disrespect my parents, but I can’t live with Ashradi. I just can’t. I feel like a failure and a traitor. I will bring shame on my entire family here in the US and at home in India… I just can’t live like that!” Indra replied, tears again streaming down her face.

“You have us. We’re your family, and there is no shame in being a strong woman.” Dakota encouraged.

Indra smiled.

“You are the most inspirational women I have met. Thank you so much for all of your help and support.”

Again there was a group hug, and the plan was set in motion.

Dakota jumped into action and pulled an outfit out of her giant purse and handed it to Indra, whom quickly stepped into a stall and changed. Mean while, Jesse had donned a black wig, and changed into Indra’s scrubs, she then dashed out the door to rendezvous with the same orderly who had rolled me up to my room.

Ashradi was getting visibly nervous after several minutes of waiting for Indra. He stood up and started pacing, then glanced down the hall and saw Jesse talking with the orderly. Seeing Indra’s distinctive scrubs and black hair, Ashradi settled down momentarily but didn’t return to his seat. He was watching “Indra” with an unmatched intense gaze. The players whom had accompanied Jesse and Dakota were watching him with a very similar gaze, poised on the edge of their seats.

While Ashradi was distracted by Jesse, the real Indra and Dakota slipped out of the women’s room and casually walked down the hall toward the main doors. Indra was decked out in a neon pink velour track suit with a giant sun glasses. Not the greatest disguise in the world, but we were counting on Ashradi to keep his attention on Jesse. So far the plan had worked perfectly.

I was also getting anxious waiting in the car. The hospital doors were tinted in such a way that I could hardly see through them. I saw shapes, but I had no idea who those shapes actually belonged to. I strained my eyes looking for anything even remotely resembling pink.

Dakota squeezed Indra’s hand one last time, then left her side and returned to the waiting area. Indra continued on her way to the front entrance, her sliding glass doors to freedom. Ashradi was still fixated on Jesse until by some twist of fate, whether it was the dry air, or just nerves, Indra sneezed. When I say that Indra sneezed, I don’t mean the standard run of the mill sneeze that could belong to any number of people. Indra had a very distinct high pitched squeak for a sneeze. It immediately drew Ashradi’s attention from Jesse to the real Indra, and knocked the movie start glasses to the ground.

Panicked, Indra turned to look behind her. The eye contact was minimal, but enough. Ashradi bellowed something in Hindi, his goons jumped up, and Indra sprinted toward freedom.

“Run Indra!” Jesse screamed, throwing off her wig her cover now blown.

Ashradi’s goons began to give chase, and were expertly intercepted by the line backers, and Dakota who got right in their faces and gave them a good tongue lashing for the way they had treated Indra.

The next thing I knew, Indra bolted out the door and jumped into my car. With out waiting to see what happened next I sped off around the drop off area and out onto the highway.

“Are you okay? Did he try to hurt you in anyway?” I asked, as I sped around cars like a man woman. I was slightly concerned about getting pulled over for my erratic driving, but then again considering the circumstances I might need police assistance.

“He never got close to me after I left the restroom with Dakota, but he called out a curse on my name and my family as I ran out.” Indra answered in between sobs.

“I’m sorry, Indra. I really am. I wish things had panned out differently for you.” I said, trying to calm her, as tears began to blur my vision.

We pulled off the highway, and stopped at Indra’s bank. She closed all of her accounts and withdrew the remainder of her savings. It wasn’t something she wanted to do, but it was something she had to do before Ashradi got a hold of her parents and her assets were frozen. We also stopped at the mall and quickly maxed out her credit cards purchasing a new wardrobe, basic toiletries and home furnishings since she would never be able to set foot into her parents home. We loaded down my car with the clothes and toiletries, but had the furnishings delivered to Lieland and Lindsey.

After our time at the mall we continued to my parents house where Dakota, Jesse and Owen, the most beefy of the four football players in our rescue mission, were waiting for us. The rest of the plan included myself and Indra leaving for our road trip adventure that night, and having Dakota and Jesse meet us after several days when things had calmed down a little bit. Owen would accompany them to our rendezvous point, then return to town in their car, thus throwing off Ashradi’s search just that much more.

We were kind of relieved and shocked that we had concocted such an elaborate and mostly successful plan in less than two hours. Obviously we all watched a little too much television, but I suppose it did pay off in the end.

Together we all sat around the dinner table with my parents, talking and laughing just like old times. Mom had prepared a celebratory departure dinner, which was delicious, and Dad had thrown together a little care package for us including travelers checks, an emergency prepaid card, and a new road side assistance package. It was good to feel confident in my decision to take this trip, and to have the support of my family no matter what. I felt kind of bad taking Indra from such different circumstances and then almost flaunting my supporting family. I know she knew that it wasn’t intended that way, but I still felt kind of bad. She had put on a strong happy façade for my parents, but as soon as we loaded up the car, piled in and set off, she broke down again.

I was at a complete loss for words. I felt like there was something I should say to make her feel better, but I had no idea what she was going through. I finally decided that she was better off grieving on her own. I would be there to listen and support her through everything, but I would support mostly in silence.

