"Number five in the corner pocket." Cash casually tapped his stick on the edge of the pool table. Smirking, he chalked up his cue as his opponent looked on in dismay.
Two more shots and the pile of money on the table would be his. Victory was so close, he could taste it. He could hardly wait to tell his boys all about how he played this big, old dude and took all his money.
The neon sign on the wall cast a red hue upon the clock below; it was two-thirty. Cash should be sitting in biology, bored out of his mind, listening to the teacher drone on and on. High School was a waste of time. Who needed to know most of that stuff anyway? Algebra? When was he ever going to use that in real life? And grammar, what a total waste of time. He had no intention of ever writing a book, so why bother struggling to learn that garbage. Who even needs to know what a dangling participle is anyway? Life was short. Having fun was a far better pursuit than good grades. He was willing to bet the pile of money on the edge of the pool table that no one on their death bed ever fondly recalled the time they got an "A" on an algebra test.
Just sitting in class—any class was enough to make him want to scream. The buzz of the fluorescent lights. The warm recirculated air. The squeaky sound of sneakers on worn-out linoleum floors. The smell of the daily lunch special emanating off of his classmates. That was probably the worst, especially on spaghetti day. The nauseating scent of sour tomato sauce mixed with the cheap perfume that all the girls loved. Why did they wear that crap? Couldn't they smell it? The whole experience was suffocating, almost maddening. There were not enough words for how much he hated the entirety of going to school. Which is why two hours ago, he slipped out a side door near the gymnasium, and rode his skateboard downtown.
When he first arrived at the pool hall, the dank light of the place was a sharp contrast to the bright afternoon sun. He stood in the doorway for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust. The steady murmur from a dozen different conversations buzzed beneath the heavy beat of some old rock and roll song from a band too old for Cash to know. The smell of cigarette smoke and spilled alcohol hung heavy in the air. He loved every bit of it. He inhaled deeply, taking it all in. Ah, the smell of fun.
Doing his best to fit in and not look like a seventeen-year-old kid who was skipping school, he quickly made his way to the pool tables in the far corner, taking care to stay out of the bartender’s view. Cash took up a seat and watched. Only one pool table was in use, typical for the mid-workday.
Two grizzly-looking men with thick beards and lots of tattoos were playing a game of eight-ball. They teased one another between sips of whiskey and took shots at the balls on the table. Their clothing—worn jeans, old t-shirts, and scuffed boots, didn't scream "money." That assumption was shattered when the big guy with the gray beard pulled out a wad of bills to pay the waitress who came by with fresh drinks.
Cash watched in silence, scrutinizing their every move. While reasonably decent at playing, neither man looked like a considerable pro. This would be easy money. All he had to do was find an opening, and he would be home free. These two guys wouldn't know what happened. And he would have plenty of money to pay for festival tickets. He’d have more than enough money left over to waste on all the junk food and weed he wanted.
Nearly two hours later, he had lost enough rounds to convince the burly men that Cash was a dumb kid with mediocre skills. The stage was set, and the money was his for the taking. All he had to do was sink two more shots. Cash leaned forward and lined up the cue.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" The familiar voice cut through the music, and all the noise of the bar, shattering Cash's concentration. Heart racing, he exhaled and turned around to face his father, doing his best to hide the fact he was trembling.
"It's the middle of the goddamn day. Why the hell aren't you in school?" Demanded his father.
Cold sweat seeped from every pore. His entire body buzzed with anxiety. The anger on the old man's face was plainly visible. This was bad. Cash knew that a cocky response was not a good idea at the moment, yet—
"I could ask the same question of you," replied Cash, his voice cracking. He swallowed hard. "Shouldn't you be at work or something?" His body trembled with a mixture of fear and anger. Why did I just say that? It was too late. The words were already out there, bouncing around the dive bar for everyone to hear. He steeled himself for the inevitable response.
Paul Wright wasn't known for his patience and calm demeanor. A mechanic by trade, he was no stranger to hard work and struggling to get by. Though not prone to violence, the old man was never one to walk away from a fight. Of course, he preferred to handle things more diplomatically—well, his version of diplomacy. In the words of Cash's older brother Scott, "Dad's the type of man who will shout the sense back into you. If that doesn't work, he'll kick your ass."
