This was sort of inspired by the Hemingway story “Hills Like White Elephants” except this one has less dialogue and is probably less subtle. But, hey, I’m not Hemingway.
The girl behind the counter barely looks up from her phone as Michael puts a folded shirt, sweatpants, and a bag of peanuts on the counter.
“You want a bag?” She yawns and stretches her neck.
“Yeah. Um, can I get the peanuts in a separate bag?”
He nods and does what he asked. He takes the bag of clothes and the peanuts and looks around a second before ducking into the women’s bathroom.
The woman washing her hair in the sink barely looks at him.
“Jody?” he whispers. “I got you clothes.”
A hand shoots up over a stall. “Right here,” she says.
He hands the clothes over the stall. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she says.
That’s what it’s been since he spilled the mostly full bottle of Coke all over her while she slept in the passenger’s seat. All “it’s fine” and “you know what? Don’t worry about it.” Which is passive aggressive for “it’s not fine” and “fuck you.”
“You want anything to eat?” he asks. “I was going to go to McDonald’s.”
“Chocolate milk shake and two Big Macs. Extra pickles.”
“Okay. I’ll be out there.”
The woman washing her hair in the sink pauses to glare at Michael as he slinks out with the bag of peanuts.
At two in the morning the only places open in the rest stop are McDonald’s and the convenience store. Everyone has a kind of fuzzy look about them. Except the woman at the fryer. She’s dancing to the top 40s playing on low over the speakers.
Michael orders for Jody and gets chicken nuggets and a Flurry for himself. On his way over to a table, Jody walks out of the bathroom wearing a shirt that says “Wicked Smaht” and sweatpants that have Boston written down the side.
She looks so cute. Annoyed and cute. She’s not holding her dirty clothes and when she gets closer Michael can tell she tried to wash the Coke off of herself, but she still smells like caramel and sugar.
“I love you,” he says.
“Thanks for getting me clothes,” she says. “Want to eat here?”
He nods and she follows him to a table.
“What happened to your clothes?” He pulls out a chair for her and she sits in the one opposite.
“I threw them out. I don’t want to deal with it.”
Jody pulls the lettuce and tomato off her first Big Mac and slurps down her milkshake. Michael dips his chicken nuggets in honey and then ketchup, alternating bites of chicken with bites of Flurry.
“We could get married,” he says softly.
It’s the third time he’s brought it up.
It’s the third time that Jody starts to cry as soon as the words are out of his mouth.
“Not now,” she says. She punctuates her son with a slurp of milkshake. “Why would ask me that now?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. You look really pretty.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry. Really. I shouldn’t have.”
“It’s two in the morning.”
“My grandmother just died, Michael.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Don’t—just don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t do this out of some sense of chivalry or something. It doesn’t make you a good person.”
“I’m not trying to be a good person.”
She lets out another sob and pulls the lettuce and tomato off her second Big Mac. She cries and Michael doesn’t know what to do so he finishes his Flurry and stares at her. The woman who was washing her hair in the bathroom sits at a table far too close and glares at him.
Jody crumples up her wrappers and shoves them into the bag. “I’m getting another milkshake and we should go. I can drive.”
Michael hands her his keys and a crumpled up ten dollar bill. “Okay. Can you get me a milkshake too.”
She wipes her eyes. “Yeah. Strawberry?”
Michael goes out to the car and leans his forehead against the roof. Maybe she’ll say yes if he starts to cry too. He can’t make himself cry.
“Ready?” Jody presses the button to unlock the car and the lights flash.
“Yeah,” he says.
They’re on the road for an hour, milkshakes done, NPR softly droning on the radio, when she says, “I’ll probably get rid of it.”
“After the funeral.”
“Yeah. That’s—that’s fine.”
“I want to do stuff.”
“I know. I won’t stop you.”
Jody turns up the radio and then reaches over and takes Michael’s hand.