Jessie’s nights have been difficult for as long as she can remember.
When she was three, Jessie had thought that maybe it was the dark that had kept her up. It was scary, being three years old and not knowing what was living in all the little corners that light didn’t reach. It was scary being all alone in a dark bed in a dark room in a dark house, with the monsters in her closet and the monsters under her bed and the parents down the hall. Maybe it was the not knowing that didn’t let her sleep.
But, no. The glow stars on the ceiling and the alien-shaped night light she got for her fifth birthday help her see. She knows everything that’s in her room—she knows that there’s a stack of her sketchbooks in the back of her closet, she knows that there’s a half-done, long overdue school project lying under her bed, and she knows that there are no monsters. And she still can’t sleep.
Maybe it’s her parents. Sometimes it’s the angry clatter of dishes, and sometimes it’s the heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, and sometimes it’s the horrifying absence of noise that keeps her waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen. But most of the time it’s the screaming, the crying. The fighting.
Jessie’s parents have fought for as long as she can remember.
Fought and fought and fought, fought over money, fought over chores, fought over dinner. Fought over whose parents should be visited on Christmas. Fought over the late nights Dad spent with his co-workers. Fought over the Nissan Mom bought as an early graduation gift for Jessie.
Of course, the Nissan wasn’t brand-new. And of course, Jessie didn’t actually graduate that spring. (18 years’ worth of sleepless nights will tank your grades—who would’ve thought?) But Jessie loves that car more than anything in the world.
Except for Lauren. Jessie has been in love with Lauren for as long as she can remember.
Lauren, who transferred to Jessie’s school in fourth grade for being a “troublemaker” at her old one. Lauren, who always stayed up late to talk to Jessie, even if she had to nap through Spanish the next day. Lauren, whose face fills every single page of Jessie’s sketchbooks. Lauren, who purposefully flunked senior-level Calculus so she’d have to stay back and take summer school with Jessie. Lauren, who is okay not knowing things and isn’t afraid of the dark.
Lauren, who got stood up at prom by her horrible boyfriend.
When Jessie pulled the car around, Lauren was sitting on the steps outside the cafeteria door. Jessie leaned over and opened the passenger side door and Lauren smiled like this was what she had wanted all along.
Jessie drove them out onto the highway. She knew this road like the back of her hand. Every once in a while, when she was sure her parents wouldn’t be able to catch her, she’d sneak out and drive her Nissan down the highway, all the way out to the edge of the city. But at the edge of the city, past the sign with the cursive “Thanks for visiting!” painted on, it was dark. Completely dark. There were never any other cars, there weren’t any streetlamps, just the pale glow of the city limits sign and that was it. And that’s where Jessie always stopped. Just lifting her foot off the accelerator and rolling to a stop like she was approaching a red light. She didn’t know what was past that sign and it scared her.
As her car rounded the familiar bends of the highway, Jessie looked over at Lauren. Her hand was out the window, delicate fingers lazily combing through the warm springtime wind. She looked so beautiful with the petals of her corsage flying off in the breeze and stray hairs whipping around her face. She took Jessie’s hand as the lights of downtown faded into the distance. And Jessie made a decision.
Jessie turned off her high beams and let darkness sweep down the road. She was just barely able to see Lauren’s moonlit face out of the corner of her eye and the city limits sign quickly approaching. She pressed the accelerator down harder. She didn’t know what’s out there and she didn’t know what would happen next. She was confused and scared and tired, she’s been tired for as long as she can remember, but mostly, she was happy.
As the speedometer rose past 90, that one Tracy Chapman song came on the radio. Lauren’s corsage comes undone and flies off her hand and she laughs and laughs and laughs.
The sign passed in a blur. Jessie looked over at Lauren and kept driving and driving and driving.
Maybe not knowing isn’t so bad.