Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chapter 4


One thing that Jessica had noticed about the winters in Vermont over the last six years was that the weather was highly unpredictable. Like now, for example. In the minute and a half they had spent in the car, the snow had almost completely stopped. She noticed this when she had slid out of the car and nearly tumbled into the snow bank that had piled up around her car while she had been inside Rob’s place.

“Finally,” she said looking up toward the sky with a small smile. As much as she loved the snow, she hadn’t been looking forward to navigating the winding roads that lead to her house once they reached the outskirts of the small town. The sky had lightened up a bit as well, and she could actually clearly see the buildings across the road, and the cars trying to make their way through the deep trenches that had been plowed by the tires of some of the larger vehicles. Noticing that Joseph was still searching for the ice scraper in the back seat, Jessica climbed back up in to the driver’s seat to help him.

“Y’know, if it’d be easier you can actually go into the back seat. There’s nothing back there that’s going to bite you,” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

“What are you -” Joseph started to say as he leaned back into his seat, but was interrupted by Jessica tumbling over the arm rest between the two front seats and into the back. Within seconds she produced the elusive ice scraper, and dropped it onto the seat next to Joseph. He watched as she disappeared again, this time over the back seat and into the trunk space where she returned with what he assumed was the snow brush she was referring to earlier. The brush was actually a piece of industrial grade styrofoam about eighteen inches long by nine niches wide attached to a broom handle. Wedging the handle between the head rest and the body of the drivers seat, Jessica clambered back into the front seat and almost fell into Joseph’s lap. Catching her balance, she slid out of the car again before she found herself in another awkward situation.

“Alright,” she said, leaning back in to the car to grab the broom handle contraption. “I’m going to clear off as much of the snow as I can, can you follow behind and get started on the ice while I try to open the back two doors?”

“Uh, sure. What -”

“Thanks,” Jessica said, and disappeared out of sight toward the back end of the car before he could finish his sentence. Joseph followed her lead and stepped out of the car, and promptly fell into a snow drift. He hadn’t realized how high the car sat when he had gotten into it, but was well aware of it now that he was laying face down in a pile of snow.

“I know snow is enjoyable and all, but this really isn’t the time to be making snow angels.”

Joseph rolled over to see Jessica standing over him, her gloved hand outstretched to help him up. He took her hand and pulled himself up, and quickly brushed the excess snow off of him.

“Sorry. Believe it or not, that was actually unintentional,” he said. He looked over at the car, which was now nearly cleared off, and got a good look at just how big it really was. Glancing back at Jessica, he made a small connection in his mind that he was pretty sure would annoy her, even though he didn’t know her very well. The tiny powerhouse driving the massive jeep reminded him vaguely of a fictional vampire family and judging by the little time he had spent with her, he could venture a guess that she wasn’t a fan of sparkly, immortal, self-proclaimed vegetarians. “I wasn’t aware your name was really Alice.”

“Oh please. Everyone who’s read the books or seen the movies knows that Emmett drives the Jeep. Get your facts right,” she snapped back, cocking her head to the side and grinning at him. “And please tell me that was a jab at the series, not an honest reference because you like them. Because if that’s the case, you can walk home.”

“Hell no. I know more about those stupid books than I ever wanted to, only because Tessa is obsessed with them. And by obsessed, I mean for Halloween she bought me a wig and gold colored contacts.” He shook his head at the disgusting memory.

“Sadly, I can totally believe that. Now come on. I want to get home sometime before midnight.” She stepped up onto the running board, grabbing the luggage rack on top to keep her balance, and heaved the snow brush up to the roof to finish clearing the top of the car off. Seeing what was coming, Joseph scrambled out of the way just in time as a pile of snow landed right where he had been standing a second before. Jessica hopped down and moved around Joseph to the front of the car to clear off the windshield and the hood of the Jeep. Joseph replaced her spot at the side of the car and within a few minutes they finally had the car cleared off.

“Alright. Nice team work,” she said. “Now for the fun part. I want to get the back doors and the trunk open before we take off, just to be safe.”

“Just to be safe? You weren’t planning on crashing, were you?”

“No, smart ass. Just get in the car, okay?”

She propped the giant brush on her shoulder and maneuvered through the piles of snow that had accumulated from clearing off the car and made her way back to the driver’s side. Pushing the brush handle in first, she gave it a light shove and it landed with a quiet thud in the trunk space, and she proceeded to climb back into her seat.

“Where do you want the ice scraper?” Joseph asked as he climbed in as well.

“Just set it on the ground back here. Actually, I need you to do me a favor. In one of the small pockets on the front of my bag is the lighter. We’re probably going to need that for the back hatch, if you could get that out for me that would be great,” She said as she situated herself against the door, ready to bust it open like she had done to her own door earlier.

