There's no word in the English language to describe just how much Lex regrets leaving Ethan behind. In the days since leaving Hatchetfield, she's found that waking up in the morning only gets harder, Ethan's strong arms no longer wrapped around her as the sun peeks through the blinds. She knows that it's for the best, that he's safer without her, but she finds herself feeling like she's made the worst decision of her life.
On the drive out of Hatchetfield, as she travelled along the Nantucket Bridge, Lex feebly attempted to convince herself that it would get easier. That the further away they got from that seemingly cursed town, the better off they'd be. That as the days passed, the heavy weight of guilt would slowly lift from her shoulders. That, eventually, she would no longer have to fight the urge to call the number she knows off by heart, begging for forgiveness. It didn't work.
Driving along a long, quiet road in the middle of Wisconsin, the car is equally quiet, save for the low rumbling of the engine. Lex messes with the dial on the car stereo, trying to find something to fill the deafening silence, but finds her only choices are obscure 80s songs, a constant barrage of advertisements, or a conservative talk show. She gives up and switches the radio off. Hannah sits in the backseat, picking at her fingernails.
"Where are we going?" She asks for the umpteenth time in the past few days. Lex sighs.
"I don't know, Banana," she says, sounding defeated. "Away from Hatchetfield."
"Away from Ethan," Hannah corrects. Lex's heart stings.
"Why couldn't Ethan come with us?" She pleads for an answer, even though she's asked the same question countless times already. "Where is he?"
Lex takes a hand off the steering wheel and pinches the bridge of her nose. No matter what answer she gives, she knows it won't please Hannah. She also knows that Hannah won't stop asking questions until she receives an answer she's happy with, which sometimes isn't even the truth.
She doesn't blame Hannah for being upset, though. For as long as the girl can remember, Ethan's been a constant presence in her life. Only months ago, they'd started the process for him to legally adopt her, a process that was almost complete before their sudden departure from Hatchetfield. She's never gone more than a few days without seeing him, as even before he and Lex started dating they were best friends, attached at the hip. Seeing what his absence does to her sister only makes it worse, and she cries herself to sleep more often than not.
"He's in Hatchetfield," Lex says, telling her what she believes to be true. "He can't come with us, it's too dangerous."
"Can't he protect us? He keeps us safe, he would never hurt us Lexie."
"He's not hurting us, Nana," she takes a shaky breath, fixing her eyes on the road and fighting back tears. "We're hurting him." She pauses for a second, before clarifying. "I'm hurting him."
Hannah frowns, unhappy with the explanation, just as Lex had expected. Much to Lex's surprise, however, she doesn't try to argue back, deciding she doesn't have the mental energy to keep fighting. Lex is thankful, and they fall back into an uncomfortable silence.
Hours pass, and eventually they pull into a small town, planning to spend the night in a motel. The two girls enter a quaint little diner, themed to the 1960s. They make themselves comfortable in one of the booths, the upholstery squeaking as they sit, and the lady with brilliant red hair shouts to them over her shoulder, focussed on something behind the counter.
"Make yourselves at home, I won't be a minute!"
Hannah looks at her watch.
One minute and nine seconds later, the woman comes over to them, notepad in hand. She pulls out a pencil from behind her ear.
"What can I get y'all today?" She asks, her tone sweet and a smile on her face. Any reservations Hannah had about the woman (only one - the whole one minute, nine seconds thing) instantly disappear, as she gets the feeling that she can trust her with her life. As Lex engages in conversation, ordering drinks for the two of them, Hannah looks the lady over, taking in every detail.
She's wearing cheap white canvas shoes, greyed and stained from constant wear. Her sky blue dress comes to just above her knees, and under the skirt she wears some kind of a petticoat for added volume. The dress has cap sleeves and a collar, two of its buttons done up. She wears a white apron over the skirt, and in the apron's pocket, Hannah can make out the shape of a tube of chapstick. A small nametag on her left breast identifies her as "Miss Holliday".
