Cruise Control

Cruise Control

 

11:36 a.m.

Steven’s glossy eyes were noticeable as he walked into the bright and vacant 7/11.

The cashier who greeted him couldn’t tell if he had been smoking or crying. He hadn’t been smoking.

“Just the charger? These cost an arm and a leg nowadays.” the cashier said. “Mhmm” Steven replied dryly.

 

11:41

Exiting the store he briefly eyed a gorgeous  woman pumping gas. He eyed her white Audi as well. He wished he could feel half as good as the car and woman looked.

Hopping in his car he tossed his dead phone on the new charger and took off out of the parking lot.

His speedometer rose quickly  as he weaved down the poorly plowed snowy back roads. The fear of crashing entered into his head, but it didn’t scare him as much as it usually would’ve.

11:45

Blurry flashes of oncoming headlights hit his tear stricken eyes.He cried hard. Harder than he had in a long time.

He wanted to call his dad, he was too ashamed. He wanted to call his best friend, he was too ashamed. He knew he wouldn’t sleep that night, he didn’t care. He was holding out hope that things would get better, they had to.

11:50

The ‘09  Accord took a sharp left turn down a familiar private road. Ivory avenue. Coming to an abrupt stop he parked and wiped his bloodshot eyes with his hand.

Tears rolled down his cheek and he tasted salt. It made him think of the beach. It made him think of his adolescent years. He wanted those days back. He wanted to be 14 again.

12:02

Music blasted in the car as he spiritedly joined along “I can see the end in the beginnin’, so I’m not racing I’m just sprinting, cause I don’t wanna finish, they diminish , I replenish”

The trunk subwoofers rattled as the bass kicked in.Nodding his head somewhat violently to the beat the seatbelt scratched at his neck. He unbuckled.

He tried to turn  up the heat although he knew the heat didn’t work, he was hoping for a miracle on this freezing cold night.

Reaching for the volume dial Steven turned it up until it was now maxed out. He could barely hear himself as he passionately sang with his playlist of favorite songs.

 

12:07

The bright front porch lights turned on in the gray colonial style house he was parked in front of.

A short and stocky silhouette appeared in the doorway. The man stepped out and shined a flashlight on and off in a strobe like fashion towards the car.

Throwing the car into drive he headed down the street towards towards a culdesac turnaround.

Steven continued along with the blasting  music. “Don’t look back in anger I heard you say” he sang emphatically.

 

12:11

The black accord made the U turn at the end of the street slowly . His eyes took notice of a house on the corner which was previously owned by a close childhood friend, Melanie .

He thought back to Mel and her family. They had moved about 3 years ago when their dad had landed a new gig in Los Angeles. Steven missed Mel dearly, but he rarely reached out to her anymore.

Continuing down the wet road,he spotted the gentleman still standing on the porch. The man threw his hands up angrily as the car accelerated and whizzed by. “Go to bed” Steven muttered under his breathe.

12:16

The highway tarmac was lightly covered with snow, sand, and salt. Steven merged and didn’t bother to check his blind spots. The only car visible was a half mile ahead of him, nothing behind. He heard his phone ding, he ignored it.

12:22

Bob Dylan’s raspy voice echoed in the car . “How does it feel, to be without a home , like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”.

Steven felt his back tires begin to lose grip. He slowed down and moved into the right lane. With one hand he clicked on cruise control while the other grabbed for his phone.

Cassie❤️-6 min ago , appeared on the lock screen.

What the hell did she want.

He read her text. “I feel bad but it had to happen, things just  weren’t right, I’m sorry”.  Bob Dylan’s lyrics rang out “when you ain’t got nothin, you got nothin to lose”. Steven laughed at the irony.

 

12:27

Steven tossed  his phone onto the passenger seat in anger and confusion. She was absolutely right , things were not right. He believed those things could be fixed, she apparently, did not.

