Emily had practically thrown all of her clothes into a suitcase and then hurled it into the car. She hated the idea of leaving the city – leaving her friends. Even though most of her friends were probably in jail, it still felt wrong to be abandoning them. Zach and Ana were the ones who supported her through her parents’ death. They were the ones who provided her comfort and didn’t ask any questions. And now Dana was pulling Em away from them and into the country to a grandfather she had never met. The whole thing seemed a bit skeptical and unplanned. It didn’t make sense to Emily at all, and she continued to grumble about it throughout the car ride. A ranch. With horses. And cows. And chickens. And inside pets. The thought of it all just made Emily squirm. It would smell different. And her grandpa was expecting her to work. Ha! But no matter what Emily said, her stubborn twenty-two year old sister was not going to change her mind.
“It’ll be good for you,” Dana kept repeating every time Emily brought it up.
It’ll be good for me. Yeah, right, Em thought to herself. This “vacation” – as her sister called it – was pulling Emily away from the only life she knew. The girl was born and raised in the city. She was used to the tall buildings and tight spaces. She enjoyed hearing the traffic at night; in fact, it helped her sleep. When she looked out the window, the furthest she could see was the apartment building next door. And the graffiti made her smile. Some people thought it was horrific and needed to be removed, but she thought it was beautiful. And what about the dark alley ways where she and her friends would go smoke? Those were some of the best memories she had. Those were the days where she didn’t have to worry about anything. Not her parents. Not her sister. Not tomorrow. It was just her and the clouds. She would never have an experience like that in the country. It wasn’t like she could bring her own weed and smoke in the barn. And if her grandfather smoked – which he probably did – he wasn’t going to share with her. The horrible truth was that Emily would have to let go of everything she knew and start again. Which was exactly what Dana wanted, and Emily hated it.
After several hours of silence, Emily piped up. “What’s he like?”
“Who?” Dana requested, focusing on the road.
“Oh…” Dana trailed off, trying to remember. It had been a long time since she’d seen him. She was only in elementary school, and Emily wasn’t born yet. “He’s nice.”
“Nice? That’s all you can say about him? He’s nice?”
“Well, he can be grumpy. But overall, he’s caring. It’ll take a while to get used to him.”
Not satisfied with the answer, Emily went back to silence. She stared out the window and watched as the city disappeared behind them. Her home. Dana wasn’t certain on how long they’d be gone. Dana didn’t even promise that she would stay with her little sister. All Emily knew was that Dana was taking her out to live with a stranger and work with animals. No matter how much Emily fussed and whined and argued and yelled, Dana was not going to budge on her decision. It was a long trip to Texas, and Emily was going to hate every minute of it.
The trip started with the two sisters bickering with each other. Emily was begging Dana to turn around and take her back. Em even promised to be good and never smoke again, but Dana didn’t believe her. Her little sister had broken her trust too many times for Dana to believe her now. After the bickering, Emily grumbled to herself and gazed out the window. The tall buildings began to disappear, and the ground began to flatten out. Soon there was nothing but open space and every once in a while a farm house. The girl would pull out her phone and hover over Zach’s number, but she would never call or text him. What would the point be? He was either in jail or too high to care. It wasn’t like he was going to drive all the way to Texas to retrieve her. He would just find somebody else to flirt with and give free weed to. That was just a fact that Emily would have to live with. And it hurt more than Em expected. She was used to the life she had, and all of the hurdles it came with. It was extremely difficult to get used to life after her parents died, and now it was going to be difficult to get used to a life in a new place. Emily knew it wasn’t true, but it almost felt as though her sister was punishing her. She probably deserved it, though, after all of the things she’d done. All of the drugs. All of the robberies. All of the arrests. All Dana wanted to do was give her sister a new start, a new life. And Emily would just have to deal with it because the older sister wasn’t about to turn the car around and head back to the city.
Secretly, though, Dana also wanted a new start. She had to become the ‘working mother’ after her parents died, and it was wasting away at her. Working the three jobs wasn’t a life that Dana wanted. Struggling to feed her sister, pay the bills, keeping everything under control. Every day she would wake up tired and hungry, and every night she would go to bed with an empty stomach. She sacrificed all her food for her sister because that’s what family did. That’s what her parents would’ve wanted her to do. But now that Emily was going to be in Texas for a while, Dana finally had an opportunity to get a different life. She wasn’t going to drop her sister off and then forget about her. Her plan was to let Emily spend some time on the ranch and then Dana would head back to the city. She would get a proper job and find a better home. She would prepare a better life for Emily when it was finally time for her to come back to the city. That was Dana’s plan as of right now. She just needed to be separated from her sister for a while to breathe. And Emily needed to get away from everything and experience something different. It wasn’t a punishment; it was a helping hand.
“How much further?” Emily whined, poking through the snack bag.
