Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
With six gallons still left in the fuel tank and the distinctive taste of lime jerky on his tongue, Noah had not expected any delays save for fault of his own. So when a Hispanic man toting hot-dog rollers of belly fat made obscene gestures at him from an adjacent car, he froze.
“Yo! Pendejo! The light is green!” The man said after maneuvering lanes to get a better look at the perpetrator. Noah stared straight ahead, pretending like he didn’t hear. A cacophony of horns responded to the stall in traffic.
After the initial shock had worn off, Noah tapped the gas, leaving behind a livid cluster of sedans. It’s not like they knew what was happening, anyway. They didn’t know anything about his life, or what he’d seen.
Noah drummed his fingers against the steering wheel as he scanned for an exit sign on the I-15. Thankfully, the lanes weren’t any different in this state, not as much as the people were anyway. He signaled to a yellow bug his intent to cross and swiftly pulled right, slowing into a curve.
Murray was his destination. He chose it only because it bore resemblance to his deceased grandmother’s maiden name. Streets unfurled grandly before him, presenting a myriad of side street entrances and uncanny hotels. Noah rubbed the bridge of his nose before pressing on towards a vietnamese Pho restaurant with dirty windows and a shoeless man perched on its front steps.
Without noting his parking spot, Noah stepped out of his car and was greeted by a flurry of half-formed snowflakes. Not much like California, then. He concentrated on the cold wedge of ground beneath his boots, ignoring the pulsing of his cheeks and the unsteady feeling racing up his legs.
With the restaurant door shut behind him, Noah watched on dismally as his boots leaked out onto the carpet. The owner raised his eyes briefly before they settled back onto the empty reservation list in front of him.
“One, please.” The words passed through his lips like a small whine. He used the counter to steady himself, a behavior that the owner found appalling. This, combined with the so-called “customer” approaching the front desk twelve minutes before closing, was almost enough for him to order the kitchen closed.
“Sit.” The owner beckoned Noah over towards a coffee-stained booth. Noah brushed off his pant legs and sat down, figuring it would be best not to argue. Back home, he would have scoffed at the idea of sitting in a hallway adjacent to the bathrooms. But something about the way this man’s eyebrows were taut, combined with the intent focus of his eyes, demanded compliance.
“One milk tea, thank you.” Noah said unconsciously, pulling out his iPhone. The owner whisked away with a curt nod. Noah hardly looked up from the table while scrolling through the invitation, possibly for the 30th time. Ellie always had the most flawless penmanship, so much so that invitation via email seemed both ironic and reserved. Perhaps Mark had pressured her into it?
It was an invitation he would capitalize on, so long as he performed his duties. He was required to be present at the wedding reception at precisely 5:15, just long enough to deploy his camera equipment and help with last-minute preparations. Noah thumbed through the neat gold calligraphy, past the names of the betrothed— it's a shame really, Ellie Northrop already possessed some sort of magic appeal. Mark Schaffer, not so much. Sounded more to Noah like Plain old Mark, stark Mark, Mark the Narc.
A woman with a sharp chin and wide, voluminous eyelashes presented Noah’s drink on a plastic serving tray. Her soft smile suggested submission as she lowered the tea onto the laminate table and shuffled off towards the back kitchen. Noah took slow, deliberate sips as he scrutinized the dress code. Navy blue attire, preferably a double-breasted suit with accompanying dress shoes.
There was no additional instruction for the photographer. Noah firmed up his shoulder blades on the upholstery, a straw clenched between his lips. He decided to put away the phone for a brief, detoxifying moment before an evening FaceTime call to his mother would commence.
The hotel was a few short miles from the restaurant. Noah took another loud, wheezing sip from his drink before tossing a few miscellaneous bills onto the table. He left without saying goodbye to anything besides the remaining dollars in his wallet.
A portly man with a sickly sheen on his upper lip confirmed Noah Winchester’s identity and issued him his hotel key without incident. He crossed the bright peach linoleum floor with the keycard swinging against his thigh, stopping only to fill up a plastic water bottle. A long elevator ride awaited him: unfortunately, he hadn’t bothered to check his room assignment until check-in. Thankfully, the only thing that kept Noah company was the persistent draft and the anemic thrum of the water heater as he made his way to the fourth floor.
Halfway into a bottle of Prosecco, she rang. Three times actually, one of which Noah made a half-attempt at answering, dropping the towel around his waist in the process. A brief, sardonic thought sailed through him: maybe she has the video feature enabled. He fumbled for his towel once more, draping it around his starved waist.
