Left Behind

The rough stitches from my leather wallet dig into my hands as my fingers grip the square thing within now heated palms.

“God damnit, George, I can’t believe you haven’t let this down yet. Your mother can not come to Thanksgiving this year. It’s bad enough she and her smug face were there last year. Ever since we were officially married, she’s basically disowned you and probably started plotting my murder. I don’t know why you would want to bring that kind of negativity into our home, around our kids. I don’t want it, that’s for damn sure.”

“Jesus Christ!” George shoots back through his teeth. “What the hell is so wrong with dealing with someone you don’t like for a day!? You don’t think I don’t want your father there? With what he and I went through around Christmas last year?” He pauses, presses two fingers to the bridge of his nose, and in a low voice, says “Sam, I’m not dealing with this right now. It’s literally midnight and we’re supposed to be on vacation.”

He sits back and crosses his arms, avoiding my fiery eyes in favor of the game show playing on the TV behind me. I stuff my wallet into the pocket of my grey sweatpants, wrap a thin black hoodie around my torso, and slam the door of our hotel room.

I take a moment to steady myself on the railing of the balcony in front of our room, breathing the cold air in and puffing it out in small, furious clouds. A cold wind soon chaps my cheeks and reminds me of the task at hand. I slide slippered feet across the rough cement towards the steps to the parking lot.

Before our little incident, we had decided to make some cereal as a midnight snack. What was once a suggestion to grab some milk from the convenience store a few blocks away has now become a necessary moment of separation. Our tempers have always been able to stay in check, but when it comes to family drama, George and I can never seem to agree.

Searching for the car in the small lot, disrupted by a pool in it’s center, I spy our Burgundy sedan sitting, slightly crooked, in a spot. I soon have the car unlocked, the keys in the ignition, and am waiting to merge onto the main road from the lot.

Flashing signs and billboard lights from both directions distract my tired eyes from making the turn several times before I finally do. I spy people walking along the road, laughing jovially, wobbling with intoxication, and peering into shop windows, pointing out the things they’d buy if they hadn’t gambled away all of their wares earlier in the day.

The convenience store is only a few minutes away and in no time, I’ve pulled into the parking lot. The door jingles and I’m soon bathed in artificial, yellow light. I note the clerk and send a small wave and a flat-mouthed smile to the white woman standing behind the counter. Her teased red curls bounce and her blue-lidded eyes blink as she nods to me in reply.

Near the back of the story, I see a neon sign that signifies the Dairy section and shuffle over towards it. I wrap my hands around the handle of a quart of 2% and spot a sale sticker next to a shelf of small chocolate milk bottles. A smile smile breaks through the grimace my angered face still carried and I was reminded of George.

Yeah, he was the one making me mad right now, but he always lit up like a kid in a candy store when I surprised him with his favorite drink. God, it was even his favorite brand too.

As frustrated with my husband as I was, I palmed two buy-one-get-one-free chocolate milk bottles and headed back to the register.

Although I had seen her seconds ago and we had made eye contact, there was no sign of the clerk behind the counter.

I waited for a few moments before hitting the bell on the counter that read ring ONCE for service in sloppy, handwritten letters across the tarnished silver dome. I patted at my sides for my phone to alleviate some of the boredom and frustration that rose in me as I continued to wait, but found nothing there.

I even stood on my tiptoes to check that she hadn’t hidden behind the counter to avoid being personable. All I saw was her phone lying on the rubber mat beneath the stool on which she was sitting when I entered.

I saw nothing, and as my impatience grew, so did the anger I’d been feeling in waves for the last 10 minutes. I stormed past the counter and pushed open a dirty black door with a scratched circular window at eye-level. I slammed my fist into the thing three times and it swung open on it’s own after the third.

I walked through, furious breath now being forced through my nostrils with each step I took.

“Hello!?” I called. Only stillness and the metallic churning of an ice machine dropping it’s next load replied. I pushed open a door labeled office with my foot, nearly tossing one of the panda bear slippers in the process. It sat just as sedentary as the hallway had, and in the small, almost closet-sized space, there was no more than a few flies meandering around a strip of buzzing, iridescent light.