“Several more hours, I’m afraid,” Dana sighed.
Emily found a bag of Goldfish and peeled it open. She loudly munched on them, annoying her sister. Dana tried to tolerate it for a while. She would flinch every time Emily loudly bit down on one of the crackers. Emily, of course, was doing it on purpose. She would watch her sister’s reaction and try to be even more annoying. Eventually, Dana had enough.
“How about some music!” she shouted, trying not to get too irritated at her little sister.
Emily grumbled, knowing her sister would pick something awful. Dana pulled out her IPod and scrolled through her music. She knew her sister hated Disney music, country, and instrumental music. She contemplated about being nice and picking something Emily would also like, but she decided not to. After all, Emily was being annoying, so Dana was going to be annoying back. Eventually she found what she was looking for and turned up the volume. Country music began blaring from every speaker, and Dana opened her mouth and sang along with it. Emily immediately reached for the volume and turned it all the way down.
“Hey!” Dana protested.
“Pick something else!”
“No! Driver picks the music,” Dana declared, turning the volume back up. “Passenger shuts their mouth.”
Emily grabbed the hood of her sweater and pulled it up over her ears. Her sister had a terrible singing voice; she sounded like a dying cow to Emily’s ears. And she sang as loud as she could, which hurt Emily’s sensitive ears. This was going to be an extremely long car ride…
The country music was still turned up as loud as it could go and Dana was still singing to her heart’s content. Emily had eaten almost everything in the snack bag: Oreos, Goldfish, chewy snacks, apples (even though she hated them), and anything else that was buried in the bottom. She had tried to sleep, but couldn’t due to her sister’s obnoxious singing. She found a filthy pillow in the back seat and crushed it over her ear to drown out her sister, but it didn’t help. Emily even politely asked her older sister to sing quieter, but Dana was determined to sing the whole way to Texas. It was pointless to mess with the volume of the music because Dana would just turn it back up again, so Emily unwillingly tolerated it.
They had gotten out in the middle of the nowhere, as Emily liked to call it. There were no city streets and no skyscrapers. Only rolling hills and telephone poles. The road looked like it stretched on forever. Every once in a while a farm would greet them, or cows would run across the road. One time, when several cows did bolt in front of the car, Dana had to slam on her breaks. Emily was attempting to sleep and got thrown into the dashboard. It took her a while to figure out what had happened, but once she did she watched in shock. The girl tugged on her headphones and watched as the entire herd of cows trotted across the road. Of course she had seen cows before, but she had never seen so many in one place. She had seen pictures and movies, but these cows in front of her made her realize that she would have to work with them once they got to the ranch. They would no longer be separated from her; they would be living next door and their awful smell would probably fill the house. Disgusted at the thought, Emily put her headphones back in and covered her face with her sweater hood.
Dana continued to drive with the music turned up, but she had, finally, stopped singing. Emily was finally able to get some rest, however unsettling it might be. The sun was starting to sink, which cast a beautiful sun set over the horizon. In the city, the sun would reflect off of the buildings and windows, but out in the middle of nowhere it was one single light; no reflections. It was also impossible to see the stars in the city because of all the lights, but Dana was looking forward to stargazing out in the country. She could point out the constellations with Em, and they would fall asleep under the stars. The last time she was at the ranch, her father took her out in the backyard and they would stargaze until sleep took over. That was one of Dana’s favorite memories of her dad. There were no city distractions; just the sound of nature and the sparkling dots in the sky.
“See that one, Dan-Dan?” her father pointed out. “That’s the big dipper. And that one, that’s Orion’s belt.”
Dana and her father were laying down the backyard staring up at the sky. They were both in jeans and t-shirts; the Texas weather made them sweat in almost anything else. Dana had on her brand-new cowgirl boots with pink stripes up the sides. Her flimsy cowgirl hat was lying next to her in the grass. Her dad’s cowboy boots were flung off to the side and his ugly toes were sticking up out of the grass. Dana giggled every time he wiggled them up in the air. Her laughter was treasure to her father’s ears, but that was soon going to change; Dana’s mom was pregnant with her little sister. She was in the house with Dana’s grandpa and she had a watermelon on her stomach. Even though the girl was in elementary school and was old enough to understand it all, it still felt weird. She had been the only child for her entire life, and now her parents were going to have another one. She was excited, of course, but there was a part of her that was jealous. Was she not good enough? Dana’s father noticed her silence and glanced up at the house. He could see his glowing wife through the kitchen window. His father was standing next to her and they were carrying on a conversation that was making her laugh. The girl’s father turned back towards Dana and pulled her closer to him.
“I know it’s going to be weird, Dana,” he started, his husky voice ringing across the sky. “I know you’re used to being the only one in the house. But this will be good for all of us. Your mother and I have always wanted two adorable daughters, and now is our chance.”
