As far as Jessica Bianca was concerned, the weekend began at 2:30 on Friday. Oh, sure, school still dragged on for another hour (at least), but semantics like that had never been an issue before. She was a senior; she was eighteen; physical education was the last course of the day, and that last hour flew by faster than Hamish Connell (she mused as she watched him, front and back, pass her by on the track. Front and back. Very meticulously). Planets aligning couldn’t have been more serendipitous. To be perfectly accurate, though, it was really 2:27 on a Thursday, but again, semantics. They had Friday off, and more importantly, Monday. Jessica couldn’t help but smirk as that thought took prominence. God bless Senior Skip Day.

But the universe is nothing if not balanced. With the good must come the…un-good. Jessica was gazing dreamily at the approaching break, even more than the sprinter who was passing her yet again (good lord, Hamish was fast!). Fine. But there was also the text her friend Victoria had sent her, chewing inside her mind like a termite. [4OUR DAY WEEKEND BITCHE$!!!!], it had read. [time 2 get our ferris bewler ON!!!!!]

[Bueller,] Jessica had replied back, to her doom. After deleting what must have been fifteen more instances of the name (because clearly one “Bueller” deserved another, ad infinitum), Jessica had asked her friend to elaborate her statement. Victoria’s fantasies boiled down to a trip to Vegas, and all matter of shenanigans they could get themselves into in-between.

[That’s 4 hours, Vik,] Kaliope had noted. [That’s a LOT of shenanigans.]

Victoria’s rely of [I no], followed by a mischievous kitten icon, was troubling, but not nearly as much as the harsh reality that followed, and was now diametrically opposing Jessica’s aforementioned joy:

Namely, none of them had the money for Vegas. Like, not even close. Not even within Hubble Telescope viewing distance.

[fukkin money issues,] came back her reply. A few curses later, and Victoria offered a challenge that Jessica was still contemplating: [if U2 have a better idea, im all ears] So now Jessica was left with the task of finding something to do during their long weekend, without too much damage to their budgets. The fact that they would likely stay confined within Los Angeles didn’t help their prospects much.

She still didn’t have an answer once school let out, or when she showered, or even when she got into her car and stared intently at the long series of texts on her phone. Kaliope hadn’t contributed much to the conversation, so all hopes seemed placed on Jessica’s shoulders. Fantastic. Victoria had wanted to start their vacation almost immediately. Jessica probably only had minutes to think of something.

Zero. Bupkis. Nada. And of course Victoria would choose that moment to call her.

“Hey, hey, guess who?”

“Spencer Tracey?” A pause.

“I don’t know who that is.”

“Oh, and I thought you were our resident aficionado.” She could almost hear the eyes rolling.

“Whatever. So do we have any plans or not? I got myself worked up over Vegas, so if you don’t have anything, I say we do it or bust, ‘fear-and-loathing’ style.”

“I thought we were ‘getting our Ferris Bueller on’,” Jessica smirked.

“Whatever! Plans?”

“None,” she sighed, “none at all. Oh, wait, hold on a second.” Jessica put her phone down and waved as a familiar face strolled towards her car. It was Kaliope, the neutral party in this fresh debate. She, not having physical education this semester—or the burden of deciding what to do on their vacation—looked radiant. Smiles were exchanged; all Kaliope had to do was look and she knew what was going on.

“No plans?”

“Not a one.”

“She mad?”

“Lemme check.” Jessica put the phone to her ear for a moment, winced, and pulled it away. “She’s ecstatic. What about you? Did you come up with anything?”

“Well, this is no ordinary weekend. We can’t just sit at home, or shop, or go to some movie, or…may I?” Jessica handed Kaliope her phone. Sure enough, Victoria was still raving.

“Hi, Vikki, it’s Kali. How are you, love? Anyway, shut up for a second, the adults are talking.” She gave Jessica her phone back and made a face. Laughter was infectious and magnanimous. “As I was saying, we can’t do our usual dumb shit, but we can’t do any extreme dumb shit, either. I say we Goldilocks all this and meet somewhere in the middle.”

“Yeesh, you two and your references. No wonder I’m the only one acing English.” Kaliope stuck her tongue out before moving on.

“I actually had something more romantic in mind. How about we all get into a car and just drive? Just…go somewhere, anywhere, no destination in mind at all, and stop anywhere and anytime we choose? Like, see the sordid underbelly of the city, and all the weird eclectic places we normally never would. Stay in a novelty hotel, go to some park we’ve never heard of, eat food we can’t pronounce. Find One-Eyed Willy’s lost treasure, get our bicycle in the Alamo’s basement, sing ‘Twist and Shout’ in a parade, wear nothing but American flags at the beach…”

“Very Kerouac of you,” Jessica grinned. “Me likey. Let me pass the idea along to Vickster. Hey, Vikki, can you shut up again, please? Kali and I have an idea. Let me explain—no, that would take too long. Let me sum up.”

