By Zanne Blair
Every time he opened his mouth, stupid came out.
“All great adventures have moments that are really crap.” – Ellen Potter, The Kneebone Boy
Mark sat in his car staring at the sign over the door. Shiny red lightbulbs formed the letters for “Carrie’s Diner.” Great, he thought, I’m going to walk in and get doused with pig’s blood. His movie references typically exhausted his friends.
He had grown up here and hadn’t been back since he had left 13 years ago, bored with his hometown that also served as the trailhead for the state’s most notable and challenging trail. Adventure seekers traveled the world to tick this trail off their list, yet he couldn’t believe he was back.
Things had changed, but not too much. This restaurant had not been here when he left, neither had the building. Someone had spent quite a bit of money to build a replica of a 1950s diner smack dab in the middle of nowhere. The shininess of it was such a contrast to its surroundings. Where was the preservation society? Who was responsible for this mess? Who was paying to eat here?
He wasn’t going to stay long, just long enough to visit his parents for a few days, and get back to his life as soon as possible, but staring at the monstrosity in front of him, he wondered what other poor decisions the town council had made while he was gone, he chuckled, wondering if they had paved the trails. Dumbasses.
He grabbed his wallet on the seat next to him as he pushed open the car door, but the door was yanked right out of his hand.
Mark turned to see the tail end of a bike flip over his door. He jumped out, over to the fallen cyclist. “Are you ok? Should I call an ambulance?”
The cyclist was face down, legs tangled in wheels, body twisted, Mark noticed the breathing and was slightly relieved, “Are you alright, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”
“I don’t know.” The voice was muffled, talking to the pavement.
“Carrie!” Mark looked over his shoulder, a waitress in bright red was running towards him, towards the cyclist. “Did you hit her?” She knelt down, “Carrie, honey, are you ok? Can you move?” She turned to Mark, “Go inside and tell them to call Steve, he’ll bring the ambulance and get her to the hospital.”
“For crying out loud Donna, I’m fine. Just a little twisted, that’s all. Help me untangle.” Donna pushed Mark out of the way, and slowly turned Carrie over, maneuvering her limbs to be able to pull the bike free. “Is my bike alright? Anything bent?” Carrie started pushing herself up carefully, wincing, and favoring her left shoulder. Her jersey had been ripped away from her shoulder where she had made contact with the road, where the fabric had left the skin, blood and dirt filled in. Mark hurried over to her right side to help her up, “Keep your hands off me, you’ve done enough.”
“I’m sorry, can I take you to a doctor or to the hospital?” Mark knew the nearest hospital was an hour down the mountain, but the doctor was just down the road, “Is Doc still holding hours? I could take you there.”
Carrie brushed Mark aside, “Donna, how’s my bike, is anything bent?”
“I don’t know hon, there are a lot of moving parts, this thing supposed to do that?” Donna was doing her best to hold the bike upright.
Carrie pulled herself up and took the bike from Donna, Mark stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets, Idiot, he thought to himself, How could I have done this?
With one hand on on the saddle, the other on the handlebars, Carrie looked the bike up and down. “Damn wheels are bent. There goes my training ride. Brand new bike too.”
“I’m really sorry, I’ll replace the bike. Are you sure I can’t take you to the doctor?” Mark stood behind her. She ignored him.
“Carrie, let me give you a ride home.” Donna’s face was filled with concern.
“No Donna, you have to see to the customers, I can walk, it’s not that far. “ Carrie turned the bike around and started walking down the road, Donna looked at her for a moment, then at Mark, turned and made her way back to the restaurant, the customers had all gathered out in front. Donna waved her arms at them, they turned and started to file back in.
With a few fast steps, Mark had caught up to Carrie, “At least let me give you a ride home. Please let me help.”
With an exasperated sigh, Carrie stopped and turned to Mark, “Help? Mark Ripley, you leave me 13 years ago without a word, come back and hit me with your car door, and want to help?”
Mark felt the blood leave his face, “Carrie?” How could he have recognized her in her helmet and jersey? He had never seen her like that before.
“Yeah, nice to see you too.” Carrie started walking again, leaving Mark to stare after her.
He caught up again, “Carrie, I’m sorry I hit you with my door, I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you. Please get in the car, I’ll take you home.” She kept walking, picking up her pace, he reached for the bike, “If you insist on walking, then at least let me carry your bike.” He put his hands on the handlebar.
She tightened her grip, he could see her jaw clench, then took her hands off the bike and walked away from him. The wheels were so bent, it took Mark a few moments to figure out how to handle the bike, by that time Carrie was several steps ahead. He called after her, “Really Carrie, I didn’t know it was you, I’m really sorry this happened.”
She spun around, “Is that all you are sorry for, Mark Ripley?” Her hands on her hips, her left shoulder bare, bleeding and dirty.
“Carrie, I had to leave to go to school, we were in high school, that was a million years ago.” This was not what Mark had planned when he decided to visit his parents, he had no intention of running into any of his old friends, let alone Carrie.
