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Roger's thoughts on the way to Santa Fe.
What was I thinking?
Whatever it was, he was apparently still thinking it, because he still didn't turn the car around, though the miles ticked away in a series of white lines on black pavement, broad stretches of open desert, and tiny New Mexico towns of stucco and red tile roofs. A long way from New York, and a long stretch of highway behind him, between here and home.
Roger distractedly tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, drumming out an unthinking rhythm to match the rain that pelted onto his windshield unceasingly, one of those fierce desert storms that rose so suddenly and with such fury. The headlights illuminated the road in front of him through the silvery streaks of rain, though it wasn't as if there was much to see. The landscape on either side of the highway seemed dead, red-brown and scorched by the sun, now pounded into mud by the rain, a few cattle now and then... cacti... Mark would have seen something worthwhile in all of this, but Roger didn't have that vision. All he saw was dirt.
The digital numbers on the clock of the dashboard stared at him, a silent accusation somehow. 1:21. AM. How long had he been driving? More than a day, certainly, and not a single stop along the way except for gas. He probably should have found some roadside motel hours ago and try to get some sleep before he fell asleep at the wheel and drove himself into a ditch or something, but Roger doubted he'd be able to sleep much anyway. Too much anger, still, over that fight with Mark, the memory of how the two of them had hurled words like venomous barbs. Some of those barbs had stuck. Too much fear that if he thought about it more, he'd turn the goddamn car around and head back east.
Too late for that now.
In the green glow of the digital readout, a pile of poorly folded maps lay scattered across the passenger seat, one or two fallen unnoticed on the floor. Where the hell was he? Roger had been in the city for too long, he decided. Just trying to navigate around here, in the middle of nowhere, had begun to give him a headache. The musician freed one hand from the steering wheel and snatched for one of the maps, roughly unfolding it in front of him so that he could see it properly. When one corner refused to unfold, he muttered and yanked it in an attempt to smooth the already much-abused map, but the piece he had pulled on tore off. With a soft curse, he threw the torn piece to the floor.
"I'm getting sick of maps," he said aloud. Speaking to himself, Roger decided, was probably a bad thing. But the drive seemed preternaturally silent without Mark's near constant narraration, and he had broken the radio around Indianapolis, punching the buttons as if that would solve his problems. It would have been easier, if he could have drowned out with his thoughts with noise, but now they crowded in around him like ghosts that leaned over his shoulder, whispering to him in spectral voices too low to make out words.
Except for Mark's parting words: those rang all too clearly. That, and the memory of Mimi's eyes, that vaguely reproachful gaze, the faint sheen of tears and the silent question, Why? Roger closed his eyes, shook his head, and refocused on the map, keeping one eye on the empty road ahead of him. He traced one finger along the red line of I-40, halting when it came to the exit to Santa Fe, Exit 218. Maybe five, ten miles ahead, he guessed. At his current speed, it shouldn't take more than a few minutes to reach the exit, and then...
Then what? Find a hotel at nearly two in the morning. Try to get some sleep. Hope things looked better in the morning. Maybe see about that restaurant Collins was always talking about. Not that he could cook all that well.
That's lovely, Roger. Can't manage your own dreams, so you borrow someone else's. New Mexico isn't like Collins said anyway. No tumbleweeds or prairie dogs...
The headlights illuminated a sign on the side of the road that read "Exit 218: 1 mile." With a flick of his wrist, Roger sent the map flying across the car and resettled both hands on the steering wheel. Just one more mile. He had to take this one mile at a time. He'd get through it. He would settle down in Santa Fe, get a real job, give up this bohemian nonsense. No need to think about New York or his friends ever again. No reason to care.
Mark's voice echoed in his head. "There's so much to care about-there's me, there's Mimi." The musician flinched visibly, accidentally jerking the steering wheel, and the car swerved; he growled and directed it back onto the road. Another sign, this time indicating a half mile to the exit. Roger took a deep breath to steady himself. Who was he kidding? He'd be lucky if he ever managed to survive in Santa Fe. As much as he might want to, as much as he would like to slide into a comfortable numbness, he couldn't. Couldn't not care. Even the still fuming anger in him, that unhappy knot of emotions that lay coiled in his chest like a restless dragon, even that stood as proof that he did care.
There. The exit. Roger spun the wheel and guided the car down the off-ramp, off of the interstate and down onto one of those poorly paved little roads that seemed to crisscross the desert. Light from a gas station ahead refracted off of the raindrops clinging to his windshield until the wipers switched back, momentarily clearing the view of the road. His eyes flickered briefly to the fuel gauge. The needle hovered a notch above the E. Probably enough to make it to Santa Fe, still. He pulled over anyway.
The gas station attendant blinked at Roger sleepily as the musician shoved open the car door hard enough to make it rock back on its hinges and stepped out into one of the many puddles that had gathered on the pavement. He ignored the water seeping through his shoes and strode to the rear of the car, grabbing the nozzle of the gas pump as he walked by it. He'd need a full tank if he expected to get very far.
A sudden gust of wind blew a burst of rain underneath the gas station's awning, pelting Roger, but rather than turning away, he turned his face into the rain, closed his eyes as it ran down his face. He felt as if he could use it to wash off the stain of the past several days. Water trickled down his neck, soaked the front of his shirt, slid over the rough growth of stubble on this face that came of not having shaved for some time. It wouldn't be water, this time of year in New York. It would be snow. His eyes snapped open as that thought occurred to him. Even freezing, with no heat in the loft, he'd grown used to winters in New York. That last Christmas, as it began to snow... It wouldn't be the same, spending Christmas in the desert.
As the numbers ticked by on the meter, the gas station attendant slowly approached Roger-from the looks of it, simply trying to keep himself awake by starting a conversation. "Hey man," he called, and Roger at last glanced to him. "Some weather we're having, huh?"
Roger gave him a bemused smile, perhaps his first smile in several days. Clearly this man had never endured a winter anywhere north of Colorado. He managed not to comment on it, though, simply replied, "I wouldn't know. I'm not from around here."
The attendant raised an eyebrow. "Oh. Should've figured. Only travelers come around this tie of night. Well, morning, I guess. Where you headed?"
Roger paused, thinking over the question-hard to answer when he wasn't sure what the answer /was/. Judging that the tank was full enough, the musician removed the nozzle from the car, rifled through his wallet for the money to pay, and after a moment handed the attendant several bills. As he slid back into his car, Roger looked up at the man and said simply, "Home."