Scotch whisky. On the rocks. There was no finer drink.
The clink of the ice cubes in the whisky glass rang out echoing in the Southwestern desert, briefly interrupting the afternoon’s silence. Jack picked up his half-full handle and poured himself a generous portion. He whisked the glass around in a circular motion a couple times, allowing the ice to settle, before taking a sip. His brow furrowed as his taste buds adjusted to the woodsy bitterness, but the second sip went down smoothly. He topped off his glass and put the bottle back in the cooler full of ice, making sure to clamp down the top down firmly – he didn’t want any coyotes or desert critters stealing from his stash.
He leaned against the side of the Wrangler, which he had parked at just the right angle earlier in the day, anticipating the curve of the sun across the sky. The jeep now cast a perfect shadow across his lawn chair, and Jack sighed as he watched the horizon slowly begin to creep pink and red in the first throes of sunset. The silence was only broken by a faraway chirping of a bird nesting somewhere.
“Hey.” A woman’s voice called out to him from beyond the thistles, and a couple seconds later, Jack could hear the squelchy footsteps in the sand strike closer and closer. “You really should’ve taken a dip, you know,” the voice continued. “The water’s perfect.”
Jack sighed. So much for silence. “I’m good, Emma,” he said as he took another sip. “I’ve got my perfect water right here.”
Emma emerged from the shadows of the Wrangler. She was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, askew on her head, that offered her some protection from the relentless sun. Her sandy hair was currently wet, and as she gave him a hug, it rubbed unpleasantly against his face. “Anything else that’s perfect?” she asked.
He returned the embrace, keeping a watchful eye on the glass to make sure it didn’t tip. “Nah. That’s it. Nothing else.”
Emma playfully slapped him on the chest. “Whisky?”
He held out his drink; she took a sip, the corners of her eyes furrowing a little at the taste. “I’m still amazed, you know.”
She gestured to their arboreal surroundings. “We’re hundreds of miles from civilization… and you thought of the whisky before you thought of bringing spare gasoline.”
The Wrangler creaked a little from the breeze, seemingly nodding in agreement.
Jack winced a little on the inside. She didn’t have to keep rubbing it in like that, and it stung. Who could’ve known that the trail veered in two different directions 30 miles in? And who could’ve possibly predicted that the Wrangler would get a flat tire?
He took another sip of his drink. The liquid flowed easily. “I run on whisky. The car runs on gasoline. I fancy myself a tad more important than the car,” he told Emma.
Emma’s smile faltered for a moment, then she sighed brightly and her cheerful demeanor returned. “Well. I fancy a snack. What do we have in the cooler?”
Jack didn’t say anything and merely took another drink. Emma trudged to the trunk of the Wrangler and opened the cooler. “Hmm.”
He could hear the sound of glass bottles clinking against each other behind him. “Beer… tequila… wine… oh, for goodness sake.”
She sighed. “Not a single bit of food in here, Jack. Not even a biscuit.”
“There was a biscuit. I ate it.” Jack said, shifting in his chair so he could see her. “Before we ran out of gas, I mean.”
Emma massaged her temples. Instead of replying, she took a glass and began pouring out a measure of whisky.
Jack slouched a little in his chair. He felt a little bad, then felt immediately worse because he actually wasn’t quite sure why he was feeling so bad. “This was going to be a one-day picnic, I didn’t see the point.” He eventually said.
“You didn’t see the point?” Emma’s voice rose slightly as she capped the bottle shut. “We’re stuck in the middle of goddamn nowhere, and…” she balled her free hand into a fist and shook it at nothing in particular. She slammed the cooler shut. “I swear, Jack…” She leaned against it for a second, her matted hair falling in drapes across her face. “I swear…”
Her shoulders started shaking, and Jack was hit with a pang of regret. Maybe he shouldn’t have eaten that biscuit after all. He downed his drink and got up from his chair, walking over to her side. He tried to put a hand on the small of her back, but she shrugged it away. “Not now.” She said, her voice a bit huskier than usual. “I’ll be okay. Just… give me a second.”
Jack held up her glass of whisky, proffering it. “Here. This helps.”
Emma cry-laughed, and she raised her head, brushing her hair out of the way. Her eyes were pink. “Thanks.”
Jack half-smiled, relieved. Emma raised the glass to her lips, her hands trembling a little. She sighed. “Why are we here, Jack?”
“The Wrangler got a flat.”
“Yeah, I know that. But… I mean… why are we here?”
Jack squinted. He wasn’t sure what she was asking, so he decided to answer it factually. “We decided we needed a vacation.”
She snorted. “Yeah, a vacation. Maybe in Palm Beach, or the Bahamas.”
He said nothing. To be truthful, he would’ve given anything to be sipping a tequila sunrise at a beachside pool right now. With chlorine, and lifeguards, and no danger from wild animals whatsoever.
“We work in an office, Jack. We sit in cubicles. The most amount of nature I’d gotten before this was when I walked the dog in Central Park. And we usually get a dog-walker for that!”
She leaned against the Wrangler. “What drove us to this godforsaken spit of land in the middle of nowhere? How on Earth did we think this was going to be anything but a disaster?” Tears started forming at the corners of her eyes again.
