Gilly didn't remember Operation Desert Storm ending. She'd been too young to understand the speeches or busloads of homecoming troops that played on the news for weeks. She didn't know about the flags and yellow ribbons that had turned a country into a family. What Gilly remembered, like shadows flitting along the bottom of a deep pond, was watching her dad put on his dress blues.
They stood alone in the early morning still. He talked in a happy, half-asleep voice, asking if she was excited about the parade and if she was going to wave to him when he passed. Gilly helped him button the polished gold buttons of his uniform. She remembered being very proud of that, telling her grandma that she'd helped.
Her dad had joined the Birmingham metro police after getting out of the marines. When Gilly was nine, dressed in a church dress and white panty hose, she'd applauded as he took an oath of office and received his detective's shield. When she'd been thirteen, Gilly had walked into her parents' bedroom and found him stuffing something into a steel ammo box.
"Shit!" He slammed the lid shut, fumbling with the latch and screaming at her to get out. When Gilly stalked off, her dad came rushing after her.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell." Kneeling down, he stroked her hair. "Listen, I was hiding your mom's birthday present, okay? So you can't tell her about this, okay?"
Gilly promised she wouldn't. Her dad hugged her and whispered, "That's my girl. I'm sorry, baby."
But sweat glistened across his scalp and he smiled too much. Gilly knew he was lying.
A week later, both her parents worked late. Gilly left her little sister watching TV and crept down the hall. After ten minutes of digging through drawers and in the closet, she found the ammo box under the sink in her parents' bathroom.
Bundles lay inside wrapped in black plastic and masking tape. In true Marine Corps style, her dad had made each one neat and square with sharp corners. She knew what they were, but Gilly picked one up and peeled back the tape, anyway.
Four years later, Gilly remembered the musty scent of old bills. She could still feel the heft of that small brick of twenties resting in her hand.
Staring at it, fear had squeezed Gilly's chest. It didn't immediately connect that her dad had done something wrong, only that he might catch her. Shoving the money back into the box, Gilly fixed everything like she'd found it.
For four years, she kept her promise and never breathed a word.
Sam crunched up the gravel driveway, pulling in behind Gilly's red Tercel.
"Sure you want to do this?"
"He stole it first. How come he's the only person on Earth who doesn't have to follow the rules?" Gilly climbed out of the car. "Just relax."
Fall had turned the yard into dead grass and patches of hard dirt. The neighborhood dozed. Houses, porch swings, and cars in driveways sat motionless. Only the wind was awake, trembling through the branches with slow, chilly breaths.
Slipping her hand into her pocket, Gilly stopped dead. Her dad still had her keys. She tried the doorknob, but it was locked.
All at once, the wild adventure hit concrete. There was nowhere to go except back to school. They'd get in-school suspension for skipping class, and it'd be just another day, a little weirder than most.
Remember that time we almost ran away to Atlanta?
"Fuck it." Gilly kicked in one of the windows. Blue-white droplets of glass splashed across the living room carpet. The sound hit her like ice water, breathless shock, and then a giddy, giggling warmth swimming under her skin.
Gilly started laughing and kicked twice more, clearing out the window frame. It felt great. Grinning at Sam, she struck a bodybuilder pose, then ducked through.
Gilly ran down the hall, past her own closed bedroom door and into her parents' room. Yellow sunlight and rice-paper shadow lay across everything. She slipped into the grimy bathroom and opened the cabinet under the sink. A can of scrubbing powder hit the floor as she reached deep inside and grabbed the ammo box.
A relic from her dad's military career, or maybe just something he'd picked up at a yard sale, the box was olive drab and afflicted with rust. Gilly snapped the latch open to make sure it wasn't full of old tax returns or copies ofPlayboy. It wasn't. The nest egg had grown over the years. Gilly didn't know, but she guessed there were ten or fifteen thousand dollars inside.
