After I crawl back behind her, I lean around the edge of her seat and say, “Where are you going, anyway?”
She tells me Idaho, but I think there’s more to her answer than that. I can’t put my finger on it, but I get the feeling she’s either lying, which is probably a good thing because I’m a total stranger, or she’s hiding something else.
I let it go for now and tell her where I’m heading and then duck back in my seat behind her.
The man three seats up just looked at her again. I’m about ready to bash his f**king brains in right now, just for looking.
Hours later, the bus pulls into a rest stop and the driver gives us all fifteen minutes to get out, stretch our legs and get something to eat. I watch the girl head inside toward the restrooms and I’m the first in line to order food. I get my food and head back outside, taking a seat on the grass next to the parking lot. The pervert walks past me, stepping back inside the bus by himself.
I manage to talk her into sitting with me. She’s hesitant at first, but apparently I’m charming enough. My mom always told me I was her charming middle-child. I guess she was right all along.
We talk for a minute or two about why I’m going to Wyoming and why she’s going to Idaho. I’m still trying to figure her out, what it is about her that I can’t quite place, but at the same time trying to force myself not to be attracted to her because it’s like I just know she’s jailbait, or she’s going to lie about it.
But she looks close to my age, younger than me, but we can’t be too far apart.
Goddammit! Why am I even considering an attraction to her? My dad is dying right now as I sit here on the grass next to her. I shouldn’t be thinking about anything other than my dad and what I’m going to say to him if I do manage to get to Wyoming before he passes.
“What’s your name?” I ask, setting my drink on the grass and trying to push thoughts of my dad’s death somewhere else in my mind.
She thinks about it for a minute, probably wondering whether she should tell me the truth, or not. “Cam,” she finally answers.
“Short for what?”
“I’m Andrew. Andrew Parrish.”
She seems a little shy.
“So, how old are you?” she asks and it completely surprises me. Maybe she’s not jailbait, after all, because underage girls, when they want to lie about their age, usually steer clear of this topic at all costs.
I’m hopeful now that maybe she’s legal. Yeah, I really want her to be….
“Twenty-five,” I say. “What about you?” I can’t breathe all of a sudden.
“Twenty,” she says.
I think about her answer for a moment, pursing my lips. I’m still not sure if she’s lying, but maybe after more time with her on this journey that seems to have brought us together, I will find out the truth eventually.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, twenty-year-old Cam short for Camryn heading to Idaho to see her sister who just had a baby.”
I smile. We talk for a few minutes more—eight minutes to be exact—about this and that and I screw with her head some more because that spunky mouth of hers deserves it.
Actually, I think she likes it, the way I treat her. I can tell there’s an attraction. Though small, I sense it. And it can’t really be because of the way I look—hell, my breath probably smells like ass right now and I haven’t had a shower today—if it was because of looks, unlike most girls who are ever into me, she turned me down already. She didn’t want me sitting next to her on that bus. She wasn’t shy to tell me to turn my music down, with a snippy-ass attitude at that. She got pissed when I accused her of having Bieber Fever (it pisses me off that I even know what the f**k that means—I blame that on society) and I get the feeling that she would have no problem kicking me in the nuts if I touched her in an inappropriate way. Not that I would. Hell no. But it’s good to know that she’s the type.
Hell yeah, I like this girl.
We board the bus and I crawl back in my seat, letting my legs stretch out into the aisle and then I see her white tennis shoes poke out from her aisle seat and I smile at the thought that I’d been interesting enough for her to take ideas from. I check on her about twenty minutes later and just like I thought, she’s passed out cold.
I turn the music back up and listen to it until I fall asleep, too, and wake up the next morning long before she does.
She pops her head over the top of her seat and I smile and wave a finger at her.
She’s even prettier in the daylight.
“TEN MINUTES,” I SAY, “and we’re off this tin can.”
Andrew grins and pulls his back away from the seat and goes to put his MP3 player away.
I’m not exactly sure why I felt the need to tell him.
“Did you sleep better?” he asks, zipping up his bag.
“Yeah, actually I did,” I say, reaching around to feel the back of my neck where I don’t feel any twisted muscles this time. “Thanks for the involuntary idea.”
“You’re very welcome,” he says with a huge grin.
“Denver?” he asks, looking up at me.
I’m assuming he’s asking if that’s my next stop. “Yeah, almost seven hours away.”
Andrew shakes his head, seeming as dissatisfied with that time-frame as I am.
Ten minutes later and the bus pulls into the Garden City station. There are three times as many people at this station than there were at the last one and this worries me. I make way my through the terminal and to the first empty seat I see because they are filling up quickly. Andrew slips around a corner underneath the vending area sign and comes back with a Mountain Dew and a bag of chips.