Our first stop after leaving West Moor was a plush hotel in downtown Manhattan. It was only a five hour drive, and we were leaving relatively early in the evening. If we staid on schedule we would arrive shortly before 1am. Originally we had planned to leave early in the morning and drive through the day so we could actually see the countryside, but with Indra’s dilemma we decided it was best to get out of town as soon as possible.

After about three hours of driving in silence, Indra finally started to perk up a bit.

“So where are we exactly?” Indra asked reaching over and turning on the radio.

“I’m not one hundred percent sure. Some where outside of Haverhill, Massachusetts I think.” I answered. “Check the GPS.”

Indra reached over and manipulated the controls on the LCD screen to get the information she wanted.

“You were right. We’re nearly there. Only about two more hours. That seemed to go by really fast.” Indra said readjusting herself in her seat.

“It did actually. Maybe it’s better that we’re driving at night. We are an entire week ahead of schedule so I don’t even have an interview until next Monday. Do you think we should stop somewhere else for tonight and take a break? I’m not sure how Dad did the hotel reservations. I can give them a call really quick, if you want to stop that is.” I yawned. I wasn’t really sleepy, but we hadn’t stopped for more than a few moments at a time since leaving West Moor. The gentle sound of the tires on the road, and the white lines flying past was very relaxing. It was almost hypnotizing.

“We can stop, or I can drive.” Indra offered. “I don’t really care. Like you said we have plenty of time. You’re driving it’s up to you.”

I thought for a moment, and then took the next exit. We pulled off into a scary looking little gas station, I parked and we both hopped out.

I was never one to be afraid of new and strange places, but something about this little station gave me the creeps. I don’t know if it was because it was in sparsely lit corner of the road, if it was because it was nearly thirty miles from the next town or exit on the interstate, or if it was because Indra was a very attractive wanted woman. I could put up a fight if necessary, but really I tried to avoid drama at all cost.

“I think I’m going to run in and grab a soda really quick.” Indra said, stretching her arms above her head.

“Alright, I’m going to be waiting in the car. Indra?”

“Yes?”

“Be careful this place gives me the creeps.”

Indra laughed. “Why?”

“Because it just does. Something about it puts me off.”

“Okay, well I will be as careful as one can be buying a soda at 2am in a small suburb of New York.”

Indra flipped her hair, turned on her heels and waltzed into the rickety little Quick Mart.

A cold shiver went down my spine, and I immediately hopped back into the passenger seat and closed the door. A few moments later Indra returned with her soda, we were on our way. I suppose my paranoia was unfounded, but you can never be too careful. I mean it wasn’t my first time out of West Moor, but it was my first adventure on my own. I don’t know where Indra found the courage to go boldly and leave caution to the wind, but I’m glad I had her with me.

After we got back on the road, I settled into my seat, turned up my a/c and fell into a blissful slumber.

 

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“Lori! Wake up, you have to see this!” Indra yelled shaking me.

I slowly opened my eyes, rubbed them and sat up. We were parked on the side of the road somewhere just out side of the city. The air was perfectly clear, and the city was breath taking.

“Where are we?” I asked turning my head to survey the rest of our surroundings.

“On the side of the road. It was too amazing I had to stop and take a picture!” Indra said as a semi flew past my window.

“Oh!” I yelled in surprise. “Well did you get your picture?”

“I did, but you had to see it too. I mean I couldn’t just drive through this amazing sight and let you miss it.”

I smiled. Indra was completely oblivious to the dangers of sitting on the side of the road in the dark.

“Thank you, Indra. It is amazing.”

Indra smiled, put the car into gear and merged with the light traffic.

We were blindly following our GPS directions, because we had no idea where we were. Even at such an early hour in the morning, the city was hustling and bustling with life. I had always heard the phrase the city never sleeps, but I had never taken it so literally until I was actually there seeing it for myself. I am glad Indra was driving, or rather attempting to drive. If I had been behind the wheel I would have had a massive panic attack. There were so many cars!

We eventually pulled up to the hotel. It was a massive spread, the tallest building I had ever seen, and the most elegant and lavish décor. I wondered to myself briefly why Dad had booked us right smack down town, but then again, he was just taking care of his little girl. He wanted us to have the full plush NYC experience I suppose.

We handed the valet our keys, removed our bags from the trunk and waltzed into what seemed like a different world. We wheeled our suit cases up to the front desk.

“Can I help you?” A very well dressed woman asked.

“We have a reservation listed under Robert Nolandt.” I said absent mindedly as I was still taking everything in.

“Alright, I just need a credit card number to keep on file here, and you’re good to go.”

I pulled out our designated credit card and slid it across the counter. The receptionist put the number into the computer system, handed me a door key, and called over a bellhop to assist us with our bags.

As we followed the bell hop through the vast what seemed like a maze of hall ways to a massive elevator. The doors opened and to my surprise there was actually an elevator attendant! A real life elevator attendant. I didn’t think that job still existed in society. At least I would have an option if my interview didn’t go well, I thought to myself as we ascended to the sixteenth floor.

