The big truck rumbled down the highway, the diesel engine the only sound filling the tomblike quiet in the cab of the truck. I glanced over, checking to make sure my sixteen-year-old son was still breathing, and had to smile. He had passed out. His head was leaning against the door, his mouth hanging open and looking anything but cool.
I was tempted to snap a picture to use as blackmail for a future date but resisted. I didn’t need him to be pissed at me for anything else. I seemed to be able to piss him off with the simple intake of breath or the dreaded, ‘what’s going on’ question that put him on the defensive.
It had been a long drive. It felt much longer due to the lack of conversation. The radio had gone in and out, leaving me in silence while he listened to his headphones. The stretch of highway in front of me seemed endless.
We were close. So close to the end of our journey from our home in Minnesota to what I was declaring a fresh start to life in Conroe, Texas. My real estate career had turned me onto the area long ago. I had dreamed of retiring to the growing city just outside of Houston for a while now. My wife, Carlie, and I had been checking out property in the area for years.
It was still hard to believe she was gone. She wasn’t going to get to spend her days sitting on our back deck and sipping sweet tea. Life was unfair. My wife of twenty years had been killed instantly in a horrific crash that turned my life upside down. Olin’s life had been forever changed as well.
It was crazy that one person could make one bad decision and change the course of life for complete strangers. I had to let go of the anger. The anger had driven me into a very dark place for months after she’d been killed. I couldn’t go back there.
I was running away from the memories. It probably wasn’t healthy, but I felt that Olin and I needed a change. Staying in the house in Minnesota was only making it difficult to move forward. At least for me it was. Olin didn’t seem to give a shit one way or the other. He was a typical teenager with the usual angst. Add in the loss of his mother and things were even more difficult.
“Hungry?” I asked, knowing he could hear me, but doing a really good job pretending he couldn’t. “Olin, I need gas. I’m going to grab something to eat. I hear these Buc-ees have some great food, real Texas style.”
“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled.
“Suit yourself. You’re old enough to know if you’re hungry or not.”
I flipped on my blinker and pulled off the freeway. It had been a long two days of non-stop driving. I was tired of sitting on my ass and couldn’t wait to be home. Our new home.
“Can I get one of those pork sandwiches?” I asked the young man behind the immaculately clean counter once I was inside.
“Sure thing,” he said and quickly filled my order.
I looked around, suspecting Olin had decided to come in, and found him in front of the Slurpee machine, a bag of chips in his hand. Not hungry my ass. I took my sandwich and grabbed a bottle of water for the road.
I waited, giving Olin plenty of time to browse the massive food selection. I pretended to be occupied as well, not wanting to pressure him to hurry up. The kid was prickly at best, and any little thing I said or did threatened to piss him off and send him storming out of my general vicinity.
He looked at me, his blue eyes reminding me of his mother. His thick black hair was all me. He was the perfect combination of the two of us. “Ready?” I asked him.
He nodded but said nothing. I walked up to the checkout, depositing the snacks and drinks we had picked up. I smiled at the young woman, who was very openly staring at me. “Good afternoon.”
“Hi,” she said with a smile. “Traveling through?”
“Headed home,” I said.
“You don’t look like a Texas boy.”
I grinned. “I’m not.”
“I could give you some pointers, help you learn how to walk with a cowboy gait,” she offered.
“Thank you, but I’m comfortable with my gait.”
She giggled, her eyes sparkling with amusement. “How about some of our world-famous jerky? Have you ever had it?”
“Nope, I sure haven’t.”
“Oh, you can’t be in Texas without trying our jerky. I’d be happy to give you a free sample,” she said with a grin. “Maybe an after-dinner snack.”
“Dad, I’m going to use the restroom,” Olin said, dropping a pack of gum on the counter and walking away.
The woman looked at me, then Olin, then back at me. “Your son?”
I smiled and nodded. “My son.”
“Let me get this rung up for you. I’m sure you want to get on your way.”
I almost laughed at her sudden change of heart. I suppose me having a son who wasn’t much younger than her had done the trick. The goodies were stuffed into a bag and I was sent on my way without the free jerky.
I waited in the truck for Olin, scarfing down my pulled pork sandwich. Olin climbed back into the truck, a scowl on his face. “I’m not interested in a new mommy that was born in the same decade I was.”
I smirked. “I had no intention of shopping for a new mommy for you period, but it would definitely not be anyone from your decade. You can trust me on that one.”
“This is so stupid anyway. Are you making me live here so you can find one of those Texas women?”
