We Can Plant a House

“Remember the windmills?”

I was so close to falling asleep when she decided to start talking again. Bronwyn glued her eyes on the road as soon as we got in the car, with the occasional glance over to me, most likely taking the hint that I wasn’t too happy about being there, in the car, with her, following her useless pipe dreams. But just when I had called my silent protest a success and was about to take a journey into a land of dreams of my own, mine more likely to happen than her fuzzy notions, she decided to get all nostalgic.

“It’s been so long since we’ve seen them,” she said.

Kill me now, I thought.

My right temple was chilled from leaning against the window, making it feel like there was a hole in my head that calms instead of frightens. It was the best thing resembling comfort in that cramped Bug. My one regret, besides getting into the car in the first place, was not snatching one of the pillows from the back and cramming it under my head for the long ride south. Actually, a bigger regret I had was not asking Walt for some of his sleeping pills. I guess we got too caught up in saying goodbye.

“Do you remember when Mom first drove us to L.A.?” One sentence in and I could already hear the quaver in her voice. Why reminisce if it’s going to make you a blubbering mess all the time? The last thing I wanted to talk about was Mom; I thought Brownie would have caught on by now. That was a pipe dream of my own, I guess.

I knew what would happen next: she would tell the story the way it’d been told a thousand times before, word for word, the same inflections, like I never lived it, like this is her big moment on screen, like it’s now time to get the audience empathizing. She probably looked at it like a rehearsal of sorts; she just didn’t know her audience too well.

“She pulled over to the side of the road so we could try to feel the wind,” she started. “I said I could, and you said that I was being stupid and that it was just the normal wind and I was an idiot. Mom laughed and put her arms around us and kissed us both on the head—”

“And then the next two years were a gin-filled haze. At least we have this memory to keep us warm every night.” There’s only so much a jaded audience can take before it revolts.

There were two ways she could go from here. She could either dip into the maternal pool (because somebody had to fill that role, I guess, someone who wasn’t probably drowning in whiskey in an alley somewhere in Bakersfield) and give me a now-young-lady scolding, or she would just pout and give me back that sweet silence I so desperately craved.

“Savannah,” she said sternly.

So much for my craving being quenched.

“This is going to be a grand opportunity for the both of us.”

I threw up in my mouth a little.

She went on, “There’s a reason they say, ‘There’s something new on the horizon.’”

“Who in the almighty fuck says that?” I asked, hunching my shoulders skeptically, scrunching my face at her weak attempts to coin some kind of adage. “That’s not a saying. It’s a… a nothing.”

The knuckles on one hand whitened against the worn rubber of the steering wheel. She took the other hand off the wheel to begin fidgeting with the crucifix around her neck. Such a beautiful contrast. One faithful; one more logical and wanting to throttle me. I didn’t want her to go the choking route or anything, but at least it would have been the first genuine emotion Bronwyn expressed since we reunited, instead of all her passive aggressive, nun-like bullshit.

“If you’re going to have an attitude,” she said while exhaling, “for this entirely new chapter in our lives, then do me the favor of at least pretending to make the best of it? For my sake, please?”

Just like that, I was the one who ended up pouting. I crossed my arms and slumped down in the seat. The edge of the seatbelt dug into my chin, but this was my position of discontent, so I was pretty much stuck there for at least a little while. The silence may have been back, but now I was suddenly the bad guy, so it was like a penalty instead of a reward. Which, of course, was complete and utter crap. I was being dragged from my home and friends against my will. Where’s the villainy in that?

I started to think about what Walt said to me that morning when I woke up in his bed. “I’ll write you a letter every day till you get a phone and then I’ll collect call you every day.” It was sweet, and in the moment, I believed him, but there was no chance this was going to happen. Who were we kidding? It wasn’t love. It was some extended mistake brought on by mourning Kurt. Just because we did it while listening to Nevermind on repeat didn’t make us soulmates. Still. That moment, when everything he said rang true, when his fingers traced every bump of my spine, when I buried my face into his collarbone…

Ugh, listen to yourself, I thought.

A sign for a rest stop zipped by and Brownie’s eyes followed it all the way through the back of her head. “What say we take a short break?” she said.

