The Way Back Around: Chapter 3
Upon seeing the first familiarly-named family restaurant, I took to navigating back toward it from the nearest highway exit and around the side roads. The parking lot was conveniently placed between both a motel and the place I had spotted. Hanna watched the wide sign pass by as we pulled into one of the many spots outside the lobby.
The instant I opened the door of the car, the dry heat washed over me. I glanced to the passenger seat. Hanna had begun to step out as well before being blindsided by the departure from the air conditioning. “What the hell-”
“I hope your mother doesn’t condone you talking like that.” I spoke up, glaring at her from across the roof of my car. She rubbed at her eyes and looked around for the closest building with an entrance. I sighed and began to walk up the path to the sliding doors of the lobby, and Hanna made no complains in following. The entrance blasted us with chilly air, and the receptionist greeted us with a friendly smile.
After another quick duck outside to grab up the bags, we found our way to the room, where we both agreed to immediately get food. The walk across the parking lot was another sweat-inducing task. “Why is it so hot here?” Hanna asked, shoving her hand in the way of the sun.
“Well, some folks decided that they would take a nice desert and then lay a ton of asphalt and concrete on top so it can soak up even more heat.”
“Why… would anyone even live here?”
“Beats me. I dare say this place should never have been built in the first place.”
I heard a stifled giggle from behind me, and a peak revealed Hanna holding her mouth, hiding the first smile I had seen since her arrival.
The restaurant provided another oasis of air conditioning. I conceded myself to a simple burger and a beer to accompany it. Hanna mulled over the menu for longer than expected. “Are we in the south-west?”
“Yeah, this area is considered the south-west.”
“So they must be pretty good at making south-west food. They have a salad. Southwest chicken.”
I glanced to my own menu for the dish Hanna was referring to. “Well…” I began. “Are you sure you just want a salad? We didn’t even stop to have lunch today.”
“It looks pretty big,” She said with a shrug.
I flipped back through my menu to look for the item she had described, somewhere lost in the multiple laminated and greasy finger-print covered pages. I gave up as soon as I saw the waitress coming our way. “Welcome, welcome, what’ll y’all have?”
To my surprise, although in a way I should have expected, Hanna spoke clearly and politely to the waitress while she ordered. After I offered up my own ordered, the waitress offered her thanks and her customer-service smile toward us and began to head off. “That beer will be right out for you.”
I looked at Hanna once again, who was looking over the water spots on her knife and fork. In my mind, I attempted to conjure up a few words to attempt a conversation with her. “So… tell me about that pita place you mentioned yesterday.”
“Pita?” Hanna looked up and pushed the hair back behind her ear. “Oh, Lyceé Pita. Well, you get to choose whatever goes into your sandwich, in a pita, like a round bread with a pocket, and they have stuff from the Medi- Mediter-Med-”
“Mediterranean.” I finished the word for her.
“Is that your favorite? Maybe we can eat there when we get closer to the city.”
Hanna shrugged. “I don’t know, I just eat there with my friends sometimes, cause it’s close to school.”
“Oh? Do you hang out with your friends a lot?”
Hanna began to nod, but stopped suddenly with a look of realization. “I didn’t even get to tell them goodbye.” She said with a sigh and a slumping of her shoulders. “I guess a lot of them are already off on vacation somewhere. Europe, I think. I’m just suck here-” She stopped again, avoiding eye contact.
The waitress stopped by, depositing the tall glass of golden liquid on top of a paper coaster. “Here you are.”
“Thank you.” I said, offering the young lady a nod. “You… sure you don’t want something to drink?”
Hanna played with her silverware for the remainder of the time until the food came. The restaurant began to buzz soon after with the weekend crowd coming out for the dinner hour, and after wolfing down our food and paying the bill, Hanna and I dashed back across the parking lot to the hotel.
Inside the room, I threw down my suitcase on the bed to get my night-ware out. “You should change into something more comfortable. Especially to sleep in. Also for tomorrow, we’re going to be in the heat for a while longer.”
