Hitchhiking on Route 66 By Harrison Comfort

Texas’ Most Wanted

Visiting Sabrina is the second most misguided thing I’ve done in the state of Texas. The first related to my career and the second revolved around a girl I met at Coachella. I lied to myself on both occasions, though, at least the more recent episode didn’t include following the herd. Six years prior, I chased a banking internship because I hated the idea of not living up to my charmed classmates. While flying to see someone I barely knew highlighted my need for external validation, I wouldn’t punish myself as badly for pursuing something that I thought I wanted. Yet as I stared down at the outlines of cattle farms during my descent into rural Texas, I couldn’t help wondering if I’d positioned myself for another life-altering mistake.

Last minute project,” a message came across my intern work station around 9:30PM. “Need someone, ASAP.

It took less than a day to realize that I hated finance. Sleep deprived and poorly groomed, I squirmed in a dark space with ten equally miserable bozos. We hunched in cubicles with endless stacks of crumpled presentations and rotting coffee cups, pushing not to be first one to crack and go home for the night. My head cold fortunately masked the numbing scent of body odors and aftershave. I imagined myself parading a full-time offer back on campus, and I replied to Mason’s note. I already had a project that would keep me in the office until midnight, but I wouldn’t forgive myself for losing out to snotty, rich kids because I didn’t try hard enough. The semi-circle layout had the analyst bullpen furthest from the waterfall entrance. I rushed down the taupe hallway, noting the increasingly well-furnished offices, and I forcefully tapped on Mason’s pristine door.

“What do you want?” Mason stared at his monitor, chewing mint gum at a million miles per second. “I’m in the middle of something…”

A former Naval officer with little interest in anything besides warships and brandy, Mason didn’t have the highest opinion of me. My university didn’t offer many accounting courses, so I had to teach myself basic concepts that all the other interns had already mastered. I was somewhat of a laughing stock amongst the interns because I could only name three differences between debt and equity when Mason called me out on our first day. Tall and articulate, he graduated from a top business school and believed public humiliation was the best way to instill discipline. It also didn’t help that I was the only one in our group not from Texas. He told me that Californians were nothing but a bunch of stoners and tree huggers. Given his undisputed reputation as the firm’s top associate, I badly needed to reverse his opinion if I wanted a job.

“I’m here about that note you sent out,” I said, pretending like my voice hadn’t cracked. “Can I help with something?”

“Well there, Hollywood,” he said sharply, enunciating my office nickname with unmistakable contempt. “Are you sure you have capacity for this? I need this done yesterday and it needs to be done right.”

“I have capacity,” I lied, ignoring his condescending subtext. “I can handle it.”

His tetradactyl-like countenance oozed disdain.

“You better be telling the truth” Mason said. “You ever done M&A comps before?”

“No,” I admitted. “But I’m sure I can figure it out.”

A function of my reputation and waning confidence, I hadn’t received many meaningful assignments to demonstrate the level of competence needed for a proper offer. Mason rubbed his balmy head and I forced myself to not blink. I was running out of chances to prove myself, and I couldn’t afford him assigning the task to someone else.

“Alright then,” Mason said. “I’m sending you a list of deals. I need this first thing tomorrow morning. No excuses. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“Then get to work.”

I didn’t get to Mason’s file until just after midnight and I cursed very loudly. It had over one hundred transactions! I hadn’t served like Mason, but my dad shipped me to boot camp after my freshman year of high school – both punishment for living in the Principal’s office and his way of telling me that I needed to lose weight. The First Sergeant would berate me as I collapsed onto the asphalt in exhaustion. The other kids would corner me in the barracks, flailing bars of soap into my ribs while holding me down. I felt the scars under my dress shirt and I focused. With the help of freshly brewed coffee, I ran through the list of deals in a little under three hours.

But I panicked, pouring myself the remnants of the bitter pot. I could only find pricing information on a small subset of what Mason had sent. I rechecked our database and industry reports with little success. In my borderline delirious state, I assumed that he would attribute the lack of information to stupidity. I wouldn’t receive an offer and would have to watch the lacrosse guys celebrating their signing bonuses with the pretty Northeast girls who never gave me the time of the day. So, I lied. With my eyes tearing from the screen’s glare, I input fake numbers to reduce the number of empty cells. Careful to maintain the same average as the legitimate figures, I created a second workbook and sent it to Mason. I heard him swearing down the corridor as I returned to my desk, only a couple hours later.

“Where did these numbers come from!?” his voice boomed. “There’s no way we would have that figure because it was a private offering.”

I was finished. My neck pulsated and I couldn’t breathe. I had two options at that moment. Wait for Mason to storm down to the bullpen, or proactively meet his wrath. Clenching my sweaty palms, I rushed to his office and I told myself to remain calm. Mason leapt out of his brown chair and extended his bony finger into my chest.

WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO!?” he demanded. “DID YOU PULL THESE NUMBERS OUT OF YOUR ASS?”

The whites of his eyes expanded in cartoon fashion. Unbeknownst to him, I had extensive experience being verbally abused. Not only from my time at the military academy, but a product of my father’s old school style of parenting. The key was misdirection. As he chastised me for feeling sorry for myself, I’d start banging my head against the wall. His tone would switch from scorn to bewilderment, and I’d be back in my room a few minutes later, albeit seeing stars. Mason required a similar approach. Intentionally squinting my eyes, I leaned over his monitor and I pretended to recheck the numbers.

“What are you talking about?” I bluffed. “That valuation is from one of the reports. I checked the logs like you asked.”

“No you didn’t,” Mason slammed the keyboard. “Show me the exact report. I’m searching for it right now… THERE’S NOTHING!”

Admitting the truth wasn’t an option. He’d fire me on the spot. I could, however, play to his already low perception of me. Mason hadn’t commented on the number of blanks, proving my fatigue-induced suspicion inaccurate. I smacked myself in the forehead to buy myself a few more seconds.

“Damn it!” I said, temporarily turning my back to him, so he wouldn’t see if I smiled. “I sent you the wrong document.”

“What do you mean!?” Mason cried. “How could you send me the wrong document? Why is there more than one document?”

I paused, racing for an excuse. The lamer, the better. The sun eked above the office building across the street and it temporarily blinded me.

“I screwed up the sorting,” I said.

“You what!?”

“The sorting. All the columns. I’ll send you the right one now.”

