Natalie's Okay

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
A rather upbeat description of a spontaneous roadtrip undertaken by friends in their late 20s still living with a vigor only found in teens.

Submitted: July 27, 2012

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Submitted: July 27, 2012

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Part I: The Helmet

Usually, normal humans find themselves deep in a peaceful slumber at 3:37 AM. I, on the other hand, had recently perched myself atop an insanely tall tree with a net, a football helmet, and a ravenous cat to capture. The feline had quite a temper and, after leaving a trail of carnage in its wake, I felt the equipment was appropriate.

"Get it, baby! It's all you!" Patrick yelled from the ground, "Come on, bring 'er home!"

The damn animal had retreated to the outermost branch, perfectly unreachable from any angle. I hated the thing so bad.

"Hey! You cool, Natalie? I can't even see you!" Patrick continued.

He meant well, but his constant goading often led to tragic ends. Like, for example, me being 40+ feet away from a grisly landing.

I called back, "I wanna go home!"

"You're good right now! She's good, right?" He taps on Charlie's shoulder, "She'll save the day!"

"Yeah, dude, whatever," he replies.

"Nah, listen, Natalie, you're good. Don't worry! The mattress'll do its job." Patrick hollered.

I couldn't see him from the tree but I'd flip him off for convincing me this was a good idea. The cat belonged to an esteemed Madame Simon who owned some swanky restaurant. She placed a reward for the return of the beast shortly after it had disappeared. He who brought the animal back to her would receive the reward of $10,000. Patrick had stolen the thing in hopes of reaping the predictable profit. And here I am clinging to a tree, trying to capture ten Gs worth of crapping, yowling, scratching cat. Pat weighs a branch-braking 175 lbs; Charlie is only 105 lbs but he's too damn weak to climb anywhere except the bunk bed he and Patrick share; I came in with my 90 lbs and a gymnastic prowess the scheming man couldn't overlook. Trying turned into doing when I bagged the creature after it looked away from me and at the screaming Patrick.

"I got it! I caught the son of a bitching cat!" I laughed.

"Goddamn! Bring it on down!" Patrick said.

The descend felt more like walking the aisle toward a stage for an award. Very accurate as the aisle could be the tree and the award is the ten grand waiting for us.

I ran towards an ecstatic Patrick and a slightly moved Charlie, "Oh my God! I was super scared you guys," I hugged the two guys with extra gusto, "I wish Austin was here."

Patrick sneered, "He would have been all like, 'Honey, maybe that's not an ideal plan' with his English accent and you'd be like, "Yeah, I love you' and ya'll would have started tongue fucking and shit," he commenced a pantomime depicting his interpretation of me and my boyfriend kissing.

Patrick considers me his little sister. He claims I act and look identical to her. Sadly, I never got the honor to meet the late Patricia Tracy, or as he calls her, "the most important woman in my life." He never disclosed the cause of death to anyone except his life-long best friend Charlie Erickson.

"I'm tired," Charlie whispered, "My head's pounding almost. Let's go."

Without protest, Patrick started the dilapidated Jeep Wrangler, steering it out of the city park and onto the highway. The vehicle had the appearance of junk on wheels but the obsessive Charlie kept its inner workings at a professional quality. Patrick's doing kept its aesthetic appeal to a minimal as he has an unhealthy addiction to the worn and torn. His outfit reflected such with a kneeless pair of time-faded jeans, two different, ripped shoes (a Converse low-top with skull shoelaces and a plain blue Vans sneaker) complete with a sleeveless Army uniform top. My good friend Charlie's obsession with order carried into his style: button-up white dress shirt, carefully cleaned black jeans and an almost mint pair of authentic Jordan's. He looked ready for a music video every time I saw him. The long ride home afforded me the chance to review my own attire minus the previous armor: a green hoodie with a dinosaur's head as the hood and spikes running down the back, red mini-shorts and purple knee-high Converse. I may have been the most attractive blue haired T-Rex to ever eat a veggie burger at 4 AM in the 24 hour diner Tracy's Burgers. Charlie's dad and Patrick's brother own the joint so we receive free food.

