The Teenagers by Kaitlyn Burch

They started the day in Savannah, where Addie washed her face in the stained sink of a gas station restroom. They had slept in the car again, parked in the shared lot of a gas station and a Taco Bell. Addie staying awake long into the night listening to the cars on the near by freeway, their far away push and then a woosh like they were right on top of her, speeding past right outside the small car window. Thomas always fell asleep before her, could fall asleep anywhere it seemed.

They took Highway 17 out of Savannah, which turned into highway 462, then back into 17, winding its way parallel to the interstate, then cutting toward the coast. Addie and Thomas liked the slow wind of small highways, where the speed ebbed with each town. They stopped for gas in Sheldon where an attendant wore devil horns and washed their windshield, his face painted red. It was Halloween—Addie had forgot. At a grocery store in Charleston the girl slicing deli meat behind the counter was dressed as Tinkerbell.

“Hold the fairy dust,” Thomas said to her, then looked over to smile Addie.

Addie didn’t smile back.

They ate the sandwiches on a park bench and watched the people who lived in Savannah do the daily things people do. Their only goal for the day was to make it to Wrightsville Beach where they could spend the night at friends of Thomas’ family, and the next day continue on to Richmond or Washington DC. The people who they were staying with this night, Bill and Kammie, were strangers to Addie. People who knew Thomas in that wide expanse of life that had happened before he and Addie met, had known him as a boy and as young teen, eager and awkward, grinning widely in school photographs sent each fall by his parents.

Tonight they chose to stay on the two-lane coastal road instead of making their way to the freeway. As dark filled the nooks and crannies, more costumes appeared on the streets of the towns they passed through. A little girl dressed as a princess, pink peaking out from underneath her coat and a little boy in a padded shirts waited to cross the street. One small hand held tightly in the mother’s, the other clutching a pillowcase, weighted with the loot. The costumes looked cheap and flimsy, probably bought at the local Wal-Green’s, made from fabric that was somewhere between cloth and tissue paper.

“Are those supposed to be muscles?” Addie asked, pointing to the miniature Spiderman.

“He can bench press over 200 pounds,” Thomas said.

“It’s kind of disturbing.”

“It’s Halloween.” Thomas shrugged.

Driving this way, on the numbered state roads that crisscross America, meant they didn’t miss anything: abandoned churches with paint chipping and wood exposed, marred by sunlight and rotten from rain; gas stations with pumps empty, store windows broken, ply-wood covering the door. But there were also the manicured lawns, and the proud houses, the statues of small town heroes, the drive-thru tobacco and liquor stores. It seemed every town had been deemed historic in some way: they held the oldest printing press, or a glove worn by President McKinley encased in glass and guarded by a woman who smelled of mothballs.

They had already traversed the country, starting in Oregon and dropping down into California, then over to Arizona, where’d they seen landscapes so enormous it was hard to believe that the small gestures of life could exist. Holding a door open for someone, handshakes, neck kisses, these things got swallowed in the vastness of Arizona sky. In Texas they saw oil rigs, like aliens, humping the earth.

“They cry oil in Texas,” Addie joked.

“They put oil on their cereal.”


Addie put her feet up on the dash. “So who are Bill and Kammie?” she asked.

“Family friends. My mom used to work with Kammie.”

“When was the last time you saw them?”

“I don’t know. Years.”

“But you guys are close?”

“Not really.”

“Is this going to be weird?”

“Only if you make it weird.”

Addie put her headphones in, but didn’t turn on any music. She just didn’t want to talk anymore, didn’t want to sit anymore, didn’t want to view the world from a car window. Miniature golf courses and glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean blurred by. Her chest tight, legs stiff. Her teeth hurt.

With no plan, and no money, they had left Oregon. Thomas left a job painting houses and Addie had worked one day a week at the local library and the early shift more days than she wanted at Shari’s Restaurant. They picked a day, gave their two week notices, sold Addie’s Honda, packed up their apartments, and left. Addie stored boxes of clothes and books in her father’s garage saying she’d send for them when they got there.

“Where’s there?” her father asked.