Cash waited for his old man to knock him cold. Time froze; everyone around the pool table stood still, watching, waiting. For the first time in his life, Cash understood the meaning of the term “you could hear a pin drop.” A cold shiver ran down his spine; he was heading into unchartered territory. Never before had Cash ever stood up to the old man like this. He was positive he was about to be knocked unconscious. Instead, his father stood inches from him, silently staring directly into his eyes. The anger was there; Cash could see it roiling like violent thunder clouds just below the surface.
Without warning, Paul flashed a malevolent grin. He turned on his heels and grabbed Cash’s belongings from the table and shoved them into Cash’s arms. He then took hold of his son by his jacket collar and dragged him through the bar and out onto the sidewalk.
He slammed Cash against the brick wall, his skateboard clattering to the ground. "Okay, smartass, do you know who those guys were in there?"
"Yeah, two fools who were about to give me all their money."
Paul released his son and sighed. "You're an idiot. They were members of the local biker club. Didn't you see their cuts hanging on the back of the chairs? Guys like them eat smartass kids like you for lunch and use the leftover bones to pick their teeth. Do you seriously believe they were gonna let you walk out of there with their money?"
Cash shrugged indignantly. He didn't want to admit it, but hearing those two were bikers did change his view of things. Damnit! The old man was right. There was no way he would admit that; he would not give his father the satisfaction of being told he was right.
"Real life is not a game," his father shouted. "It's high time you grew the hell up and realized that if you keep playing your games and pulling your hustles, you're never gonna amount to anything in this life. I did not work my whole life so my son could end up a hustler or in prison."
Oh boy, here we go. The I busted my ass speech. Cash rolled his eyes.
The old man's voice bounced off the brick walls of the buildings. "I busted my ass for you and your brother. Gave up everything so you two could have a chance at something better. What the hell is wrong with you? Cash, why are you so damn stupid sometimes?"
"Fuck you!" Cash responded. His voice cracking yet again, much to his dismay. He could feel the heat rising up from his neck to his face. He grabbed his skateboard, and without another word, skated off.
"Get your ass back here!" Paul called behind him. "We're not done!"
Yes, we are! Cash did not stop, nor did he look back. He raised his hand in the air and flashed his middle finger.
As he rounded the corner, he came within inches of crashing into a delivery truck idling in the middle of the street. He cut a hard right and lost control of his skateboard, sending his body slamming into the stone façade of the nearest building while his board rolled into oncoming traffic.
Drivers hit their horns as they swerved to avoid hitting the wooden projectile. "Stay out of the damn road!" shouted one.
"Hey, you should watch where you're going," warned the delivery truck driver.
His arm scraped, his pride injured; Cash didn't respond to the man. Instead, he walked across the street and picked up his board, glancing at the corner, hoping that his father didn't see what just happened, then he dropped his wheels on the pavement and kicked off again.
He rolled into Riverfront Park, found a secluded bench, and plopped himself down. The first order of business was to inspect his board. He flipped it over in his hands, examining the deck. No cracks or chips. Satisfied, he leaned it against the bench. His arm was a different story. An angry red rash ran from his wrist to his elbow. It stung, but the pain wasn't too bad. I've had worse. He brushed away the tiny bits of rock dust from the deeper scratches.
Across the park, children giggled and squealed as they splashed at a nearby fountain while tourists took pictures along the river's edge. He envied them all. The tourists because they were doing the one thing he wanted to do most; travel. As for the kids, well, they had the perfect existence, no responsibilities, no concerns about the future. No adults breathing down their necks insisting they "start acting like an adult." There was no inner clock ticking away, growing louder with each passing day, letting them know that soon they would have to join the ranks of the miserable masses. "Better figure out what you're gonna do; after graduation, the free ride's over." He had heard that from his old man too many times to count.
He pulled a crushed pack of cigarettes from his jeans and lit the last smoke. The sound of the flowing water coupled with the children's laughter lulled him into a sense of calm. He lay back on the bench, staring up at the clear blue sky, and watched the fluffy white clouds roll by. If only he could figure out a way to travel all the time.
