Changing Lanes Driving away from the city, out onto the open road, I couldn’t get comfortable

in Brody’s little Hyundai Elantra. It was a perfectly fine car for him, but I was used to my Mini-van, not to mention to being the driver and the one to control the speed, lane changes and of course most important of all, the radio. Pulling onto the freeway I felt slightly claustrophobic and aware of this weird nervous energy between the two of us that was driving me nuts. I was as though I didn’t know how to act around him without the chaotic interruptions that had become such a constant in our lives. With four kids, two careers and twenty five years of marriage, we’d forgotten how to be a couple. At least I had. On our way to a wedding in Arizona in the middle of August, I was less than enthused about this trip. In fact, if I’d had my way, I wouldn’t have even come along. Joseph was one of Brody’s friends from college that I barely remembered, and Arizona in August was unbearably hot. Why Brody wanted to attend was beyond me, and yet he had been insistent that we both go, pointing out the fact that we hadn’t been away, just the two of us, since before the twins were born nearly eleven years ago. He said we’d have a post celebration of my recent 43rd birthday that had been overlooked due to our 22 year old son, Cole’s emergency appendectomy. Shifting in my seat, I nearly spilled my coffee that was resting in the cup holder between us. Brody reached over, put his hand on my leg, and without looking, asked if I was okay. “I’m used to a bigger car, that’s all,” I said. “Is it?” he asked. “Is what?” “That all that’s bothering you?” “I’m not bothered,” I lied, wondering if that had sounded as defensive to him as it had to me. “You seem jittery Andi, maybe you should lay off the coffee,” he suggested, patting my thigh before putting his hand back on the wheel and changing lanes again. “Maybe you should pick a lane and stick with it,” I muttered. He glanced at me and then reached under his seat to pull out a Cd. I was relieved to see that it was The Script, a band who’s Cds I also had in my car. As he began softly singing along, I was impressed that he appeared to know every word. Then I remembered that back before we were married we used to go driving all of the time with the radio up loud, singing along to all of our favorite songs. Looking over at him I couldn’t help but wonder how that could have been more than twenty five years ago. It felt both a million miles away,

and at the same time, as though just a few years ago we had been kids going out on our first date. Staring at how few lines had formed around his eyes I thought to myself that it wasn’t fair. Over the years he had managed to maintain his strong jawline and slim physique, while my waist had expanded and my eyes had lost their shine. There was no denying it, he was one of those guys getting better looking with age and he’d always been pretty good looking to begin with. “What?” he asked feeling my eyes on him. “Why don’t you have grey hair?” I asked accusingly. “I don’t know, should I? I’m not that old.” “You’re 46, nearly 47, that’s hardly young.” “You don’t have grey hair,” he pointed out. “Because I color it every couple of months.” “Seriously?” “You’re not real observant are you?” I mumbled. I had been coloring my hair for the past eight years, ever since discovering that first gray hair. This shiny chestnut mane, waving softly over my shoulders was all smoke and mirrors. “How old do you feel?” he suddenly asked. “800” “No, seriously, how old?” “I don’t know.” “You should know Andi, think about it.” “How old do you feel?” “Some days, good days,” he clarified, “I feel about 26, other days 65 or 70.” Suddenly I didn’t want to pursue this conversation any further and turned up the stereo. I didn’t know why, but it felt scary to know that he was even thinking about good days and bad days. I didn’t want to know how often he was having bad days and I was afraid that if we kept talking I was going to find out. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to know what constituted as a good day. There had been a great many late nights at the office in the past

several months and up until now I hadn’t considered that he could have been doing anything other than working. The further out of the city we got, the uglier the scenery became. There were endless miles of dried out brown countryside and my restlessness only increased. The Script Cd ended and Brody pulled out a Maroon Five Cd and put that in. I pulled out my phone to check messages but there were none, so I moved on to my twitter account. I caught up on what a few people I followed were tweeting about and then sent out a tweet of my own. “Help, I’m barreling toward the bowels of America!” Next I clicked a picture of the small dust storm building on the barren landscape outside my window and posted that. People immediately began guessing where I was. As a relatively successful blogger, my following had grown impressively over the past two years, so for the next few minutes I was entertained. That is until my friend Jennifer called to scold me. “Put your fucking phone away and be on vacation!” she ordered. “Make me,” I laughed. “You need to take this seriously.” “Oh mom,” I sighed, getting Brody’s attention. “It’s your mom?” he asked turning the music down. My mom was going to come relieve our oldest, Emily, of the twins later and he naturally feared there was a problem. “No, it’s Jen, don’t worry about it.” “Hang up and breathe some life into that marriage of yours,” she insisted. “Right now as we’re driving through nowhere?” I had confided in her that I was less than enthusiastic about this trip and being the practical one of my friends, she had cautioned me that if I was feeling ambivalent there was probably reason for concern. “Put your phone away,” she repeated. “Yes mam,” I said, obediently doing as I’d been told. “What’s up?” Brody asked.