I started the truck and backed out of the spot, being mindful of the trailer I was pulling with all of our belongings. “I don’t know what a Texas woman is, but no. I’m moving us down here because I want warmth and fishing and good schools. Minnesota was killing my tired, old bones.”
“You’re forty-four, when did you get old?” he retorted.
“Last year,” I said, leaving it at that.
“We could have just moved to a new house. Starting a new school my junior year is stupid.”
I glanced over at him. “In your case, it was start in a new school or get kicked out of your old one. You get a fresh start here. I’ve checked out the school and the district. It’s a good school. You’ll be able to play baseball in the spring.”
He groaned. “I could have played baseball at my old school.”
“Not with your grades, Olin. This is a chance for you to be the guy I know you are. Those people back in Minnesota, they weren’t your friends. They were bringing you down and you would have ended up in serious trouble if you would have stuck with them.”
“Whatever. You don’t know shit about me.”
“I do know lots of shit about you,” I said, not getting upset about his language. I wasn’t that kind of a parent. I demanded respect, but we were having a conversation. I would deal with it to a point.
“Whatever,” he said and pulled the headphones that had been hanging around his neck over his ears. He had the music up so loud I could hear it. I hated to think what that was doing to his hearing, but if it saved me an argument, I’d worry about it later.
I told myself he was a normal teen doing normal teen stuff, but holy hell, sometimes I wanted to shake the shit out of him. He was stubborn and obstinate and so damn much like me it was like shouting at myself some days.
I felt like I didn’t know him sometimes. I suppose I probably didn’t. I hadn’t been a great father. I had spent more time working, building up my wealth with the intention of retiring early and spending my golden years with my wife. I would never have to worry about paying for Olin’s college or supporting him until he got on his feet.
Now, I was rich and alone. It was a shitty tradeoff. I checked the GPS and felt a shiver of excitement. We were within fifteen minutes of the new house I had purchased and had furnished—all over the phone. My job in real estate gave me a lot of excellent connections. An old friend had hooked me up with a lavish lakefront home that I was hoping like hell impressed Olin.
Not much did, but I had seen the pictures and hoped it would be enough to ease some of the tension and apprehension he felt about starting somewhere new. The houses increased in size the closer we got to our new address.
I pulled into the long driveway that led to the house that had all the lights on, ready for arrival.
“Holy shit,” Olin breathed, taking in the massive home. “This is it? This is the house you bought?”
I grinned. I felt proud as hell that I had managed to impress him. “Yep. Wait until you see the backyard. That’s where the real magic is.”
He gave me a sideways glance. “Whatever.”
“What the hell? I thought you’d be happy to see the place. It has a pool and our own private dock.”
He opened the door of the truck, hopped out, opened the back door, and grabbed his duffel bag before walking up to the front door and waiting. I told myself not to take the mood personally. I had a feeling when he saw the house and the awesome view, he would change his mind.
I opened the front door, unable to stop smiling as I gestured for him to go inside. He walked in, barely taking in the gorgeous home and stomped up the stairs. “Which room is mine?” he snapped.
“Second door on the right,” I answered.
He stomped up the rest of the way turned right and disappeared from my view. I sighed, dropping my small suitcase on the floor and giving myself the grand tour. I grabbed a cold beer from the fridge and headed outside to the expansive patio.
I sipped the beer and strolled around the hot tub that was set up against the pool. I could already see myself enjoying a swim and jumping in the hot tub to warm up on a cool night with a cold beer in my hand.
The beautiful grass lawn extended all the way to the edge of the lake. The dock was covered with iron benches already on it. I was envisioning many spring and summer days down by the dock resting, relaxing, and hopefully doing a little fishing.
I headed back inside, meandering through the four-thousand-square-foot home, popping my head into each of the rooms, except for Olin’s. The door was closed, and I didn’t want to push my luck. Two days being trapped in the truck together had pushed us both to our breaking point.
A little time alone was exactly what we needed. I dropped my suitcase in the huge walk-in closet that would have made Carlie very happy and headed back downstairs. It felt weird to have new everything. Everything from the furniture to the dishes in the kitchen to the towels and linens was new.
I had been serious about starting over. The trailer in the driveway was filled with our clothes and the things we didn’t want to leave behind. The house in Minneapolis was still ours. It still held all our furniture and all the memories of Carlie. I had kept the house because I wasn’t ready to let it go, but I didn’t want to live there anymore.
Conroe was where I wanted to be. I needed the sun and fresh air. I needed to be somewhere no one knew my name and nobody knew my story.