“Hello? Mom?” He said briskly into the phone, arming himself with another glass.
“Noah! I was hoping you’d pick up sometime this decade,” she spouted accusingly. Noah threw his neck back, taking a swig which heated up his veins like overcharged cables. Wearing a placid expression, he traded his half-drained cup for the t.v. remote. Images of hot massage tables and handsome female masseuses in their pressed uniforms clung to him even as he skated past the hotel’s main menu to direct cable.
“It’s not past eight yet, is it?”
“No. But I was hoping you would call soon. My eyes have just been moving about in my head like crazy.”
Noah’s mouth stretched into a thin, tight line as he contemplated settling on a sports channel. “You really got to quit that, you know. More doctors aren’t doing you any favors.” He paused delicately, “Why don’t you put on a feel-good comedy or something? I bought you new groceries. There’s carrot sticks in the bottom left hand shelf. And fresh milk.”
“I don’t like carrots, Noah. They’re bitter, like radishes.” Her words came out in a half-trickle, like a child’s plea. She was barely audible over the high-speed Mission Impossible chase taking place on the screen.
“I have a budget to work around. And you did say your eyes were giving you trouble.” Noah inhaled sharply, his mind caught on a bramble, “I could stop helping you altogether.”
Noah’s mother appeared illuminated on the phone screen, her jaundiced eyes tilted towards something out of frame. She must have hit the goddamned button again, Noah thought. “No, I appreciate you honey.” She said, her eyes lolling about. “I don’t want you to get that twisted.” She brought an arthritis-ridden hand up to her cheek and scratched, long and deep.
“Okay, then please don’t argue.” He snapped, resolute. “Some healthy food will do you good. Have Hermann set a plate out for you and put on the t.v.”
“But I’m so sick of the t.v.,” she drawled, her image fading into distorted pixels on the screen.
“Look, I’ve got to go,” He responded, feeling his armpits grow sticky hot. It was the telltale sign of guilt. “Love you, mom. Take care of yourself.” She rasped what sounded like the beginning of another request before the phone went click. It made Noah’s breath stall up to see her like that, wan and dark faced, with runnels of sweat forging a path down her thinly covered bosom.
Noah folded his arms over his chest, sinking backwards into the formless pillows. He thought of his mother sitting in front of the t.v. with her stunted breathing, the arc of her tongue as she flicked it back and forth— vapid, watching. Sleeping on his back proved an enormous task.
Breakfast reminded Noah of his elementary school cafeteria days— stale, slightly metallic tasting food that went directly to the bin. The service had been swift, though, and with a map of Utah spread over his lap and a pen between his lips, Noah was keen on making himself busy.
He figured that heading west out of Wendover would be easier than trying to circumvent the Great Salt Lake, as long as he could beat the wave of midday traffic. Noah pounded a glass of two percent milk and left it, along with a crushed up bran muffin, on the serving tray. He counted four sets of clothes and set them aside. It would take him around seven hours to make the trip to Elko, where he would rest for another day before making the last leg of his journey.
So it went. The front desk woman surveyed him with her wide, periscopic eyes as he slapped down the room key along with his credit card and a generous tip. 10:36— the time looked good; not great, but good. He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and left before the woman had time to ask him where he lived.
In the cover of his Buick, he recalled the conversation that led him to this moment. It was a dull Sunday, half past ten, when his mother called. She told him that her ocular pain on the left side was intolerable and proceeded to moan about it for a solid twenty-five minutes. He tried in vain to console her. Brought up Hermann. Hermann was a good partner, Noah supposed, with his solemn vows to keep Angie in constant comfort. This opened up a whole new realm of discussion, namely her son’s relationship status.
“I’m not seeing anyone.”
“You’re absolutely stuffed full of it.” Noah held his tongue.
“Come on, a name at least.” She goaded, with persistence bordering on a dread-filled ache.
“Okay.” He thought for a moment. “Her name is Ellie.” She was the only name he could think of, and the prettiest girl conjured up by his memory.
“Ellie.” She murmured. An elapsed silence. “I bet she’s beautiful.”
“Of course she is,” Noah asserted, knowing there was no turning back now. “Because she’s mine.”
Time to hit the road. Noah pulled out of the hotel parking lot, waving ironically at the concierge who seemed strikingly familiar, like a fleck of gold on the edge of a flat pan. From his view allowed by the tinted windshield, it looked as though she gave him a little wink, or a half-smile.
