Clear skies. Blue ocean. Their Honda Pilot sailed smoothly down the Pacific Coast Highway, but Lana Marley could sense the undercurrent of a disturbance brewing in the back seat between Chad and his little sister Samantha. She glanced at her husband Mack and the scowl that was slowly forming on his face. This was supposed to be the beginning of their vacation trip to Del Mar where Mack would bet on the horses while she and the kids played on the beach. She was hoping for a sliver of peace in her life, if just for a few days. Maybe Mack would unwind a little. Maybe the kids would be a little less hyperactive.
Lana unbuckled her seat belt and leaned towards her children in the back seat. “Daddy will take a rest stop soon so let’s be good.” She passed them each a chocolate-covered graham cracker.
Chad squirmed in his seat. “I got to pee.”
Samantha whined but she stuffed the cracker into her mouth with her short, fat baby fingers. Crumbs of cracker and sticky chocolate clung to the front of her shirt and stuck to her curly blond hair.
“It will just be a few minutes,” Lana replied.
Chad began to pout and fuss.
“Please,” Lana whispered as she stroked his sandy-colored hair and tried to hold his blue eyes with her gaze. “Don’t make Daddy mad.”
Samantha cried out for another cracker and Lana quickly handed her another.
“I want more too,” Chad said.
“Shut up,” Mack shouted. His deep voice cracked the careful quiet that Lana had tried to maintain.
Chad was suddenly silent and wide-eyed Samantha trembled. Lana looked over her shoulder to see that Mack was pulling into a scenic overlook. There would be no restroom here, but she knew there was no point in saying so.
“Jesus Fucking A you stupid bitch. Can’t you do anything right? The fucking kids have chocolate all over themselves.”
Lana cringed and lowered her eyes as she sank into her seat. “I’m sorry. I’ll get them cleaned up right away.”
Mack suddenly turned around and slapped Chad across the face. “Stop you’re goddamn sniveling.”
Chad began to wail, but quickly choked back his sobs as he stared at his father’s cocked elbow. Then Mack turned his attention to finding a parking spot among the dozen cars parked at the overlook while muttering under his breath.
“Mack, why don’t you take the thermos and go have a cup of coffee while I get the kids taken care of.” She offered up the thermos in hopes of deflecting his angry glare.
He parked the car and grabbed the thermos out of her hand, threw open his door, and slammed it behind him.
For a moment, Lana and the children held themselves silent and motionless. Then Lana climbed over the console and into Mack’s seat. She observed the keys in the ignition and Mack’s wallet and phone on the console. Slowly, she settled into the seat and stared out through the window to watch Mack make his way to the distant railing that overlooked the ocean. She stared at his heavily muscled frame, the short dark burr of his haircut, the angry, lurching steps. Seagulls drifted overhead in the fragile blue sky. How did she fall in love with him? Why did he choose her?
The backseat door swung open and Chad hopped down and unzipped his pants to pee.
Pulled out of her reverie, Lana opened her door. “Chad, get back in the car.” She reached for his shoulder. “Hurry.”
He seemed to read the desperation on her face and clumsily zipped up his pants and climbed back in the car.
“Get your seat belt on,” Lana shouted as she started the car and slowly backed up, her eyes focused on Mack who was staring out over the ocean and drinking his coffee.
“Where are we going Mama?”
“I don’t know. Far away. Some place happy.”
“Yeah,” Chad shouted and Samantha babbled and clapped her hands in approval.
Lana headed south down the PCH and took the first east-bound highway she came to. Within a few minutes she pulled into a shopping center. Nobody asked about Daddy.
“What are we doing here?” Chad asked.
Lana pulled her cell phone out of her purse and grabbed Mack’s from the console. “I have to get rid of these cell phones.”
Lana tossed Mack’s phone out of the window into some nearby shrubs. “So no one can find us and keep us from going to our happy place.” She reached for Mack’s wallet and was relieved to see that there was $1000 in cash. It was supposed to be vacation money, but more than likely it would have ended up at the race track or on the poker table in some casino. Lana tucked the cash in her purse and threw the wallet out of the window.
Lana looked up to see Chad’s serious face in the rearview mirror.
“Daddy is going to be very mad at you.”
“Daddy is always mad.” Then she took her own phone and transcribed a few phone numbers on a piece of paper before throwing the phone into the bushes. She headed back onto the highway. “Let’s go kids.” She didn’t know where she was going yet, but she felt compelled to go as far as she could. Lana had really done it this time and she knew that if she hesitated, she and her children would be grave danger. She wasn’t going to be one of those women who warned her family and friends that if she ended up missing or dead that her husband would be the number one suspect. She wasn’t going to hang around and fulfill that prophecy. Lana dug in the bottom of her purse for the St. Michael pendant that she always kept with her and hung it on the mirror. It was time to take the blinders off no matter how blinding the reality.