The phone dinged again from the passenger seat. He knew it was her. And as much as he didn’t want to talk to her, he still wanted to see what she had to say.

“If we’re being honest I think we both knew it was time for at least a break, right ? ” He took a deep breath and stared at the text crafting in his head a million different things to respond.  

12:31

Next thing he knew his car was rattling as his tires barreled over the ingrained ridges in the breakdown lane. Startled, he immediately looked up and veered back into the lane.

Cassies text had elicited a whirlwind of emotions. He didn’t know what to do, he had never been heartbroken before. All he knew was it fucking hurt, badly.

 

12:34

He passed a faded green road sign that read Lidbury Exit  9, 2 miles . His family had moved to Lidbury from a few towns over around the same time he shipped off for college a year ago. It was a quaint suburban town, similar to Rosewood where he was born and raised.

His blinker signaled once for the left lane as he sped up.His bright blue cruise control light simultaneously flickered off. The car took off and continued accelerating as his mind remained flooded.

30 seconds later, more bright blue lights flickered on, these ones coming from a cruiser behind him. “Of course” Steven said aloud as the sirens approached.

He pulled over into the breakdown lane and punched the center console in frustration. He quickly put on his seatbelt as the cop approached the car.

 

12:42

“License and registration bud”

Steven had them ready, and handed them over. His right hand knuckles were  bright red from punching the console.

“Any idea why I stopped you tonight, where you comin from?” The slender officer questioned.

 

Steven didn’t know which question to answer first.

“My girlfriend, well my umm ex- ah, my friends, my girls house ” Steven mumbled

“Your what ? Speak up buddy”

“My friends house, my friends.” He said more clearly yet still quietly . It sounded weird saying it, “friend”. Fuck. He hated it.

 

“And? “ the officer asked as he eyed Stevens license

“Pardon, what sir?” Steven asked forgetting the other portion of his question.

“And WHY did I pull you over, anything coming to mind?”

“Oh right, I’m sorry , was I speeding?” He said hurriedly.

“Ding ding ding! 79 in a 65, not good buddy,not good”.

 

“Have you been drinking at all tonight?” The officer asked inquisitively.

“No sir”, Steven said confidently. He was lying. He had a few glasses of wine with dinner, but the minor effects had long since faded and he didn’t find it necessary to go down that path.

 

12:48

The cop eyed Steven and took a look in the backseat.  Steven was more worried about the cup holder next to him which he now realized had a grinder and what was left of a joint resting on it.  Subtly leaning forward in his seat he attempted to block the view,  luckily the officer was already walking back towards his cruiser. Steven peered into his rear view and waited for a moment when the cop was looking away. As soon as he saw him look down  Steven tossed the joint and grinder under his seat. Steven’s head rested against the half rolled down window as he waited. The December air lightly hitting his face felt therapeutic as he looked out at the dark purple night sky.

 

12:57

“Wake up princess!” the officer said loudly into Stevens ear  as he laughed at his own joke.

“Well, It’s your lucky night Mr. Steven Bates. He continued, handing the license and registration back.No ticket for you, pal.”

“Really?” Steven said in astonishment.

“Unless you want one? We can certainly arrange something if you’d like one”

“No, no, no” Steven said forcing a laugh , still unsure why he was getting out of this.

 

Your dads Chuck Bates right?Firefighter? The officer asked.

Yes sir Steven answered as he tossed the registration back into the glove compartment.

“Chuckie’s a good guy, real good guy. He’s still over in Rose right?”

Yeah he’s the chief now in Rosewood, but we actually just moved to Lidbury.Steven replied.

 

Oh no kiddin’! Well hey, guess this is your welcome to the neighborhood gift, from me to you.

Steven thought about extending a gesture to shake the cops hand but felt it would be awkward through the window, “Thank you sir, I really appreciate it” Steven said.

 

“No problem, give Chuckie my Best,tell him Tom Bartley says hello, and do me a favor and just slow down , it’s too cold to be coming out and doing this shit.

