"Toni?"

"Hey Adrian. Guess what I'm looking at right now?"

"What? Toni, where have you been? Your mom has been calling every day, wondering if I've heard from you."

"I'm looking at the sun setting behind the Rocky Mountains, Dri. God, they're beautiful."

"Where ARE you, Toni?"

"Colorado, where else?"

"Why are you in Colorado???"

"Well, I took a wrong turn in Houston..."

"Toni. Why aren't you here? In Mississippi? At home?"

"You know why, Dri." My voice drops to a whisper, even thought there's no one around for miles.

"So you just went home, packed a bag, and left?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"And...?"

"I had to get some space, you know that. And this..." I look up at the sky, overwhelming in its vastness. "This is space like nothing I've ever seen before. It's beautiful." I can feel her smiling over the phone. Strange how that happens.

"Are you okay? Do you have enough money? How much are you eating?"

"Easy there, Mom," I laugh. "I'm fine. Really. I won't be getting that laptop for another few months, but it's been worth it. There was a really, really drunk guy that tried to hit on me at the hotel last night, but other than that, I've been assault-free. I'll be home in a few days, healthy and all major body parts intact."

"And no tattoos."

I laugh. "Fine, no tattoos."

"You mean you haven't already gotten one yet?" she asked incredulously.

"Well, no tattoos," I say teasingly as I run my tongue over a ring in my lip.

"Hey, wait. Toni, what did you get pierced? Please tell me you didn't get anything pierced that I can't see."

"Ew! No, no no no." I shudder. "Gah. I don't have the nerve to do that. Not that I would want to..."

"What is it?!?" Adrian begs.

"My lip." I pull the phone away from my ear sharply. Between rock concerts, my brother, and a best friend with abnormally high-pitched squeals, it surprises me every time I hear my alarm clock go off.

"Geez, Dri! Back in human range, please!"

"Sorry," she squeaked. "You always do the fun stuff when I'm not there!"

"Since when?"

She's quiet, probably trying to think of all the non-existent times I'd supposedly "done all the fun stuff without her."

"See? You've been there for all the fun-ness."

"Hmph."

"Listen, I've gotta go. I need to find a motel before it gets too late."

"Alright. Did you take your camera?"

I pat the Canon hanging from my neck lovingly. "Of course I brought her. How could I show you all the cool things I've seen without it?"

"That's right. I miss you, Tone. Be careful, okay?"

"Aye-aye, captain." I salute, even though she can't see me. "I miss you, too. I'll be home by Friday."

"You better, we're moving Saturday."

"I know. I'll talk to ya later, alright?"

"Okie doke. Be good. No more piercings until I see you."

I laugh. "You take the fun out of everything."

"Yeah, I know. Hey Tone?"

"Yep?"

"How are you, really?" Concern seeps through in her voice.

I can't help but smile. "I'm good, really I am." I gaze at the surroundings. "Something about huge skies and mountains makes everything okay for me."

"What about when you get home?"

I hesitate. "I'll cross that bridge when I get there, Dri."

"We'll cross it, together, okay? You don't have to do this by yourself, you know."

"Yeah, I do. For me. I need to do this one alone."

Adrian's quiet for a minute. "I'm still gonna be here when you need me."

"Thanks."

"I'll let you go find a motel now. Be careful, okay?"

"I will. Bye."

"Bye."

I sigh as I hang up. Why do I have to complicate things?

"When I need you. Not if. When." Her choice of words worries me. She knows me too well. I lean on the hood of my truck and watch the last few rays of sunlight disappear behind the mountains. You were wrong, Mom. Just because you can't see my faults doesn't mean they're not there. That's how I'm like Dad. We're not strong, and we won't let anyone get close enough to tell.

I pull the truck back onto the road and start looking for hotel signs. Seeing one that sounds decent about twenty miles away, I make a mental note of the name and turn up the radio.

I won't be like you, Dad. I won't let that happen.