On The Way Home
They were driving North to Atlanta. There was work there, and the three of them could easily share an apartment, assuming they could find someone willing to rent month to month. They had stopped at an exit devoid of life save a truck stop and a barbecue joint. Knowing barbecue is best when made for locals, it was an easy decision to lunch there. The waitress was vibrant, but perhaps too young to go with them. They didn’t want trouble following the car, and so after leaving, the one with the biggest smile and the most dishonest eyes crumpled up the receipt she had written her telephone number on, and left it in place of their car in the parking lot.
Around the time they could comfortably speak again without the stretching of their bellies causing casual discomfort, the smell drifted in through the air conditioning vents.
Maple at first. Pine. A touch of dogwood, though it wasn’t immediately identified as such.
It became hard to see the horizon, obscured as it was by a great cloud, and as the air thickened, they debated, at first internally, and finally aloud whether they should continue or pull over.
Smoke inhalation was a chief concern, combined, as it was, with the operation of a motor vehicle. Driving further into the cloud could have been dangerous. There was a popular adage that seemed prudent, though it also weighed in on their second option, of pulling over until it dissipated. What if dissipation was not guaranteed?
They continued on, in transit and conversation, though their topics began to stray. They discussed recent films, the plot of a science fiction comic wherein a man became a god while his friends were left far away from home, foods they enjoyed or hated and their reasons for doing so, and finally the girl one of them admitted to having a crush on. The driver expressed his disapproval. The other gave words of encouragement. The one who had spoken aloud first now said nothing, and as the haze lifted, the three sat in silence, and thought about the girl they loved.