Avery Oslo – Storm Chasers

Otis pays the tab. His left shoe has a hole, but he tips 25%. “C’mon.”

“But I’m afraid,” I slur as he leads me by the wrist toward his coupe. “I can’t drive stick with the big trucks and the merging and speeding and…”

He presses his lips against mine, and our teeth clash as our tongues smooth away the bruises of a night of whisky-flavored kisses. I like the whisky kisses the best.

When we pull apart all of my lipgloss is gone and my lips feel like they are in marching band again, squishing into a trumpet mouthpiece for three hours every day.

He presses the keys into my hand. “Just follow the storm.”

The southern sheet lightning flashes through the sky like a redneck Aurora Borealis, backlighting the hills with pinks and greens. It flashes again, and his glass-marble eyes glint before his chin and cheekbones are cast in shadow.

I will never tell him no.

His coupe shakes when I stomp on the pedal as if some disgusting roach were beneath it waiting to run up my bare leg. I swallow between shallow breaths, avoiding those eyes as we turn onto the interstate.

The car is speeding, trying to escape the heat that stifles and numbs the way long underwear does under rubber waders. We are almost thirty miles above the limit, but the interstate is empty. I like to think only beautiful wasters drive during 2am thunderstorm warnings.

He flicks the dial and the radio blares the newest thing out at us, experimental like this Nashville night. The lightning can hear, and it delivers. With every beat, a new flash fills the sky, and the remix is aqua, is golden, is Pepto-Bismol pink.

I am going 95, then 100.

The whisky sears courage through my veins. Otis is ethereal: he has nothing to say.

Window down. “Let’s go to fucking Mexico!” I scream into the lightning.

“Downed Line!” he shouts. The wire is a snake, alive and hissing.

No time to stop, just turn. Keep turning. Car burns tire-tar onto the pavement. The stink crawls into my nose and hits my brain hard.

When the car stops, I feel like I am still going though the seatbelt cuts me in half.

His hand on my shaking thigh. “Let me drive.”

I am ethereal: I have nothing to say.

I give him the car’s steering wheel. It is harder than giving him my heart.

“You need coffee.”

I don’t disagree.

Waffle house is like every waffle house. Waitress never became a country singer. Banged a few truckers when the rent was due.

Coffee is the anti-whiskey.

Coffee kisses are forced. Warm mouths can’t cool down. It is as if the lightning never existed.

I have enough. “Let’s go back on the highway.”

“The tires are blown.”

“Just burnt a little.”

“You’re afraid to drive stick, with the big trucks and the merging and the speed…”

I press my lips against his: a chaste coffee kiss.