Steven laughed genuinely, will do, thanks again!

“Happy New Year”, officer Bartley said before making his way back to his car.

 

1:04

Officer Bartley sped off as Steven sat still in his car, relieved and grateful that his father’s relationship had saved him. However, the feeling of relief was momentary as he soon remembered the much bigger issue that neither officer Bartley or his father could save him from.

“Just like that, she’s gone” He thought to himself as he bit anxiously at his fingernails.

1:08

A light wind gust breezed through the open window as the scent of pot circulated throughout the car. He thought of smoking the rest quickly, but didn’t want to smoke alone.

He grabbed his phone off the charger and  dialed his longtime friend, Eric who lived in the area. Though it was late he suspected Eric would still be up, and down for a quick ride. Eric might have some weed too, which would be nice.

 

1:11

“Whats up killaaaaaa” Eric answered the phone energetically.

Yoo, what’s good, you’re still up? Steven asked the stupid question.

“Clearly, what’s goin on man?”Eric replied.

 

Steven didn’t want to mention the breakup. He knew it would inevitably come up sooner or later but he really didn’t want to lead with it. “

 

You wanna burn, I’m in Lidbury I can come scoop you”

“Word I’m down, I’m just chillin with Brendan playing GTA” Eric said

“You tryna come?”Eric asked his little brother.

“What?nah I’m good, I’m about to crash soon”. Brendan  replied faintly in the background drowned out by sounds of sirens and gunshots blasting from the television.

 

1:14

“Ya Steve come on by man I’ll be here, oh and please don’t use the rock driveway this time, my dogs went crazy barking last time, and my parents did too.” Eric said laughing .

“Shit, yeah that was my bad, I’ll park across the street so I don’t wake them up”

“Cool, text me when you’re here”

“Will do” Steve said as he hung up the phone

 

1:21

He pulled up to Eric’s house  which sat atop a steep hill. As he began to turn towards the rock driveway he quickly remembered what Eric had said about waking his dog. Steven backed up, parked by the house adjacent, and texted Eric:

“Outside”

“Be right out, one sec”

1:24

Steven scrolled through his messages and saw the lingering message from Cas still sitting there unanswered. Half of him wanted to txt her back, half didn’t want anything to do with her right now.

Steven looked up as Eric appeared from the bulkhead exit of the basement. He closed the door delicately and started a light jog towards the car with his drawstring backpack swinging behind him.

“Wazzzzz ahhhhhhppp!” Eric said in the Budweiser commercial tone.

Steven laughed and reciprocated the greeting but not as energetically.

 

1:30

You tryna smoke this? Steven offered up the joint he had recently hidden from the cop.

Bro what is this?! Eric said laughing hysterically. You ask me if I want to burn and you pull out this little thing, that’s what I call false pretenses brotha, luckily, I’m here to save the day.”

 

1:33

Eric reached into his drawstring bag and pulled out a small off white  glass bubbler with light neon red streaks outlining the bowl.

“Damn you still have Roxy? I haven’t used this thing in forever”. Steven said in amazement.

“I know man,this thing is a timeless classic. I just got it back from Benny I had lent it to him like sophomore year after hockey practice, 4 years later I finally get it back, ”

 

1:36

Speaking of man I saw that hat trick video your mom posted on facebook, that was awesome! How is the team this year?! Steven asked .

Eric seemed like he had heard the compliment and question a million times “Ya man, thanks, we’re pretty good, I don’t know, I might not play next year.”

Steven could tell Eric’s heart wasn’t really in the sport anymore, hadn’t been for a while. Eric’s father had always denounced any inclination of quitting anything though, especially hockey , so he had never pulled the trigger.

 

1:42

As Steven did slow laps through the neighborhood Eric began packing the bowl.

Is that play doh? Steven said, as he watched Eric pull weed out of a yellow container. “Ya my mom had some leftover from her class and I ran out of ziploc bags” he said nonchalantly.

