It wasn't as if she hadn't had that dream before; in fact, she had it regularly, as if her mind just wanted to punch through her head the mistake she'd made.
But was it a mistake? she wondered for the umpteenth million time.
She decided not to think about it, and slowly stretched. The passenger side of the Toyota had become a second home to her, but that didn't make it comfortable. Her muscles protested a little, but mostly it was just the stiffness of the position that bothered her. The car was also suddenly cold, and she shivered.
Sean was nowhere in sight.
A breath caught in her throat as she looked around and saw unfamilar
sights, heard unfamilar sounds; her heart began to hammer in her chest,
and she took short breaths. Where was Sean? Why was he gone?
She craned her neck to see where they were, but nothing gave clues to their
She tried to remember the direction they'd been heading when she'd fallen asleep. West, she recalled, back through Ohio and Indiana. She grimaced a little at the thought; she had no want to go back through Indiana. It was too dangerous for the two of them.
Actually he'd wanted to, which surprised her. He was always so cautious about these kinds of things, but now he seemed to throw that to the wind. She looked out the car window again and still didn't see him, and her heart began to pound a little harder. Where was he!!??! she thought, mind becoming desperate as her heart beat faster. She unbuckled her seatbelt and braced herself to get out of the car to go find him, but it was then that his lanky form graced her vision. She sighed and tried to calm herself, knowing that he would wonder why she'd appeared flustered.
"Hey," he said, getting in the car.
"Hey," she replied back, her voice trembling. Damn!!
"Are you okay?" he asked, his eyes concerned.
She took a couple of deep breaths and tried to appear calm. "I woke up, and you were gone, and I panicked," she said slowly.
He grinned a little. "Well, you always were a little paranoid,"
he said, voice laughing but reassuring.
She smiled back, and managed a chuckle.
"Next time, please leave a note," she said softly.
"I will," he said, and she believed him. She trusted him keenly, but if even if she didn't trust him, she'd still believe him. His "I will" declarations were few and far between and always kept.
Except for one, her mind reminded her bitterly, but she pushed it away. That wasn't right of her, after all he'd done, to critcize.
"Hey, where are we anyway?" she asked, sitting up and looking around, taking in more than a casual glance. She could now see they were actually in a parking lot near some seedy motel.
"I just rented us a room for the night," he said.
"A room?" she asked. "Why? Sleeping in the car never bothered anyone. You'd think we'd be used to it." Her words were accompanied by her soft half-grin, which made him smile in return. That half-smile always seemed to represent some kind of challenge to him.
"I thought it would be a nice gesture," he replied. "Besides, we need to talk, and this car isn't actually the place to do it."
"Why? Are we being bugged now? And you said I was paranoid," she said, and his now green-blue eyes frowned at her. His eyes had always intruiged her, for they changed with his moods, his facial expressions, and his clothing. They were liked a minature Sean reader that was a hundred percent accurate.
"No. Liz, come on!" he pleaded.
I'll follow you anywhere, Sean, the romantic in her sighed, but
she just smiled softly and said, "What
name did you invent this time? Or are we married?"
"No, we aren't married," he said gently. "The name is Lee. Nicole Lee. "
"Nice tribute," she said softly, then opened her door. "Shall we then?"
"We shall," he said, getting out. She could see now that the hotel was cheap; she'd learned to read the quality of a hotel from the way the sign looked. The gaudier, the cheaper. This sign had flashing lights and crudely done letters in flashy red glitter.
"Sean, one of these days we're going to have to win the lottery so we can stay in a decent hotel," she said as they walked up to their door. It reminded her vaguely of a storage units she'd seen in their travels. He fished out the key and fiddled with the door, not bothering to reply to her with anything but a grin.
He opened it and whispered in her ear, "I think the sign was just badly done."
She nodded as her eyes swept over the room. The carpet was a nice shade of tan with no stains or spills, and what she could see of the bathroom looked clean. She stepped inside and he followed, shutting the door swiftly behind her and closing the curtains.
"Sean, please," she said as she sat down on the one bed in the room, throwing her junk she'd fished from the car to her left. "We don't need to hide."
"Liz, this is a must here," he said, and she wondered at his enigmatic remark. He wondered too if she would buy it.
