The Miller Miles
We rolled into Flagstaff, Arizona rather late in the afternoon. We were hot and tired, all of us admitting to not having slept well since we left for our trip. The car was more cramped than ever and restless leg syndrome had resulted in my legs twitching uncontrollably. Stephanie was still pouting over the incident that happened that morning. Byron and Jason had decided to sever their friendship due to the statutory rape of Byron's little sister. Even in my own opinion, a 20 year old had no business sleeping with a 13 year old little girl.
"That's a nice ring," Jason said to me as we were climbing out of the car. He was admiring the silver and garnet ring I bought a few years before at a Gun Show I attended with my parents. It was my favorite piece of jewelry. "Can I borrow it," Jason asked me.
"I want Stephanie to wear something until I can buy her an engagement ring." I thought the idea was stupid myself. I still didn't agree with the whole situation, but I knew that I still needed to keep the peace between everyone.
"I don't know that, got it?" I slid the ring off of my finger and handed it to Jason. He jogged across the gravel parking lot of the gas station and called out to Stephanie. She turned around. I couldn't watch him ask her to marry him, especially with my favorite ring. I wished I hadn't known what it was for. It wouldn't ever fit my finger the same way again. Jason was the first pedophile I ever knew. My stomach churned.
Hunger and nausea both took over my body as I thought about that garnet ring proposal in front of the Ladies Room at the Flagstaff gas station. The pain and agony of both mixing inside my conscience at once forced me into the gas station, where Byron was picking up a can of chili and a bag of Frito's. It was easy to guess what we would be having for dinner. My stomach flipped again.
We settled into a hotel for the night. After a few hours of television, Byron went outside for a cigarette and Jason followed him. The two were gone for a long time, and Stephanie decided in that time to show me her ring. Apparently she hadn't noticed I had been wearing that same ring the entire journey so far.
"We're going to get married when I'm old enough or if my Mom says it's ok." She smiled ear to ear. "I wish I was 18, we'd get married as soon as we get to Phoenix. I can't wait to get down there. I haven't seen my dad in a long time." She babbled away, talking very much like an average 13 year old girl. She really was just a kid; just a sweet, innocent kid. I wished in that moment I could just send her home to her mom and wipe the entire journey from her memory. Byron and Jason came back into the room talking like old pals, breaking my line of thought.
"Well, we've decided," Byron stated. I waited for more, but nothing followed.
"We like it here. We're going to get jobs working on one of the ranches and just stay here in Flagstaff."
"NO!" Stephanie shouted. "I thought we were going to see Dad!"
"We can't," he explained. "Your mom has custody of you, not Dad. You can't stay with him or he will go to jail for kidnapping. Even if he sees us, he has to call someone and tell them or he would get in trouble for that, too." Just like that, the entire reason for us to make the incredible, illegal, dangerous journey no longer existed. I ignored every ounce of dialogue after that and focused all of my energy on getting away from this insanity. I'd had enough.
I walked out of the door and kept on walking. I didn't turn around for 20 minutes. Eventually I found myself wandering through a Michael's craft store, meandering from one isle to another, wishing I could have made a living as an artist. Instead, I was trapped with three brainless, aimless idiots I had slowly grown to despise. I thought to myself for a while, not sure where to go or what to do. I didn't have a week or more to manipulate someone into taking in a poor lost girl, and I was an out of state run away at that. In no time the authorities would be called. My best and only option at that moment was to lay low with the others. I picked up a paint brush and fanned the bristles out in my hand. Given enough time and a few failures at trying to find a job, the guys would come to their senses. I just had to survive for a couple more days on chili and Frito's until then.
Eventually I ended up in the baking isle, admiring the cake decorating tools. I always wanted to learn how to decorate a wedding cake. Wedding. Jason had proposed to Stephanie. Byron called Jason a pedophile. Byron was right! Now Byron and Jason were friends again. Something had happened between them outside. I had to find out what it was. Someone had opened a bag of baking chocolate. Absentmindedly I picked one up and ate it.
As soon as it hit my tongue, I realized what I had done. I couldn't take it out of my mouth and put it back, but I couldn't chew it up for fear of having someone see me eating in the store and figure out what had happened. Either way I was being incredibly dishonest and stealing. Of all the things I did do back then, shoplifting wasn't one of them. I had to clear my conscience.
I picked up the bag of chocolates and walked incredibly slowly up to the front counter, giving the chocolate in my mouth the time needed to melt. After the poor diet over the past several days, my mouth almost seized up at the taste. My salivary glands watered like never before and it was truly the most amazing thing I'd ever tasted in my life.
"Excuse me," I said to the cashier.
"I have something I need to tell you," I admitted, my biggest doe eyes I could manage displayed directly at her. She looked down.
"What is it, Honey?" I was taking a big chance and I knew it. She could either call the cops on me for shoplifting and I'd be found out, or she'd make me work for an hour to pay off that chocolate.
"Someone opened this bag of chocolates and I'm sorry but I ate one. I didn't open the bag though. It's just that I haven't had very much to eat in over a week now except canned chili and I'm really hungry. I was thinking really hard about something and I didn't realize I had one of the chocolates until I had it in my mouth."
Her eyes welled up with tears. "Honey, you're too young to have that much on your mind! You poor thing! You need to eat better than that. Where are your parents?" Oh geez, I thought to myself, that was the last thing in the world I wanted her to ask. I had no idea what to say.
"Mom left when I was little and Dad works on the ranch down that road," I pointed in a random direction, hoping against hope there was a ranch down 'that' road and wishing I didn't have to lie. What would she have done if I told her, "my parents are back in Utah at our house, I think, but I didn't want to go home one day so I left with some people, and now a 20 year old is sleeping with a 13 year old and we're hiding in a hotel room just up the street." I can't imagine that would have gone over very well.
"Oh, are you Frank Bosco's daughter? You're new in town." I had no idea who Frank Bosco was, but if the guy was having hard times enough for the cashier to think he was only feeding canned chili to his daughter, I was willing to go with it. "My husband works with your Dad," she said. I wanted to run away.
"I'm sorry about the chocolate," I said again, trying to move the conversation on a bit. "I really need to go home, so if you can just tell me what I need to do to pay for it, I'd appreciate it.
"Honey, you don't need to pay for it. In fact," she took the bag from my hands, "hold out your hand." The strange woman poured a small pile of chocolates into the hands of someone she thought was Frank Bosco's daughter. I gently closed my hands over the chocolates and said thank you. Then I headed out of the store, relieved and confused more than ever.
I didn't save the chocolates to share with the others. I ate them very slowly, one at a time, savoring every tiny little drop. When they began to melt in my fingers, I would lick them clean. I accidentally dropped one at an intersection and nearly cried. I sat on a brick wall just around the corner from the hotel to finish the last few, licked the chocolate from the palm of my hand, and swore that every time I ate chocolate from that day onward I would always remember how sweet chocolate really was. Occasionally, a bite of a candy bar or a stroll down the baking section in a craft store reminds me of that day.
We slept that night in separate beds, Stephanie and Jason in one, Byron and I in the other - but something had changed. The air was colder in the room. I didn't want to be touched and I didn't feel like talking, but neither did anyone else.
TO BE CONTINUED....
(Sorry Folks - didn't know this one was going to be this big!)
(Sorry Folks - didn't know this one was going to be this big!)