Summer was coming to a close – a time of year that always brought out a sense of ending, loss and quiet solemnity despite the spike in vibrant parties and exponentially weirder festivals. And it was likely this that made her do it. Or maybe her boss was really just that much of an asshole. Maybe she really should have been making more than a buck or two over minimum wage for the amount of effort she put into her job. Or maybe she just didn’t like being told for the millionth time that texting is not part of the job and that she should really put her phone away.
Either way, the shitty parking lot of a shitty, hole-in-the-wall fabric shop disappeared rather quickly behind the back bumper of a shitty, green sedan. Music bumped in the speakers, crackling slightly from overuse and a voice in the driver’s seat sang out of tune along to some obscene song about, well, this exact situation. A middle-aged, sour-faced Karen in a green apron came running out from the store just in time to catch An’s middle finger in the rear window before Dani’s rustbucket jumped the curb of a street corner as she took the turn rather carelessly.
Laughter erupted from the girls in the front and An had to shout over the music to tell her friend “Man, you should’a seen the look on Mary’s face when I gave her my apron. I sweartogod she was ready to launch me over the counter.” More laughter.
“Maybe she should’a.” Dani cackled with a wink, turning the music down only slightly so they could talk more effectively. “Then you could finally get paid the money she owes you.”
“Na. I’d like walking too much to risk it.” A quieter laugh and then a moment of just music. “So what now?” That solemnity came settling back in as the warm yellow-y orange tinted the tops of grimy buildings, making them look as though the setting sun had begun melting them into hot bricks and opening the windows into another dimension. Their bottom halves betrayed them, looking a little extra grimy in the shadow – a fitting contrast, An thought. She hated it.
“I’ve got one more week before I have to go back to school. We should go somewhere.” Dani pointed out and An couldn’t help but feel like she was in the beginning of some cringy young adult film. “IIIIIII was thinking upstate. Off the grid. Someplace quiet and tranquil and-“
“Is this you telling me I should try meditation?”
“What? No! It’s just, you know, different.” Dani flashed An a smile before turning into her own apartment parking lot. “I hear it’s really pretty this time of year and, because most people have gone back to school, it’s pretty quiet. I think we could both use a break from this shithole. Live it up like those boujie bitches who can afford to rent a cabin on the water every summer, but, you know, like, probably not renting a cabin.”
An rolled her eyes, but she smiled. “Alright, Davey Crocket, where are we staying on our backwoods adventure?”
A pause. A looong pause. “The car?”
* * *
An was regretting it now. How she ended up being the one to drive most of the way was anyone’s guess, but it was what it was. Music played softly in the background, just enough to cover Dani’s heavy breathing and trees encased the path ahead, arching over it like a natural welcome sign. The way they bent in the breeze made An worry slightly that they wouldn’t be able to leave, swallowed up by the wilds like a pair of unprepared hikers…. Which was essentially what they were.
Even so, Dani had been right about one thing – this place was tranquil. The very essence of nature seemed to call out to her and she could’ve sworn she’d heard rushing water a time or two, the sound invading her mind like a catchy tune you can’t quite remember the lyrics to and dissipating in a similar fashion. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, absolutely brimming with obscure bodies of water and probably mustache hipsters, drew her in and she was afraid she’d never go back.
But was that such a bad thing? Probably, right? She had just quit her job, Dani was going back to school, her rent was due and she definitely didn’t have the funds to pay for it. The only thing left in Detroit worth seeing was her father. But he’d understand if she took an extended trip away from home, right?
She sighed, pulling the car into a small parking lot. It was marked as the official parking for some national park or something, but An didn’t really bother to read much more. She’d been driving for nearly six hours and she needed to stretch. She stepped out to do just that and then she heard it again. Rushing water. This time, it didn’t fade into the back of her mind though. It was real.
Off the parking lot was a path that looked as though it had been cleaned up for the purpose of easy exploring. It opened up onto log steps that wound into another, tighter canopy of trees. It looked like something out of a fairytale. She glanced back at the car where she saw Dani huddle tighter under the blanket. Brain said leaving your friend in the car to explore fairy-like woods is how you die, heart said waterfaaaaall.
Heart won and An took a couple steps onto the path. A quick click of the lock button on the key fob made An feel a little less like an asshole. Besides, Dani was pretty skilled in Taekwon-Do. She wasn’t afraid to kick An’s ass and she wouldn’t be afraid to kick a stranger’s ass should they try anything. No one expected the tiny Korean girl to turn out the world’s heaviest kicks.