The Way Back Around: Chapter 4
The alarm woke me some time early that morning. Hannah stirred and rolled over, shuffling her pillow upon the bed across from my own. The air from the AC made the hair on my arms stand on end as I sat up and let the covers fall off me. With a light touch of the switch beside the headboard, the orange glow of the lamp spilled out across the floor. My eyes still heavy, I shuffled down to the floor and began to gather up the old clothes strew across the floor, some of mine, some of Hanna’s. I shoved them into their respective bags sitting on the luggage racks.
Hanna shuffled once again and sat up, shielding her eyes from the light. “Do we have to go now?” She said, voice raspy.
“We’ve still got time.” I replied, scratching my arms and shoulders, the fabric of my thin shirt bristling loudly in the silence of the morning. “I’m going to take a shower then check if they’re running breakfast yet.”
The bags laid packed in the room as we went down the hall of the single floored hotel to the lobby. The single lady working the breakfast nook that morning, in a wrinkled pink one piece, smiled at me as she laid out the first of the food: a basket of bagels and several sweeter bits of fare. Hanna hung behind me, gathering up some of the food in my wake.
Besides an old gentleman nursing a cup of black coffee from behind a newspaper, we were the only guests there.
I glanced at the screen of my phone as the bagel sat in the toaster. With a muted pop, it returned to me, slightly browner. “We’ve got to eat quick, Hanna,” I said as I sat down next to her.
“Kay…” She muttered, sleepily nibbling at a thick piece of toast coated in a liberal amount of reddish jelly.
The morning light had yet to meet the land as we shoved our mismatched bags into the back of my car once again. “Only a couple of hours,” I said, wrapping the seat belt around my lap. Hanna had already settled into her seat, already staring at her phone screen. I quickly maneuvered out of the parking lot and across to the opposite corner of the road to the quiet gas station. The lights above glared with a blinding white aura that had thrown the bugs of the night into a fervor. I filled up as quickly as the pump would suck money out of my card, and jumped back in to set the course towards Dallas.
About a half hour later, the light of the sun came upon us. The hasty traffic of the day before had yet to reach our particular stretch of highway, but I could already see on my phone that the jam of traffic inside of the city ahead had already begun to flow and add time to our arrival.
“Huh, Monday Mornings,” I sigh loudly, shifting myself back in the seat with one arm on the wheel. I glanced at Hanna for any sort of response, to no success. “So much for my weekend,” I added.
“We’re headed to Dallas, right?” Hanna spoke up.
“They have a big airport here too.”
“I suppose they do,” I replied with a shrug, looking to the road before me.
Hanna sighed and re-illuminated the screen of her phone.
I glanced at her again. “Yeah, this probably sucks for you too. Hey, after I drop this flash drive off, we can take a slower pace. Maybe see the sights.”
“What’s in Dallas? Something with air conditioning preferably.”
“Hmm, good question.” I said, glancing to the highlighted road on my phone. “We can always ask around. Maybe you can have a look there on your phone since you’re awake for once.”
Hanna’s fingers swiped around the screen absentmindedly, obviously not attempting what I had suggested. “Maybe later.”
I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel, hoping to come up with something to say. “I miss my summers out of school, being able to sleep in all day. We’ll take it easy from here on out.”
“I guess I slept well since you didn’t snore that much last night.” She said matter-of-factly.
“I snore that loud, do I?”
“That first morning at your house… that’s why I woke up so early.”
“There’s a three hour time difference, too. That’s why you woke up early. Your body thought it was 11 o’clock or so.”
“You snored the other night too. Loud. I wonder if that’s why mom divorced you.”
I bit at my lip. “That’s not something to joke about.”
I glanced at Hanna to judge whether or not any shame had reached her, but she seemed to ignore me by way of a blank gaze out of the windshield.
The sprawl of the city and the traffic seemed to arrive as one. The twisting of the highways above Fort Worth were easy enough, but rush hour was in full effect upon sighting the Dallas city limits. My focus traveled back and forth between the bumper of the car in front of me, and the huge pickup growling and huffing in my rear view mirror. As the time was counting down to the meeting deadline, the GPS finally directed me to an off-ramp and onto the low streets.
The business parks and their tall, shiny office buildings seemed identical, but the address forwarded to me by my coworker was easy to find. The parking lot was mostly full when I arrived, but the business was courteous enough to offer a single pair of visitor parking spots not too far from the door.