We exited the elevator and walked down another long hallway to the door of our room. The bell hop showed us how to work they key mechanism, and opened the door. When we entered we squealed like school girls. It wasn’t just a room it was an entire villa! It seemed like the entire room was glass from the panoramic wall of windows. It almost gave me vertigo to look out and see the city. It was almost like I could reach out and touch the other buildings. I tipped the bell hop and he left us staring in disbelief at all that surrounded us. Indra and I explored each room of our spacious villa. We were greeted by two separate bedrooms, complete with attaching baths in each, a fully stocked bar with all the amenities, spacious living and dining room. The furnishings were modern, and chic but simple in neutral colors.

After a few more moments to take everything in, we both showered and changed from our traveling attire to our pajamas, and snuggled into our beds. The bed was the most lavish, extravagant thing I had ever slept on. It absorbed my body like I would imagine a cloud would, and I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

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The next day Indra and I set about trying to navigate our way through our new little world. We left the car parked in the hotel’s secure garage, and set out on foot. Our hotel wasn’t too far from Central Park so we meandered about there for quite a while. It was a shocking and exciting experience to be in a city PARK the size of our entire square/business district in West Moor. It was a beautiful sight, but slightly overwhelming.

After we’d finished at the park, we made our way over to the Village. Our visit there served no actual purpose other than just to finally see it in person. We meandered up and down the narrow streets, visited a few small shops, and eventually made our way back to the hotel.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around watching TV and ordering take out. It was like college all over again. With out the homework and general stress of learning.

Indra and I had just settled down to a new episode of our favorite science fiction program, when there was a knock at our door.

“Who could that be?” Indra asked in between bites of delicious pizza, melted and dripping cheese pizza.

“I’m not sure. Hold on I’ll go check.” I said, sadly putting down my slice of pizza and making my way to the door.

I glanced through the peep hole in the door and came face to face with one of Ashradi’s goons! I leapt back from the door and ran back to the couch and Indra.

“It’s one of Ashradi’s goons!” I spat frantically in a barely audible whisper.

A look of fear and dread came over Indra. It was as if some one had squashed her pet kitten with a two by four.

“What? How? How did they find us, Lori? What do we do?” She finally said after the initial shock had worn off.

“I don’t know!” I said again as another knock rang through our hotel room. “Erm… hide! I will try to distract him and get him out of here. Lock yourself in the bathroom or something, and take your phone. If things get too out of hand call the police!”

Indra hesitated, but eventually dashed into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.

As soon as she was safely locked away I returned to the door. Leaving the security chain engaged I slowly opened it.

“Can I help you?”

“Indra La Makul. She went missing several days ago, and her parents said you are one of her close friends. Can I come in and ask you a few questions?” The goon answered bluntly.

“I don’t even know you, and you came all the way from West Moor to ask me questions about Indra?” I asked suspiciously.

I couldn’t tell if he recognized me, had some hidden agenda, or was just honestly concerned about the well being of his employers wife. He was stoic and calm. Slightly rude, but then again so was Indra to a point.

“Yes. We believe she may be in some sort of trouble.”

If he was planning on bursting in and knocking me out, he certainly was playing it off very well. I was torn between the decision to let him in, or to keep him on the other side of the security chain. I didn’t want to appear too cautious and arouse suspicion that wasn’t warranted, but at the same time I didn’t want to let him in to ransack the place looking for Indra either.

“How did you know I was in New York this week, and how on Earth did you find my hotel?” I asked taking the liberty to open the door a bit more.

“We went to your home and a woman told us you had just left for New York two days ago. We found your hotel because it is registered under your fathers name, and we spoke to your father this morning in West Moor.” He answered.

That was the ticket. I didn’t know if Lindsey would sell me out, but I certainly knew my father would NOT tell anyone where I was unless I gave him specific instructions to do so. The goon was lying.

“Oh, well hold on. I just got out of the shower. I need to change into something more appropriate for visitors.” I said, closing the door softly.

As soon as the latch clicked I flew across the living area and into Indra’s room.

“Indra!” I whispered. “He said he’s here looking for you because they think you might be in trouble. He also said my dad told him we were here. I don’t know how he found us, but he’s lying. We need to get out of here!”

Indra cracked the door open with tears streaming down her face.

“How do we get out of here Lori? Where will we go? You have an interview next week, and your father has paid for this hotel room for several days!” She sobbed.

I looked around the villa, desperately searching for a way out. There had to be an emergency exit, or fire escape or something.

“Do you know his name? The Goon?” I asked, still scanning the room. “Don’t worry about the hotel. Dad will understand.”

“I would have to see him.” Indra answered.

“We could have him paged by the front desk?” I thought aloud.

Again, a loud persistent knock echoed through the hotel room.

“Well, think of something!” Indra plead desperately.

Thought after thought raced through my mind, but nothing logical nor safe came to light.

“Wait! Indra, grab everything you can carry. I have an idea.” I said darting from the bathroom into the kitchenette.

It wasn’t the best idea, but it was something. I filled a tall glass with water and set it in the microwave for several minutes. Meanwhile Indra gathered all of our necessities into one over stuffed suit case and followed my lead.

“Just a moment!” I called through the door, over the ding of the microwave. I gingerly grabbed the glass, and walked over to the door. On my signal, Indra disengaged the security chain and flung the door open. Before he could react, I threw the glass of steaming hot water into his face. He stumbled back ward in pain and surprise cursing, in what I could only presume was Hindi, while Indra and I ran past him and immediately down the emergency stair case. We stumbled, tripped, and nearly fell several times, but eventually we made it to the garage level.

