”Glad You Could Make It”
“Ommm” was the only thing running through Nicks mind as his beat up old jeep rolled along highway 34. The smooth mechanics gently hummed and blended with his tires as they pulverized the pavement and pushed him towards Omaha. The cornfields flanked him on both sides and drifted off in all directions, taking his thoughts with them as they marched into the horizon. He was on his way home. Omaha was where he grew up, and it had been a long time since he had been there, since he left in a hurry. But this was just a brief stop, for he was off to meet his father, the man who ran off years ago, leaving his mother to raise him by herself.
He exiled himself to Nederland soon after he discovered the woman he loved on the kitchen floor with his best friend. While there, he became involved with a lady whose boyfriend abandoned her soon after discovering that she became pregnant. They lived off of each other’s loneliness and helped each other out. She convinced him that he needed to make peace with his father, and he convinced her that he would help her through the pregnancy, taking on her child as his.
He pulled over to a rather forlorn looking piece of land that was designated a rest area. Nick got out and stretched. He was planning to eat as the sun went down, so he walked around the area to gather kindling for his fire. Besides, it felt good to walk around; the idea of moving around was welcome after being in his car for so long. Cornfields bordered the rest area on two of its walls, and some corn made it to his rest area because there were stalks littering the ground. He smirked at the ingenuity of his fellow travelers and thought corn might make a welcome addition to his meal. So he headed towards the field. But as he was about to enter, he remembered all of the signs he had seen along the way that proudly advertised the poisons that helped the plants grow so well. Certain that he had done the right thing, he continued his survey of the land, stopping by a tree along the way to mark his territory. He sat on the picnic table and listened to the silence that occasionally rose to a roar as a semi sped by, eager to meet its deadline.
As the sun began to dip below the horizon, Nick noticed a little spot that had appeared on the highway. He wasn’t sure if it was moving, but he didn’t remember seeing it before, as he idly ate. After a few minutes, he grew confident that it was moving. His curiosity won out, and he approached the dot. A small turtle emerged as he drew closer. It was almost across the road, but at the pace it was going, it still had a long way to go.
“I have no idea where you plan to go, little buddy, ” he laughed as he squatted down. Picking it up, he walked the remaining five feet to the shoulder, “but at the speed you are going, I don’t know how easily you are going to make it.” his feet were swimming through the air, his little head trying to get a piece of Nick’s fingers. “I can’t help but wonder where you intend to go. It seems like all that you need is back there- a neat little pond, plenty of grass to crawl around in, and some might tasty cornfields. Yet, you are steady inching your way across a pretty dangerous road. You just risked your life for a little shoulder gristle and railroad tracks.“ He set the turtle down and wished it luck, as it scrambled towards the shelter of the tall grass- as fast as a turtle can go, at least. As he waited for the pickup to pass him, he couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. He remembered a story that someone had told him about Sasha. Her third grade class had a pet turtle they called Monk, because it always looked like a cool character. When it died, she was so heartbroken that the teacher excused her for the day. She took it home and buried under the elm tree in her backyard. She made her dad say a prayer, and her mom cooked her favorite meal; a bowl of cereal and some eggs.
As he jogged back across the street, she popped into his head again and lingered for a brief second. Since the entire drive was done without any music, much of his time was spent quietly thinking. He didn’t think of her the entire trip, but now she grew like a cancer. He knew he couldn’t see her again- that would be a disaster. But he was enthralled. She had saved him from himself. He knew who he was before he met her, and no matter what she did to him the simple fact that he owes her everything lingered in his mind.
The memories of the summer they met came rushing in as he casually ate the rest of his burrito. He was completely broke and was there only because he had nowhere else to be. He was at Red Rocks State Park at a concert. His friends were all inside the concert, for the show had just begun. But he lingered on the outside and tried to avoid any light. Occasionally, he would talk to some of the others who loafed outside. Some were plotting ways to sneak in, while others were the designated babysitters for the night. He was bored and disinterested in everything that everyone had to say, so he didn’t stick around anybody for too long.
She was just standing under a street light near the entrance, looking down at a puppy that sat patiently by her side. Her long brown hair shimmered in the light as it rested on her soft shoulders. She wore a thin white cotton shirt that had a little rose embroidered on each sleeve. As he walked by, the puppy wheeled around and eagerly yelped. He stepped into the ring of light behind her, and knelt down to pet the excited little creature.
