Updated: Jun 4, 2021
A magician, an elf, and a college student walk into a bar.
Now, I know. You're thinking, "What kind of wack joke is this going to turn into?" I thought the same. But we can't change the beginnings of our own stories, and this is where mine truly began.
20 minutes later, the college student exits the bar again, not finding what he was looking for. He jumps in the old red pickup truck his father had given him before he left for college. The pickup didn't look like much; the paint around the bed was spotty, rusted, and scratched away in places, and it rattled around as its chassis jostled against the metal frame down the bumpy dirt road. But the truck matched the college student well, as his father had mentioned before he left home. The college student also didn't look like much. He was scrawny for his age ("Much smaller than I was at your age," his father had often teased) and had a mop of unruly brown curls perched atop his head. All through high school, he'd desperately tried to find something "cool" to do with it, but it had always reverted to its natural state of awkward mess, which the college student had found over time matched his overall being quite well.
The old pickup sputtered and clanked down the poorly paved road to the freeway. He didn't mind the noise much, or the broken radio that was stuck on a 90s top 40 station that somehow never seemed to play the same song twice in the 30 years his father had owned the truck. It was comforting, something he was used to, something he knew. The warm summer night air rolled through the open windows and bathed the backseat in a thin layer of road dust as the truck picked up speed and pulled onto the freeway. The college student found himself relaxing as the wind picked up and tousled his hair, pushing it off his forehead and tangling the soft locks as they flicked back and forth with the currents. Ever since he had gotten his license, driving had been his escape. Breathing in the night air, letting himself be vulnerable in the safety of the old truck, all of the comforts of home around him, but none of the pressure to be someone he wasn't.
Driving had also brought him closer to his father. He remembered learning to drive in the truck, with his father beside him in the passenger seat, giving the occasional critique or reassuring word. Seeing his father beaming over at him with all the excitement of a young boy with a new toy twinkling behind his eyes, being engulfed in a bear hug after he passed his driving test. But the college student also imagined memories that weren't his own, stories he'd been told by his mother growing up. How his father had bought that truck with his first paycheck on his 20th birthday. How he loved driving more than anything else in the world ("Almost anything," his father would correct, walking through the kitchen to tousle his son's hair and kiss his wife on the cheek before picking up the morning paper. "Your mother is more beautiful than a sunset over the mountains, and more loved than a newborn babe in a farming town," he'd say, and the boy's mother would smile).
The boy parked his car in the dorm lot and gathered his jacket and wallet from the seat next to him. The car door shut with a dull thud, sending a faint echo across the sparsely populated asphalt. His shoes tapped lightly, but all too loud against the concrete walkways of the dorm buildings as he tried to quietly make it to the elevator nearest his room. He’d gotten lucky, according to the other students in his classes, in having a room all to himself this year. The last two years he hadn’t minded the occasional company that having a roommate brought, but he was assured by the general student body that it was much better having a dorm to oneself and he would be much happier now that he had his own space.
In truth, he hadn’t meant to live in the dorms this coming school year, but apartment costs had gone up at the beginning of last spring and job opportunities were scarce (and not well paying) for a college student in a small town.
“Almost in your third year of college and no honest job?” He could imagine his father chuckling, “Don’t worry, bud, you’re too much like your old man for that to keep up much longer. You’ll find somethin’ somehow.”
Except he wasn’t sure he was that much like his dad. Sure, they both loved driving, but his dad had always seemed to expect a son that was perfect and “a mirror image of his old man,” as the boy had heard his father say on too many occasions, and he wasn’t sure he fit that bill, or if he ever would.
His keys jangled softly as he turned them in the lock, slipping inside with the door barely open to avoid the loud creak that resounded through the dusty plains every time the door was opened to regular standards. He closed the door behind him with a click, flicked the latch to the locked position, and plopped down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.
This summer had to be different than the last few… right?