Yesterday, my friend Caitlyn offered to provide a writing prompt to some folks on Twitter. I accepted the challenge. She gave me the first sentence. The rest was up to me…
“Let’s go, sugarbeet,” he said and snapped on the light. He was holding two duffle bags, one very light, the other very heavy. It was her car, and she had slept with the keys.
“Ugh… what time is it?” she asked groggily. She was disoriented by her surroundings. Even this voice, the one calling her “sugarbeet” was unfamiliar to her. The first thing she noticed when her senses began to fully awaken was the smell. It was a disgusting mixture of beer and body odor.
“It don’t matter what time it is! Get up! We gotta go!” He raised his voice, clearly becoming more agitated with each second that ticked by. “Get out of there, I need to throw these in.”
She finally opened her eyes and realized she was in the back seat of her car. “Why can’t you put them in the trunk?” she asked as she slowly moved to exit the vehicle.
“Trunk’s full of your crap!” he yelled, adding frustration to his limited range of emotion. “You think I like having this stuff exposed like this?”
Alice stood beside the car and watched as Joe tossed the duffle bags into the back seat. Standing this close to him, she could tell he was the source of the body odor and beer smells that she had detected when she first woke. Watching him move, she found herself wishing that she had never met him. But you don’t get to pick your family.
“Drive,” Joe commanded, grabbing Alice by the arm and pulling her toward the front of the car.
“Not until you tell me where we’re going and what’s in those bags!” Now it was Alice’s turn to raise her voice.
She wasn’t worried about making a scene. Hers was the only car in a darkened hotel parking lot. The only other person in a 10-mile radius was probably the desk clerk who was likely sleeping on a cot in the hotel’s back office.
Alice almost regretted showing a backbone and refusing to give in to Joe’s demands. For a moment, she thought sure that her brother was going to hit her. It wouldn’t be the first time. She wasn’t about to let it slide if it happened again, though.
“Where do you get off questioning me?” he asked, his face now turning red. “I tell you what to do and you do it!”
“Fine!” Alice shouted as she slid into the driver’s seat. Joe walked around and got in on the other side.
“Just head toward Abilene. I’m going to sleep.”
“Good,” said Alice, under her breath.
“What was that?” asked Joe, reigniting his anger.
“That’s what I thought,” he said as he looked over at her out of the corner of his eye. “You’re lucky I don’t smack that smart mouth of yours.”
Yeah, lucky me, she thought, keeping it to herself this time.
Alice buckled her seat belt, started up the car and pulled out of the parking lot, prepared for a hundred-plus mile drive in the wee hours of the morning. According to the clock on the dash, dawn was still a couple hours away.
Her anger built as she drove down the road. She couldn’t understand how she had gotten to this point in such a short span of time. Things were going great for Alice for the first time since she was a kid. She was finally sober and had been so for six months. And then her big brother came back into her life a week ago, whispering all those negative things in her ear as he’d done during her high school years.
“I just need your help with one little thing, sugarbeet,” Joe had said only two days before. “You just need to drive me up to Round Rock. You can drop me off there at my buddy’s place and, if you want, you’ll never have to hear from me again.”
If only, she had thought. “All right. But just to Round Rock. And if your friend isn’t there, I’m leaving you anyway. Got it?”
“Got it,” Joe said, acting completely innocent. But Alice knew there was something more sinister beneath his simple request for a ride to a friend’s house. Joe had never had a real friend in his entire life. Only people he used or used up until they were no good to him anymore. In that sense, to him, family had been no different. Alice knew she was being used.
When they had arrived in Round Rock, she stopped at the curb in front of Joe’s buddy’s place. She thought about just slowing down and telling him to tuck and roll. “Wait here for a sec,” he said as he got out of the car.
“No! The deal was I drop you off no matter what. See ya, big brother!”
“Please! Come on!”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Fine. You have two minutes!”
Joe grinned, “I only need one.”
Joe disappeared into the house. Seconds later, Alice heard gunshots. She should have put her foot down on the gas pedal without looking back. But, in her panic, she froze. Her eyes went wide as she stared at the front door. Joe burst through the door, leapt down the porch steps, and ran to the car carrying what looked like a manila envelope. Climbing back in the car he screamed, “GO!”
Alice couldn’t find her voice. Joe was breathing heavily and, she could have sworn, was laughing as he quickly looked back toward the house from which they were now speeding away.
“What just happened?!” she finally asked.
“Oh, calm down, sugarbeet! They were just warning shots,” he said as he laughed again.
Joe opened the envelope and read the slip of paper inside. “Take me to the bus depot on Bowman,” he said as he tipped the envelope over, letting a small key slide into his hand.
Thus began a whirlwind road trip that had not stopped since it began. Not exactly a dream vacation, thought Alice.
After driving for 15 minutes, Alice could tell that her brother was asleep. He would be dead to the world until they got to Abilene. Adjusting her rearview mirror, she looked back at the duffle bags in the back seat. She had to know what was inside them. What was it that caused her to get caught up in her brother’s, she assumed, illegal activities?
Carefully, she reached behind her and found the zipper to the heavier of the two bags. Giving herself just enough room to reach a hand inside, she felt around. Alice did not have a lot of experience with firearms, but she knew a shotgun when she felt it. And it wasn’t alone. The bag was full of guns. “What in the–?”
She zipped up the first bag and reached for the second. Inside this, she found what felt like small plastic bottles… pill bottles. “Drugs?” she said quietly. She knew Joe was a heavy sleeper, but she didn’t want to take any chances. “What have you gotten me into?” she whispered, shooting her sleeping brother a look that could kill.
Alice had no love for her brother. She would have given anything to see him locked away in a place where he could never touch her or their mother again. But he had smashed her phone before they left the bus station in Round Rock when she threatened to call mom. Now that she knew she was an apparent accomplice in the trafficking of drugs and firearms, she wanted to call the police to turn him in.
The wheels in her head turned feverishly. What can I do? She noticed a sign for a gas station that was five miles up ahead. It was the only sign of civilization that they had come across since leaving the hotel. He wouldn’t even let me get a good night’s sleep there! No! Sleep in the car! Alice thought as her rage continued to build.
She looked back to her brother. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Idiot. And then she had an epiphany. If I aim just right, she thought as she checked her own seatbelt. She had an airbag. The passenger’s side did not. In just a few miles, she would be able to get away. Alice would get away and find help. She was willing to face the consequences of her actions, just as long as Joe was forced to face the consequences of his.
In less than a minute, the gas station was in sight. It was dark, closed. Good, she thought. Alice adjusted the steering wheel ever so slightly and floored it.