“What a wonderful little pup you have here! “ Nick said, as he bent down and he tried to get control out of the chaos emitted by the animated ball of fur that yelped and yipped and whirled around before him.
“She’s not mine,” she replied, turning around. The puppy was invigorated by the prospect of a new friend, and in her excitement got her leash tangled up in Sasha’s skirt. Nick continued petting the excited little puppy as Sasha untangled herself before squatting down to join them on the ground. “The guy in the car next to me was going to leave her in the car while he went to the show, so I volunteered to take care of her; isn’t she adorable?” Her hazel eyes glittered with delight.
The puppy eagerly took advantage of all the attention she was getting, and ran in a circle between the two of them as the petted its downy fur. Her hand ended up clasped in his, and they stood up. They walked around the parking lot once before Nick led her up the mountain, where they listened to the music and talked and watched the lights of Denver shimmer under the rising full moon.
He remembered how comfortable he was talking to her- something that he hadn’t done in a long time. He was a shell of a man, just scraping by. For that brief instant he was happy. The music was wonderfully mellow, and the air was crisp, but not too cool. “That was almost three years ago”, Nick said aloud, breaking his concentration, and snapping him back to the cornfield in front of him, their brown tassels waving in the breeze and shifting colors under the calico sky. He packed his thins up and hopped in his car and finished the rest of his trip.
He had already arranged to meet some people at Echoes- a hole- in- the wall that was one of his old haunts in town. It was a quaint little place that was decorated with old cloth couches and coffee tables, plush chairs that squared out round tables and draped the sunken bar that sat along the sidewall. A bookshelf lined the back wall that was full of old books and board games. Nick walked in, carrying his djembe, and was quickly swarmed with greetings and hugs from the locals that he had once been a part of. He made his way through to the front corner where a stage sat housing an interesting assortment of people.
“Hey, hey, hey, is that Grodie tearing it up on the bass?” Nick pointed and winked at Grodie, who nodded his hello as he coolly added a couple of licks to his already funky beat. “And there’s the Dogg,” he nodded to the guy in the flannel shirt who was sitting down playing the acoustic guitar. “Shaggy Drew where you are,” he howled to the saxophone player swaying on stage. He set his djembe down by the congas that Will was playing and headed up to the bar, where he took a seat.
“Yoyo, JoJo, what do you know know?” Nick laughed as he sat down. He looked around at the energy that filled the bar. People were bouncing from table to table, sneaking outside to share a bowl, or hopping on stage, “it looks like life is good here, eh?” he commented.
“You know it, bro.’ He held out his hand, “welcome back man.”
“Thanks, it is good to be back. Although I have only been here for five minutes, they have been rather enjoyable. But, you know how quickly things can change in this town, eh?” he gave a wink. “I’m just kidding. I’m only here for a day, so it shouldn’t be so bad. I won’t have time to get sick of this place. And, after all, I’m at the flyest place in town, I know I’m gonna have a good time. You gonna get up there and hit us with one of them fly poems tonight?”
“Nah, I don’t think so, not tonight. I’ve got to keep my eyes on the bar,” he looked around to the people happily consuming beverages around him, throwing money his way. “But I will hit you with a drink, what do you want?”
They talked for a little bit before a tune grabbed Nicks ear. He grabbed his drum and hopped up on stage to join the collage of musical instruments; a pair of acoustic guitars, a bass, a saxophone, a set of congas, and a snare drum. They played together, shuffling the lead around between them. The music sped up, slowed down, and filled the room with a joyous sound. Chatter rose throughout the bar; people drummed on their tables, the goalie at the foosball table was kicking his feet around, and stories were reaching their crescendo.
And then Sasha showed up. He pictured an elf cavorting among the ferns and elm trees of some ancient forest as she glided to the bar and ordered a drink. He closed his eyes and focused on the music, and when he opened them again, they were already staring into hers. They remained locked together as the rhythm grew into a funky beat. As if by some sort of tractor beam, she was drawn towards the stage, where she began to dance, igniting the flame that spread throughout the bar. Within minutes people were grooving and jiving on the stage.