Why don't you just tell her? his mind wondered.
'Cause she would have my head for dinner, he replied to himself. Liz had a nasty temper sometimes, especially after she'd just woken up. Right now, though, she actually seemed in good spirits.
"A must here....why? If you didn't want them to think we're sleeping together, you should've gotten a double," she grinned.
"They only had a single," he confessed. "I hope you don't mind."
"Mind sleeping with you?" she asked. "No. But I warn you, if you even so much as breath on me while we're in bed together, I'll punch you."
"I'll try not to. I still remember how you whacked me just because my foot touched your leg," he grinned, then threw his junk near hers and sat down next to her. She shifted her stance so that she faced his profile, while he just seemed weary and non-moving. He probably is weary, she thought. He drives all the time.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I just feel like I need a long nap," he replied drily.
"Hmmm..."she said, then moved around to sit in back of him.
Slowly, she laid her hands on his
shoulders, pushing the loose fabric that formed his collar away from his neck. He shivered a little, and waited.
She cracked her fingers, than dug them into the tension that made up his muscles. He groaned in pain as she began to massage out the kinks that had tightened upon themselves until they made knots, and she took it gently at first, kneeding softly through the layers. He was quiet and still under the massage, concentrating on his breathing and not on the fine touch of the fingers. She took the time to study her friend, partner in crime, and occasionally, her husband.
That last one made her grin. If he's my husband, then he's been a little slack in his duties!! she thought, and the grin broaded. She made small circles across his back for a second--to which he straightened as if he'd been shocked--then resumed kneeding the muscle. Her thoughts drifted back again, sighing in her mind, Two years, and we haven't touched besides a hug, and never kissed. Two years of sleeping the same bed, and we've never woken up...surprised. Nicole would've thought me nuts, but I think our parents would be happy about it. She sighed. If they knew about it.
Her gaze drifted back to the man--I guess at 20 I can stop calling him a boy--in front of her, and she studied what she could of his good looks from the back. His hair was a pale brown that lay in silky strands across his head and was wonderfully manageable. She often wished her own mop was as easily to comb out or was so fine, but if wishes were horses, we'd all be riders. The muscles she worked beneath her fingers were strong, and the skin was soft and dry; Sean never seemed to sweat. She sighed softly, then withdrew her fingers and cracked them.
"Ugh," he said.
"What?" she asked playfully, resting her head on his shoulder.
"You stopped," he grinned.
"You say that a lot," she jested, and he shot her a nasty look. She just giggled and removed her head from the crook of his shoulder, rolling back so she lay flat on her back. He turned around, a smile on his face.
"That was a great massage," he said. "You do Jared proud."
"He was an awesome teacher," she replied, half stern and half girlish.
"He said you were a pretty good student, too," he replied.
"He said that about a lot of things," she said, grinning. "Especially on those late nights when we would read by the fire--when you were out foraging--and he would....well, you know."
"Uh-huh. He used to do the exact same thing with me," Sean shot back, keeping a perfectly straight face. She stared at him for a second, shocked, then began to choke on her own giggles. He laughed as well; while Jared was a mutual friend, he wasn't Liz's lover and certainly not his.
Why not? he asked himself suddenly, out of nowhere. Why couldn't Jared and Liz be lovers? They were alone enough at night together when you went out.
Well....I guess because Liz wouldn't do that to me.
Why? You don't own her. Maybe Jared took advantage of your platonic relationship. Those New Hampshire nights were cold, and did you notice that Liz slept.....
Liz kept smiling up at Sean until she saw his face change. It became quiet, thoughtful, and very serious. Instantly, she felt something stir inside her, telling her he was thinking wrong again, that he was bound to start asking questions unless she did something. Of course, that stirring something didn't tell her what to do, so she guessed. She rolled up from her position and faced him, then let her hand drift to his. She laid it gently over his hand.
His head snapped up, and he looked at her with a scrutinizing gaze. She looked back, letting her own eyes remain neutral. Finally, he asked, "Did you ever have sex with Jared while I was gone?"
Her eyes widened. You think that two years would let you get used to a person, she thought with a sigh, then ran her fingers through her hair, trying to think up a good answer.
He didn't like that she ran her fingers through her hair.
It usually meant she was thinking up a nice,
politically correct answer.
