I’m looking up at him with an awfully twisted face. Is this guy serious?
“Thanks, but no,” I say and go to turn around again.
“Well, for one,” I say, “you’ve had those things stuck in your ears for the past several hours. Gross.”
“What do you mean, and?” I think my face is just getting more twisted. “That’s not enough?”
He smiles that crooked smile again, which in the daylight I notice produces two tiny dimples near the corners of his lips.
“Well,” he says, reeling the earbuds back in, “you said ‘for one’; I just thought there might be another reason.”
“Wow,” I say, flabbergasted, “you are unbelievable.”
“Thanks.” He smiles and I can see all of his straight, white teeth.
I definitely didn’t mean that as a compliment, but something tells me he knows as much.
I go back to digging in my bag already knowing I’m not going to find anything but clothes, but it’s better than dealing with this weirdo.
He plops down on the empty seat next to me, just before another passenger walks past toward the restroom.
I just kind freeze here, one hand buried inside my bag, unmoving. I may be looking right at him, but I have to let the shock wear off before I can actually figure out what kind of lecture I want to give him.
The guy reaches into his own bag and pulls out a little packet containing an antibacterial wipe, rips off the top half and unfolds the towelette. He wipes each earbud down thoroughly and then reaches over to me. “Like new,” he says, waiting for me to take them.
Seeing as how it actually seems like he’s trying to be nice, I let my defenses down just a little. “Really, I’m good. But thanks.” It surprises me at how fast I got over the whole sit-next-to-me-without-asking thing.
“You’re probably better off anyway,” he says, putting the MP3 player in his bag. “I don’t listen to Justin Bieber or that crazy meat-wearin’ bitch, so I guess you’ll just have to do without.”
OK, defenses are back up. Bring it on.
I snarl over at him, crossing my arms. “First off, I don’t listen to Justin Bieber. And second, Gaga isn’t so bad. Playing the shock-value card a little too long, I admit, but I like some of her stuff.”
“That’s shit-music and you know it,” he replies and shakes his head.
I blink twice, just because I’m at a loss and don’t know what to say.
He puts his bag on the floor and leans back on the seat, propping one booted foot up on the back of the seat in front of him, but his legs are so long it looks uncomfortable to me. He’s wearing those stylish work-boot-looking things. Dr. Martens, I think. Dammit. Ian always wore those. I look away, not really in any mood to further this very strange conversation with this very strange person.
That old lady I met in Tennessee was right.
He looks over at me, his head pressed comfortably against the itchy fabric behind him. “Classic Rock is where it’s at,” he says matter-of-factly and then gazes out ahead. “Zeppelin, the Stones, Journey, Foreigner.” He lets his head fall to the side to look over at me again. “Any of that ringing any bells?”
I scoff and roll my eyes again. “I’m not stupid,” I say, but then change my tune when I realize I can’t think of many classic rock bands and I don’t want to make myself look stupid after so eloquently saying that I’m not. “I like…Bad Company.”
A little grin lifts one side of his mouth. “Name one song by Bad Company and I’ll leave you alone about it.”
I’m nervous as hell now, trying to think of any song by Bad Company other than the one he had been listening to. I’m not going to look this guy in the face and say the words: I Feel Like Makin’ Love.
He waits patiently, that grin of his still in-tact.
“Ready For Love,” I say because it’s the only other one I can think of.
“Are you?” he asks.
A smile etches deeper into his face. “Nothing,” he says, looking away.
I blush. I don’t know why and I don’t want to know why.
“Look,” I say, “do you mind? I was sort of using both seats.”
He smiles, this time without the smirk hiding behind his eyes. “Sure,” he says getting up. “But if you want to borrow my MP3 player, you know where it’s at.”
I smile slimly, relieved more than anything that he’s going to move back to his seat without a fight. “Thanks,” I say, appreciative, nonetheless.
Just before he makes it all the way back, he leans around the outside seat and says, “Where are you going, anyway?”
His bright green eyes seem to light up when he smiles. “Well, I’m heading to Wyoming, so looks like we’ll be sharing a few busses.” And then his smiling face disappears somewhere behind me.
I won’t deny that he’s attractive. The short, tousled haircut, the toned arms and sculpted cheekbones, the dimples and how that stupid f**king grin of his makes me more willing to look at him even though I don’t want to. But the reality is that it’s not like I’m into him, or anything—he’s a random stranger on a road-to-nowhere bus. No way in hell would I ever entertain something like that. And even if he wasn’t, even if I knew him for six months, I wouldn’t go there. Not ever. Not anymore.