Some fresh air, some room to move, some time to get away from her… Why not? I gave her a nod.

Five more miles of awkward silence later, and we finally reached the Buttonwillow rest stop. Several semis were parked in elongated spaces; it looked like a kid with OCD placed his toy trucks at perfect 45-degree angles, no more, no less. The trees and the grass appeared artificial, their green contrasting uneasily with the brown that was the California farmlands. Bronwyn parked the car, and I immediately put my sunglasses on and jumped out in a huff, letting the blood fill my calves up like jugs, walking onto the silver blacktop that gave the whole place a schoolyard vibe, like something I’d see back home. The bathrooms looked like a wooden snack shack at a little league game.

The August sun was right above me, so every inch of me was suddenly beaded with sweat. I rolled down the sleeves of my red flannel to take it off and tied it around my waist, but the heat still managed to reach its hands under my white tank top. I crossed over to a bench that sat in something resembling the shade and plopped myself down, but then it just felt wet under my high-waisted shorts and black stockings, and the back of my thighs were suddenly swimming. I stayed there anyway though, because Bronwyn was coming toward me, holding a map in her hand.

Can’t wait to see where this goes, I thought.

She sat down on the other side of the table and smoothed the map against the surface. “So I was thinking,” she said, which was never a good sign, because the things she thought were never good, “what if we took a detour?”

“To where?” I asked, looking down at her from underneath my shades.

“The windmills.”

I sighed painfully.

“I think it would be nice to see them,” she said.

“I think there are better ways to reform our sisterly bond,” I told her, sucking my cheeks in between my teeth.

“It will only be an extra two hours or so of travel time, and there should be some pretty sights along the way. Here, look.” She pointed at the map like I was going to have some interest. She was lost in her own little delusions again, deaf to the world around her. “We go through these hills,” she droned on, “until we reach Tehachapi Pass. We find some place to park, maybe take a few photos—“

The laugh that popped out of me was sharp, and I watched it cut into her lips as her jaw clenched.

She kept going, though. “And then we can be back on our way to Hollywood.” She said Hollywood breathlessly, like it was an exotic kingdom, something stupid like that.

“What is this gonna gain us, exactly?” I asked. “Do you really expect me to lay down my sword and give into this… prison field trip?”

“’Nilla…” She closed her eyes, definitely asking herself what Jesus would do. “I expect that once you’re there, you’ll see the beauty in everything and begin to enjoy yourself.”

I rolled my eyes so hard that any harder and I would have gone blind. “Fat fucking chance,” I said, and I stood up. “And they’re wind turbines, Brownie, not windmills. They aren’t harvesting grain out in the middle of nowhere. Fuck.” I walked away, leaving her to crinkle the map in her hands like she was ringing out a wet towel.

The nerve. She believed that this was the magic spell that would erase the last several years and make it seem as though we’d been sisters all that time. Never mind Mom becoming a drunken wreck; never mind being put into separate foster homes and only seeing each other over the occasional weekend. It doesn’t matter that while she was finding Jesus with her new foster mom, I found that snacks in 7-11s were really easy to jack. There was no doubt in my mind that she thought just because she became my legal guardian once she reached that wondrous age of eighteen, that I doubly owed her, as a sister and as a child. Forgetting the past, or even putting a good spin on everything, wasn’t as easy for me as it was for her, especially when I held such a big grudge against it. And now, three years later, she believed this hypothetical future would finally show me the path to gratitude. As the older sister, shouldn’t she be the wiser one, instead of the brainless ass wipe she was?

I approached the information kiosk where I could successfully obscure myself from Bronwyn’s view. I scanned a map of California posted next to a smaller map of California. Behind the plexiglass, there were fliers warning against the dangers of speeding through fog, and others advertising local farmers’ markets, as if there was an ideal place to hold one: I was basically in a barren wasteland, even if you could grow nut trees or whatever.

I caught a whiff of a nearby cigarette and started salivating. Pictures bounced and ricocheted in my head. The last time I saw everyone. There on Carrie’s deck with her, Walt, Joshy and Rae. Everyone doing their best to make smoke rings, making the deck look like a witch’s cauldron. Raiding Carrie’s parents’ liquor cabinet. Watching the world spin to the hymns of “Spoonman” and “Interstate Love Song.” Tasting Walt’s lips one last time—

Oh, for fuck’s sake, forget about him! I screamed at myself.

