The sight of the earrings triggers all of Jeff’s memories of that night. They grow vivid within his mind as he pulls further off the highway—how he’d stayed there, in the backseat drinking until five in the morning, slowly running his fingers along her side, knowing that once he left the van and stepped into his house there wouldn’t be anything that he felt like touching the way he felt like touching her. So he grabbed her thigh hard. He pushed her onto her back and he held her there with his eyes closed trying his hardest to freeze time.
She had stuffed her earrings into the seat pocket when she was taking off her shirt and she laughed. She told him she thought he was handsome and kind. The windows were beginning to fog. His hands were on her stomach and her kisses were long. When he dropped her off at her apartment a few hours later, he could have sworn she had had them on, there was that jingling in his ear when she kissed him goodnight.
It is the middle of the night and the parking lot is nearly empty. A few semi trucks are parked along the metal barrier that separates the highway traffic from the plaza. The truckers must be sleeping. Right now Jeff feels like he needs some sleep more than anything. Joanne has her feet up on the dashboard and is biting her nails.
A woman wearing a bright orange vest and long earrings walks in front of the van towards the McDonalds. Jeff finds an empty spot far away from any other car and parks quickly. He pushes the keys into his pocket and they rattle up against some loose change. He pulls out a cigarette, opens the van door and steps outside.
The first drag of his cigarette is always Jeff’s longest. Cigarettes are his only form of relaxation nowadays so he tries to take them slow.
As he stands there smoking, he watches the Hummer roll over and over again in his mind. What if he hadn’t turned around in time? What if he had crashed and they began to flip across the highway? He thinks about what it would feel like to be thrown across lanes at high speeds. He thinks about where the majority of damage would have occurred if the van had really flipped. The Hummer is a stronger car. It is built to take a crash. The van would have faired far worse. They would all be dead.
Jeff finishes his cigarette and wonders what it would be like to die on the side of the road, miles from home; his last seconds alive spent watching complete strangers bang on his window. Screaming at him. Asking him if he was ok. Of course he wouldn’t be ok. He would be dying. He walks towards the rest area to take a piss.
The van has stopped moving but Joanne’s hands and legs are still shaking. She slides her heels off the dashboard, slips on her shoes and unhooks her seat belt. Her heart is racing, wishing someone was there to hold her.
There was a time when she wished he would sit close to her while they drove, to hold her shoulders, blow her kisses and grab her thigh, but now she just makes herself as small as she can and presses her body up against the passenger door. She spends her time doing puzzles, or sleeping, or listening to audio books of James Patterson on her headphones.
In the backseat, Fortune curls up into a ball and holds his seatbelt in his hands and pulls it to his chest like a teddy bear. His heart is beating fast. He feels like he just went on a roller coaster, his stomach feels all twisted. He closes his eyes and thinks really hard about Round Island and the treasure he will find hidden beneath it.