Cutting across junctions, Noah imagined a beacon of new possibilities on the horizon line: worlds away from dry brush, from earth that broke easily beneath his feet. He entered on the I-15 N with few regrets other than a missed pub crawl. Murray became just another stop on the way to Elko: Murray and its stale bedsheets, its tart milk, and worst of all, its barely maintained outdoor pool.
Within thirty minutes, he had bested the traffic, racing past billboards for dental implants and laser hair-removal treatments. It was amusing to him, the whole hair-removal gimmick being pitched at young, neanderthalic men who were more concerned with losing their hair at twenty than stopping its growth in unsightly places. His phone pinged on the dashboard. He started to reach for it, then decided against it when a large semi changed its trajectory two lanes away.
The phone pinged again. Against his best judgement, Noah picked up the phone and scrutinized the text. It was Ellie Northrop, with more updates on the wedding. Hey all, she says. The weather we’re expecting on Wednesday is not-so-nice. Make sure to bring along an umbrella because the outdoor ceremony will continue as planned. I am not overly concerned, just being cautious. Mark and I are looking forward to seeing all of you shortly in celebration of our union! Cheers.
Noah couldn’t explain why the e-mail left him with a sour taste in his mouth. He stuffed his phone in the overhead compartment without entertaining it a moment longer. The two were to be married. He would snap his photos and leave as planned. The whole thing would be settled over the next 48 hours: payment would be arranged, and he and Ellie would go their separate ways. But he didn’t relish going over the numbers, didn’t fantasize about clean hundred-dollar bills fluttering in his jean pockets: not like he once had.
It was a shame. Nothing could rouse Noah like the promise of payment.
6.30 - Evening
Noah arrived at the Blue Buck Inn around a quarter to 4, a good few hours shy of his prediction. He gathered his duffel which seemed even heavier than he last remembered it and slipped through the automatic doors of the lobby, not so much as arousing a glance from any of the half-clothed patrons in their double wide chairs. They seem comfortable, Noah thought. Maybe that’s what’ll happen to me if I extend my checkout. I can ditch out on my plans and fan my legs out on couch cushions all day.
He was already beginning to feel the inklings of sleep as he received his card from the new receptionist, this time a male with a crooked hairline and large teeth. He was rather eager for conversation, which Noah would have appreciated any other day than the thirtieth of June, exactly two days before the wedding.
“Need any sort of special accommodations, just let us know,” He said with a genuine glint in his eyes. Noah nodded dazedly, collecting his roomkey before the man could make any recommendations about local cuisine. It was always the same spiel with a touch of variety. “They have the best ham in the Southwest, seared fat off the top with fresh pineapple glaze and roasted pine nuts,” he would say. To which Noah would smile politely, maybe ask a few leading questions to show his interest.
Anyway, he didn’t have time for that. Not now. Besides, mother would be expecting her evening call soon. Taking one quick look over his shoulder, he set his bag down on the elevator floor and watched the receptionist bend over a computer to type in his details.
The first thing Noah thought as he sank into one of the queen beds— strangely enough, he always preferred two rather than one —was: I wonder when the call girls will be out for the night. They functioned a lot like strange lemurs, with their cartoonish eyes and their dexterity, getting most of their sleep during the day so they could climb between legs like branches in the evening.
He wondered blankly whether these girls took mid-afternoon requests. He figured many of them were washed-up, with unsightly sores and scars that could be muted only by lamplight streaming from covered windows. Even still, he hoisted his laptop onto his lap and pulled up an incognito tab— this would at least allow him the option. Cute redheads, he started to type, and just as quickly changed his mind to mixed race girls.
He scrolled through many profiles, some obviously aided by the eye of porn directors. Swollen breasts held together by neat, eye-popping corsets, eyeshadow smoothed as far as their orbital bones, lip injections and other strange phenomena like tongue splitting— a form of mutilation he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do. Noah extended his legs on the hotel comforter, no less comforted by the thought detour.
His mind still rang clearly on Ellie, Ellie who would be stuffing herself into a princess ball gown in two short days. Her mother would probably convince her to lay off the horderves for those dwindling hours, and so she would resign herself to cucumber water, reorganizing her closet sans fiance just to assure herself that the room was still hers, if only for a few days. Noah could imagine Ellie as the same go-getting type she had been in high-school. Always the star student, never the star of her own story— just a scrap of junk metal hurtling through space.
