At Mooney’s Diner he emptied the rest of the flask into a chocolate milkshake. “You want some?”
“I shouldn’t, but thanks,” I said.
“Do you think you’re fat or something?” Slade said.
“No.” My face must have turned four different shades of purple.
“Sorry, but you just don’t seem like the kind of girl who would worry about dumb stuff like that,” he said.
I felt simultaneous panic and relief. I grabbed the milkshake and took a big chug, no straw, then wiped my face. His eyes proved it was funny.
“You’re always reading. What are you always reading?” I asked.
“Detective stories. Pulp. Jonah Wiles,” he said. “He wrote them near Jacksonville, Florida. I was going to take a road trip to see his house with Best money. We’ve been working way overtime.”
“So are you going?”
“I was supposed to go with Miri,” he said. I could see his posture change, beginning at the shoulders. He stirred the melted milkshake at the bottom of the glass.
“Lucy talks about you so much I feel like I’m already bored of you,” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that in a mean way, just that I feel like I know you.”
“Anyways, I don’t have plans for winter break besides that.”
“Maybe I’ll just go alone. I really want to see the house. He wrote at least 40 of his novels there.”
“I used to love Agatha Christie,” I said. “Sometimes I still pretend I’m solving mysteries, but not, like, murder. Everyday ones—sorry, that’s dumb.”
“No it isn’t,” he said. He got this weird look on his face.
“If you don’t have plans, maybe you should come with me,” he said. He sucked the last drops of whiskey milkshake out of the straw.
We stopped just over the North Carolina border. We’d started late. It was about two in the morning. Slade had picked a camping site as our destination for the day. We rolled the RV in, and he got out to talk to a guy in a booth and came back a minute later.
“Um, it’s 45 dollars and I’ve only got a 20,” he said. “You get the five, and we’ll make it even later?”
“Oh.” I pulled out my wallet and handed over 25 bucks. He paid, and we drove into our little spot. We hadn’t paid the extra for water or gas, so there was nothing to do but go to bed. He climbed up the bunk ladder first, then threw down the sweater he’d been wearing.
“Sorry,” he said.
“No problem, you missed,” I said. I got out of my jeans and into a pair of shorts and climbed up too. He’d turned on a little reading light and it was very bright and his facial hair was really dark and sharp-looking. I don’t know that I’d ever been that close to facial hair before. I wished I was wearing something not exactly more sexy, but definitely more grown up than my T-shirt from a dance recital I was in in middle school. My shorts were the ones I wore to gym class. It was super cold and I got under all the blankets. They smelled kind of musty.
“I got the blankets from my basement,” Slade said.
“They smell sort of weird,” I said. “But it’s OK.”
“OK, good. Well, goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I stayed on my back and stared up at the low ceiling. “Hey—“
“I’m glad I came.”
The night he’d asked me at Mooney’s, I wasn’t sure whether it was a joke. And he was drunk. But the next day at Best he asked me in a whisper if I was still coming. He looked like a lost dog, his white jacket kind of big at the shoulders. I said yes enthusiastically and even flipped my hair like Lucy might have, but I didn’t tell her anything about it. He asked me to bring an Agatha Christie book. I chose Endless Night.
I felt him shift next to me. He’d been kind of lying on his stomach, but far from me in the dark. Now it felt like he’d come closer. I felt him touch my arm, right above the elbow. I thought about my dark arm hair—how there was too much of it for a girl—and felt embarrassed. I turned toward him and felt the scratch and pull of his face on mine. His mouth was open and wet, and I did my best to keep up with his frantic tongue. His hand was in my unwashed hair. We struggled like that for a minute, then I pulled away. We lay there in the dark and looked at each other—at least I was looking at him, and I think I know he was looking at me, too. I reached out and ran my fingers through his hair. It was sort of sticky, maybe with some kind of man hair gel, but I didn’t care. I thought he might get mad at me for messing it up, but he didn’t. He reached out and boinged a curl, which I usually hate but I didn’t mind.
“Goodnight,” he said.
“Goodnight.” I turned my back to him and wiped our spit off my chin.
The next morning we tried to start the RV, and it wouldn’t. I walked to a store down the road. It wasn’t cold out at all. We ate the Pop-Tarts I bought, and Slade paced around the back of the RV.
“I don’t know much about cars, but I asked the camp guy, and he said it’s pretty bad. He’s going to ask another guy to come look at it.”
The guy came three hours later. Slade was reading Endless Night, and I was reading Wiles’s All Roads Lead to Murder. I don’t know that I liked it. It was kind of boring the way the guy was just talking and harassing people the whole time, and I barely knew what he was thinking other than cigarette, drink, gun, girl. I didn’t want to offend Slade, though. The guy came over and said the RV was a goner.
It suddenly hit me that I was in North Carolina, some seven hours away from home, and no one knew I was here except for Slade and this RV guy and Jonah Wiles’s spirit, trapped in an old paperback. That morning I’d texted my dad, “Morning! Eating pancakes” and hadn’t heard back. I could tell Slade was upset. Our makeout was already miles and years ago. He smiled at me, and I could tell that whatever had suddenly come over him had passed just as quickly. We packed up our bags and asked the RV guy for a ride to the bus station. We left the thing where it was and didn’t mention whether we were coming back for it.
We made it home in 20 hours. I read Wiles and some of the Christie when Slade was done with it. We ate at Wendy’s three times because that’s the only fast food he liked. I thought about Miri—not the girl, the name. The idea of her, and what it was in his head. I thought that maybe one day I would be that idea for someone else, and I hoped that person wouldn’t be so stupid as to take their brother’s sister’s friend on a trip instead of me.
Slade and I didn’t belong together—that much was clear—which made it all the harder to explain to my father why we were together when he picked me up from the station. He knew something wasn’t right. But he didn’t say anything about it. He just took me home and fed me dinner, and then it was time to go to Mom’s. Don’t ask me how we never told Lucy about it, or Max. When I went back to school, people still opened and closed their lockers, balled up their lunch bags, and sighed through their classes. I was still just a sophomore. ♦