The clock tower chimed, waking Cash from a light nap; it was six o'clock. He sat up and raked his fingers through his hair. The sun was a red orb sitting on the horizon; the day was coming to an end. His stomach growled. He reached for his wallet, then remembered that he had left all his money on the pool table. Dammit! No money, no smokes, and no food. He needed to figure out a way to correct at least one of those problems. It didn’t take him long to come up with a solution. Kayla!
Cash rolled up on the sandwich shop and peered through the plate glass window. Just as he hoped, Kayla was working behind the counter, her long dark hair pulled up in a neat bun atop her head. She glanced up, seeing him outside, and turned away, ignoring him. Ordinarily, if someone gave him that type of shade, Cash would leave. But he was hungry, and Kayla was his best chance at getting something to eat; the only other choice he had was to go home. And after the run-in with his father earlier, that was not an option. He kicked his board up into his hand and walked inside.
The enticing aroma of fresh-baked bread and deli meat made his mouth water. He walked toward the counter, keeping his eyes on Kayla, who still refused to even look up at him.
"Hey," he said, flashing his best smile.
Kayla didn't answer; she continued wiping the counter as though he was invisible.
"Come on, Kayla," he pleaded, "Don't ignore me. I came all this way to see what you were up to."
She stopped wiping and glared up at him with her dark brown eyes. "You could've saved yourself a trip if you had checked your messages." She tossed the rag on the counter and stalked away.
Messages? Cash pulled out his phone and found several messages waiting for him, five from Kayla. He stuffed the device back in his pocket and followed her across the store.
"I'm sorry, I missed your messages. I had a run-in with my old man, and I lost track of time." He held up his arm to show off his wound, hoping that it would make her feel sorry for him.
Her face softened. "Why does it always seem like I'm only important to you when you want something from me?" she folded her arms.
He was winning her over. He flashed a crooked smile and gently touched her arm. "Come on, it's not like that. I think about you a lot; I just had a rough day." He leaned close and kissed her on the cheek.
Her posture relaxed, and she uncrossed her arms. She smiled. "I get off at nine if you wanna hang out."
"Sure," he replied. "I gotta hook up with the guys at the skate park, but after that, I can come by and get you. We can go hang out at your place."
Her smile lit up her face. "Great, let's do that," she said, almost giddy. “We can watch that movie I told you about.”
Cash won her over, now to get what he came for in the first place. “Great!” He kissed her on the forehead. “It’s a date then.” He moved as though he were heading for the door. "In the meantime, I'm gonna go find something to eat.” He patted his belly, making sure to wince, ever so slightly, from the pain in his arm. “I'm starving."
"I can make you a sandwich if you want," blurted Kayla.
"You sure?" He offered his most innocent facial expressions. "I don't have any money, sort of lost it all playing pool."
"It'll be on me." She kissed him on the cheek. "you can make it up to me later."
He grinned. "Absolutely."
Kayla walked behind the counter. "You're always losing your money gambling. One of these days, you're gonna have to stop. If you're gonna move out, you'll need a job so you can pay rent.”
I don't always lose, and no, I'm not getting a job. Cash ignored the rest of Kayla's "adulting" speech as he waited patiently for her to finish making his sandwich. Irritation simmered just below the surface held in check by his hunger.
She set him up with his meal in a corner booth, tussling his hair as if he were a child, before going back to work behind the counter.
His mouth watered. The tantalizing aroma of the sandwich reminded Cash that he hadn’t eaten anything since early morning. Without another thought about how annoyed he was with Kayla, Cash dove right in, savoring every bite. Meanwhile, a steady stream of customers came and went, keeping Kayla too busy to spend time bothering Cash with any more of her words of wisdom. As soon as his belly was full, he rushed to leave, shouting a promise over his shoulder to be back by nine. He didn’t stick around long enough to hear her response.
Outside, on the streets, people in business clothes carrying briefcases gave way to people dressed in casual, more colorful attire. The sound of cars and delivery vehicles became the soft sound of laughter fused with muted music and tinkling glasses.
