Road Trip

By Lucy Brewster (’18)

Nobody was surprised that Julie was lagging behind. Julie’s dad honked the horn and sighed, as her mom, Anne, screeched out the car window, “Juliette! You’re putting us behind schedule! Get in the car.”

Julie reluctantly strolled out of their two story white suburban house, already putting her headphones on. They had been doing these road trips since she was 11, and they seemed to get more and more excruciating each year. Every year, her parents picked somewhere different and over February break, they piled in their old mini van and hit the road. She had told her parents multiple times she could stay at her friend’s house while they drove to Florida, but her parents would have none of it. “Of course you have to come! Julie, you barely even interact with your brother these days unless you’re yelling at him. You know Adam’s been having a hard time in school. This is your chance to get close again! It’s a family tradition.”

Julie hopped in the car and slid the mini-van door shut, only to be immediately greeted with the sound of Adam yelling at their dad to adjust his seat. Julie rolled her eyes and climbed in the back, bracing herself for the next 17 hours.

“Alright!” said Julie’s dad, Peter,  starting the car and turning on the GPS, “Here we go, the fifth annual McNulty family road trip! ”

“And hopefully our last,” Julie muttered under her breath, turning up her music to full volume.

When Julie was eleven, she didn’t mind long road trips. This was unusual for a child, most children hated sitting still, having nothing to do but stare out the window and count different colored cars. Yet Julie looked forward to these trips, she knew her dad would let her pick the radio station and her mom would bring her favorite snack, cheese puffs. She was never allowed to eat cheese puffs at home, but for the long car ride, her mom would make an exception. Most of all, she liked to play twenty questions. Usually her parents would give her an easy one, maybe her second grade teacher, or George Washington. Once in awhile it would be somebody Julie never heard of, like Lee Harvey Oswald or Lucille Ball. Julie found this wildly unfair. Julie, her mom, and her dad could play this game for hours while her brother Adam, then only four, was fast asleep.

Now it seemed Adam never slept in the car, or anywhere else for that matter. It seemed impossible that one boy could create so much noise and trouble. Adam was always up to something; locking his fifth grade teacher out of their classroom, stealing their mom’s credit card and buying a $300 remote control robot toy, causing a girl in his class to need three stitches after he kicked a basketball straight into her face or blasting rap music from the room next door to Julie’s while she was trying to do homework. “He’s a problem child,” his principal said bluntly to their parents. “He is quite literally endangering other children’s lives.”

“Oh come on! She could have ducked,” was Adam’s response. “It was an accident. Not my fault she doesn’t exactly have lightning fast reflexes.” After seeing the appalled look on the principal’s face he added, “I’m sorry Principal Hagans. It won’t happen again. I promise.”

“He’s going through a phase. He only just turned ten,” Anne added. “Adam’s a good kid, please give him another chance.” Principal Hagans reluctantly did.

When hearing this, Julie rolled her eyes, Adam was getting more second chances than she was hours of sleep ever since Adam got that new stereo that connects to his iPod for Christmas. Their parents slept on the second floor, and Julie and Adam both had rooms in the basement. Julie reminded herself to thank Peterson Construction, who had promised the best insulation available for their finished basement. Apparently it was the best insulation, as miraculously the blasting rap music was not audible on the upper floors.

“When do you sleep!?” Julie roared at Adam one night when he was playing music at 1:25 am. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” he replied.

“That can be arranged. You know with this music on full volume I doubt anyone could hear you scream.”                

“Ha. I’m sure you think that one’s real clever. Glad you find yourself funny because nobody else does. Whatever, I’ll turn it down.”

Adam’s shenanigans did not pause while they were in the car. As soon as their old, beat up, blue mini van got on the highway he was immediately stealing Julie’s cellphone and trying to read her texts. In response Julie snatched her phone and pushed Adam back into his seat. Adam shrieked. To add to the road trip cacophony Anne and Peter were fighting about directions. Julie shook her head, 10 minutes in and everything was going to hell already. Just another week, she kept telling herself. One week she would be back home, not in confined quarters with her impossible family. That would be the real vacation.

