I was late. Not a fender bender holding up traffic or my dad called last minute and asked me to grab some pop on my way, late. This was big late, the kind of late that would end with my dad's dramatic sighs and a lecture about how Estelle had to keep the oven on to warm the food, but now the chicken was all dried up and did I ever think of anyone but myself. I was supposed to be at my dad's house in ten minutes and I was still sitting in my driveway. As I said, late.
I wasn't sure what I was doing, sitting in my car and staring out the windshield in silence. All I knew was that I hated Tuesdays and that I dreaded starting the car. I hated any and all obligations that I had no control over. I didn't like to be told what and where to be, and yet I let my dad put that pressure on me. He applied that kind of pressure my whole life—and I let him.
I checked my phone again: a missed call from a random number. When I tried to call it back, it said it was a collect call. Did those even exist anymore?
I went on Instagram, for no reason really, and scrolled through pictures of girls I had known in high school and were now away in college or in the military themselves. Not a ton of people I went to high school with ended up going to college. For money or whatever reason, it just wasn't the norm like it was in movies. I stopped scrolling when I saw a picture of a coast, bright blue water, and white sands. This was the backdrop to a couple of lounge chairs shaded by beach umbrellas, and in the corner of the photo, two hands clinking glasses of what I guessed were piña coladas. The caption read, "OMG if you think this view is nice wait till we post pics tonight!!! The sky here is sooooo beautiful!" with a bunch of heart eye emojis. The girl who posted it, Josie Spooner was a complete social narcissist who posted every time she left the house. Her daily coffee cup with a quote about how she's, "ready to kick Monday's ass!" and her "Ugh, people suck. So bad. Don't feel like talking about it!" filled my feed often. I didn't know why I didn't just delete her. I hadn't spoken to her since we moved from North Carolina. Then again, if I deleted everyone who annoyed me on social media, I would have zero friends.
I was mid eye-roll when I caught something out of the corner of my peripheral vision. It was Kale, dressed in his tan camouflage ACU uniform, striding down the grass and onto the sidewalk.
I rolled my window down and called to him. "Hey!"
He walked toward my car, ducking a little so he could see me.
"Where are you going?" I asked, before I realized how nosey that sounded.
"On post." That soft voice again.
"Right now? You're walking?" Like it was any of my damn business.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah. My car's there." He looked down at his uniform. "And my clothes."
"But it's so far."
He shrugged again.
Was he really going to walk three miles?
I looked at the little digital clock on my dash: seven o'clock. I should be knocking on my dad's door right now, but here I was sitting in my driveway, debating with myself whether or not to offer him a ride. We were both going to the same place after all . . .
Well, maybe we were. Ft. Benning wasn't as big as say, Ft. Hood, but it was big enough.
Kale stood up straight, his upper body disappearing from view as he walked away. I called out for him again, almost by instinct.
"Do you want a ride? I'm going through the West Gate, where's your company?"
He leaned down again. "Near Patton, same gate."
"That's right by me—I mean my dad's. Get in."
I noticed the way he was fiddling with his fingers. It reminded me of how Austin used to get so antsy when we had to go to our mom's. He would sit in the back seat with me, picking at the skin around his nails until they bled.
I repeated my offer. It was going to be the last one.
Kale nodded, no words, just walked to the passenger door—actually he went for the back seat.
"This isn't an Uber," I told him. Only half joking.
He sat down next to me. This was different. Usually my only passenger was pint-sized Elodie, but here was this big guy sitting next to me with his knees touching the dashboard, smelling like my coconut body wash.
"You can adjust the seat," I told him.
I put the car in reverse and my gear shift stuck for a second. It had been doing that lately. My reliable 1990 Lumina had been my one constant since I bought it for five hundred dollars—almost nearly all in singles from tips I made at La Rosa's pizza, where I had worked after school and on the weekends.
I was the only one of my friends to have a job in high school. My small group of friends would complain, trying to pull me away from work to go to parties, to the lake, to smoke weed in the parking lot of the elementary school we hung out at. Yes, elementary school. We were mildly delinquent, but at least I could pay for my own delinquency.
"Ugh," I groaned and jiggled the gear.
Kale stayed silent in the seat next to me but I swear I saw his hand lift from his lap like he was going to reach over and help me if I didn't get it. But I did. My tires crunched down the gravel driveway and we were on our way.
I didn't text my dad that I was going to be late. Why would I, when I knew he'd lecture me by text and then again in person, just so he could be sure I got the point. He was that kind of guy.
Yay for Tuesdays.