Elizabeth - Part One (Same perspective as this Section)
Elizabeth - Part Two
Elizabeth - Part Three
The sun smeared the insides of her eyelids light purple as it crested the cab of the green GMC Sierra. The outside of the comforter was slightly damp, and Elizabeth quickly pulled her arms back underneath the blanket. As she rolled to her side, she found a note with a room key flat on top of it. In coarse, squat handwriting, Jim had written that he would be gone until nine o’clock and that she could wait in the room if she wanted. Bundling the comforter so the dry part was on the outside, Elizabeth interlocked her fingers around the comforter and walked inside.
Elizabeth smiled at her reflection. She tried not to think about how long it had been since she showered, instead enjoying lingering warmth of the hot water. She was browner than she remembered, but she felt almost pretty. Her jean shorts were frayed, her hair was splitting, even her sandal straps were beginning to tear, but there was an undeniable strength in her appearance. After a brief rinse in the shower, her tank top looked gray again and even her shorts lost their dingy earthen hue. Pulling the bottom of the wrinkled shirt up, she looked at her shrinking stomach. She could almost hear her mother’s soft but stern lecture.
After combing her hair with her fingers, Elizabeth fixed herself up as best she could, pulling the loose strings from her shorts and pressing her shirt flat with her hands. The bathroom door clicked shut behind her, and she flicked the television on while she waited for Jim. Living in the back of a truck had numbed her emotions so effectively that the comfort of the mattress, pillows and blanket made her feel guilty and gluttonous.
Three muted thuds rattled the hotel room door on its slightly loose hinges before Jim used his own key to let himself into the room.
“Well, hello!” he called as he set a couple bags on the floor inside the door, took his jacket off, and hung it over the back of the desk chair. “ See you’ve had a busy morning.”
“I just showered.”
“And cleaned your clothes, too.”
“Mhm,” she glanced at the mirror next to the television, then back at Jim.
“We only got about seven hours left,” Jim remembered after checking the clock on the bed stand. “If we leave soon, we could be in Denver by dinner time and Helen could feed you right.”
“Oh. That’s nice, but I couldn’t. You’ve done enough for me already.”
“Come now. I can’t let you leave without a good night’s sleep and a meal or two.” His insistence made her uncomfortable, but she accepted, knowing a refusal would be rude.
“Ok. Should we go now?”
“Whenever you’re ready,” he replied. Elizabeth glanced around the room again, slid her sandals back on, and they both walked out to the parking lot. Jim jumped in the driver’s side door and turned the key. Maybe a sense of indebtedness had nestled underneath her skin, or maybe she just felt revived from her shower, but as Elizabeth ran her fingers along the side of the car, the bed of the truck no longer seemed the safest place for her. The passenger door creaked as she pulled it open and crawled into the seat, buckling her seat belt. Jim’s eyes fixated on the rearview mirror as he backed out of the parking space, but in his periphery he watched as she crossed her arms and legs and let her head fall against the glass window. Not daring to unclench his lips, Jim toed the gas pedal and they eased into the two-lane road back toward the interstate.
Nearly two hours had [passed before Jim mustered the nerve to shatter the silence inside the truck. “You know I used to have a daughter. Drunk driver,” his speech became increasingly contorted, like the tears he was holding back were spilling into his throat and filling up his mouth. “She was only a little older than you. She even looked a lot like you, too.” Jim lifted his shoulder to the corner of his right arm, leaving a dark streak on his shirt as he pulled it across his face. “Maybe a bit taller,” he added, “but her hair was the same color. You look so much alike.”
Elizabeth didn’t respond or even move, but her head felt heavier against the glass. My father would never miss me the way he misses her.
When he finally forced the tears from his throat, Jim continued speaking. “I know it’s not really fair to tell you that, but I thought you should know. It’ll make everything easier when you meet Helen.”
Out the window, the sky bubbled with displeasure. She thought the clouds couldn’t decide whether to choose yellow, red, blue, orange, green or purple, and their indecision caused the sky to melt between every color until it was left with none at all.