There was a pause.

Princess Bride. Damn it. Okay, you’ve got my attention. What’s up?”

Victoria Williams had always dreamed of wasting a part of her life away in Las Vegas, but she couldn’t deny that this new plan had some charm to it. She was in. Now all they had to do was choose whose car to use, stock up on supplies, and let the wind guide them.

……

Even though this adventure was completely spur of the moment, and Victoria was impatient to get going, the girls still needed to put in time for basic necessities. They all agreed to go to hotels for at least two of the nights—Kaliope half-joked that maybe they should camp out at least once—but they still needed clothes, food, toiletries, diversions… Victoria asked her friends to all meet up at a local farmer’s market; once they had packed everything up, they shared a taxi ride over. She was overloaded with food and grinning anxiously as they all met. Several bags needed to be unloaded before she could give them a customary hug.

“You think that’ll last three days?” Kaliope said sarcastically, staring at the enormous bounty. Victoria didn’t understand her meaning at first.

“Huh? You think I should’ve gotten more?”

“Any more food and we may as well bring our own grocery store. What’cha lookin’ for, Jess?” Jessica was ruffling through all the bags, her nose half-buried. She looked up and smiled.

“The kitchen sink.”

“Past the rutabagas, probably,” Victoria countered dryly. “Seriously, though, is this enough?”

“For an army, I suppose. One problem: there’s not enough room. Where are we supposed to put our suitcases?”

“Never mind that,” Kaliope groaned, “where are we supposed to sit? I nearly squashed the, uh…the squash.”

“You reprobates will thank me once we’re out in the middle of nowhere. And I’ve already accounted for your suitcases. Sort of. My point is that everything will fit if you just shift things around creatively enough.”

“So we’re settling on your car?” Kaliope said. Victoria smiled.

“Appropriate, isn’t it? To be using a Ford Escape for our long weekend.”

“Never would’ve thought of that…”

“I think I got this under control,” Jessica said, gnashing her teeth as she crammed the last of the sacks in. A test-drive out of the market proved the accommodations were stable, so they drove by Victoria’s house to pick up her belongings, and then it was the open road. As it was Victoria’s car, she was the driver, so she got to choose their first destination. She turned the engine off, sat for a moment in consideration, and stepped outside. She picked up a stick from her yard and tested its weight.

“I saw this in a movie once.” She threw the stick into the air and stepped back; it landed with the pointed end facing in a southeastern direction. “Ladies,” she announced, “we have our destination.”

“Now that’s what I call fatalistic,” Jessica smiled, and so they took off in that direction. The first few traffic lights and stop signs were familiar, and a debate rose on what radio station they should listen to. The banal familiarity of Los Angeles continued to stretch after the jazz station wore out its welcome, then the classical, then the hip-hop. Victoria’s driving took them down all the familiar roads, led them to the same familiar landscapes. Jessica was about ready to pop open a map when Kaliope stopped her.

“Wasn’t the whole point of this trip to go to places we’ve never seen before? Vick, turn left at the next traffic light.”

“Left? Are you sure?”

“I’ve never been down that road before.”

“Robert Frost, we invoke thy spirit,” she muttered under her breath as they made the turn. It was an alien neighborhood, a long slow road with fairly small houses on both sides. Kaliope took pictures sporadically. They came to a stop sign, and she asked to turn right. Victoria turned around, frustrated.

“Look, do you want to drive?”

“Maybe I should. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Says the one who used to be the least adventurous of us.” Victoria raised her middle finger and drove left, causing Kaliope to grunt.

“No need to be childish about it.” Neighborhood lanes blurred, and the day drew late. They finally made it back onto one of the main roads, passing a small airport. Victoria lingered at a traffic light, hummed with disquieting amusement, and drove in. Concern didn’t really arise until she parked the car.

“What’re we doing here?” Jessica said. Victoria’s eyes sparkled with defiance and delight.

“That,” she pointed. The others turned around, noticing several hot-air balloons on the airfield. Jessica made the connection quickly and elbowed Kaliope.

“Ah, say! And you criticized her!”

“What?”

“We’re taking a hot-air balloon ride.” The large smile stretched across her face offered no chance for an argument. “Look, our entire weekend could very well be wasted before we know it. We could drive around forever and be no better off than if we had just stayed home. I say we do something special now.” She got out of the car before anybody could speak and strolled to the office, poised and determined. Jessica laughed as Kaliope stared at her.

“That’s what you get for daring her. She has a point, though. Come on, let’s catch up.”

Kaliope and heights were not exactly on the best of terms. She still had flashbacks of that one terrible time when she was allowed onto a boom lift, and it had shaken more than she wanted to, and then shut down briefly, intensifying the shaking until she started to cry. Just watching somebody go up, even from the safety of the ground, gave her vertigo (as for watching the film of the same name? Jimmy Stuart himself couldn’t keep her). She was more comfortable with it now, but her stomach still did gymnastics whenever she went past a certain point. Even so, she would’ve preferred that over eating her own words, so once they all split the bill, and went through the customary instructions, she was committed, for worse or…much worse.