Finally, she sighed, then reached over and touched his hand; he froze. She stared him full in the face and blue eyes reached out to touch blue eyes. "Sean, Jared and I....were a little more than friends," she said haltingly, as if admitting some deep dark secret. "But we didn't have sex with each other."
"More than friends?" he repeated, questioning, but all she did was nod. A ghost of a smile crept up over her face as she watched him struggle with her wording, trying to get a hold of it.
He turned away, acutely aware of her stare and the pressure of
her hand on his. He hadn't been
popular....back then, but he'd known women. Been friends with them, too. Been kissed, been touched. But none of those people had made him so uncomfortable, so jumpy, as Liz could. Just by staring at him, she could make him wonder what he'd done wrong. Only Liz--not Sara or Theresa or Brittany or any of those. Kathey came closest, of course, but that was different than this.
If Liz is just your friend, why is this so? he asked himself, but no satisfactory answer came to mind.
"Sean, if that bothers you...just forget it," Liz said softly, gazing at him with soft eyes, wondering what thoughts could be speeding through his mind. He made her so uneasy when he was like this, for it seemed their friendship became as fragile as glass and paper thin. Mig had done this to her a couple times, but with Sean, it depressed her. She wondered why--he was just her friend. A very sweet, cute friend, but just her friend.
Maybe if you repeat that a million times, you'll convince yourself, her mind snapped at her.
"No, it doesn't bother me," he said, turning back to face her. "I just assumed that you and Jared...."
"Sean, didn't you ever wonder why I often in the living room?" she asked.
"No. It was near the fire, I just assumed...." he started, and she grinned, patted his hand, and stood, facing the closed window.
"The nights weren't lonely with Jared there," she said. "But I was worried about you....when you were foraging and such...about you getting caught....so I lost myself."
"Lost yourself?" he asked.
She turned and faced him, appraising him with her frank glare. "Sean, you DON'T want to know," she said, voice seriously.
He stood, and she surpressed horror as she watched his face contort into that stalker look. "What if I do want to know?" he said, standing up and walking over to her, their four inch height difference suddenly becoming very apparent.
"I don't think I'll tell you," she replied cooly.
"Hmmmm...." he said, eyebrows up, eyes snapping at her. "That's not an option!"
Then, he threw her on the bed.
"SEAN!!!" she yelled, flipping her hair out of her face. She'd landed in a somewhat awkward position, eyes to the ceiling and legs splayed.
He didn't reply, though, and instead dived toward her.
"I'll tickle it out of you!" he growled, landing somewhat on her
and somewhat off. She squirmmed
beneath him, and he responded by grabbing her sides and tickling her. She squirmmed more, laughing in short spurts as she tried to free herself from his grip.
"What did you do while I was out?" he demanded, and she replied by doubling her efforts to get out from under him.
"Nothing!" she protested as he began to tickle her even more fiercly, finding the little spots only he knew. And he know A LOT of them. Tickle spots may be personal for some people, but these two were comfortable with each other. It didn't matter to Liz that Sean's hands were roaming her body; Sean wasn't too distracted by the fact that her squirming was rubbing against some of his more personal places. Comfort allowed discomfort for them.
Suddenly, just as Sean thought he might soon be victorious over her, her hand managed to inch down his rib and tickle him.
"Hey!" he yelled, backing off from his attack to try to defend
himself. In that instant, Liz managed to
squeeze away from him, toppling to the floor on the other side of the bed with a triumphant cry.
They faced each other now, each breathing heavily and glaring at the other. "What....did....you.....do?" Sean gasped out, standing full.
She kept leaning on the bed, but broke her glare off to shake her head. "Sean," she said, "maybe I don't want you to know."
That stopped him. He had assumed that it had been something
that she wouldn't want him to know
because it would affect him, but for it to affect her? Ahhh....he could see it now! But he wasn't done with the games he was playing.....
"You could've just said that," he replied innocently, smiling.
"Sean....!!" she said, mouth open. Then she took in the
spirit in his eyes, and sighed. "Jerk," she
muttered with a sigh.
"What?" he asked in the same innocent tone, and she felt the rage
fire up in her again. She looked
around...and spotted a pillow.
