by HANNAH GOERGENS - Feb. 2, 2019
Allie’s eyes slid across the road, slipping around the parking lot as they scanned for the RV. She knew she wouldn’t recognize it, so she just pointed to every last one that sat waiting for their owners to return to take them away on the adventure of a lifetime. She could feel the breath of the air conditioner of the old van through the open door behind her, even as her brother’s music pounded another hole in his brain, drilling through it with the rap trash he always loved, the sort of thing she never could understand. Allie was unfocused on his face, staring instead past him, at each car that drove into the Cracker Barrel parking lot, past the black van and her family. She was waiting for her.
“Don’t worry, Allie. We’re early.” Her dad spoke, his gentle voice sounding like brown sugar on pork chops-- it was sweet, but beneath it there was substance that was better if one tried to dig into it. Allie leaned on his wide chest, using him as her pillow until one of the hard wooden rocking chairs opened up on the porch. She snatched it up, giving a threatening look to anyone who dared attempt to sit across from her to attempt a game of checkers with the pieces as large as her hand on the woolen mats used as boards. On any other day, she would have offered to play with her brother before they went inside to check out the toys and sweets that they knew their parents would never buy for them. After all, they “didn’t need more things,” and their home was already trashed with every book, toy, and game that they had discarded as they grew older than their easily distracted minds could handle. It was easier to focus on the now, until that moment.
The now was suffocating.
Her thin t-shirt, the one she had worn every single time the duo had called and every single time they had skyped, was so thin that even the gentle breeze in the early evening air fluttered through it, and she shuddered to the chill, even though her armpits and forehead sweat with fear. The summer sun hammered down on the world, threatening to burn anyone who dared walk out in a shirt darker than a cardinal’s feathers.
She wished it would all go away.
“Allie, look!” her dad exclaimed, and she glanced up, looking directly to the road.
An RV-- specifically an Airstream-- was coming in the driveway. Allie's heart skipped a beat, then another.
At last. At last. At last.
“Elizabeth!” she cheered, running towards the Airstream. “LIZ!”
“Allie!” another female voice called back.
Allie ran to Liz as she hopped out of the backseat of the truck lugging the Airstream, smoke and gravel dust clogging the air, but Allie felt none of it. All Allie felt was the warm embrace of someone she had known for over a year and loved since then.
“I never thought we’d see each other like this--” Allie breathed as she held her partner close, lifting her up so that she was almost as tall as her. Liz stopped Allie.
She told her one of their three trust passwords, a trait of the relationship they had kept from when they were just talking using writing websites and trading pictures so that they knew they weren’t just talking to a robot or worse, a pedophile.
The duo were just high schoolers, and like any high schooler with an internet connection and an introverted tendency, they were shaking at the mere suggestion that it wasn’t true love at first sight.
Allie remembered even then how she met Liz online. She had asked months before to help her write something, but they had never talked since, until one day Allie built up the courage to post a picture of herself online, something she had been so anxious about due to her messy hair, her awkward posture, her messed up back. It was easy to look at her acne-dusted, pale-skinned face and see just another loser, especially since the picture was one of her in a suit, a tie, and a trench coat to mock the tenth main character on popular TV show Doctor Who. She had expected not a word, just the silent likes as though saying “Yeah, sure, now leave her sight.”
But instead, a voice drifted through the wires of the internet to grace her eyes.
“You look so cute I want to marry you!”
She looked at her screen, re-reading the line of pristine, 12-point font over and over to make sure that her eyes weren’t just fooling her. Finally, Allie answered, one word, enough to entice Liz to get to know her more--
They began talking that very day, and at last, Allie was meeting Elizabeth in person, face to face, hand to hand.
They stood together, and even then Liz was just as small as she had looked in her pictures, a full head shorter than her. Looking at the clean brown hair, straighter than either of them, that dangled from her head, and the smile softer than Allie’s big brother’s “Teddy-bear haircut,” Allie questioned why on Earth this angel’d ever fall in love with her, a simple girl from Indiana, when she was the most amazing girl either side of the Mississippi River.
“Let’s go get some food, girls,” her dad offered to the couple. They had no words to argue. There was no reason to, after all.
The meal was simple, but they were always slipping away-- not to kiss, or even to have contact. All they did was wander off to the checkers, playing match after match against each other, daring each other to try to win the next round. Allie won three times in a row, but Liz never gave up. They sneaked pictures of each other, hiding behind their cell phones as they desperately tried to catch more than a phone hiding the faces they had only seen through screens and cameras before.
It was magic to see her smile at her with those teeth like a military cemetery-- perfectly straight and white, just like her brother. It was magic to hear her laugh at her jokes with a sound just like music-- dancing was easier to the beat of her laugh than to any song, anyways. It was magic to smell the food that came out of the kitchen, but she couldn’t focus on it-- she had checkers matches to win. She had memories to make.
After all, they only had until Allie had to return home.
Allie knew she wouldn’t go back the same. After all, Liz wasn’t just her girlfriend. She was the only person in her life who saw her as more than just a child or a girl in their class. Liz saw Allie as someone beautiful, and in Liz’s eyes, Allie could see she was telling the truth.
Maybe, just maybe, she was right.
At least Allie wasn’t as little to the world as she seemed to Liz’s eyes.