A Few More Miles

Sometimes he laughed.

It happened at random moments, rising unexpected out of him. Unexpected for him that he suddenly had an urge to laugh because he could never remember or seem to be able to recall the last time he laughed. When he did laugh, the others around him laughed too. The simple, light hearted sound of it uplifting those around him, delight and relief stealing across faces.

Look! He's laughing! He's actually laughing!

And at the thought he would immediately somber, the laughing expression dying on his face right where it started. It always played out the same way. This he could clearly recall.

He would laugh, but once he saw the delight and relief two pauses would occur to him; the question Why? and then the answer.

Why were they so happy? He would then grasp that they smiled and were relieved because he was laughing. And why should they be? Laughing was a simple matter. But then he knew it was because laughter was a strange matter for him, and he would abruptly stop.

He realized maybe he shouldn't have laughed at all.

But even as the episode would pass, a faint phantom of a smile would curl his mouth absently as he remembered the pleasant feeling that had filled him as the laughter bubbled in his throat and escaped through his lips.

Hell was a place called Home. It was a place where his mother and 16 year old sister took anti-depressant pills. A place where his partly mentally challenged older sister worked 9 hours a day to make enough money for them to live on while their suicidal and depressed mother got back on her feet, and that was just fucked.

He couldn't stand it at home; the air, the atmosphere, the feelings. There was nothing pleasant at home, everything was dark and unwelcoming. Hate reeked through the walls and filtered the air. When he inhaled, he tasted the bitterness. He could remember his mother's screams and accusations, his little sister's terrible breakdowns.

The emotions stifling the air so badly, he could choke on it.

His relationship with his Mother was on the rocks. His father had walked out on them only six months ago. He didn't even bother to wait to get help for his wife and daughter, but just gave up and walked. Now he hated his father too. How could someone just abandon their family like that? Did he even think once that his actions just might push his family over the edge?

What if Hannah killed herself because it was too much to bear now? All their fights, their problems, her shyness and quietness about the world and preferring to be in her own bubble than intrude into the bubbles of others. And now her father was abandoning her.

Along with the hate for his father he also felt guilt. How could he hate the man he so closely resembled? Not only in appearance but in habits and in mistakes. He was afraid he would grow up to be just like the ugly figure his father represented to him. Because a year ago (half a year before his father left), he had left. Packed his stuff and moved out of the house without so much as telling anybody.

He had just turned 17, out of the house and no where to go. Walking away, he felt that he had grown too fast and now he was tired. A year later, 18 years old and he was ready to die. He was ready to leave it all behind.

When he was 13 years old he had somehow managed to convince a classmate (and he didn't remember how) and he lost his innocence behind the church's school yard. By 14 he got addicted to weed and would sift through his mother's purse and steal money meant for medication just to fill his need for some green. And by 15, because he looked a lot older than his age, and because he was so goddamn good looking and knew how to obtain fake IDs, all he cared about was partying, drinking, and the opposite sex.

The fast and hard life finally all came to a slow one night when he was three months away from his 17th birthday. Three forty-five in the morning and he was driving home with his two friends, Alan and Joey. All three of them drunk as bats and high as hell. All he had felt like doing was laughing. They were young, they were good-looking, and they were having the time of their lives. They were pretty much unstoppable.

He couldn't remember the events of that night too clearly anymore. He could see the headlights flashing, hear himself and his friends laughing back when they always laughed. He could also remember feeling heavy, despite his godliness. He remembered feeling tired, feeling that he wanted to close his eyes and rest just for one second. Being immortal was strenuous.

And then the blaring horn, the swerving, the glass breaking.

And then nothing.

Two days later he woke up in the hospital, and with news that nearly brought tears to his eyes; he was unharmed. He was safe. He was alive. Save for the deep scratches all over his body, the heavy concussion he'd received in the crash, he was alive. For reasons he didn't understand, God has saved him. Spared him that night. But of his two friends, the doctor had said. One of them was in ICU and in critical condition. Broken ribs, a punctured lung and shattered jaw.

