Bess always wanted something more than a house with a white-picketed fence. She was more interested in trains and planes than dolls and houses. Gerod knew that better than anyone. They were always together, down by the train tracks or roaming the hills in search of a good view.
“Which way do you think the tracks run?” Bess asked.
“What do you mean?”
She pointed. “Are they coming or going?”
The question didn’t make any sense to Gerod, who shrugged.
“I’m going to get out of here someday,” Bess told him. say. She said it proudly, as though it were a promise made real by the sound of her own voice.
“Where will you go?” Gerod asked her.
Bess peeked out between the trees at the distant valley. Even that short distance was farther than either of them had ever travelled in their young lives. Gerod had a hard time dreaming of distant lands when he’d barely managed to visit a part of the world he could see with his own two eyes.
But Bess only said, “Doesn’t matter. Anywhere but here.”
In the distance, a train whistle blew. Gerod could never tell if the train was coming or going.
For Bess, it was always going.
That’s all it said. The cellphone chimed as the text landed on Gerod’s screen in the early evening. He snatched up the phone, saw the text, and sprinted for the door.
The sun was setting as he raced down the road, a quarter-mile sprint to the old hiking trail that led to the train tracks. He huffed in a breath, then another, his legs pumping first against hard pavement, then against dry, cracked earth.
When Bess hadn’t shown up for school today, he’d known something was wrong. Gerod cursed himself for not reaching out to her sooner, but the thought vanished in the fire rising up from his legs. He rounded the last bend at a dead sprint.
Bess stood in the middle of the train tracks, waiting for something.
A train whistle sounded through the evening air. It was close now, and closing. In the distance, Gerod noticed a large light moving toward them along the tracks.
“Bess,” Gerod shouted between heaving breaths, “what are you doing?”
She turned to stare at him. “I’m going,” she said. “I can’t stay here anymore.”
“Not like this,” he told her. “Don’t do it like this.”
“You should leave. You don’t need to see this.”
Gerod swallowed hard. “I’m not leaving unless you do.”
Bess looked at the oncoming train, then back at Gerod. For a long moment, Gerod though she would stay. But at last, she dropped her shoulders and stepped aside.
They were gone before the train passed them by.
The day Bess finally got out, Gerod was loading the last of his meager belongings into his pickup truck. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He was eighteen now, and his parents had been straight with him from the start. They were kicking him out.
They weren’t the monsters his friends made them out to be. They’d been careful to help him save his money. His mother had helped him secure an apartment. His father still carried him on his insurance. But both of them — and Gerod, to some extent — believed in getting him out into the world sooner rather than later.
Alaska. The phone said. You should go to Alaska.
Bess, of course. Still dreaming.
Maybe one day, Gerod replied. What about you?
Thought I might come with you.
Gerod fixed the last box into place and strung the tarp over the pickup bed while he thought about his response.
I can’t support you, he sent.
Not asking you to.
He strapped two bungee cables in place to give the tarp some added tension.
Where should I pick you you up?
Where else? Bess answered.
In the distance, a train whistle blew. Gerod knew which way the tracks were running.