From a corner, waiting for the light to change, Cash watched a man, seated at an outdoor patio, stuff several bills inside a small black folder. The man wiped his mouth with his cloth napkin one last time, then stood and helped his date from her chair.
The light changed. Surrounded by a small cluster of men and women, Cash rolled closer, scanning the patio for the server. With one eye on the folder, he kicked hard to gain speed. As he flew past the table, he reached out and swiped the folder, then took off down the street, far away from the restaurant.
Back at the park, he was finally able to inspect the contents of the binder. A crisp one-hundred-dollar bill and a twenty. Sweet! That'll make up for the money lost earlier. He tossed the folder into the trash and pocketed the bills. The evening was beginning to look up.
The clock tower chimed eight; time to meet up with the boys. Feeling more optimistic than he had all day, Cash skated across the park to the skate area.
"Hey Cash, where ya been all day?" Kyle placed a cigarette in his mouth and leaned toward the lighter. The flame cast an orange-red glow, highlighting the millions of freckles all over his pale face. He took a long drag then handed the smoke to Cash.
"Where's Chris?" asked Cash as he scanned the park, searching for his friend's telltale neon-green hair.
"He went to the store with a couple of drifters we ran into."
"Couple of drifters, huh, anyone we met before?"
Kyle shook his head as he exhaled. "Nah, at least I've never seen them before. They're cool, not weird like some of them can be, ya know?"
Cash took one more drag from the cigarette then exhaled and handed it back to Kyle. Without another word, he hopped on his board and dropped into the nearest bowl.
The flutter of butterflies in his belly on the initial drop always got his adrenaline pumping. He loved the rush of air and the sense of gliding effortlessly; he could do without the smell of urine at the bottom of the bowl. Luckily, he didn't spend a whole lot of time down there. He came up to the opposite side of the bowl and pulled off a perfect blunt to fakie, then dropped in again, this time pumping his feet to gain more speed so he could pop an ollie at the other end of the bowl.
The adrenaline, the rush of landing perfectly, the sense of freedom, these things were all that mattered. He needed to find a way to do nothing but skate for the rest of his life.
Several minutes later, Cash decided to head back over to Kyle and see what was up. Chris was back, sitting with Kyle and the two strangers. Cash took in the new duo.
Both wore the telltale worn and dirty clothes of train riders. Aside from that, they were very different from one another. One was tall and thin with shoulder-length blond hair and multiple tattoos, including several on his face. The other had more of an athletic build and short dark hair, he could pass for any average high school lacrosse player.
"Cash, my man," said Chris as he reached out in greeting. He turned to the strangers. "This here is Sam," he said, indicating the blond man, "and this is Tripp." He gestured toward the man with dark hair.
The duo nodded in greeting.
"Where ya from?" asked Cash as he took a cigarette from Chris.
Tripp smirked. "Everywhere."
Cash nodded and exhaled. So, cliché. He'd expected an answer like that; he just didn't believe anyone would really do it. It took a great deal of restraint to hold back a laugh.
"Uh-huh." He smirked. "So, other than drifting, where’re you from originally?"
"Grew up all over the U.S.,” replied Sam, “but I guess you could say I started out in Sioux Falls."
It was apparent that Sam was the more down-to-earth of the two. With his genuine smile and casual air, he came across as someone who had nothing to prove. Cash liked that about him. On the other hand, Tripp seemed the sort who played games and wanted to win. Oddly enough, Cash liked that a great deal, probably a lot more than authenticity.
"Georgia," replied Tripp. "Athens."
"That's a little bit of a distance from here. Trains?"
Tripp nodded. "More often than not. Other times, we hitch a ride from anyone who'll give us one."
"That happen often?"
Tripp flashed a knowing grin. "It happens a lot with the college female set."
Tripp handed Cash a small metal flask. He unscrewed the cap and sniffed the contents, bourbon. He wasn't much of a bourbon drinker; come to think of it, he could only recall ever drinking it twice before. Oh well, I guess this is time number three. The liquor coursed its way down his throat and into his belly, creating a warm sensation throughout his body. Not bad. He passed the bottle back to Tripp, who took a long pull then handed it off to Sam.