I ran to my work station and I sent him the correct version. I awaited another outburst from Mason, but it never came. The rest of the office had fortunately not yet arrived, so my incident remained anonymous to everyone except him. I didn’t hear from Mason again until later that afternoon. Another client had a similar ask and he figured I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. I completed the request correctly, and I ended up becoming his go-to intern for the rest of the summer. The ensuing six years would’ve evolved much differently had Mason cared enough to uncover my half-baked lie. Though I’m not sure I would’ve ever returned to Texas.

I emerged from a cramped regional jet the week after my twenty-seventh birthday. Fuel exhaust mixed with the heat remained equally as oppressive as I remembered. A tumbleweed skidded across the runway and I marched behind the other passengers. A totem pole stood at the edge of the tarmac, welcoming us to Amarillo. The terminal appeared no different than the dozens of regional airports I’d traveled through en route to business meetings following graduation – scarce, aged, and abundant with local merchandise. The only difference was I’d landed in my destination, rather than using it as a spring board to somewhere else. I slung my bag over my shoulder and I approached the only bar in sight.

“Hey babe,” Sabrina wrote me. “I’m outside… R u here yet??”

I didn’t immediately respond, concealing my excitement. I met Sabrina at Coachella through my sister and I was smitten. She had exotic eyes, bronze skin and the type of free-spirit attitude I needed to balance my anxiety-filled existence in New York. It didn’t matter that she had a guy with her because she assured me they were only friends. I should’ve listened to my doubts, but I wanted to believe that I’d found an oasis in the desert. The last time we saw each other was kissing during the festival’s final sunset. We talked for the next few months, everything from selfies to late night phone conversations, and I jumped at the chance when she asked if we’d ever see each other again.

“Can I get a shot of Bulleit?” I asked the cantina bartender.

Expressionless, she wiped down a glass and slid the bourbon in front of me. I pounded it and I asked for another. I hadn’t dated anyone in years and I believed there was an outside chance I could leave Amarillo in a relationship. It would be incredible to have someone I could rely on other than myself. I could blame my solitude on the self-absorbed, psychotic girls I’d met in the city, but the only commonality among them was me. I had no idea what Sabrina thought would happen that weekend, and I wish I would’ve lowered my expectations. However ridiculous, I hoped that Sabrina would help soothe the underlying anger driving my ambition. I recognize that I have advantages most people can only dream of, but money doesn’t cure a lack of support. I ordered another drink, and tossed some bills on the counter.

I drifted through baggage claim, and I stepped back out into the humidity. I spotted Sabrina’s bright, blue Mustang parked beside an abandoned taxi stand and she sped up to the curb. I tossed my bag in the trunk and I joined her up front. She was even more beautiful than I remembered, oozing literal warmth and peppermint fragrance. She wore the same bikini top from Coachella and a pair of ripped white shorts. The liquor hadn’t done much to help ease my nerves. Her smile rested gently below sparkling, oversized sunglasses. Our heads jived awkwardly, and I kissed the cherry area between her lips and left cheek.

“Hey stranger,” she said casually. “Have a good flight?”

I nodded.

“Well I can’t believe you’re actually here,” she flicked my chin. “Plus… I love the fact that you started the party early.”

 

Toxic Chemistry of Bonnie and Clyde

Sabrina sped off onto the two-lane highway as I appreciated my surroundings. The backseat seemed to have her entire life –  outfits for every occasion, speakers and paraphernalia. I enjoyed learning about the person I’d chatted with nearly every day for the prior few months. Cactuses growing out of red soil whizzed by as she pushed double the speed limit. Not too similar from Central Park, the breeze carried a hint of manure and vehicle exhaust. She smiled at me and unwrapped a lollipop. I liked her assertiveness. In a noticeably odd shift in demeanor, Sabrina grew irritated as her phone vibrated from a blocked caller.

“Should I answer?” she asked. “A private caller is kind of sketchy.”

“Up to you,” I said casually, not thinking twice as to who it could’ve been. “Go with your gut.”

She answered and readjusted her shades, temporarily driving with her knees.

“Hey… Sabrina said. “Who is this?”

I didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but I could hear a guy’s muffled voice on the other end.

“Why are you calling me on a blocked number? Didn’t think I’d pick up?”

“Are you home?” Sabrina continued. “Well then, I’m coming to pick up my stuff.”

Sabrina hung up and she tossed her phone in the center console. Placing both hands on the wheel, she swung her dark brown hair backwards. I didn’t want to blow up my visit after thirty minutes. Infidelity follows me in a way which makes me question myself as a person. I’ve never cheated, but I bring it out in people. Either way, I couldn’t not ask about whoever that was.

“Is everything alright?” I said.

“It’s fine,” she replied, annoyed. “It’s just this kid is a freakin’ idiot sometimes
.”

“What kid?” I grinned, pointing to myself. “You mean that kid? Or the Kid?

“No…” she shook her head, holding back a smile. “Just this guy I went to high school with. We were at a party the other night. He was wasted and he freaking took my bag. This shouldn’t take long.”

Sabrina accelerated off the freeway and we drove through a dodgy neighborhood. Between guys with sagging pants drinking in the back of pick-up trucks and loitering on every corner, I probably would’ve felt somewhat concerned had it not been the middle of the day. Unfazed, Sabrina turned down a relatively sparse street and parked outside a shaded apartment complex. It sat between a foreclosed home and an empty lot of weeds. Keeping her flamingo keychain in the ignition, she unlocked the door, and touch my thigh.

“I’ll just be a sec,” she said. “You can mess with the music if you want.”

“Do you want me to come with?” I asked, borderline unsure what would happen to me if left in the car alone. “This seems a bit bizarre.”

“Babe, it’s fine…” Sabrina extended her smooth leg outside the car. “I promise, I’m not going far.”

She slammed the door, and circled the front of the car. Her pink flip-flops sunk into the dandelion-filled grass and I watched like some sad puppy. Sabrina approached a side staircase with do not enter and beware of dog signs. Before I decided whether to follow, some dissolved dude emerged from behind the fence in a Mickey Mouse bathrobe. Pale and unshaven, he gnawed on a candy bar, smirking. As she handed him a crumbled white cloth, it occurred to me that she was a stranger. Like most twenty-four-year-old girls, she liked concerts and drinking with her friends, but this hardly qualified as knowing someone. Sabrina slipped some money into her top while I unsuccessfully attempted to rattle off any other information about her in my head. She rejoined me a few minutes later in her mystery machine and I debated how to address what had just transpired.

“So…” Sabrina said cheerfully, reversing towards the highway. “Now that you’re here, what do you want to do first?”

