“Yeah,” I say, but I feel weird admitting it to him, “I like my stuff neat and everything has to have a place.”
Andrew laughs and goes back to sifting through the shirts. Without really looking at them much, he yanks a few shirts and pairs of jeans from the hangers and throws them over his arm.
“Isn’t that stressful?” he asks.
“What? Hanging my clothes up neatly?”
He smiles and shoves the small mound of clothes into my arms.
I look down at them awkwardly and back up at him.
“Never mind,” he says and points behind me in the room. “Can you put those in that duffle bag hanging from the workout bench?”
“Sure,” I say and carry them over.
First I set them down on the black vinyl bench and then grab the duffle bag hanging from the weights.
“So, where are we going to go first?” I ask, folding the shirt on top of the pile.
He’s still rummaging through the closet.
“No, no,” he says from inside; his voice is kind of muffled, “no outlines, Camryn. We’re just going to get into the car and drive. No maps or plans or—.” He’s popped his head out of the closet and his voice is clearer. “What are you doing?”
I look up, the second shirt from the pile already in a half-fold.
“I’m folding them for you.”
I hear a thump-thump as he drops a pair of black running shoes on the floor and emerges from the closet towards me. When he makes it over, he looks at me like I’ve done something wrong and takes the half-folded shirt from my hands.
“Don’t be so perfect, babe; just shove them in the bag.”
He does it for me as if to show me how easy it is.
I don’t know which has my attention more: his lesson in disorganization, or why my stomach flip-flopped when he called me ‘babe’.
I shrug and let him have his way with his clothes.
“What you wear really doesn’t matter much,” he says, walking back to the closet. “All that matters is where you’re going and what you’re doing while you’re wearing it.”
He tosses the black running shoes to me, one at a time, and I catch them. “Shove those in there, too, if you don’t mind.”
I do exactly what he says, literally shoving them inside the bag and I cringe while doing it. Good thing the bottoms of the shoes look like they’ve never been worn, otherwise I would’ve had to protest.
“You know what I find sexy in a girl?”
He’s standing with one muscular arm raised high above his head as he searches through some boxes on the top shelf of the closet. I can see the very end of that tattoo he has down his left side, peeking just at the edge of his shirt.
“Ummm, I’m not sure,” I say. “Girls who wear wrinkled clothes?” I scrunch up my nose.
“Girls who just get up and throw something on,” he answers and takes down a shoe box.
He walks back out with it perched on the palm of his hand.
“That just-got-up-and-don’t-give-a-shit look is sexy.”
“I get it,” I say. “You’re one of those guys who despise makeup and perfume and all that stuff that makes girls, girls.”
He hands me the shoebox and just like with the clothes, I look down at it with vague question.
Andrew smiles. “Nah, I don’t hate it, I just think simple is sexy, is all.”
“What do you want me to do with this?”
I pat the top of the shoe box with my finger.
I glance down at it, uncertain, and back up at him. He nods once to urge me.
I lift the red top off the box and stare down at a bunch of CD’s in their original jewel cases.
“My dad was too lazy to put an MP3 player in his car,” he begins, “and when traveling you can’t always get the best radio reception—sometimes you can’t find a decent station at all.”
He takes the shoebox top from my hand.
“That’ll be our official playlist.” He smiles hugely, revealing all of his straight, white teeth.
Me, not so much. I grimace and scrunch up one side of my mouth sourly.
Everything is here, all of the bands he mentioned when I met him on the bus and several others I’ve never heard of. I’m pretty confident that I’ve heard ninety-percent of the music I’m staring at at one time or another being around my parents. But if anyone were to ask me the name of this or that song, or what album it’s from, or what band sings it, I probably wouldn’t know.
“Great,” I say sarcastically, frown-smiling at him with a wrinkled nose.
His smile just gets bigger. I think he loves torturing me.
SHE’S CUTE WHEN I’M torturing her. Because she enjoys it.
I don’t know how I got myself into this, but I do know that as much as my conscience is ripping into my f**king ears, telling me to leave her alone, I can’t. I don’t want to.
We’ve already gone too far.
I know I should’ve left it at the bus station, bought her a First Class plane ticket home so she would feel obligated to use it since it cost so much, then call her a cab and had it drop her off at the airport.
I should never have let her leave with me, because now, I know that I won’t be able to let her go. I have to show her first. It’s mandatory now. I have to show her everything. She might get hurt in the end after all is said and done, but at least she’ll be able to go back home to North Carolina with something more to look forward to in her life.
