This is the middle of the first chapter.
The wind blows in my eyes as I lean out the window. Usually I would say something stupid about the fact that the wind is in my eyes – complain about it, or say something lame like “what a fucking good day”, letting the swear roll off my tongue. But not today.
Bianca leans forward in her seat. She insisted on shotgun as always. As I drive, she pages through laminated maps of far-off places. “Do you think he’ll be there?”
“I hope so.” Otherwise this will all be a waste, and so will the $18.73 I spent on gas money.
She leans over, squeezes my hand. I love the feeling I get when she does that: pure exhilaration. “We’ll bring him and Noel home,” Bianca promises. Her feet slide up onto the window. I shoot her a look – scratched windows aren’t in my foreseeable future – and she slides them back down with an annoyed smile.
Noel. Oh frick, Noel. My hands ball into fists at the mention of her name. Fucking goddamn Noel Elaine McCartney. The one who rose my brother in the air and sent him crashing down just as fast, the one who made him smile and laugh and sob. The one who tore him apart.
“Whoa, boy, calm down.” Bianca laughs, but she sounds afraid.
I pound the wheel as we reach a stoplight. “Stupid fucking girl.”
Bianca sighs. “Listen, this’ll be over soon, right? We’ll get Noel and James and bring them home. Then it’s over.”
No it isn’t. Breakups are horrible – every TV show, movie, and miniseries will show you that. They’ll show you the tears and the anger and the fights. And coming back to your exes is always worse. They never meet your eye, always turn their back to you, and awkwardness reigns. James shouldn’t have to go through that.
“Do you think they went out to eat?” I ask, changing the subject for the sake of my sanity. “They left early enough to need to eat lunch now. James likes Burger King. Noel likes Arby’s.” It’s weird that I know so much about my brother’s girlfriend, down to her favorite fast food restaurant, but I guess it can be expected. Noel used to always run around our house, screaming about her favorite colors (purple and black) and where she liked to eat and blabbing every detail about her the second that someone asked.
“There’s an Arby’s in the town, and a Burger King too. They’re pretty close to each other.” Bianca’s put the laminated maps away, replaced them with her phone. On the screen a virtual map of Hinton is displayed.
I wheel the car into the city limits. At least the limits that the map tells us is Hinton, South Carolina. There’s no sign. No recognition that this town is nothing more than forest. The only proof to show that there’s a town is a wooden board shoved in the ground. It’s falling over, the board tilting to the side at a ninety-degree angle.
My hands start to fall down the wheel, and I quickly slide them back up. A car crash would make this adventure much worse.
My eyes stay focused on the sign.
One letter is etched across the top. The letter is faded, looking like someone wrote it in a pencil. A big H.
H for Hinton. H for a city of a thousand people, H for home and heart and H for hope. And the one that sticks in my mind:
H for hate.
H for the hate I feel for Noel McCartney.
“It says to go straight for three miles,” Bianca says. She’s driving now, hands drumming against the wheel. I didn’t want to switch, but she insisted. Not by logic or force but by her own Bianca-method: shoving me off the seat, climbing over me, and sliding into the driver’s seat. Somehow she can drive and look at the phone at the same time. Dangerous but she does it. “There should be a place called the General Store on the right.”
She’s not talking to me anymore; she’s looking down, eyes on the screen.
Bianca drives. Straight. Driver’s ed tactics fly through my head as I look at her. Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, look at the gas periodically, stay steady…all the rules they gave and all the rules she’s ignoring.
Soon enough, the road flattens out and becomes a town. Houses appear periodically, shadowed and hidden behind pines. A few buildings appear – Bill’s Bait & Tackle, Hamilton’s Family Restaurant, A, L& F Taxes, the Boutique – but no General Store. Bianca wields the car around a corner and there it is.
The General Store.
The place where my brother and his girlfriend supposedly are.
The car glides easily into the parking lot. Bianca pushes hard on the brakes as she approaches. I can see her eyes searching the lot, trying to determine the best spot to park. My eyes squint as I look at the building. The General Store is a barn, really. A barn not much bigger than my garage. A brown barn with a thatched roof and wide windows. There’s a wide counter attached to the front of the barn advertising sales.
FIFTY PERCENT OFF LIVE BAIT.
CALL ED IF YOU NEED HELP
A phone number is written below Ed’s name, but the paint has faded. All that remains is a sickly yellow smudge.
“Live bait?” Bianca lets out a snicker.
I shrug. “Everybody needs it.”
She snorts again and flips her hair over her shoulders. “Apparently up here they do.” Bianca slides into the lot and powers the car off. She opens her door and I open mine.