And he understood better than anyone the listlessness that came with years of maintaining others’ burdens. After all, his mother was a prime example of this— she acted just as helpless as her porchside carnations strangled to death by the plastic New York air. She had actually gone as far to empty a full bottle of gatorade onto her plant collection, the same one that the doctor had ordered her to replenish her electrolytes with.
By the book, the two were a perfect match for each other. Noah shoved these thoughts away with a physical movement of his hand— he sometimes wonders whether he should have saved his money to enlist in mime school —and doubled over on the bed. It was his job to be on the ball, so to speak. He had to think like a good Facebook penpal and ditch the images of her hair tossed into wisps of salted caramel taffy. He had to forget the compulsive little twitch of her eyes that happened whenever she laughed, as if she was telling a secret in morse code.
Noah blinked back to the screen. He settled on a tight-waisted blonde with a forgettable face and waited.
The blonde was as late as she was unremarkable. Noah scarfed down the remaining pizza crust and stood idly by the kitchen sink for a while, listening to the residual drops of the tap. A light knock at the door sent vibrations up his spine.
He swung open the door without looking as she crossed the threshold just moments before her Kate Spade crossbody bag. Her eyes traveled over his belongings as she crossed the living room floor, “Do you want to talk pricing?” She sought out a spot on the couch that wasn’t occupied by torn fast-food papers.
“I got funds,” Noah followed her to the couch and sat down. Her face was bent away slightly, but even with the low lighting he could see small wrinkles forming a bow-shape on her forehead, a cocktail of distaste and apprehension. Her upturned nose and pinprick eyes did nothing for him, his only consolation were those great tits which ballooned underneath her v-neck choker like yeast in an oven.
“That’s fine,” she said, grabbing Noah suddenly by the neck. She hoisted herself on top of him, lunging towards his ear. She grazed his earlobe with her bottom lip and jammed her tits onto his chest without much movement, rendering his legs useless as he sat there dumbfounded. He tried closing his eyes for a moment, but her smell— grapefruit and forgotten Altoids from the glove department of her car —lingered.
Each time she moulded her lips to his, he had to muster up the strength to push back harder. It was burdensome, keeping her off him, and by the time she worked her way down to his belt buckle, he was doing a series of mental gymnastics. He was thankful she couldn’t see his expression— one of pure horror —as she fumbled with the belt, jerking it back and forth as if that would make it any easier.
While firing up some omelettes on the stove, Ellie’s eye caught the glint of her engagement ring and instantly she thought to herself: well, it’s a bit lackluster. The swelling had gone down at least on her ring finger, but even so, she wasn’t sure whether her adorned finger looked like mashed putty between a four-year-old’s hands.
Looking at it reminded her of the childhood toy Silly Putty that occupied most of her attention in the second grade, because she found that anything she stuck it to would leave a textured indent. It felt like the most creative thing in the world: an invention that could take on the shape of any other with a little pressure aided by a child’s thumb.
She pressed a little air between her lips to release a slow-forming knot in her stomach. The omelettes were almost ready; the sharp scent of mexican style four-cheese invaded the kitchen island where Ellie stood with a hand on her hip. The eggs looked a bit crispy on the bottom, with the chives sprinkled on top beginning to meld. Ellie didn’t mind. She was the one to always eat the crust off her friend’s plates back in high-school, and her motto was: try everything unsavory at least once. Literally. It used to be her Instagram caption.
Mark would be coming home anytime within the next hour. She flipped the omelettes over once more, basking in the smell. They sizzled like they were ready, but Ellie didn’t think to take them off the burner. Was there anyone to help her in picking out the dress? She thought of Mara back home in Ogden. She was probably hanging out on the trellis with Shawn while their two dogs-- more like ferrets, really --busied themselves by lapping at their ankles. Mara was kind about it. But Shawn, he would lose his mind. Put them behind their pens. I told you two dogs were too many.
Mara called less and less frequently since the day she got married. The more Ellie thought about it, the better she recalled the last time they had truly hung out: talking over a simple brunch that they had decided to relive shortly after the wedding ceremony. They sat on two stools overlooking the window of Pig and a Jelly Jar, studying the motes that swirled around in the air like broken promises.
Mara had much sallower skin than Ellie had remembered, and she walked with the characteristic burden of carrying twins. She ordered biscuits and gravy, which arrived as tardily as her reply to Ellie’s last remark-- How are Shawn and the puppies doing? --and watched absently as the gray mush sloughed off her fork. She barely ate.