“Where is the car?” Indra hissed, obvious panic in her voice.

“I have no idea! We had the valet park it.” I replied, also wrought with panic.

I swung my head back and forth, trying to find anything to clue me into where my car was waiting for us.

There was a commotion in the stair well immediately behind us propelling us forward. Whether instinctively or out of random circumstance we both darted to the left, still lugging our suite cases in tow and ducked behind a large SUV before the stair way door flew open and slammed into the concrete wall. I continued to search frantically for any sign of my car, while keeping an eye on the enraged goon equally as frantic looking for us. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my Maine license plate just two rows over to the left.

“Indra, there it is.” I whispered pointing in the direction of our get away. “You sneak over there first. Keep low, and give me your phone.”

Indra didn’t question me, she obediently handed over her phone, and darted over to the car. Once she was safely hidden, I snuck over three rows to the right of our actual car, and placed her cell phone in the wheel well of another car. The goon was yelling profusely in Hindi, while I didn’t understand the language itself I could sense the hatred spewing forth from his tone. A few moments had passed while he was angrily pacing up and down each row methodically searching for us. He glanced in my direction multiple times, and each time he nearly discovered me I winced and willed myself invisible.

I continued to wait until he turned his back to me, then I dashed from my hiding place and to my car. I ducked behind it, pulled out my own phone as well as my spare car keys. I dialed Indra’s number and pressed send; then before her phone started to ring I threw mine as far away as I could. Hoping desperately to hit another car and set off an alarm.

The ear splitting tone of an auto alarm echoed through the garage moments after Indra’s ring tone had grabbed the attention of the goon. He spun around trying to pinpoint the sound of the phone until the alarm shattered the silence. As I had anticipated he headed straight for the alarming car, ignoring the phone.

Using the wailing alarm for cover I unlocked my car and we quickly tossed our bags into the back seat and jumped in. I started the engine, and with adrenaline rushing through my veins peeled out of my parking space and drove like I had never driven before. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the goon’s attention turn from the alarming car to our get away. He immediately broke out in a full run, and to my surprise jumped right out in front of us as I was flying towards the exit.

“Lori! Lori! You’re going to kill him!” Indra screamed as I threw my foot onto the accelerator launching the car toward him.

To his credit he stood his ground and braced himself for impact as the front bumper of my car connected with his knee caps and knocked him up and over the top of the car.

“Lori!! You killed him! You killed him!” Indra screamed as I continued up the exit ramp, not bothering to look in my rear view mirror, or slow down.

When we reached the top of the ramp I flew through the control arm and out into a sea of traffic. I raced from lane to lane, avoiding pedestrians and other cars like it was my job. I ran several lights and upon seeing the first alley, immediately turned down into it.

“Hold on!” I yelled to Indra as I flew down the alley at break neck speeds, dodging dumpsters and trash shoots until I nearly reached the other side. I pulled the wheel a to a hard right and slammed the car into a building.

Indra screamed, the air bags exploded and we jerked forward thrown by the impact into our seat belts. I stumbled out of the car in a haze, gasping for breath.

“Indra!” I coughed. “Are you okay? Come on we need to get out of here!”

Indra also stumbled out of the car coughing, trying to catch her breath. I threw open the back door and grabbed a bag for each of us, hooked my arm around Indra and shuffled out into the open street nearly missing getting hit by a passing truck. We jumped back on to the side walk, and started walking. After we caught our breath and composed ourselves a little I hailed a cab.

“Where to ladies?” The cab driver asked as Indra and I hopped into the cab.

“The car rental place nearest to the West Side of the city, maybe even a rental place in the suburbs. Money is no object.” I wheezed still trying to catch my breath from the impact.

“Right oh.” The driver answered as he pulled back into traffic.

I don’t know if Indra was still in shock of if she just didn’t know what to say, but all of her tears had stopped and she was just staring blankly out the window.

“Actually, sir? Could you take us to the nearest ATM? I forgot I don’t have much cash on me. I’m trying not to put too much on this card. If that’s okay.” I asked the driver, realizing that if I continued to use Dad’s credit card I would leave a paper trail.

“Sure thing, just remember even when we stop the meter is running.” He answered as he changed lanes and turned onto another street.

“That’s fine.” I answered scanning the masses of people for anyone I recognized. I hadn’t seen anyone other than the singular goon, but if he knew where we were I’m sure Ashradi wasn’t far behind. I don’t know what possessed me back in the hotel. I’d never acted like that before in my life. While I had never been in a situation like that before, where I thought my life was in danger, I still was a bit in awe of my ability to get out of a new dangerous situation. Then it hit me. How many laws had I broken? What were the consequences of what I had just done, and would more than just Ashradi be looking for us now? Should I call the police and try to explain the circumstances? I was so deep in thought that I didn’t even notice when the cab pulled over to the side of the road.

“Hey lady, are you going to’ get out or what?” The driver said impatiently. “Your ATM is right there.”