“Dood you’re ridiculous” Steven said.

Eric laughed, “don’t worry I washed it out, we’re good”

1:44

“You want first hit? Eric asked”

“Nah you got it, lemme just find somewhere to park first, Steven replied.

“Word, I’ll wait, yo, we should go to Taco bell after, they just opened one right by Western Banks mall ”

“You think they’d be open”?

“Absolutely, 4th meal baby” Eric said excitedly.

 

1:50

The two enjoyed the bowl parked at the bottom of a dead end street by Erics house.

S-“Remember we used to play manhunt right over  there near Lenny’s old house man?” He pointed towards a handful of narrow streets across

E “Ya i used to hide under the Robersons deck all the time, wow, what a time . “ E

“ Ya, a simpler time…  a better time”  Steven said in a melancholy tone.

E “I don’t know about better man, just different”

“Nah it was definitely better” Steven replied bluntly.

E- Well you got a lot going for u right now too man. You just landed the Deloitte internship, crushin it at school, and you got Cass , life is good baby .

 

1:54

Steven- Actually I don’t have Cass…not anymore man. Steven said quietly

E- Good one, now pass that to me and  stop messin around

S- I’m serious, we’re done. Steven’s blunt tone and falling eyes told the whole story.

E- Dood forreal? Jesus. How? What do you mean since when?!

S- Just tonight, I don’t know , I don’t wanna talk about it.

E- Wow. I’m so sorry brotha, I don’t even know what to say

S- Me neither

 

1:56

The two sat in silence for a while after the bowl was kicked. There’s only certain people in your life that you can feel completely comfortable saying absolutely nothing around. Sometimes the only thing to say is nothing, and they both recognized that. Moment’s like this were bigger than the both of them, and needed its time to breathe.

 

2:05

As the car began its short trip towards the mall Eric broke the silence.

“Well for starters, let’s get rid of this sad ass music,  pass me the aux cord .”

Steven laughed as he handed Eric the cord. “This is Bob Dylan eric this is good stuff!”

“Well no disrespect to Bobby D, but this is the 4th depressing song in a row”

“This is a great album! “

“It’s breakup music, we’re done with it  ” Eric said jokingly but  with a serious undertone.
2:09

The two pulled into Taco Bell as Eric said “I’ll throw my music on shuffle,  anything will put you in a better mood than those heartbreak songs”.A simple yet catchy guitar riff started the song followed by “ I met her at a club down in Old Soho where you drink champagne and its tastes just like cherry-cola “  

Steven knew the song immediately but forgot who sang it, he glanced down towards the phone in the cupholder –  “The Kinks- Lola”. He laughed as he asked, “ Wait  isn’t this a song about a trannie?”

“I mean yeah I think, sounds like it,  but it’s a jam regardless.” Eric replied casually as he played the air drums and yelled in an intentionally off key high pitched voice “ La la la la Lola”

2:12

By the time they pulled up to the drive through behind a burnt red jeep Steven was singing along to the end of the song. He had to admit it was incredibly catchy.

“Alright alright , what do you want?” Steven said  turning down the song as they ordered.

 

2 Crunchwrap Supreme

2 Baja Blast

1 Cheesy Nachos

 

“That jeep is fresh”- E

“Ya, they must be freezing though, that’s just a nylon top on there”- S

“You should talk man this car is an ice box- E

“I know I’m sorry, it’s more of a luke warm air that comes out than hot air”- S

Eric laughed as they inched towards the drive through window.

 

2:17

Eric insisted on paying for the food.

“Cmon  it’s on me, I’m really splurging tonight. Here sir, this will help to heal your poor little broken heart” he joked as he handed him his meal.

Steven shook his hand laughing and thanked Eric.

The boys each scarfed down their crunchwrap supremes  as Biggie smalls “A story to tell” played in the background. Exiting the mall parking lot Steven started in on a story of his own.