It was that image-- gravy sliding off of a restaurant fork --that stuck with Ellie as she lowered her carefully folded omelette onto a paper plate and began to eat. Mark would be back anytime soon. They would play some simplistic games like Connect 4 or 21 while discussing their wedding plans: who to invite, what style cake to order, which songs would be played. With each prolonged chew, she had to remind herself that she wasn’t Mara and Mark wasn’t Shawn.
“I said, spit or swallow?”
Noah looked down at the squirming blonde by his feet. What did she just ask him? He rubbed his temples in a half-attempt to disappear the bright black spots eating away at his vision.
“Huh...What?” He grimaced, yanking his shirt up halfway. The blonde sat on her heels with her mouth positioned right above his boxers. Mascara fallout trailed from underneath her purple-rimmed eyes. Her lips appeared to be deeply swollen. Was he responsible for that? He thought he heard her snort as he studied the fierce red crisscrosses that carved a path down his navel.
“Would. You. Like. Me to swallow your cum?” She repeated a little more brazenly. Noah closed his eyes and leaned back onto the bedpost. “No, not now…” He chanted, chorus-like. He felt no longer in control of his impulses: one kick between her splayed thighs would send this blonde bimbo flying into the back wall.
“I just want to touch you,” She murmured, crawling up to his knees. “Handsome clients like you don’t come around very often. God knows how many unshaven 40-year-olds I’ve had to jerk off…” She flopped onto his pelvic bone and nestled her head between his legs.
A spasm traveled up Noah’s thighs as the blonde bit the tender skin just inches away from his crotch. He didn’t have any fight in him, even as she dug her acrylics into his foreskin and giggled in response to his helpless whimpering. “I’m going to ask one more time. Spit or swallow?” She said with a sadistic glimmer in her eyes. Noah tensed his muscles all the way, anticipating the feeling of fingers scurrying down his shaft like a cluster of baby spiders. Instead, she clutched his manhood and gathered it between her hands, drowning out the sound of his placid moaning with her excitement. He didn’t want her lips to lower over him like they had before, although his body desperately wanted it. Her tongue had just escaped her lips as he inched away from her grasp on the bed. A childish anger seized him; he wanted to strike out his body parts out like frenzied blades— anything to get her off the goddamn king.
“I think I’m good.” He said, probing for the elastic of his boxers which had been pulled out from underneath him in the struggle. His skin prickled with embarrassment.
The blonde moved her hands up towards his chest, anything to keep the contact going. She continued to survey him with her eyes even after he lifted off the bed, effectively untangling himself from her grasp.
Just as Noah grasped the door handle, the blonde got up and stood near the entrance, pouting out her bare chest. “You don’t want what you paid for?”
Noah shook his head, pausing to grab her shirt and bra off the dresser. He tossed it the wad to her. “Breakfast is complimentary. Anything extra, just tell them to put on room 103.” He then waited for her to leave.
March - Same Day
Mark arrived at 12:30 shortly after he said he would, and, leaning over her with a cup of coffee, planted a firm kiss on Ellie’s forehead. She looked up at her soon-to-be-husband and his 3 day no shave with wide, suspecting eyes.
“How’d the search go?”
“Well, you know the venue in Lake Tahoe that we wanted? It’s booked up until July.” Mark sighs, lowering himself into a chair beside her. He rubbed his jaw with quiet contemplation. This was when Ellie preferred him the most— brooding, though she rarely liked to admit it.
“Well, that’s a bummer.” She stuck out her lower lip. Ellie, in fact, was somewhat sad about their plans falling through, but there were other things on her mind. As in, Has Mara replied to the invite yet? She thought of Mara’s jubilant auburn curls, the way her upturned lips seemed to open up a whole new dimension when she smiled. God, she missed her best friend. She missed those bright days full of fair weather— the tickle of dry brush against their ankles as they explored the undergrowth around the local parks.
Mara was a shell of her former self now, Ellie thought. If invited out, she always had to think about Shawn first. Would there be enough room for them both to carpool? Perhaps she should leave him behind with the twins?
Ellie recalled an evening spent in the newlywed’s home. At the time, she was bar-hopping like mad and her eyes were shot from left and right swiping so often. A mutual friend of theirs slapped a deck of UNO cards on the table, and as the daylight waned they perched on the dining room chairs with intent focus. Ellie had a steady supply of green cards. Whenever it was Mara’s turn to consult the deck, laughably she always ended up with a draw four.
An hour and forty minutes into the game, she laid out one of those cards in front of her husband just as he was getting ready to call UNO. The look on Shawn’s face— one of mock hurt and surprise —may have presented itself as pure joviality to the others around the table, but Ellie knew— and perhaps she was the only one who knew —that motive was involved in that play, and that it signified the beginning of the end.