"Crazy night today?" The waiter asked me.

"You could say that. Yeah," I smiled back.

"So, what were you up to? Shenanigans?"

"That's classified. If I told you, my friend here'll have to kill you," I replied.

The kid laughed, "Thanks for the warning, but just by that I can assume they were shenanigans."

"Spot on."

"So, how's the food?" He asked.

"Oi. Buzz off," Patrick growled with a mouthful of fries.

The poor guy scurried back to the counter, pretending to be awfully busy.

"Lay off. He's a nice guy," I said.

"Don't argue with a sober Patrick, Nat. It's really dumb," Charlie slurred.

Pat does get dicey when he's in an irritable mood, even with me. I put my hood up and led Charlie and Patrick out of Tracy's.

Part II: The Dresser

Last night's escapades kept me awake through the night so I missed any precious sleeping hours. The sweet concoction known as coffee kept me running though. Pat and Charlie lived in the same apartment no more than 4 miles south of the one I shared with Austin. His family has a buttload of cash and then some. Mr. Quincy paid the rent while Austin went to the Orange River State University a few blocks down the road. As far as finance goes, Austin and I have no worries. His dad's rich, his mom's rich, and he's rich. The apartment lacked any sign of recent disturbance. He must've stayed at a friend's place for some complicated project. I fell into the embrace of our expensive couch.

His voice echoed in my head, "This couch matches the carpet in the living room. See how the maroon ties with the dark red."

"Babe, are you gay?" I had asked.

He looked hurt so I took it back, "Just kidding," a peck on the cheek to soothe him, "I'm only kidding."

"I visited Patrick and Charles the night before last. Did he ever tell you?"

"No, what's up?"

"I noticed he has a picture of you on his dresser and in his wallet. Plus, the guy seems too protective," he said.

I laughed and pushed my hips into his pelvis, "Worried?"

"I trust you. But it's him I'm concerned about. You know he pops pills?"

"Of course. You would too if you went through war," I said defensively.

"I don't trust him," he persisted.

"What about Charlie? Do you think he's trying to steal me?"

"He's okay," he replied.

I knew there was more he hasn't told me. He had once hired a private investigator to spy on my ex. In hindsight, it turned out to be wise; the sore loser had broken in here and stolen my used panties. The apartment once again became my setting as the memory faded.

The door creaked open as Charlie slid in, "Hey, 's up?"

"Come in, my house is your house," I welcomed the weary eyed visitor.

"Pat should be coming in now," he said slowly.

As he had predicted, a woozy punk tripped on the welcome mat, "The fuck? How ironic," he said. Together, Charlie and I heaved the veteran onto the couch.

"When are we letting the cat out of the bag?" I asked.

Charlie chuckled, "Already did."

Pat flipped over, rolling off the couch, "Here it is," he opened his jacket, revealing the reward money.

"Me and Pat went and turned the money into singles," Charlie explained.

Pat laughed, "Make it rain!"

And so we did. Ever had leaves raked together during autumn? Money doesn't act the same unfortunately. "Hey guys," Patrick said, "Road trip?"

