MIDNIGHT IN KANSAS • by Janice Hager

The prairie stretches out around them like a desert, endless and intimidating. The patch of road illuminated by their headlights is the only thing they can see for miles. Even the stars have been lost to them, tucked in for the night behind a blanket of clouds.

“We should probably stop at the next town,” she says. When he doesn’t respond, she reaches out to turn off the radio, but immediately regrets it. The emptiness of the Kansas countryside weighs down on their small car, suffocating in its closeness. “We should stop soon,” she says again. “I’m dead on my feet, and you’re swerving.”

Kevin shifts a bit in his seat, sits up straighter and forces his eyes wide, as if to prove her wrong. “I’m fine. If we stop here, they might find us.”

“If we crash, someone’s definitely going to find us,” she points out. “Please, Kev.”

“Where would we even go?” he argues. Even in his frustration, his exhaustion seeps in around the edges of his voice, and the car makes another small swerve to the left. “We can’t afford a hotel, and who says there’s even a hotel out here?” He flips on his brights and squints into the darkness. ”We haven’t passed anyone or anything in over an hour. I think we should just keep going, at least get over the state line.”

“And then what?” she asks crankily. “I mean, assuming we’re not dead in a ditch by then, what will we do? We’ll have to stop and sleep, and park somewhere in broad daylight.” She bites her lip, apprehension that she’s been ignoring finally forcing its way to the forefront of her thoughts. “Maybe we should go back.”

Kevin tenses beside her. There is a long pause. “Is that what you want?” he finally asks, his voice strained and forcibly calm.

“I don’t know.” She shrugs noncommittally. “No. I guess not.” As soon as she returns her gaze to the prairie, the silence crowds itself back into the car.

Twelve hours ago, everything was fine.

Well, not fine. There was nothing fine about the little white stick she stole from the pharmacy, the twin pink lines where there was only supposed to be one. Nothing fine about the handful of tests, all repeating the same result with a resonating echo—You are so screwed.  But it had all been her secret, an about-the-size-of-a-peanut problem that she could agonize over all by herself, in the comfort of her Hello Kitty bedroom in her parents’ house. Twelve hours ago she was just a teenager, and Kevin still loved her.

Now, they can barely look at each other. What they’re doing out here with each other, of all people, Sarah isn’t sure. This product of their wild and passionate after-school affair hasn’t brought them together. She’s not even sure what Kevin is thinking, except that he agreed with her about how things should go—a drive away, into the dark, to another state. A few days to think. To weigh their options, or to hide from all of their options. Just run, and they’ll figure it out later. Leave a note—they’re not heartless, after all, just hopeless—and run. Don’t talk about it, not even to each other. And definitely don’t touch. Touching is dangerous.

Apparently.

Twelve hours ago, everything was fine, she keeps repeating to herself, grasping onto the words like a life raft. If twelve hours can ruin everything, maybe another twelve will lead them to answers. Will make Kevin look at her without cringing. Will make her able to look at him without feeling a little bit sick. Will make her stop peering down the years and seeing a future of diapers and frustration and oh my God, I’m never going to go to college.

“Let’s try to make it to New Mexico. We don’t need your parents’ permission there to—” Kevin starts to say, then stops, the thought strangling his tongue. He clears his throat, staring straight ahead at the road, and Sarah hugs her arms around her chest. Not her stomach. Not now, not with that thought hanging over her. “We’ll stop in New Mexico,” Kevin finishes lamely.

Sarah nods and turns the radio back on. It doesn’t chase the unspoken words away as quickly as she’d hoped.


Janice Hager lives in Orlando, FL, with her wonderful boyfriend and a house full of pets. She studies English and Creative Writing, and has been writing short stories since she was seven. She is, thankfully, much better at it now.


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