Staring at crisply wrapped sheaves of money, Gilly felt the full weight of what she was doing. Her stomach twisted into a tight knot of muscle. Fumbling the lid shut, she picked up the box and turned to bolt. Suddenly she stopped. Gilly dug her cell phone out of her pocket and placed it in the bathroom cabinet where the money had been.
Gilly ran back through the house. The furniture, the pictures on the walls, all of it looked alien. She'd become an intruder. She didn't belong here anymore.
Gilly let out a startled yell at the sound of her name and whirled around.
"It's just me. Relax." Sam stood in the kitchen. She held up a bottle of Jose Cuervo she'd gotten from the cabinet over the stove. "Since you're stealing that money, anyway, it's no big deal if we take some liquor too, right?"
Gilly's heart thudded against her breastbone. "Whatever. Let's go." Heading for the front door, she heard the clink of more glass bottles being pulled out of the cabinet. "Fuck, Sam. Let's go."
"I'm coming. Hey, where's your dad keep his gun?"
Gilly had her hand on the doorknob. She snapped around again. "What? What do you need a gun for?"
Sam shrugged. "Bears?"
Without answering, Gilly unlocked the door and crossed the dead grass. Sam followed close behind. In the car, Sam dumped everything out of her backpack and hid bottles of tequila, vodka, and spiced rum inside. Gilly's eyes darted around the quiet street. She hissed, "Fuck, fuck, fuck...," under her breath.
"Relax, G." Sam straightened up in her seat.
"I'm fucking relaxed. Let's go!"
Sam whipped out of the driveway, spraying gravel. She pushed the gas. The engine growled. Gilly turned to watch her home shrink away over her shoulder.
Two hours ago, she'd been joking with her friends before school like she did every morning. She was pissed at her dad for taking her car away. She had English homework that needed to get done during lunch. Now she was driving to Atlanta with ten grand in stolen cash and Sam.
Gilly couldn't get a deep breath. It was the same tangle of fear and excitement she felt creeping up that first immense hill of a roller coaster.
We can go back. Tell Sam to turn around, hide the money again, go back to school, and it'll be like nothing happened.
Then Sam turned the corner. Gilly's house vanished. She felt momentum snatch them forward. They couldn't stop now if they wanted to. Glancing at her, Sam grinned. Gilly grinned back.
"Running out of time! We're running hot. Running out of time. We're running hot."
Not bothering to keep the song's rhythm, Sam and Gilly sang as loud as they could, drowning out the stereo. "Fever's up to a hundred and one. Brain's near oblivion. Let's go have some fun. Raise hell and a back beat!"
Mack trucks lumbered under their cargo like pack animals, stirring grit and gas fumes into the cold air. SAABs, Malibus, and pickup trucks flashed orange in the morning sun.
"Running out of time! We're running hot!"
Gilly slouched in the passenger seat, beating her sneaker against the dashboard and watching the plain gray earth roll past. She glanced up at the billboards for Burger King and car dealerships that lined Interstate 20.
"Sorta, kinda feels like flying. Or maybe we're just falling. Who cares -- we're hauling. Raise hell and a back beat."
Pulpy, scraped-raw guitar chords came faster and faster as the lyrics collapsed into unhinged shrieking.We're running! We're running! We're run-- A sharp cut left nothing but the soft static hiss of the speakers.
Gilly leaned forward and began skipping through tracks. "That's like Pins and Needles's one decent song," she said.
Sam nodded. "Yeah. I saw theRunning Hotvideo on TV, and it kicked ass. But then they whine through the whole rest of the CD." Her phone rang. Glancing at the number, she mumbled, "Fuck."
"Who is it?" Gilly found another okay song but turned the volume back down to a normal level.
"Mom. School must've called her."
Gilly felt a pinch in her guts. They'd call her parents too. In a few hours her dad would come home and find the money gone. She and Sam were already in Georgia, though. Fatalism dulled her fear.
Sam's phone kept ringing.
"Gonna answer it?"
Sam curled her lip. "She can go to Hell. Why should I care?"
"It was Greg's porn. Your mom didn't do anything."