The thought of spending hours in a van with a sloppy, drugged punk and a tidy, hypochondriac rapper may not sound very appealing but I fell in love with the idea. We entered the Wrangler and headed for their apartment. I love these guys. I've known them for almost a decade, since high school started actually. Patrick's taste had been only noticeable in private while Charlie's health seemed appropriate despite his worrying. Patrick automatically integrated me into his group of random characters: prissy cheerleaders, shy nerds, pompous ROTC students, outgoing student government members, anti-social goths, and his crush of the week. The people came and went but Charlie and Will were always by Patrick. William Xioa knows the boys through his sister, Linda Xioa, a business partner of Pat's brother, Gustavo Tracy, and Charlie's dad, Walter Erickson. Today, Will plays in an indie-rock band called Tactical Tag. They usually perform in Linda's nightclub, Incognito, or the neighboring pub, High Light Reel sports bar and grill. Will couldn't make the midnight chase because his brother is under his custody and the priorities kept him home. He may be the most mature of us. Patrick ran away from home at 15 and bummed through his life with his brother, Gustavo. At 18, he entered the Marine Corps where he met Charlie again. Patrick's service was cut short 2 years in by a psychiatrist who deemed his mental state as unstable. He spends his days popping mood pills like M & Ms and listening to Radiohead. Charlie's discharge came about 2 days later due to an unforeseen accident. Charlie now lives a humble life alongside Patrick. I never heard of any rough patches in Chuck's childhood or if he suffers from any disorders besides his fear of being sick. The guy is constantly getting checkups for a sore or a bump. Sometimes, his paranoia pays off like when he discovered a tumor in his sack. His current endeavor is to blast out of anonymousity and into main-stream music as a rapper. Charlie also has the crucial job of being Patrick's best friend. His mental health makes him a potential danger to himself and others. Charlie keeps Pat's mind occupied and away from his violent tendencies. I'll never understand how two people with little common ground can forge such a strong bond; the guys are like brothers, an effort by Pat no doubt to replace his family members. The building finally came into view. Patrick parked the Jeep, taking up two spaces. We didn't dare criticize his parking lest we entice another rant.

As we approached the entrance, a scantily dressed woman staggered out. "Oi," she slurred.

We waved. She continued on and disappeared around the corner.

"She seems nice," I tried.

"Yeah, I just fucked her," Patrick shrugged.

I ignored him and went in. Their apartment had the feel mine lacked: one of inhabitance. It smelled like people were living in it. Shoes were strewn across the dirty carpet. Sticky notes labeled foods' appropriate owners in the fridge. The bathroom sink had hair over the porcelain, which I found especially gross since Pat wore a beard and Charlie never grew enough hair to shave in the first place.

"Ever tried cleaning?" I asked, "You might attract women to your lair if you did."

"I did once. Didn't last," Charlie replied.

"That's 'cause you're so lame even prostitutes put you in the friendzone," Patrick blurted.

His comment was met with a hail of shoes cast by a sore Charlie. Patrick returned fire with an over-flowed laundry basket. World War III never lived up to the hype; it's just two guys in a dirty apartment.

"Okay, cut it out. We need to chill," I said.

"Alrighty then, chap," Patrick replied in an English accent, "Say, isn't today just grand? Right mate?"

"I do declare: it's cool I guess," Charlie followed.

"Quite," I added.

"Most gratifying," Charlie said.

"Hmm. Yes," Patrick said in a droll manner.

"Enough," I finally said, "Why'd we come here?"

"For tunes," Charlie holds up his iPod.

"For pills," Pat rattles his prescription bottle.

"For my weed," Charlie presents his Ziploc bag.

"And condoms," Patrick says.

"Well? Let's go," I said impatiently.

Just then, a loud knocking interrupts us.

”Shh. Don't say anything," Pat warned.

"Hello? It's Will!"

"Come on. Let him in, Pat," I said.

"Wait," he hissed. Patrick hid beside the door, crouching at waist height, "Open it."

I let Will inside the apartment; he swung his foot back as Patrick swung his fist at Will's groin. Will found his mark before Patrick, connecting with Pat's sack.

"You sonovabitch! My 'nads!" Patrick groaned.

"Yo, I got your message, Charlie. What's up?"

"You up for a road trip?"

"What about my brother?"

"My dad'll watch him; he's friends with your sis."

"Cool," the drummer sat down, "Where to?"

Will wore black skinny jeans and a black casual jacket with no shirt underneath and enough buttons were undone for a little chest-hair action, which I see as the guy equivalent of cleavage.

"We don't know yet," Patrick replied with a hand protectively over his junk.

"But we're ready to go if you are," I said.

"Fuck it, let's go!" Will karate chopped Pat.