“Are you sure...” Joseph trailed off, deciding it was better not to finish his sentence as Jessica gave him a skeptical look. He was going to ask if she was sure it was a good idea to throw herself at the door again, but figured the good idea was to actually not even think about it. He was getting the impression Jessica was a lot tougher than she looked, both physically and mentally. Her quick wit about his Twilight remark earlier had actually impressed him.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Jessica said, and quickly emphasized her point by pulling up on the door handle, leaning back and throwing her shoulder against the door, which popped open quite easily. She reached out and closed the door, then opened it again and shut it just to make sure before she shimmied across the seat to the opposite door which opened just as easily.

“Alright, so what’s the plan for the back door?” Joseph asked, reaching down to find the lighter in Jessica’s bag.

“Well, actually, I’m just going to try to open it from the outside using the handle. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll try the lighter and kick boxing method and see what happens.” She opened the door closest to her again and hopped out, quickly dropping out of sight as she shut it behind her. Joseph watched through the back window as she reappeared in his line of vision, and took notice of the fact that despite his initial impression of her from earlier today, she really could take care of herself. He hadn’t done much in the way of helping clear the snow off of the car or opening the rest of the doors, that had all been her. His train of thought was abruptly stopped at a burst of cold air that hit him as Jessica managed to wrench open the back hatch of the Jeep. Slamming it shut again, she bounded around the car and hopped up into the driver’s seat.

“Alright. Time to go. I don’t want to be stuck out here any longer than we need to, and my hands are freezing now.” She reached down to her side to grab the seatbelt and buckle it, and when she looked up and out the windshield she saw that it had started snowing heavily again.

“Wonderful. I can’t get a break today,” she sighed, sarcasm dripping from every syllable as she spoke. She waited until they were both buckled in, adjusted the gear shift into reverse and slowly backed out of the almost non-existent parking spot her car had inhabited for the last few hours. Easing around the row of trees that separated the parking lot from the main road she pulled up to the stop sign at the exit of the parking lot and waited for what looked like a run down Escort to make its way past the driveway.

“Oh man. I’d really hate to be them,” Joseph said as he watched the car carefully amble down the road in the wake of a large truck that had passed a few seconds before.

“Yeah, well be thankful we’re not. Summer’s never failed me in a storm before, and I have faith she won’t do it now either.” She glanced both ways again, not wanting to pull out in front of anyone in these conditions. She took her foot off of the brake and the car eased forward a bit before stopping.

“Looks like you spoke too soon.”

“Oh no. I didn’t. Hold on, just in case.” Jessica put her foot back on the brake and geared into her four wheel drive, checked the road again, and floored the gas pedal. The Jeep lurched forward into the road and Jessica expertly steered it into the general location of where she assumed the lane was. Judging by the way the tire tracks in the road swerved, no one was really sure where the road ended and the sidewalk began. She did her best to follow the general idea of where she should keep the car aimed, which really wasn’t too hard considering she’d made this same drive nearly every day since she had moved to Vermont. Once she was comfortable with where the car was going she jabbed at the power button on the radio and quickly flicked the volume knob down. She couldn’t remember what she had been listening to when she arrived at Rob’s place, and knowing her luck it would be something slightly embarrassing. To her somewhat relief, the all too familiar soothing voice of her favorite male vocalist started to softly fill the car, and she couldn’t help but smile when the song that was playing registered in her ears. It wasn’t what most people would classify as a happy song, but the beautifully haunting melody and acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment always relaxed her and made her feel a bit better regardless of the situation she was in. She reached forward again and flicked the volume knob back up to it’s original setting.

And every time I have to wake
I come to terms with my actual fate
That the only thing lying next to me
Is a couple books and a pile of CDs.
I open my eyes and begin to return from
Either the past or the future that could have been
Even though it’s been almost a year now
It’s like you’ve left me all over again.

“Wow. That’s almost depressing,” Joseph observed out loud. “I like it, but it’s depressing.”

“It’s wonderful, is what it is. All of his music is like that, even the more upbeat songs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing something that couldn’t be interpreted as a love song, no matter what the content is. Here, listen to this.” She punched the next track button a few times to get to the song she was looking for.

Salinger says that fame is only ego,
And if you want to be important then you never really will.
And F. Scott says that unrequited love will
Tear you up from the inside ‘til there’s close to nothing left.
So don’t wait and God don’t pine,
‘Cause in the end it’s just a distant line.

Shakespeare says that we’ve only got two options,
It’s either everyone gets married or everybody dies.
And God says that we need to love our neighbors
Even when they try to hurt us we just turn the other cheek.
So don’t try to make things square
‘Cause being good ain’t about being fair.

And I say that I think you’re really pretty
And I like in the June time when you wear that summer dress
And I say that I wish that I could dance
Cheek to cheek and heart to heart with you in the middle of your room
Because darlin’ I love you so
Even though I let you go
And I wish you would ask me one more time
So I could tell you that I want you for my own.

