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Mustang
by Stacey Robertson

       We weren’t going to last. I knew it for sure when you had your freak-out while driving down the gravel road, cursing at every pebble that smacked your car’s undercarriage. The sunlight turned the tops of the trees a neon green and that road was the sunniest I’d ever seen Montana get. And it was the first time I’d witnessed a bipolar person losing their shit.

       That car was everything to us. It was us, and maybe that’s why you got so upset.

       The other boys had trucks but you had that Mustang, black and low to the ground. It didn’t make sense for Whitefish but neither did you. Neither did I. We were impractical city kids, admiring a landscape the country people thought we had no right to see. You’d pick me up and we’d waste gas and time.

       You told me you loved me and I didn’t say it back.

       “You only love me for my car,” you muttered, and at that moment I almost loved you because you were right, because you’d spoken the truth, you’d figured me out.

 

       I can’t remember who advised me to take that summer job at the resort. Up until that summer, I did everything I was told. But I got to that circle of employee cabins and met my roommate, my housemates, the little box that would be home for the next few months and it was like I’d landed on the moon but couldn’t leave the spaceship. That small hill of dried grass had a view of nothing more than the highway below. I’d walk down the hill to the mountain lodge where I sold overpriced t-shirts in the gift shop and then walk back up the hill at the end of my 8-hour shift.

       You busted me out of there.

       Everyone would see your car pull into the circle, dark and sleek. The guys watched, standing on the porches of their cabins. But they never said anything. What could they say? I’d grab my jacket and climb into the passenger seat, my place.

       You still had a pager. You sold weed. You worked in the kitchen at another resort. You were a reluctant townie, transplanted to Whitefish after a dust-up in Peoria. I thought that pager was so funny. People never used those, not the people I knew. And your clothes were all wrong for Montana. There was a uniform for those parts—a Carhart jacket, overworn jeans, and work boots. You wore wide baggy black pants and oversized shirts like you were in a hip-hop group. Your white tennis shoes wouldn't stay clean. You looked ridiculous. I was embarrassed whenever you got out of the car. But most of the time we stayed in the car.

       

       We never took the popular road, the one for those tourists who wanted to see Glacier National Park without getting out of the car. No, we took the other highway, the one that climbed through the green hills of the Blackfoot reservation, then ducked into the dense tree cover at the base of those picture-worthy mountains like the wooden rafters behind a stage set.

       

       We met at a Reggae Fest. You were one of the few guys dancing in the drum circle. My friends had mostly gone to sleep but I liked to raise the sun. You did too. You danced your way over to me, head bobbing, and told me your name was Timothy. The next day I learned that you went by Tim and asked you why you hadn’t said so.

       “I use Timothy for the ladies,” you said, and I howled at the silliness of it, the honesty of it.

       I was never that honest with you. I couldn’t tell you that I would never stay with a guy who didn’t know about mutual funds and compound interest. I could never tell you that I’d seen what happens when you marry the lovable fun guy, and how it’s not so fun. But I complimented your car. And I let you have my body, for you seemed to like it more than I did.

       We watched the sunset over pools of glacier water hiding behind the places where tourists took pictures of mountain goats and bluebells. We made out on the warm rocks of a plateau with no name, and then watched pondwater slap against multi-color stones. We didn’t know what to call the white-trunked trees with speckled bark. But I could tell that they were changing colors.

       “Yeah, we have fall here,” you explained, with a hint of pride. I’d never seen a fall. My coastal Californian home didn’t have seasons. I didn’t point out that I’d miss the fall, that I’d be back in college before those trees did whatever they were going to do.

       You told me about one of your mom’s old boyfriends in Illinois and how he'd dragged her across the floor by her hair and that's why you were here. And then you took a deep breath of mountain air, that clean, pure air, because stories like that didn't belong in places like this.

 

 

       Whenever you touched my fingers I wanted the touch to move further. And you knew this. You knew it and you never overused that touch because you knew if you did that I might one day say no. I might tire of you.

       We went to a concert and I lied and told my boss I had diarrhea. We went to backwoods bars that didn’t card me, bars where old men were glad to have me. We smoked weed constantly.

       I swam naked in a mountain pool of glacial water. I was sick the whole week after. You told me that would happen, but I had to feel it, to know what it was to bathe in bottles of Evian, to touch water that was purer than me.

       One time I asked about your disorder. You told me that you’d stopped taking Lithium because it made you drowsy.

 

       We had conversations about how to peel potatoes and the purpose of fleas. You said you wanted to go into the entertainment industry. You didn’t say you wanted to be an actor, but I knew that’s what you meant. I was glad you didn’t say it aloud.

       We drank mushroom tea on a hillside behind an out-of-season ski lift. You’d found a lakeside overlook with warm rocks jutting from the hillside. The wind was biting but we didn’t care. I sat between your legs, my back against your stomach, and we watched the clouds blow along like they were rockets in a race. We ate It’s-its and Ding-Dongs as the lake water turned from teal to navy. I slid my thumb through the puka shell necklace I’d stolen from the resort gift shop and you warmed your hands under my sweater. We didn’t know the names of the powder-blue weeds that grew between the rocks or the saucer-shaped yellow flowers that hugged the hillsides, but I knew that where you found one, you found the other. They went together like the predictable pairings of a Safeway grocery bouquet.

       One day you took me home to meet your mom. She said that I was good for you. She said I stabilized you. I thought that was too bad because I couldn’t be that person for you.

       Your mother put on makeup and looked so pretty, her face so fresh, pink lips and blonde hair pulled back in a gelled ponytail like she was going to work at a bank and not going to clean motel rooms, not like she was a person to be dragged across the floor.

       I never thought of staying. Or coming back. But you had this idea, this hope of us being something more than a summer romance. It was the bipolar talking, I thought. Or maybe just that boys fell in love so quickly.

 

       We visited our favorite rock before I left. The sun might have warmed us but it got caught behind a cloud. The rows and rows of trees looked menacing, like that part in a movie before the action starts.

 

       Today I’m that lady in the wide-brim hat with the SPF 70. I stick to the marked trails, tip-toeing around delicate primrose and trumpet lichen, trying to make myself as small as possible on this earth. I always have the appropriate shoes. I eat a plant-based diet and avoid sugar. I meditate on purpose. I lose my boring car in parking lots. My husband works in finance.

       

       I see a Mustang now and I see an old car, heavy and irreverent, from a time when people didn’t worry about the future, when they lived on the planet like it wasn’t going anywhere and time was something to waste on the road. I see a Mustang now and I look away.

Stacey Robertson has published fiction pieces in the West Trade Review, Spectrum Literary Journal, and ProseAxe. She attends literary fiction salons throughout the world. She is also a proud Jersey City Writers member and lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/jcwriters/

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