“I know, papa.”
“I know you do,” he confirmed. “You’ll be the oldest, so it will be your job to take care of little M&M. Show her the ropes, stuff like that. Do you think you can do that, Dan-Dan?”
Dana glanced up at her mother and then back at her dad. “I’ll take care of her, papa. I promise.”
“That’s my girl,” her father kissed her on the head and then went back to pointing out constellations.
“I promise, papa,” Dana whispered to herself, flicking away a tear.
Dana glanced over at her sleeping sister and grabbed a blanket from the backseat. She threw it over Emily and pulled it up to cover the girl’s shoulders. She had promised to take care of her baby sister, and that was exactly what she was going to do. She reached over and turned the country music down so that Dana could only hear it and turned the bright lights on. It was getting late and Dana was starting to get sleepy. She began looking for a place to stop, hoping that a hotel or motel showed up soon. They were in the middle of farm territory, so it was unlikely to find a place. However, Dana continued to drive until she found a safe place to stop. If she couldn’t find a hotel, she would just pull over on the side of the road, or stop in a gas station, and sleep for a couple hours. It wasn’t the best thing to do, but it would have to do because Dana didn’t want to fall asleep at the wheel. She drove for what felt like another hour before spotting a sketchy looking gas station. There were a couple farm houses around, so she figured it wouldn’t be too bad of a place to stop. She pulled her rickety station wagon into the lot and pulled up to a gas pump. It would be better to fill up now than in the morning, Dana figured. She turned off the car and pulled her keys out of the ignition before climbing out. She inserted her card into the gas pump, but then she heard it beep. Card declined. Dana gave an irritated sigh. She groaned in the back of her throat and looked up at the sky.
“If you’re up there, God, you must really not like me right now.”
Dana shoved her card back into her wallet and searched for a few dollars. She found a twenty-dollar bill and marched inside the gas station. She swung the door open and walked into a cloud of smoke. Dana waved the smoke away and coughed as she made her way to the register. The clerk saw her and immediately put out his cigarette.
“I’m so sorry!” he apologized. “People don’t usually come by during the night. How can I help you?”
Dana placed the twenty dollars on the counter. “I’d like to fill up. Pump two.” The clerk plugged the twenty dollars into the register. “I was also wondering if I could stay parked in the lot and rest for a couple hours. I haven’t found a hotel anywhere, and really need to take a break from driving.”
“You’re probably the only one who’s going to show up tonight, so go for it.”
Dana marched back outside and began filling up her station-wagon. The pump was running slow, so she leaned against her car and stared up at the sky. She immediately found the big dipper and started looking for the little one. Her father once told her that the little dipper was the hardest to find, but one of these days she was going to find it. It took her father his whole life to find most constellations, and it was his goal to find all of them. Unfortunately, he never got that chance. The gas pump suddenly stopped, snapping Dana out of her thoughts. She took the nozzle out of her car and placed it back on the gas pump. With a big yawn, Dana climbed back into her car and parked in an actual parking spot. She turned her car off again and locked the doors. She dug through her backseat and found an old blanket that had been there for who knows how long. She leaned her seat all the way back and tugged off her cowgirl boots with the pink stripes. After adjusting herself in her seat, she set her phone alarm to go off in three hours. Once it went off, she would simply get a cup of coffee and continue driving. But for now, she was going to get some much needed sleep.
Dana leaned over to her little sister and made sure the blanket was snug around Emily. “Goodnight, Em.”
Emily adjusted herself and then continued snoring. Dana shook her head at Em’s response, and then rolled over and closed her eyes. This day had started as a nightmare. The two sisters couldn’t stop yelling at each other; they fought about everything. Emily was the back-seat-driver that Dana didn’t need. She kept telling her which way to turn, and how to hold the steering wheel, and to watch out for the cows. Then they would argue about the music, and the snacks, and about turning the car around and heading back home. They spent more hours than Dana wanted to count yelling at each other, but the last couple hours was pretty peaceful. Emily had finally fallen asleep, and Dana could finally hear her own thoughts. Tomorrow would probably be the same, but for now Dana was going to cherish the peace and quiet.
“It’s not like the world is going to end, Dana,” her father reassured her, tucking her in to bed.
“But, I’m so used to having things my way. I’ll have to share my room and my things. And a baby is so loud, papa. They whine all the time,” Dana exaggerated.
Her father chuckled, shaking his head. “They don’t whine all the time, Dana. Just when they want something.”
“Everything’ll be fine. I promise. And it’s not like we’ll treat you any less. You do know that, right?”
“I know,” Dana grumbled.
“Good,” her father smiled. “Now get some sleep and stop worrying. Everything’ll work out.”
Dana’s father leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. She watched him leave and then rolled over and closed her eyes. A little sister… Dana was going to get a little sister… She had no idea how to feel about that.