"I know. She didn't do shit." Sam grabbed her cigarettes tucked above the sun visor and cracked the window. "I mean, my stepdad's a pervert. Okay. He's also an asshole and motherfucking white trash, so it's not a real big surprise. I can almost forgive him since he's probably missing a chromosome or something. But Mom didn't care. She's just, like, 'whatever.'"
"It's fucked up," Gilly said.
Yesterday, Sam had found a magazine calledBarely Legalin her garage. Creeped out and pissed off by pictures of girls her age taking it up the ass from guys her stepdad's age, she'd glued the centerfold over the living room couch. Her mom found it and yelled at Sam for going through Greg's things.
That's how Sam wound up at the Texaco last night, and she'd told Gilly the whole story there. Gilly didn't have any more answers for her now than she'd had then.
"I mean, what the fuck am I supposed to do?" Sam started yelling. "Just walk around the house, my motherfucking house, and pretend like he's not jerking off thinking about shit like that?"
"He's probably sniffing your dirty underwear right now."
"Jesus, Gilly. Shit."
Gilly snorted. "Well?"
"Well? What am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know. It's fucked up."
Sam blew smoke from the corner of her mouth. "Mom's, like, 'That's what you get for snooping.' What the hell? She's my fucking mom. She's supposed to keep people like that away from me. Instead, she fucking marries him."
Gilly pounded her fist against the armrest. "And there's a Nazi goat eating your scrap metal!"
They both laughed. Sam pushed her sunglasses up to wipe her eyes and calmed down some. The story about the Nazi goat was long, confusing, and not that funny, anyway. Or at least, the chief reason it was funny was how pointless the comment seemed to everyone but them.
Their conversation switched course and turned strange, sudden angles innumerable times. They stopped at Arby's for lunch then got back on the road. Sam drove the whole way. Gilly manned the stereo, flipping through Sam's CD case.
Gilly kept playing "Running Hot." The song was a bounding, boisterous war cry. It was nihilism you could dance to.
We're running hot! These kids are losing their minds. They can't see the signs. Raise hell and a back beat! Running out of time. We're running hot!
Finally, Atlanta's glass-and-steel bulk rose up ahead of them. Sam took an exit at random, and they descended through canyons of brick, jostling with traffic past fast-food places and shopping centers.
"So what now?" Sam asked.
"Let's get a hotel room first, so we're not looking for one at two o'clock in the morning. We can figure out what to do from there."
"Sounds like a plan."
After another half-mile, Sam pulled into a Days Inn. Gilly carried the ammo box hidden inside her backpack. Full of bottles, Sam's bag clinked and rattled with every step.
The lobby had sagging green furniture and a map of Atlanta on the wall. The place was empty except for an Indian woman wearing a flowing gown and a red dot on her forehead. She sat behind the front desk watching a soap opera.
"Can I help you?" The only accent she had was a Southern twang worse than Gilly's. Surprised, Gilly lost her train of thought. Sam spoke up.
"We'd like a room, please."
"All right." The clerk began typing on her computer. "How many nights?"
"The weekend, at least. Two nights."
A few more taps at the keyboard. "Smoking or nonsmoking?"
The woman's eyes flickered from Sam to Gilly, then back to her computer. She typed and didn't say anything else.
Gilly stood stiff beside Sam. She tried catching her attention with a sideways glare, but Sam yawned and pretended not to notice.
The woman slid a carbon form across the desk. Sam filled it out and paid with her debit card. "You can pay me back," she whispered to Gilly.
The clerk handed them two magnetized key cards. "Room two twenty-eight. Back out the door, up the stairs, turn left, and it's almost at the end of the breezeway."
Following Sam outside, Gilly experienced the familiar sensation of only half-understanding what was going on.
Gilly was gay. Sam was straight. It should have been that simple, but nothing ever was. They'd had sex a few times -- a friendship with benefits.
The first time was during a party at Ben's house, both of them drunk, groping in the dark, quickening breaths and nervous giggles. Ben and the others had heard them upstairs and tried to break into the room. The night had become legendary among their friends. The other times had all happened while Sam was dating Colby. Nobody knew about them except her and Gilly.