“Look!” said Anne. Outside everything was covered in crisp white snow. “Isn’t it beautiful? We won’t be seeing much of this down South.” This picturesque scene seemed to calm everyone down for a minute. The snow weighed down the tree branches, causing them to hang over the narrow road just enough to create a canopy above them. Heavy flakes were still falling.

“Wow. This would be perfect snow for a snowball fight,” Adam marveled.

“Oh don’t even think about–”

“We need to be careful,” said Peter interrupting Julie. “There’s snow up here but further South I’m sure they just have ice. I’ll drive slowly, but it might slow down our schedule.”

“That’s okay! Who minds sitting in the car when they can have…” Anne smiled and pulled a bag from the cooler with a huge grin on her face, “Cheese puffs! I was in Stop n Shop the other day and I saw these and thought of you Jules! You used to go through entire bags of these!” Anne laughed.

Julie barely looked up and only blurted, “I’m on a diet,” before looking back at her phone. “I don’t eat that crap.”

“Whatever,” Adam said, more for me!”

Julie saw how hurt her mom was as she handed the bag to Adam. Julie thought she might have even seen tears in her eyes before her mom turned back around to face the road. Julie almost spoke up, almost told her mom the real reason she wanted to diet. But she decided against it, she didn’t want to think about it anymore. The truth was, Julie did go through entire bags of cheese puffs as a kid. Yet it wasn’t just cheese puffs. Julie ate all kinds of junk food, at school, in the car, when her parents weren’t looking. Julie never really cared about her weight when she was eleven, but she cared now. Julie recalled a fight with her best friend Denise a few days earlier.

“Why didn’t you guys tell me Eric was having a party? I would’ve gone. Instead I had to sit home and listen to my brother get yelled at for almost setting our cat on fire,” Julie questioned.

“Look, I’m sorry. It’s just Eric said I could only bring a few other girls, and… him and the other guys on the basketball team… they asked if I could bring Iliana and Kathy, you know, because they’re really pretty and stuff. And Ava knows everyone in our entire town, so I knew she could introduce me to some people. If it were just up to me I’d bring you, okay?”

“What? I’m not pretty enough to go to Eric Caffrey’s party? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, they just think… well some of the guys… they just said it wouldn’t kill you to lose a few.” Julie could feel her face getting hot. She looked down so Denise wouldn’t see her cry.

“Hey, I didn’t say it,” Denise said as if that could make it better. “And I think you look great Jules. Just because you’re not a size two doesn’t mean you aren’t pretty. You have beautiful green eyes. It’s just high school guys, you know. They say some rude stuff sometimes, but they don’t mean it. Just don’t let it bother you.” Julie got up from Denise’s couch and started putting her shoes on. “Calm down Jules! Look, this senior, Lily, is having a party this Friday. Come to that one!”

“You know I’m on this road trip with my family for the next week Denise.”

“Oh, right. Well, you can come to another one. No big deal. Eric’s wasn’t even fun…” she tried to explain, but Julie was already out the door.

Now they had officially been driving for two hours, and Adam was getting antsy. He was begging their dad to let him control the stereo. “Dad please let me play my iPod! You have been playing this dumb radio talk show for the entire trip!”

“Nobody wants to listen to your music. Can you please be quiet for five seconds?” said Julie, hearing her brother complaining.

“I wasn’t talking to you. Put your headphones back on nobody cares what you think,” spat Adam.

“Can you two stop fighting for once?” asked Anne. “You’re making a four hour trip feel like ten hours. Everyone quieted down after that, but the tension in the car only rose.

Half an hour later, Adam announced he had to use the bathroom. “Are you serious?” asked Peter. “We told you to go before we left, Adam.”

“I’ve been very well hydrated this trip! It’s not my fault.”

“I could use some coffee anyways,” said Anne, sighing. “Let’s stop at this exit over here.”

