The Drive Home by Chris Preston

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Zack’s phone vibrates. It reads, she’s my best friend. Promise you’ll tell her on the drive home… ok?

He replies, yes. Once sent, the young man swipes left on his conversation to ‘Marty B’ and hits delete.

The sedan’s trunk slams shut and Tiffany climbs into the passenger seat just as he manages to disconnect his Bluetooth from the audio system. She buckles in, smiles, and does a cute little zombie impression. They both chuckle. Their relationship is steeped in suburban landscapes and coffee houses, a far cry from the caffeine-less camping weekend that had just concluded. A tall cup of coffee was sorely needed.

They see their friends’ cars begin to pull out under the morning sun in a lazy convoy. Like many others, they spent the May Two-Four long weekend trying to consume as much alcohol as possible, rather than actually celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. Of the dozen college friends that made the annual six-hour trek north from Toronto to Mississagi River National Park over the last decade, there are now only six.

Zack briefly pulls alongside the car that Georgina is in and flashes her a glum expression. She doesn’t return the gesture.

Their drive is quiet for the first half hour, Tiffany waiting for coffee to perk her up and Zack under a charade of the same desire. Neither are hungry, having eaten the last of their sausages before leaving, as well as being stuck in the sensory-dulling odour of wet canvas and sweaty clothes. They could have showered at the park but their mutual phobia of spiders kept them away from the public showers, opting instead for a multitude of wipes.

He spots a sign on the highway that shows food is available at the next exit. It’s several kilometers off their route, but he merges onto the offramp anyway. Despite his tough exterior, accented by a thick jaw and bum chin, Zack cowers from the impending deadline.

“Wow, mister. Driving the speed limit and we’re getting food? Already conceded that Jaye’s going to beat us home this year, eh?”

“Sure, I could drive like an idiot but figured we have nothing to get home to. My sister’s letting Speedy out and feeding him in the afternoon. We’re both back to work tomorrow so might as well enjoy the trek a bit.”

Zack feels himself being studied for a moment by Tiffany’s green eyes before she says, “this is very unlike you.”

“Still in vacation mode, I guess.” He playfully punches her in the arm.

The thickness of trees all around had been a welcome sight when first arriving up North, but now are a nuisance when trying to spot what places are available to stop at. Still, they manage to find a fast food chain that offers a decent brew. The two of them exchange sighs of relief and smiles while sipping away at their table.

When they resume, Tiffany’s bare feet make their way onto his dashboard. It was something he always cringed at and would normally swat them down, but he allows her to do so today.

“Hey, can you throw that podcast on you boys were playing last night? With those comedians talking about bad movies?”

Audiobooks and podcasts usually knocked her out cold, her request is surprising. Suspect, even. Zack goes to paw at his stereo, already knowing the outcome. “Shit. Guess my Bluetooth disconnected.”

“Pass me your phone, I’ll reconnect.”

“Can’t. Car won’t accept it while in motion. Safety feature.”

“Ah,” she rolls her head to look out the passenger side window. “You and Jaye were laughing so hard that it made me giggle. Even when you ghosted from the pit for a while, I kept listening. Reminds me of when Mack and Marty would be there, too. The way you’d all banter for hours. Miss those guys. Connect it next time we stop. Okay, babe?”

“Yeah, Tiff.”

Referencing their time apart last night and having to perpetuate the lie about his disconnected phone makes his lips part to begin confessing. He takes in a big breath of air, then notices his GPS still has them five hours away from home.

Too long, he thinks. I’m too far out for her to be stuck beside me. Not yet.

He stopped listening to his bladder after it had been irritating him for the last hour, not wanting to stop again, but Tiffany now is the one getting vocal over the same problem. Zack prays the drive was long enough for her to forget about his phone. Just as they get south of Sudbury, before the township dries up to another sea of trees, they pull over.

“You decide! My stomach is a mess from all that cooler grub.”

A foodie at heart, Tiffany lights up while hunting for the best place to eat. She correlates a sparsely populated diner with Yelp and decides, “That’s the one. Let’s get that bread!”

“Sure, Gen Z.” Zack pats her head.

“You wish. Sadly, I’m not legit getting any younger. Neither are you, Dad Bod. At least, I know a thing or two kids these days don’t.”

Her flirtation shies him away from answering any further, not wanting to engage in sex talk. What happened the night before is still too fresh in his mind.

Their meal is slow to come but the staff are friendly, and they aren’t in a hurry. To Tiffany’s surprise, he extends it by offering to pay for dessert. She enjoys a chocolate milkshake while across the table from him as they stare at each other. He looks in her eyes like it’s the last time, catching the various shades of green in them. Olive, pine, and emerald, all swirling into the black abyss of her pupils. He wonders if they were always this complex before.

They walk from shop to shop, his reason being that he feels cramps in his legs and needs to work them out. She calls him an old man while making a journey of it, hand in hand. An hour of this passes before she finally asks a question.

“Something wrong? Like, actually wrong?”

There is a long pause before he chooses to answer, doing so while staring down at the sidewalk. “Just don’t want this weekend to end. No, that’s not accurate. More like, I want a do-over.”