I'm sorry, sir, I don't think he'll make it.

And then he did cry.

Sat and wept hot tears of guilt and shame that ran down his cheeks in streams of torrent, as if hating him too. Running ceaseless as if they would scar him. And then he wished he hadn't been so arrogant, so irresponsible. That his stupid, irresponsible actions might cost him his friend's life.

Why? Why Joey?

Of him, Joey and Alan, Joey had always been the weakest one of their trio. He wasn't as high strung or hard headed as the other two, but the poor boy's weakness allowed the other two to manipulate him into following their lead. Which he did, God he did.

"My mom wanted me to get some groceries for her," Joey had winced as he climbed in his car, rolling his eyes. "She didn't want me to go out tonight, man. Hurry, get out of here before she comes out and starts screaming!"

He had remembered rolling his eyes too, pulling the cigarette from his mouth to toss out the window and light a new one. Fucking groceries, are you serious? Why doesn't the dumb bitch get them herself? Oh yeah, she tripped over the stairs and broke her ankle. Stupid bitch. He remembered laughing.

God, Joey. Why hadn't you stayed home and gone to get groceries for your mother? He thought now as he cried. Why did you come with us? Why didn't I stop you? Why? Why the fuck didn't I stop you!

The nurse had run in at that point, he vaguely remembered. Stabbing him, injecting him and holding him down as he screamed at her to fuck off. To go fuck herself. That he would kill her. That would kill himself. And then he just stopped. And even as he faded from conscious he wonder too, why had he yelled at her. It wasn't her fault. He was being a shithead. It was his fault.

Her worried face swam in and out of his vision and he wondered if she could see how sorry he was sorry as he lost conscious.

The wind whipped into the van through the open windows, causing his hair to blow around his head and occasionally whipping across his eyes. He did nothing to push it away and closed his eyes only when a particular strand stung his vision. He thought of where he was now; 18 years old sitting in the back of a '92 blue and tan van with ugly seats and a working heater.

Alan sat upfront, driving the horrid vehicle that you only see illegal immigrants driving. And yet here they were, three fairly good-looking white boys (although Alan was part Puerto Rican but you couldn't really tell) lounging in the van and sincerely not giving a shit who saw them.

Both he and Alan had walked out of their respective homes after they were released from rehab shortly after their accident. Him, because he couldn't take living at home anymore after being away for so long and also not wanting to be a source of problems for his family already ridden with problems of their own.

Alan, because he was tired of his parents bitching at him to get a move on with life.

"I'm leaving." He had told Alan on the phone distantly.

"Let's do it, buddy." Alan had replied, cheerful. "I'm ready to get out of this shithole."

The first few nights they slept together under a bridge before a fortunate friend dragged them home until they could get back on their feet. He knew what having no money and being poor was like. So did Alan, which was why they both had accepted the van and were grateful that they actually had a vehicle that worked.

Of course this was all after the shock had worn off.

He chuckled quietly, unable to help himself at the memory.

"This shit isn't gonna pick us up any chicks." Alan acknowledged. "But it's getting you and me to work and school, buddy. That's all that counts."

"For now?" he has asked, with a small indiscernible, yet teasing smirk meant for Alan's eyes only.

"For now."

Now presently Alan glanced up curiously at him through the rearview mirror, curious to what had made him laugh. When he said nothing, Alan smiled, simply pleased with the sound of it and he shook his head.

They were driving aimlessly, as they always did on most Friday nights. Content with a six pack at their feet and cigarettes hanging from their mouths. Only a little older since the accident, but he was relieved to note they were a lot more responsible. Of course you weren't supposed drink and drive, but he made sure they drank only in consideration. Aw, jeez, he thought, knowing how wrong it sounded.

Tonight in their little leisure drive a friend of theirs had joined them. Not Joey. Joey was history. And no, he didn't die that night but made a miraculous recovery and came out of coma. The days of healing were long and thoughtful for him and now they no longer hung out. There was no hate, no bad feelings. It was just something mutual. He had been both torn and relieved. It was for the best.