She looked at him, nodded, then turned and Mark followed her home silently, lost in his memories and thoughts.
Mark walked back to his car, the door was still open he had forgot to close it, thankfully there was no damage. She didn’t hurt the door, the door hurt her. Mark made it to his parents’ house in time for dinner.
Before he could get out of the car, his mother was on the porch, “I heard you hit Carrie with your car, everything ok?” His father stood behind her.
“She’s fine mom, I offered to replace her bike, but she refused.” Mark shrugged and looked at his parents.
“I’m glad you’re home, come inside for dinner.” His mother hugged him, his father shook his hand, he could smell her famous pot roast as he walked through the front door, getting ready to explain away the last 13 years and the last few hours.
Mark was up the next morning, early as usual, and headed out the back door and into the woods, up to the top of the hill. 13 years had changed the growth, but the trail was still there, someone, probably another neighborhood kid, had been cleaning it every spring the way he used to. The trees were still just as big, the morning air was chilly but refreshing, and felt good after a night of no sleep. He still wasn’t sure what made him come home. He never, ever thought he would be back.
He could remember clearly why he had left. With each step he could recall how he felt trapped here on the base of the big mountain. He was curious about the rest of the world, the hours he spent pouring over geography and travel books in the library, the day he finally understood that so much of world history and adventure had been captured in art, he realized he needed to explore.
An hour later, unfit, out of breath and pouring with sweat, the trees thinned and he stepped into a clearing. This climb had never been so difficult before. Exposed rock was now under his feet, he had climbed over a mile up to the top of the small mountain. In front of him was the big mountain, the one the world would come climb every spring, summer and fall. By October, it would be covered in snow and the trails closed until June.
He walked around to the north side, someone else had the same idea he did. “What are you doing up here Mark? This is my morning time, not yours, go away.” Carrie didn’t even turn around, he wasn’t sure how she knew it was him.
He stood there, staring at her back.
“Why are you here anyway, did you mean to kill me yesterday?” Carrie had hugged her knees to her chest.
“No, I had forgotten about you.” As soon as he said it, he realized he shouldn’t have.
Carrie didn’t respond. Mark came and sat next to her, she stared out over the valley, they sat in silence.
Slowly she turned to him, “Go away Mark Ripley. Go on your big fucking adventure and leave me out of it. While you are at it, get off my mountain, you left us behind years ago. I’ve got my life and I don’t need you in it.”
Mark looked back at her, he felt truly sorry, but there was no way he would be able to convince her now, every time he opened his mouth, stupid came out. He sat there staring out at the valley, maybe he should just get up and leave.
The birds were up now, chattering all around them, Mark remembered this, he remembered why he had come up here every morning, every day. He remembered why he had brought Carrie up here too, they were best friends before he left. His heart was in his throat. 13 years later, he realized that he had been a horrible friend. Nothing he could say would change that.
“What have you been up to since I last saw you?” Mark wasn’t sure this was going to go well, he knew he could never make up for ending their friendship the way he did.
Carrie snorted at him, and looked off to the west, away from Mark. “Not much.” Mark nodded. Only the birds continued their conversation.
An hour later, Mark walked back down the mountain, alone. He asked Carrie to join him, she didn’t answer. Before he lost sight of her, he turned and stared at her back, apologizing silently knowing she didn’t want to hear it.
His dad was sitting at the kitchen table when he walked back in, drinking coffee, reading the paper. “When your mother comes down, we’re going for lunch, will you join us? Or are you leaving today?” His father knew that he didn’t want to stay.
“I’ve got to get back today, let me freshen up and pack, then I’ll be down,” Mark disappeared upstairs.
He followed his parents in his car, he wasn’t going to stay any longer than he had to.
They pulled into the parking lot next to Carrie’s Diner. Realizing that this was Carrie’s business, Mark’s appetite disappeared. He followed his parents in anyway.
Donna recognized him immediately, “Hello Mark.”
“Good Morning Donna,” he grimaced, embarrassed. “Thanks for your help yesterday.”
Carrie’s Diner was packed. It would be 20 minutes before they were seated, Mark looked around amazed, where did all these people come from? On the wall behind the cash register was a large photo of Carrie on top of the big mountain. She was smiling, he could tell she was happy in the photo, she never did have a poker face. Smaller photos covered the walls, all of Carrie, as Mark examined some more closely, they were of her on mountains all over the world, Mt. Fuji, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Alps, Mt. Etna, Matterhorn. Mark was amazed. He smiled, and looked at his mother.
She smiled back, “She didn’t wait for you Mark, Carrie explored the world as soon as you left.”
Mark spent a few hours in the diner while his parents ate lunch and continued to explore the photos even after they left. Carrie had been everywhere they had both dreamed of going, and more. In between that, she found time to open a diner. Mark remembered how she would sit in the library with him and look at cookbooks and research diners.
He sat in the car before pulling away and thought about Carrie, she did what they had dreamt about doing together, but he left. Dumbass.
Ed. note: Zanne Blair likes diners and left her own hometown when she was just 18. She also looks before opening car doors. www.zannestars.com
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