I peeked my head around the information center and found a girl about my age staring off into space and holding a cig near her cheek between her peace sign fingers. She was blonde, a cheerleader type, wearing a small jean jacket over a blue sundress that was in desperate need of an ironing. She saw me and eyed me suspiciously as I walked over to her.

“You mind if I bum one from you?” I asked.

She blinked a few times, as though measuring the risk of giving this green-haired grungy girl one of her precious cigarettes, then she put her own between her lips to reach into one of her jacket pockets and take out a pack of Camels. She opened it up and presented it to me; I took one. She dug into another pocket for her lighter, but I stopped her by showing her mine. I lit up.

“You run out?” the girl asked.

“My sister threw my last pack away. She didn’t want me stinking up her car with my bad habits,” I said.

“Lame.” She spoke with the monotone voice of someone who lacks personality but bathes in excess attention.

“That’s my sister: one walking, talking bummer for you and me to enjoy.” I took a big breath of my cig, savoring every bit of it, breathing out a fog you wouldn’t want to speed through. “I’m Savannah.”

“Haley,” the girl replied. I didn’t care about her—there was no question she would spit on me and my friends if I knew her back home—but I needed to talk to someone who wasn’t Bronwyn, for at least a little while.

“Where you from?” Haley asked.


“Never heard of it.”

“I don’t blame you. What about you?”

“San Jose. I’m going down to Northridge with my family to see my grandma,” Haley explained. She scratched the bridge of her nose with the hand holding the cigarette, and the cig pointed up, dangerously close to her right eyebrow. Careless, but of course she thought she was unbreakable, or unburnable. Any closer and she would have ruined that pretty face of hers, another popular girl biting the dust because of imperfection, so sad.

“That’s nice, visiting her,” I said.

“She’s boring. We’re staying with her for a week and it’s going to be a week of watching her fall asleep in her wheelchair watching Night Court reruns. I’m missing my boyfriend’s birthday for this.”

“Lame.” I felt like an explorer, doing my best to take part in a new culture by echoing their language.

“Where are you headed?”

“Hollywood,” I said in my best Brownie impression. “My sister sees herself as a rising star that hasn’t even been birthed by a nebula yet.”

Haley made a noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a hum, the translation of which was clear: “what’s a nebula?”

She looked over at Bronwyn, still there at the picnic table, staring at the map like it was a Magic Eye book. “Is that her?” Haley asked. “She’s pretty. Looks kinda like Alicia Silverstone.”

“That’s what everyone says,” I scoffed. It was true. Everyone, when they saw Brownie, compared her to a movie star. The majority of the time it was dudes from the foster home, expressing a desire to get into her pants whenever she came to pick me up for something. Even after they learned she was my sister, they’d keep drooling. They would never have the balls to say one word to her, but they were comfortable using their hands to indulge themselves later that night and moan at full volume, and I was the lucky one who got to hear it from two doors down. Yuck.

Haley and I stood there in a silence that rivaled all the ones I’d tried to keep with Brownie in the car ride down. We’d run out of things to talk about, it seemed, and something told me she wasn’t going to participate in a debate over whether or not Bleach was actually better than Nevermind.

“I hate her.”

The words just stumbled out of me, like the exhale of smoke I made came with a hidden track. I kept my eyes forward, waiting to see if Haley had a response or even heard me in the first place. It’s not like I wanted my dislike for my situation to be kept secret, but the words had come out untethered. I’d never said that before, so I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to see where a phrase like that led.

“Why did you come with her then?” Haley asked.

I sighed. “She’s my legal guardian, so I didn’t really have a choice.”

“What about your parents?”

“Dad left when I was a baby. Mom gave up all parental rights after her billionth DUI. The classic American tale,” I said, taking one last, frustrated drag off my cig and stomping it out on the concrete.

