Smoke was emanating from beneath the chariot or Dodge van. He didn't remember which. The lights of a small town lay ahead just over the next rise. If he could make it to the top of the hill he could coast into a gas station. If it had a mini-mart at least he could eat. Jim was fast asleep in the passenger seat. God knows he didn't want to wake him.
He parked in front of a dilapidated house with a for sale sign taped to its sagging screen door. He quietly opened his door and headed for the "Stripes Mini Mart" next door. He heard the cracking and snapping of cooling metal fade as he entered the store. I microwave cheeseburger came before looking at a dying Dodge. The mechanics of which he was clueless.
The bright fluorescent light and the warm gluey cheeseburger relaxed him. He ordered a Dr. Pepper and sat at a small table. After finishing the cheeseburger, Mark pooled all his pocket change to see if he had enough to buy a "Nutty Buddy" ice cream cone. He thought he was in luck. But then Jim walked in through the swinging door.
"Trying to sneak away from me?" Jim was glaring at Mark. "No! You were asleep." Mark replied innocently. The clerk was leaning on the counter and immediately stood when he saw the fractious interaction between the two. No one else was in the store. "Well Okay, this time." Jim uttered. "How about something to eat?" Mark offered.
Jim was hostile and making strange gesture while he ate his nuked cheeseburger. The two men left. The night was warm. Crickets chirped and the cicadas would start their crescendo. The two men decided to sleep in the van. They had to sleep sitting up in the seats as the back was packed with shabby-chic collectibles they had picked along the way from Virginia.
"I wonder what they want for that house," Mark said. "Why?" Jim asked. "If the price is right we could set up our antique shop here," Mark replied. "Don't say anything out loud anymore. Write me notes." Jim requested. Jim thought he had a chip implanted from the CIA in his skull. They always knew what was said around him and issued him orders. Or so he thought.
Mark did not know how much was an act and how much was insanity. Jim had been in the Air Force Counter Espionage unit. He was discharged on account of mental health issues. But Mark loved him anyway. Jim seemed to love Mark too. The following morning they rented the house for $75.00 a month. They emp[tied the contents of the van into their "new antique" shop.
Mark made friends all over town. Business was brisk. Nights were..well..a nightmare. Jim argued with his chip at night. It was frequent enough to scare Mark. Well, that and the beatings and threats with kitchen knives. But Mark loved him. It did not matter how often he was battered and threatened with death. He knew that he loved Jim. The people who loved Mark hated Jim.
On a particularly bad night following Halloween, Mark finally called the police. Small town cops did not understand LGBTQ relationships. "Which one of you is the man and which one is the lady?" Patrolman Allen asked. Both men were shocked into silence. After the police left, Jim told Mark that his handlers would get even for calling the cops.