Large hoop earrings stick out from her wild fiery mane, cut in blunt layers around her face. Miss Holliday has kind blue eyes and a friendly smile, and something about her reminds Hannah of something she can't quite place. There's a warm air to her, and she conducts herself with the grace and gentleness of a kindergarten teacher, but still manages to have an edge about her. For a brief moment, the two make eye contact, a familiar look in her eyes, before she turns on her heel and returns to behind the counter, fixing the girls their drinks. Lex's voice brings Hannah back to reality.
"I got you a chocolate shake," Lex tells her, "since you were off in your own world." She laughs, and Hannah smiles slightly. "Whatcha thinking about?"
Hannah hums in response, unsure of her actual answer. She picks up one of the laminated menus from the table and begins studying it, fiddling with the corner where the laminate has peeled off slightly. Lex figures she's not going to get much else out of her sister and turns to her own menu.
When Miss Holliday returns with their drinks and to take their orders, she greets Hannah with a smile, one that she swears she's seen before. Hannah watches quietly as she scribbles their order into her small notepad and then walks away with a spring in her step. Lex glances at her, curious.
"You ok, Banana?"
Suddenly, something clicks in Hannah's head.
"Holloway," she says, providing no context. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Miss Holliday freeze, her feet stuck firmly to the floor.
"Huh?" Lex gives her a perplexed look, trying to prompt more information out of her sister.
"Miss Holloway," she says, definitively. Miss Holliday cranes her neck a little to better hear the conversation taking place.
"The support worker from Hatchetfield?" Hannah nods. "What about her?"
"Looks like her." Miss Holliday visibly relaxes, her shoulders untensing as she breathes a sigh of relief, returning to her work. Hannah absentmindedly sips at her shake, unaware of the internal panic she'd just caused.
Miss Holliday arrives with their food shortly after, placing a bowl of pasta in front of Lex and a cheeseburger and fries in front of Hannah. This time she doesn't linger, quickly heading back behind the counter and busying herself with something indiscriminate. They promptly dig in, their first proper meal in days.
The more Lex thinks about it as she eats, the more she realises what Hannah's on about - she does look an awful lot like the lady who just disappeared from Hatchetfield one day. Lex remembers some weird statistic about everyone having 7 doppelgängers (or something like that) and brushes it off. Hannah tucks it away in the back of her brain to come back to later.
When the girls finish their meals, Miss Holliday collects their plates and offers them each a slice of pie, which Lex politely declines. She sees them out the door with a smile on her face, wishing them a good night, and as soon as they're out of her sight, she relaxes, taking a gasping breath. It was a close call - one that she doesn't want to replicate.
Lex and Hannah wander into the only motel in the small town, a multi-storey brick building called Pullman Place. Inside, there's a few small armchairs, a water filter, and an assortment of other drab-looking items. Lex walks up to the front desk, Hannah in tow.
"Excuse me," she says, trying to get the attention of the kid behind the desk. He looks up from his phone. "Can I get a room for..." She trails off as she is met with a face that is almost identical to Ethan's, caught completely off guard. Her voice gets stuck in her throat as she helplessly gestures to herself and Hannah.
"For two? Sure," he says in a monotonous voice, "one bed or two?"
Lex looks to Hannah, who shrugs. There's a moment of extended silence before the teenager realises that her sister has actually lost the ability to speak. Somehow, she knows exactly what to say.
"Which is cheaper?" Her voice is equally monotonous.
"They're the same price, kid."
Hannah scoffs at the name, and looks to Lex, who is holding up two fingers.
"Two," she says, still looking at Lex. She receives a glare. "Please," she adds.
The boy reaches into a drawer and pulls out a key. The keychain attached to it reads "302". He hands it to Hannah.
"You're in room 302. Third floor on the elevator, second room to the right. Enjoy your stay." He sounds robotic, and his face is expressionless, completely blank. Hannah quirks an eyebrow, knowing the exchange is missing something.
"You're not gonna ask how many nights we're staying?" Her voice comes out automatically, out of nowhere. It's exactly what Lex would have said in this situation, if she wasn't busy choking on air.