“That really sucks, I’m sorry.” Haley didn’t say it in the bland and blonde voice I’d gotten used to. She meant it. She looked sympathetic. She barely knew me and she looked like she cared, which was more than I could say for a certain sister I knew. Caring, or something that looked like caring, was just a means to an end for Bronwyn, and for Haley, it was genuine humanity. I felt I’d misjudged her, though I still figured she was a cheerleader.

I looked back at Bronwyn, still at the table, tracing the road on the map with her finger. She looked distracted enough. I turned back to Haley and said, “Can you get me out of here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Get me out of here. Get me away from her. Just give me a ride to somewhere, it doesn’t need to be Northridge or L.A. Just far enough away, and I can hitchhike my way back home.”

“Um…” Haley put out her own cig and wiped her hands of any excess ash. “That’s… No, sorry, I don’t think I can do that.”

“I’ll just hide in your trunk or something. Your family doesn’t even need to know.”

“No, that’s a lot. I can’t do that.” Haley backed up a few steps, keeping her skeptical eyes on me for a moment before turning on a heel.

I quickly grabbed her arm. I felt her tense up. She didn’t know what I’d do next. Neither did I. “Please,” I said. “You don’t know what she’s like. She’s unbearable and she doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know what to do with me. I don’t fucking deserve that, man. Please.”

Her arm loosened up in my grasp. I didn’t care how pitiful I looked or sounded. I needed to get away, and what else was I going to do? Dash across the highway and hope not to get smashed like a fly on some truck’s grill?

Haley took in a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. I let go of her arm and wanted to snuggle up to her forever. “But you need to be quiet, all right? My parents can’t know you’re in the car.” I made a zipping motion across my lips. Haley looked around. “Okay,” she said, and we hustled over to her car, a pristine red van fit for a family.

Haley opened the unlocked driver’s door and unlocked the back of the car. There looked to be plenty of space for me to fit—just some backpacks and suitcases and a blue cooler full of waters. But that also meant there weren’t many places for me to be completely hidden. “Here,” I said, grabbing the cooler and a couple of the backpacks. I crawled in and pressed myself up against the back seats. “Now put those things back.” Haley did so. “Can you see me?” I asked.


I adjusted my flannel around my waist and curled up into a ball directly behind the cooler. “How thirsty’s your family?”

“I’ll take some out now. I can still see you, but I guess this is what we got.” Haley opened the cooler and took out some water bottles. “So, just, wait here, I guess.” And she shut the door.

I could picture Brownie freaking out once she realized I wasn’t there anymore. I could see her falling to her knees and asking Jesus to make me appear out of thin air, so she wouldn’t actually have to put any effort into looking for me. I could see her clutching her crucifix until it dug into her hand and it looked like she was experiencing stigmata, something I guessed she would think was kind of cool, a one-with-the-Lord sort of thing. I didn’t want to cause Bronwyn misery, but the thought of it still made me feel pretty good. Maybe that meant I was a bad person, but that didn’t automatically make my sister an innocent fucking martyr.

I tucked myself into more of a fetal position, just to make sure my feet or the top of my head weren’t accidentally peeking out from behind everything that was blocking me. My neck started to get all stiff and my spine started to feel uneven; I pictured it fractured like a tower of Jenga blocks, too many empty spaces, barely balancing. But I stayed with it. I stayed with it for what felt like another hour, but was probably just fifteen minutes, before Haley or anybody from her family returned to their car.

They all piled in at once. I made my breaths quiet and quick, stopping short from actually holding them—I wasn’t going to do something stupid like that. A man, I assume Haley’s dad, cleared his throat several times, like he was trying to execute an itch stuffed behind his larynx. The mom said in an enthusiastic voice that was clearly fake, “Next stop: Grandma’s!” I guessed Grandma was her mother and she wasn’t too happy about going to visit her just like Haley wasn’t. I thought the mom and I could bond over parents we disliked.

“I have to pee,” a young boy said from the back seat—I guessed Haley’s brother.

“You just went,” the dad said back.

“I have to go again.” The brother talked in a whine, a give-me-my-way-or-I’ll-scream kind of thing. It was just for attention, a power play to see what he could get away with. I knew a bunch of boys like that in all the foster homes I was placed in. There was at least one in every bunch. It was interesting to see that even boys with supposedly stable family lives were just as annoying and selfish.

