Hayden extended his hand. “Hi. You must be Mrs. Montgomery. I’m Hayden.”
“Hey, Mrs. M. Good to see you again,” Bec said.
“Hi. I just . . .” My mom’s brain was going to explode, I knew it. Her politeness was battling with her worry.
“Mom, we’ll be fine. Thanks for letting me go. I’ll call you as soon as we get there and the minute we get in the car to come home.”
She wrung her hands together and Hayden directed his smile to her. This made her release a breath and she nodded.
I hugged her before she could change her mind and slipped around her and out the door. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Be good. Love you.”
Bec took shotgun, as if visually showing me where she thought I belonged, and I climbed into the back.
Hayden put the car in reverse. “So your mom doesn’t trust us?”
I rolled my eyes. “My mom doesn’t trust anyone she doesn’t know, but as long as I can get her to mostly agree, I know she won’t say no in front of my friends. She doesn’t want anyone to think everything is not perfect.”
Bec laughed. “I’m glad you know how to manipulate your mom.”
“It’s more creative guidance.”
Hayden pulled out onto the main road. “How was your week?”
I tried to interpret that one word. “Busy at school?”
“No, the exact opposite. It was just a really slow week. We’re gearing up for finals and so it’s a lot of review.”
“Right. Us too.”
“Ugh,” Bec said. “You two are boring. Maybe I should’ve taken the backseat after all.” With that she put in some earbuds.
“She has very little of my dad in her,” Hayden said.
“Okay, so what are your must-have road trip snacks?” he asked, pulling into the same 7-Eleven that I had followed Bec to the other day.
“I don’t know that I have any must-haves.”
He opened the door. “Then we better find you some.”
“Get me Corn Nuts and Twix,” Bec said loudly, not seeming to realize we could hear her just fine. “And get Nate licorice.”
Hayden pulled out one of her earbuds. “I’m not your personal shopper and I thought Nate wasn’t coming.”
His comment produced a long-suffering sigh from her. “He just texted me. He’s coming now.”
I thought she’d get out of the car and follow us in but she didn’t.
“Is she coming inside?” I asked.
“No, she knows I’ll feel guilty and get them for her.”
I laughed. “She has you conditioned, huh?”
“She really does.” He opened the door for me and it announced our arrival into the store with a beep.
“So Nate’s coming?”
“Is that okay?”
“Of course. You’re the driver. I have four tickets anyway so it works out.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot we had to have tickets for this thing. I’m glad you have enough.” He led me to the candy aisle. “Okay, so something sweet is a must.” He grabbed a bag of M&M’s. “But it has to be offset by something salty.” He picked up a bag of pretzels. “And then, of course, I need some caffeine.” He walked to the fridge and pulled out a Mountain Dew. “And that’s the perfect road trip combination.”
“You go on a lot of road trips?”
“We travel a lot. One summer my mom forced us to take a three-week trip in an RV around the United States. It was sheer torture.”
“Did you not hear me? I said three weeks. In an RV.”
“It sounds fun to me.”
“Says the girl who has never spent three weeks in an RV. It’s like living right on top of people. I felt like I was this close to Bec at all times.” He took two steps closer to me, pressing his chest against my shoulder. I got a whiff of his body spray and nearly closed my eyes because it smelled so good.
“That doesn’t seem so bad to me,” I said, looking up at him.
He offered me a smile. “Well, it was.” Then he put one arm around my back and grabbed a bag of Cheetos off the rack behind me. He held it between us. “These should be your salty. They’re good.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Not a Cheetos fan.”
He finally took a step back, allowing me to breathe again. “Okay, what treat would inspire you to write a letter to its maker?”
I looked at all the colorful packaging filling the aisle in front of me. Either I hadn’t tried enough junk food in my life or I wasn’t easily inspired because nothing looked good.
“Nothing?” he asked. “Tough critic. Let’s do a visualization exercise. We do this in drama sometimes.”
I did visualizations before I gave speeches at school. I’d imagine exactly what I wanted to say and how I was going to say it. I wasn’t going to do that in the snack food aisle at 7-Eleven. “It’s okay, I’ll just get . . .” I reached forward and grabbed the first thing my hand touched.
Hayden raised his brows. “Dried bananas?”
“Fine, what’s your sweet item, then?”
“I’m fine with the one item. Besides, it’s both sweet and salty.”
“You need two.”
“Nate gets one,” I said, pointing to the licorice Hayden had already grabbed.
“I’m not in charge of Nate.”
I raised one eyebrow. “But you’re in charge of me?”
“Today I am and I don’t think you’re grasping the importance of the road trip snack. Close your eyes.”
A couple of kids had just entered the aisle with us, laughing and searching each shelf for something specific.
“Don’t worry about them. Close your eyes.”
I sighed but closed my eyes.
“Imagine we’re driving along and we make a wrong turn and get lost in a dense forest.”
“Is there a forest on the way to UCLA?”
“Shhh . . .” He pushed a finger to my lips and I couldn’t help but laugh. “We’re visualizing, Gia, visualizing.”
“Right. Forest,” I said sloppily against his finger.
He moved his hand to my shoulder and I wasn’t sure if he leaned closer, but his voice seemed both louder and quieter at the same time. “We run out of gas in our attempt to find our way out and get trapped in the forest for three days straight. I, being fearless and strong, decide to leave the car and search out help.”