“I’m sorry. Yeah. I’ll be right back.” I answered hopping out and dashing through the sea of people to the ATM. I withdrew as much cash as I could off of Dad’s credit card. Thankfully due to his awesome financial history he didn’t have a daily withdrawal or spending limit. I felt stupid and exposed stuffing wads of hundred dollar bills into my purse, but it had to be done. When my transaction had finished I removed the card from the machine and snapped it in half. One half I took with me, the other I threw into a near by trash can. I made my way back to the cab and we continued to the West Side and the car rental place, which happened to be several blocks away. Not the best option since I was trying not to leave an obvious paper trail, but we needed to get out of the city and we couldn’t afford to waste much more time.

When we pulled up to the drive way of the rental place, I jumped out setting my bag on the curb, and helped coax Indra out into the open. She still hadn’t said a word since the incident in the parking garage. I grabbed her bag, paid the cab fair, and slowly Indra and I made our way into the rental office. I filled out all the necessary paper work, and we received our car a few moments later. Again, we hopped into the car and began to head West. I really had no idea where we were going at this point. I just wanted to get as far away from everything that had happened.

After several hours of driving I pulled off of the highway and managed to find a gas station with a working pay phone. I called my dad. It rang several times before he picked up.

“Hello?” He said a hint of concern in his voice. “Is that you Lori?”

“Hi Dad. We’re okay, but we’ve hit a bit of a snag. Could you call the insurance company and report my car stolen? I rented a car and we left the city. I also took out a bunch of cash at an ATM and destroyed your card. It’s kind of a long story, but you know. We’re alive.” I spat out quickly, trying to finish my conversation before I had to deposit another quarter.

“I can call the insurance company, but why are you leaving the city? What happened?” Dad asked remaining remarkably calm considering the circumstances.

“Those men who were after Indra showed up at our hotel, and we had to bail. I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to make any of my interviews now, but the most important thing is that Indra is safe. I think I’m just going to head over to Indianapolis, and see if I can move up my interview I had scheduled for there.” I replied, again very quickly.

“Who are these people, Lorelei? Is your life in danger in anyway?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Well, be as safe as you can in the circumstances. I will hold down the fort here, and call the insurance company.”

“Thanks Dad. Love you, I have to get back on the road now. Oh, we had to leave our cell phones behind. I think that’s how they were tracking us, so yeah. I’m going to stop after we check into a hotel for the night and go buy a prepaid phone somewhere. I will call you then. Goodnight!”

“Goodnight, Lori.”

Our conversation ended just as the time on the phone ran out. I hung up the receiver and took a deep breath. The adrenaline was finally starting to wear off, and I could feel a horrendous pain in my chest. Presumably from the seat belt and the force of the air bag during our accident. At least I hoped that is all it was and that I hadn’t sustained any more serious injuries. I walked back toward the car, opened the door and hopped in.

“Do you want to stop here, or keep driving? We have quite a ways to go until we get to Indianapolis.” I asked Indra.

She sat in silence.

“Indra, are you okay? You need to talk to me.” I insisted, lightly touching her arm.

“I’m fine. I just don’t care what we do, or where we go. This whole thing is just a total nightmare! We killed some one today, Lori and you don’t even seem to care! You are no better than Ashradi when it comes to the regard for human life and dignity.” Indra spat at me full of rage and contempt.

“I didn’t kill him. At least I don’t think I did. I didn’t hit him that hard. I’m sure the worst he has is a few broken bones. He was trying to take you back to Ashradi. The whole purpose of this fiasco was to get you away from Ashradi!” I yelled in reply.

“Ashradi was only trying to protect me!”

“Protect you? From what? A hang nail, or bad hair day?”

“The Denholms!”

I stopped yelling, and took a pause. The goon had said he believed that Indra was in danger, but I hadn’t believed him, now Indra herself was telling me she was in danger? Something was missing. She wasn’t telling me everything.

“Who are the Denholms?” I asked, still rather upset, but no longer yelling.

“Do you remember Tristan, and all that drama?” Indra asked also lowering her voice.

“Well yeah. What does he have to do with these Denholm people?”

“He is a Denholm. Tristan Denholm. The woman he was talking to was his wife before I made that giant scene was his wife. She divorced him, and now he has gone off the deep end. He called my house and threatened me, so my parents did the next logical thing and called Ashradi to come marry me, and protect me from Tristan.”

I sat there in silence. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe Indra, but this story she was telling me just didn’t make sense. She was so upset when Ashradi was following her around the hospital, and if he truly was there to protect her, I had no reason to take her out of the situation her she had made me believe.

“That doesn’t make any sense. If that’s true, why on Earth did you freak out about Ashradi?” I asked poignantly.

“Because I’m not used to people taking over my life like that. He didn’t really do anything wrong, but he just went about it so possessively it scared me. I mean he followed me to New York, Lori! From Maine!”

“He’s your husband, and it’s his sworn duty to protect you! Of course he followed you to New York. Even all the way from Maine. He showed up in an entirely different country, Indra! He traveled half way around the world to save you from some creepy boy toy and you freaked out? Why would you freak out because he wanted to protect you?”

Indra only glared in reply.

“This is completely unbelievable Indra. Completely! I thought I was trying to protect you from this guy, and all he was doing was trying to protect you from some other guy. I’m going to check into this motel over there across the street and calling my dad. Hopefully he can iron something out of all this mess.” I sighed as I shifted into gear and made the quick journey across the street.