2:27


S- It’s just really messing with me man, because I thought things were good. I mean I know we had our fights occasionally, but I never thought it would be like this. There were so amazing things about what we had, I don’t know why she’s trying to throw it away. 

E- I know , I’m having trouble believing it myself, you guys are THE couple. Like you said I know you had a few bumps in the road before but nothing serious. Did something go down recently?

Steven thought back to the past few months. He admitted being distant and chalked it up to long distance but the reality was their schools were a mere 2 hours away. He knew he could have made a stronger effort if he truly wanted to. But even still, that couldn’t be the only reason, they could work on that, communication could be fixed. “I really don’t know what else I was supposed to do man”

E- Long distance is tough no matter what, but yeah I really don’t know, she didn’t say anything else? Like any other reasons?

 

2:35

Steven was doing about 60-65 in a 40 now as his weathered eyes tried not to shed a tear at the question. Boys don’t cry he told himself-  and definitely not in front of other boys. After a brief delay he tried his best to  to answer Eric:

S- She said a bunch of stuff about me not trying or caring any more and how we were too comfortable. Too comfortable , what does that even fucking mean.

E- Damn man I’m sorry . That does happen in relationships though.

S- What happens?

E- I mean, just naturally, you start to get comfortable. I’m not saying it’s on you, it’s probably  from both parties, but that definitely does happen. And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it, but some people get bored.

S- I don’t know man I thought we were good, comfortable is good isn’t it? Yes I’m comfortable with you Cassie I’ve dated you for 2 years, we should be comfortable! We’ve done a million amazing things together,  of course we’re  fucking comfortable.

E- Ya, it’s super tough, and I know you love that girl more than anything.  This is kind of like what happened with me and Melissa. She said I never spoiled her anymore , or whatever.  But then they turn around and say they don’t want you being overboard with it, so it’s a fine line.I don’t know, I wish I had the answer for you but when it comes to girls I don’t think anyone does.

 

2:41

S- Seriously, NOBODY! They’re crazy man

E- That they are. Everybody’s crazy.

S- Wanna hit up merchant point? I’ve missed that view.

E- Yessir , merch it is

2:49

The two arrived at Merchant point overlooking Everton lake which was glowing light gold from the moon’s reflection .They sat in the frigid car and decided to smoke what was left of Stevens poorly rolled joint from earlier.

 

Eric held the thin joint in his mouth as he looked for a lighter. He picked up a baby blue bic that lay on the fast food bag at his feet. Lighting the joint he was still confused and intrigued as to what had happened between them. Despite not wanting to pry, he felt like he was missing something, so he pressed a bit more.

 

2:53

“So she just told you tonight and said the shit is over , out of nowhere?” Eric asked in disbelief.

“I don’t know, ya, I don’t know.” Steven said.

 

“That’s cold” Eric said  shaking his head and holding the smoke in his lungs. He exhaled, “That’s real cold.”

“Ya man” he replied softly, staring towards the still and peaceful  lake to his left.

His eyes were fixated on the reflection of Christmas lights that hung on a small dock across the way. There were no waves, just scattered ripples from the gentle wind.

2:58

“Love is wild man . One second it’s beautiful and the next it’s the most painful shit you’ll ever feel.” he said as he elbowed Steven and passed him what could now barely be called a roach.

Steven got a small hit out of the joint, rolled down the window and flicked it. He watched the small flame quickly disappear in the snow.

 

3:01

“Ayy but bro you know what” Eric said as he began to sing in his seat, ” I do know one thing though, bitches they come they go”  he laughed and tried to get Steven to chime in. Steven knew Eric was trying, but he wasn’t having it, not tonight.

However, something Eric had said had hit him . How could love be so fucking great one minute and the worst the very next . He thought to himself . Maybe God created love to give  us a taste of what heaven and hell feel like at the same time.

 

Almost like a preview, and a warning.

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