They’d made these plans when they couldn’t get enough of each other, when kisses were like gasps for fresh air.

Addie had spent nearly everything she had. They’d been sleeping in the car. Peeing on the side of the road. Eating sandwiches that were just two pieces of bread with a slice of deli meat shoved between them—no cheese or mayo or mustard—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Addie was realizing that they were the type of people that needed to keep moving. Stopping meant making choices and both seemed fine to float along the fringes and not choosing anything. They’d picked each other, and that seemed good enough, most of the time.


Billy and Kammie lived right on the beach, a hundred yards back from the ocean, in a house on stilts. They greeted Thomas with hugs and smiled warmly at Addie. Kammie’s hair was pulled back by a headband with cat ears on it. She had lines like whiskers drawn on her face, dots on her nose, and wore a black turtleneck and high-waisted jeans.

Addie was grateful for the bed and the shower she would have that night but she didn’t want the socializing she would have to exchange for it. She longed to just sit in a chair all night, blend in with the furniture, become part of the Halloween decorations—some sort of zombie monster.

Bill offered them beers and they both accepted, even though Thomas rarely drank. He brought back Budweisers and Addie watched Thomas take sips like she was waiting for him to pull a mask off his face and reveal his true identity. Ceramic pumpkins smiled with toothy grins from the tabletop where an orange and black gingham tablecloth and Hershey’s miniatures were spread out amongst the plates and flatware. A pot of chili cooked on the stove. Kammie introduced their children, a boy who was seventeen and girl who was fifteen.

“I’m calling this our Halloween party,” Kammie said, stirring. “We used to go trick-or-treating together but now, you know, they wouldn’t be caught dead going to most places with us, and they certainly won’t dress up.” She talked about the teenagers like they weren’t standing right next to her, then she pointed to the large bowl of candy on the counter, pulling out a fun size Butterfinger then dropping it back in the bowl. “We really don’t even get any trick-or-treaters. I honestly don’t know why I put these out.”

Addie attempted to appear pleasantly amused, smiling as she leaned against a dining room chair. Thomas sat across the room, comfy on the couch with Bill watching baseball. With every boyfriend Addie had ever had she could always imagine spending the rest of her life with him. It might have been only for a moment, but in that moment she could see the trajectory of their life together so clearly laid out. There were houses, maybe like this one, and kids. They would make their own traditions through holidays spent together. Addie could see how delicate it all was, the frailty of it, standing on the idea’s outer edge, feeling its warm glow. Maybe this could be Thomas and Addie someday, in their future life, and on Halloweens they’d say, “Remember that time we drove and drove and we had no idea where we were going and we stayed with those people and ate chili?” They would laugh about it then, in the future, it would be a big joke. Addie unwrapped a Hershey’s special dark from the trick-or-treat bowl and felt the corners of it soften in her mouth. She folded the gold foil wrapper into smaller and smaller triangles.

Kammie corralled them to the table to eat, except the teenagers who ate their chili leaning up against the kitchen counter, like workers in a break room, and every few minutes Kammie called them to, “Join us at the table.”

The teenagers seemed to speak their own secret language with their eyes. Addie watched them. I used to know that language, she thought. She used to be fluent in that language.

She knew how she wanted this trip to feel, like they where leaving and never coming back, like the world ended and began with them. She had wanted to not know the future for a little while, to sleep in the car, to pee on the side of the road. It’s a trick—how magical everything seems when someone can still make you feel like you can take over the world.

“So—are you guys going to the high school haunted house?” Kammie asked, leaning her head back and calling into the kitchen at the teenagers. “Let us know what you are planning to do.” Then she lowered her voice and looked directly at Addie, crouched down a little as if sharing a secret. “It’s so awkward,” she said, “watching them try to figure stuff out.”

Addie looked to the kitchen where the teenagers where still communicating in their secret language. Kammie was wrong, she thought. The teenagers weren’t trying to figure stuff out. They were teenagers; they had it all figured out, or at least they thought they did. Addie felt their ignorance radiate off of them and she wanted to grab it by the handfuls and rub it all over herself, as if it would protect her. She could hear Thomas talking, telling Bill about their trip so far, how much they’d loved Zion National Park and how they would continue north, maybe stop to live some place near the water. That’d be nice—maybe on a lake that would freeze in the winter.