Most of the time, the foster parents would give into these boys’ demands that they didn’t actually desire. These were couples who thought they were making a difference in the world by taking these wayward souls in, so anything that went against that made their pride shrivel. Only one foster mom refused to fulfill these brats’ fake dreams. I admired her. But she also beat us with a sock she kept filled with quarters whenever we were bad, so it wasn’t the biggest admiration.

“Shut up, Eddie,” Haley said from the other end of the back seat.

“I’m gonna pee my pants!”

“You don’t have to pee, shut up!”


“Reid, maybe just take him again?” the mom asked the dad. The dad cleared his throat nine million more times, eventually sighed and got out of the car. He opened the door for Eddie with the small bladder and they walked away.

Haley and her mom sat there in silence. They probably didn’t even realize they shared a mutual hatred for this so-called vacation. Mother had to keep being the boss by sticking to her guns and daughter had to keep her anger quiet because she figured it would fall on deaf ears. This was familiar.

Minutes passed, and I heard footsteps approaching the car, along with a voice I didn’t think I’d be hearing for a long while.

“…and she has green hair. She’s kind of chubby and looks grumpy all the time. She stands out, trust me.” Brownie sounded on the verge of hysterics. She was probably amping up the drama for added effect, kind of how Eddie got his dad to take him to the bathroom again, actually.

“I’m sorry, I haven’t seen her,” the dad said as he opened the door for his son. As he buckled Eddie in, he muttered to the rest of his family, “He didn’t go.”

“Are you sure?” Bronwyn kept going. “I asked everyone here. Where could she have gone? She’s not in the bathrooms, she’s not in the parking lot. Where is she? Where is she?”

“I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” Haley’s dad said. “I hope you find her.” And with that he got in, closed the driver’s side door and started the car.

This was it. I’d gotten away with it. I didn’t know where I was going, but I didn’t care. It was away from her. It was away from the horror of having to spend who knows how long in Tinseltown. It was toward something I wanted, whatever that ended up being.


I looked up. Bronwyn was staring down at me, her fists pressed against the back window, almost in a position of triumph. But she didn’t look triumphant. There was a spot of fear in her eyes. That was only the cherry on top, though, of how pissed off she looked. She banged her fists on the window again.

I leaned back into the seat more, as if that was going to solve anything, and I felt a tug against my waist. I looked down. One of the sleeves of my flannel had been caught in the door when Haley closed it. It was sticking outside for all the world to see.

“Shit,” I whispered.

“Oh my God!” Haley’s mom yelled.

“What is she doing?” Haley’s dad asked no one.

“Vanilla!” Brownie screamed, now banging her flat palms on the window, over and over again, the sweat filling her lifelines smearing across the glass.

“Dad?” Eddie whined.

“What the fuck!” Haley cried.

“Language!” her dad screamed.

“Go, Reid! Go!” her mom wailed.

I felt Haley’s dad release the parking brake and put the car into gear. It began to move. Bronwyn’s face sunk beneath the back door as we moved forward. It was okay. We were officially on our way. There was no way Bronwyn would be stupid enough to chase after a car.

“Savannah!” Bronwyn’s head appeared in the window again. It bobbed up and down as she gained speed and as the van gained speed and as she ran faster and faster. It was like she was powered by some Christ battery or something and it was giving her some kind of weird boost. Weird, and inconvenient for me.

“Get us out of here, Reid!” the mom screamed.

“I am!”

“We’re still here!”

“I’m not going to drive over the barriers!”

“Drive over the barriers!”


The car made a sharp swerve left and bounced over what I guessed was a curb, that thing separating the different rows in the parking lot. The windows skinned themselves on the branches of the trees planted there. Eddie screamed bloody murder.

“Savannah!” Brownie’s voice sounded distant. We’d beaten her.

“What was that?” the dad said.

“Fuck,” Haley sighed.

“Language, young lady!”

“There’s a girl in the back.” So much for female loyalty, I guess.


“That girl’s sister. She’s in the back.”