"Listen, kid," Hannah rolls her eyes, but lets him continue, "nobody ever comes to this shitheap for fun. 100% of our guests are road-trippers. You and your weird sister are no different."
Hannah flinches at the description, but Lex puts a hand on her shoulder and shakes her head. She gets the message and turns to walk to the elevator, her hands balled into fists. Lex follows.
"Check-out by 10!" He calls after them, with precisely zero emotion.
Once the elevator doors close, Lex inhales with a gasp. What the fuck just happened?
"What the fuck just happened?"
"He looked like Ethan," Hannah states matter-of-factly.
"Didn't act like like Ethan though," Hannah says, continuing with the facts, "acted like a dick."
"Hannah!" Lex feigns surprise, a shocked look on her face. The elevator doors open. "Watch your language!"
Hannah simply shrugs, and the two girls walk out of the elevator and make their way to their room. Putting the key into the lock and turning it, Hannah pushes the heavy door open, revealing two single beds pushed up against the wall. To the left of the door is the bathroom, with a tiny cramped shower and a toilet that's surprisingly low to the ground. There are a few toiletries sitting next to the sink, and an almost decrepit looking hairdryer hanging precariously from the wall.
Lex looks at the digital alarm clock on the table between the beds. It's just after 9:30. Normally at this time of night she'd be wide awake, deep in conversation with Ethan. Even if she'd worked a shitty day at Toy Zone (which was, to be honest, most days), she usually wouldn't grow tired until well past eleven o'clock, often staying up after midnight. Yet, for some reason, as she lies down on the bed, still wearing her shoes, her eyes start to close automatically.
Not even a minute later, Lex is fast asleep, soft snores coming from her direction every so often. Hannah, having not had a shower in several days, takes advantage of the crappy amenities on offer in the small bathroom, washing the grime and sweat from her body, and the grease out of her hair. Out of the shower, she slips into her flannelette pyjamas, matching top and bottoms patterned with yellow and black plaid, ones that Lex had scored from Wal-Mart at half price.
Careful not to wake her sister, Hannah quietly sits down on the unoccupied bed and begins rummaging around in her backpack, pulling out the iPad she'd won at Pizza Pete's, right before everything really started to fall to shit. She connects to the free WiFi, thankful that even though the motel's staff were clearly not first-rate, they were at least generous enough to provide the password. She connects her Bluetooth headphones and sits for a while, watching old speedrun VODs on YouTube. As she starts to get tired, she suddenly remembers something. Messenger.
A few months ago, Lex had, begrudgingly, let Hannah sign up for a Facebook account. Hannah's argument was that everyone at school would have one, and how is she supposed to fit in if she doesn't even have a Facebook account? Deciding not to let Hannah know that, actually, nobody in high school uses Facebook anymore, Lex helped her sister set up her profile, adding her and Ethan as friends. Hannah frequently used Messenger to communicate with Lex and Ethan, and had quickly learned the inside outs of it.
She closes out of YouTube and opens Messenger, selecting her conversation with Ethan. They hadn't messaged since the day of the incident, and Hannah grimaces at the memory. Nevertheless, she begins typing out a message to him.
Hi Ethan. Lexie says that we had to leave you behind. I miss you. Why couldn't you come with us?
Changing her mind, she backspaces the message and retypes a new one.
As soon as she sends it, Ethan's typing bubble pops up, but she ignores it and starts typing another message.
Lexie and I are at Pullman Place. The guy at the desk looked like you.
She thinks for a moment, rubs her eyes, and then adds one more message.
She presses send just as sleep's embrace takes a hold of her. Ethan's messages fall on deaf ears.
In a similarly small town about 120 miles away, Ethan pulls his long hair back into a ponytail, throws the keys to his own shitty motel room on the front counter, and hauls ass to his car. If he drives over the speed limit, he just might get there before they leave in the morning.
"Here goes nothing," Ethan says to himself, pulling out of the parking lot at a ridiculous speed. He swerves to make it onto the road. "I'm coming, Banana."