He dropped and began rolling in pain, "What? You breached my defenses."

"The proper guard is a cupping of the balls like so," Will demonstrated, "You'll learn."

Part III: The Clump

"Take exit 47," Charlie directed.

"The fuck? I just passed exit 50."

"No. Look, we're counting down the exits. See? There's 49."

"Good shit, Charlie, keep an eye on that map 'cause you are my GPS."

"This van is totally tits!" I said.

"Baby, don't say 'tits.' It's unbecoming," Austin said.

"Sorry, honey," I kissed the conservative Austin.

The van was pretty tits though: Charlie had set up three hammocks in the back with a couch crammed beside a cooler full of beer and whiskey. Will occupied the couch, greedily eyeing the cooler.

"Hey, children!" Patrick called from the front, "We're headed to a McDonald's. Anyone up for a greasy clump of sandwich you people call a burger?"

"You don't sound too fond of a burger," Austin noticed, "Where would you rather eat?"

Surprisingly, Patrick didn't say anything rude, "I could go for a tuna sub."

"Alright. Subway it is," Austin confirmed.

We took the nearest exit and headed for the closest Subway.

Patrick turned to Charlie, "You want a spicy italian sub with extra vinaigrette, american cheese, and on wheat" he pointed at Will," You'll take a meatball sub with the whole works and on 7-grain," he looked at me, "Yours is a Philly cheese steak with jalepenos, swiss, and lots of onions on a 6-inch flatbread," Austin followed, "And you're a..."

"Ask for an ultimate breakfast sub. They should put meat, egg, bacon, pepper jack cheese, marinara sauce, and all on an oat bun."

After that salivating description, we all said together: "I'll have what he's having."

"But I want mine to be a 6-inch," I peeped.

Patrick smiled, "C'mon, Charlemagne. That's a whole lot of food."

I elbowed Will.

He turned to me and I gestured him into going, "I'll help, I guess."

Only after they had left did I talk to Austin, "You are like a fish out of water, mister."

"Did you expect me to dye my hair purple and don a mohawk like Will? Or perhaps get stitching tattooed around my neck like Patrick?"

I sighed, "No, you would have pissed them off and made the trip more awkward."

"So you regret letting me come?"

I sighed, "Babe, I love having you here. I mean, Will wishes he could've had the same luck with his girl but he doesn't trus-" I almost dropped a major bomb, "Want to cram the fact he has a girl in Charlie's face."

"I love being crammed together with you."

I laughed, "Me too. I wanna cram you in my face.

The van doors came open, "Hey, no fucking in the van. If I have to follow that rule you do too."

"Pardon. How much was the bill? I hope you know I don't plan on being a mooch."

"It's cool. Everything's on me," he said cheerfully.

"Well, let's dig in."

We shared a collective, "Mmm," after the first bite. The feeling rang true until the last bite. Patrick called us to the front of the van, pointing at his map.

"This will be our first stop," Charlie said.

"It's called The Eager Chicks," Pat said mystically.

"The Eager Chicks?" Austin repeated.

"Yes. It's supposed to be the highest rated, but smallest brothel this side of the Orange River."

"A whorehouse?" Austin asked.

"Uh, brothel. And I'm going to hit. That. Shit."

Will interrupted, "Where will we be?" Meaning Austin, himself, and me.

"Look," he flattened the map on the hood of the van, "The joint's here and ya'll will chill 11 miles south at this here arcade, All The King's Tokens."

"Yeah. So while we score, you too shall score," Charlie summed up pretty well.

"Although disgusted, I'm on board with the plan."

Part IV: The Signs

At this very moment, while I guide a ball down a very narrow entrance, up a ramp, and onto a series of holes to ensure a release of tickets, I imagine Charlie and Patrick doing likewise.

The double entendre becomes more apparent with my boyfriend's constant cheering, "Try it a little harder, baby! They might be easier to go into but don't use the bigger holes; they won't give you as much tickets. The smaller ones are better."

