'North of Lethbridge'




   “Get in.”

   “I’m not going,” Hailey said.  She declined for a third time that Wednesday morning.  “You know what this weekend is.”

   Kurt cleared his throat.

   “Shut up and get in the car,” he said.  Hailey Winters recoiled.  Her boyfriend never snapped at her like that.  “Everyone is expecting us, and you’re not going to embarrass us any further,” he said.

   Hailey’s face opened.

   “Fine,” Kurt said.  He flicked his thumb at their apartment windows.  “You can stare out those dungeon bars all weekend, but I’m going to have fun.  With you, or without you.  So bite me.”

   Hailey gazed at the windows into their garden apartment, the tiny half-windows peering above the dirt.  She turned.  Their Toyota Camry waited with open doors and a hungry open trunk.  Hailey’s dark brown hair was back in a ponytail, her camping pack over one shoulder, but across her face was that hesitant, hang-dog look she and Kurtis were both so tired of seeing.

   Still, it felt like she was running away.

   Kurt kept his head down and continued packing.  The morning breeze smelled fresh and sweet.  A shy breeze tickled her shins.  Nearby, a red and black cardinal perched on a branch searching for his mate.

   It’s all in my head.  Isn’t it?

   Swallowing her nausea, Hailey tossed her backpack in.  Kurt found a spot for their water jug.  He slammed the trunk.  Their white ’98 Camry wobbled absorbing the blow.

   “I’m in a really bad place,” Hailey said trudging toward the passenger’s door.

   “I know,” Kurt said.  “That’s why we’re getting out of the city.  It’s not just you.”  As he held the door for her, Hailey tripped on the curb and brought both of them down—she landed on her stomach, Kurt on his butt.  They weren’t hurt just embarrassed.  They laughed.  Feels good to laugh.  Kurt helped Hailey into the car, she asked, “Do you love me?”

   “Always,” Kurt said.  “More than anything.”  He closed her door, walked around and got in.

   “Then help me.”

   Kurt put the car in gear.  Hailey watched the safety of her apartment on Macomb Street trickling away like a leaf down a stream.