“Hey, look… c’mere, c’mere.” Jack motioned awkwardly. He fumbled for the right thing to say; the whisky wasn’t helping. To his relief, Emma sighed and nestled into his offered arm. They stood side-by-side against the shade of the dormant Jeep.
They stayed like that for a few moments, and everything was still except for the gentle breeze of the late afternoon.
She sighed. “Gotta say, though. It’s… not bad.”
Jack gestured around him, at the beach chairs, the Wrangler parked in the sand, the brush trees, the soft babbling coming from the unseen river behind the thickets. “Could be worse.”
Emma drank the dregs of her whisky. “They’ll come,” she repeated. “They’ll come.”
She turned to Jack. “Won’t they?”
Jack shrugged. “They will or they won’t.” He had run out of whisky a while ago, and stared somewhat morosely at the bottom of his dry glass. He noticed Emma was no longer looking at him. She was looking up at the sky. “Jack, look.” She breathed.
He looked up, too. The stars were starting to come out, and it was nothing like the city: they were everywhere. The last tinges of the sunset dipped over the horizon, and the sky began to darken rapidly. Emma slapped away a mosquito; Jack promptly started to feel them on his exposed shins.
“Well. Time to sleep, I guess.”
They looked at their tent, its top slightly flapping in the breeze. It was grey-colored and looked forlorn.
“Shall we?” Jack motioned. Emma’s face contorted into an I-don’t-wanna look. “It’s gross in there. And mosquitos.”
Indeed, there was telltale buzzing emanating from inside the tent. “No escaping them,” Jack said, a bit harshly. “They’re all over the place.”
Emma pursed her lips, still unmoving. Then Jack had an idea. “Tell you what,” he said, suddenly moving quickly. “Get our blankets from the tent.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
Jack pointed to the roof of the Jeep. “Let’s go sleep up there.”
Emma blanched. “What? Are you serious? There? We’ll get eaten alive by those greedy bloodsuckers.”
He shrugged. “Up there or down here, I think it’s going to be the same.” And without further ado, he clambered onto the hood of the Jeep. The front wheel of the Wrangler groaned and for a second, Jack became anxious. But the car held. He reached out an arm for Emma who hopped on, slightly more delicately. They boosted themselves onto the roof awkwardly, using the windshield wipers for support.
The roof complained a little as they became comfortable, but aside from a slight buckling (that would be hard to explain to the rental guys later), everything seemed perfect. The night sky shone brilliantly above them; thousands – no, millions – of stars shimmered in the pollution-free sky. The brush swayed beneath them, sighing in the cool evening breeze. Somewhere, a frog croaked and that made Jack listen a bit more closely: there were also crickets.
A curious sensation welled up within him. Not exactly happiness, but the weighty annoyance that had sunk in the pit of his stomach since earlier in the day was gone. He looked at Emma next to him, who was still entranced by the sky. “Hey, listen.” He told her now. She skewed her glance sideways a little. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “We should’ve just booked those cruise tickets.”
Emma smiled a wan smile. “Yeah. Maybe.”
“And I should’ve brought a spare tire.”
The smile widened. “Yeah. Maybe.”
Jack opened his mouth again, to say something more, but Emma shushed him. “It’s alright, Jack. I mean – ” she dug herself deeper into her blanket. The Wrangler groaned plaintively beneath them. “Could be worse, you know.”
“Yeah. Could be.”
“And, I dunno, next year – oh, look!”
Jack did a double-take and looked around, expecting to see a growling coyote or a band of thieves sneaking up on them, but Emma was frantically pointing skyward. “Look right now, it’s moving, it’s – oh, you missed it.” Her hand fell to her side dejectedly.
“What was it?”
“It was a shooting star, Jack! You didn’t see it?”
“No – no, I didn’t, but – holy shit!”
This time, they both saw it clearly: a brilliantly white streak of light traversing the night sky, disappearing from view in a matter of seconds.
“Wow.” Jack had never seen anything like it before.
Emma squeezed her eyes shut. “Quick, Jack – make a wish.”
“Way ahead of you.”
Jack closed his eyes for a brief second. When he opened them again, Emma was looking at him. “Well?”
“What did you wish for?”
He smirked. “You know we’re not supposed to tell people what our wishes are.”
“Yeah, but that’s other people,” Emma whined. “C’mon. What is it? Tell me.”
“I…” Jack hesitated. “I wished that someone would eventually come to rescue us.”
Emma sighed and shrunk a little, and Jack immediately regretted lying. “Sorry,” he said. “Bad topic?”
“Yeah. A little.” She said. She was quiet for a few seconds, then: “They will come for us, right?”
Jack snorted. “Of course they will. This isn’t the middle of nowhere.”
“Hey. Hey.” He turned to face her, his face set. “Trust me, tomorrow, we’ll wake up to the sounds of helicopters.”
Emma smiled, but it was strained. “I hope so.”
Under the blanket, he brushed her hands with his own. “So. One more for the road?”
“I dunno,” she said. “We might not see another shooting star for a while.”
“Well, we’ve got time.”
The warm wind steadily blew its way across their makeshift bed. The weeping willows above showered back and forth, washing over the two of them with its steady, calming complaints.
The Christmas tree lights of a passing airplane, high in the sky, flickered back and forth across the clouds, tracing a line between the brilliant stars. It slowly trailed off into the distance, until it was out of sight, and then nothing else moved.