I stormed out of the back room, hoping the clerk would be back when I returned, but she was still no where to be found. I rested my hands on either side of my purchase and waited still for another three minutes before the idea to steal the milk popped into my head. I nearly did until I spotted a pixelated version of my bearded face staring back at me through a monitor above the cigarette shelf. For no reason other than to make myself feel better, I flipped the camera off and stormed out of the store empty handed.

I started the car with such force that the key felt as if it might snap in my grasp. I couldn’t wait to get home to bitch about the shitty service I’d experienced with George. It would be a welcome reprieve from the argument we’d had before I left. Maybe we could even segue into an apology and make the last night of our vacation something to remember rather than resent.

Before reversing through the small parking lot, I rested my hands on the steering wheel and then my head on top of them. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I felt my heartbeat pulse dangerously fast in my ears as I attempted to release the pressure in my chest. I dropped my shoulders and tried to relax the frown from my face. I filled my mind with better memories George and I had made during this trip. I recalled the money we won last night at my favorite casino, the wishes we’d made on coins that we threw into a fountain we then watched an inebriated couple fall into, and the three nights we’d spent away from our kids in blissful silence at our hotel room.

I was able to calm myself enough to stop the fury causing my hands to shake, took another deep breath, and made my way home.

I barely noticed until I had reached the street before our hotel that there were no cars on the road.

Maybe my tired mind was coming up with reasons to feel something powerful again, but this seemed a bit too good to be true. Even at 1AM; almost especially at 1AM there were always cars out and even light traffic at times, especially around the casinos. This might only be my third time in Vegas, but I was sure of this phenomenon and the lack of it made me uneasy.

I chuckled a bit at a fleeting thought that the rapture had happened. It had always been deeply ingrained into my head that, with the snap of the guy in the sky’s fingers, the all the true believers could just up and disappear. Laughed again, because of all places for that to happen, you’d think LA would have remained relatively untouched. I pushed the painful reminder of my religious upbringing to the back of my mind and continued to drive.

I pulled into the parking lot and noted that there was a lowly woman in the pool. it comforted me to see another human, especially doing such a strange human activity like swimming in the parking lot pool of a shady hotel on the LA strip at 1AM.

Not wanting to return from my trip empty-handed, I sauntered over to the hotel lobby once my car was parked.

The small space smelled of mildew and grime. The lights, clandestinely hidden in the darkest corners of the area were the only source of light besides yet another neon sign above a locked display case of water bottles, travel sized shampoo bottles, and packages of candy to my right. They illuminated the ornate, yet muddied carpet and a curved desk that ran almost the entire length of the space to the wall on my right with a false wood counter top.

The owner was no where to be found, but the business hours on the desk to my left told me that the office had closed long ago and would not open for several more hours.

A deep sigh escaped my chest, as I trudged through the cold and over the walkways with my hands resting in the pocket of my hoodie back to the hotel room. I slipped the key card into the lock and pushed open the door.

“So I have good news and bad news” I started, my back to the bed on which George had been sitting when I left.

“The good news is that I’m sorry and I love you. The bad news is-” I paused as I tossed my hoodie onto the desk by the door and searched the room with my eyes. The wry smile I had attempted to flash his way as a means of apology turned down around the corners. My eyes widened, and my pulse quickened.

“What?” George called from the bathroom.

My heart lept, my lungs exhaled all of my breath, and I ran to the open door to see George sitting on the toilet, bathed in dim light from the plug-in nightlight by the switch.

“Ew, get out, I’m using the bathroom!” He called.

I obliged, but not without rushing through the stink of the bathroom to plant a kiss on his stubbled cheek.

I sat contently on the side of the bed, noting that the news channel that was now live showed two empty chairs with no more than a breaking news graphic on the screen behind it.

A disheveled woman appeared on screen wearing a t shirt and ponytail, but before she could read off of the yellow lined paper in her hands, my phone rang. It buzzed across the night stand on my side of the bed and the screen illuminated the dank lampshade above it.

A picture of my father filled the screen. I hesitated for a moment before swiping the call icon across the bottom. Nerves filled my belly yet again.

“Dad?”

“Sam? Are you there?” Noise filled the background and the occasional scraping sound of fabric affected his otherwise clear voice.

“Yeah dad, I’m here. What’s up? Are you okay?” More rustling before I heard a warbled voice reply

“It’s mom. She’s gone.”


Last Story: Bugs

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