If you drive in a southeastern direction from the Falls, in about six and a half hours you'll find yourself in New Jersey. It was midnight and Eric was staring intently at the empty strip of parkway illuminated by his headlights. The rhythm of the broken yellow line stuck in his head ? an hour ago it had synched up perfectly to the Queen song on the radio. That was around the time he turned the music off.
Jaye had fallen asleep right after their last rest stop, a bleary trudge into a roadside diner near Darien, Connecticut. Eric had jumped up and down in the parking lot trying to regain feeling in his ass, and Jaye leaned her arms on the roof of the car and laughed at him.
She'd talked him into doing it, this midnight stealth mission to his home state to tie up some of his loose ends.
"You need to collect your personal effects," she pulled him off his cot and put his keys in his hand.
"I don't need personal effects." He pulled back, figuring that if he could get them both on the cot, she'd stop pressing the issue.
"There's, like, this cot and four shirts. We have to visit the Garden State."
"You sound like a brochure now, and -- you don't like my shirts?"
"Shirts aren't the whole issue here. Come on, let's go get your stuff back."
And so here he was, coasting up around 65mph on the Garden State Parkway, headed for the middle of the state. It was weird, but until Jaye had started prodding him back in upstate NY, he hadn't talked about his life back home to anyone in a very long time. But Jaye, sitting with her back against the door and fiddling with a little plastic dinosaur held in her lap, laughed and asked questions and just ... got him talking. Things were coming up that he hadn't even thought about in years. Stuff from high school, stuff from when his family was his family, before his new family cheated on him and then he had no family. This was simpler stuff, without any of the bizarre twang his life had taken on in recent years.
Nearing the tollbooth in Raritan, he gently shook Jaye's shoulder to wake her. The toll plaza was so brightly lit; it was like a narrow strip of daylight on the highway.
"What's the - hey. Hi." She rubbed her eyes and moved uncomfortably, pulling the dinosaur from where it had ended up beneath her. She glared at it before looking back at Eric with a smile. "What's up?"
He pressed a quarter and a dime into her hand, as they slowed to a stop next to the toll basket.
"Open your window, reach out, and toss them over the roof and into the basket." He explained with accompanying hand gestures.
"Are you insane, or does your window just not open?" Her 'what the fuck' face, employed to irritate most people, made Eric inexplicably happy.
"We used to do it in high school all the time ... we got so good we could do it without even coming to a complete stop. You can do it, look-" he pushed at the gearshift, "we're parked. Just do it."
Jaye sighed and rolled down her window. She threw a withering glance back at him, and he waved her to go on. She stuck her arm as far out as it would go, and looked back and forth between her hand and the change basket, aiming. Finally she bounced her arm and the coins sailed over the car. They landed with two satisfying whooshes in the plastic basket.
"I did it! That was pretty damn cool!" her smile made Eric forget that he'd been driving for seven hours.
"See? What'd I tell you?" He put the car back into drive and pulled away from the bright belt of booths and back into the foggy night.
"Next time don't stop ... I wanna' try it the way you guys used to." She was excited, leaning forward in her seat like she was looking out for the next tollbooth. Eric couldn't believe he remembered that the next one was in about ten exits, near Asbury Park.
Jaye turned the radio back on, and flipped around until she found the local alternative station. When the DJ did his little station identification ramble, a new set of memories flooded Eric's brain. He wasn't planning to move back there any time soon, but he couldn't help feeling like he'd done himself a disservice by shelving his memories for so long because of the pain Heidi caused.
He looked over at Jaye. She was softly moving her head with the beat of an old Beck song and absently stroking the plastic dinosaur's head. This was all because of her. This possibly crazy, definitely incredible girl who just took over his life and made it more interesting and better than he'd ever had hopes of it being again. Whatever possessions he managed to recover on this little excursion would fall secondary to the greater windfall he felt in his chest. Jaye Tyler, he thought, refocusing on the road cut between thick sandy pine forests, is there anything you can't do?
© scrunchy 2004