I fought the urge to say that's what she said and successfully bit down on laughter until the cashier called out our order number. Sure, we had just eaten, but who can withstand the alluring scent of pizza? Despite full stomachs, we were still able to devour the warm pie, yet another statement with innuendo. Good God, the signs are everywhere!

Will didn't make the situation better, "You should have seen me at the dance game. They were coming so fast at me, but I got just the right moves. My legs are limber enough to open up to every position and get everything in just right. That little girl over there is better than me though. She should do it for money. The younger kids are usually better than old people like me."

If only he knew.

Part V: The Ears

I want to get rid of the boys so bad right now. Pat's van lacks suitable suspension so the vehicle tends to shiver as we climb to faster speeds. At around 60 MPH, it begins to vibrate. Such a sensation brings a tingling to the most intimate portion of my body. Said portion is to be maintained by, and only by, Austin. Along with a physical stimulant, Pat and Charlie's exchanges about their stay at the brothel provided a decent mental image. They must think everyone's asleep by how raunchy their descriptions are. The women in their stories invaded my thoughts. Big reveal: the pierced, punk girl with blue hair and only guy friends is also bisexual. Curse Patrick's intense detail. I could almost see the sweaty, glossy skin of two whores come together as Pat suggested girl on girl action. Whenever urges come over me, I take them out on Austin. But now, he swung in a hammock 3 feet away from the couch I lay on, too far for even a quick hand job. This could turn into one of those nights where I cheat on Austin... with my own hand. Should I risk being caught by Patrick's infamous ears? And what about the potential discharge? Also, do most women find themselves in this predicament or is it just me?

Part VI: The Moose

"Dude, none of this looks like the map," Charlie whispered.

"The fuck? Are we lost?"

"I'd say yes but we haven't taken any wrong turns. The map might be outdated."

"Can you get us back on the main road?"

"I would if I knew where we are right now," Charlie snapped.

"Whoa, Chuck. Calm down."

"Sorry, man. But this place is really sketchy. Look at all the empty houses."

The boys had managed to keep their voices low enough to leave the sleepers undisturbed. I remained awake after risking the embarrassing act; it was worth it.

"Ever heard of Chernobyl, Pat?"

"The ghost town, right?"

"Dej-à-vu."

"No shit, man. Should we stop?"

"Fuck that. Let's keep going until we find civilization."

I have never seen Patrick or Charlie both so freaked. It had me worried.

"Oh my God! What the fuck?!" Patrick screamed as he slammed the brakes.

Austin and Will fell from their hammocks and I slid off the couch. A terrible screeching had me covering my ears, screaming at the top of my lungs. The van finally came to a full stop. We were dead silent for the next 10 seconds, straining for any sounds.

"Shh. You hear that?" Pat whispered.

I could make out a panting sound and grovel crunching. It became louder until the noise was replaced by a scratching at the door... then a whimpering.

"It's a little doggie!" I awed.

I threw the door open to a scruffy Russell terrier. It jumped in as if it belonged there, immediately heading under the couch.

"Natalie? The fuck?" Patrick asked.

"Yeah, why don't you say 'what'? I'm just curious."

"I'll cuss however the fuck I want to. Why in the fuck did you let a fucking dog in here?"

Austin took offense, "Patrick! Watch what you say to Natalie!"

I could see something wretch, break inside Patrick when he responded, "Sorry, Austin, my bad. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I understand you're tired from driving," Austin said.

Playing nice is obviously causing an allergic reaction in Patrick. I admired him for fighting off his worst stings to keep me happy. The dog resumed its whimpering during the silence.

"Well, it's already here and I'm not gonna have Nat just toss it back into this dump."

"Can I name it?" I asked.

"Think again; I'm gonna name it," Patrick said.

He climbed into the back and reached for the pup. It cringed but let itself be held, "You are Brother Moose. All oppose say nay." His proposal was met with 4 nays, "I don't give a shit. Moose Tracy is your name, got it?"