Cash found Tripp and Sam intriguing. He wanted to know more about their lifestyle. Where they've been, how they get around. Did they go to a lot of parties? What were the women like? Cash had grown up seeing drifters—he had a basic understanding of their lifestyle. He never met any he genuinely liked before and he intended to make the most of this chance encounter.
He already liked Sam, and he realized right away that he had a lot in common with Tripp. Cash had a powerful feeling that fate had played a role in bringing these two into his life at that moment. This could be the ticket out of a dead-end life he was looking for.
"So, how long you been doing this?" asked Cash.
Sam shrugged. "I don't know, man. I kinda lost track of time."
"You were out for at least a year when I met you," replied Tripp.
"Right, right," agreed Sam.
Cash took another hit from the flask. "So, what made you want to do it?"
"Opportunity presented itself, and I took it," replied Sam.
"I met this girl who rode off and on," said Tripp. "She was hot and liked to have fun." He winked. "She showed me the ropes, then went her own way. I couldn't imagine ever going back to my old life after that, so I kept on riding. Not long after, I met up with Sam."
Tripp took a swig from the flask. "You ever hopped?"
Cash shook his head.
"Ever think about doin' it?" asked Tripp.
"I am now," replied Cash.
A mischievous grin spread across Tripp’s face. “Well, my friend, you’re in the right company.”
The hours slipped by, Cash lost all track of time as Tripp and Sam regaled him with stories of their travels, hardships, and triumphs. They told him about the parties, the drugs, the alcohol, and the women; they also told him about the near catastrophes, the lousy weather, the bugs, and the occasional hunger. Hardships aside, all of it sounded amazing to Cash. He wanted to live it so bad; he could taste the oil and metal already.
"Yo, Cash," said Chris. "It's nearly midnight. Kyle and I are gonna head home. You comin'?"
"If you really want to check it out," offered Tripp. "There's a camp not far from here. Lots of riders there waiting to catch on. You can come with us and see what it's like."
"Yes," blurted Cash. He didn't even need to think it over. He couldn't think of a single thing he wanted to do more.
As his friends headed home, Cash followed Tripp and Sam to the train yard.
Anticipation vibrated throughout his body, his mouth barely able to keep up with his mind as he rattled question after question. To their credit, Tripp and Sam took their time and answered all of them.
They arrived at the train yard and continued past to an area filled with dense forest-like overgrowth. Cash followed as they cut into the densely-packed thicket and trudged for at least a half-mile until he caught the scent of fire. A soft glow emanated ahead—a beacon in the darkness. Music and laughter floated through the night. It was as though they had stumbled upon a hidden village, a place only a precious few were allowed to see.
They stepped into the clearing to the sight of a small bonfire; the skunky smell of cheap weed wafted through the air. Cash was unable to make out how many people were there; it seemed like nearly a dozen. What he could see, though, was a group of young people, many close to his age range or slightly older, laughing and dancing by the light of the fire.
"Tripp, Sam, you brought us a guest," said a young woman as she sauntered close.
Short dark hair, wearing a crop top and torn jeans, she stopped in front of Cash and smiled one of the prettiest smiles Cash had ever seen. Or maybe it was the bourbon—he couldn't tell.
"I'm Tamera. You can call me Tam or whatever." She shrugged and winked.
"Cash," he replied, his throat dry and tense. He thought he heard his voice crack, but again, he was too buzzed to really care.
Tam reached out, wrapped her arms around his neck, and pulled him close. "Well, Cash, you're welcome to come and sit with us. Would you like that?"
She stared up at him with crystal blue eyes; the scent of fire and earth emanated from her body. Her fingers played casually with his hair sending a warm tingle up his spine. Time froze, his heart pounded in his chest, his whole body was on fire.
"Yo, Tripp, got that twenty you owe me?"
Cash glanced over as a blond man with messy hair and a scruffy beard approached, wearing a worn-out backpack.
"Mags," said Tripp as he hugged the man. "Great to see you. And, yes, I got your twenty."
A train whistle blew. Around the fire, several people howled in response to the whistle.