The car stopped suddenly. The tires screeched, and there was almost a melody in the noise they made, like something hoarse and passionate shooting out of Kurt’s mouth. I don’t know why, but that made me tear up.

The van was put back into park. Haley’s dad quickly got out and appeared in the back window just as Brownie had before. He saw me immediately. He unlocked the back with his key and pushed everything out of the way, grabbing me by the arm and practically dragging me out of the car, shouting in my face, “Who are you?!”

“Reid, be gentle with her.” Haley’s mom trotted up to us. The dad kept his fingers pressed into my arm; his thumbnail was digging into the skin like it was trying to peel off a sticker.

“What are you doing in my car?” the dad continued to shout.

“She was trying to get away from her sister,” Haley said, joining us outside. “I felt sorry for her, so I tried to help her. I didn’t know her sister was nuts.”

“Let go of her!” Her ears probably burning, Bronwyn ran up to this lovely family moment and pushed Haley’s dad away from me, instantly grabbing me herself and digging her own fingernails into the back of my neck. “I should call the cops,” Bronwyn said.

“You’re the psycho who tried to smash my window!”

“To save my sister, you freak! God help you once I report this.”

“We weren’t kidnapping her, you moron,” Haley said. “Jeez, no wonder you hate her,” she said to me as though we were going to stay friends after this. As though we ever were.

“Right, putting a sixteen-year-old girl you don’t know in the back of your van isn’t kidnapping,” Brownie said briskly. “I’m going to the payphone right now. Go ahead and try to leave. I have your license plate memorized and the highway patrol will find you.”

“Brownie, leave them alone,” I muttered.

“Are those even your children? You’re probably a couple of perverted—”

“Don’t talk about my children!” Haley’s mom yelled.

“Satan’s going to have a field day once you get to hell,” Bronwyn said.

“Holy shit, Mom, we should get this girl away from her.” Haley was still trying to save face. I appreciated it, but at the same time, I didn’t, because fuck her, she gave me up.

“What is wrong with you?” Haley’s dad took a threatening step forward. Bronwyn backed the two of us up to stay out of his reach. He actually looked like he wanted to hit us both. He’d make a good foster parent, I thought.

“Brownie, leave them alone!” I shouted. “They didn’t do anything! I was ditching you.”

“Shut up, Savannah, I’ll take care of this,” Bronwyn snapped.

That was like rope around my throat. Yeah, I couldn’t have given any less of a shit about this family, even after I ruined their trip, but they were harmless (unless the dad did decide to hit us). My sister didn’t care, though. She didn’t care what I had to say. It didn’t matter. She’d made up her mind, so everything else was ten times smaller. My voice, my view, me, I didn’t matter. It was typical Bronwyn, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the amount of stupid pulsing off of her at that moment was so close to infinite that I felt like any more would have popped me.

I slapped her.

I drew my right hand back and dropped it down across her cheek like I was swatting a fly. It was a limp slap; I probably wouldn’t have killed the fly. I’d never hit anyone before, except maybe for that time Walt and I play-wrestled and I accidentally smacked him in the ear so hard he swore he heard a ringing in it for three days, so the slap made the noise of pencil dropping on a tiled classroom floor, all light and startling enough to cause an eye roll from the teacher. Still, the way Brownie overcompensated, the way she continued her shining moment on stage, stumbling backwards and falling onto her knees, bracing herself with her palms, which scraped against the concrete, some far-away witness would have thought I’d hit her with a hammer or something.

Everyone went quiet. Haley’s dad almost looked relieved that someone else had hit Bronwyn and he didn’t have to go through with it. Haley herself seemed to have a little grin on her face, like she was proud of me, but it was probably just some popular girl pride in the idea that the weird girl got her ass kicked, even if it was by another weird girl.

Bronwyn looked up at me, and the tears came right on cue with her. Her lip trembled and she reached a hand up to her face, which wasn’t even pink from the impact. Her palms, though, were streaked with this lava red, like someone had painted her hands with a dead rose. There was that stigmata she probably so desperately craved.

