The van’s motor was roaring incessantly, almost drowning out the sound of the music that was blaring out of the old speakers at maximum volume. The hot midday sun was beating down on the dusty road and the air was flickering because of the heat. Sweat was dripping from her forehead and it was getting harder to breathe with every minute. She felt as if she was stuck in a driving sauna, only that this one wasn’t relaxing at all. A quick glance at the overhead mirror confirmed her fear that she had already turned beet-red. Strange. She never got sunburns. Then again, who drives through Portugal in a badly isolated, amateurishly renovated van in August? People with serious problems, she thought. Or maybe just people with a need for adventure. And that definitely applied to her.
She had left behind her old life not a month ago, and was now enjoying the possibilities her new-found freedom brought with it. She had distanced herself from everything; her job, obviously, but that didn’t worry her all that much, since she had never found real happiness in it. But she had also left her family and friends, the people who loved her the most, and none of them knew when she was coming back. Hell, not even she herself knew how long she would be staying in this country.
However, all of that was of no real concern for her. Neither the time nor the people would make her feel bad. No homesickness, no regrets, just her and the open road;
from one town to the next, sightseeing, shopping here and there, surfing on the coast, sleeping underneath the stars and thinking about what she was going to do next.
At least that’s what she had expected her trip to be before she had left. She had been so excited about just being by herself for a few months. Of course it hadn’t exactly turned out the way she had intended, things rarely do. People get lonely so quickly, and she felt alone every night she had to check into a cheap motel, because in real life you can’t just sleep underneath the stars everywhere you go.
The heat was getting unbearable now. She stopped the van and exited into what she hoped would be fresh air. It was not. Outside, it was even hotter. The air felt solid, like a concrete wall. She reached for her water bottle and took a sip. Not very surprised she swallowed the almost hot water and stared at the vast land in front of her. It was absolutely, stunningly beautiful. 
He would’ve loved it here. 
Her thoughts jumped back in time, as they always did when she started feeling melancholic. And they always jumped to the same thing: her boyfriend, or rather ex-boyfriend. They had broken up shortly before she had left for her trip. Not because of a fight, not because they had stopped loving each other, not even because one of them had cheated on the other. No, they had decided to break up because she couldn’t take him with her and neither of them believed that long-distance relationships worked.
She wasn’t sure why her thoughts always went straight to him. Maybe she just missed him, even though she didn’t want to allow herself to do so. Or maybe she regretted not having taken him with her, even though he would’ve said yes without thinking about it for a single second. But no, she just had to do this on her own. An idea born from one of her many principles that he always considered to be stupid and unnecessary. And perhaps they were. At times not even she really believed in them, but they gave her some sort of strength and security. Her principles were the shield that protected her from getting hurt, or at least that’s what they were supposed to do.
He had always seen through them. He could tell by the look on her face what she was thinking, and sometimes she loved that about him. However, more often than not, she hated him for seeing into her head. It made her feel weak and threatened, as if she wasn’t the master of her own thoughts.
(And let’s be honest, we all hate it when someone tells us the truth about ourselves. We know they’re right, but why can’t they just leave us in denial?)
Out here, however, she could think her own thoughts, without having them basically read out loud by someone else. Here she was free.
She had yet to learn that real freedom comes hand in hand with loneliness.
He was appearing in her mind more clearly now. She could see the deep blue eyes, the short brown hair, gelled to the left. You call that a haircut? She could hear herself joke about his hairstyle and choice of clothing, nevermind the fact that she had of course always liked the way he looked.
The mental picture made her smile. She thought of his childish grin, the cute faces he used to make, his boyish three-day beard, the noises he used to make during sex. She thought about the nights they spent on the big meadow, looking at the sky and inventing new star constellations, and about the time they had danced by the river in the forest, surrounded by fifty tiny candles. She remembered the first time he kissed her; it had been a rainy day in the summer, and he had come to her house unannounced to take his life into his hands, as he liked to say.
She remembered the first time he told her he loved her, and how she had only said it seven times. Literally. The first time had been at a party, the second via text, which, in hindsight, probably didn’t count. The next two times had been after sex, in the heat of everything, amidst all the emotions that had been floating around the room. Then the fifth time right before they had entered the chapel to his father’s funeral. The sixth afterwards. And the last time had been at the airport, right before she left. Because yes, of course he had come after her, even after the break up. She hadn’t expected anything else, since that had always been what they did; hollywood romance.
Seven times. In three years.
Fuck. She could feel a tear roll down her face. It didn’t get far, though, it almost immediately evaporated. She had to stop thinking, but for some reason she just couldn’t.
And, as it so often happens, with the happy memories came the unhappy ones. The times of pain and hatred. When he had behaved like an asshole. When he had gotten lost in his head, drowning in self-pity. All the times she had wanted him to be social and he just hadn’t been able to make the effort. All of the minutes he had been staring into the candle-lit bedroom with an empty gaze, not noticing her at all.
She thought about how he had always wanted to solve a problem right away. How he would feel sorry for himself because he thought he wasn’t good enough for her. She thought about how much that had annoyed her. And she thought about all the second chances she had given him, and how she hadn’t been able to answer when he asked her why she stayed.
She remembered how much he drank, and how she sometimes despised him for behaving like a child.
Asshole. He was an asshole. 
She had seen him cry many times, while she had never shed a tear, not until now, now that he was far away from her.
She let it out. All the hurt, the hate and regret. All the memories, the fights, the appreciation and love. It burst out of her like a waterfall, her heavy tears hit the ground, wetting the red sand for the blink of an eye, before turning into nothing.

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