“You’re sure that’s just some guy you know?” I said. “I wasn’t spying or anything, but that whole exchange was really weird.”

She flexed her neck forward, presumably coming up with an explanation.

“There’s something you should know about me…” she said, intentionally speaking in a higher pitch. “I kind of have a side job.”

The confession, while not ideal, wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I knew plenty of kids who made a little extra cash on the side. I’d also listened to enough rap music to find some humor in the situation. Two outlaws on the run, heading to our hideout in Amarillo. Sabrina threw on a playlist she made for the weekend and I temporarily forgot what happened. A perfectly timed song by Future came on and I rhymed along to every word.

My amigo down in Texas, we gon’ get us some grande

Cherish every minute, every second we vibe, baby

I wanna be confident when I say you my lady

I wanna be arrogant when I say you my lady

I know I embarrass you, I simply violate it

Can you be the one who love me all the time?

Can you do the crime like it’s Bonnie and Clyde?

“You’re ridiculous,” Sabrina played with her choker necklace. “Are we going to your hotel then?”

I nodded as we reached the equivalent of downtown. I’d never seen so many American flags hanging from telephone wires and store fronts. The hotel stood across the street from the aging city courthouse. The interior resembled an old Creole-saloon with dark marble and gold chandeliers. The lobby was vacant besides a pair of boisterous tourists at the bar. I checked in, and we rode the rusty elevator to the top floor. Pleasantly surprised at the lemony scented hallway, I inserted the old fashioned turnkey into the door, and we pushed into what would soon turn into a war zone.

“Nice place,” Sabrina dropped her bag on one of the footrests. “I had no idea how nice this place was.”

She sank into a cushioned chair and crossed one Sa over the other. I tossed my stuff on the king-sized bed and flipped off my loafers. Sabrina and I hadn’t technically discussed her staying over, but even I wasn’t socially awkward enough to confirm. I blasted the air and I peeked behind the thick drapes. We had a direct view of the local baseball stadium; the Kansas City Royals had a minor league affiliate in Amarillo. When I was younger I wanted nothing more than to play professional sports, but I wasn’t close to good enough. Sabrina lit a cigarette despite it being a non-smoking room. I should’ve addressed the blatant disregard for my space, but I’d already questioned her twice in less than an hour. Telling myself to lighten up, I sat beside her, stretching out my arm.

“So now that we’re here…” she said softly. “What do you want to do now?”

Sabrina blew smoke over her shoulder and I leaned forward. A part of me wanted to jump on top of her, but I wasn’t sure how she would react if I pushed so soon. I hadn’t only come to Texas for physical intimacy. We still had all weekend together, so I thought. I kissed Sabrina’s cheek and she haphazardly scratched the back of my head. Her body seemed tense, and I wondered if it had to do with the Mickey Mouse guy. I could tell she felt conflicted but continuing to call her out would only drive a wedge between us. Surveying the suite, I motioned to the minibar underneath the flat screen, and she shrugged.

“So, what’s up with you?” I asked, cutting some limes. “It’s nice seeing you again. It just seems like you’re stressed out about something.”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “It’s all just a lot.”

I couldn’t force her if she didn’t want to share. Ice hit the back of my throat and I shivered. I rarely reveal my emotions because of how rarely they receive validation; or someone asks why I beat myself up so much. Sabrina’s openness would’ve undoubtedly made me feel more comfortable. Not because it would’ve given me a much-needed chance to vent but because her sharing would’ve implied that she felt comfortable enough that I didn’t need to worry about living up to be her ideal guy. We could instead lounge, holding one another until the physical contact naturally escalated. I rejoined her on the stiff couch and I placed her glass on the semi-modern table beside her. Sabrina hugged her legs, picking at her lime-painted toenails, and took a final draft of her cigarette.

“There’s a lot I haven’t told you,” she continued.” “Plus, I feel like you have this idea of me based on the person you met at Coachella. It’s not real life. This is real life. I guess I don’t know how you’ll react.”

The tingly remnants of nicotine hung on her breath. I still couldn’t tell whether she liked me, but I could sense her inner conflict. The air vent blasted onto the back of our necks and I slid a few inches away. Something was wrong. I just wish Sabrina would’ve told me the total truth instead of evoking sympathy.

“Well, I want to know,” I said softly. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

She closed her eyes and the mascara moistened.

“My dad isn’t doing very well,” she said plainly. “I took the semester off to help him out. He has a nurse and everything, and the doctors say he’s getting better, but it’s really sad seeing him like that.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied. “Are you doing, okay?

“Yeah, I guess,” she shrugged. “Everything else seems to be a mess, as well. I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. My cousin who is practically my best friend caught her boyfriend cheating on her with her roommate. And it’s just really overwhelming to have to deal with everything on your own.”

I didn’t know how to react to Sabrina’s sudden realness. On the one hand, I felt like my presence in Amarillo had unwittingly imposed on a shaky situation. But if her dad was sick, why was she gallivanting half naked around town with a pocket full of pills? I still hadn’t dealt with my madrina passing away the weekend before. My aunt’s trembling voice replayed in my head. My already small family had shrunk. I wondered how much longer my abuela would be around – the only person in the world who believes that I can do no wrong. I should’ve been back in Miami visiting her instead of chasing some girl I met at a music festival. I still don’t know if Sabrina mentioned all of that to manipulate me into letting Hunter stay with us.

“Hey – is it okay if my cousin comes to hang out with us?” Sabrina asked, typing on her phone. “She’s bored and looking for something to do. Plus, I don’t think it’s a good idea that she’s alone right now.”

I knew I was being taken advantage of, but I focused on the version of my alternate universe were Sabrina inviting her cousin over was an indicator of intimacy. Although if I’m honest with myself, the only times I’ve ever introduced my sister to whatever bartender or actress that I was seeing at the time were when I didn’t especially care about the person or found the situation wildly entertaining. I finished my drink and made another. Sabrina briefly disappeared into the bathroom, and I sunk into the goose-feathered bed. Being tipsy in a hotel room has a darkly cinematic appeal. Hunter banged on the door shortly thereafter. I chose to ignore the fact that her quick arrival indicated that she’d preplanned this with Sabrina.

“OH MY GOD!” a tiny creature with a lip ring and tattooed-sleeve burst inside. “This hotel is sketchy as fuck.”