Now Shane sat up front with Alan in the passenger seat. A small, goofball of a kid determined to make jokes out of everything. Which was what he and Alan were currently doing, laughing and joking around as he sat behind them, content in just listening and gazing out the window as he took slow drags from the Camel joint hanging from his mouth.

This was all he needed.

A sports car with two girls drove up beside them. Alan and Shane immediately started hollering at them, not seriously, but more to amuse themselves rather than to get a phone number.

The girls took one look at their van and flicked them off.

He stayed where he was in the backseat and watched their expressions, their movements. They were preoccupied with Alan and Shane and hadn't thought of checking to see if anyone else sat in the van which gave him a free pass to study them.

Although the girls clearly weren't interested with their kind of trash, they couldn't help but flirt a little; Alan was too pretty to pass up.

"Wanna hang out?" Alan called flirtatiously. "We got some beer in here."

"Yeah," the girl in the passenger seat said, painfully beautiful and disdainful. "And I bet it's been in there for a while, too."

"Hey, c'mon, don't be like dat!" Shane yelled in a tough voice as opposed to his original squeaky one. He dissolved into giggles only he and Alan could hear.

"You guys are so fucking white trash." The driver yelled back at them scornfully. "Get a job or something, prick! You're making us look bad!" and with that the little car shot forward and zoomed off at a speed all three of them knew the van couldn't compete.

"Bitch!" Alan and Shane threw one last time.

"Fucking spoiled bitches." Alan muttered.

"Yeah," he agreed with a small smile. He was used to this because it happened all the time. He also knew for a fact that Alan didn't really care what the girls had said. Sometimes it was fun to just let things happen.

Suddenly Alan's phone rang.

"I bet that's Sara." he mumbled as he reached for it. "Asking me to drop her off somewhere."

"Tell her to fuck off." Shane suggested.

He wisely kept his mouth shut.

"Holy crap, it's Molly!" Alan looked up to give him a huge grin through the rearview mirror. "Must be my lucky night. Maybe she's gonna ask me out!"

"Dream on, you dumb shit." he commented, but giving his friend an encouraging look anyway. He pulled the butt from his mouth and let it hang lifelessly in his hand as he waited to listen.

"Hello?" Alan said into the phone as if he didn't know who it was. "Molly? Oh hey."

Oh hey, I'm shitting in my pants as I'm talking to you, he thought but didn't bother to voice it out loud enough for anyone to hear.

"You're what? No way, are you serious?" Alan paused to let her speak. He could hear the girl ranting all the way from the backseat. "Hey, no problem. I'll pick you up." Alan tried flashing them a thumbs up and let go of the steering wheel as he momentarily forgot before lurching to grab it again, nearly dropping the phone.

"No, it's okay. Give me thirty minutes. I'm coming. Yeah, no prob. Bye."

Alan hung up with a gleeful screech. "She's stranded! Her tire blew out on 360 and Molly Sharpe is fucking stranded!" Alan whooped. "I told you it was my lucky night! We're picking her up, get in the back, Shane. I want her up front next to me."

He put the almost finished Camel back into his mouth to finish it and said nothing as Alan blabbered on excitedly. Molly and her friends were shopping at a Grapevine outlet and on the drive home they busted a tire. They were an hour away from home and Molly didn't want to call the tow truck because the jerk wanted to charge her $125, and could Alan please, please pick her up?

"It's gonna be us, Molly, and her friends. What a party." Shane said dreamily.

He and Alan exchanged a glance. By the sound of 'friends' they both knew it was probably Molly's friend Heather. A pretty, but loud and annoying girl who loved to laugh and managed to sound like a bird while she did it.

They had been wandering around Euless, a small town thirty minutes away from their own and Grapevine had to be at least forty-five more minutes away. But nothing was stopping Alan from getting to his girl and he didn't really care either. He just wanted to sit and enjoy the ride, the wind coming through the window and the pack of Camels on the dashboard and hopefully everyone else would ignore him.