The old blue mini van turned off the highway. “I can’t believe it’s already dark,” said Anne. “It’s only 6 o’clock.”

“Well actually, Mom, the sun sets earlier in the winter and later in the summer! I know this is all new information to you,” said Julie sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

“Hey, cut the attitude Juliette. Apologize to your mother, you’ve been nothing but rude this entire trip and I’m sick of it,” sneered Peter.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Julie reluctantly, shocked at how quickly her dad snapped at her.

The car pulled into the rest stop, and the whole family got out, greeted by the frigid air. “What state are we in?” asked Adam.

“Pennsylvania,” answered Anne. “It’s colder than I was expecting.”

“It’s freezing. Can we get some more cheese puffs? And maybe a Coke?”

“Adam, you’ve had enough junk food this trip,” said Peter, who was becoming increasingly frustrated.

“Peter, just let him eat what he wants,” interjected Anne. “We’re on a road trip it’s not a big deal if he has some soda.”

“It’s a big deal if he doesn’t learn to eat healthy!” yelled Peter, unintentionally glancing at Julie. The annoyance in his voice was palpable. Julie looked down.

“I just want my cheese puffs! Can I just have two dollars mom, I can buy them at the vending machine. Pleeaassee!” whined Adam. Anne handed Adam some change as Peter sighed and rolled his eyes.

The family of four now realized they were the only ones in the rest stop, besides two middle aged truck drivers who were smoking cigarettes and a young couple who looked just as distraught and exhausted as they were. It was almost completely silent except for the sound of Adam chewing cheese puffs and the couple arguing in the distance.

“Adam, try to chew those a little more obnoxiously,” said Julie. “Really, I don’t think it’s possible for you to be any more annoying.”

“Can you just leave me alone for once!?” yelled Adam. “I’m not even doing anything to you.”

“You did something to me by being born. You can’t even eat food without annoying everyone.”

I’m annoying everyone. You’re saying it’s me who is the problem. You’re the one who has been putting everyone in a foul mood this whole trip. You’re the one who has had a terrible attitude and has done nothing but complain. For once, this cannot be blamed on me.”

“Why do you think I’m in a foul mood Adam!? For the same reason Mom and Dad are fighting! The same reason I’m in a foul mood 100% of the time. You annoy everyone around you! You can’t help it!”

“At least I talk to Mom and Dad! At least I try to talk to you. You do nothing but sit there and complain and blame other people for your problems.” Julie rolled her eyes. She hadn’t eaten in 14 hours and she could feel herself getting unreasonably mad.

“Adam, at least I have friends to complain to! Nobody even wants to be around you long enough to even become friends with you.” This especially hurt Adam, because on some level this true.  Other kids thought Adam as funny, they liked to be around him or be part of his shenanigans, but none of them were really friends with him. Adam was the quintessential class clown. At the end of the day he was the butt of the joke just as much as the people he was making fun of were.

“You two! Stop!” cried Anne, “Nobody wants to hear it. Get in the car. Here, Julie, I got you a powerbar. It might be a few hours before we stop for dinner.”

“I told you a thousand times! I’m. Not. Hungry.”

Adam snickered, “Sure you aren’t.”

What did you just say?” roared Julie.

“I said I may not have friends, but at least I’m not ugly and fat.” Julie’s face became hot.

“Well at least I’m not ugly and retarded.” yelled Julie, tears streaming down her face. Adam was shocked into silence.

“You two cannot speak to each other like that! I will not tolerate it,” shouted Peter, standing up from the bench.

“Apologize to each other,” was all Anne said.

“I won’t apologize to him!” screamed Julie. “Not after what he said to me.” They were causing a scene in the rest stop. The truckers were observing them through the cigarette smoke, and the couple had gone silent and seemed to be staring at them. They’re probably thinking that when they have kids, they’ll never let them talk to each other like this. I’m sure they think their family wouldn’t fight, thought Julie. That’s what she would be thinking if she were them. She heard her mother sigh loudly.