He sits down beside me and cracks the top on the soda can.
“What?” he asks looking over at me.
I didn’t notice I had been watching him gulp that soda down with a disgusted look on my face.
“Nothing,” I say, looking away, “I just think it’s gross.”
I hear him laugh under his breath beside me and then the chip bag rattles open.
“You seem to think a lot of stuff is gross.”
I look over at him again, positioning my bag on my lap. “When was the last time you ate something less….heart-attack inducing?”
He crunches another chip and swallows. “I eat whatever I want to eat—what are you, one of those uppity vegetarian girls that complain about how fast food is making the country fat?”
“I’m not one of those,” I say, “but I think the uppity vegetarian girls might be onto something.”
He chomps down on a couple more chips and takes a swig of his soda, grinning over at me.
“Fast food doesn’t make people fat,” he says steadily chewing away. “People make their own choices. Fast food restaurants are just bankin’ good on the stupidity of Americans who choose to eat their food.”
“Are you calling yourself a stupid American?” I grin right back at him.
He shrugs. “I guess I am when my options are limited to vending machines and burger joints.”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, like you’d actually choose to eat something better if you had the choice to make. I don’t buy that.”
I think I’m getting better at these comebacks.
He laughs out loud. “Hell yeah I’d choose something better. I’ll take a fifty-dollar steak over a day-old burger any day, or a beer over a Mountain Dew.”
I shake my head, but can’t wipe the faint grin off my face.
“What do you normally eat, anyway?” he asks. “Salads and tofu?”
“Bleh,” I say with a wrinkled face. “No way in hell would I ever eat tofu and salads are just weight-loss fads.” I pause and grin over at him. “Honestly?”
“Well, yeah—spit it out,” he says.
He’s looking at me as though I’m something funny and cute that needs to be studied.
“I like SpaghettiO’s with meatballs and sushi.”
“What, like all mixed together?” Now he looks quietly disgusted.
It takes me a few seconds to catch on.
“Oh, no,” I say, shaking my head back and forth, “that would be gross, too, by the way.”
He smiles, looking relieved.
“I’m not big on steak,” I go on, “but I’d eat one if offered to me, I guess.”
“Oh, so you’re asking me to ask you on a date?” His grin just got wider.
My eyes bulge and my mouth falls open. “No!” I say, practically blushing. “I was just saying that—”
Andrew laughs and takes another swig.
“I know, I know,” he says, “don’t worry. I’d never consider asking you on a date.”
My eyes and mouth get even bigger and my face flushes hot.
He laughs even louder.
“Damn, girl,” he says, still with laughter in his voice, “you don’t catch on too quick, do you?”
He frowns, too, but he’s still sort of smiling at the same time.
“I’ll tell you what,” he says, looking a bit more serious, “if we happen to get lucky enough to find a steakhouse at one of our rest stops that can cook a steak in the fifteen minutes we have before the bus leaves us behind, then I’ll buy you one and let you decide if while we eat our steaks together on the bus it’s a date, or not.”
“Well, I can tell you now that it won’t be a date.”
He smiles crookedly.
“Then it won’t be,” he says. “I can live with that.”
I think he’s done with the topic, but then suddenly he adds, “But then what would it be, if not a date?”
“What do you mean?” I say. “It would be a friendship thing, I guess. Y’know, two people who happen to be sharing a meal together.”
“Oh,” he says with a sparkle in his eyes, “so now we’re friends?”
That catches me off-guard. He’s good. I give it a moment’s thought, pursing my lips in contemplation.
“Sure,” I say. “I guess we are sort of friends at least until Wyoming.”
He reaches over and offers his hand to me. Reluctantly, I shake it. His grip is gentle, but firm and his smile is genuine and kind.
“Friends until Wyoming it is then,” he says, shaking my hand once and letting go.
I’m not sure what just happened, but I don’t feel like I’ve done anything I’m going to regret later. I guess there’s nothing wrong with having a traveling ‘friend’. I can think of a hundred other kinds of people who Andrew could be and it could be worse. But he seems harmless and I admit he’s interesting to talk to. He’s not an old lady looking to tell me stories of when she was my age, or an older delusional man who still thinks he’s as hot as he was when he was seventeen and that somehow he thinks I might be able to see him for what he used to look like. No, Andrew is right there in the goldilocks zone. Sure, it’d be better for many different reasons if he was a girl, but at least he’s close to my age and he’s not at all ugly. No, Andrew Parrish is far from being anywhere near the Ugly Tree.