Misty’s Cavalier was loaded to the hilt. As he stuffed his belongings into her car, their car now, Joe had tried to leave space behind the passenger seat to allow it to recline for better sleeping but this goal had been only partially realized. Too many boxes and too little car prevented him from leaving the desired space but there was nothing he could do about that other than abandoning some of his scanty possessions, an option he was loathe to take.
With the car’s interior packed with boxes, the trunk full of clothes and the exterior adorned with six bikes- including a tandem! –Joe’s work was done, at least the work of packing the car, the day’s long drive had just begun. Tom had joined Meghan on the coach and sipped coffee and held an unlit cigarette in his lips. “Hey,” he croaked to Joe, nodding his head but otherwise remaining motionless. “How you doing?”
“Good, Tom, good. How’re you?” he asked, returning to his seat on the floor next to Noree, “How’s sweetie pie?” he asked his soon to be four year old niece as he tussled her hair.
Misty walked from the kitchen to the family room holding a small box from which wafted the delicious odor of breakfast. “You all set, Joe? I’ve got breakfast ready.”
“Bless you,” Joe responded with a grin. “Are we going to eat here?”
“No,” Misty replied, “I think we should scoot. You up for the first shift?”
“I’ll drive if you feed me. What have we got?”
“French toast. And milk. Okay, guys I guess this is it,” she said to her sister and brother in law.
Tom got groggily out of his chair and Misty held out her arms to Noree. The little girl looked up and shook her head but Meghan said, “Misty’s leaving, sweetie. Come say goodbye to her.”
Misty carried the child out to the car. “Goodbye, little Noree. I love you. We’ll see you soon,” and after a big hug she handed her to Joe.
Joe lifted Noree high into the air and as he brought her down stuck his nose in her belly and tickled her by wiggling his head back and forth. “G’bye, Buttercup. Keep the Pinafore afloat, okay?” and set her on the ground.
The four adults repeated their goodbyes of the night before and after tears and promises of visits Meghan picked Noree up in her arms as Misty got into the Cavalier’s passenger seat and Joe into the driver’s. They rolled down their windows and after he and Misty buckled up he asked, “Set?” and when she nodded he engaged the car’s clutch, turned off the emergency brake and after they were rolling down the driveway’s hill he let the clutch out and roll started the car. The three Murrays waved to the two Kleens and Mister and Misses Kleen wound their way back to US Route 6 and then headed west on Interstate 84.
Misty had had AAA print out a TripTik detailing their suggested route. “Head over to 684, okay, Joe? We’ll take the Saw Mill to the Tappan Zee Bridge and then take 87 to 287. You know how to do all that without the TripTik, right?”
“Yeah, except I’m not sure where 287 splits but I’m sure there’ll be signs.”
“I’m sure there’ll be signs too, but I’m not so sure you’ll see them. I’m going to nap.”
“Feed me first, please?”
“Fine, you big baby!” she answered as she broke off mouth sized bites of French toast and delivered them to him as he needed. When the toast was finished she asked, “All set?” as she wiped his mouth with a paper towel.
“Yep. Thanks, Mommy.”
“Careful or I’ll spank.”
“Don’t I wish?”
“Wake me up when get to Suffern. Just look for the interchange that says New Jersey.”
“’Suffering’? Really? Nice! That must be in Jersey, everybody’s suffering in Jersey.”
“’Suffern,’ not suffering, and it’s in New York, the best State in the Union,” she answered deadpan.
“I thought we we’re the best state of union?”
“Goodnight, Joe. Couldn’t you have arranged the car so I could recline all the way?” she asked, sticking out her lower lip.
“I tried, but you know what Phil says, ‘You’ll torpedo right out of your seat in a head-on crash if you recline too far!’ I did try, sweetie. Too much stuff.”
“Yeah. I know the feeling. When Bob drove the U-Haul down to Atlanta this car looked like a well stuffed red bell pepper. It was all I could do to see my rearview. Sleep.”
Joe fished through the half dozen cassette tapes Misty had placed in easy reach and selected Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind,” and started with side two. The album’s title track came on and the outlaw lyrics made him think of the radio’s purchase and installment history. Misty’s little sister Madison’s ex-boyfriend had installed it in her car. Joe preferred Madison’s new squeeze, Kenny, to Shawn but he had to admit the skinny little runt had done a good job of installing the radio.
Joe had given the radio to Misty for her twenty third birthday but had neglected to tell her that he’d bought it from an acquaintance and that it didn’t have a receipt of any sort. Even though Joe suspected the stereo had been stolen when he’d asked Frank if it had the man had answered, “What? Stolen? No way, man!” In his Haitian accent. Even though he’d suspected otherwise Joe had ponied up the forty dollars for the radio. Joe drove on with the sun over his left shoulder, the windows down on the non-air-conditioned little econo box and listened to the cassette player automatically from side one to side two of the tape when the song, “Minstrel Gigolo” finished. “Man,” he whispered to himself, “this thing has to be hot,” and he merged onto the twisty Sawmill Parkway surrounded by his possessions and in the company of the woman who meant the world to him.