“Nothing, I could use a bathroom. Are we going to come across a trailer park any time soon where we could borrow an outhouse or something?” He just rolled his eyes and turned the music up, changing lanes to get around a truck. “Way to go Andi,” I commended myself. “I’m sure that was just the sort of one sided, cheerful banter Jen had in mind when she said to breathe some life into this. Job well done!” Ten minutes later we pulled into a rusty old gas station that looked as though it would be deserted. I turned to Brody, wondering if this was his idea of a joke. “You said you have to go,” he defended. “And this is the best you can do?” “Do you see anything else out here? “Is it even open?” I asked. He nodded towards an old man looking out from the tiny, dust covered window of the shack that stood in place of a mini mart. “Great,” I muttered. “You’re sending me in there alone?” “I doubt there’s room for both of us,” he said, clearly enjoying my discomfort. I decided I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction and purposefully got out of the car and strode over to the ramshackle door of this hut. As I pulled it open, there was a creak that rivaled the sound effects of any good Hollywood horror film, and when Otis, (I’m sure his name must have been Otis) opened his mouth to welcome me, sure enough he was missing most of his teeth. “Have you got a restroom?” I asked. “Have to buy something to use it, that’s my policy,” he said in a slow monotone. I looked around and saw nothing but cigarettes and beef jerky. Not having bothered to grab my purse, I ran back to the car to do so and to also grab some tissues because I was pretty sure Toilet paper would cost extra. Brody continued to look amused. “Everything alright?” he smiled. I considered flipping him off but instead asked where he had some Kleenex. Big surprise, he handed me a fast food napkin instead. I returned to Otis, and bought a pack of cigarettes that no one would smoke because I didn’t feel like getting the beef jerky that

Brody might have enjoyed. I figured he was getting enough enjoyment out of my current predicament. I took the key from the narled hand offering it and hurried over to the tiny door of the room that held only a toilet and no sink. Apparently a pack of cigarettes did not warrant the luxury of being allowed to wash your hands. Upon my return, I dropped the key on the counter, and told Otis, “It’s been real.” Then I beat it the hell out of there. Once I was back in the car, Brody took off with only his smug expression and no words. I texted Jen, “this is going well,” and then kicked myself for not having clicked a picture of Otis to build a post around. I began my blog, “Waking Under a Bus,” five years ago when the twins started Kindergarten. The name comes from a favorite song lyric, “I feel like an accident, waking up under a bus with my fingers crossed.” I felt as though I had indeed woken up under a bus after five years of living through two rebellious teens and the first five years of the twins life. Because Brody and I had met through my brother Tim when I was only sixteen, and he was twenty, life had taken us through some rather unpredictable twists and turns. There had been an instant attraction between us, but we’d danced around each other in some sort of flirtatious ritual for almost a year before admitting to ourselves that we were interested in going out. As soon as we were alone together we became inseparable, much to my parents concern. When after only a few months we realized the flu I couldn’t shake was a pregnancy, there was no hesitation on our part to get married. My mother on the other hand, wept and told me we were too young. She was sure we had no chance of staying together and didn’t want me to put my dreams of going to college and becoming a serious writer on hold to raise a baby. Brody also dreamed of writing and together we imagined that we would be able to work a normal job for a while, take care of the baby, and write whenever he or she was sleeping. Once we’d both sold a novel or two we’d be all set. I told my mom that with just a little support in the form of an occasional babysitter we’d be able to make it work. Boy, were we ever wrong! After a few minutes, I squirm around, twisting to reach behind me, and attempt to pull out my lap top. “What are you doing?” Brody asks, as if he can’t see. “I have to get down a description of Otis,” I explain. “The guy from the gas station? He told you his name?” “It was obvious,” “Can’t you take five minutes off?”

“Not with material like Otis out here I can’t,” I said, managing to grab ahold of it and pulling it forward. Brody gave a disapproving sigh, and in my head I heard Jen scolding me. Sufficiently guilted, I also sighed, but then I put the laptop on the floor. “Happy?” I asked. “Are you?” he threw back, and again I got the feeling that this was a loaded question and not a conversation I wanted to continue. “We should probably stop to get some food if we ever come across a real town, don’t you think?” I asked, quickly changing the subject. “Sure,” he agreed. That was another annoying thing about Brody, he was always up for a meal and yet he never gained a pound. A half hour passed before we saw signs for a McDonalds and he veered towards the exit. Stepping out of the car, we were hit with a ten to fifteen degree increase in the heat. Moving into the air conditioning, I joined the long line of overheated, obese travelers who had arrived before us, while Brody now ran to the bathroom. When he returned to me a few minutes later in roughly the same place as he’d left me, he suggested we try the Carls across the street. We walked back out into the hot, dry air and taking my hand, he pulled me along as he ran between cars to get us to the other side of the road. The line at Carls was the same. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was impossible, I’d have sworn the weary travelers in there were clones of the ones back at McDonalds. Unlike McDonalds though, where at least they’d had several lines open, here there were only two. “Should we stay or go back?” Brody asked. “We’re here now and it’s hot outside. I say we stay.” “Stay it is then,” he agreed, motioning for me to go to one line while he stood in the other so that we’d be sure to have a place in whichever line moved the fastest. As it turned out neither line moved quickly and in the end we reached the front at the same time. Burgers, fries and a shared cola later, we ran back across the street and got into the car where we blasted the air and I looked through his Cds for more music. Seeing that he had a couple of Keith Urban Cds, I chose my favorite and complimented him on his taste in music. He looked at me oddly. “What?” it was my turn to ask. “You say that as though we haven’t always had the same taste in music.”

