Sonoma lay flat on her back in a nest of blankets with her head wedged between the van’s driver’s seat and the front passenger seat so she could hear the conversation between Trent and “Big Jim”. She’d slept through an hour of the trip from Minneapolis and Madison, but didn’t feel very refreshed.
“How you doing, Darling? Back any better?” He reached down from the passenger seat and gave her hand a squeeze.
“Better than Greyhound would have been,” she muttered. “I guess we were right to try the kid.”
“Don’t call me kid,” Big Jim growled.
Sonoma just smiled. Jim had turned out to be better than she’d feared, but not by a whole lot. He swore, and didn’t own up to his own mistakes like when he fumbled at the pump, but he didn’t try to drive off from the gas station without them even when Trent hit the head. Jim mentioned ditching the people he was traveling with before. Sonoma suspected he was stripping the graffiti off his van when they met him because he’d stolen the van. He wasn’t what she considered good people, but he was young enough and had enough glimmers of possibility that he might someday turn his life around. And a ride was a ride, stinky socks smell and all.
“Don’t mind her,” Trent said. “When you get as old as us, everyone else is a kid.” He winked at her with the mischievous glint she loved him for. “You were saying about your family?”
“Right. My father is all about obedience. It’s always, ‘respect your mother’ and ‘treat your sister better’, and ‘you will not talk back to me’ with him.” Jim deepened his voice in imitation.
“Yep. I know the type.” Trent nodded understanding. “Still, he done you right somewhere along the way. He gave you this van, didn’t he?”
“He did not! I got this van on my own! On my own!” Jim hit the steering wheel emphatically. “My old man drove me to Des Moines while I was dead drunk and left me with nothing but the shirt on my back in a motel room!”
“I know. Right?” Jim veered into the passing lane without bothering with his blinkers. “It was so random! I mean, I never knew he had it in him. And why there? Because it was as far as he could go before he crashed? Before that everything was fine.”
“Fine?” Trent raised an eyebrow.
So he was the therapist mode. Old habits died hard. He’d probably been working on the kid for most of the time Sonoma was sleeping. She’d leave the rest to him, and instead stared up at the felt tip marker graffiti covering the ceiling of the van. It read like a chronicle of the “Dirty Kids” lifestyle.
“Better than fine! Everything was going great! Mom and Dad took care of everything while I could do all the drinking and hanging out I wanted.”
“So you graduated from high school…”
“That was years ago.” Jim waved it off as if graduating was a foregone conclusion. “The only thing that wasn’t so great was my sister. Emma.” He got a glint in his eye.
“What’s so bad ’bout Emma?”
“Nothing!” The van lurched back and forth as they threaded through increasing traffic. They must be getting close to Madison. “Just… her very existence bugs me. You know? She’s got this way of looking at me. Like I’m a bug or something. Well, when she isn’t too scared to look at me.” This last he said with a gloat. “I’ve just about got her trained now. She doesn’t even sing in the shower anymore.”
“I wonder what it was like to be Emma.” Trent’s flat voice said he had a pretty good idea. But Big Jim wasn’t likely to notice.
“Who cares? It’s me that matters.”
“Were you planning to see your family while you’re in town?” Voice tight, Trent was probably feeling guilty for having guided this little monster back to people who weren’t likely to benefit from his company. Sonoma would have to comfort him later.
Jim didn’t answer for a long time. If Trent were a lesser man, he’d have said something just to fill the strained silence. But Trent had been through things like this too many times to rush it. Sometimes good things came from waiting.
“If’n I were you, I wouldn’t.” Trent left it at that.
“If you’ve got friends in Madison, why didn’t you call one of them to come get you?” Jim tossed that out with a challenging air and a glare.
“Because I didn’t want to risk anyone’s life should he have a flashback while driving,” Sonoma said simply, cutting in.
“Whoah. Flashbacks are real?” Jim looked worried as his eyes went round.
“Depends on which drugs you’ve been doing.” Trent smiled.
They hit the conversational payload with that topic. Between the two, they managed to talk about drugs for the rest of the trip. Trent talked Jim into letting them out at a gas station a few blocks away from where they were really going. Probably to protect Drew. Not that Sonoma would argue. She’d seen enough weirdness go down to understand.
“So? What you think?” Trent arched a brow at her as Jim drove away.
“About Jim and your little therapy session?”
“One conversation isn’t going to change anyone’s world. At least, not right way. Maybe if he lives long enough, some of your words of wisdom might sprout.”
“Yeah.” He looked downcast.
“But I’ve seen a word here and there turn people around years later. I guess we’ll never know.”
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