I parked by the front office, and went in to see about getting a room. We had left New York several hours ago, and had made it all the way to a small town in Pennsylvania called New Stanton. It was a ways off the beaten path, which was good considering the circumstances. The hotel was clean, and just off the road we had taken to get gas. It wasn’t what I was accustomed to, but it would have to do. I had left the keys in the car, and the engine running. I was only gone for a few moments, but when I walked out of the office, key in hand I was greeted by an empty parking spot and my lonely bag thrown out onto the sidewalk.

Indra was no were in sight. She had taken the car and fled. Where to, I have no idea, but she was gone. I was hurt, angry, and a little confused as to what had happened. Apparently the woman I had grown to love over all of the years and hardships together was not who I thought she was. I let out an angry scream, and string of curse words as I grabbed my bag and made my way to my room. Once inside, I glanced at the clock, it was nearly 2am. There was no point in calling my parents and waking them up at this hour. Instead I decided to take a long hot shower and call the rental company.

Oh a whim I had decided to take out extra insurance coverage, and I was certainly glad I had gone with my whim. A representative from the rental company would be arriving sometime tomorrow with a new car for me, although I had no idea where I was going at this point. I wasn’t really afraid to be so far away from home on my own, but at the same time I didn’t want to go traipsing around the country by myself. Especially after all that had transpired in the past twenty four hours. There was no telling what Indra had or hadn’t told me, who might show up looking for her, or what their intentions might be.

I settled into the creaky motel bed, and tried to ignore the cockroaches skittering across the floor as I drifted off to sleep.

 

—————————————————————–

 

The next morning, I awoke to a knock at the door. I rolled out of bed, threw on a hooded sweat shirt over my pajama top and peered through the peep hole. It was a police officer. I wasn’t going to hide from my actions, but I certainly didn’t really want to deal with them right at that moment. I paced around the room several times as the officer continued to knock, until I finally opened the door.

“Yes Officer?” I asked, trying NOT to look like a crazy psychopath who ran over a two ton Indian Goon the day before in New York.

“Are you Lorelei Nolandt?” The officer asked sternly.

“Yes sir.”

“The car you reported stolen was found abandon a few miles from here. Can I get a little more information from you?”

“Sure, do you need me to come out, or would you like to come in?”

“If you could come with me down to the station for a while. It won’t take long at all.”

“Alright, let me change into something more appropriate, and I’ll be right out.”

I grabbed a pair of worn jean Capri pants, slipped into them, and grabbed a pair of flip flops. I glanced at myself in the bedside mirror, and made a disgusted face. I didn’t have time for anything better I reminded myself and walked out into the bright early morning Pennsylvania sunshine.

The officer showed me to his car, and explained that even though I wasn’t under arrest I would still have to ride in the back due to department policy. I complied and slid my way into the back seat. It was the first time, and hopefully the last time I have ever been in the back of a police cruiser.

While we made our way to the station, I noticed all of the scenery, and how even so far away New Stanton resembled West Moor so much. It made my heart ache for home a little bit. I actually was going through a lot of remorse about my choice to take this trip in the first place.  The previous night as I tossed and turned in the uncomfortable bed I dreamt of West Moor. Lieland, Lindsey, Mom, Dad, Dakota, Jesse, and even Zippy Burger. It all seemed like some distant memory. I felt so displaced, like the life I had left behind just three short days ago had been years in my past.

We pulled up to the small police station, and the officer escorted me inside. He stopped briefly at the front desk, and then directed me back to a small interrogation room. I entered and sat at the lonely chair on one side of the small stainless steel table, which I noticed was bolted to the floor.

I sat there for a few moments while the officer was gathering paper work before I began to feel uncomfortable. The more I thought about it, the stranger this course of events was becoming. I can understand the statement for a stolen car, and all that, but why did I have to come to the station again? Had the officer explained it to me before I’d obediently hopped into his car?

I began to fidget in my chair. I’m sure if someone else in the station happened to walk by I looked as guilty as sin, but I hadn’t really done anything. At least not in in regards to the whole stolen car thing. Where they able to trace my rental back to New York and an unsolved crime? I was in the middle of Farmville Pennsylvania. Surely they hadn’t caught up to me this quickly. No one ever got caught this quickly in the movies! Although, this wasn’t a movie. As much as it had seemed like a complete fictional story, it was indeed my life. It was happening, and had happened.

I reached nervously into my pocket and pulled out the prepaid cell phone I had grabbed at the gas station across the street from my motel the previous night. I had completely forgotten about it until I was digging through my suit case looking for a decent change of clothes. I followed the basic steps to activate it, and willed the two bars of battery to work long enough for me to get a hold of my dad and our lawyer.

As soon as I began to dial my dad’s number the officer walked into the room. I wasn’t sure if he had been watching me the entire time, or if it was just a crazy coincidence. I quickly ended the call, and put my phone back into my jacket pocket.

“Well Ms. Nolandt, you’ve had quite an eventful forty eight hours, haven’t you?” The officer asked sitting down across from me.

“I guess you could say that. Why am I here again?” I asked cautiously.

“We found your rental car abandon a few miles away from your motel. You said it was stolen?” He asked, keeping his eyes trained to me in an eerie stare.

