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Return to Normal

Reluctant road trips

Return to Normal

“You told us, under no circumstances, would we ever return to Normal.” Jessica scratched the excema outbreak on her hand as she looked out the smudged window.

Nothing but sky, grass, and the sense that they never really had escaped Illinois. Sure, she and Mel had gone to Ridgewood California and rented a shack the commune dared called a house, but they never really, truly got away from Normal, Illinois. 

That two-faced town had it's hooks in them deep, hoisting them up to the ceiling to bait them into a fall.

 “Yo, don't scratch that!” Mel turned down the radio. 

“We've been over this, Jess. You got served a goddamn subpoena. We can either go back for your depo, or we can try to sneak across the Mexican border because like hell we can afford new passports right now.” Mel's voice pitched high from the spliff she was smoking, but Jess knew when Mel was panicked.

Mel's tells for panicked driving were blasting Linkin Park, which was currently playing Papercut, and a fondness for speeding. Their duct-taped Prius shook whenever they went over 80 mph and the dash rattled like a greyhound bus.

Which they should've taken to save money, but the last time Jess had been behind a guy who shouted repeatedly at a 14 year old girl to pull her pants down while in line for the bus. She would've told him off if she hadn't additionally overheard he just got out of the slammer for aggravated  sexual assault and battery.

Their prison system hard at work, she supposed.

“I know. I'm not mad at you. I'm good. I just...” Jess trailed off.

She remembered the door frame cracking open from the SWAT team. The flashing lights, the rifles, the 'go go go' being chanted like a war cry. Their pitmix Esme barking and launching.

She remembered her father bellowing that they'd never take him alive as he brandished his .357 magnum that Jess had long, long ago begged him to sell to pay the water bill.

They made her look at their bloodstained carpet, and gave her esme's collar.

“We go for the depo, you say your side of the story, we get the hell out of bat country, ok? I promise. I posted a tiktok saying we were going on some ayuhuasca yoga retreat vision quest and won't have phones. No one in Normal, Illinois will know we're there except those power-tripping lawyers.” Mel exhaled and passed the spliff to Jess who took a hit like a scuba diver low on air.

Ever since Mel picked her up from the police station, dressed in a neon-green Billie Eilish T shirt, flannel pants, and crocs; she'd been the planner. She wielded her anxiety like a double edged broadsword, cutting down their expenses with her resourcefulness, and staying up till dawn perched on the edge of her bed, muttering over how vulnerable their commune was to a Qanon attack.

“I don't know what karma I cashed in to have you in my life, but I'm glad you made us save up for this car, and even more happy you're driving it.” Jess exhaled, coughing a bit.

She couldn't help but be a tiny bit sappy. They wanted to spend their four year anniversary at Big Sur, not in backwater Illinois.

“Ehhh, you might want to be careful what you wish for. You know my license is still suspended, right?” Mel's smirk was a fine slice of porcelain across her face. 

“That cop was just salty you beat his souped up cruiser in your janky MR2.” Jess inhaled through a laugh, which only caused a coughing fit.

As they passed the sign for Normal, Illinois, Jess' excema itched, but she didn't scratch it.

Power in Numbers




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