Hunter dumped a grungy sack onto my bed, rocking an oversized jersey and playground sneakers. Her hair straightener unraveled and bags of makeup spilled across the comforter. She was only a sophomore in college, but I could sense through her body language that she had high emotional intelligence. Her feet pointed towards me, but she stared towards her cousin. I couldn’t stop admiring her small frame. As they cackled amongst each other, ignoring me, I remembered my formidable high school years when the only way girls would speak to me is if I did their chemistry homework. I knew they were using me, but I was the new kid who was fat and wouldn’t have anyone to speak with otherwise. Sabrina lit another cigarette as I stared up at the ceiling. I hated that over a decade had passed and yet I’d landed myself in the same position I used to cry about in my room on Friday nights. Visibly disturbed, Hunter wrestled for Sabrina’s colorful lighter.

“Give me one,” Hunter cried. “First you make me come all the way to this creepy hotel and there’s no parking. Then, these two disgusting old men were yelling weird shit at me from the bar. Then that shitty elevator kept going up and down like some kind of paranormal movie set. And all this, after you ditched me last night because of your boyfriend. You’re the worst cousin ever.”

I should’ve in retrospect excused myself, cancelled my room and hopped on the next flight out of Amarillo. An objective third party would’ve mistaken the red flags for some sort of communist protest. I was just too much in denial to clarify that boyfriend comment. Sabrina and I had chatted the prior evening, so I told myself Hunter was jokingly referring to me. We met at a music festival had a certain new-age charm, and I didn’t want to abandon my romantic aspirations. I ignored their banter and  pretended to watch sports. They had somehow amassed five outfits each and took turns fighting in front of the full-sized mirror. The occasional smile from Sabrina conned me into viewing the display as endearing. Nearly ready, Sabrina brought me another vodka soda and her necklace dangled over my face.

“Hey Kid, how do you feel about getting out of here, soon?” Sabrina asked suggestively.  “It’s almost six, and we should probably eat something before later.”

Hunter finally looked at me, but quickly diverted her eyes.

“Well excuse me,” Hunter mumbled. “I didn’t realize we were in such a hurry. I forgot fancy people from New York are always rushing everywhere.”

Feigned indifference had done little to establish my presence in the increasingly estrogen-filled room.

“So Hunter, you’re just going to come into my hotel room and not even say hello?” I called. “You must be a water sign.”

“How did you know!?” she bellowed. “Are you some kind of astrology weirdo? I knew if Sabrina liked you, you must be strange.”

I beamed with pride as I knew from experience that water signs fed on drama. I can usually guess a person’s horoscope on my first or second try. I make it a habit to memorize facts like state capitals and school mascots to better establish familiarity with strangers. It made me seem like less of an outsider and more likely to be included in conversation. I also found Hunter’s feistiness attractive and I wanted to see if she’d flirt back under harmless enough parameters.

“Pisces or Scorpio?” I continued.

“Scorpio, obviously,” Hunter adjusted her crimson top.

I winked at Sabrina, who seemed pleased that I’d engaged her cousin. I omitted that my star sign made me more compatible with Hunter than Sabrina.

“Makes sense,” I said nonchalantly. “Scorpios are good friends to have, but if you piss them off they’ll never speak to you again. And not that I’m accusing you of anything, but there’s a disproportionate number of strippers that are Scorpios.”

“EW!” Hunter squeezed. “I don’t even want to know how you know that.”

I grinned like drunken rodeo clown as Sabrina sat beside me again

“Me neither,” Sabrina said, oddly indifferent to our conversation. “But hey, are you ready?”

“Indeed, I am,” I rolled out of bed. “I’m a little drunker than I should be, but I promise I’ll be on my best behavior.”

Hunter crossed her arms and squinted.

“Good,” Sabrina slipped into a pair of strapped sandals. “Because all my friends really want to meet you.”

 

Amarillo Nights

Sabrina, Hunter and I stopped at a burrito stand on our way to the bar. It had surprisingly fresh guacamole with chunky avocado and a sharp layer of pico de gallo. The occasional car sped by as we turned down an unpaved road. Humidity subsided and a cool evening breeze emerged across the rural community. Old men whistled from their porches while tossing dice. An unmistakable scent of bourbon and tobacco hung above an extended barbeque pit. We reached the biergarten after another ten minutes of sidestepping stones and uncollared dogs. The liveliness reminded me of a county fair after the children had gone to bed.

“We’re here!” Sabrina announced.

We ordered drinks at one of the wooden stations, and we quickly separated. Hunter bumped into a pair of her sorority sisters and they disappeared into one of the outhouse stalls. It surprised me that this behavior wasn’t unique to New York dive bars. Sabrina stepped away to answer a call from someone she didn’t want me overhearing. I circled the gravel in admiration of the wide age range. College kids to middle-aged folks socialized around bonfires and amusement park games. I parked myself at a side picnic table and experienced an odd sense of yearning and resentment. In one sense, I felt accomplished that I had known many cultures. I sometimes received messages from old friends who I hadn’t thought about in ages, only to realize that my ambition clouded my ability to maintain meaningful relationships. Yet my constant upheaval and myriad of experiences had resulted in an identity defined by accomplishments rather than people. I wondered how my perspective would’ve changed had I grown up in a place like Amarillo. I almost didn’t notice Sabrina snuggle up beside me.

“Are you having fun?” Sabrina purred, resting her chin on my shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” I replied. “I was just thinking how I wish I grew up somewhere like this. The sense of community is really nice.”

“I guess,” she shrugged. “It’s nice, but it gets old sometimes. Everybody knows your business. I’ve already seen a few people I knew that I’d rather not have seen, but what’s a girl to do?”

Sabrina stirred her citrusy drink and I wondered how she’d react if I moved to town. Admittedly, I would have to know her enormously better to convince myself that such a drastic change was worth giving up my city life, but it’s not as if I didn’t have the urge to drop everything and start over like I had so many times before. Beyond living together, I had zero idea what I would do for a living, though I felt reasonably confident that I could find some generic business development position at an oil company that would paid enough to save up for a house without consuming every waking hour. Besides Fitzgerald, virtually every great American author grew up or lived in the South. The pace of conversation left ample time for reflection. A group of Sabrina’s friends wandered in our direction and she shot up to greet them.

“Hi guys!” she waved, hugging the girls.