“Okay.” Hanna replied, fiddling with her suitcase on the floor. Inside, her clothes had been tossed together in an unorganized mess with other belongings, looking to be makeup and accessories.
“Do you need a toothbrush or anything?” I asked, looking to the girl as she flipped through the layers of splayed-out clothes. “I can see if the front desk has some.”
“No… I’ve got some.”
I nodded my head slowly in acceptance before ducking into the bathroom to change. Hanna and I traded places after I finished, and I eventually heard the shower running.
I laid back on the bed I had chosen and flicked on the TV. Like Hanna had experienced the night before, all of the channels I knew were moved about in different spaces and mixed in with other ones I hadn’t seen. When the girl came back out finally, I tossed the remote atop her bed on the opposite side of the room. The bright summer sun continued to shine bright out side the curtains, but I could feel the exhaustion of the drive over catching up with me. “Watch whatever you want,” I offered, adjusting the pillow behind my head. “Just make sure you brush your teeth and turn it off before you go to bed. We’re going to get up early tomorrow to beat the heat.”
Despite the sun still sitting just at the horizon, the heat had already began to radiate from the asphalt as we loaded the bags into the trunk of the car. Hanna was in what seemed to be slightly cooler clothes: a v-neck t-shirt encrusted with sequins and a pair of shorts which were well above her knee. The tall heels of her boots were still present under her feet. As we made our way into the car, I pulled up the route on my phone that I had decided on during the continental breakfast at the motel. “We’re headed all the way to Texas today. 13 Hours about.”
“Fine.” Hanna said tiredly as she leaned back into the seat.
“Just let me know if you get hungry, or have to use the bathroom.”
As I began to reverse out of the parking spot, my phone began to spit out the first set of directions back to me, leading us to the highway.
Somewhere past Tucson, we stopped for gas and to use the bathroom, and to pick up a few much needed snacks for more of the journey. The road seemed to lead in a continuous straight line through the pale yellow of the sand and the desert, and somewhere along the way, Hanna had quietly fallen asleep.
Once again, it was her voice that pulled me out of the monotony of the dashed lines at the center of the highway. “If they call this New Mexico, why don’t they call the other one Old Mexico?”
I shrugged and looked to my phone screen, then back to my fuel gauge. “It was Mexico before anything else. Same goes for… New York.”
“New… York.” Hanna muttered to herself.
“After York, in… Britain, I believe?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s probably much smaller.”
“Ours York is probably better.” Hanna said proudly, sitting up in the back of the chair.
“Well, it isn’t a contest,” I sighed. Hanna gave a brief nod that seemed to note that she had heard what I had said, but had already moved to another line of thought in her mind. For the brief moment that I allowed myself to take my eyes off the road and soak in the motion, I imagined my ex doing the exact same practiced action.
After stopping for a fast food lunch in one of the unidentifiable towns along the highway, we were on our way to the next state, Texas. Apart from the sign notifying us that we had entered the lone-star state, the road seemed no different. We were shortly passing through El Paso, from which I could glance at parts of the border fence and crossing from atop the high overpasses.
“There’s Old Mexico,” I joked, recalling the question from hour before.
“Huh?” Hanna looked out the window, then sleepily back to her lap. “Oh, right. Mexico. If we’re in Texas, we’re close, right?”
I glanced at the route and time remaining on my phone, then to my gas meter. “I’m afraid not. We’re in the longest stretch, unfortunately.”
“Should’ve just taken a plane.” Hanna grumbled under her breath before leaning her arm against the car window to support her head. I frowned, but pushed the comment out of my head to better concentrate on merging into the exit lane to find the nearest gas station.
The sun glowed a bright orange along the horizon as we pulled into the hotel parking lot some long hours later. Hanna, whom I thought had been asleep, finally brought her head back up.
“This where we’re stopping?”
“Yeah,” I said, turning off the car and rolling my shoulder back. “Abilene. A few hours off from Dallas. We’ll have to get up extra early tomorrow morning so we can make the delivery on time, but I did find us a nice place to stay with a restaurants attached. You hungry?”