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I drum my fingers on top of the wheel to the beat of the song flowing from the radio. “Okay, favorite instrument, then?”
“Um, I don’t know. I can’t play anything but I really like the sound of the violin.” She briefly considers her next question. “Why do you always wear that ring?”
“That’s a pretty random question.”
“I’m just wondering why you wear it a lot. It looks kind of… feminine.” She bites her lip, looking guilty. “Sorry, that probably sounded rude.”
“No, it’s fine.” I graze my thumbnail across a diamond on the band. “It’s the only present my mother’s ever given me. She said it was my grandfather’s who I’ve never met, but I’m not quite sure how true that story is. If it is his, though, then he had pretty girly taste.” I can tell she feels sorry for me. Not wanting a pity party, I ask my next question. “Favorite eye color?”
“That’s really your next question?”
“It’s a very important question.”
“Okay, green.” She rolls her tongue in her mouth to keep from laughing.
“Ouch, that one hurt.” I mock being offended.
“All right, I was lying. It’s actually hazel.”
“Go figure. My eyes are hazel.”
“Really?” Her jaw falls open, and she pretends to be shocked. “I’ve never noticed.”
“Ouch again.” I press my hand to my chest, pretending to be deeply wounded.
She laughs, throwing her head back, and it’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
“Favorite trip?” she asks after her laughter silences.
“This can’t be your—”
I cut her off. “This is the only one I’ve been on besides when I drove out here. And I was covered with bruises and had a broken arm then, so the trip pretty much sucked.”
She swallows hard. “Why did you have bruises and a broken arm?”
I shrug indifferently. I didn’t mean to say it aloud and ruin our fun. Damn speed game. I don’t have time to think before I speak. “I got into a fight with one of my stepfather’s.”
She stammers, “I-I’m sorry… I never knew things were that bad for you.”
“It’s not a big deal. The past is the past.” I lopsidedly smile. “And now I get to be on the same trip with you, so everything turned out okay in my opinion. Well, as okay as the situation can be.”
The air grows heavy, yet there’s a charge to it, a buzz that comes before lightning.
“Everything’s going to be okay.” Clara places a hand on my knee, her fingers trembling the slightest bit.
“I hope so,” I reply thickly. “I’m not positive that it’s going to be, though. But at least I’ll know what happened to her and won’t have to spend my nights creating crazy what if scenarios.”
“If this does end… badly, just know I’ll be here for you,” she continues, giving my knee a gentle squeeze. “I may suck at a lot of stuff, but I’m a pro when it comes to coping with the hard stuff.”
I search her eyes, noting they’re starting to water up. “Like with your dad?”
“And other stuff…” She withdraws her hand and faces forward again. “Look, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about me that hardly anyone knows about me.”
“I already knew that.”
“I can just tell sometimes.” When she frowns, I add, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you what your secrets are. Just know that I’m here for you if you ever feel like you need to tell someone and get some stuff off your chest.”
She bobs her head up and down, staring out the window. “Thank you. You’re a good friend.”
There’s that word again, the anti-Christ of my life. Friend.
I’m just crossing my fingers that, by the end of the trip, things might change. That maybe, just maybe, Clara will finally open up to me, and we can move forward in our relationship.
At around four o’clock in the morning, we stop in a town in Indiana and get a motel room. I took over driving around three o’clock, so I’m sporting my glasses. On top of that, my hair is in a messy bun, my clothes are wrinkled, and the stench of junk food oozes from my pores. Jax is seeing me at my worst right now. Thankfully, he’s already seen me like this quite a few times so it doesn’t bother me.
“I so need a shower,” I announce as we walk into the motel room.
Jax peeks inside a doorway to our right. “Well, you’re in luck. There’s a shower-bathtub combo in there that looks semi-decent. That is, if you don’t mind dark rings around the tub.”
I make a gagging noise. “I think I’ll keep my flip-flops on the entire time.”
We had to go cheap since Jax doesn’t have a ton of money. I offered to chip in even though I can’t afford to, and was relieved when he gave me an are-you-kidding-me look.
The room has the basics: a queen bed, a nightstand, and a television. The air is musty and dirt stains the carpet, but it works for me.
“I feel like this is an adventure.” I drop my bag onto the floor, fling the curtain open, and peer out at the view of the freeway. “Slumming it in cheap motels, cruising on road trips. All that’s left to do is hit up a rave, and I’ll be able to check off all the things I missed out on when I was graduating.”