I didn’t feel bad. She deserved it, and she wasn’t going to get any sympathy from me by looking like a puppy I’d just yelled at for pissing on a rug. I wanted to say something clever. I wanted to explain in greater detail what had happened. But none of it felt worthwhile; it was all going to be shit I’d already said. What was going to happen? This time she’d miraculously change and take me back home, back to Firebaugh, back to my friends, back to Walt, back to a life I didn’t ask for but at least was mine? Fat fucking chance. I merely shook my head and walked back to the Bug, where I leaned against the passenger’s side door and waited for her to apologize to Haley’s family and come back and get this bullshit over with.

It seemed to take another ten minutes, but Bronwyn finally came back to the car. She wouldn’t look at me. Her eyes were as scratched as her palms and her face was stuck in a permanent pout. She stood by the driver’s door with the keys in her hand, lingering over the lock like she was waiting for permission from God or something. Finally, she unlocked the door, slid inside, leaned over to unlock my door, and stuck the key in the ignition. I got in, buckled myself up, and we pulled out of the Buttonwillow rest area to return to the 5.

Her hands gripped the steering wheel more tightly than I would expect for someone whose palms were still bleeding. She didn’t seem to notice. Her eyes were dedicated to the road in front of her. That’s all she ever cared about: what was in front of her, as though what was behind never happened. None of the bad shit, anyway. It was go go go at all times, a fucking Energizer bunny.

Whatever, I thought, and I leaned my head against the window and watched California zip by.

Time passed slowly. We drove in silence, a silence that was different from the ones before, the ones I found more comfortable. This one felt deadly. Not like if either of us spoke, the other would reach across the Bug and try to kill the other, but more like if either of us spoke, we would be breaking some rule and the punishment would be instant death. We’d be punishing ourselves, and neither of us was looking to do that. The whole thing made my cheeks feel warm and stuck cotton down my throat. It was awful.

Every once in a while, Bronwyn pulled over to consult the map. There was no rhyme or reason to when she did this; one time it seemed as though she pulled over, checked the map, got back in the car, drove a mile, and then pulled over again. I could tell she was panicking, but I really didn’t care.

I started thinking about Walt again, as much as I didn’t want to, but anything was preferable at that point. Our first night together, the night they found Kurt’s body. We both wanted to feel something good, which is probably why we did it more than anything, and then we decided to fool ourselves into thinking it was something like love. Whatever it was, it did feel good, and it felt especially good to lock myself onto his body, my ear on his chest, listening to his heart pump from inside his thin ribs.

Then he started talking. Reciting. Kurt’s words, all from memory. He didn’t sing them, he spoke them, like the poetry they were, the poetry they are:

“I am my own parasite / I don’t need a host to live / We feed off of each other / We can share our endorphins.”

Neither of us had any fucking clue what Kurt was talking about, and yet at the same time, we did. We felt it. Every time we listened, we felt it. And we felt it then when Walt started to say it out loud. And we felt it as he kept speaking, going from “Milk It” to “In Bloom” to “Breed” to “About a Girl” to “Polly” to “Territorial Pissings.” And we felt it when we both started crying and had to feel something good again, so we did it again, and again, the pattern repeating itself, and we got no sleep that night and didn’t give a shit.

I erased Walt’s face from my head for the billionth time and stretched upwards to crack my spine. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was a bunch of crushed tropical Skittles. We were surrounded by mountains that looked dry, all the grass and bushes and trees crispy and some kind of sandy green. I felt small, buried under nature or something. We hadn’t pulled over for a while, so for the briefest of moments, I was hoping we were close to the stupid windmills, so I could both get out of the car and be around something humans had made.

I became aware of the thinnest of hums coming from inside the car. It was almost like high-pitched guitar feedback, slightly distorted and hostile, the amp three seconds from exploding if someone didn’t turn it off quickly enough. I looked around the car, expecting to see some monstrous insect bouncing around the windshield, but instead, I found my sister.

Brownie was whining or crying or slowly suffocating herself or some combo of the three. Her eyes remained fixed forward, as usual, but they were soaked in tears that kept falling; her cheeks looked like polished red apples. She ignored the tears, though, and just kept making that noise, that anxiety-rich sound that normally would have pissed me off, but this time, made me just as anxious.

“Where are we?” I asked, breaking the rule of silence and hoping I’d squeak by with just a warning.

