Aurora, Nebraska, UNITED STATES — Nothing ever happens in Aurora, Nebraska. So when Alex Briner ran away, it was big news.
“I heard he ran away in the middle of the night, stole his old man’s car.”
“No way dude, he hitchhiked to GI and took a bus.”
“I hear he’s one of those Wal-Mart kids; you know, the ones with their pictures in the entrance.”
Gossip flew, and by the end of the first week the agreed upon story was that Alex had stolen an airplane and flown to some South American county where it’s legal to smoke pot.
But somehow, as things often do, the true story of Alex Briner was lost in the fantasy. Those of us who knew him knew that he had hated Aurora; and those of us who knew him well had known he had always planned to leave. He just finally got the guts to do it.
“He’s in Chicago, that’s where he’s from,” said Todd.
Alex had moved to Aurora from Chicago at the end of ninth grade, and sworn his allegiance to the city ever since.
“Naw, man, Alex is way too smart to go there. That’s the first place they’ll look for him,” dismissed Nolan.
It was Sunday and two weeks after Alex had left when Drew, Nolan, Todd, and I sat in a booth at McDonalds and gave our theories.
“So what actually happened?” I asked. I had known Alex pretty well, but not well enough to call him a good friend.
“Well, according to Sam…,” Drew began, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
We collectively groaned.
In our experience, Sam isn’t the most reliable guy in the school.
“Yeah, but he was Alex’s best friend,” Todd pointed out.
“Anyways,” Drew continued, “Sam says that he left his house about three and got a ride to GI with someone. He went to the Greyhound station by Howard Johnson and left on a bus at four.”
“That’s it?” I asked, disappointed. I had secretly harbored the hope that the South American pot dream had been what happened. It was much more exotic.
“Pretty much,” said Drew.
“So where do you think he is now?” I asked the group. They had known him much better than I had.
“I’d say Canada,” Nolan offered. “He has a thing for Canadian chicks.”
“No,” Drew interjected, “I bet Cali. It’s hot out there.”
“He dresses in all black,” I said.
“I think it’s kinda cool that he did it,” I said. “I mean, most guys, we just talk about leaving here. Running away and not looking back. But man, he did it.”
There’s a moment of quiet.
“Do you think he’s having a good time?” Todd asks.
“I’m sure he’s having a hell of a time,” Nolan says.
We go back to eating our soggy fries, but you can tell that we’re all thinking about Alex. Alex sitting on a beach, his pale skin burned; Alex in Chicago, walking with his black coat tight to his body as he passes by the skyscrapers; and Alex, far away from this McDonalds in the middle of nowhere, living free.