They sat in silence for a moment as the song faded out, and Jessica did her best to focus on the road ahead of her.

“I really feel like that should have been a happy song. But it’s not, is it?” Joseph asked, breaking the comfortable silence. That was the second time today they had fallen into that feeling, which was quite strange for Jessica. Her life usually consisted of awkward silences and even more awkward encounters with strangers.

“Not entirely. I mean, depending on how you look at it, it really could be either. It’s definitely a love song, no doubt about that. You could listen to it as someone who’s remembering the past and wishing they could have a second chance to prove something they couldn’t manage the first time around. Or, you could listen to it as someone who is completely happy with their relationship but is missing their partner because of distance or something like that,” she explained. She took a split second chance to take her eyes off the road and glanced over to see what kind of expression Joseph had on his face. She was relieved to see he was actually thinking about what she had said, or at least it looked like he was. She was pretty good at reading facial expressions and body language and she hoped she was right.

“Here, try this one. It’s not as much thinking,” she said and punched the button to switch tracks again.

If I wrote a song,
It would be a song to tell you that I love you.
And If I wrote a play,
It would be a comedy so I could marry you.
If I wrote a movie I would end it with a kiss,
The camera spinning three sixty degrees around our lips and
It would be a happy ending.

There’s a brand new ribbon that I bought,
Black as sin with ink.
And these pages that I’ve loaded in,
They are white and they are blank.
So I start to play a record and
I dim down all the lights.
And I sit down at my typewriter,
But I don’t know what to write.

If I wrote a song,
It would be a song to tell you that I love you.
And If I wrote a play,
It would be a comedy so I could marry you.
If I wrote a movie I would end it with a kiss,
The camera spinning three sixty degrees around our lips and
It would be a happy ending.

So I start to write short stories,
Just a page or two for each.
And the plots all start the same,
The boy and girl they meet.
And the middles they are also all the same,
The kids they fall in love.
And I never write the endings.
They kids just fall in love.

When I write a song,
It’s going to be a song to tell you that I love you.
And when I write a play,
It’s going to be a comedy so I can marry you.
When I write a movie I will end it with a kiss,
The camera spinning three sixty degrees around our lips and
It will be a happy ending.

“How’s that? No thinking about it, it’s a straight forward love song,” she said as she turned the volume down a bit, and glanced back over at Joseph to see what he was thinking.

“Yeah, I guess so. It’s a bit twangy for my liking though,” he said with a wide grin as he looked back at her. Jessica quickly averted her eyes back to the road in order to avoid looking directly into his eyes. She was doing okay for now, and didn’t want to risk another mental battle of emotional onslaught. Joseph had started to pick up on the little quirks in her behavior today and because he didn’t know any better he took a chance and called her out on it.

“Okay, I don’t mean to be offensive about this, but why won’t you look at me directly when I’m talking? You keep looking away, and I can’t figure out why,” he said, keeping his eyes locked on the side of her face as she watched the road in front of her. She should have known it was coming at some point. He wasn’t stupid, but she wished he wasn’t also blunt on top of it. Before she could help it, there was a fast mental battle raging in her mind. Well, you could just tell him. But that would bring up a lot of awkward questions. Although you seem to have covered most of the awkward bases today, so it shouldn’t be that bad. But then that would mean trying to talk about Dan while driving in 3 feet of continuous snow. You can’t even sit still and think about him right now so that’s probably a bad idea anyway. You could always make up something. Or tell him half the truth. That’s always an option. That way you’re not lying, and there aren’t any gory details to get into.

“Jessica?” Joseph interrupted her train of thought. “D’you want to talk about anything? I know it’s a bit awkward since I’m basically still a complete stranger, but I’m willing to listen if you want to get anything out.”

“Thanks Dr. Phil, but it’s fine.” Jessica’s natural reaction to things like this was to be sarcastic and cynical. She cringed at her response, and quickly apologized. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” she sighed.

“It’s okay. If it’s really that big of a deal, don’t worry about it. I was just curious. I’d rather not die on the way to where ever we’re going, so if you don’t want to talk about it then don’t.

“Sorry. Honestly, it’s going to sound a bit random and odd, but basically you remind me a lot of someone I used to be really close with and it keeps freaking me out a bit. There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t even worry about it,” she explained, being careful to not really disclose any real information. She knew she could probably really trust Joseph, there was just something about him that she felt comfortable with, but delving into anything involving Dan was not a good idea right now. If it came down to it, she might open up about it later. Her family didn’t even know about everything though, so no matter how comfortable she was with Joseph she doubted it would come out any time soon.

“I feel like I should be quoting a song or something here about reminding you of someone, but I can’t even figure it out right now,” he laughed, which made her smile.