"That's our ride," said Mags as he stuffed the money into the pocket of his dirty denim jacket. "D.B. gear up," he called over his shoulder. He turned back to Tripp and Sam. "These Greenies.” He shook his head. “You always gotta tell ‘em what to do.” He clasped hands with Tripp. “Catch ya later. We're off to Salt Lake." He reached his hand out to Cash. "Nice to meet you." He leaned closer with a questioning look on his face.
Mags smiled and nodded as he shook hands. "As I said, nice to meet ya, Cash. Hopefully, when we run into each other next time, we'll be able to hang for a bit."
The whistle blew once more; it was much closer. Around the fire, the pack howled in response. A dark-haired, gangly teen carrying a holey backpack materialized from a glowing cloud of red-orange smoke.
He stepped up and nodded at Cash, then leaned close to Tam. "I'll catch ya later," he said.
Tam released Cash and hugged D.B. goodbye.
"Well, we'd love to stick around and shoot the shit with y'all, but we got better things to do," teased Mags. He slapped D.B. on the arm. "Let's go."
With a final farewell, they disappeared into the dark brush.
Tam took hold of Cash's hand. "Come on," she said, leading him over to the fire.
She took the time to introduce him to everyone, he did his best to pay attention to all the names, but the only thing he could think of was the feeling of her hand in his. She pulled him gently over to an open space where they took a seat. Like magic, another flask materialized; he sniffed the contents; it was not bourbon this time. Steeling himself, he tilted his head back and took a large swig. Hot fire poured down his throat, cascading into his stomach where it churned like molten lava. As he gasped for air, he made a mental note to avoid that flask the next time it came around.
Sam took a seat on the other side of the fire with a guitar in his hands. "Give me some requests," he said to the group.
A round of shouts erupted, calling out songs from every genre.
Sam smiled and began to play.
Cash felt more at home than he could ever recall feeling in his life. The music, the people, the scent of fire—the raw energy; this is where he was meant to be. These were his people. This was the life he had been looking for.
Sometime during the night, Tripp and Sam offered to take him along with them to Seattle—and he jumped at the chance. A life of travel and adventure beat out another day in Geometry class any day. With the sun peeking out above the trees, Cash made his way back home. Excited and still feeling buzzed, he made a list of the items he would need to bring with him as he walked the familiar route home.
Sleeping bag, blanket, coat, and gloves. Did he still have that small camping stove? He would need at least a couple changes of clothes, not too much; he had limited space in his backpack.
Still very much in his own head, excited over the prospect of getting away, he didn't even notice his dad in the living room chair by the front door.
"Where the hell have you been?"
Cash's euphoria dispersed like a fine mist in a warm breeze. A deep dread settled in its place.
Paul got out of the chair and stood face to face with Cash. His clothes rumpled, his hair a mess. He looked exhausted, as though he hadn't slept all night. The anger on his face was impossible to ignore.
"Answer me. Where the hell have you been all goddamn night?"
"You think you can just saunter in here whenever? What is this a hotel or something?"
Still no response. All Cash wanted to do was get his things and leave. He shoved past the old man and walked down the hall toward his bedroom. His dad followed close behind, emanating waves of growing rage.
"Don't just walk past me. You're in my house—show some respect."
Cash spun around and glared at his father. What stared back at him was a complete surprise. It was not the face of a man who had both inspired and terrified Cash as a child; it was the soft, aging face of a defeated man. For the first time in Cash's life, a veil had been lifted, and he realized how unintimidating his father really was—how sorrowful and broken.
Unable to look into that face any longer, Cash turned away. "I'm leaving," he said without venom, anger, nor remorse.
Paul's face paled, and his eyes grew wide. "What the hell do you mean, leaving? Where exactly do you think you're going?"
Cash walked into his room and pulled out his pack. "I'm heading out with some friends."
"The hell you are!"
"How are you gonna stop me?" asked Cash as he stuffed items into his pack. "It's done. I'm leaving."
"Yeah?" Demanded Paul, "And how are you gonna get around, big guy?"
"Come again?" Paul shook his head and raised his eyebrows.
"Trains, we're riding trains."
