One for the Road

By: Crystal Green

1




IT WAS JUST a few days before Lucy Christie’s thirtieth birthday when she finally had the epiphany.

“This is my life,” she said to her traveling companion Carmen. They were both sitting in a roadside diner, Lucy staring at the detailed travel itinerary she’d formulated. “Point A to point B in a certain window of time. No deviations, every moment laid out to the minute.”

She glanced up to find her best friend putting down her digital camera and studying her. And why not? Only seconds before, Carmen had been aiming her lens at a framed poster of Marilyn Monroe amidst the clutter of a memorabilia-filled wall, and they’d both been bopping in their booth to a Petula Clark song. Now, it was suddenly all about Lucy’s Major Life Crisis.

The epiphany still made her head feel like a gong that’d been rung. “I was looking at travel day five, and I realized I’ve suspected the truth all along. I’ve had my hours, my months, my years planned out since I was old enough to make lists. I’m boring, Carm, and that’s only one reason Greg broke up with me. That’s why they all have. I’m boring, I have impossible expectations for my relationships and I’m so afraid of not reaching them that I’ve become Needy Woman.”

“You’re nothing of the sort.”

But Lucy knew it was true. Greg’s parting words to her kept vibrating her eardrums, even now, three months later.

“I feel like we’ve already been married for seven years,” he’d said, “and we’ve been going out for only four months.”

On that note, she’d let him go, too pained to ask for more of an explanation. She didn’t need one. All she’d ever wanted was to have a happy family—kisses in the morning, two cars in the garage, a swing set in the backyard—just like her parents had provided. But when had she started putting such pressure on her boyfriends to get it?

When had she started becoming so afraid that she never would?

Carmen sent Lucy a sympathetic glance. “You’re freaking out because you’re turning the big three-oh. That’s all. I went through it, too, Luce.”

A confident smile tilted Carmen’s red-lipstick mouth as she relaxed against the back of her seat, one bare arm riding the top of it.

There’d never been a lack of confidence with her, Lucy thought. Then again, Carmen Ferris, with her punky tank top advertising a garage band, her red-tinted hair layered in saucy abandon down to her ears and the glint sparkling in her gold eyes, had never done self-esteem issues. Not even in college at San Diego State, when Lucy had met her in a lower-level business administration course. Lucy had considered herself so very serious and a bit mousy, but Carmen had had no tolerance for that, telling her classmate to get over herself and come to a dorm party with her that night.

Now, Carmen continued, aiming her camera around a room choked with the aroma of grilled meat and fries. “Two weeks of utter brainless joy in Vegas and then it’s on to the road. We came on this vacation to have some good prebirthday fun, get away from the grind of work and cheer you up after the Greg thing.”

The breakup, Lucy thought. The latest kiss-off, just another link in her chain of failed romances—none of which had lasted beyond the four months she’d spent with Greg. Maybe this one had left her reeling extra hard because it’d been a record for how long a guy had stuck with her.

Carmen was escaping the aftermath of a breakup, as well, but she’d been dating her now-ex-boyfriend for years. Aeons, as far as Lucy was concerned.

Glancing back at the itinerary, she sighed. She had planned their time to a T, charmed by all the guidebook descriptions of Route 66, where they could see the mythos of the West disappearing into the sunset and eat at a string of greasy spoons while witnessing the kitsch of a more romantic time. Just scanning her schedule, each stop didn’t seem like an adventure so much as a future accomplishment, an item to check off a master list—exactly like the one she’d silently kept with every boyfriend.

With care, she tucked the itinerary into a leather folder. There. She hadn’t exactly ripped it to shreds and let it fly away, but it was gone. After all, wasn’t that the purpose of this trip? To liberate themselves from what was weighing them down back home?

It was supposed to be a trip that could make a girl like Carmen forget about going back to planning conventions in her cubicle back at the office, where she actually misspent most of her day flitting about the Internet and updating a blog that she said needed more spice. And maybe their jaunt could even take Lucy’s mind off all those rules she had to deal with on a daily basis. As a human resources specialist for Padme Software, she had been comfortably steeped in manuals and dos and don’ts for a few years now. However, she’d evidently been applying rigid standards to her relationships, too, without even realizing it.

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