He stubbed out the dying joint in his hand before reaching forward for another one, but he didn't light it. Merely sat back and closed his eyes. He could feel every uneven groove and bump the old van hit and briefly, he imagined himself getting run over by a car. It wasn't a good way to die; there were no guarantees. People sometimes survived getting run over. And who wanted that.

He wanted to go in his sleep. To close his eyes and just leave.

If he died now, sitting in the back of Alan's van he'd be happy. No, maybe happy was too strong. But he would be content. He would be satisfied with it.

He was finished with life. Nothing intrigued him any longer. Nothing caught his interest. The only thing he lived for were the weekends when he got away from school and work and just lazed around in this very van as they drove aimlessly, him sometimes secretly wishing they could drive forever and never stop.

This was what his life was reduced to now.

He wasn't even interested in the opposite sex any more. Not in the way Alan still did at least. Getting laid wasn't a problem, usually. It was the attachments and relationships that were the problem. He just wasn't interested.

But still, even as they pulled into a 7-Eleven gas station off of Miller and 360 almost forty minutes later, he couldn't help but watch Molly Sharpe climb out of her small blue Scion. She wasn't slim, and she wasn't fat. She was curvy. And something about her was amazing. It had nothing to do with sexual appeal either.

Molly Sharpe was one smart, tough girl and she didn't take anyone's shit. She was different. She didn't flirt, nor was she a tease. She was just her own person and that was something that seemed to make all the boys come calling. And Alan and Shane were definitely calling. Where he stared, they gawked and panted. Alan a bit more discreetly.

"Hey, Molly."

She'd come up to the window. "Hey, thanks, Alan. Shane." she nodded hello before glancing back straight at him as if knowing he was there all along, and giving another nod. "Thanks for doing this. You're the only one I know with a van."

Alan grinned. "And you were making fun of it last week."

Molly gave a sardonic smile. "And I still am." she glanced back. "I had to pick up Chris and Matt from their fucking paintball game. Don't say it, Alan. They love you, so just deal. There's at least five of us, the boys, Heather. "

On cue, Heather's head got out of the passenger side of the Scion. She was tall, thin, and blonde. A flirt, but pleasant even if she was slightly annoying, a lot of people liked her too.

She waved with both hands as she walked. "Hey, hey, hey. Thanks for saving us. We were freezing our asses off." she eyed the van. "Hope you guys have heater."

"We're not putting the heater on," Alan said. "You're nuts."

"I'm cold!"

"'Cause you're wearing nothing, love." Molly drawled. "Get Chris and them. Oh forget it, get in, Heather. I'll get them."

He said nothing through the exchange, feeling no compulsory to do so. He shifted his weight and rolled the unlit joint in his left hand as the back door slid open, revealing Heather in her low cut floral top and tight ripped jeans glory.

"You!" her eyes lit up. "Heeeey. I haven't seen you for-"

Before she could finish Chris and Matt, Molly's younger brothers crashed through.

"Dude! It was so fucking awesome! And it's all Molly's fucking fault!" Chris was saying as he crashed down beside him and Matt on his other slide. Heather reluctantly climbed into the seat behind the middle seat which they sat upon, but directly behind him. He could hear her impatient sigh.

"You know, Molly. The stubborn stupid idiot. We told her she hit something, didn't we Chris? We did, and she didn't listen!" Matt bounced excitedly up and down, brushing back his long brown bangs. He was 15, small and skinny. Chris was 14, big and tough.

"Oh, shut the fuck up guys." Molly said irritably as she came to slide the door shut. "Everyone in? You guys okay back there?" she turned to the back seat.

"As good as we'll ever be," Heather said unhappily. "I'm freezing my ass off here. Close the windows, Alan."

Molly squeezed in the backseat, obviously unaware that Alan had wanted her up front and that Shane hadn't bothered to get down. She dropped onto Chris's lap who immediately tried to shove her off.

"Get off of me, fat ass!"