The endless ride through Kansas seems to take longer than it should. I guess I never thought about how big states really are. You look at a map and it’s just this piece of paper in front of you with oddly-shaped borders and veiny little lines. Even Texas seems pretty small when you’re looking down at it like that, and always traveling everywhere by plane helps feed the delusion that the next state is just an hour away. Another hour and a half and my back and butt feel like stiff, hard pieces of meat. I’m constantly shifting on the seat, hoping to find some way to sit to relieve the tenderness, but I just end up making other parts of my body sore.
I’m only starting to regret this because the bus ride sucks.
I hear the bus intercom squeal once and then the driver’s voice:
“We’ll be stopping for a break in five minutes,” he says. “You will have fifteen minutes to grab a bite to eat before we get back on the road. Fifteen minutes. I will not wait longer, so if you’re not back in that time the bus will leave without you.” The speaker goes dead.
The announcement causes everyone to stir in their seats and gather their purses and such—nothing like talk of getting to stretch your legs after hours on a bus to wake everyone up.
We pull into a spacious lot where several semis are parked, and in-between a convenience store, a car wash and a fast food restaurant. Passengers are standing up in the center of the aisle before the bus even comes to a stop. I’m one of them. My back hurts so bad.
We file out of the bus one by one, and the second I step off I cherish the feel of concrete underfoot and the mild breeze on my face. I don’t care that this area is hick-in-the-sticks remote, or that the convenience store gas pumps are so outdated that I know the restrooms will probably be scary; I’m just glad to be anywhere but cooped-up inside that bus. I practically glide (like an ungraceful, wounded gazelle) across the blacktop parking lot and toward the restaurant. I take advantage of the restroom first and when I come back out there are several people in line in front of me. I stare up at the menu, trying to decide between a large fry or vanilla shake—never was a big eater of fast food. And finally when I walk out of the restaurant with a vanilla shake, I see the guy from the bus sitting on the grass that separates the parking lots. His knees are bent and he’s eating a burger. I don’t look at him when I start to walk past, but apparently it’s not enough to keep him from bothering me.
“Eight more minutes before you have to crawl back into that tin can,” he says. “You’re really going to spend that precious time in there?”
I stop next to a little tree still being held up by a stick in the ground and tied with pink fabric.
“It’s just eight minutes,” I say. “Won’t make that much of a difference.”
He takes a huge bite of his burger, chews and swallows it down.
“Imagine if you were buried alive,” he says and takes a drink of soda. “You wouldn’t have much time before you suffocated to death. If only they’d gotten to you eight minutes earlier, hell, even one minute, you’d still be alive.”
“OK, I get it,” I say.
“I’m not contagious,” he says and then takes another bite.
I guess I have been sort of a bitch. I mean, in a way he kind of deserved it, but he’s really not being obnoxious or anything, so there’s no reason to keep the defenses all the way up. I’d rather not make any enemies on this trip if I can help it.
“Whatever,” I say and take a seat on the grass a couple of feet in front of him.
“So why Idaho?” he asks, though he looks at his food and all around him more than he looks directly at me.
“Going to see my sister,” I lie. “She just had a baby.”
He nods and swallows.
“Why Wyoming?” I ask, hoping to divert the topic from myself.
“Going to visit my dad,” he says. “He’s dying. Inoperable brain tumor.” He takes another bite. It doesn’t seem like what he just told me bothers him too much.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says, looking right at me this time for a brief moment. “We all gotta go sometime. My old man isn’t worried about it and told us not to be, either.” He smiles and looks at me again. “Actually, he told us if we do any of that cryin’ bullshit, that he’d write us out of his will.”
I suck on my vanilla shake for a moment, only to be doing something to keep my mouth from having to respond to the stuff he’s saying. I’m not sure if I could anyway, really.
He takes another sip.
“What’s your name?” he asks, setting his drink on the grass.
I wonder if I should give him my real name. “Cam,” I say, settling on the short version.
“Short for what?”
I didn’t expect that.
I hesitate, my eyes trailing. “Camryn,” I admit. I figure with all the lies I’m going to have to keep track of, I might as well be truthful about my first name at least. It’s one less-significant piece of information I don’t have to remember to keep under wraps.
“I’m Andrew. Andrew Parrish.”
I nod and smile slimly, not about to tell him my last name is Bennett. He’ll have to make do with the first-name-basis only.
As he finishes the last of his burger and scarfs down a few fries, I secretly study him and notice the bottom of a tattoo poking out from underneath both sleeves of his t-shirt. He can’t be older than mid-twenties, if even that.
“So, how old are you?” It still felt too personal of a question. I hope he doesn’t read something in it that’s not there.