Probably most pathetically of all, it had been RONI’s idea. All of them had scheduled holidays coming up - to celebrate Erhard’s release - but they’d only planned to meet for dinner, maybe have a small get-together at someone’s house.
But someone had to mention the road trip Alyssa, Naomi and Navel had taken last month, and so here they were, in a small, shitty rented van, getting ready to go see the sights of wherever they could reach over three days.
What made matters even worse, is that absolutely none of them had even considered forming any kind of plan; but it was too late to turn back now.
“It’s more fun that way,” Maria had said, when Hank brought up this (reasonable) concern.
Gabe, who was helping Tomoe pack some things into the trunk, piped up, “Yeah, but what if we waste our time going nowhere and doing nothing?”
Ever the optimist, although his smile was faltering a little, Hank tried to reassure him. “I’m sure we’ll be fine,” he said, but the worry in his eyes said otherwise.
“That’s the spirit!” Maria exclaimed, only to be interrupted by Gabe again.
“Has anyone seen RONI? I swear she was here a moment ago.”
Erhard poked his head around the side of the van, “I just saw her get in.”
Tripping up the steps climbing inside, Gabe looked over the seats (and underneath them), but didn’t see a single prosthetic limb. “RONI?”
“Hello, Doctor,” chimed a voice, and Gabe jerked in surprise and hit his head on the ceiling. “Are you alright?”
“RONI?” he repeated, alarmed, rubbing at where he’d hit the roof. “Where are you?”
Still out of sight, RONI let out a surprisingly human-sounding sigh and replied; “Look up.”
Glancing up, Gabe instantly knew who’s fault it was.
Somewhere between fuming and despairing, he came storming back out of the van, nearly knocking over Erhard, who quickly dodged out of the way. “WHY IS RONI IN THE OVERHEAD COMPARTMENT OF THE VAN?”
At this, Tomoe, looking over to Maria with a concerned but affectionate expression, silently handed Erhard a 10 dollar bill.
“Hey! I mean-” she turned towards Hank, begging him silently for help, but he didn’t say anything. “Well, she didn’t mind! And it’s a bit cramped in the van already.”
Gabe put his head in his hands. “You’re going to make me an alcoholic, Maria,” he lamented, but climbed back into the van, with it’s peeling blue paint, nevertheless.
It had only been an hour, and everything had already gone to shit.
First of all, the horrible country music they were blasting aside, they’d made the horrible mistake of appointing Erhard as navigator, and despite the fact that he was the one out of all of them who held the braincell they all shared most often, it didn’t change the fact that he’d been locked in a fridge for eight years, or that his memory was still spotty at best.
And Erhard, being Erhard, was still way too nice to say anything - and the group, being the group, honestly had not noticed that they had been circling the same six streets for the past twenty minutes. RONI, halfway through reaching down to take a card to win the 5th game between herself, Gabe, and Tomoe, decided to nonchalantly relay this information to the others, who immediately went into an uproar.
Needless to say, Erhard was banned from being anywhere near the map, and was delegated to the backseat to lose to RONI in endless games of cards like the others.
Second of all, to take a break from her relentless (and arguably, quite bad) back-seat driving, Maria had decided to wrench open the sunroof and stand up. Normally, this would be fine - part of the quintessential road trip experience - except for the small reality of the low-ceiling of the tunnel coming up.
Realising this, Tomoe had screamed and attempted to pull Maria back down, which caused everyone else to start yelling too - and once Maria was finally seated, slightly dazed, but out of the path of certain death, she said; “Why is there a damn bridge in the middle of countryside?”
From the driver’s seat, Hank, who had barely staved off 5 heart attacks within the past 2 hours, nearly sobbed out his reply; “We’re not even out of the city yet, Maria.”
And third of all, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was the simplest of all. They were finally out of the city, admiring the trees while RONI reached past her medical databases and told them all about the different plants and bugs of each region, and sure, there was the small debate here and there over whether tomatoes were a fruit or a vegetable, and Erhard was still getting used to the whole ‘being close to people’ thing, but all in all, they were content.
Until, of course, a deer appeared in the middle of the road.
Hank hit the brakes so hard all of them went flying, RONI almost falling down on top of Erhard, and Tomoe being knocked into Maria, while Gabe got stuck underneath one of the seats.
“What was that?” Gabe asked, worried he was getting brain damage after getting banged around so much in such a small space of time.
Happy, and kind of amazed, that he was still alive, Erhard picked himself back up and leaned around the side of Hank’s chair. “It’s a-”
“DEER!!” Maria screamed, already kicking open the door.
Tomoe, who had rented the van, winced.
However, a few seconds later, having scared the deer off, Maria slumped back into the front seat of the van.
“That’s a shame,” she mourned, “I wanted to take a selfie with it. We could’ve been best friends. I would’ve named him… um…”
“Ayala!” Tomoe offered, smiling.
Hank grinned too. “How about Merlin?”
Maria was still deeply lost in thought, before perking up with, “What about Lisbeth? Like from that movie we watched!”
RONI joined in too, suggesting; “I like Smith.”
From the back of the van, they could hear Gabe quietly murmur under his breath. ‘Maybe it was a bad idea to let her watch The Matrix with us.”
Their smiles and laughter were infectious, and Erhard found himself leaning over to Gabe, asking, “Are they going to be like this the whole time?”
Beaming, Gabe ruffled his hair, finally suppressing that persistent cowlick. “Yeah, I’d assume so. Buckle up, kid.”
And so it was.