Reality struck. Mark stood over her, wiggling his fingers. “Ellie, Earth to Ellie? We got a pretty packed schedule over the next couple of days.” He noticed the stress of his fiancee’s brow and immediately worked to console her. “Let me do the dishes,” he said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. He tentatively let go before gathering up both their plates, one of which still had a corner of toast smeared with jam on it, and cleaned off the debris with a long-armed brush and soapy water.
Will she agree to be a bridesmaid? Will she even be there at all ? Ellie couldn’t come up with an answer. She watched Mark as he laboriously scrubbed at the dishes and twisted the ring once more on her finger.
7.1 - Early Afternoon
Noah arrived at concierge just before the typical check-out time. He studied the front-desk man with his unfortunate bald patch and felt just a twinge of curiosity: does he try to cover it up when he goes on dates? Noah supposed that was just the sort of thing you had to own to be good with women.
“Thank you so much, brother.” Noah said this with genuine warmth as he slid the key over.
“The pleasure is ours. Hope you had an enjoyable stay.”
And just like that, he was out and on the road again. He had mistakenly thought that the journey from Utah to Elko would be the longest part of his journey, but California was still a surprising amount of miles away. He pulled a left off of Pilcott and entered the I-80 W with extreme precision. It was a relief to put Elko behind him; he couldn’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would want to live there. As he rumbled over the freeway, masses of distressed sandstone and their surrounding strip malls eluded him. It was surreal to him, seeing such a wild west landscape encapsulated by these drab white buildings and the typical horde of middle-aged patrons with shopping fever.
His mother called again in the middle of him following a Los Angeles road sign. He knew it was her because her picture— a beautiful one, in fact —popped up on his lock screen. In it she beckoned towards a white hibiscus flower on her ear. She was wearing a sundress and her hair came down shoulders in humidified clumps. It was one of the few times since 2008 that Noah distinctly remembers his mother smiling, with teeth and all.
His palms prickled as he considered picking up the incoming call.
“Hello, mom?” He said, keeping his eyes steady on the flow of traffic. A silver pick-up with a full truck bed had just maneuvered into his lane. He kept his eye on the white tarp ahead of him as the wind coerced it into a billowing swell.
“Noah.” She dragged his name out with a slow sniff, like it was her favored scent of an essential oil. “What are you doing?” He was glad in this moment that he couldn’t see her face. She had adopted this faraway look in the past few days that disturbed him.
“Well mom, I’m making my way over to California right now.”
Noah thought about what it would mean to lie to his ailing mother. After a sweat-inducing pause, he decided that the consequences of telling the truth were too great.
“Job-hunting. The manuscript hasn’t really taken off, and what better time than summer to check out the great Silicon Valley?” He rubbed at his neck where a knot was beginning to form.
“Oh, Noah, that’s so exciting—” She said, her throat giving out a little rattle. The tickle formed into a full-fledged cough attack, and he listened as she dashed to the sink to spit. A thudding sound signified her return to the receiver. “I wish I could come along. But you know how it is. My throat’s been giving me trouble now. I’ve been taking the pills for my eyes, though.” Noah could hear something like Family Feud playing in the background.
“It’s been a little over two weeks, mom. Did Hermann take you to the doctor’s like I asked him to?”
“He said he had other things to do, dismissed the whole thing as hay fever. I told him I wouldn’t be coughing this much if I had it. Sometimes I wish I married someone who listened.” She laughed dryly.
Noah obeyed the signs telling him to keep left. His attention had been diverted from the pick-up by a chair with broken legs on the side of the interstate.
“Well, maybe you ought to just take the day off work.” Noah knew that she could depend on Hermann in a pinch, even if she didn’t acknowledge it herself.
“Oh, I absolutely have been. I don’t think head honcho would like it so much if I was still out teaching the kids how to make pressed leaves, sick as I am. Neither would they.” Another bout of cough-racked laughter.
“Almost forgot to ask, how’s the girlfriend?” Noah pinched the space between his eyebrows. In the tumult of traveling, he had almost completely forgotten about Ellie. His thoughts flitted briefly to her recent wedding announcement: Mark and I are looking forward to seeing all of you shortly in celebration of our union! Cheers.
“Oh, she’s great,” Noah said, nearly choking on his lie. “Her, um, garage art projects have been occupying a lot of her time lately.” He didn’t realize until much later how much the fabrication would cost him.