Paul stepped back and crossed his arms. "Let me get this straight; you're gonna leave here to become a friggin' hobo? Is that what you're telling me?"
Cash did not respond. He stuffed nearly every t-shirt he owned in his pack, followed by a couple extra pairs of jeans. At the bottom of the drawer be found an old wooden cigar box. He remembered when his grandfather gave that to him; he thought the box was the most fantastic box he had ever seen. A wry smile spread from the corners of his mouth. Kids believe all sorts of shit is impressive when it's really just so dumb. He flipped the lid open to view the contents one more time. A fifty-cent piece. A cheap necklace that was given to him on his fourteenth birthday by his first girlfriend, Melissa. A purple rabbit's foot and an old, child-size pocket knife. Junk. Nothing but junk. He closed the lid, shoved the box under the remaining clothes, and slammed the drawer shut.
His father continued from the door, "Are you stupid? What the hell is wrong with you? Are you stoned?"
His gear all packed, Cash glanced one more time around the room, making sure he didn't forget anything. It was hard to think with the old man going on and on in the background. He ran through the list of what he needed; he was pretty sure he got it all. As Cash moved to walk out of the room, Paul blocked him.
"You're not going anywhere. Put your shit back now."
Cash did not move. He stared directly into his father's eyes, realizing at that moment that it wasn't his family he hated; it was their life. He couldn't imagine a worse fate than to end up like his parents, middle-aged with nothing but calloused hands, a sad little run-down house, and a mountain of bills. Who in their right mind would even think that an endless nine to five grind was a good idea. Add the house and the kids, and you could forget all about ever doing anything remotely enjoyable again. No, he felt no hatred. He really felt cold, paralyzing fear that he would one day be exactly like his father if he stayed. Lost, broken, hopeless, and sad.
Cash stepped forward, staring down at his father, unblinking. He was leaving this dead-end life behind. If he had to fight through the old man to do it, so be it.
Paul blinked; the look of defeat swept across his face. He looked down at the floor and stepped aside.
Cash brushed past him and headed for the door.
"This is gonna kill your mother, ya know," Paul said, his voice quivering. "You're not even gonna wait 'till she gets home from work to say goodbye?"
His mom. Cash paused in the middle of the living room. He had forgotten about her. He didn't want to hurt his mom, but he had to leave. He finally had a chance to escape the endless nightmare of barely getting by. Life was about adventure and happiness. She, of all people, would know that. She'll understand, he told himself.
"Son," the voice was sad. "Son, look, I'm not good at saying the right words." his voice trailed off. He merely stood, staring at Cash, silently pleading.
Cash spun around at the threshold of the front door. "Goodbye, Dad," was all he said, then he turned and walked out the door.
The early morning air had an electric charge to it, or maybe that was coming from Cash. His body hummed with excitement, his mind reeled with all the possibilities. Walking with purpose, he left his old neighborhood, past the high school, through the city streets he spent his childhood exploring, and out to the campsite.
When he arrived, Tripp and Sam were the only ones still there. The fire was nothing more than a pile of charred wood and ash.
"You owe me a ten," Tripp declared.
Sam chuckled and pulled out his wallet.
"What's this?" asked Cash as he dropped his pack on the ground.
"Just a little wager," replied Tripp, "Sam here was sure you weren't gonna come back. I told him there was no way in hell you were gonna stay. Turns out, I was right." He chuckled and stuffed the bill into his pocket.
The next train whistled its approach.
"That's our ride." Tripp clasped a hand on Cash's shoulder. "You ready, Greenie?"
"More ready than I've ever been."
"Good, good." Tripp smiled. "Remember that when you're hungry and freezing your ass off somewhere in the middle of nowhere."
The whistle blew again, beckoning.
Sam pushed past them, breaking into a jog. "Let's go!"
Cash looked around one last time, above the trees and to the buildings beyond. He had only ever known this city. He could hardly wait to see others. All of them. The energy of new possibilities coursed through his body. He turned on his heels and followed Tripp and Sam into the thicket.
"To Seattle! And wherever the hell else we decide to go after that," he shouted.
As if on cue, the whistle blew.
The trio howled in response.