I counted seven, total – three emaciated blondes with nose rings, three bulky dudes in trucker hats, and Berta. Berta was the largest of the group and had beady eyes. She squinted at me and rolled her leg over the bench. I didn’t understand at the time; her disapproval resulted from me unknowingly conflicting with her morals. Sabrina’s friends assembled around the table as I gauged their reactions. All of them seemed neutral besides Berta, who clasped her sausage-like fingers and frowned. I ignored her and  listened to the group’s conversation about the prior weekend – lots of drinking and drama and a not so subtle reference to horse tranquilizers. I didn’t want to come across as overzealous, so I searched the crowd for Hunter. Her tiny figure was impossible to miss. She leaned against one of the trailers with her arms crossed while some guy in construction boots smashed a can against his head. Amused, she rocked backwards, and smirked. She knew that I found her attractive. Berta, who predictably took offense to my disinterest, gnawed on a peanut as she cleared her throat.

“So apparently we’re supposed to call you The Kid?” she commented. “You’ve just been sitting there brooding. Are you thinking about how you’re bored and want to go home?”

The blurred, gnat-filled lighting shone on me. Sabrina looked down at the dirt, and bit her lip. I hadn’t consumed enough alcohol to retaliate in kind. Notwithstanding my unknowing participation in infidelity, I attributed her aggressiveness to insecurity. I could empathize with Berta given I used to be fat, but I couldn’t tolerate being a scapegoat for her lack of self-esteem, especially when I needed to win the respect of Sabrina’s friends. The table shifted towards me as I finished my drink. Feigning a smile, I squeezed Sabrina’s thigh and  motioned to one of the counters.

“I was actually thinking about how I wanted another tequila,” I said. “I feel like everyone is way ahead of me.”

“Well are you going to buy us any?” she continued. “I mean.. you’re like a trust fund kid right?”

The hostility caught me off guard. I couldn’t tell whether Sabrina had spread lies about me or if Berta had accused me of being like the lazy degenerates I knew in college. If the former, then perhaps Sabrina wasn’t much different from the girls I’d met in New York. It never crossed my mind that someone would like me because of money. If the latter, I could attribute it to Berta trying to assert power in the group. Or maybe I did come across as a pretentious jerk. Either way, I had no comeback. Either Sabrina, Berta or I were to blame and overreacting would undoubtedly implicate me. Sabrina’s cheeks grew red, and I opted not to respond. The conversation shifted towards a tailgate they planned on attending, and I fixated on Berta. I wanted her to feel fear for embarrassing me in front of them. I excused myself and made a reference to the elephant in the room.

“So I definitely want another tequila, but Berta, it looks like all of your peanuts are gone, would you like me to bring back some more?”

The guys chuckled as Berta’s grin disappeared. She readjusted her skirt over her meaty legs and frowned. I don’t enjoy making people feel bad about themselves, but none of them would’ve respected me had I not responded with a final sense of indifference. I almost didn’t care that I’d probably ruined any chance of sleeping with Sabrina. Intentionally ignoring her conflicted expression, I shuffled through the lot, which reeked of cheap whiskey and body odor. Pebbles had climbed into my loafers, which I’d only started to notice since my buzz had started wearing off.  I had no desire to return to the table. I surveyed the various stands and approached the one closest to Hunter, who still conversed with the hulky fellow. I didn’t know how she’d react to my hovering, though based on the way she bit her lip when we first locked eyes, I figured she might welcome the chance to engage with me alone.

“I’ll have a water,” I said to the scrawny bartender, deciding to sober up.

I’d started to fantasize about Hunter’s thin limbs. I didn’t need any more help exhibiting questionable judgement.

“Actually, make that two.”

He reached into a cooler under a rack of liquor with a bullseye. Hunter tilted her head in my direction, and I pretended not to notice. I’d spoken loud enough for her to hear me, but I didn’t want to directly reveal my desire to speak with her. Through my periphery, I admired her cheek bones and smooth shoulders. What struck me most was the untamed ferociousness. I not only found her as attractive as Sabrina, but I could empathize with Hunter’s self-destructive instinct. Booze and attention make all problems temporarily disappear. I poured icy water down my throat, and we stared at one another in a cracked mirror beside the bar. I stepped towards her, and she spun away from her guy mid-conversation. We faced each other. I wanted nothing more than to push her against the trailer door and lift her in the air.

“Water!?” she burped. “What are you, a lightweight? I knew they didn’t know how to drink up in New York!”

My infatuation immediately disappeared. Her speech slurred, and she could barely stand. Hunter needed a therapist, not a lover. I twisted the water open and I insisted she have some. Throwing her head back, Hunter took a large swig and tossed the bottle over her shoulder, which cascaded like an unmanned garden hose over a group of friends.

“You’re lucky you know,” Hunter said somberly. “Not everyone can just find someone… even though the situation is pretty fucking sketchy.”

Gasoline oozed from a motorcycle engine behind the gate and briefly overtook the country rock playing in the background. Hunter crossed her arms and she stuck her tongue out. I should’ve clarified what she meant by sketchy, but I continued hiding from the truth. I wanted to keep pretending that I was still in some romantically, rebellious fairytale. I found it easier to focus on Hunter’s recent discovery of infidelity because I preferred focusing on her issues over mine. The only girlfriend I ever had cheated on me. Granted it happened one month before we ended our thirty-three-month affair, but I’ve never been able to forget the image of an international soccer star bending her over in the bathroom of a Las Vegas nightclub. She’d chosen someone better looking, more accomplished and infinitely more intriguing. Even though we hadn’t directly discussed it, I wanted to beg Hunter not to use what happened as an excuse to treat the opposite sex as a remedy for filling the expanding the void inside her. I ordered us each another water, but she slapped the bottle out of my hand.

“Psh…” Hunter buzzed her lips dismissively. “I don’t give shit about it anymore, so neither should you.”

She twirled back to the bearded guy, resulting in me standing there stupidly. I literally didn’t have anyone within one thousand miles who cared about my existence. Not especially interested in rejoining the conversation about pop culture and reality TV shows, I was relieved to see Sabrina’s guy friends setting up a game of cornhole, one of my favorite college pastimes. It required no conversation yet gave the appearance of being social. Approximately twenty feet from each other, we took turns lofting raggedy beanbags onto the two rectangular targets. I hit all four tosses on my first turn to the surprise of my teammate. We won five games in a row, and I would’ve insisted that we keep playing, but the other team grew tired of losing. As they mumbled about what to do next, Sabrina wandered over and slid under my arm.

“You guys having a good time?” she smiled.

“Yeah, but I think they were talking about doing something else,” I replied. “Are you?”