Hanna glanced up at me as I reached over her legs to open the glove compartment, in which I had stowed the flash drive. “This should only be a bit,” I said, placing the lanyard around my neck and pulling my phone down off the dash.
I double checked my phone to make sure I was on time. Somehow we had arrived a whole twenty minutes early, a relief that allowed me to slow my pace as I walked to the lobby of the printing business. I glanced at myself in the reflection of the tinted door windows and straightened my wrinkled Tshirt. While swiping my hair away from my forehead, a pair of businessmen in suits stepped out and interrupted my self-examination. Before the door closed again, I let myself inside.
The woman at the counter looked up and smiled at me. “How can I help you today?”
“I have the files for the Whitmier account.” I explained hastily, flinging the lanyard off my neck.
“That account…” The receptionist hummed, tapping away at the keyboard in front of her. “I see you here… you are based in Los Angeles?”
I offered the end of the USB drive out across the desk toward her. “Long story. Could you… get this to the right person… if you could, please?”
The woman nodded at me. “That’s no problem. I just have to make a quick call upstairs, and we can get you back your drive as quickly as possible.”
“Just take it.” I said firmly, placing the plastic rectangle on the desk. “It’s all yours. I don’t need it back.”
The woman glanced at me quizzically before dragging the device, lanyard and all, toward her, with a sticky note ready in hand to write down its destination. “Well… I shall get it from here.”
“Thank you very much,” I said, slowly backing out. “They know who to call if they have any questions. Thank you!”
With a half glance back, I began to walk back out the door, pulling out my phone in the process. I scrolled through my contacts, down to ‘Sharon,’ which I dialed to offer her up the news.
“…Hello?” Came the tired answer through the speaker.
“Sorry, it’s an hour earlier there.”
My coworker’s voice perked up. “Oh, you got it in?”
“Just delivered it now.” I nodded absentmindedly, preparing my keys for my door.
“Thank you, thank you, so much. You’ve saved my bacon. Now, when are you going to tell me about that girl?”
“Uh, well.” I mumbled back as I pulled on the handle of my car door. Hanna glanced up at me from her phone as I held my phone to my ear. “It’ll have to wait still. I’m exhausted from all the driving these last few days.”
“Well after you get back then.” Sharon replied expectantly. “You said a week, right? Are you really going to take that long coming back?”
“I’ve got… a while farther to go. Listen, you’ll hear about it eventually. I’m starved, and need to get some food into me.”
“Well, you take care then…”
“Bye-” I said hurriedly, pulling the phone away and mashing the end call button.
Hanna was already looking my way. “Your peppy friend from work?”
I buckled my seat belt with a sigh and placed my hands on the steering wheel. “Yup.” Hanna was about to go back to her phone when I spoke up again to grab her attention.
“Hey, well, we’re not on a deadline anymore. We don’t have to drive for so long any more.”
“This isn’t the same as New York, but this is a big city. We can find something fun to do today, and just relax. No more highway until tomorrow.”
“Sure.” Hanna said, seeming to perk up just slightly. She sat up in her seat and readjusted the belt across her lap as I turned on the car. Pulling out of the parking lot, we headed off in the direction of the city center.
Some distance from the urban sprawl and tall buildings, the modest roads of the old downtown crept upon us. Somewhere in a section of the city the GPS called ‘Deep Ellum,’ we spotted a long line of people queuing up before the doors of a business. Upon rolling down the window to call out to one of the locals, a delicious smell met the interior of the car. “What’s that?” Hanna asked.
“Let’s find out.” I peeked back to her. “Hey!” I called out to the sidewalk, double checking behind me for any other cars. “Excuse me.”
A man in fine black denim and a checkered shirt glanced back to me, wiggling his dark mustache. “Yessir?” He relied, leaning down to get a better look in the window.
“I’m not from around here.” I asked, leaning out the open window. “What’s this big line for?”
“Best barbecue here in Dallas, partner.” The man said, nodding emphatically.
“You betcha’” He nodded, looking back to make sure he had not departed too far from the line. “Gotta beat the crowd. Hurry up an’ park if you wanna get some any time before noon!”
I leaned back in and looked to Hanna. “Care to give it a try?”
“I uh, yeah… I guess,” She replied, clearly trying to hide her intrigue.