1.2: Always Have, Always Will

Retching reverberates through the interior of a jeep as it traverses a desert road. The source of the repulsive noise is a young man dressed in dark clothing, save a navy-blue t-shirt beneath his jacket. He recoils from a large paper bag on his lap. The edges of a plastic trash bag crest the top of the paper bag. He inhales deeply as he leans all the way back against his seat.

     “I cannot believe you let her do that alone. Seriously, Rum,” says an older woman next him. She looks furious as she drives in a haste. She has the same milk-chocolate skin and brown eyes as Rum. Her hair stops just south of her shoulder blades.

     “I’m kind of in the middle of so-” Rum is cut off by more involuntary retching.

     “How are you gonna learn to drive if you don’t get over that?” the woman inquires.

     “Can you stick wi-” Rum pauses midway back from the bag. After a moment he says, “False alarm. But can you stick to grilling me about one thing at a time?”

     “Back to Nuria, then. How could you let your sister travel all the way there by herself?” Auriel asks.

     “I didn’t let her do anything. She was simply too excited to go. I offered to go with her, but then she went ahead without me,” Rum elucidates.

     “And you didn’t think to mention she’d vanished until the next day?”

     “I don’t understand the big deal. Nuria can read a map, and it’s not like the school is very far. She’s probably already there.”

     “But what if she isn’t, Aurum?” Much like his vomiting, the question gives him pause. “I just want you to think more when it comes to Nuria’s safety. Don’t let her do these reckless things. She could get her seriously hurt. You’re her older brother. Look after her.”

     Auriel slows her speed when they come into a more public area, passing through the outskirts of a desert village.

     Rum glances over his shoulder. Strapped down securely to the back seat are two boxes. The shorter one is twice as wide, while the skinnier one is twice as long. Muffled rattles resonate from inside the boxes. Rum shoots an earnest look at the former, then a smile tugs at his lips.

     “Don’t you worry about that,” Rum says confidently. He turns back around and watches as they round a corner on the right. “I’ve got Nuria’s back. Always have. Always will.”

     Auriel sighs, deciding to forfeit the conversation. “Just text me the moment you set eyes on her.”

     “Yes, ma’am.”

     The rest of the drive is silent, but the drive itself lasts barely ten more minutes. They pull up to a train station, parking in a space where the tracks are clearly visible through a chain-link fence. A train hoots as the locomotive comes into view. Rum and Auriel exit the jeep together. Her blueberry-colored blouse and dark pants cover a black body suit exposed beneath her collar and just above her sneakers.

     Auriel grabs the smaller box and holds it out for Rum, but then snatches it back.

     “You remember the rules, right?” Auriel asks.

     Rum slumps his shoulders, his enthusiasm fading quickly. “Yes. Do not open this in public places. Not at markets, not at hospitals, and not at train stations. Can you give it to me now?”

     “You’d make your poor mother carry all the luggage, including the bags you allowed your sister to leave behind?”

     “Fine, I’ll wait. But only for you,” Rum delivers the last line playfully. Auriel responds with a sly smile.

     Rum gathers up the four bags, locking two underneath his arms, and holding the other two with his hands. The young man’s muscles show through his clothing as he moves away from the jeep. Auriel follows right behind, Rum’s case placed firmly on her shoulder. She towers over Rum quite a bit, standing at seven feet tall, in comparison to Rum’s 5’9”.

     The two enter the train station through a pair of clear glass doors, then find themselves before a directory. They determine that they’re in the main concourse, but it branches off into five separate terminals, each one labeled. The labels go in order from left to right: Vanusi, Ohaida, S’nue, Sulublei, and Ibri. Beneath the labels are colored squares with a drawing of a gate and letters attached. At the lettered gate symbols on the directory, Vanusi has a white V, Ohaida has a purple O, S’nue a red Sn, Sulublei a yellow Sb, and Ibri has a blue square that’s been tagged with the letter B in black paint.

     Rum notices the tag and frowns. “What’s the B mean?”

     “Don’t worry about it,” Auriel replies. “Come on.” She pushes Rum along but gives the tag one last anxious look before following.

     The main concourse leads to a semicircular room with five separate security checkpoints. The checkpoint on the far right leads to the Ibri terminal. The line there is the shortest of all five, having nobody in it until Rum and Auriel slide through the back and forth lanes.

     “Ticket, please?” asks the security guard. After Rum flashes his ticket, the guard tells him, “Your gate will be down this hall and to the left. Fifth door.”

     Rum presses forward, but the security guard stops Auriel from progressing.

     “Ticket, miss?”

     “It’s okay. She’s my mother,” Rum states, doubling back.

     “I’m sorry, but only passengers past this point.”

     “Oh,” Rum says. He turns to Auriel and flashes her a rebellious smile. “Gotta follow the rules, right?”

     “Ha-ha.” She lowers the case from her shoulder and hands it to Rum. “Here you go.” He has little trouble grabbing hold of it in addition to his preexisting load, locking it in place between his forearms.

     “And don’t worry- I’ll text you soon as I see Nuria,” Rum promises.

    “You better. Now, get going.”

Rum smiles wide, then turns and waddles off. The moment he turns around the corner, Auriel exhales raggedly, feeling ill at ease with him out of her sights. She takes a deep breath, straightens her posture, then heads in the opposite direction. She freezes after a single step. Wait, he left his puke in the jeep, didn’t he?