The Way Back Around: Chapter 5
We departed some time late morning from the Barbecue restaurants, very full on meat and other accompaniments. The air was warm, not quite as hot as Phoenix, but still managed to leave a shine of sweat on my brow.
“What…” I began, my breath heavy from carrying around my full stomach. “What do you fee like doing now?” I asked Hanna as we returned to the even warmer air of the car.
Hanna toppled into the seat and grasped at the seatbelt. “Maybe… just a nap.”
“Good idea.” I sighed, pulling out my phone and placing it on the steering wheel for support. “Let’s see… check-in times for motels aren’t too far off, now. Let’s find one farther out of downtown.”
After a short drive, we pulled up to the motel that my phone had led us too. Hanna abandon the car just behind me. On our walk up to the front desk, we passed the fenced-off pool area, where some kids were loudly splashing and stamping around the water. I caught sight of Hanna staring between the gaps in the bushes at the edge. “We can head in after we get our bags in, okay?”
Hanna had draped one of my Tshirts, fitting big atop her small frame, over her bathing suit as we made out way out of the room. “You’re not going to swim?” She asked as I shoved my phone into my shorts pocket on the way out of the door.
“Nah, I need to get a few emails out before the end of the work day. I hope to enjoy lounging around and digesting for a bit, though, first.
The noisy kids from before had cleared out, leaving only a couple of swimmers doing laps lazily in the pool or wading around in the shallow end. I found a seat at one of the sun-bleached lounge chairs, hiding partially under an umbrella. Hanna yanked off the Tee and tossed it on the bench beside me. She tested the temperature of the water with her toes at the edge first, before grabbing at her nose and jumping in feet first. “Wah!” She exclaimed, kicking back up to the surface from the bottom and tossing her hair back with her hands. “So warm!”
I stretched my back and double checked the time on my phone before putting it on my stomach and cradling my neck with my arms. “Just let me know when you get tired.”
Some time later, I was awoken by a nudging on my legs. I hastily grabbed at my phone which had fallen off to my side. The sun had crept up my body, past my waist, and the heat of the day had soaked my back and scalp with sweat. Hanna tugged at my bare shin once again. “Can we head back now?” She asked, wiping her front down with one of the fluffy towels provided to us.
“Sure.” I grumbled, shaking the tiredness from my face. “I had a nice nap.” I feigned, unsticking the shirt that had become glued to my back with sweat.
“I’m going to take a shower.” Hanna announced upon returning to the room.
“That’s fine.” I replied. “I’ll hop in after you’re done.” The bathroom door shut with a clack.
I avoided jumping up on the bed in my sweaty state, rather finding a perch on the office chair across from the foot of the bed. I propped my legs up on the comforter across from me to finally look to my work email. The air conditioning hummed and released a steady stream of cool air, and the bedding felt soothing as well with a soft coolness to it.
From beyond the bathroom door, I heard the water turn on, followed by a deafened yelp. I glanced up, but soon dismissed the yell as someone out in the hall. As I scanned the pointless emails that had arrived over the course of the first day of the work week, I felt the warmth start to radiate from my legs. I stared down at my toes and carefully wriggled them, then continued up my legs, to a point above my knee cap where there was a fine line going from pale to red. “Dang it.” I mumbled to myself.
“Dad!” The call came from the bathroom, unmistakably from Hanna.
“You okay?” I stood up and walked over to knock on the door.
“Come in.” She returned. She was turned, back to the mirror, with her shirt held up to her front. Upon her bare back, punctuated by a wide band of pale skin where her bathing suit had laid, was a similar striation of burnt skin. “Ugh, this sucks!”
“Yeah, we totally forgot about sunscreen, huh…” I sighed, pointing down to my feet.
“Can we… do something for it?” Hanna said, grasping at her shirt and looking over her shoulder and back to the mirror.
“There was a drugstore across the street a little ways down…” I said, recalling us driving up. “I’ll stop there after I take a shower and pick up some aloe vera.”
The next morning, some time mid sunrise, we were on our way again. Hanna was hunched down in the seat to avoid the sun coming in the window. Her hair was tied up tightly and arms uncovered in a tank top to allow reddened skin to breath. Despite the air outside still cool, I turned up the fans on the air conditioner high as we pulled out. “We’ll get some more aloe on it tonight when we turn in.” I said as Hanna tenderly scratched at her arms and shoulders.
The destination for the day was Memphis, crossing the long way out of Texas and through Arkansas. Despite having a proper night’s sleep, Hanna fell asleep rapidly under the rising sun. The long stretch of pale, dry landscape had left us behind, only to be replaced by a seemingly never-ending flatness through the first hours of our journey.
Hanna woke up some time midway through the morning to ask a singular question.
