Richard knew it was time but self-denial is powerful. The last six months the signs have been everywhere. The gentle hum of the motorhome engine was soothing and familiar, focus on that. His eyes darted at all the signs telling motorists what exits were coming up for what destination. That used to be exciting but now they were like a social media feed, overwhelming and familiar. The excitement was gone. They’d taken this road before. He glanced at Karen next to him, beautiful as always but she’s been silent for an hour now, another sign. A quick glance over the shoulder to the children of the road, Nick 12 and Jessica 16. Both were staring blankly out the windows. Jessica was not present, not really. There’s still hope for Nick though. Time to choose what exit, Richard didn’t know. This has never happened before in the whole ten years travelling the country. What was going on? His indecision made the decision. He took the last exit for an hour. He had to, they needed fuel for the motorhome and their stomachs.
Nick was teasing his sister, chasing her reaction which he received. They say boys mature slower than girls, it must be true. Richard merely cleared his throat and looked at them and it was over. Karen caught some food that escaped her mouth with her finger, gosh she was so beautiful. Richard finished the food in his mouth slowly and swallowed carefully. He placed the remainder of his burger down gently and caught Karen’s eyes. Richard bit his lip and stared into her stunning blue eyes which now widened indicating she wanted to know what was on his mind?
“I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
“Where do you want to go next?”
“Anywhere with you. So long as we’re together, anywhere is home,” she smirked awkwardly.
“Karen, I’m asking you now.”
Karen stared intently into Richard’s eyes. She was clearly contemplating the magnitude of the situation. Another family walked passed them and a boy about eight years old asked, “Are we going home now?" His eyes were hopeful, his face long as he waited for the answer. They both heard the boy clearly but the family rushed passed them to the door before the answer was revealed. There it was, blink and you’d miss it but Richard saw it. Karen had a sparkle in her eyes, she was hopeful. Richard had become an expert at noticing such things. Ten years on the road with minimal worldly distractions gave him plenty of time to study those beautiful eyes of hers. He had his answer.
Just thinking about the last ten years was amazing. They’d had their setbacks in life as most do. Ten years ago they’d been married seven years and had a two-year-old boy and six-year-old girl. Their jobs were okay but not well paid enough to ever purchase a home in their town. Richard can still remember the day clearly. He came home from work, exhausted, as usual, to see his beautiful bride struggling so much. Jessica wanted to play, Nick was squealing but Karen was unhappy. They had both grown up in families where everybody did the same thing. Generations all lived in the same city, usually, the same suburb. They went to school, got a job, paid taxes, saved for a holiday now and then, got old and eventually died. The desire to go out into the world, explore and really live had been in both of them since they were kids. Karen always wanted to live in England. Richard always knew he wanted something different. This was the day it was just so clear to him. Life is short, the kids are special and the world is open for an adventure.
The unity of vision that Richard and Karen have is the main reason they married. It was an easy decision to hit the road. There was little keeping them in their overpriced rental house. They both marvelled at how easily they’d slipped into the familiar system but it wasn’t too late. Jessica was barely at school and Nick was young enough to go with the flow. They both agreed it would be an awesome adventure for both of them and the children. Reaction from the families was as expected. Some were excited for them, others critical and even hostile but they knew it was right. Richard argued with their families about it. He’d say they don’t want the kids to be put in a box and have their creativity and individual personalities forced out of them. The counter argument was always the same. They need stability, it’s irresponsible and this and that. Richard thought he had the last word when he said that he grew up in the system and doesn’t fit in. The last criticism from his mother-in-law was that they were putting the kids into a box, a box on wheels. That’s precisely the narrow-minded thinking that angers Richard. It didn’t help that she was against homeschooling and still is to this day. Richard and Karen knew the criticism was invalid.