"Like Hell it is!" I said, "You can have your stupid 'Moose' but it'll get my last name because I found it."

"So it shall be! Dog, discard thine ties with the feral world thou hath been cast away in; in this realm, thou art Moose King!"

Part VIII: The Ghost

A few hours of travel found us back in familiar turf. Austin and Will had begun a marvelous debate about some dead guys with a few good ideas. I tried listening, maybe their ideas'll usher in some groundbreaking epiphany but so far no such luck. Patrick and Charlie's conversation still revolved around their adventure in the land of adultery. I'm ashamed to say the latter held my interest better. Fortunately, Moose kept me occupied with her playfulness. The dog wore an all-white coat with a brown tail. She looked like a ghost caught in transition.

Patrick called from the cab, "Any ideas for our next stop?"

"How about another brothel?" Charlie suggested.

"Nah, that one bitch bent my dick and now it's all sore and shit," he responded.

"Oh! Gross! TMI!" I said.

"Well, shit, Patrick, look at the road! I doubt the van has fucking autopilot," Will advised.

"Motherfuck! I'm gonna jump back there and buttfuck you to death!"

Austin just sat there admiring the exchange. How would everything play out if the boys acted more like him? I'd find myself surrounded with sweater vest wearing, university attending, conservatives. Oh, God, I'm ripping on my own boyfriend! Well, it wouldn't hurt him to step off his high horse and loosen his tie. I doubt if Will or Patrick know how to tie a tie. Maybe Charlie does. This may not be the best time to question my relationship with Austin but I couldn't help it. Why did I ever date him? I mean, I've been with him since we were 16 and now we're 26 with no rings on our fingers. The boys aren't married either. Pat's at a ripe 28 followed by similarly aged Will, and Charlie bringing up the rear at 24. Will divorced his wife cleanly, no money lost or kids to divide; Pat's a little too old to be playing the field but women fall for the boys in uniform; Charlie is a mystery to me other than his obsession with an art-school girl. When did the 50's philosophy start to apply to me? Bi, pierced, tattooed, and pagan didn't exactly fall in the canon of the lifestyle Mom preached. She constantly drops hints to Austin about babies and rings and "settling down." Just the thought of being Mom's clone sickened me. My younger sister, Diane, followed Mom's dogma of suburbanite slavery, taking lady etiquette classes on how to properly drink, sit, talk, look, and even sneeze. I can't begin to count the pageants Mom had entered her into for the bragging rights of most obedient child. Yeah, fat, ungodly shaped women parading their smile-glued children like dogs, all aiming for best in show. I'd enter them all in a county fair hog contest and take blue ribbon.

"And first place goes to Natalie King and her astounding pigs!" I said as I raised Moose's paws, "Never has this crowd seen swine of such proportions!"

I walked Moose around on her back paws, "Who's a fat little piggie?" I asked Moose in a baby voice, "You are! You're my little piggie!"

Is this what I'm headed for? The dreaded Cat Ladies of the world probably started by innocently owning a dog. One day, they became too old for a dog so a cat was brought in to supply company. The cat and dog never got along so they gave the mutt away to a young couple. The cat's quieter company, better than a barking nuisance. Through contorted logic, they decided if one's okay, then two's better. And, oh, what the hell? They already got two might as well find a third. Before you know it, boom, Cat Lady. And not cool, sexy Cat Woman. No, I wish. She's fucking hot; Cat Lady is not. I'd bang the former, kill the latter. Like the guy proposition, kill one, marry one, fuck one. Cat Lady, Austin, Cat Woman, respectively. Wait, I'll take another shot. Perhaps marry Cat Woman. The Halle Berry version though. She's the sexiest of them all except the video game one. Those games get more pornographic as time goes by. In no time at all, you'll play Vagina Buster 2. It's better than the original; in that, you rape 15 year olds. The new one has obedient 12 year olds so you can bust their vaginas with ease. That's the guy version of Cat Lady: Virtual Paedophile. Strange how the two conversations converged onto one and managed to inspire me into making a perverted revelation. And for that I thank you.