"Shut up, Chris." both Molly and Matt said at the same time.

"I'm cold, guys." Heather said.

"Quit nagging," Chris said, moving to smack her arm but he could feel her jump back as she scowled and said, "Don't touch me! Your sick, perverted brothers kept bothering me the whole time. Tell the punks to leave me alone." she complained to Molly.

"Leave her alone, you shithead." Molly snapped.

He sat where he was, suddenly wishing for the peace and quiet before Molly happened as the van practically rocked as Chris and Matt settled themselves on either side of him. Molly sat right next to him as she sat on her fat brother's lap, her perfume stifling to his nostrils and more so as she turned to survey him.

"Hey, kid." Molly ruffled his hair.

He leaned away from her, moving to light his Camel and regain some sanity.

"Do you have to smoke?" Molly demanded. "I just quit last week you goddamn jerks. Give me one, Alan."

Molly's dark brown hair hung long and curled at the end, when she moved it brushed against his arm, soft and light. Her perfume was flowery, but musky and deep at the same time. She had large eyes and lips and as he watched her light her Camel, the white stick wedged between her generous lips, white teeth clenched lightly onto the cigarette, he found that he felt no attraction to her whatsoever.

Molly was tough and she was smart. And when the only things others could see was a straight forward beautiful girl, he saw that she was someone fighting the same fight he had fought all those years ago. The only thing he felt for her was pity.

They finally hit the highway ten minutes later, the van rocking slightly from all the weight. He remained silent and quietly smoked as everyone laughed, talked, showed off, and tried to blame each other for the weight. He sat in his bubble and thought and dreamed of the empty van, the long road ahead and the soothing wind he had grown to find comfort in.

"Molly's the fattest one in here." Chris was saying beside him. "Let's kick her out."

"I'm never taking you stupid ungrateful shits paintball again, I swear to God, Chris."

There was no wind now because Heather had insisted that they close the windows. He sighed and put his stick out, it was no use. Everyone would choke on the smoke anyway and blame him. Even Molly put hers out.

"Holy shit, what's this?" Matt found something under the seat, small but long. "Hey look, you guys! It's Shane's dildo!" he shouted waving it around causing everyone to edge away before he threw it at Shane who started fighting with Matt because it wasn't really a dildo but some sort of insignificant tube.

He was shoved back and forth before he finally shoved Matt who was practically sitting in his lap. "Sit down." he commanded. "For fucksake, Matt. Act like a human being, all right?" he smacked the kid before turning away to ignore everyone again. Maybe he should move to the backseat, Heather or no Heather. God knew that girl had a bunch of room back there. He glanced back briefly and momentarily stilled from surprise.

Heather wasn't alone. Another girl sat with Heather, although apart from the girl. Her eyes strayed out the window, unblinking, hands clasped in her lap as if she were conducting a prayer. Yet, she sat unperturbed by all the noise and disturbance around her.

He looked back at the girl sitting beside him and nudged her lightly. He cocked his head towards the back, curious.

"What?" Molly followed his gaze. "Oh yeah, this is Heather's cousin-Chris, quit pinching me or I'll kick your ass-her name is Amy."

"Yeah, say hi, Amy." Heather told her cousin as she yelled in his ear. "Her parents are like, the freaking Nazi's and overprotective bats. We just managed to convince my Uncle to let her out tonight, isn't that right, Aim?"

Amy looked away from the window to give her cousin a small, uncertain smile of agreement. Her eyes were distant as she gave a small nod and smile his way before turning away again to stare out the window.

He briefly wondered if she was shy or something. He figured he didn't really care; he just liked the fact that she knew how to keep quiet.

"And now we're probably gonna get it 'cause he told us to be back by 10. It's 11:30." Heather whooped.

"It's not our fault," Molly said indignantly. "We'll tell your parents, Amy. We had a flat. It was no one's fault. It was my fat ass brother's fault. He's too fat for my Scion." she elbowed him and he shoved her, nearly sending her head first into the dashboard.