It was disappointing to have family opposed to them but looking back on it now reveals it was a part of their journey. They prepared themselves emotionally, financially and practically and chose a date two months ahead. They used their savings put aside for a house to buy the motorhome and to live on. They headed south thinking they’d be gone for twelve months; after that surely they’d be ready to come home and the funds would have dried up. It turns out creative ways to support your family are possible when you’re moving, seeking and trusting. It was also very satisfying for Richard and Karen to see the fruit of their work and convictions. They were so proud of the children, their maturity, kindness and love of people. They are different from other kids caught up in the system. The kids are bright, very social and creative. Even Nick was often astonished at the things other kids he met didn’t know. Sometimes they’d talk about something or somewhere and Nick could tell them he’d been there or seen it for real. Their reactions were usually priceless.
They saw the ritzy suburbs of millionaires, housing commission areas, thriving regional cities and two-bit dust bowls passing off as towns. They’d been stuck for weeks waiting on parts for motorhome repairs. Sometimes they would choose to stay in a place for quite some time. Some places were disappointing, they did not live up to expectations. Others were surprising, full of human gems. They’d met some amazing people, some rude, some arrogant but many were kind and generous. Those people many write off as boring, lowly and unimportant shared remarkable truths. Their often unhurried lives gave them the time for purpose and impact. They willingly shared wisdom seldom sought. The whole family learned to be grateful and meet people where they were on their own journeys. Some deserved their grace and others did not, nevertheless they gave it anyway.
Snapping his attention back to the moment, Richard took another bite of his burger before meeting Karen’s eyes again. He raised his eyebrows, lowered his head slightly, then glanced at the kids briefly. Karen responded by slowly turning towards the kids too and held the view for a moment. Richard joined her in obvious reflection. The family had seen and experienced much over the years. There were times of blessing, times of curses. They’d seen some of the best life has to offer and the worse. There were times of much laughter and tears. There were times of plenty and times of drought, both physically and emotionally. Their beautiful children have been a part of it all. As time passed, it was harder for them as they’d make friends and then have to leave.
The kids have grown both physically, emotionally and relationally beyond either Richard or Karen’s dreams. Yes they had their moments of sibling rivalry but they were close, they loved each other as all families should, unconditionally. They used their electronic devices according to the family rules which meant available time for relationships. At first, there were many hours of silence on the road. Although this still happens now, it’s different. They’re thinking, reflecting, creating, problem-solving and dreaming. They know each other’s dreams, passions, hopes and fears. Some of the people they all encountered were arrogant fools. Often, on the road out of there, the kids could be heard cackling like those birds. Their mocking of others was not condoned by Richard and Karen but sometimes they let it go because it was well deserved. Empathy was more common from the motorhome when they all reflected on the lies people believed and the fear that held them captive. Sometimes they wanted to stay a little longer to show them another way.
The kids have established relationships nationwide, some acquaintances, some close friends. They used the phone, email, messaging and video calls but Richard and Karen insisted they send real letters to close friends. Writing a real letter was slower and more difficult to change or correct. It required more thought, something Richard and Karen encouraged in those wonderful love-filled kids. They were all masters of long-distance relationships which included their own blood relatives back home. Many frequently commented that they felt closer to the family who were always on a road adventure than those physically in their lives. Life wasn’t always comfortable but it was seasonally full.
Jessica and Nick were talking quietly to each other right now. They knew what their parents were discussing. They’d been trained to pay attention to people, to watch them, read them. They see every day as a journey and every moment to be lived. They also knew that Richard and Karen knew that they knew. Of course, the fact the family was dining at an establishment like this was the ultimate giveaway. Fast food burgers found just off the highway always meant decision-making time.
Karen turned her gaze back to Richard. It was amazing how much thinking could be done in such a short gaze. Everybody knows we think much faster than we speak. She nodded at him knowingly and confirmed,
“Let’s settle back where we started… for a time.” They both knew things would be different now. They were not the same people who left ten years ago. This would be another adventure, a new season in a familiar place. Who knows how long it will be.
“Phase Two begins.”
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: Write a story about someone who started a road trip ten years ago and hasn't stopped since.