By the time we’re done with ice cream and goodbyes, it’s almost two o’clock. Rose and I wave at our friends until we can’t see them anymore.
Then I settle into the navigation seat and get serious. “Should I set the GPS?”
Mom smiles. “No. I know the way to Denver. From there we take seventy-six north to eighty east, and that takes us most of the way—seventeen hours of driving, or more. We won’t need GPS until we’re getting close.”
“I can help with the driving.” I’ve had my permit for months. Now I’m sixteen, I can go in for my test and get my license.
Mom glances over and turns up one side of her mouth with a look that says she’s sorry she has bad news. “You can drive while we’re still in Colorado, but your permit’s not really good outside of the state.”
“What?” I squeak.
“You’re going to have to take a new driver’s education course, specific to Illinois, to get a permit there, and you can’t get a license until you’ve had that permit for nine months. They also have education and practice requirements.”
“I know. I’ll pull over and let you drive part way to Denver, but I’ll take over once we’re getting into traffic and freeways.”
So my sixteenth birthday, I wake up in a motel in Nebraska no longer allowed to drive. I wish I’d left Mom’s present to open today and I’m feeling sorry for myself until I get out of the shower and Rose is there with a helium Happy Birthday balloon and a spider plant with a bow on it.
“For your new room,” she says.
I give her a hug. I’ve hardly even thought about how hard it must be for her to be moving. I mean, she’s not a teenager. She doesn’t have a boy that was starting to be interested, but she’s never lived anywhere else, either.
I decide I have to pay more attention to her until she makes new friends.
We eat the motel’s free breakfast, get showers and pack up. By the time we leave, it’s eleven.
“I really wanted to start earlier,” worries Mom. “We still ten hours of driving.”
“It’s Tuesday, Mom. The moving guys said they won’t be there until Thursday. We have all day today and tomorrow, too.”
“I know. But I wanted to get there tonight, just in case their schedule changes.”
I try to be the voice of reason Dad usually plays when she’s like this. “Drive most of the way today, then we can get up early tomorrow and you’ll be there Wednesday before noon. Besides, we’d still have to stay in a motel, unless you’re going to make us sleep on the floor.”
“That’s the plan once we get there. We have the sleeping pads and bags in the car, remember? But you’re right, we’ll drive about eight hours today, enjoy the pool at a motel, then get up early enough to get the key from the realtor right when they open.”
“Doesn’t Dad have a key?”
“He’s in training about sixty miles from our house. He’s putting in long days getting up to speed on the new job, so he’s staying close to work.”
My stomach tightens. Dad’s job had never gotten in the way of our doing things. He always said family came first. “He’s going to move into the house with us once the furniture gets there, isn’t he?”
“Of course,” Mom says.
Only he doesn’t.
He comes home Friday night when most of the unpacking is done, and even when his training’s done and he moves into the house with us, we only see him for breakfast. He usually doesn’t come home until Tina was in bed.
The summer isn’t all bad, though. It’s a lot hotter and more humid here than we’re used to, but the basement is always cool. I help mom fix up a nice family room down there and do some other painting she wants to do to make the place her own. My room is this boring off-white, but it’s bigger than my old room so there’s one open wall where Mom agrees to let me paint a mural. I make a grid on the glass over the photo Mom gave me for my birthday and a larger one on the wall, then carefully draw, then paint, our old backyard. So it’s the first thing I see every morning.
We go into Chicago and do some museums and stuff like we’re trying to appreciate being close to a city, but the days I really like are when we go to Lake Michigan with the kayaks. The lake is like the ocean, only no salt and the waves aren’t as big, but I can “surf” with my kayak after a few tries. It’s almost two hours to the beach, though, and there’s a lot more traffic here, so we only go a few times. There are some lakes to play in that are closer and we try a couple river runs with the kayaks, but the water’s so low we have to portage places and there’s nothing above a Level 1 or 2.
We’re living in a small town, but it’s surrounded by other towns, so it’s more like city to me. We actually live in a gated community. That’s so bizarre, that you have to go through a gate to get into our neighborhood. There’s a nice park and playground in the center and enough streets to make it feel like its own small town, if you knew the neighbors. No one’s outside much. Rose made a friend rollerblading in the park, but I haven’t even seen any other teenagers. Her elementary school is a block away from the gate and my high school’s not much farther, but when we go to register me for classes, we find out it’s huge, a “consolidated” high school with kids from several towns attending.
That means there’s going to be hundreds of kids in my class, not a few dozen. The first day’s going to suck, not knowing anyone. I’ve always known almost everyone.
The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.