“Gas,” I repeated, and in my mind, I could hear Delia’s voice, echoing this, finally remembering with a palm slapped to her forehead. Gas.
Wes already had his door open and was getting out, letting it fall shut behind him. I did the same, then walked around the van to the deserted road, looking both ways.
I’d heard people talk about being in the middle of nowhere, but it had always been an exaggeration. Now, though, as I took in the flat pastureland on either side of us, it seemed completely appropriate. No cars were in sight. I couldn’t even see any houses anywhere nearby. The only light was from the moon, full and yellow, halfway up the sky.
“How far,” I said, “would you say it is to the nearest gas station?”
Wes squinted back the way we’d come, then turned and looked ahead, as if gathering facts for a scientific guess. “No idea,” he said finally. “Guess we’ll find out, though.”
We pushed the van over to the side of the road, then rolled up the windows and locked it. Everything sounded loud in the quiet: our footsteps, the door shutting, the owl that hooted overhead, making me jump. I stood in the middle of the road while Wes did a last check of the van, then walked over, his hands in his pockets, to join me.
“Okay,” he said, “now we decide. Left or right?”
I looked one way, then the other. “Left,” I said, and we started walking.
“Green beans,” Wes said.
“Spaghetti,” I replied.
He thought for a second, and in the quiet, all I could hear was our footsteps. “Ice cream,” he said.
“What’s with all the I words?” he said, tipping his head back and staring up at the sky. “God.”
“I told you,” I said. “I’ve played this game before.”
He was quiet for a minute, thinking. We’d been walking for about twenty minutes, and not one car had passed. I had my cell phone with me, but Kristy wasn’t picking up, Bert wasn’t home, and my mother was at a meeting, so we were pretty much on our own, at least for the time being. After going along in silence for a little while, Wes had suggested that we play a game, if only to make the time pass faster. It was too dark for I Spy, so I suggested Last Letter, First Letter, which he’d never heard of. I even let him pick the category, food, but he was still struggling.
“Instant breakfast,” he said finally.
“That’s not food.”
“Sure it is.”
“Nope. It’s a drink.”
He looked at me. “Are you seriously getting competitive about this?”
“No,” I said, sliding my hands in my pockets. A breeze blew over us, and I heard the leaves on the trees nearby rustling. “But it is a drink, not a food. That’s all I’m saying.”
“You’re a rule person,” he said.
“My sister was a cheater. It sort of became necessary.”
“She cheated at this game?”
“She cheated at everything,” I said. “When we played Monopoly, she always insisted on being banker, then helped herself to multiple loans and ‘service fees’ for every real estate transaction. I was, like, ten or eleven before I played at someone else’s house and they told me you couldn’t do that.”
He laughed, the sound seeming loud in all the quiet. I felt myself smiling, remembering.
“During staring contests,” I said, “she always blinked. Always. But then she’d swear up and down she hadn’t, and make you go again, and again. And when we played Truth, she lied. Blatantly.”
“Truth?” he said, glancing over his shoulder as something— another owl, I hoped—hooted behind us. “What’s that?”
I looked at him. “You never played Truth, either?” I asked. “God, what did you guys do on long car trips?”
“We,” he said, “discussed politics and current events and engaged in scintillating discourse.”
“I’m kidding,” he said, smiling. “We usually read comics and beat the crap out of each other until my dad threatened to pull over and ‘settle things once and for all.’ Then, when it was just my mom, we sang folk songs.”
“You sang folk songs,” I said, clarifying. Somehow I couldn’t picture this.
“I didn’t have a choice. It was like the lentil loaf, no other options.” He sighed. “I know the entire Woody Guthrie catalog.”
“Sing something for me,” I said, nudging him with my elbow. “You know you want to.”
“No,” he said flatly.
“Come on. I bet you have a lovely singing voice.”
“Wes,” I said, my voice serious.
“Macy,” he replied, equally serious. “No.”
For a minute we walked in silence. Far, far off in the distance, I saw headlights, but a second later they turned off in another direction, disappearing. Wes exhaled, shaking his head, and I wondered how far we’d walked already.
“Okay, so Truth,” he said. “How do you play?”
“Is this because you can’t think up another I food?” I asked.
“No,” he said indignantly. Then, “Maybe. How do you play?”
“We can’t play Truth,” I told him, as we crested a small hill, and a fence began on one side of the road.
“Because,” I said, “it can get really ugly.”
“It just can. You have to tell the truth, even if you don’t want to.”
“I can handle that,” he said.
“You can’t even think of an I food,” I said.
“Ice milk,” I said. “Italian sausage.”
“Okay, fine. Point proved. Now tell me how to play.”
“All right,” I said. “But you asked for it.”
He just looked at me. Okay, I thought. Here we go.
“In Truth,” I said, “there are no rules other than you have to tell the truth.”
“How do you win?” he asked.
“That,” I said, “is such a boy question.”
“What, girls don’t like to win?” He snorted. “Please. You’re the one who got all rule driven on me claiming Instant Breakfast isn’t a food.”
“It’s not,” I told him. “It’s a beverage.”