I closed the trunk of my car, sighing as I began checking off the things I had finished in my head. Extra clothes, messenger bag, some snacks, camping supplies...It felt like I was packing everything but the kitchen sink into this car.
'Might as well, seeing as I'll probably spend more than a few nights sleeping in here during the trip,' I thought.
I looked over my shoulder at my friend. Jessie stood on the steps to my parents' place, her arms folded over her chest. In her over-sized sweater and baggy jeans, her messy brown hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail, she looked like the very definition of a shut-in, complete with pale skin and gray circles under her blue eyes.
"You forgot something." Jessie stepped off of the steps and marched up to me, arms still folded. She stopped in front of me.
"Okay. What did I forget? Because last I checked, I had everything I needed to get going," I said. Jessie brought up her hand and poked me sharply in the chest.
"You're taking off without saying anything to the rest of us! Say goodbye at least!" she said sternly. I waved her off, rolling my eyes.
"Jess, you know I've been planning this trip for the last six months. If I don't do it, then I never will," I said. Jessie's eyes narrowed, lips pursing.
"You'd seriously leave without telling me goodbye?" she asked, lowering her voice. She sounded almost hurt.
"Yeah, because then you'd beg me to take you with me," I said.
Silence fell between us for a moment, Jessie continuing to stare up at me. She was always stubborn, but she could also be a hell of a friend. She'd be pissed at you one day, and right there with you the very next.
I sighed, holding up my arms to offer her a hug. Jessie leaned in and wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tightly. I let my arms drape around her.
"At least promise me that you'll call every now and again...? Please?" she asked. That sternness she had been displaying was gone now.
"I promise, Jess. Hell, I'll send you a postcard, too," I said. Jessie pulled herself away from me enough to jab me with her finger again.
"You better. One from the Emerald Coast at least," she said. I smiled and pulled her back in for another hug.
"...Things are going to be too quiet without you around," Jessie said quietly. I sighed.
"I know. It won't be the same for me, either, without everyone around," I said. Jessie pulled herself away, wiping the sleeve of her sweater across her cheeks. The remains of tears still shined slightly in the early morning sunlight.
"Well, get going then. Before I make you change your mind", she said, voice breaking slightly. I gave her another smile and turned back my car.
"I promise I'll call when I stop for the night. Don't cry too much, alright?" I said, looking over my shoulder. Jessie lifted her hand, extending her middle finger at me.
"You better, and I'll cry as much as I want! Get out of here!"
I shook my head, chuckling as I opened the driver-side door. I got in and shut the door, and pulled my keys out of my pocket. As I went to put the key into the ignition, I hesitated. Glancing over I saw Jessie in my side mirror, sitting on the steps, arms hugging her knees. More tears were streaming down her cheeks now.
'I can't back out now. Sorry, Jess.' I pushed the key into the ignition and turned it. The car rumbled to life, sounding far better than it had been before the tune-ups and repairs. I shifted from park the drive. As the car started moving forward, I stuck my arm out the window, waving back at Jessie. In the mirror, Jessie raised one arm halfheartedly, waving back to me.
There was a sudden urge to stop the car and cancel the trip. But the reasons for the last six months flashed into my mind. I slowly sped up, taking the car up the inclined driveway that would take me to the highway. Jessie and my parents' house became smaller and smaller.
The highway came into view. This early in the morning, the road was fairly empty.
But as I started to turn the car onto the road, I caught sight of the scene behind me. Pulling over onto the side of the road, I put the car back into park and got out.
My parents' property was on the edge of a forest, between the treeline and the edge of an open grass field. I could just make out Jessie sitting on the front steps.
"Probably wandering what the hell I'm doing," I mused.
The sun was beginning to rise over the trees, casting a golden-orange glow over the field and over the tops of the trees. A light mist had begun to rise, warmed by the sun's light. I'd seen the scene a few times before, but knowing that I wouldn't see it again for a while...
I reached into the car and pulled my camera free of my messenger bag. After adjusting the settings, I lined up my shot.
I lowered the camera and looked down at the photo in the view-screen, nodding my head. It was a good start to my trip. As I got into the car again and closed the door, I set the camera back down on top of my bag. I let the photo stay on-screen for another moment before turning the camera off.
'Now I have something to remind me of home...' I thought.
I pulled back onto the road, heading North. The cool early-Autumn air coming in through the window helped to wake me up further. I leaned over, keeping my eyes on the road as I fiddled with the radio. First came static, then an early morning talk show segment. I shook my head and turned the knob, this time stopping on a rock station. Another shake of the head, and another turn of the knob.
A lo-fi hip-hop song filled the inside of the car now. I held my hand over the knob for a moment before taking the wheel again. As I nodded my head along with the beat, I looked up at the rear-view mirror. I hadn't slept much the night before, making my green eyes look tired. My hair, short and black with blue-ish black tips, was blowing around with the breeze coming in through the window. The plain black tee and blue jeans I wore made me look less like a photographer and more like a party-going college student.
A few miles passed. Another lo-fi track came on, this one slightly more energetic. The road was beginning to get more crowded now as I approached my hometown. It wasn't big, but it was a good place for travelers to stop for food or supplies before heading back out on the road.
I stopped at one of the gas stations and bought a coffee. If I didn't know any better, I was stalling.
Now, as I sat in the car, sipping my coffee, I almost felt sad for leaving. I shook my head, forcing the hesitation from my mind. I stuck the cup of coffee in a cup holder and pulled out of the gas station. Before long I was leaving town.
I looked back at the town in my side-view mirror. I wouldn't be seeing the place for a long time. With a sigh I turned my attention back to the road.
"So long, Gildlily. I'll see you again."
I decided that I wanted to try something a little different, and a little more unplanned, with this one. It's not a finished story by any means, either, which is what makes it different for me. For now, I'm tentatively calling it "Rainbow Country", as many of the towns, cities, and locations in the world are named after colors.
The idea is to write another chapter for this story every night, edit it when I get up in the morning, and release it after that. I actually don't know how long it's going to be, because I would like to keep it going until I reach a natural stopping point in Kaleb's trip, and then wrap it up from there.
And if it isn't obvious, this story does take place in a place that isn't Earth, or even reality. The world has a number of fantastical elements to it, but we haven't gotten to them yet.
And as for the other reasons I'm writing this story, I'm genuinely hoping to get back into writing more often. I'm hoping this helps to get me back into the swing of things.