I take the shoebox from her hands and place the top back over it and set it on top of the opened duffle bag. She watches me as I throw open the top dresser drawer and fish out a few clean pairs of boxers and socks and then shove them down inside the bag, too. All of my basic hygiene necessities are in the bag out in the car that I brought on the bus with me.
I hoist the duffle bag strap over my shoulder and look at her.
“Are you ready?”
“I guess so,” she says.
“Wait, you guess?” I ask, stepping up to her. “You either are, or you aren’t.”
She smiles up at me with those beautiful crystal blue eyes. “Yes, I’m definitely ready.”
“Good, but why the hesitation?”
She shakes her head softly to say I’m wrong.
“Absolutely no hesitation,” she says. “All of this is just…strange, you know? But in a good way.”
She looks like she’s trying to untangle something in her head. Obviously, she’s got a lot on her mind.
“You’re right,” I say. “It is kind of strange—OK, it’s a lot strange because it’s not natural, stepping out of the box like this.” I peer in at her, forcing her to catch my eyes. “But that’s the whole point.”
Her smile brightens as though my words rang a little bell inside her mind.
She nods and says with a fun and eager air, “Well, then what are we waiting for?”
We walk back out into the hall and just before we start to head down the stairs, I stop.
“Wait one second.”
She waits there at the top of the stairs and I turn back, passing my bedroom and head toward Aidan’s. His room is as pathetic as mine. I see his acoustic guitar sitting propped against the far wall and I walk over and grab it by the neck and carry it out.
“You play guitar?” Camryn asks as I lead her down the stairs.
“Yeah, I play some.”
ANDREW CHUCKS HIS BAG in the backseat with his smaller bag and mine and my purse. He’s a little more careful with the guitar, though, laying it neatly across the seat. We hop inside the vintage black car (with two white racing stripes down the center of the hood) and shut our doors at the same time.
He looks over at me.
I look over at him.
He thrusts the key in the ignition and the Chevelle roars to life.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m not afraid or worried or feel like I should stop this right now and just go home. Everything about it feels right; for the first time in a very long time, I feel like my life is back on track again, except on a very different sort of road, one in which I have no idea where it’s going. I can’t explain it…except that, well, like I said: it feels right.
Andrew punches the gas once we hit the entrance ramp and get on 87 going south.
I kind of like watching him drive, how he’s so casual even when he speeds past a few slow drivers. It doesn’t look like he’s trying to show off as he’s weaving between cars; it just looks like second-nature to him. I catch myself getting a glimpse every now and then of his muscled right arm as his hand grips the steering wheel. And as my eyes carefully scan the rest of him, I go right back to wondering about that tattoo hidden underneath that navy t-shirt which fits him so well.
We talk about whatever for a while; about that guitar being Aidan’s and that Aidan will probably blow up if he finds out that Andrew took it. Andrew doesn’t care. “He stole my socks once,” Andrew said.
“Your socks?” I said back with a rather screwed-up expression. And he looked over at me with an expression that read: hey; socks, guitars, deodorant—a possession is a possession.
I just laughed, still finding it ridiculous, but easily letting him slide.
We also got into a really deep conversation about the mystery of the single shoes that lie on the side of the freeways all across the United States.
“Girlfriend got pissed and tossed her boyfriend’s shit out the window,” Andrew had said.
“Yeah, that’s a possibility,” I said, “but I think a lot of them belong to hitchhikers, because most of them are raggedy.”
He glanced over at me awkwardly, as if waiting for the rest.
I nodded, “Well yeah, they do a lot of walking so I imagine their shoes get worn out fast. They’re walking along, their feet are hurting and they see a shoe—probably one of those tossed out by that angry girlfriend (I point at him to include his theory)—and seeing that it’s in better shape than the ones on his feet, he trades one out.”
“That’s stupid,” Andrew says.
My mouth parts with a spat of offended air. “It could happen!” I laugh and reach over and smack him on the arm. He just smiles at me.
And we went on and on about it, each of us coming up with an even stupider theory than the one before.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much.
We finally make it back into Denver nearly two hours later. It’s such a beautiful city with the vast mountains in the background that look like white clouds at their peaks, sprawled across the bright blue horizon. It’s still pretty early in the day and the sun is shining full-force.
When we make it into the heart of the city, Andrew slows the car to a forty mile per hour crawl.
“You have to tell me which way,” he says as we coast toward another entrance ramp.
He looks in three directions and then over at me.
Caught off-guard, my eyes dart around at each route and the closer we get to having to make a decision on which way to turn, the slower he drives.
Thirty-five miles per hour.