I could feel him analyzing me. It wasn’t that I actually had anything to hide, but an overwhelming feeling of discomfort was brewing in my stomach like butterflies on steroids.

“Yes. My companion took off with it after I went inside to check into the motel.” I answered.

“This Indra La Makul? What’s her story? She was reported missing four days ago from Maine. I see you are also from the same area?”

Oh, now I saw where this was going. They thought I had kidnapped Indra.

“Yes sir. She was traveling with me. I am looking for a job, and have interviews scheduled across the country. I wanted a companion and she wanted to get away for a while.” I said calmly.

“Why did she run away with your car then?” The officer replied suspiciously.

“Well… We had a little bit of an argument, and I guess I made her mad. She is a bit impulsive sometimes.”

“Where is she now? If she’s abandon the car, where did she go?”

“I don’t know. As far as I knew she had taken the car to where ever she thought she was going. After I walked out and saw my things left behind, I took my bags to my room and walked across the street to get something to eat and then I returned to the room, showered, ate, and went to sleep. When I woke up, you had knocked on my door.”

He met my answer with an intense stare. He was still studying me. I wondered what he saw in me. Did he see the innocent victim of a friends abandonment, or did he see a malicious criminal? In all honesty it didn’t matter what was true or not. The only thing that mattered was his perception of me, and the possible perception of a jury. Part of our flawed judicial system. The fate of people often rested on the perception of others whether sufficient evidence was brought against them or not. On the other side of the coin, however, there were a number of criminals who got away with crimes due to their masterful manipulation of perception.

I didn’t try to give off the perception of anything but a tired, lost woman with little to her name. Is that what the officer saw in me, or did he see through the surface to the self that had reared it’s ugly head in the parking garage? Did something give me away? Was it my eyes, my body language, or something more sinister hidden even behind the depth of my persona? Why on earth was he still staring at me?

“Ms. Nolandt, are you certain you don’t know where she is? Where she could have been going, or why she would have abandon a car she stole only a few miles down the road?” The officer asked with a note of deadly seriousness in his voice.

“No sir. I have no idea. I don’t even know what possessed her to take off. We argued, but we’ve argued before with out her storming off like a crazy person stealing cars.” I answered.

Again he met me with a silent intense stare.

“Ms. Nolandt, we found Indra with the car. She had been shot once point blank in the back of the head. Do you have any reason to suspect anyone of harming yourself or Ms. La Makul?” The officer asked coldly.

I waited to see any inkling of remorse flicker across his face, or anything that would indicate that this was nothing more than a tactic to scare me into a confession. Only a cold stare met me in return.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” I asked, emotionally blank, not sure what to feel or how to react until I knew he was telling the truth.

“We found Ms. La Makul in the car. She has been murdered Ms. Nolandt. Do you know anyone who would want to harm her, or yourself?” He repeated in the same cold lifeless tone.

Suddenly from the left a violent pounding on the wall, and a screeching alarm sounded. I jumped and looked around, still the officer stood fast and ignored the pounding and the alarm sounding.

“What’s going on?” I asked as both the screeching, and the pounding became louder and louder.

 

—————————————————————–

 

At that moment I opened my eyes, reached over and turned off the alarm clock. The pounding I had heard in my dream was merely a rambunctious couple in the next room. I sat up, and surveyed my surroundings. Everything was exactly how I’d left it. By bag was tipped over, and my clothes were strewn about all over the floor. The television was still on and muted to some random infomercial as it had been the night before. The second bed was still un touched, and the air conditioning was rattling away.

I rubbed the remaining sleep from my eyes, and went to check my phone. I had missed a call from Dad, and there were two new text messages. I opened them, and read to myself: “Lori the insurance will cover the cost of the stolen car and cover a new rental. I need the address to your hotel so I can send a representative over there with a new car for you in the morning. Are you still going to continue your travels? Let me know as soon as you can please. Love, Dad.”

I stood up off of the bed and shuffled my way over to the small writing desk littered with various forms of stationary from the motel. I browsed through them and eventually found the one I was looking for. A small note pad provided me with the address of the motel and my room number. I sent Dad a reply text, which was less expensive than calling from my prepaid phone, and waited patently for a reply, which came in a few moments later. I had about an hour and a half to get myself together before my second emergency rental car arrived. I loved my dad and all his militaristic precision. It made dealing with random catastrophe so much less stressful.

I walked back across the small room, and collapsed face down into my pillow. I let out a sigh, and rolled over onto my back. I was a bit shaken by my dream. I was half expecting it to be a horrendous premonition, but I lay there staring at the ceiling in silence with no knocks on the door from any police officers or anyone else for that matter.

I was worried sick about Indra, but I had no idea how to help her, or what had made her snap to such drastic decisions. I would have called her, but thanks to our previous fiasco I had no way to get a hold of her. I also wondered about calling her parents and filling them in on the whole situation. Somehow, calling her parents felt like selling her out. She had made the decision on her own to run from Ashradi which was what her parents wanted for her, I had helped her, even if I did so blindly and ended up hurting her even more. I felt I owed it to her to keep her secret, but at the same time I felt like I needed to confess my part in the whole thing.

I didn’t really know Indra’s parents so it wouldn’t be as if I was greatly disappointing them, or providing any definite sense of betrayal. In fact they would probably appreciate it. At least knowing that their daughter had run away and wasn’t kidnapped against her will.

