After Jared’s mom didn’t come home from book club, Jared threw sticks at the fence until I stomped around to what my dad called the Rockwater side, and then he threw another one towards my feet. I looked at the stick, mottled gray and half-rotten across the tongue of my left sneaker, and called him the weakest stick thrower this side of Chicago.
After Jared’s mom left a message on the answering machine at two in the afternoon saying that she was an undergraduate and no longer ate animal products including casein, Jared stole my little sister’s sidewalk chalk and crushed one stick on each of the octagonal stepping stones his mom had installed between the sidewalk and the Rockwater front porch last summer.
After Jared’s mom sent a season schedule for the Peachy Keen Derby Girls of Chicago with an “xoxo” next to the name Fifi Free@Last, Jared’s dad decided that what the remaining Rockwaters needed was to commune with each other via communing with nature. Jared told me to watch from our porch for them loading the SUV. I’d climb in while his dad was inside checking to make sure the stove was off, the computer was hibernating, the automatic air conditioning was clicked into the off position, and no toilets were running.
I was supposed to hide in the back for forty-five minutes. Jared’s dad wouldn’t turn back for anything after thirty minutes, which was how Jared had gone on his first solo camping trip with his dad a few years back. He’d be forced to call my parents from the road and explain that I’d be communing with nature and thus the Rockwaters for the next forty-eight hours. While his dad tried to extract extremely small fish from an exhausted and rusty pond, Jared and I would pretend the woods were haunted and maybe brush against one another with more-than-necessary force a few times.
I stayed curled around a stiffly structured backpack, the tall metal sticks of the tent that was to be my home, mine and Jared’s, looming above me, the smell of something like feet up my nose until I felt in my lungs that I was no longer functionally breathing. I rose into a crouching position and said a formal hello.
“Jesus,” Jared said from the front seat.
I gulped in the cool air that streamed onto my face from the open windows.
I crawled over the back seat and leaned into the gap between Jared and his dad. The sky looked familiar, the road ahead of me. We were barely outside town. If I turned around, I’d recognize everything I hadn’t really left behind. It was nowhere near too late to turn back.
Jennifer Gravley makes her way in Columbia, Missouri. She is a writer of sentences, a watcher of bad television, and a reference and instruction librarian. Her work has recently appeared in Still: The Journal and Poetry Northwest, among others. Find her online at jennifergravley.com.