Sean felt this was going well. Liz had quite a temper, and that tended to loosen her up a bit and get her mouth jabbering. He giggled inside--giggled girlishly, he corrected--and started to think up his next trick.
That was just before he was socked in the face with a pillow.
"HEY!" he yelled, outraged.
She smiled slyly at him and said, "Gotcha."
He reached over and grabbed the other pillow.
Five minutes later, they both lay on the bed, heads nearly touching. The pillows they had looked like they'd seen much, much better days, being battered and bruised and nearly ripped in some places. The two also were mussed; Sean's hair lay all over the place instead of quietly and calmly like usual, and Liz's was frizzed, fuzzed, and so staticy it was attracting small pieces of lint and dust.
"That was fun," she breathed.
"Uh-huh," he replied. "Exhiliratingly fun."
"You know what?"
"I think these are the best pillows we've had in awhile."
Sean shifted slightly, relaxing, before replying, "I'll second that."
"Good. 'Cause I would've had to prove it to you otherwise."
"Uh-huh. I'd like to see you try."
She sat up and turned, looking at him. "Oh really?" she ventured.
"No, not really," he replied with a sigh.
She flipped over completely and started to play with his hair,
running her hands through its cool
thickness, teasing his head playfully. He sighed, then replied, "Not now, dear. I have a headache."
"I wasn't thinking of that," she replied; and honestly, she had not. Until he said it. "I was thinking about how much it would take to bribe you into getting on those scrawny legs of yours and go out and get some food."
"Scrawny? My legs are scrawny?" he replied.
"Well, sort of scrawny," she replied, holding her fingers in front
of his face about a quarter of an inch
apart. "This much."
"Okay, so I DO have scrawny legs?" he questioned, and she sighed exasperatedly. He smiled--not that she was looking--and said,"If I have scrawny legs, then you have a flabby butt!"
Her mouth dropped, and she restrained the sudden urge to punch him in the head. "Oh yeah? Well if I have a flabby butt, then you have wimpy arms!"
Suddenly, Sean gasped. He stood straight up, then turned to look at her. "Liz," he said softly, "no more. I'll go get dinner now."
"Okay Sean," she replied, wonderingly. He grabbed his coat and wallet, leaving her in the silence, very much confused and alone.
What was that? she wondered as she rolled off the bed, surveying the mess they made. She puzzled over it as she put the pillows back in order and straightened the covers.
She knew. She knew now why he'd left, why he'd cautioned
her not to continue their insult game.
They'd been used to it for so long, but now they were back around those not so familar with them. They HAD to act normal. Calling attention to them could be very dangerous.
She sighed, feeling guilty, and turned to her bag. Rooting through it, she pulled up a sketch pad topped by her pencil. She stared at the tip unsatisfactorily, rumaged through her bag again, and crowed to herself as she pulled up a pencil sharpener. Shaving off enough wood until she was satisfied, ,she sat back against the headboard and let her thoughts work themselves onto the paper.
She was still working when Sean came back ten minutes later, totally
absorbed in her sketching. He
cautiously let himself in--just in case she was attending to one of those personal functions--and dropped dinner on the table.
She then looked up. "Oh, yes!" she said, a glimmer of a smile coming across her stressed features. "The FDA would love us for this dinner!"
"Well, since you wouldn't let me get that book How To Eat Healthy On A Tiny Budget, I had to get this," he replied glumly, gesturing to the bag of cheese popcorn, two sodas, and pretzels on the table. He then noticed what she was doing, and queried, "Sketching?"
"Yes, what does it look like?"
"Well, actually, a waste of paper."
"I can't help it if I'm a perfectionist!" she grumbled, ripping off the piece of paper and tossing it in with the others that lay scattered around the bed.
"Paper costs money, Elisabeth," he sighed.
"I have more paper than I do clean clothes, Sean," she retorted.
He causally picked up one of the crumpled sketches, and began
to unfold it.
"Sean, don't!" she called suddenly, but he'd already seen what it was. She put her paper and pencil aside now and stood, taking the paper from his hand.
"Is this what all of them are?" he asked slowly, and she nodded.
"After you left, I couldn't get it off of my mind," she replied. "I had to draw it Sean....and most came out rather well, actually."