Part IX: The Pool Cue

Patrick ruefully spat a loogie onto the filthy wooden floor. He stared with the penance of a battle-hardened warrior. Across him, a dirty man wearing stereotypical redneck gear cracked his knuckles. I used my scarf to wipe blood off Austin's face. With difficulty, I managed to stand him on his feet. He leaned lightly against me. Charlie stood ready next to Patrick; Will tried to make himself invisible. The sparingly-toothed villain came too close to Patrick. Together, the boys took him out swiftly. He toppled back, knocking himself into another crowd. That group immediately took the offensive and sent their biggest member. The behemoth pushed Patrick, sending him into some bystanders. Now, the next thing that happened I swear only occurred during Hollywood films: a good-old-fashioned bar fight. I took Austin to safety behind the counter and observed the mayhem. Will kept his attackers away with a chair. Several men engulfed Charlie while the monstrous man picked up Patrick and slid him across the counter. Patrick was on his feet in no time. He socked the other guy, connecting with a solid smack. With a running start, Patrick tackled the man and slammed him over a table. Everywhere people were engaging in senseless fisticuff matches. I couldn't help joining the carnage. I took a bottle of Jack Daniel's and chucked it at a guy. I expected it to shatter when it met its target. The bottle impacted with a sound chink. Somewhere in the maelstrom, Charlie had regrouped with Patrick. They held off the mobs with pool sticks. I spotted Will, too. The crowd picked him up and threw him out the window. They cheered. Will's opponents still had blood lust so they attacked the other factions. Austin tugged at my sleeve. I turned to him.

He knelt and pulled out a tiny blue box, "Will you marry me?"

I squealed, "Yes! Oh my God, yes!" I jumped, exclaiming it to the bar, "I'm getting married!"

They all stopped fighting at once. Charlie, bloody and battered, began clapping. Patrick joined in, then the entire aggregation. Before long, the bar had begun cheering. One sore loser took advantage of the lull and broke a pool stick over Patrick's head. Remembering their targets, the crowd swallowed Patrick and Charlie, finally expelling them from the bar. Austin and I navigate safely through them. Once outside, the boys lead us back to the van. We make our way down the dirt road and finally onto the highway. Charlie shook my hand.

Will hugged me, whispering into my ear, "Don't make the same mistake."

"We gotta turn back," Patrick called from the front.

I whined, "Really?"

"Yes. Things have changed now." Austin replied, "We'll take a plane back."

"I'll drive us there. Chupacabra, get us to an airport."

Charlie unfolded the map and gave Patrick directions. In less than thirty minutes, the airport came into view. Patrick parked the vehicle in his usual manner: askew. We all, even Moose, walked to the entrance.

There, I turned to say my goodbyes, "See you, Will." Will fist-bumped me, "Later, gator."

I waved at Charlie. He nodded. Patrick hugged me awkwardly.

His being taller than me never allowed him to properly do so without smothering me. He pulled away but I held him a little more. Patrick freed himself with his gaze never meeting mine. Moose whimpered at my feet. She cried for a bit then Moose settled on Charlie's feet. Wow, she found a new mom already. Patrick pretended to be occupied by staring at the departing planes. The goodbye ended when I took Austin inside. I sat idly by as he walked to the front desk for our tickets. From my seat, I looked at the people passing by. Regardless of their backgrounds, each and every person was saying goodbye. The difference: either a see-you-later or a permanent farewell. Austin found me and, in a matter of a few hours, I had situated myself in the rather comfortable first-class seating area. I already missed the boys and the stinky van. Oh well, we'll go back.

I lean on Austin's shoulder, "I love you, baby."

"I do too."

He was still ruffed up from the fight. I gotta admit it: he changed in the small amount of time we hung out with the boys.

"I can't wait to go home."

He said with a smile, "Nat, we aren't going back to Orange Grove. Ever."


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