“She died last year,” the boy said.
“Who?” I asked. Gosh this kid is morbid.
“Our mom,” he replied. “I thought I’d save your breath having you ask yourself.”
I glance at the boy. There’s a lack of emotion in his voice as he stares out the window. I look forward and pretend to not be uncomfortable. If that little girl weren’t here, I would’ve just kept driving.
“Gonna pay your respects?” I ask.
“Something like that.”
“Where’s your father?”
“Probably off somewhere getting shit-faced..”
Definitely should’ve kept driving.
“Well I’m sorry for your loss.” I say, awkwardly. “You shouldn’t be out here all by yourselves, especially hitchhiking. It’s dangerous.”
“We were just exhausted from walking everywhere, besides I’m 18. I can take care of the both of us.”
“A kid shouldn’t be taking care of a kid.”
“I’m not a kid.”
I check my GPS for the hundredth time, wishing time would pass quicker. “We’re about 15 minutes away.”
He turns his head to the backseat where the sleeping girl is. Looking in my rear-view mirror, I see him caress the discoloration on her cheek with his thumb, causing her eyes to slowly flutter open.
“Wakey wakey, Sarah,” the boy says to her.
That’s the first name I’ve heard this whole trip. He picks her up and pulls her onto his lap, kissing her on the forehead. Seeing her more up close, I notice more marks on her face. I try to focus my thoughts elsewhere and look at the pink and orange sky. After dropping these two off, it’s straight to another rest stop. I feel a sudden emptiness on my head. When I glance over, I see the little girl attempting to fit my cap on her tiny head.
“Where are your kids?” She asks, tugging on my jacket. “Do you have a lady friend? Or any friends?”
“Do you always ask a stranger this many questions?” I yank my cap off her head.
“Do you always give strangers a ride in your car?”
“Sarah, hush,” the boy said.
Sarah pouted and stood quiet. I noticed her constantly stealing glances at me and I sighed.
“No kids. No lady friend. No friends at all. Just me.” I tell her.
She stares at me for a bit before answering. “Why?”
“It’s easier that way.”
“I don’t wanna have to worry about anyone else.”
“Sarah, hush,” the boy says again.
She stays quiet.
“I’ll tell you what,” I say to the boy. “you tell me about your situation and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know about me.”
The boy rolls his eyes. “And who says I want to know anything about you?”
“I do,” Sarah tells him.
“Your name would be nice,” I add.
He looks out the window, probably hoping to get there soon so he won’t have to deal with me. He looks back at me and begins to speak.
“My name, if you must know, is Matthew. We’re going to the cemetery to see our mom because it’s been a year since she died and I promised Sarah we’d go. Is that enough info for you?”
“What happened to her face?”
Matthew looks down at his lap. Sarah looks at him then back to me.
“Our daddy gets mad.”
I look at Matthew, but he avoids eye contact. I try my best to ignore the pit in my stomach. “Well, you can call me Mike,” I say to her. “I’ve been living on the road for about 20 years now. I don’t have friends and I don’t keep in touch with my family because of some drama I won’t get into right now.”
“Oh c’mon,” Matthew interrupted.
“Fine.” I stay silent for a second before continuing. “I’m the product of an affair my mother had. After knowing the truth, my father and sister treated me like something you scrape off your shoe. As soon as I turned 18, I got the hell out and never looked back.”
Matthew had an unreadable expression on his face while Sarah just looked confused.
“What’s an affair?” she asked.
“We’re here,” I say pulling into the cemetery.
As soon as I park, they hop out the car. Against my better judgment, I decide to follow. I feel the blood rush to my face as the chilly air hits me. Matthew notices me and stops walking.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
I continue to walk, ignoring him, and Sarah follows. She grabs my arm and tugs in the direction she wants to go. Not too long after, she stops and kneels down. Matthew kneels beside her and holds her hand. They both stay silent as I walk a little closer. I look at what’s engraved in the tombstone and I become frozen, partially due to the cold and partially from seeing my sister’s name.
“I wish we had flowers,” Sarah said.
I kneel beside her and grab her other hand, icy to the touch. “Trust me, she wouldn’t have cared about some flowers.”
“How would you know?” Matthew asks.
I stay silent. A half hour passes before we get off the ground. Matthew holds onto Sarah, who’s obviously freezing.
“Thanks for taking us, Mike,” he says to me. “I guess this is goodbye.”
I look at the darkening sky. “Well, I was gonna grab something to eat. I wouldn’t mind some company. Then I can take you back home or wherever you wanna go. Hell, you can even stay with me for a bit if you want. I mean, what else are you guys planning on doing?”
Matthew almost objects before receiving a harsh look from Sarah. He sighs. “I guess that’d be alright.”
Sarah’s face lights up.
“I thought you said you don’t wanna have to worry about anyone else?” Matthew speaks again.
I start walking back to the car, both of them following, before answering.