“I SAID I’ll BE there,” Derek said testily. “Look, I need a favor.”
A loud sigh. “What is it? You need me to send somebody to pick you up?”
“No, no… but can you put something on your credit card for me?”
Ryan’s voice immediately became super-suspicious. “…what, exactly?”
He relaxed. “Oh, yeah, sure. Where are you – Hertz? Enterprise?”
“No, a dealership.”
There was a long pause.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“Dude, you know I’ll pay you back – ”
“Why don’t you just RENT one?”
“That’s what I said!” I called out.
“Listen to Kaitlyn, sounds like she’s the only grown-up there – ”
“Uh, I’m a grown-up,” the salesman volunteered. Then, excitedly: “Hi, Ryan!”
“What? Who’s that?”
“That’s Tad. He’s going to sell me a 1969 Mercedes convertible.”
Stunned silence. Then –
“It’s beautiful, man. You gotta see it,” Derek enthused.
“It really is beautiful,” Tad agreed.
“And how much IS this beautiful car, exactly?”
“Ninety-five,” Derek said.
“Ninety-five hundred? That’s not so – ”
“Thousand,” I spoke up. “Ninety-five thousand.”
There was a choking sound on the other end of the line.
Derek and Tad both just scowled at me like I was the big spoilsport of the party.
“Ninety-five thousand DOLLARS?”
“Dude, you have an American Express Black Card – you can totally put this on there,” Derek cajoled him.
“Derek – this is CRAZY – ”
“Come on, man.”
“Get something cheaper!”
“But I want THIS one.”
“Derek – ”
“Come on, you handle my money – just take it out of my account and pay yourself back.”
I frowned. “He handles your bank account?!”
“Derek – ”
“I’d hate to miss the show tonight,” Derek said nonchalantly.
There was a pause on the other end.
“You DICK,” Ryan said, though he didn’t sound quite as outraged as the bare-bones words might suggest.
“This is Cleveland all OVER again – ”
“Not if you help me out, it isn’t.”
Another sigh – this time, resigned. “If I do this for you, do you PROMISE me you’ll be at the show on time?”
“Yes. Uh… where’s the show?”
“This is NOT inspiring my confidence.”
“I’ve got to know where to go, don’t I? So where’s the fuckin’ show?”
“Viejas Arena. San Diego State University.”
Derek looked at Tad. “Can you get me directions to that?”
Tad could not have been happier to help out. “Oh, yeah, for sure!”
“Okay. I’ll be there,” Derek reassured Ryan.
“I’m NOT messing around, Derek – ”
“I’ll BE there.”
“FINE. Uh… what’s the sales guy’s name again?”
“Hi Ryan! It’s Tad,” the salesman said cheerily.
“Mm,” Ryan muttered. “You take American Express, right, Tad?”
“Yes we do!”
Fifteen minutes later, we were on the road to San Diego in a powder-blue 1969 Mercedes convertible, fully paid for.
And I have it admit…
…it was pretty fucking awesome.
We took the 5 freeway south along the coast and drank in the sunshine and views. Derek drove, and I relished the warm wind in my hair – although I hated to think what I would look like after we stopped.
No makeup and a fright wig. Ugh.
“I want to stop and see the ocean. You want to stop and see the ocean?” Derek asked.
“But the show – ”
“We’ve got plenty of time.”
“But you told the sales guy we had to hit the road so you could make it in time!”
He made a pffff sound. “Who the hell wants to hang out all day in a car lot?”
Which is how we wound up in Carlsbad, California for a few hours.
I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion, so once we got off the interstate we found a beach shop and bought a sundress thing and flip-flops for me to wear – plus a cheap pair of sunglasses. Derek was already wearing his Maui Jims, as always.
I switched clothes in the changing room while Derek asked the clerk about the prettiest, least crowded spots nearby. Once I joined him, we were off to the races.
We reached a semi-deserted cove that was apparently a favorite of the locals. Derek took off his boots, rolled up his jeans past his calves, and held my hand as we walked through the sand, the water rushing over our feet.
“You’re really impulsive,” I said as we strolled along.
“What do you mean?”
“Buying a car out of nowhere, just because you felt like it?”
He smiled. “Asking a girl you’ve just met to throw away her plans and stay with you, just because you fell in love with her?”
I leaned my head against his shoulder. “…oh yeah…”
“…oh yeah,” he mimicked me, and I tickled him. We laughed and battled back and forth in the surf until the hem of my dress and the cuffs of his pants were soaked, and then we called a truce.
“So I guess you’ve always been impulsive, then,” I said.
“Yeah… I guess I got it from my dad.”
“Oh, I didn’t tell you, but I really liked you singing ‘Under The Bridge’ and dedicating it to your dad last night! That was really sweet,” I said, and squeezed his hand.
He just smiled serenely.
“Didn’t you say he lived in Southern California?” I asked.
“Did you invite him to the show?”
“Oh… when was the last time you talked to him?”
“When he told me I should move with my mom and Trevor to Athens.”
I felt like I had stepped into a minefield. Four years ago, Derek had told me his father was an addict. When his father told him to leave Los Angeles and go with his mother and step-father, Derek was convinced that his mom had bribed his dad to say it with a couple of hundred dollars for drugs.
“Oh.” I tried to reach for a silver lining. “Maybe he found out about the show and came anyway.”
“Why? Don’t you think he’d want to see his son be a huge star?”
“Probably… but he died a couple of years ago.”
I stopped in my tracks, horrified.
“Oh Derek… I’m so sorry…”
He turned around to face me. “It’s okay. I’m okay with it.”
“How did he die?”
“Oh my God… I’m so sorry…”
He pulled me to his side and we started walking again.
“It’s okay. I knew it was coming, one way or another. The last time I saw him, he was in bad shape. It was either going to be an overdose, or AIDS, or a drug deal gone bad, or owing money to somebody and getting shot. Anybody could see it coming from a mile away… but it was still a shock when it happened.”
“Did you… did you get to go to the funeral?”
He gave the barest hint of a smile, like the memory was bittersweet.
“Yeah, I did. My mother didn’t want to go – actually, Trevor didn’t want her to go, so she didn’t. And he wasn’t about to let her pay for my plane ticket, not after all the times I’d told him to go fuck himself. So I was in kind of a bind.
“It happened a few months after Killian and Riley joined the band. We weren’t playing frat gigs anymore, so I was basically broke. Couldn’t afford a last-minute plane ticket. Ryan saved me. He was on the outs with his parents, so he didn’t have the money to loan me, either, but we drove cross-country in his car, non-stop, taking turns driving and sleeping in the back seat. We made it in just under two days. He went with me to the funeral. There weren’t that many people there… just us, my aunt, and a bunch of my dad’s musician friends from back in the day…”
He was staring out at the horizon, caught up in another time, another place.
“Ryan’s a good friend, isn’t he?” I asked quietly.
He smiled at me. “The best.”
I leaned my head against him. “I’m sorry it happened. I wish he could have seen you the other night.”
“Yeah… me too. He would’ve gotten a huge kick out of it. If he’d been there, I would’ve had him up on stage… so I could sing it with him one last time.”
We walked in silence for the next few minutes, him holding me, and me holding him, no sounds but the water washing in all around us and the seagulls above us in the air.
Things weren’t morose for long. We walked back to where we’d parked the car and found a Greek place with gyros.
“For old times’ sake,” Derek said, and winked.
The sun was getting low in the sky when we climbed back in the car and headed south for San Diego.
We got into the city limits just as the sun was setting. The sky was on fire with gorgeous oranges and reds, and I snuggled next to Derek as he drove along the freeway.