For all intents and purposes, let’s set the record clear that I wasn’t intentionally trying to break anyone’s heart. In fact, I still cannot be certain that any hearts were actually broken, save the brief loneliness I fell into after leaving that motel in Paradise (Nevada, not heaven), but I hardly think my own heart can be counted in the grand tally. If anything, it’s just proof that I have enough emotional capacity to not try and break anyone’s heart, and anyone who says otherwise can refer to those grueling three days when I thought I would be dying alone in the middle of the desert. Not that that ever happened, but it very well could have, which is something that must be taken into account either way.
But I still sent Jennie four apology voicemails and a slur of text messages saying how sorry I was. I thought, after text seven, she would have to reply, based on the sheer volume of notifications she was getting, and I know for a fact she never turns her phone on silent, so that dinging has to get annoying at some point. But either she has the willpower of someone much stronger than I expected, or I completely misread the situation, because there was nothing but radio silence on her end. The drive to her house in La Verne forced me to confront the notion that perhaps I’m not the most important person in her life, but I did well enough in keeping my own mind quiet when those thoughts rose to the top. When I finally reached her cul-de-sac it was almost midnight. I sent her three more messages, letting her know I was sitting outside her house and she didn’t have to reply but the neighbors might start getting suspicious about this strange girl sitting in the Toyota Camry this late at night. Six minutes later she was walking out her front door, wearing a faded Disney sweater with Mickey Mouse saying “Gosh pal!” I never liked that sweater, it reeked of kitsch, but there was no use bringing that up now. Jennie got into the passenger’s seat and stared directly ahead, refusing to even glance in my direction. We sat in silence for a good five minutes before she finally turned to me and said,
“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing up here to my house like this.”
She had a good point, but it didn’t change the fact that this was still happening. She continued: “It’s like, you can’t even let me be sad without making it all about you, you know? Like I can’t even emote without you somehow needing to have total control over it. It’s sickening, honestly. It’s—it’s utter madness.” I’ll give her that.
Jennie sat there pouting for another two minutes, until she finally blurted out the all original, “Well, aren’t you going to say something?”
A shocking moment, since it seemed I really wasn’t. I had driven all this way and didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do once I got there. I thought maybe the whole thing would have worked itself out by then, that she would have forgiven me, and that would be that. I never really prepared for what would happen otherwise. Jennie sat there giving me the stink eye, her brown hair gently caressing the corners of her face. In an instant, I made a judgement call.
Who’s to say why, or where the decision came from, but instead of responding to anything Jennie had just said, I switched the gear from park and immediately just started driving. There was a very real chance what I had just done would have dire consequences, and perhaps be considered kidnapping in most states, but it seems my moment of clarity was clouded by the fact that I had no other option (in my mind, at least). I looked over and saw Jennie holding on to the seat, her face a mix of extreme fear and extreme apathy. She said nothing, just like me, so I kept driving. I had no idea where I was going, or when I would stop, and so I didn’t. I just kept going.
There is a certain plateau that you hit when you’re making reckless decisions, and in this case that came as I decided to take the ramp for the 10, at which point I realized Jennie had not and would not break. In a cloud of my own defeat I took the next exit off the highway and stopped in the parking lot of a still-open Del Taco. This time it was me refusing to look at Jennie, not out of anger but sheer fear. I heard her take a deep inhale, before simply stating:
“I’m going to call an Uber.” And then she stepped out into the Southern California night.
I turned my engine back on and started driving east back towards the desert. I hadn’t spent enough time there, apparently.
“The Thirteenth Month” by Leka Gopal appeared in Issue 39 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Leka Gopal is a graduating senior at the University of California Berkeley, where she is a contributor and Managing Editor for the local music magazine The B-Side. Her work has been previously published in the Orlando based literary magazine By Any Other Name.