“I don’t know!” Bronwyn immediately barked, cutting her droning short. “I don’t know,” she said again, quieter this time, but nowhere close to calm. “I thought I knew where the windmills were. I looked at the map. I looked at the map over and over again…” She pulled her arms straight, two beams connected to the steering wheel. She lifted up those beams and dropped them back onto the wheel. She howled in pain; I can’t say what kind of pain it was.

Brownie slowed the Bug and pulled over one more time. A cloud of dust rose from the front of the car, like we’d crashed into a ghostly wall. She turned the engine off and slumped in her seat, her arms at her side, her eyes on her legs. She reached up for her crucifix and began to caress it in some kind of silent prayer. “Ow,” she said, and she looked down at the necklace. She’d opened up the scrapes on her hands, and now there was a spot of blood on one of the arms of the cross.

That just made her howl again. She tugged and ripped the crucifix off her neck and flew out of the car. She ran to the edge of the dirt, right before the ground dipped down into the wild, nearly stumbling into the bushes below. She regained her balance, reached back and tossed the crucifix into the air, to the earth, something for the lizards to ignore. She collapsed onto her ass and sat there with her knees up, her head down.

If we were the kinds of sisters who were truly always there for each other, there wouldn’t have been anything to stop me from jumping out of the car after her, holding her in my arms and telling her how I much I loved her and how sorry I was. But we weren’t those kinds of sisters. We weren’t those kinds of people. It’s not like I didn’t, in that moment, feel anything for her. I did, or I at least started to feel something. Maybe it was pity, I don’t know. But I didn’t know what to do with it.

I got out of the car. The dirt crunched under my boots. I leaned against the Bug and just stared outward, keeping Bronwyn out of my line of vision. The sky was now just nectarine over the mountains. Everything smelled like romance, and I pictured Walt sharing this moment with some other chick, which made me sick, so I replaced that image with one of him holding me, but that made me even sicker, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to feel good, but I honestly didn’t know how.

Who does? I thought. That’s all anybody wants, obviously, to feel good, but that isn’t some miracle remedy from all the bullshit. I looked over at Brownie on the ground. She just wanted to feel something good. In her own dumbass way, but still. There she was, trying, and failing, and she hated it. We all hate it. Why shouldn’t we? But the past doesn’t go away when we try to paint over it with “good.” Mom’s still a drunk. Kurt’s still dead.

I walked over to Brownie and stood over her, staring at the sunset. She kept her head down, whimpering softly. She wasn’t acting for any invisible cameras here. This was something real. I crossed my arms and kicked a clod of dirt over the edge and into the bushes. It rustled as it fell, and a small bird zipped out of the bush and into the sky until it was barely a dot.

Neither of us said anything. I just stood there and she just sat there. I figured the sheer act of standing next to her was enough to give her some sense of comfort, but the silence around us only made it seem like we were floating in a void, some fruit-colored void with easily frightened birds.

A warm breeze passed through. It kissed my ears and kept going to spread its affection elsewhere. I thought of something and it made me smirk. That smirk quickly became a chuckle. I tried to sniff the giggles away before Bronwyn noticed, but I think I wanted her to hear them. I just needed to keep being the brooding little sister for at least a few more seconds, even just for myself.

“What?” she said, finally looking up.

“Did you feel that wind?” I said. I looked down at her and smiled. “I bet that was from the windmills.”

Bronwyn blinked and stared at me blankly, red-eyed, close to dead inside for all I knew. Of course she didn’t get it at first; I wouldn’t have been shocked if she didn’t ever get it. But then she started to smile, then smirk, then chuckle herself. She looked over to the sunset, sniffed, and said, “That was normal wind. Don’t be stupid. You’re such an idiot, ‘Nilla.”

“Takes one to know one,” I said.

We both laughed. We laughed for a good minute, I think. They weren’t loud laughs or anything; we weren’t doubled over and our stomachs didn’t start hurting because of it. But it was something.

We stayed there on the side of the road until the stars poked holes in the sky, and then we got back in the Bug and tried to find our way back to the 5, back to the road to Hollywood, back to our search for somewhere that could feel like home.