Everyone started shouting and Amy was forgotten.

He gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to shut out the noise. Heather was leaning over him, her arms practically around his head as she and Matt worked to pull Molly and Chris apart. Her voice was so loud in his ears as always and he wanted to cover them. What was up with these people? Didn't they know how to act normally in a moving vehicle?

He turned his head, glancing back at the girl. She watched the squabble upfront with a mixture of apprehension and amusement.

"So what's it like?" he found himself asking her, and surprisingly she heard him over the din. "Having parents like that?"

She turned her head to him, vaguely surprised and hesitated before answering "Protective parents?"

"Yeah." He felt like an idiot asking, but he actually wanted to know. Everyone he knew and hung around with had shittyass parents, too. They were all alike. Even Molly Sharpe's parents weren't so perfect. He wondered what it felt like to have parent's like Amy. To know that your father was probably worried about you and to feel inclined to hurry home to ease his worries. How fucking alien.

Yeah, he wanted to know.

A mild smile lifted the corners of her mouth. "Frustrating. But... I don't mind." she shrugged, still uncertain with the area of questioning. "What about your parents?" she asked tentatively.

Gray area, sweetie.

"I dunno." he replied listlessly. "I haven't spoken to them in a year."

She looked a little taken aback. "But why? That's awful. You should call them, I'm sure they miss you and want you to come home." she sounded certain, almost determined.

To him she sounded naive.

He grinned at her anyway, amused. "I don't think so."

Amy opened her mouth to say something but then closed it, staring at him. He stared back, waiting for her to scold or contradict him. She didn't. She gave a tiny shrug that almost seemed helpless and broke their gaze to resume looking out the window.

He studied her side profile. She wasn't gorgeous like Molly and she wasn't beautiful like Heather, but something about her face was nice to look at. And talking to her just now, he could see the earnest intelligence in her eyes, and how easily he read her. Her desire to be happy and determination to believe that everything else was happy too. She didn't want to think the world was a bad place. She didn't want to think that he had bad parents where hers were perfect.

He found himself smiling at her naivety, her determination no matter how ill placed.

"We need gas, everybody cough up." Alan yelled from the front.

"Yeah right, you cheap shit." Chris said derisively.

"Chris, when we get there I'm gonna kick your ass okay?"

"Please." Molly said plaintively. "He needs his ass kicked."

Ten minutes later they pulled into a Chevron gas station. The doors opened and all of them nearly fell out, relieved to be out of the cramped car and be able to stretch. Heather raced inside for a bathroom, Chris, Matt and Shane followed to get junk food. He stumbled out himself, the fresh air washing disquiet relief over him. Moving away from everyone he leaned beside a gas pump, lighting a cigarette and swiftly taking a drag to settle his short nerves. Alan glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. He merely closed his eyes and shook his head in reply and his friend didn't say anything.

The Camel was doing wonders for him, already the restlessness had fled and he managed to get his breathing back down to normal. He exhaled and leaned heavily against the stone wall beside the pump, wondering when all this would be over and actually hoping for the drive to end. He wanted his silence back. He wanted his thoughts.

He thought about Heather's strange cousin and her narrow minded perspective of the world. Opened his eyes, and there she was.

She looked a little shy, but you know how determination got to people. "You look like you've given up on life."

Preach it, Amy.

"And if I have?" he dropped his hand to his side, his other hand clearing the smoke to be able to look at her.

She hesitated. "You shouldn't." she told him. "You shouldn't."

He could have laughed at her.

"Frankly, my dear, you don't know me well enough to tell me what to do." he tried to keep his voice even. Failed. "And are you really that naive? Yeah, it's nice to think that the world is a happy, honky-dory place. But it's not. Just because you don't have any problems doesn't mean the rest of us are as happy, kid."

"I have problems." she said, for the first time looking troubled. "But that doesn't mean I give up."

"You think I've given up?" he asked, amused.

She just looked at him, eyes wide; earnest.

He shrugged. "You're right. But you should know; this world is fucked."