After the song was over, he set his djembe down and went over to her, “I knew there was a reason for my coming here tonight.” He gave her a hug, “how are you doing, Sasha?”
“Pretty good. I’m still in Lincoln, but I thought that I could find a nice little groove to get into here tonight,” she wiggled in his arms, “so I thought I should come down, and have a little fun.”
“Well, let me be the first to welcome you to Omaha,” he winked. “Do you wanna sit down?” he gestured towards the back of the bar.
“Sure,” she replied.
As they weaved through the bar, Nick was kicking himself for what he was doing. He didn’t mean to hug her. She was the last person he wanted to see in Omaha. “Damn fool!” he thought. He tried to remember what it was that she did that pissed him off so much that he moved to Colorado, but he just couldn’t.
She cheated on him; he knew that. He saw her with his roommate on his kitchen floor. He had a feeling she was doing this the entire two years, but she was clever. That is, until his birthday. But now, here they are, and here he is doing exactly what he promised himself he wouldn’t do. He sat there and watched her lips move, constantly fighting back the urge to touch her face.
After catching up a little bit, a wave of sadness flushed across her face. Nick caught a brief glimpse of it before it disappeared, “Are you alright?” he asked.
“Yeah, wonderful,” she stifled a smile. “Did I tell you that I am going to Durango in two weeks and help on a ranch?”
“No, you didn’t. Why do you want to do that? Backbreaking work, long days, you’ll hate it.” Nick replied.
“Yeah, I know, that’s why I’m doing it. I think it is time for me to gain my independence.” She looked down at her shoes and continued, “This whole summer has been difficult for me.” She ran through a list of small disasters that included a car wreck, bankrupt parents, and a nightlife that convinced her to drop out of school for a while.
He tried to cheer her up by telling good stories that happened to him– like talking to his father and his new adventures that were coming up–but they didn’t work. As they talked, he began to feel guilty for what had happened to her. Although he was hundreds of miles away, he still felt some sort of guilt. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. C’mon, lets go.” He jumped up, and pulled her up with him.
“What? Where are we going?” She asked hurriedly, as she struggled to put on her shoes.
“We’re getting the heck out of this town, man! It’s a perfect night out, there is no reason for us to be hemmed up inside this box!” He mentioned the idea to a few other people in the bar and let the word spread on its own. Then they hopped in his truck and scrambled towards the interstate.
After a few blocks, he noticed a car riding his tail. “Well, I have some more bad news for you,” Nick glanced over at Sasha, who looked like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. “I think I’m going to jail. You see, I got a ticket a long time ago and I never paid it.” A flurry of lights flashed all around him as the cop turned on his lights. Nick pulled over and got his papers together.
Sasha, stone cold and pale sat there and didn’t’ say a word. Nick handed the officer his papers and tried to calm her down, but she wasn’t listening to anything.
“Could I have you step out of the car, Nick?”
“Why certainly, but first I’d like to know why you pulled me over, officer,” Nick replied. The cop said it was because he had a taillight out, and was just going to give him a give him a warning. But he had a warrant issued for him and was arrested. He informed the cop that the ticket was for a priceless pipe that a friend of his made for him on his twenty- first birthday. After saying that, the officer got the bright idea to search Nick’s truck. Nick replied that he didn’t have any problem with that, but that he had a lot of stuff in there. He was on his was to meet his father and his truck was packed for the summer. The cop thought that he had reasonable cause to search his car. Nick was appalled, but saw that it was no use.
The officer asked Sasha if she had anything on her—he hadn’t found anything on Nick — and she said no. The cop looked under the driver’s seat and found nothing. He looked in the glove compartment and around the console for hidden spots – still nothing. He looked under the passenger seat and found a salt shaker that he pulled out and walked over to where Nick and Sasha were sitting, “Aha!”
Both Nick and Sasha assured the cop that they hadn’t seen that before. The backup car carried away Sasha, while Nick got carted off somewhere else. Nick demanded a urinalysis, and the results came back negative, while Sasha didn’t even bother to pay attention to it. She ended up getting dropped off at her parents’ home. Nick’s father ended up dying a few months later, but Nick hadn’t known because he stopped corresponding with him a few days after the arrest. He’ll get out some day; the red tape can’t last much longer, he thought.