“Yeah… it’s okay,” she shrugged. “But what do you want to do? We can stay here for a while longer or go somewhere else. I’ll do whatever, but no one wants to make a decision.”

My mind raced with possibilities; her sudden display of affection made me reconsider the chance of going back together.

“I’m pretty tired,” I said.  “If your friends want to go somewhere else, that’s cool. Otherwise, I’m good to head back to the room.”

“Sounds good to me,” Sabrina replied. “Let me just say bye to my friends.”

“Sounds good.”

“We really shouldn’t leave without Hunter, though.”

Kicking myself for getting overly excited, I called an Uber, and Sabrina dragged her cousin into the backseat. We carried Hunter upstairs since she couldn’t walk. I’d checked in less than twelve hours prior and the room already looked worse than my old fraternity house – clothes everywhere with an unpleasant scent of musty liquor and cigarettes. Sabrina thought a shower would help sober Hunter up. I crawled into bed as they argued in the bathroom. I assumed our night had ended and decided to hold off on processing everything until morning. At minimum, I’d earned a decent night’s sleep. Just as I almost dozed off, Sabrina curled up beside me. With the water running, she sat cross-legged in one of my white t-shirts and started tearing up. I didn’t understand why she of all people was upset, so I looked up at her, confused, as she ruffled my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” Sabrina said. “It’s embarrassing that she gets like this, but she can’t help it. We’re just going through a tough time. I really hope you’re not mad.”

I was candidly more irritated that she’d woken me up. She buried her face in her palms, and I couldn’t help laughing. Notwithstanding that these girls were taking advantage of me, I couldn’t help finding the situation amusing.

“I mean… it’s not ideal,” I said. “I don’t mind that she’s here, but I would’ve preferred if asked me before I showed up. Also, it wasn’t cool how your friend just called me out for no reason… it’s like they all enjoyed putting me on the spot when I don’t know any of them and you just sat there.”

In an unforeseen turn of events, Sabrina wrapped her leg around me, and started kissing my neck.

“Aww… poor you,” Sabrina whispered. “Besides, we’re alone now, aren’t we? Well… relatively alone, anyway.”

She rolled on top of me and I didn’t know how to react. Hunter being in the other room felt strange, but the prospect of an audience was also weirdly arousing. Sabrina’s quads dug into the sheet as I reached under her shirt. Her body oozed warmth. I threw her down onto the mattress and I pushed down her panties with my foot. But by the time we almost reached the point of no return, a groan rumbled from the bathroom, and Sabrina pushed me away.

“Sabrina!” Hunter whined feebly. “Come here! I just threw up!!”

Sabrina slipped out from underneath me like nothing had happened. I stared up at the dark ceiling as my breathing subsided. Her minty lips lingered, and I indulged in a moment of self-pity. Only I could share a hotel room with two girls and still fall asleep by myself. Disappointed in my inability to close, I passed out to the sounds of muffled tears and toilets flushing.

 

Allegory of The Oil Rig

The girls seemed so peaceful relative to the night before – burrowed under heavy sheets with calm expressions. I took a mental photograph before peeking behind the thick curtains. Sunlight beamed through the glass, momentarily overtaking the room’s blasting AC. Downtown Amarillo appeared surprisingly active – aged cars patrolling the brick road and pedestrian ducking into shops for milk and cigarettes. I hadn’t come all that way to shack up in some hotel room. Welcoming the chance to reflect on what had transpired, I grabbed some fresh clothes and I worked out in the basement gym. The combination of endorphins, sweating out toxins, and a cold shower made me feel fresh. I entered the heat in pursuit of a mountain of eggs, presuming Sabrina and Hunter wouldn’t be mobile for hours.

Locals whistled in line at the post office with a morning paper under their arms. Tulips sat prominently in ice water on a carpentered porch. Each greeting or pothole that I witnessed created a burning sense of nostalgia. Unlike the girls or the folks performing their Saturday routines, I’ve never been part of a community. And after some time passed before the next move, I still hadn’t progressed passed the stage of a scarlet letter, the sign of a known outsider. I wondered if the people of Amarillo would ever accept me if I spent the rest of my life in that cowboy town but hunger offset my morning cynicism. I weaved through a row of motorcycles outside the checkered diner. Grease roared from the kitchen. I took one of the only open tables beside the street window. I called my oldest friend, Jim, as I waited for my order, to help ignore the bikers’ stares from the opposing counter.

“Hey, buddy,” Jim said cheerfully. “How’s Texas? Eating your bodyweight in steak? Exercising your second amendment? Tell me you ate your bodyweight in steak after exercising your second amendment.”

I spat up my coffee in amusement. It reminded me of something that Sabrina said the first night we met in the desert – that I don’t laugh enough. It’s not intentional; I just take everything seriously because I hate getting my hopes up. Believing that everything is always going to be okay is delusional. I readjusted my back against the firm cushion, salivating over the smell of uncured bacon. I felt the bikers still watching me, so I lowered my voice.

“It’s alright,” I said quietly. “It reminds me of Dazed and Confused. Everyone knows everyone from somewhere and most of the conversations are about the next time they can all hang out. The meat is objectively incredible, though.”

“And what about the girl, baby? You can’t just call me up and not tell me about the girl. Unless of course, you met someone else…”

Jim and I couldn’t be more different with respect to relationships. He usually had a stable, supportive girlfriend while I chased aspiring actresses. He regularly considered his values and surrounded himself with people who shared them. I aligned with whoever shared my short-term ambitions. Even as a writer, Jim read libraries of classics and completed his master’s degree in non-fiction. I generally despised reading other works because it reminded me of how much better I need to be, and my formal education included a single screenwriting course in college. Not to suggest that he had come from anything resembling a stable household, but Jim had long since overcome his ego. I had not. I dossed my plate in hot sauce and let the acidity burn the inside of my lip.

“Yeah, things are good. Still seeing how it’s all going to play out, but I’ll tell you about it next week. How are you doing?”

“Oh you know, same old. I have to write some pages, but I might go out to a bar to watch some baseball. I’m cooking dinner tonight as a surprise, so I have to go shopping. I’ve never actually cooked ravioli, but apparently it’s not as hard as everyone says.”