"The world's beautiful." she said so quietly he almost didn't hear her. She wouldn't look at him. "And you're too busy hiding behind that cigarette to see."

He would have chuckled at that but instead focused himself on appraising her. This girl was funny. She had a little bit of everything that was wrong, narrow-mindedness, naivety, love for the world that would turn on her. Yet, she was still cute and shy enough to keep him entertained.

He grinned at her offhandedly. "You're an optimist. That's great." he shook his head.

"You have to open your eyes," he told her when she didn't say anything, trying not to be too blunt. "See past your little happy life. Not everything is perfect."

"Not everything is bad, either." she countered. "You should always look at the brighter side."

Briefly wondering if she had grown up sheltered, he raised an eyebrow. "The brighter side?"

"Yes. The… the better aspect of a situation." Amy said, growing braver each second. But only a little. "Like… well, I'll use something simple, all right? The sun, for instance. It's so very hot sometimes isn't it? But without the sun where would we get light?"

"Lamps?" he offered, humoring her.

"Okay, forget the sun." Amy looked around. "Your friends van! It's so very ugly isn't it? But that's not the point. The point is, ugly or not it's getting us home. It works. It transports people. Would you rather have a nice looking car that didn't work? Or this—this—" she gestured but stopped upon seeing his expression. "This doesn't make any sense, does it?"

He cocked his head. "Nope. What were you saying about Alan's ride again?"

She flushed. "It's a wonderful van and all! And it's getting us home, isn't it? That's the point. That's your brighter side. Everything has a brighter side!" she smiled at him encouragingly. "You'll see."

"I'm sorry, but I don't understand half of the things you're trying to explain to me." He stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking. "All I know is that this world is shit and nothing is perfect."

"You are." her tone only partly sarcastic with a ring of shyness. The statement sent him mute.

He shut his eyes and tried not to show that she had surprised him. Baby, you do not want to get mixed up with the likes of me. Trust me. "Yeah well, not everyone can be like me, can they?"

Opening his eyes he was startled to find that they were both smiling at each other, even though Amy broke contact and looked down. He shook his head, bemused and turned to Alan who was putting away the gas pump, talking to Molly.

"I'm gonna go take a leak." he murmured as he moved past his friend.

"Hurry up, we're leaving." Alan replied. "And get those stupid shits out of the store, will ya? I'm not waiting here all night for them." Chris and Matt ran out as if cued and Shane stumbled out after them a second later.

He passed Heather on her way out of the bathroom. She winked at him and he dodged her swipe for his ass, nearly colliding into the miniature coke freezer. Heather laughed, delighted, before calling out to him as he disappeared into the crappy bathroom. "You can't escape me for long."

Yes I can.

He surveyed the small restroom.

There wasn't a urinal.

He did his business, gingerly dropping the seat with his shoe before moving to wash his hands and stare at his reflection in the cracked mirror. Cobwebs hung around the corners although he couldn't see any spiders. He wondered what Heather might have thought as she used the bathroom. He allowed a small smile of amusement as he washed his hands.

The bathroom was so dismal he wanted to just get out, but he paused. It was ugly and unkempt, but the toilet worked. And there was bathroom tissue paper, and a sink to wash. And wasn't that all that mattered? The bright side. He smirked half heartedly and walked out.

They were stuffed in the van, everyone looking at him. Shane had taken his spot. Chris and Matt sat comfortably on either side of him, all three of them stuffing their faces with the junk food they'd bought. Molly peered at him from the passenger seat where she sat with a glowing Alan up front. She glanced at him, grinning apologetically. "Sit in the back. There's more room."

"Yeah, come on!" Heather said enthusiastically. "Let him sit in the middle!"

He didn't want to sit in the middle.

Amy could see this. Eyes downcast, she pressed her lips together to hide the smile. Heather gazed at him expectantly, lower lip ready to thrust out into a pout. He heaved a heavy sigh and climbed into the van, maneuvering around Amy's legs to settle between the two cousins. Heather immediately pressed up beside him, mouth open and running miles into his ear.

