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I shake my head, even though I’m starving. But I feel like shit. Not only because I’m heading home, but because I can tell Clara doesn’t want to be here with me.
She hesitates then heads inside the gas station while I climb out of the Jeep, scan my card, then recline against the pump as I wait for the tank to fill up.
Through the store window, I spot Clara when she exits the bathroom. She veers to the right and over to the soda section. Her lips are moving, and she keeps tugging her hand through her hair as if she’s freaking out. She does this movement where she raises her hands in front of her, like she’s chewing out the air, then she shakes her head, lowers her hands, and yanks open the cooler door. After snatching up a few sodas, she makes her way down an aisle and to the register.
The cashier is a guy in his mid-twenties with a beard and hair to his shoulders. He flashes Clara a few smiles, says something and then laughs. He’s probably flirting with her. I don’t blame him. Even in frayed shorts and a faded tank top, she’s sexy as hell.
When she walks out of the store, my suspicions are confirmed as the cashier leans over the counter and checks out her ass. He watches her all the way to the Jeep then notices me noticing him and hastily looks at the register.
“Hey.” Clara smiles as she strolls up to me with a bag full of goodies in her hand.
“Hey?” I reply more as a question, her sudden cheery attitude throwing me off.
She offers me another smile then gets in the car, right as the gas pump clicks. I remove the nozzle and collect my receipt before sliding into the driver’s seat.
Clara retrieves a bottle of Dr. Pepper from the bag and places it into the cup-holder. “I got you two of these because I know they’re your favorite.” She digs around in the bag. “And a bag of Cheetos, M&Ms, and mints.” She grins proudly. “I think I got all your favorites.”
“Yeah… you did,” I turn the engine while studying her. “Did you do a line of crack in the bathroom or something?”
“No, I was planning on saving that for the motel room,” she jokes. “Why?”
“Because you seem a lot happier than you did five minutes ago. I mean, you’ve barely said two words to me the last four hundred miles.”
“I know.” Sighing, she leans over the console to put the bag of snacks on the backseat. “I’ve been a super crappy road trip buddy so far, which is really sucky of me. Don’t worry, though. I gave myself a pep talk while I was in the store, so I’m back in the game.”
“Is that what your weird little hand thingy was? Because it looked like you were chewing out the coolers.”
She scratches the back of her neck. “I probably should have done it while I was in the bathroom. I think the cashier thought I was nuts.”
“I doubt that.” I flip on the headlights. “He was checking out your ass while you were walking out.”
“Can you really blame him? I have a great ass.”
“Yes, you do,” I agree as I drive onto the road and head toward the onramp, glad to have my Clara back.
She grins as she tears open a bag of Skittles, but then her expression turns serious. “Jax, I’m really sorry for being a downer. I just felt a little guilty for leaving my mom at home.”
“Why? Because she gets lonely?” I subtly press for information, hoping I can figure out what on earth goes on at her home.
“Kind of…” She shakes her head. “Can we forget I said anything?”
I try to read her, but she lowers her chin and allows her hair to fall forward to block her face.
“Okay, sure.” I focus on the road. It’s late enough that the highway is pretty desolate, peaceful, quiet, which makes the drive relaxing.
“So, how far are we going to go before we pull over and sleep?” Clara asks as she turns on “Can’t Forget You” by My Darkest Days. She places the iPod back into the stand on the dash then slips her flip-flops off and rests back in the seat. “Or are we just going to do rotation and cruise the whole way through?”
“That really all depends.”
“On how well of a night driver you are.” Holding onto the steering wheel with one hand, I pick up the soda and fumble to twist the lid off. “I can go for a while, but I’m not going to be able to stay awake the entire way.”
Clara must get tired of watching me struggle because she snatches the bottle from my hand and unscrews the cap before returning it. “Truthfully, I’m not the best. I actually have to wear glasses when I drive at night.”
“Really? I don’t ever remember you wearing glasses.” I take a drink of the soda then set the bottle back in the holder.
“That’s because I try not to drive at night solely because of that.”
“I bet you look cute in them.” I gather her hair in my hand and pile it up on top of her head. “Like a naughty librarian. Maybe we could do a recap of Friday night when we pull over. Only this time, you can pretend to be a naughty librarian.”
“And what would you be?”
I shrug. “A guy who wants to do a naughty librarian.”
She snorts a laugh, but then her shoulders slouch. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to bring up our arrangement to you.” She scratches at the corner of her eye as she stares at the green glow of the stereo. “I think we should set some new ground rules for this trip.”