Each time, everything tumbled back to normal immediately afterward. Sam pretended nothing strange had happened, and Gilly found herself following suit. Once, they'd come downstairs and eaten dinner with Sam's mom while Gilly's hair was damp with sweat and Sam's bra was gone.
The little box of a hotel room had been designed for anonymity. The air smelled blank, the ghost of every past guest scrubbed from the carpet.
Collapsing facedown onto the bed, Sam stretched her limbs and groaned. Gilly checked out the view of the construction site next door.
"So where's the Witches' Carnival?" Sam asked.
Gilly turned away from the window. "You remember Dawn talking about some neighborhood with all sorts of bars and funky stores and stuff?"
"Yeah. Little Five Points. I've been there once. It's pretty neat."
"Maybe we should start there. If the Witches' Carnival really is here, that seems like the kind of place they'd hang out at."
"Cool with me." Sam pulled the Jose Cuervo out of her book bag. She unscrewed the cap, thumped it into the corner, and took a swallow. "Oh, shit." As Sam laughed and coughed at the same time, her shirt rose up. Gilly's eyes traveled across the inch of soft pink belly and the curve of Sam's hip.
"Maybe we should get a newspaper, too," Gilly went on. "See if it mentions anything that's big enough for them to show up for."
Sam nodded. "There was a newspaper box in the lobby."
"Cool. You have any change? Dad never thought to steal a roll of quarters."
"Fuck it. We'll get one later." Another sip. Another coughing chuckle. Sam wiped her mouth and stared at Gilly. A smile spread across her face. "Why are you standing over there?"
Gilly realized she had her back pressed against the windowsill, putting as much space between herself and the bed as possible. She tried to think of a lie but couldn't.
"Because you scare me sometimes."
Sam laughed out loud. "I scare you?"
Gilly had once called Sam at two o'clock in the morning. Crying, she wouldn't let her off the phone until Sam told her if she was straight or not, if she was only goofing around or wanted to start dating or what. Sam told Gilly that she was straight, just not exactly. She promised Gilly she loved her and would never hurt her. She told her that their relationship was whatever it was and Gilly shouldn't worry so much.
"Poor baby," Sam giggled, holding out her hand. "Come here. I promise I won't scare you anymore."
There was nothing Gilly could do. Their warm fingers lacing together, Gilly climbed onto the bed and straddled Sam's hips. Neither of them moved. Then Gilly broke their gaze and took the bottle from Sam. She tilted it to her lips, an ice-cold heat spreading down through her stomach.
Sam watched her. Her fingers ran along the waist of Gilly's pants then hooked themselves into the front pocket of her hoodie. "Wanna know a secret?" she asked.
Sam grinned her sharp-cornered grin. "I knew you were coming with me."
Gilly's true, unguarded laugh was a rare thing. When it did come, the sound burst into the air like a flock of birds. "I almost didn't. When you told me this morning, I almost just let you go."
"No." Sam shook her head. "I knew you'd come with me, even before I told you I was leaving."
"Well..." Gilly took another sip. She made a face and forced the stuff down. "We're friends, right?"
Sam nodded. She tugged on the pocket of Gilly's sweatshirt, and Gilly leaned down to kiss her. The soft resistance of Sam's lips, the soap scent on her skin and tequila on her breath, Gilly's heart thumping like a rabbit's -- it felt like a flying dream.
Sam laughed and pulled away. She stared up at her, green eyes shimmering under dark makeup. She traced a finger down Gilly's throat to her collarbone. The touch brought a tiny gasp.
"Tell me we're going to find them," Sam said.
"We're going to find them. We're going to find the Witches' Carnival and leave everything behind us and never have to worry about it again."
"Never, ever. It's going to be the easiest thing in the world." And at that moment, Gilly was certain it would be.
Copyright © 2006 by Kristopher Reisz
Excerpted from Tripping to Somewhere by Kristopher Reisz
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.