And yet he was more aware of the strange girl on his other side with whom he knocked knees with instead of the talkative, beautiful one who was clearly interested in him. He refrained from rolling his eyes. Heather was interested in every guy who wasn't interested in her.

Alan had rolled down the windows, despite what Heather had said earlier. The breeze was nice moving through the van, especially since they were all cramped and the body heat was almost stifling. But everyone's getting home. That's what matters.

He laughed. He couldn't help it.

Almost everyone looked at him. Heather leaned away, staring, her mouth momentarily falling silent. Chris, Matt, and Shane looked at him, food in their mouth. Molly turned all the way around in her seat, looking curiously. Alan continued driving, a smile on his mouth.

"What?" he didn't need to defend himself.

"You're laughing." Heather poked him.

"Yeah, what's so funny?" Chris wanted to know. "What happened?"

"Nothing." He said.

As usual, the sound of his laughter strange to the ears of his friends. He wondered if he was laughing a bit more than before now, but couldn't be sure. It sure felt like it.

Everyone slowly went back to what they were doing and his mouth parted to let out a soft sigh of relief. He slumped a little, trying to find comfort and ended up leaning snugly against Amy. She didn't notice or seem to care as she stared out the window. Probably trying to look for the bright side.

He didn't know why he found it funny, but he did. Since she didn't seem to notice or care that he was leaning against her he closed his eyes trying to salvage what was left of his relaxing ride.

He thought of Hannah, sixteen years old now. So much older now, almost a legal adult like himself. He wondered how she was. He wondered if he had done the right thing in leaving her behind with their mother. He also wondered if she hated him. He should call her. Make sure she was okay.

He watched the drab ceiling of the vehicle. If she wasn't okay, maybe he could help her to be. Maybe it wasn't too late.

The bumpy drive almost lulled him to sleep before he told her. "It almost makes sense."

She looked at him; and in the dark he suddenly noticed that her eyes were green. "What does?"

"Nothing." He looked away. "Nothing."

She was quiet for some time before speaking. "No one's perfect."

He smirked knowing she couldn't see. "Told you."

She didn't respond but he found that he didn't really mind. He watched a familiar sign overhead; MANSFIELD – ¼ MILE. Just a few more miles and a few more minutes and they would be home. It felt like he had just gotten into the van with Alan and Shane a second ago. Now the drive was almost over. He would get back the peace and quiet he had longed for all night. But inexplicably, he suddenly wondered if he even wanted it. There was something strangely soothing about the way they were all crowded together in this car, close to each other and yet each of them miles away.

Heather sat slumped beside him but not up against him and this time it was her eyes which gazed distantly out the window. He found himself wondering what was going through her head at that moment, wondering what she could possibly be thinking about.

In font of them Matt and Chris crunched quietly on their food.

"How much longer, man?" Shane's voice drifted through the van, lazy and thick.

Alan's voice came soft and warm through the heavy silence. "A few more miles."

Molly smiled at him from where she sat in the passenger seat, head lolling gently to the side of her shoulders and he envisioned her staring off straight ahead at the road. He himself burrowed deeper into the comfort surrounding him, hoping she wouldn't notice and even if she did, that she wouldn't mind.

"What's your name?" Amy suddenly asked quietly, her breath warm against his throat.

Were they that close?

He closed his eyes briefly before responding. "Jack."

"You're so quiet." she said almost too softly to hear.

So're you.

He opened his eyes and gave her a small smile. "I laugh sometimes."

A/N: I wanted to try a short story. Trust me, it's difficult enough not to add ten more chapters to this, but there you go. It feels incomplete to me. And I think I've rushed it too much. I didn't want to make it any longer because then I'd have to add fifty more chapters. & I dont like the characters very much, either. I dont think I've developed them enough. Oh yeah, and I also hate the summary. Just thought I'd throw that in there, too, while I'm gripping. -cheeky-

My first short story, cut me some slack, please? Review? (: