Jennifer Jenkinson
Highway Time

The big older Pontiac sped along eating up mile upon mile of highway. The driver slouched indolently behind the wheel, his left elbow resting comfortably on the car window fingers steadying the wheel but not gripping it, tapping in time to the classic rock on the radio. His right hand gripped the wheel at almost the top, but even that grip was relaxed, almost lazy. His rich hazel eyes were hidden behind aviator style sunglasses. He had a strong chin with a neatly trimmed goatee which matched his equally neatly trimmed short black hair.

     The highway he was on stretched the length of the country, The Trans-Canada Highway, and he was driving west from the prairies towards the West Coast. The Rocky Mountains stretched before him, running north to south, like an impenetrable barrier. But Evan Kirby knew better; the highway found its winding way through mountain passes across the continental divide over several ranges ending in the Pacific Coastal Range and the sea. There by the sea, on the great Fraser River Delta which two million or more souls called home, lay Vancouver: a port city, a crossroads of the world. But the draw there for Evan was the rich and bountiful entertainment industry. Evan Kirby was a guitar player. He had played with an assortment of bands in prairie towns and cities but, drawn to classic rock and the new innovative sounds coming out of some of the west coast studios, had decided to try his luck in Vancouver. After all, he had reasoned, the weather's warmer there too.

     The car was a cluttered mess and a Marshall amplifier took up more than half of the back seat. Some fast food bags and beverage cups littered the floor. On the seat beside him was a Calgary newspaper, a copy of Guitarplayer Magazine and a couple of CD's. As the car cruised further into the mountains the Calgary radio station he had been listening to started to crackle and break up. Evan steadied the wheel with a couple of fingers only and loaded a CD into the player. The car was filled with the sound of Led Zepplin as he cruised through the Banff National Park Gates.

<  2  >

     Just west of the Banff townsite there were a couple of hitchhikers along the road. The first two were a grubby looking pair of men which Evan barely looked at. But his eyes were drawn to the slim girlish figure standing alone clutching a small pack to her side almost as though it were a teddy bear. The wind was blowing her long straight blonde hair wildly from beneath her hat, a crocheted close-fitting soft turquoise cap. She wore a pair of flared, faded and somewhat tattered blue jeans and a shirt that was a tight fitting long sleeved soft knit fabric in a darker turquoise than her hat with a dragon boldly painted across the front. Evan whistled under his breath as he pulled over to pick her up. 'Geez, she's just a kid.' he thought, 'They just get younger.'

     She seemed to struggle to pull open the passenger door and he was again struck by how young and fragile she looked. She put her bag on the seat between them and managed a shy smile at him before her eyes slid self-consciously to her hands in her lap. "Thanks." she said in a near whisper.

     Evan put the car back into gear and glanced over his shoulder before accelerating back onto the highway. He glanced sidelong at his passenger, wondering what she was running away from. "How far you going?" he asked.

     "Vancouver." she murmured softly, still only one word.

     Evan chuckled lightly to himself. "Great," he told her, "I'm headed there too, you're in luck."

     "Thanks." she whispered again.

     Evan concentrated more on his driving now as the road wound it's way through some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent, the highway clung to mountainsides and traversed canyons and wound through rocky valley floors. He cast occasional surrepetitious looks at the girl beside him. She, for her part, was absolutely silent but her eyes watched the passing scenery with something akin to reverence.

<  3  >

     The Led Zepplin CD ended and Evan reached for the other case on the seat beside him. He held it out towards the girl and she looked at him with a question in her eyes.

     "Put that on will ya." he said with a grin. She glanced at the CD and smiled shyly. She fumbled a bit with the CD player but managed to get Evan's CD in. The sounds of Treble Charger filled the car. Though he was still watching the road, he smiled as he noticed that she was tapping her feet in time to the music.

     "You like?" he asked.

     "Yeah," she said softly, another one-word answer.

     "Cool." he replied. "They're pretty good, they rock, ya know? By the way, I'm Evan."

     She glanced briefly at him and lapsed into silence, her eyes again falling to study the papers and magazines between them. When a few moments went by without a word from her, Evan tried again.

     "I'm Evan." he repeated softly, "What's your name, kid?"

     Her fingers brushed the magazine cover nervously before she finally spoke, "I'm Sky," she answered, "and I'm not a kid."

     He gripped the steering wheel a little tighter as the big car negotiated an especially tight turn with a dizzying drop off on his left, but all the same he'd noticed her fingers had passed over a headline which read The Sky is Crying - SRV Gone Ten Years as she had found a voice to introduce herself. He smiled to himself.

     "Okay Sky, pleased to meet you." he told her. "So what takes you to Vancouver?"

     "You do." she said, with a sarcastic tone.

<  4  >

     Evan laughed deeply and heartily. She had spirit and spunk for sure, he thought, maybe after all she was old enough to be out on the road. She laughed nervously too as though relieved he had not become angry at her sarcasm.

     The car sped on eating up miles of road. Past Field, BC as they had passed from Alberta to the most western province and through Golden. As they continued through the valley between one mountain range and the next towards Revelstoke, Evan began to feel hungry and tired. 'Time for a break,' he thought, then almost guiltily he wondered how long it had been since Sky had eaten.

     "We'll be in Revelstoke in about twenty minutes," he told her, "I need to get gas, and I'm gonna grab a bite, okay?"

     "Okay," she said, still watching the ever changing scenery as they sped along.

     When he slid from the car at the gas station she clung to her backpack and watched him with something akin to fear in her eyes. He wondered again just what she was running from or perhaps it was running to. He made a half-hearted effort to clean the highway dust and squished bugs off the windshield and when he started on her side of the glass he waved and winked at her through the window and was pleased when she relaxed a little and stuck out her tongue at him.

     He pulled into a twenty-four hour highway diner just down the strip from the gas station and slid out of the car once more. Sky hesitated. Evan leaned his six foot frame over to peer across the seat at her. "You coming?" he asked.

     She got out, still carrying her pack and followed him into the diner, her shorter legs moving almost at a run to keep pace with his long lazy strides. They were shown to a booth in a quiet corner of the almost empty diner and the hostess poured Evan a mug of coffee then left to get the glass of cola that Sky had requested. Evan stirred a couple of large spoons of sugar into his black coffee and glanced through the menu. He watched as Sky didn't offer to open her menu but instead idly toyed with the cutlery and paper napkin. The hostess returned with the cola and Sky thanked her softly.

<  5  >

     "You're welcome hon," the hostess said, then turned towards Evan. "Your server will be with you in a moment."

     He smiled up at her and nodded his thanks. As she walked away he took a long swallow of the coffee. "Man, I needed that." he chuckled. Sky smiled shyly at him and took a tiny sip from her cola, as though trying to make it last a long time. He stretched his legs comfortably beneath the table and leaned back lazily in the booth.

     "Better eat now," he told her. "I'm not planning on stopping except for gas between here and the coast, it's gonna be a long night."

     She shifted uncomfortably under his gaze and toyed with her straw. He was about to say more but decided against further comment as the waitress approached with a pad in hand. He guessed, correctly, that she did not have enough money to afford eating. 'I'm a sucker,' he thought wryly, 'But what the hell.'

     "Are you ready to order?" the young woman with the pad asked with a tired smile.

     "Yeah thanks," Ewan said. "We'll have two cheeseburgers deluxe, with gravy for the fries."

     "Alright Sir, thank you." she said, scribbling quickly and picking up the menus. Sky stared open mouthed at him as the waitress moved away. He grinned at her in mock shock.

     "What? You do eat, don't you?" he asked.

     "Evan, I can't pay for this." she told him. "I'm kind of broke, you know?"

     "Yeah, I kind of guessed, Sky." he answered her. "It's my treat okay? No strings, don't worry. You look like you could use a meal."

<  6  >

     "Thank you." she murmured. She took another sip of her cola and lowered her face away from his again. He watched her hand as her fingertips brushed across her eyes and came away shiny with her liquid tears. 'She's crying.' he marvelled. He stifled his first instinct to comfort her and instead changed the subject.

     "Glad you like Treble Charger," he said. "There's a lotta cool stuff happening in music these days. I'm kinda hoping I can get in with some players in Vancouver and get a regular studio gig, ya know?"

     "You're a musician?" she asked.

     "Yeah, guitar player." he said "Figure I'll get some work out there pretty easy. How 'bout you?"

     She took another drink from her cola before replying. "I'm going to join my boyfriend."

     He considered that for a moment, wondering if her parents knew she had up and run after some guy, and also, if the guy had any idea she was on the way to join him. He drained his coffee and

     caught the waitress with just a quick nod and smile for a refill. As he sweetened the coffee once more, he tried to draw her out more.

     "That's cool Sky." he smiled. "Bet he's happy you're gonna join him. Musta been hard to be so far apart, huh?"

     The waitress came back with their cheeseburgers and Sky was silent until she had left again. Then, as she took her first bite of the burger, she mumbled a barely audible answer.

     "He don't know I'm coming exactly. But he'll be happy to see me, I just know it."

     Evan got the impression she was trying to convince herself. He took her lead and started on his own burger, letting the conversation slide for a while. In the light and face to face like this, Evan guessed she could not be more than half his age, fifteen maybe sixteen. After getting half way through his meal in silence, he took a long swallow of ice water and let his curiousity find voice again.

<  7  >

     "So, your boyfriend," he began tentatively, "He go out to Van for work too?"

     She eyed him as though she were considering one of those sarcastic answers, but his soft hazel eyes met hers with nothing more than kindness and concern. She dipped a fry into the gravy and watched the gravy drip from it onto her plate as she spoke. "I don't know. He just split, ya know?"

     Evan nodded, "Yeah I remember what that was like. When I was sixteen, I just split. Couldn't handle my parents and teachers telling me what to do anymore. And there was this chick, well ya know, she thought we was getting married or something. And hell, I was only sixteen. So I just split." He reached for the other half of his burger, concentrating on the food once again and letting his words sink in.

     She ate her fries in silence for a while, her free hand nervously playing with a long strand of her blonde hair. Finally, she took a deep breath and looked away from him, out the window as she spoke, "It wasn't like that. He's just confused and scared is all. He'll be so happy when I get there. It'll be okay. After all, he's gonna be a daddy."

     "Damn!" Evan exclaimed, all pretense of deference gone as his shock was obvious. Sky moved uneasily in her seat, taking a hold of her backpack as though she was going to simply run. He quickly recovered some of his dispassionate tone and added with a kind smile, "Congratulations that's awesome. Eat up girl, you're eating for two." The waitress came by just then and refilled Evan's coffee mug for the third time. She took Sky's now empty cola glass and asked her if she wanted more. He quickly interrupted and ordered a glass of milk for the girl before she could speak. Sky at first looked angrily at him but her face softened to a shy smile before she spoke.

<  8  >

     "Thank you, Evan." she said. "That would be good for the baby. Ryan would take care of me like that, ya know?"

     "Sure kid," Evan agreed, half heartedly. She did not protest his choice of words. They both silently went back to eating.

     Sky finished before him and excused herself to find the ladies room. He was surprised that she left her pack with him at the table. 'Perhaps a gesture of trust.' he thought. As he finished his fries between sips of the strong black coffee, he wondered what sort of home she had left behind and whether she had even considered how she would bring a child up on the cruel streets of a big city like Vancouver. His logic told him that she should be going home, certainly her parents must be worried and, like any parents, though they would be upset with her situation, they would help her. Sky's own assessment of her boyfriend was probably quite correct too, he thought, the kid had run because he was scared. Evan doubted that Sky's sudden appearance in Vancouver would change that any.

     She returned to the table just as he gulped down the last of his coffee. He grinned at her, as he stood up, "Finish your milk, I'm just gonna recycle this coffee. Then we'll get on the road." She smiled gratefully up at him and took the milk glass in both hands as he turned away.

     When they got back to the car, he unlocked her door first and held it for her as she settled herself back on the wide front seat. He opened the trunk and pulled a blanket out. When he got into the car, he draped the blanket across the back of the long front seat. He noticed she was no longer clinging to her back pack but had left it on the seat between them. He motioned to the glove compartment in front of her.

<  9  >

     "There's some more CD's in there." You're in charge of music, okay?"

     "Okay." she giggled and quickly retrieved the small stack of CD's. As he started the car and headed along the service road back to the main highway, she was going through each CD, examining the covers. She finally selected Red Hot Chili Peppers just as Evan put his foot down and accelerated west again along the highway.

     Evan relaxed into his comfortable driving posture as the big car ate up the miles. Beside him, Sky continued to watch the scenery go by but as the sun was setting quickly ahead of them the once sharp images were becoming indistinct and the mountain peaks, once towering majestically over the road, began to blend into the darkening sky behind them. Evan tapped his hands in time to the music and resisted the urge to draw the girl into further conversation. More than a half an hour had passed when she finally broke the silence between them. "Evan?" she asked tentatively.

     "Yah." he drawled lazily.

     "If you were sixteen and your girl got pregnant, you'd be pretty scared, huh?" she asked softly.

     Evan's fingers briefly stopped their rhythmic tapping. "Yeah baby, I'da been scared shitless."

     "I know Ryan was scared." she conceded. "But he tried to hide it, you know? Like he was all mad at me and all. Then I heard from some of the kids that he'd split for the coast. And I got all scared too, you know? Like maybe he was just mad at me."

     Evan took a deep even breath before he answered her. "It's a scary thing for both of you, Sky. That's a new life, a new person growing inside of you now."

     "Yeah, I know," she murmured. "I don't know if Ryan can handle that, you know? We haven't known each other long. Like we met at the roller rink where a lotta the kids hang out. And he was so great, you know. And my girlfriends said, 'Like go for it, he's so good looking.' Then he invited me to go to this party and, well, you know....." her voice trailed off. Evan was struck by the irony that she couldn't bring herself to tell him that she had gone to bed with this so-called boyfriend but now found herself carrying his child. He made no comment, waiting for her to continue. When she spoke again, her voice was choked with emotion and unshed tears. "Now I've just gotta find him, you know? I can't do this alone. Damn, I'm so scared."

<  10  >

     Evan glanced sidelong at her, noting her hands were clutched tightly together in her lap. The expected tears didn't come but her face turned away from him and she stared out into the growing darkness. Evan spoke, without taking his eyes from the highway, "Sky, you have every right to be scared. But you gotta let that fear work for ya, baby. You've got a baby coming now and that baby needs you. What;s best for your baby, Sky? Running to Vancouver, where you might find this Ryan guy and he might help you or not. That don't sound too good for you or your baby, ya know?"

     "I know." she whispered, then sobbed almost desperately, "But I can't go home now! Mom and Dad, don't even know I'm pregnant. They'd kill me." When her tears came, they were silent.

     Again Evan resisted his first urge to comfort her. 'God.' he thought, 'You're in way too deep here Evan, this is a kid, having a baby!' He drove in silence as she cried herself out. Finally when she calmed a bit he spoke again.

     "Sky, I don't think you're giving your parents enough credit. After all, girl, they raised you. And look at all the courage and smarts you've got. To be out here at all took guts, girl. Maybe you should think about telling them where you are, you know. And what's been going on. Then just see what happens. You can call when we get down close to Vancouver, then if you don't hear what you want, you don't have to do anything about it. Just go on and look for Ryan. That's if you still think he wants to be found."

     She was silent for so long that Evan was unsure if he'd gone too far. Finally, she sniffled a couple of times and turned from the darkness towards him. "You really think it'd be okay? My parents, I mean." she asked.

<  11  >

     "Yeah baby," he assured her. "They'll be upset, of course, but it'll be fine."

     "I'll think about it, Evan. "Cause Ryan, ya know, he's too scared I think." she said into a silence made more profound by the fact that the CD had just ended. Evan smiled in the darkness.

     Sky changed the CD again, sliding Goo Goo Dolls into the player. Shortly after that, Evan noted that she had slipped into a far more relaxed posture. Within a couple of miles, she had slumped over onto her backpack which made a good pillow. He reached behind him and pulled the blanket down from the back of the seat, spreading it across her sleeping form as best he could. Evan hummed to himself as the big Pontiac continued eat up the miles, winding down through the Fraser Canyon towards the coast.

     Hours later, as Evan decelerated into a service road in Abbotsford, Sky stirred beside him. She yawned, stretched and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. When she sat upright, he saw her glancing around, trying to get some bearings, the post midnight darkness combined with the nearby brightness of street and neon lighting completely hid any landmarks from view and Evan wondered if she would have recognized them in any case.

     "We're in Abbotsford, sleepyhead." he told her. "Almost there. Thought I'd stop for a coffee and maybe if you still wanna make that call...." he trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished.

     "Umm Evan, I'd have to call collect." she said softly. "I really didn't bring much with me."

     He pulled in to an all night diner parking lot and parked next to the building where a neon blue strip lit up a pay phone. He turned to face her, reaching across the back seat for his jacket as he spoke, "So call collect. I'm betting they won't mind much about a few bucks for a phone call, just so they know their girl's okay, ya know?" Without waiting for her response, he slid from the car and she watched his retreating form enter the diner.

<  12  >

     When he returned with a large styrofoam coffee cup in his hand, she was standing shivering in front of the phone. Evan put the coffee onto the roof of the big Pontiac and grabbed the blanket from the front seat. She looked sidelong at him as he draped it round her shoulders and her hesitant fingers picked up the receiver. He stepped a respectful distance away as she placed the call, picking up the coffee and staring into the darkness. It took a few moments for the operator to connect the call and she looked up at him with fear in her pretty eyes. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile and a thumbs up from the hand not holding the coffee. Then her full attention went to the phone and he knew he had gambled right and her parents had accepted the call.

     "Daddy," she said uncertainly. Then, "Daddy I'm okay. I'm in Abbotsford." Another pause and then, "I hitchhiked, I was looking for Ryan." She listened a long time and cast a tear-filled glance at Evan. He nodded as positively as he could at her. At last she spoke again, her voice shaking, "Daddy I have something to tell you..." a short pause, then her words came in a sobbing rush, "I'm pregnant. That's why I was looking for Ryan. And then Evan gave me a ride and he said I should call you, and I ... " She looked directly at Evan now, tears streaming again, but listening still. Finally she spoke again, "Evan is a guitar player, he's going to work in recording studios in Vancouver, he... No Daddy he's really been nice, he said to talk to you. Daddy, I wanna come home." she finished plaintively. She listened for a long time then, without warning, thrust the receiver towards Evan. At first he shook his head in dismay, then he relented and took the phone.

     "Hello?" he said hesitantly.

     The voice on the other end was firm but not angry. "I understand you picked up my daughter, Evan? That's right isn't it? Evan?"

<  13  >

     "Yes Sir, my name is Evan Kirby." he said keeping his voice even and calm. "She kinda looked like she needed a friend. I'm a sucker for strays, ya know?"

     "Seems to me, young man, I owe you." the other man said, "Meredith was lucky that it was you that picked her up and convinced her to make this call."

     Evan had looked in some surprise at Sky when her father had mentioned her real name. The girl would always be Sky in his mind. "She convinced herself, Sir. I just listened, ya know?"

     "Don't call me Sir, Evan. The name's Geoff Cavanaugh." Meredith's father told him. "I have a last favour to ask of you, if you could see your way clear to drive my girl to the Vancouver Airport? I'll see that a ticket home is waiting there for her."

     "Yeah Mr. Cavanaugh, it'd be a pleasure." he replied.

     "Thank you, Mr. Kirby. I won't ever forget what you did for her."

     Neither Evan nor Sky spoke for much of the rest of the drive into Vancouver. It was starting to get light and the city was grey and somewhat somber under early morning cloud cover. Evan tuned the radio in to a local Vancouver classic rock station. Beside him, Sky gazed around at everything as though trying to memorize it; her first ever view of Vancouver. He rapidly located the route through the city to the southside and the International Airport.

     "You don't have to come inside with me." she told him half-heartedly.

     Evan chuckled at her. "Of course I do, baby. Completes the circle, ya know?" he parked the car, pocketed the key and walked beside her to the terminal.

<  14  >

     She picked up the ticket which her father had left for her. With Evan protectively beside her, they found their way towards the departures hallway. She stopped just short of the security clearance area and looked up at her tall travelling companion. Tears filled her eyes once more.

     "Evan, thank you." she whispered, solemnly sticking out her small hand to shake his larger one. He winked at her and, instead of taking her hand, opened both his arms and wrapped the slim girl in a warm big brotherly hug.

     "Thank you, sweet Sky." he crooned at her. "Take care of yourself, kiddo. And take care of your baby, okay?"

     He stepped back and she turned towards the gate. She looked back over her shoulder, smiling through her tears, "Good bye Evan," she called, "I'll look for you on MTV."

     He grinned at her, blew her a kiss and called back. "If it's a boy, Evan's a good strong name, ya know?"

     She turned and was gone.

     Thirty minutes later, Evan Kirby sat in front of the viewing lounge windows in Vancouver International Airport and watched the 767 lift into the sky heading east. He took and long drink of yet another sweet black coffee and ineffectually wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. He arose, leaving the rest of his coffee where it sat, and strode quickly towards the exit doors.

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