“The rain is letting up,” Janette whispered, not opening her eyes and not pulling away from her husband and the closeness she felt to him.
“How can you tell?” He whispered back, also not moving.
“I can hear it on the roof of the car.”
“I can’t hear anything over the pounding of my own heart.” Chandler pulled away and looked into her eyes. He gulped and barely paused before commanding, “Don’t ever let that happen again.”
“I won’t.” Janette’s response was firm and committed.
“We won’t,” Chandler clarified.
“We won’t.” Janette nodded her assent. “I promise.”
“I promise too.”
“I promised twenty-five years ago.” She looked down at their adjoined hands, embarrassed that they’d strayed so far off track.
“I made that same promise.” He let go of her hand and lifted her chin with his finger. She met his gaze. “And I’m reaffirming that, here and now. I will never allow us to get that far off the same page.”
“I appreciate that. I can’t do this alone. I can’t be alone.”
“I know. And I’m sorry.”
“Let’s just go forward from here,” she said, placing her hand on his cheek. He turned toward her palm and placed a kiss there.
“I say we go forward… to our hotel.” Chandler sat back and pointed to the device in her hand. “Can you check your magic crystal ball and see what direction is safe to drive?” He turned and placed both hands on the steering wheel.
“In about a half mile, we should turn left, which is west, and within a few moments we should be completely out of the rain.”
“Sounds great.” He shifted the car into gear and drove slowly forward, pulling fully onto the road and away from the ditch beside them. The side road appeared through the curtain of rain, and he turned on his signal as if there was anyone around to see it.
They drove west, straight into the wind and rain making visibility even worse than it had been a moment ago, although not as bad as five minutes prior. The rain was letting up. Barely.
Within a few minutes, just as Janette had predicted, the rain stopped almost suddenly, and they were greeted with the sun shining low on the western horizon creating sparkling rainbows of color.
As her eyes came into focus, so did the rainbow, a brilliant arc of light more glorious than the Gateway Arch could ever appear. The colors took her breath away and she heard Chandler gasp beside her. It was like the universe was showing them how beautiful life could be.
Life wasn’t quite so beautiful on the ground. The storm that was now behind them had left havoc on the landscape. Not as bad as if a tornado had come through, but debris blown around, dust and sagebrush and mud. Just… ugly. Almost as if the landscape couldn’t decide if it wanted to respond to the wind or the temporary rainstorm.
In Michigan, everything was green. A summer storm would have knocked trees down and branches and leaves would be strewn everywhere. The grass and streams would be able to absorb the water that fell from the sky. Here in the desolate wasteland that existed somewhere between Texas and New Mexico, dried creek beds swelled with muddy wash that would only last long enough to flow past and evaporate or soak into the desert. Flash flooding took on new meaning here.
By the time they wandered their way back to the interstate, they weren’t certain if they’d crossed the Stateline yet. While skirting the storm they’d gone far off the beaten path. Finally, the Subaru Outback called out, “Welcome to New Mexico.”
“Thank you,” Janette said, like she always did each time her car welcomed her to a new state. “How many hours to Albuquerque, I wonder?”
“You’re the one with the crystal ball in your hand,” Chandler said. “Ask Google.”
“I don’t even know where we are,” she said.
“Obviously, we are at the Stateline between Texas and New Mexico,” Chandler said.
“Ah, look there’s a truck and travel center,” Janette read on the sign. “Let’s stop. I need to use the restroom.”
“Of course, you do.” Chandler turned on the signal and pulled off the interstate.
“Oh, Google Maps says we’re three hours from our hotel in Albuquerque.”
“The storm is behind us,” Chandler said, pulling up to one of the gas pumps. “The open road is before us, and I get to sit beside the girl of my dreams the whole way. I think I can handle three more hours.”
Janette was on cloud nine bouncing on her toes all the way to the ladies’ room until she caught wind of the smell emanating from within. She put her hand over her nose wondering how she could keep her hand on her nose long enough to pull her pants down with the other.
Then she heard heaving from within one of the stalls and she took a step back. She didn’t know if whoever was heaving was because of the smell or if the woman who was sick was the source of the smell. Maybe both. Janette kept backing away and practically ran to the car, arriving just as Chandler was replacing the fuel cap.
“That was quick,” he said.
“I can’t use that bathroom.” She pointed toward the building. “A woman is puking in there.”
Chandler laughed. “You can’t handle a few minutes of hearing someone puke long enough to go to the bathroom?”
“No, I cannot.” She headed to the passenger side door.
“Janette, there are no other stops for a long time.”
“If I have to hold it for the next three hours,” she said through gritted teeth. “I will. I cannot use that bathroom.”
“Okay, it’s your bladder.” Chandler pulled the receipt from the pump and handed it to her then closed the door and walked around the car to get in the driver’s seat. Janette tucked the receipt in the glove compartment with the growing pile of evidence of just how much money they were spending on this trip.
“You have to stop at the next exit,” Janette said before they’d even pulled onto the interstate.
“What happened to three hours?” Chandler laughed.
“Oh, please, you know me better than that. Be glad I’m not making you pull off to the side of the road and pee behind a tree.”
“What tree? Do you see any trees?”
“Well, what do you call them? Shrubs?”
“Those aren’t shrubs,” he said.
“Scrubs? Is that a thing?” She looked around at the brown ugly bushes that seemed to grow out of the rocky, dusty, mud that was drying in the sun almost as fast as it had become wet from the rain.
“I don’t know, but they sure are ugly.”
“I don’t know how anyone could live here,” Janette said. “I want the green of Michigan.”
“Do you see anybody living here?” Chandler reached out his hand, displaying the empty landscape. “There are no houses as far as the eye can see.”
“True.” She looked around.
“No rest areas, either,” he reminded her.
“I see that.”
“You should have gone while we were at the gas station.”
“I couldn’t,” she growled at him.
“You’ve got to get over this paranoia,” he said, shaking his head.
“Tell you what,” she said. “The next time we have children you puke for nine months straight and see if you are paranoid too.”
“That whole statement’s ridiculous on so many levels, I don’t know where to start.”
“Then don’t start at all.” She folded her arms and scowled. “I thought we weren’t going to fight anymore.”
“Old habits die hard,” Chandler grumbled.
They only had to travel fifteen more minutes to get to another little town where Janette happily bought a Diet Coke to compensate the nice people at the gas station for letting her use their restroom.
As they settled back into the car and Janette clicked her seat belt into place, Chandler stole a sip of her pop.
“Nice and cold,” he said, then pulled out of the parking lot. “We might both need a rest room again sometime between here and Albuquerque.”
“Great, more gas station bathrooms,” Janette said with false enthusiasm. “I can’t wait.”