“I can think of a few but I’ll let you figure them out,” she said quietly. The combination of the few songs they had listened to along with Joseph’s slight confrontation left her feeling a bit strange, but she tried to brush it off. Concentrating on getting both of them to her house safely and in a decent amount of time required more effort than she really wanted to put out right now.

“Okay, we’re about to approach the point in the day where you’re probably going to label me as a complete nerd if you haven’t already, but I need you to do me a favor,” she said, being careful not to take her eyes off of the road. They had been driving straight on Main Street toward the outer edge of their tiny town, and were about to turn onto a dirt and gravel road that would take them through the corner of the national park that Jessica lived on the other side of. The first curve could be dangerous on a dry day if you weren’t paying close attention and she had seen her fair share of people roll into the ditch on the other side of the road because they weren’t paying enough attention to what they were doing.

“I’m somewhat scared. But okay. What’s up?”

“My iPod is in my bag, along with the auxiliary cable that connects it to the stereo. Can you get those for me? They should be in the top pocket.”

“Uh, sure. Hold on a second.” Joseph turned around in his seat and tried to reach for Jessica’s bag, but ended up losing his balance and flopping rather ungracefully into the back seat instead.

“Well that was impressive. Are you okay?” she asked as she eased the car to a stop at the light before the aforementioned curve into the forest. She switched her left turn signal on and twisted her head back to see if Joseph needed help with anything. He had managed to right himself and was sitting on the seat now with her bag between his feet.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Not everyone has the same mad skills you do to clamber around this monstrosity in a graceful way.”

“You’re just full of it today, aren’t you? I try to be helpful and this is what I get. Thanks,” she shot him a look that was supposed to be a bit intimidating, but ended up just laughing instead.

“Yeah well I do what I can. Here, is this what you wanted?” he asked as she turned around to face the front of the car again.

“If it’s a black iPod touch and a black auxiliary cable with a piece of green tape toward one of the connectors, then yes. But hold onto it for a second, unless you want to die while I try this curve.”

“Not dying today, thanks. I’ll wait.” He sat still in the back seat as she carefully eased off the brake and the car started to roll forward. The road sloped downward slightly, so gravity played a role in getting the car to move this time. There was no need to gun the engine thankfully, which she knew from previous experience would have propelled them directly into the line of trees to their right as she turned. The car was silent as they slowly made the complete turn onto the park road and Joseph could tell Jessica was concentrating far too much on making sure they didn’t roll the car as they made it into the lane she was aiming for. She could feel the tires sliding a bit with the lack of traction on the road even with four wheel drive enabled, and it made her nervous. The first time she ever made this turn during the winter she ended up wedged in the ditch between two trees. Now, any time the weather was even remotely less than ideal she was a bit uneasy taking this route home. Usually she would avoid it, but going around the edge of the park instead of through it added another twenty minutes to her route and in this weather would probably end up being twice that. She slowly guided the car along the curves of the road, paying close attention to where the snow drifts dropped off on either side of the road. No one had driven on this road since the storm had started, it was easy to tell because there were no other tire tracks to follow, and that unnerved her a bit. She had enough practice at this road that she probably could have driven it in her sleep and made it home safely, but she wasn’t a fan of almost blindly navigating through a mini ravine. She released the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding as she straightened the car out around the last part of the curve. Relaxing her grip on the steering wheel, she realized how nervous she had actually been.

“Okay. So about that iPod,” she said, extending her hand back over her shoulder as she kept her eyes forward on the road. She knew from here on out it was a fairly straight path to get out of this corner of the park but she didn’t want to take any chances.

“Oh no way,” Joseph said. “You may be an expert at driving this tank through anything, but I do not want to die before we get to your house. I’ll hook it up for you, and you can tell me what to put on.” He reached out and pushed her hand back toward the steering wheel, and leaned over the console in between the front two seats to find the input plug for the auxiliary cable. Jessica laughed to herself as he searched the dashboard for the tiny hole. She didn’t bother to tell him it wasn’t labeled, and that most people missed it the first seven or so times they looked for it. Letting him struggle for a few moments, she gave in and pointed to the almost invisible black spot by the CD slot.

“That looks like a screw. Does everyone do that, or am I the only dumb one who missed it?” he asked, looking up at her.

“No, hardly anyone finds it the first five times they try to find it. I don’t know why, I’ve never had a problem with it,” she shrugged.

As Joseph reached forward to plug the cable into the dashboard, Jessica caught a slight hint of movement out of the corner of her eye. She glanced over at the tree line, but couldn’t see anything. Figuring it was probably a branch moving with the wind or under the weight of snow she just brushed it off and didn’t give it a second thought and moved her eyes back to the road in front of her.

“Okay, so what do you -” he was cut off by a shriek of surprise from Jessica and the sound of grinding brakes as a massive blur of brown streaked across the road directly in front of the car.

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