“How far are we along?”
“Still in Texas.”
“Really?” She said, exasperated.
“Second biggest state. We were only about half way through.”
“Ugh.” She replied before looking tiredly at her phone and eventually shutting her eyes again forcefully.
Hanna restlessly lurched back and forth in her seat for the next ten minutes or so, before straightening herself out with a stretch, craning her legs out into the foot pan. “Can’t sleep any longer?” I asked.
Hanna adjusted the seat belt around her shoulder before peering down at her skin, then up to the sun peering in the window. “I guess.”
“Feels like we finally got a good night of rest last night.” I sighed, loosening my grasp on the steering wheel. “Not much traffic this much way, either. I feel like the rest of the way home will be pretty easy going.”
“Yeah…” Hanna sighed again, rubbing down both of her shoulders.
I rolled my head back and forth while gently tugging on the wheel to guide us around the gentle curves of the highway. “Maybe at least some of your friends will be there when you get back. You can’t text them or snap them or whatever you do?”
Hanna had her head perched up on her arm, with her phone sitting in the cup holder on the side of the door. “Dunno.”
“Well…” I replied, trying to think of what to say next. “There’s still plenty of summer to go. I bet by the time things have cooled off with your mom, you’ll have time to have your normal fun.”
Hanna sat up and placed her hands under her thighs, perched on the seat to better stare out the front window. “She’s gonna be pissed when she finds out I’m back.”
“Don’t say pissed.” I arched an eyebrow at her amid a quick glance. “Was it your mouth that got kick out and sent to my doorstep?” I asked, attempting to lighten my tone.
“No…” Hanna said, fake pouting.
“Is that… is that something we can talk about, now?” I said, hoping my question wasn’t too direct sounding. “If you’re up to it?”
A glance out the window spoke to Hanna’s hesitance, but after a long, drawn out breath, she sat back in the chair, her hands held tightly in her lap. “You won’t get mad?” She said meekly.
“I mean, your mom apparently did the getting mad part out of the way.” I laughed. “At this point, I’m just a helpless observer who got pulled in. If anything, you’re lucky- most other kids get the ‘wait until your father gets home’ stern talking from their mothers.”
“Hah.” Hanna laughed, shying away slightly with a hand to her mouth. “Well… it was this guy who got me in trouble…”
“Yeah?” I interjected, surprised at the beginning of the story.
“Markus. He’s really cool. He has this car and all, a cool one, a Beemer, and we were driving around in it. He said… he said.” She stuttered, holding back a laugh. “He said he wanted to show me how big his back seat was. So we, like… parked somewhere that night, in a parking lot away from the lights, and got back there and started… you know… This is embarrassing.”
“You did what with him, Hanna?” My voice went rough with emotion, listening to the story which seemed to Hanna to be more funny than it was.
“We were just making out, Dad!” Hanna said, her voice bursting with laughter. “But the thing was, I butt dialed mom, and she heard the whole thing! I kept hearing her voice in the distance, before we finally got up and realized what was going on. She screamed and yelled and-”
“Is Markus that boy on your phone screen?”
“That boy is at least a good five years older than you!” I said, my hands tight against the wheel. “Guaranteed if your phone hadn’t dialed your mom, then he would have been having his way with you!”
“No way!” Hanna groaned.
“Yes way!” I replied. “Why else would he have had you in the back of his car in the dark?”
“It’s not a big deal!” Hanna began to raise her voice, her eyes refusing to move over to my side of the car.
“That’s what boys at that age do and want to do! You’re way too young for him, and for… that!” My heart was pounding out of my chest, and upon the first opening, I began to pull over to the side of the road, upon one of the grassy shoulders.
“You’re just like mom! And you said you weren’t going to get mad!”
I skidded the car to a halt and killed the engine, before yanking off my seat belt and shoving the door open. The air and dust was thrown up by the cars passing beyond us. I turned around and leaned my arms across the roof while I caught my breath. Hanna stepped out and paced around the dry leaves, mumbling to herself. I paced about while my breath returned to normal. I caught a few glances of Hanna, looking worriedly to me, before averting her gaze out to the trees beyond the road.
A lone car pulled up to the shoulder, rolling down their window. “Y’all need some help?” The passenger called back.
I offered them a waive. “No, just stretching our legs, thanks!” I said with a weak smile before they rolled off again.
I leaned on my door again and made sure my keys were still in the ignition. “Dad…?” Hanna asked weakly.
“Can we get going again? The sun is hot out here…”
The car returned to life, spitting out cool air from the vents once again. I glanced at my side mirror before pulling back out onto the highway. “Are you still planning on bringing me back home?”
“Same plan as always.” I sighed, offering Hanna a weak smile.