“It’s great that you are doing this stuff now,” Bill said. “While you’re young.”


They went to bed early, after Kammie showed them to the guest room, apologized for the twin beds, and said good night giving Thomas a hug, her headband askew and whiskers smudged.

“Are you mad at me?” Thomas asked, as they lay in their separate beds.

“No—I don’t know,” she said across the sea of carpet. Addie wanted climb in bed and smell him.

“You want a house like this?” Thomas asked, propping himself up on an elbow. “On the ocean, with a nice timber frame?” He asked like he was offering it to her, like he could give her this.

“Sure,” Addie said. “Are you nervous?”

“About what?”

“Where ever we end up.”

“We might freeze to death,” he joked. “Or be bored to death.”

Addie gave a false laugh. “No, really. What if we don’t like it? What if we can’t find jobs?”

“It’s not always going to be fun,” he said.

“It was so weird that you drank a beer tonight.”

He was silent a moment too long, “What do you mean?”

“You just don’t usually drink. You seemed social,” Addie explained to the ceiling.

“I felt like drinking a beer.”

“You don’t think it was out of the ordinary?”

“Are you sure you’re not mad?” he asked.

“What would I be mad about?”

“Good night, Addie,” he said, sighing as he turned over. He probably fell straight to sleep. Sleep came easy to him, like it was always floating invisibly by him and all he had to do was reach out and grab it. Addie stared at the ceiling. She rolled over and stared at the wall. She closed her eyes and stared at the back of her eyelids.


Addie and Thomas had met when they were seventeen, and if they were being romantic, which they too often were, they say they fell in love then. But it would be several years before they would actually lie next to each other, trace each other’s hips, hold the other’s hand. Addie would leave, drop out of college, sleep with boys who wore hemp necklaces and smoked pot; who played video games all day and went on to become real estate agents. Thomas would still be there when she returned, patiently applying paint in a fine mist to houses and office buildings. When they were teenagers they had stayed out past curfew, walked barely lit streets, drank watery coffee at the all-night diner drinking crème out of its metal container and trading sugar packets like they were a form of currency. And once they had kissed: carefully, gingerly, as if they were performing surgery on each other, delicately carving out the spot where the other would live until they were reunited.


Addie gave up on sleeping, stole a beer from the fridge and sat on the beach. She wondered what Bill and Kammie’s kids had ended up doing. Did they go to the haunted house at the high school? Were they out there somewhere with a dozen eggs and toilet paper, hormones going crazy? Maybe they’d taken some booze from their parent’s cabinet. It was cold and Addie wished she had put on socks instead of just slipping on her flipflops.


Addie looked up to see the boy, the son, the wind pushing the hair from his face; his hands shoved in his jean pockets.

“Hi. Jake, right?” Addie said.

He sat down. “Yeah.”

They were silent, both looking out at the ocean. Addie picked up a handful of sand and let if fall through her fingers.

“Where’s Thomas?” Jake asked.


“So, you guys are on some sort of road trip?”

Addie nodded.

“Awesome. My friends and I wanted to drive down to Florida one of these days, maybe for spring break.”

“I’m sure that’d be—awesome,” Addie said, nodding her head.

Jake kneeled next to her. “Can I have a sip of your beer?”


He took a long drink then settled himself in the sand. “So where are you guys going next?”

“We’re not really sure. I have friends in DC. Did you guys end up going to that haunted house at the high school?”

Jake flicked his bangs out of his eyes. “No way. It’s pretty lame, just the Student Council in white sheets or with, like, ketchup all over their faces,” he said, and then he said again, as if she hadn’t understood, “It’s pretty lame.”

“So what’d you do?”

“Nothing really,” Jake said, picking up a stick and throwing it. “Drove around with my friend Adam. Jenny complained a bunch. She’s kind of bitchy.”

“Who’s Jenny?”

“My sister.”

“Oh, right,” Addie nodded and picked at the label of her beer.

“She was bored and kind of wouldn’t shut up about it so we just brought her home. She and Adam went upstairs.”