“You two better apologize right now or I’m leaving both of you at this rest stop,” said Peter sternly. Adam looked up, realizing this had gone too far.

“I’m sorry, Julie. I didn’t mean what I said. That… that wasn’t nice,” Adam sputtered. “And… it wasn’t true. You’re not ugly… and you really aren’t fat. I’m really, really sorry.” The truth was, Adam wasn’t acting at all. He really did feel terrible for what he had said.  He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew Julie’s insecurities. That’s the thing about family, they know you so well. They know exactly how to make you feel better, but exactly how to hurt you.

“Now, Jules, said Anne. “What do you have to say to your brother?”

“If you are implying I should actually say sorry to him, you are in for a disappointment. I’m not apologizing to that brat.”

“Julie!” said Anne, raising her voice.

“You think everything can be fixed with an apology, you let Adam off the hook every single time he does something wrong. He doesn’t learn! You don’t get how infuriating he is. You let him say things like that to me, you let him kick poor Sarah Rosen in the face with a ball, you let him stay up late. If you don’t punish him, how are you expecting him to change?”

“Don’t try to tell us how to parent!” shouted Peter. “Don’t act like you’re little Miss Sunshine either, it is not acceptable to call your brother names. Not while you two are living under my roof. Now get in the car! I don’t want to hear even a peep from either one of you for the rest of the trip.”

“I’m not getting in that car until Adam is given an actual punishment for what he said to me.”

“Why can’t you just apologize to your brother, Juliette?” cried Anne desperately. “He apologized to you. Just say sorry and we’ll talk about this later. Please.” Seeing the pain on her mother’s face, Julie almost just said sorry. She almost swallowed her pride, said sorry, and got in the car. Yet she thought about Adam keeping her up half the night, Denise ditching her, Eric Caffrey saying she could “lose a few.” Her eyes welled up with tears.

“No, I’m not getting in the car with any of you.”

“Please,” said Adam, beginning to tear up himself. “I shouldn’t have said that. Please get in the car.” Julie looked away.

“You know what. Fine! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” screamed Peter. “Adam, Anne, get in the car”, he said. Anne got in the passenger seat, shutting the door and looking down. Adam got in the back. Finally, Peter slammed the door and started the car.

“No! We can’t leave Julie at the rest stop!” Adam cried, realizing what was going on. He tried to open the door, but it was locked. Peter backed out of the parking slot and began to drive away. Julie looked up, she thought her dad was bluffing at first, but they were actually leaving her!

“NO!” she desperately shrieked. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I love you Adam! I’m so sorry!” Tears were streaming down her face. “I’m sorry!” Yet Adam couldn’t hear her.

“Turn around Dad!” Adam yelled in the car. “It’s all my fault, I don’t care if she apologizes. We can’t actually go.”

“Peter, you’re taking this too far. I know you’re just making a point. Stop torturing your daughter,” whispered Anne, feeling defeated. Adam continued to throw a tantrum.

“STOP! DRIVING!!” shrieked Adam hysterically.

“Calm down,” said Peter, sighing. “You think I would actually leave her at that rest stop? Here I’m turning around now.” He turned around and looked at Adam’s tear streaked face, “I was just teaching her a lesson. Look we barely drove 100 yards, she can still see us.”

That was true. Julie could see the car. She saw them drive away, she saw her dad speed up when leaving the parking lot, and she saw them hit a patch of black ice as the mini-van tried to do a U turn. She saw the car spin wildly out of control. And she could see the truck, pulling into the parking lot. That truck was definitely going too fast, wasn’t it?

The Richmond Times

Tragedy in Charlottesville- February 16, 2015. A deadly car crash right outside a rest stop on Route 1 killed three, including one child, and injured one when a family’s mini-van collided with a Horizon Dairy Truck after hitting a patch of ice. The driver of the truck is currently in the ICU at Richmond Hospital. Peter and Annebelle McNulty were both killed, along with their 10 year old son. They are survived by their 16 year old daughter.

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