His girlfriend received a promotion at work and Jim had planned a celebratory evening. I needed to learn how to be less selfish. On a scale of one-to-ten, I was Holden Caulfield. I complain about not being with someone who appreciates me, but I’ve never cooked dinner for a girl in my life. I told Jim to message me if he had any trouble mixing the ricotta and that I’d call him when I got back to the city. Sabrina had messaged me asking where I was, so I asked for two stacks of pancakes to-go. I added a few healthier sides in case they didn’t prefer a fountain of syrup. I looked forward to seeing how they’d react to breakfast, if only to see whether they would appreciate my hospitality. I nodded at the bikers, who tilted their dark sunglasses as I limped into the salty heat.

“Is that you?” Sabrina croaked from bed. “Where were you? I texted you and you didn’t respond.”

I shuffled towards them in the dark and dropped the plastic boxes on the nightstand nearest to them. I contemplated kissing Sabrina’s cheek, but I didn’t want to seem presumptuous. Hunter reached over her cousin to inspect the boxes, nearly knocking a fruit bowl on the group.

“Oh my god, I needed pancakes,” Hunter cried. “How did you know?”

Sabrina looked up at me, slightly trembling. I should’ve known why, but I attributed it to her strong feelings towards me. I smiled as if I hadn’t noticed her hesitance.

“Thanks, Kid,” she said softly. “That was sweet of you.”

Content with their reaction, I rested on my side of the bed while the girls picked at their breakfast. Due to the combination of alcohol and little sleep, I buried my head into the soft pillow and fell asleep for a couple of hours. I awoke to them mildly more energetic. They giggled at a reality show about ten strangers looking for a spouse. I initially thought they were watching ironically, but it turned out they knew one of the contestants from high school. I couldn’t decide whether I felt more ashamed of being with two people who found the story engaging or the fact I watched an entire episode. The room began to feel like a time warp, devoid of productivity. I turned on one of the bedside lamps and I foraged for my shoes.

“You want to do anything?” I asked. “We’ve been sitting here for a while.”

Sabrina smiled wearily as Hunter typed furiously in her phone.

“Nope,” Hunter interlocked her fingers like a mummy. “I’m staying right here.”

“Who said I was talking to you?” I said.

“We can do something,” Sabrina sighed. “What do you want to do?”

I ignored the condescending tone, chalking it up to Sabrina wanting to impress her cousin.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Anything, really. I’d be down to go for a walk or drive around or sit in the Walmart parking lot eating bird seeds. Whatever you guys do around here. I want the full experience.”

They looked at one another as if the ask behooved them.

“Why don’t you take him to one of the fields,” Hunter grinned. “There’s nothing more Amarillo than that.”

“Sounds great,” I said, though I admittedly would’ve agreed to anything involving getting out of that musty room.

“Okay, sure,” Sabrina replied. “If that’s what you want, we can go.”

She dangled her colorful keychain from ripped denim shorts. I felt a rush of anxiety as we tunneled through the parking lot to the Mustang. I’d clearly guilted her into spending time with me, as if she’d only agreed to avoid criticism from Hunter. Sabrina cranked an electronic dance mix before I could speak. I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. She probably hadn’t slept much, but it’s not as if I insisted we hike through the wetlands on a week-long excursion. I didn’t even consider that her aloofness had anything to do with me. I watched the long grass dancing in the wind, pretending like I hadn’t internalized her indifference. I hated feeling like a burden because it touched on a scarred belief that no one would objectively enjoy my company. Sabrina inadvertently blew smoke in my face as we accelerated onto the open freeway.

“So, where do you want to go exactly?” she asked. “I’m just driving around right now.”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “How about the place Hunter suggested?”

Sabrina drove for another half hour until we couldn’t see another car on the road – nothing but industrial, yellow structures circling like windmills. She pulled over and the smell of diesel stuck to the inside of my nose. In weeds up to our waists, we circled the car, and climbed onto the hood. Unfiltered crude sprouted from the ground – energy which harvested America. I considered holding her as we stared outwards into the plains, but she shifted her torso away, discretely glancing at her phone. Manufacturing intimacy would’ve made me come across as weak. I eventually needed resolution, even though her behavior was obvious to everyone else.

“I don’t mean to put you on the spot,” I said. “But is everything okay? It feels like something is wrong. I didn’t realize that you had been going through so much. Especially with your dad.”

She hesitated before responding, dangling her feet above the mud.

“It’s not that,” she replied. “I just feel like you are having a terrible time.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” I snapped. “I’m having a nice time. It’s also a bit hard to have a good time when you keep accusing me of having a bad time.”

Sabrina sighed, using her tanned forearm to prop open her eyes.

“It’s just…” she trailed off. “I don’t know. This is probably really boring compared to New York. I would be really bored if I were you. I live here and even I know it’s boring.”

“It’s not boring,” I said. “I liked meeting your friends. Except for Berta. She was a bit of a manatee. But it’s cool being to a place that is completely different.”

She shrugged, leaning backward on the windshield. The sky turned mustard, and Sabrina lit another cigarette. Nicotine mixed with the looming exhaust. I couldn’t understand why she’d agreed to see me if she had no desire to converse. I didn’t hide my desire to sleep with her, but I’d also spent considerable time attempting to know her in advance of my visit. I grabbed her hand as a final test, needing to understand her feelings about the situation. She didn’t immediately react, though eventually rubbed her icy, thumb ring on my palm. We listened to the evening’s buzzing insects as I raced to think of some topic of conversation – anything that would come across as intriguing or charming and validate my decision to fly to the middle of nowhere. I can’t even imagine how desperate I must have seemed.

“For whatever it’s worth… I know what it’s like to feel like you’re on your own,” I said. “That you’re dealing with an impossible situation. And if you were to say what was on your mind to whoever was around, it wouldn’t resonate. You’d come across as intense or ungrateful.”

“Yeah…” she released my hand, playing with her lighter. “I think I get what you mean.”

But she didn’t. My problems are like eating crab because a seafood joint is out of lobster. My grip goes raw from wrestling with the shell cracker. The people I’m with pontificate about social issues. I don’t contribute because I can’t relate to the underlying pretentiousness or how it contributes to my goals. The table calls me out for being antisocial. As the conversation switches to post-dinner plans, I politely excuse myself under the mask of being tired to avoid another 4AM affair where I count the minutes until closing. I glanced at Sabrina and she extended her arms forward.

“So, you’ve pretty much seen everything in Amarillo,” Sabrina sighed. “Should we go back to the hotel? I need to change, if we go out later.”