I grabbed my phone and dialed their home number.

“Hello?” Indra’s mother answered on the second ring her voice filled with worry.

“Mrs. La Makul? It’s Lorelei Nolandt. I’m a friend of Indra’s.” I explained.

“Yes. Have you heard from her?” Indra’s mother asked impatiently.

“Well not exactly. I just wanted you to know, that until yesterday she was traveling with me. I had scheduled a few job interviews across the country and she had decided to join me…”

“She went with you? What happened to her yesterday? Why is she not with you? Where are you?” Indra’s mother interrupted sternly.

“Well I stopped to check us into a motel last night in Pennsylvania, and when I came back out from the motel office she was gone. She took off in our rental…”

“She was gone? Where would she go? What have you done with her? Why did you convince her to leave the safety of her family and her husband?” Indra’s mother yelled. “My little girl is out there all alone, possibly hurt or raped or killed because you convinced her to go on some crazy adventure! You are a terrible person! How could my little girl have called such an irresponsible person her friend? A terrible influence! Terrible! Don’t call here again unless you have Indra with you!”

“Mrs. La Makul, I just wanted to…”

The phone was slammed back onto a receiver before I had a chance to finish my sentence. Well that was a terrible idea. I now felt a thousand times more guilty than I had prior to making the phone call.

I glanced at the bedside clock. Forty five minutes until my new rental car was scheduled to arrive, and an hour before I had to check out or pay for an additional day in the room. I decided to pack my bags, check out and head across the street for some breakfast. I rolled out of bed, quickly picked out a dressy casual out fit to wear for the day, messily threw it on, and packed my clothes back into my bag. I looked at my ram shackled appearance in the full length mirror adorning the bathroom door. I looked like I had been dragged through the figurative mud behind a wild stallion. My hair was a mess and my clothes were wrinkled beyond belief. I half way debated on just putting my lounging clothes back on, but decided against it. I figured that after I got back on the road I wouldn’t be going anywhere I would need to impress people so I threw on some mascara, drug my bags out to the curb and made my way to the small office/front desk.

“Hi there.” I said opening the door, and dragging my bags up to the counter where a mousey young woman was reading a magazine.

“Hey.” The woman replied, not lifting her eyes from her reading material.

“I’d like to check out. Room 212.” I said laying the key on the counter, and reaching for my wallet.

“Room 212 has already been paid for, thanks for your key and staying at the Trailblazer Motel.” She replied dryly, still not even pausing look up at me.

“Already paid for, by whom?” I asked slightly confused and concerned.

“Some guy and a random Indian chick.”

“Was this also a random Indian guy?” I asked getting slightly annoyed at the desk clerk and her attitude.

“No, he was kind of a creepy white guy. Sounded like he was from Boston maybe? He was kind of mean to her. I felt kind of bad, but whatever. I just take your money and make sure you return your key.” She replied.

“I don’t suppose you saw what horse they were riding?” I asked.

“Horse? No. It was definitely a space ship.” She smirked, finally lifting her gaze from her reading and looking at me.

I rolled my eyes in reply, picked up my bags and turned to leave.

I stumbled across the street my bags in tow, and made my way into the tiny restaurant that accompanied the truck stop. I found a small table to unload my junk on, walked up to the counter and placed my order.

After a few moments of waiting for my food, I returned to my table and pulled out my net book. I assumed the “creepy white guy” was Tristan. I was worried about Indra, but at the same time not really. Obviously she had been in contact with him through out this whole fiasco. I think she really wanted to leave Ashradi all along for this Tristan fellow, and just didn’t have the guts to do it. I was slightly wary because of all that she had claimed had happened between herself and Tristan, but she did lie about what had happened between her and Ashradi, why should I believe her tale about Tristan?

I felt guilty for just disregarding years of friendship over one instance. I had no idea what was going on inside of Indra’s head or heart. I couldn’t really judge her by one mistake, could I?

As I munched on my breakfast sandwich, I mulled over this. She lied about Ashradi. If she had been lying about Tristan being some weirdo psycho person, then she wouldn’t have had to lie about Ashradi. Or was she telling the truth about Tristan and should I be concerned for my personal safety after his stunt with the room? It was all so difficult and complicated. Why couldn’t it just be a simple problem? Why couldn’t this trip have been an easy endeavor just as I had imagined and planned that it would be?

Life! Life kept getting in the way and ruining the entire thing. People were shady and deceitful, problems arose, and things we hold dear slipped from with in our grasp. I knew this was the way life worked. I had figured this out many years ago, but it was still a difficult concept to wrap my head around. I still desperately wanted to be in control of my destiny. I refused to believe that we were all just a happenstance ball of cosmic dust floating around with no rhyme or reason. Life was just too full of beauty and tragedy to run on something as simple as chance.

Even now, so many years later as I am recalling these events I know that every thing happened for a very specific reason. If Indra hadn’t left me abandon in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania I could have been sitting in an office town in New York, bored out of my mind, or dramatically busy with no time to sit down and reflect on everything. My amazing adventure to the place where I truly felt at home. The place where I was destined to go. The place where I never would have been if I hadn’t lived through my Experience Et Cetera.

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