“Are they dating?”

Jake just shrugged.

The wind picked up and Addie shivered.

“Are you cold? Do you want my sweatshirt?”

Addie laughed, “No, it’s okay.”

“What’s so funny?” Jake asked as he pulled his hoodie over his head. “Here,” he said. His t-shirt came up a little bit as he pulled the sweatshirt off.

Addie looked away and felt her cheeks warm.

“I’m used to the cold. Sometimes I swim out there.” He nodded toward the Atlantic, sticking out his chin, like he was showing her the ocean for the first time, like he owned it.

His sweatshirt smelled like a teenage boy. Addie snuggled up inside of it, pulling her legs to her chest and covering her feet. She let the smell transport her to middle school dances and awkward embraces.

“I think it’s really cool,” Jake said, “What you guys are doing. Driving around and stuff. I’d like to do that someday.”

“You should.” Addie stuck an extended hand into the cold sand and looked down.

“Do you know what’s weird?” Jake said. “All night I didn’t even really care about doing anything. I wasn’t even pissed at Jenny for being such a bitch, really I just wanted to go home, even though it’s Halloween and all.”

“That’s not that weird,” Addie said.

“It’s not?”

“No. It’s fine to just not want to do anything.”

“Halloween’s such a kid’s holiday.”
“I guess,” Addie said, resting her chin on her knees. “It stops feeling like Halloween when you get older. It just feels like a normal day.”

“And my mom, trying to dress up. She’s so clueless.” He stood then, dusting the sand from his jeans. He looked down at Addie and held out his hand.

Addie wanted to climb his tall body, cling to his chest. She grabbed his hand and let him pull her up. Addie bent to roll up her pants, kicked off her flip flops and started trudging toward the break, heels sinking into the finer grains. Jake followed her in silence. Once they got to the harder packed sand Addie took off running. She pumped her arms at her sides and heard the thud, thud, thud of her bare feet against the wet sand. She ran until the feeling in her chest loosened and her blood was pulsing. When she stopped she took deep, coarse breaths, almost coughs. She bent, her hands on her knees, and caught her breath. Jake was running toward her, smiling like a lover. Addie thought of Thomas, warm in bed, away in sleep and felt so separate.

“You’re fast,” Jake said.

“Sometimes you just need to run,” Addie said.

“Need to?”

“Yeah, need to.”


In the dark bedroom she took off her jeans and climbed into bed with Thomas. He stirred and then scooted over to make room for her.

“You’re cold,” he murmured.

“I was at the beach,” Addie said.

“You’re crazy.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“This is a twin bed, you know,” he said, not turning over, but Addie could tell he wanted her there.

“Do you mind?”

“No. It’s okay. I’ll keep you warm,” he said.

“I’m nervous,” she said.

“It’ll be okay.”

The house squeaked and settled. She heard the front door open and close, Jake rummaging around in the fridge, the TV turning on. She thought of the road and the sky barreling out in front of them as they drove and dug her face into Thomas’ back.


They ended up stopping in Maine, hired to care for a house next to a lake through the winter, owned by an old woman who carried her wire-haired fox terrier around like a child. By Christmas the lake would freeze over. It would be cold and desolate. In the few nights they slept there Addie woke to the sound of the generator turning on, stared into the darkness and wondered where she was. They stayed two weeks and then left, blaming it on money, or boredom, the house being too isolated, the nights too dark. Really though, everything had been exactly how they thought wanted it: the wood stove in the living room, the gravel driveway, the wide front windows overlooking the smoothness of the lake.

In the parking lot of strip mall in Bangor Addie opened the passenger door and sat with her feet touching the pavement. She called her dad to ask for money. “It’s really pretty here,” she said looking out at the gray sky and empty parking lot.

“No where is prettier than Oregon,” he answered and his voice sounded so close, so crisp, that Addie imagined him standing right in front of her, looking in the window of their car. “Are you stopping yet?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Addie said.

Kaitlyn Burch is a Pushcart prize nominated author whose work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, Palaver, The Portland Mercury, and Atomica. She lives in Portland, Oregon.