We drove for what seemed like hours.
I emptied the tequila and other contents of my stomach a couple of times by leaning out the window. We found an old gas station, one of those that didn’t have the pay-at-the-pump feature, a few miles outside town. Topher pulled up to the entrance but didn’t pull in. He dimmed the lights and we watched for signs of life. He laid out two plans of action: one, we go inside and find people (actual people) and pay for all the gas we can carry; two, we go in and don’t find people (or worse), in which case he would locate the switch to turn on the pumps and I would grab as many of those plastic canisters as I could carry – quietly. In both scenarios we went in together, came out together, and one person filled containers while the other kept watch and helped load them into the back. Don’t shut our car doors, but don’t leave them open enough for something to crawl inside. It was a solid plan.
We didn’t find people.
But we didn’t find anything else, either. The TV was on – it was the only sound in the store. Topher went around the counter cautiously – I grabbed gas cans. I was able to fit three in one hand, but could only quietly grab two with my second hand. How far did we need to go? Topher joined my side and held out a piece of paper while touching his finger to his lips. “Pumps are on. Take what you need. God Bless.” The attendant must have seen the news and left; physically or metaphorically, I never knew. Topher grabbed a couple of gas cans too.
He filled the car up, I kept watch. I filled the cans, he kept watch. We loaded them into the back seat together, then off we went. No incident.
It was quiet for a while, but once we couldn’t see the glow of the gas station in the mirrors any longer, Topher ventured a wide smiled, “We did it.” I smiled back and he said it again, more confidently. We did. We survived.
I asked where we were headed.
“Home,” was his answer. “My parents live out on 267. It’s pretty far from anything, so it should be safe for the night. You’re from Houston, right?”
I felt myself blush. Even in the worst of circumstances, it seems I could still feel the girlish thrill that the boy I liked knew something about me. He had noticed me.
“It’s probably-” He paused, thinking better of evaluating how awful the situation must be in such a big city. We’d first heard about what was happening when it hit the east coast. We had laughed, joked about the “Wall of Guns” the south was calling itself. It was never going to reach us. But if it had already reached as far west as we were, it had most definitely already hit Houston.
I didn’t want him to feel bad or let things get awkward, so I said, “We can wait and see what the radio says in the morning.”
“Good plan.” He smiled. We sat in a comfortable silence for a while. I wondered if the world would look different when the sun rose.