“Nonsense, we have some more vacation coming up. You and I have fun no matter what we do together. A tour around this dive being one of them. You sure that’s it?”

“Yeah.” His heart and head continue their struggle.

Her phone dings. “No fucking way. It’s Georgina.”

“What? What’d she say?” Zack asks with a suddenly dry mouth.

The pause is uncomfortable for him as he waits to understand why Tiffany is shaking her head. He has an idea but begs for it to be anything else.

“Her and Jaye are in Barrie already! Fuck, lets get going. It’s going to be forever until we’re home.”

Deflating, he let out a laugh. “Get your butt in the car then.”

They climb back in, being hit by a thick waft of the damp equipment once more. He goes to move the gear selector when Tiffany stops his hand.

“Bluetooth, remember?”

“Right.”

Zack takes his phone out, subtly aiming the screen more towards himself, and flicks up the settings. After a few seconds, the phone symbol appears on his stereo console. He selects a new episode of the podcast while peeking into his messages. Nothing more yet from ‘Marty B.’

Their road trip for the next few hours is full of laughter as they listen in on every quip the comedians say, while also periodically hearing audio clips from some corny eighty’s horror movie. The day grows long and he, at times, forgets about needing to break her heart.

Barrie is passed after another hour of driving and neither are starving because of the large lunch. Once clear of the city, Tiffany wraps her arms around Zack’s right bicep as his elbow rests on the center console. The laughter eventually fades to small chuckles, then to silent smiles. Soon after that, she falls asleep with her head on his shoulder.

The Greater Toronto Area skyline slowly rises from the horizon, with a descending sun floating above. Without looking at his GPS, Zack knows there are only twenty minutes left until they pull into their street.

He’s been selfish before, he’s disappointed her before as well. Yet, never has he truly hurt her, no times that he’s known about in their three years of dating. At parties, she would brag about him, saying, “He tries to be a manly man, hiding his emotions and feelings. On the inside, he’s a big softy though. Zack loves me, even if the guy’s never bought me flowers once.”

Tiffany had bad boys before but says she thinks of him as different, as dependant and reliable. She’s stated that he’s marriage material on particularly brave nights. He wonders if she’ll ever feel that way again after he tells her what he did last night, and why he hasn’t let her kiss him all day. If they did lock lips now, would she catch a new scent on him, or confuse it for her own? While unsure, the guilt alone made him brush twice earlier that morning.

Shit, less than ten minutes away now.

“Hey, honey. Wake up, almost home.”

There is a relaxation to her voice as she stirs. “What? Really?”

The discomfort he feels persists and won’t let him find his words. Any semblance of the considerate man she describes to her friends isn’t there now. She cranks her neck back and forth to get some stiffness loose and then looks over at him.

When words do come, they are not the ones he needs, or expects. “Still think I’m marriage material?”

“After such a lovely day like this, just the two of us together? God, Zack. Just ask me now.”

“Really?”

She purses her soft lips together and lightly whistles the tune to Here Comes the Bride. It makes him smile and a tear forms in the corner of his right eye. A tear she mistakes for happiness when saying, “I knew you had emotions in there!”

“Suppose so! God, I love you.”

Inside, the feeling of defeat creeps in. Their eyes linger on one another as he rounds the final bend to their street in his peripheral vision.

She lets out a sigh. “Chicken shit. Knew you couldn’t be spontaneous.”

Without hesitation, she ends the stare down with a kiss. Zack, caught off guard, breaks it and looks intently at the road ahead. While steering up their driveway, he feels Tiffany continue to gaze at him in a most curious kind of way.

The car is put in park and her seat belt is clicked off immediately. He feels a vibration, then the stereo console lights up. It displays, message from Marty B. Zack panics, looking to get his pocketed phone out before the message populates the car’s dashboard.

Tiffany, already half out, says, “Oh, Marty! Say hi for me and tell that punk that he missed out on quite the trip this year. Kids or no kids, he should’ve come.”

He sighs, confident that she isn’t aware that ‘Marty B’ isn’t Marty but Georgina. He changed it weeks ago when their texts turned flirty. Neither expected to act on their words.

“Yeah, will do. Meet you in there.”

Tiffany blows him one last kiss, takes her clothing bag from the back seat, and heads in. Their dog barks excitedly with her entrance.

Zack lights up his phone and reads the message. Told Jaye, he flipped and wants to kill both of us. Staying at my moms tonight. How’d ur talk go?

He finishes reading it three times, then pockets the phone once more. The car remains idling on the driveway, ready to stay or go at his command. This is where he waits. Then waits some more.

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Chris Preston

Chris Preston is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction from Ontario, Canada. Formal studies include University of Toronto’s Creative Writing program, as well as various workshops. Published work comprises of several short stories while Chris is working on his first novel.

If you enjoyed ‘The Drive Home’ leave a comment and let Chris know.

You can find and follow Chris at:

www.seeprestonwrite.wordpress.com

You can read more Chris’s words here

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https://ashtales.com/stories/osprey

Photo by Thomas Ulrich

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