I nodded, and we rode back in silence. I wanted to start drinking the moment we returned to the room as a means of getting me through the night. I still don’t understand how the place became such a disaster – smeared make-up, dirty sheets and wet towels. Hunter remained in the same position as before, only under more sedatives with less clothes. I couldn’t believe that I’d wanted to sleep with someone so unhinged, but I clearly had a type. Sabrina dropped her purse on the carpet and she curled up next to her cousin. They raided Hunter’s portable medicine cabinet, and I emptied the minibar for rum. Being sober was no way to handle two half-naked girls on pain killers. I plopped onto my side of the bed as they took a series of selfies.

“So, what do you want to do, Kid?” Hunter croaked. “It’s your last night, right?”

Amarillo had a minor league affiliate only a few minutes away. Attending a game felt like a sufficient low-key activity. Baseball is also arguably my favorite sport. A catcher’s glove collapsing around a ninety-five mile per hour fastball coupled with rusty bleachers evoked memories from childhood. I was a historian of the game, not that either of them cared, but I would’ve preferred not sitting around that damp hotel all night.

“How about going to a game?” I said. “Tickets are dirt cheap.”

“Baseball is boring,” Hunter groaned. “Can’t we do something else?”

“We could still go out,” Sabrina suggested. “There’s another place we could check out. Or we could hang here for a while.”

“Let’s just stay in,” I said, resigned to an underwhelming evening.  “How about a movie or something?”

“Yes!” Hunter exclaimed. “I love scary movies. Can we watch one?”

“Does it have to be a scary movie?” I said. “I hate scary movies.”

“Come one, now,” Sabrina teased. “Don’t be a fraidy cat.”

I shrugged, and they reached for some more pills. I detest scary movies because I can’t disassociate myself from the story. They chose a film about a guy with twenty-three personalities who abducts three young girls. His unstable identities made me realize how often I lost a sense of who I am. I’m just some kid from nowhere with no one who can vouch for the guy behind the mask. The girls grew extremely loopy and incoherently mumbled to each other.

“Oh my god,” they drooled. “That was intense……….”

They passed out shortly thereafter. I finished the mini-bottles that remained and stared out at the moon. An odd twist of disappointed and relieved, I took solace in the fact that I’d be leaving the following afternoon.

 

Consolation Prize

Sabrina and I were finally alone, but the moment had passed. Hunter left at the crack of dawn for some sorority party back at school; I wouldn’t be surprised if she reached out eventually because no one else understood per pain. Sabrina sat cross-legged, trying to come up with an excuse to skip out on work. She looked tired and frantic. I smirked at my inability to close – lying with some girl who’d touched my penis for an aggregate of ten seconds. I couldn’t wait to get back to New York. Sabrina smacked my bare shoulder, irritated by my amusement.

“Why are you laughing?” she cried. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about work. My boss said it’s really important that I’m in today.”

“So go,” I said, no longer vested in the weekend’s outcome. “This sounds like a very easily solved problem.”

“But I don’t want to go,” she whined. “I’m not going to just leave you here…”

I ran both hands through my hair and I hopped out of bed. Ignoring her complaining, I chugged a bottle of water and I burped. Confused, I looked down at the cluttered floor and noticed that my jeans were drenched in ketchup. A second set of bedding had magically appeared in addition to a second round of room service. For dramatization, I kicked the room service tray against the wall and red goop splattered everywhere.

“What is this?” I laughed sinisterly. “When did this happen?”

“Relax!” Sabrina said. “We just got hungry in the middle of the night and Hunter accidentally spilled.”

Accidentally spilled?” I shook my jeans, so the ketchup sprinkled on the covers. “This doesn’t look like she accidentally spilled. This looks like she poured the bottle on my clothes and then called downstairs for more, so she could finish the job.”

“That’s not what happened!” she cried. “I told you, she’s going through a hard time.”

“Sabrina,” I jumped onto the bed like a six-year old. “Look at this place. It’s worse than downtown Baghdad. They’re going to charge me so much to clean it, I’m going to need a loan from that country bumkpin savings and loans office down the road and pick up a second job. I’ll need to explain to them it’s because I’m the loser that let this Texas girl and her cousin walk all over me.”

“You’re such an asshole!” she leapt to her feet, foraging for her belongings. “This whole weekend was a huge mistake. I don’t even know why you came. You obviously had a terrible time.”

I hopped onto the carpet and I stared directly into her eyes.

“I feel like you spent more time telling me I had a terrible time than actually trying to enjoy it.”

“What are you talking about? I was trying to be nice and now you’re probably going to go back to New York write about story about this and put it on your stupid website.”

I grabbed my half-empty suitcase and flailed it towards the wall opposite Sabrina, inadvertently shattering the lamp. It wasn’t deliberate. I write to make people feel less alone. To not feel worthless. And if even one person could relate, I’d be able to stomach the inevitable criticism. Sabrina froze as my voice cracked with rage.

“DON’T YOU GET IT!?” I exploded. “I hate that I write. It’s a fucking crutch. And as psychotic as this sounds, I thought I’d come here and get rid of that pitiful, desperate need by being with you.”

I’ve never understood the desire to have sex, beyond being a prerequisite for reproduction. I can’t describe the ensuing interaction except that it didn’t feel real. In a total one eighty, Sabrina stepped forward and she kissed me. I shoved her onto the mattress and we ripped each other’s clothes off. Her pelvis rapidly pressed against mine, bone on bone. The aggression amplified until we were yelling. I was sure someone from hotel security would barge in at any moment. I thrusted one last time and we exhaled simultaneously. We released and exhaled without touching. Sabrina’s phone buzzed from across the room and she told who I could only assume was her boss that she was on her way.

“Are you sure everything is going to be okay with the room?” she rushed to the door, accumulating her belongings in record time. “I didn’t mean for things to get a bit out of hand.”

I’d unwittingly given her what she wanted, but I hadn’t realized how badly she played me.

“It happens,” I said, trying to seem nonchalant. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Well I had a nice time this weekend,” she held her bag tightly. “I might go to Burning Man this year, otherwise I’ll see you at Coachella.”

The door slammed, and I stood in the abyss. I won the weekend in the shallow sense, but I knew something was off. I messaged Sabrina when I got back to New York and she didn’t respond. I sent her a second message the following morning, but still nothing. It ate at me for several days. I decided to call her after a few glasses of wine but before I pulled the trigger, she posted a picture with another guy – a tailgate selfie with her boyfriend of several months. Hunter even commented on the picture. I was too pathetic to acknowledge the truth. In retrospect, visiting Amarillo is the third most misguided thing I’ve done in Texas – staying the full weekend and trying to make it work with a stranger definitely takes the cake.

 

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