“Hey Vicki,” Jessica said as the girls crowded into the basket. She was perfectly fine; for some odd reason, Jessica loved heights. And closed spaces. And public speaking. She didn’t even mind spiders. As far as Kaliope knew, the woman was fearless. “Refresh my memory,” she resumed as Victoria looked her way: “Which Jules Verne novel has them going up in a hot-air balloon? I keep thinking it’s Around the World in Eighty Days.”

Five Weeks in a Balloon. It’s in the title.”

“Oh, right.”

“I think you keep getting the film confused with the novel. Um, the one with David Niven and Shirley MacLaine. I forget who played Passepartout. They flew in a balloon there. That’s not in the novel, by the way.”

“You are such a nerd,” Jessica laughed, giving her friend a gentle shove. The basket wobbled imperceptibly, but to Kaliope, it may as well have broken the Richter scale.

“OHMYGOD, please don’t do that! I’m seriously going to be sick if you wobble around like that!”

“What wobbling? We’re barely twenty feet off the ground. Hey, I thought you were over this.” Victoria laid a sympathetic hand on Kaliope’s back and rubbed it. She was able to gradually calm down, and even managed to smile a little…at least until the balloon went higher, and the airport looked more like a model playset.

“Um…just slightly. I’m finally able to go off the high dive…after a fashion. And I’m totally fine in confined spaces; it’s just…we’re really exposed here.”

“You were the one who wanted adventure.”

“I did, and I’m going to take my medicine like a woman. I’m also going to enjoy a lot of spectacular vistas…by looking at pictures you two took. I don’t trust my hands to do anything but hold on tight.” Jessica and Victoria couldn’t help but smile at each other. That their friend was willing to go this far with them proved she was brave, or at least braver, and refused to back down. That daring spirit had led to more…intimate situations before. Sill, they promised to be careful, and started taking snapshots with their phones once the balloon got up to a respectable height.

It had been late in the afternoon when the girls began their impromptu road trip, and with all their time wandering around, evening was drawing close. The sky flared golden as the sun began its descent; its rays were cast gorgeously upon everything. Shadows lengthened with each passing moment, the sky’s singularly cerulean palette shifted into pink, yellow, gold, pale gray. Jessica pointed out Venus, prominent even in the fading light. The country sprawled green everywhere they looked, with only thin ribbons of silvery roads breaking it apart. The balloon finally peaked and stayed hovering long enough for even Kaliope to adjust, and she broke away from her queasiness to bask in the view.

“Worth it?” Victoria said, smiling warmly as she rubbed her friend’s back. Kaliope glowed.

“Yeah, I suppose. But once is enough for my lifetime.”

“Fair enough.” They were mostly silent as the balloon continued to float; then, an ambivalent sense of relief and disappointment fell in as it descended slowly. Kaliope managed to take a few pictures before they finally touched down, and thus their first vacation day was capped off.

……

“Sorry,” Victoria cringed. “I thought I had way more gas than that.”

“No big deal,” Jessica replied, easygoing as ever. “We made it here fine, and now we’ll have enough.”

“We could use this time to find a hotel.” Kaliope had already visited the adjacent convenience store and was leafing through a visitor’s guide for the area. “Since we’ve already done our unique thing for the day, maybe we should just go somewhere normal. By the way, how are we on funds?”

“I’m still good, but don’t expect me to pay for everything.”

“My purse ain’t that heavy.”

“How about we each pay for a room every night?”

“Sounds fair. Who’s got tonight covered?” The girls looked at each other and nodded in accord. Three quick games of Rochambeau led Jessica the one to foot that day’s bill—and since it was her money, she got to pick the hotel. Once the car’s tank was full, they drove for half an hour and checked into a Best Western. They got a room at once, but it only had one bed—not too big of a problem. Jessica showered immediately while Victoria flipped through television channels and travel brochures; Kaliope covered dinner (local Chinese, nothing exotic, but everyone was too hungry to care). It was very late by the time everyone was fed and cleaned up; they didn’t even bother to set an itinerary for the next day.

“Screw it,” Victoria grumbled, throwing the brochures back onto the desk. “Kal, you can drive tomorrow. I place my future entirely in your hands.”

“Famous last words.”

“Hey, you can carve them on my tombstone for all I care! Let’s get some Z’s.”

“Guys, there’s a Hammer film marathon on now,” Jessica noted. She changed the channel and grinned as she stumbled onto a scene with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but Victoria turned it off.

“Bed. Now.”

“But…Dracula and Van Helsing…”

“I don’t care if it’s Van Halen. Bed. Now.”

It was useless to argue, and soon enough, everyone was too far gone to care anyway.

 

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