“When’s the last time we listened to music together?” I asked. “When’s the last time we did anything together?” he mumbled. “Exactly.” “That’s about to change Andi,” he announced, and a thousand butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I wondered if this was the moment when he’d tell me we were through. I’d never, in twenty five years, even considered such a thing, but now it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I found it hard to breathe. “What?” I choked. “I’m going to quit my job.” I wasn’t sure if that was the end of his statement or if he was just getting started so I continued to hold my breath. “Did you hear me?” he asked, when I didn’t reply. I nodded. “Well, don’t you have an opinion about this? There’s nothing you want to say?” “Why?” I managed to croak, as suddenly my throat was incredibly dry. “Why do you think? I hate it. I was never supposed to do this for more than a year.” Brody had been working for his best friend Steven’s dad, Barry, since we had been married. Barry owned several furniture stores throughout southern California and over the years Brody had risen to the top of the company. Barry was like a second father to him and I couldn’t imagine that he would be happy about this. Steven had quit years ago and Barry had come to rely on Brody for everything, especially since his heart attack six months earlier. My head was swimming with thoughts of the mortgage, the economy in general, which was in the toilet, and the kids college funds. This job that he hated so, had managed to get both Emily and Cole through college and I’d just assumed it would do the same for Evan and Libby. Although I was making some money through the advertisements on my blog, it was hardly enough to pay for a family of six. Granted, Emily had graduated with honors and had managed to secure a job in landscape design, so she was self-sufficient, however she was also newly engaged and would be wanting help in paying for the elaborate wedding she and her fiancé, Cash were planning. Contrary to his name, Cash was an actor and not bringing in much of an income.

Brody sped back onto the highway as I desperately attempted to force a breath through my airways. Glancing over at me with what I perceived to be a guilty look on his face, he told me it would be okay. “I’m suffocating Andi, and the business is going down anyway. We need to close at least three of the six stores but Barry is in denial. Without a total restructuring he’s going to lose them all.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Barry was one of the sharpest people we knew and it didn’t sound like him to deny anything. “Is that all?” I asked, still not certain that he wasn’t going to say there was someone else he was leaving me for. He mumbled something that I couldn’t quite understand and I tried to brace myself even as tears sprung to my eyes. “What?” I questioned. “I want to write,” he said more assertively. I began to hyperventilate, not out of horror as he assumed, but out of relief that he was saying something that made complete sense to me. It was as though he had just flipped on a switch and suddenly I could see who I had married and why, after what I now realized had been years of slumber. Brody pulled over, and rubbing my back told me to calm down. He’d seen me have panic attacks before. They’d begun the day we learned we were having twins and had continued periodically, all through those first five years. “I thought,” I gasped, “I thought you were going to say you were leaving me.” “Leaving you? Why would I leave you?” “Shit,” I cried, “because you could.” The smile that spread across his face was one of my favorites. It was warm and embracing all at once. “I could not,” he said, as though that were the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “Why would you think that?” “Because,” I said, stopping to take another deep breath, “you work late and you told me you feel old and have bad days and well, what was I supposed to think?” “Jesus Andi,” he said pulling me into his arms.

I slowly managed to get my breathing under control, as the air between us grew thick due to the fact that air conditioning quits being effective once you’ve stopped the car for too long. Straightening up, I said we should get going. “You’re okay now?” he checked. “Sure.” “You want to pick the Cd?” he asked offering me a handful of them. “Yes,” I smiled taking the pile and sorting through them as he took off again. Suddenly the hideous brown brush outside our windows looked like nothing more than something we had to get through. I chose an old Crowded House Cd that we’d listened to a thousand times before, remembering back to discussions we’d had about books we could be inspired to write from the various song lyrics on it. I knew we were embarking on a new adventure, but as scary as it might be, there was no one I’d rather have by my side, even after twenty five years, (Hell, especially after twenty five years) than Brody. Pushing the disc in I turned to him and asked, “So, do you have a plan?” “I’m working on it,” he assured me, zipping around another big rig.

CHAPTER 2

We pulled into the Embassy Suites Hotel just after six pm, only to be informed that they had no record of our reservation.

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