He picked up another couple, unfolded them, and studied the work. Good, nothing...these are beautiful! he thought, but merely said, "Yeah they did."
"Sean, I'm sorry for bringing it up."
"Liz, don't worry," he replied. "We've accepted it, and it's hard to stop acting...." He stopped, unsure of the words.
"I understand," she replied. A smile brightened her face then, and she said, "Dinner, monsiuer?"
"Of course, madam," he replied with a smile.
They escorted each other to the tiny table and proceded to rip savegely into the bags and pop. They munched carefully on their food, not willing to risk the chance that one of the millions of table accidents was going to happen here. Sometime when they were eating, Sean paused long enough to look at the clock, then rolled up the top of the barely touched cheese popcorn.
Liz looked up from her arrangement of pretzels--this evening she'd put them into a couple clouds floating over a sea of curved shapes--and queried him with her eyes.
"Look at the time, Liz," he replied.
She did, and smiled. "Aren't we just night owls?" she whispered in a soft accent.
"I'd think so. Should we adjorn to bed now to continue this feast?" he asked.
She scooped up her soda in reply, and followed him into bed, snuggling up to the headboard with the popcorn between them. He unrolled the bag, then grabbed the remote and clicked it on. Immediately, Leno's face popped up, his mouth moving in the middle of his monologue.
"Uh, Sean?" Liz said.
"There's no sound."
"Sorry. I was practicing my lip reading," he replied, hitting the volume control on the remote.
"Why?" she asked, a little bemused.
"Just because," he replied.
"Was it so," she started, moving close to him, "that you could do this?"
Her lips sat barely an inch away from his. His eyes struggled
to focus on them, and his mind whirled
widely in circles. What if I kissed her? I've never kissed her. Never. What if...? spun his nutty thoughts.
"Can you read me?" she said, her lips moving in silent motions.
He nodded, and she pulled back,
grinning at the flush over his pale face. "Good," she added aloud. "Just wanted to see if you had enough practice."
"I don't think I could take much of that kind of practice," he muttered to himself.
"Alligator shoes, Liz," he replied, mystifying her. Reaching for
the TV listings, he thumbed through
"Looking for a suitable porno?" she asked, leaning over his shoulder.
"Why? All I have to do is watch you dance in the shower. Then, as we used to say in high school, pop goes the weasel!" he replied.
She blushed furiously, glad that he couldn't see her. How did he know I dance in the shower? she thought.
"I hear the thumps, Liz," he said as if reading her mind.
"Boy, am I transparent," she replied.
"No, you're more translucent."
"And you're completely opaque, Sean," she said with a giggle. "Stubborn, too. Dull and stubborn. Why couldn't I have had Brad Pitt kidnap me?"
"Kidnap you? Oh, I forgot. That's the OFFICIAL line, is it not?" he asked, his voice suddenly shifting into a neutral tone.
"Yes, it's official. You have commited a felony. If we were back in Indiana, they could haul you off to jail!" she giggled.
He put down the paper, folding it in his hands. A sigh escaped his lips, and she suddenly stopped her giggles. "What Sean? What is it?" she asked, phrasing her tone carefully.
He gulped, then whispered, "We are in Indiana, Liz. In fact, we're in Hobart."
She gasped, and reeled away from him, falling out of the bed to a stand. "We....we....are....WHERE?!!?!" she gasped out; still, anger stained her voice.
"Hobart, Indiana, Liz," he said.
"HOW COULD YOU?!?" she yelled. "SEAN, MY GOD, HOW THE HELL COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?"
He just sat there on the bed, expresionless, trying to find the right words. Which he couldn't, for his lips were too tongue tied by the passionate stare of the woman in front of him. Her eyes were ablaze, her hair was wild and whirling, and she stood as if she was about to deliver the death blow.
Which she could, he reminded himself. Jared had trained Liz in the use of a sword for the fun of it, but she was very good at the skill.
Finally, he mustered out, "I had to, Liz. We needed to come back here."
She took a deep breath and spat out, "WHY, Sean? To find out if your last slut had a baby?"
The color rose in his face at her remark,and she instantly regretted
it. Sean had been promiscuously
careful, and she knew he wouldn't have left if he'd even suspected as such. "You know that's wrong," he replied evenly, his face coloring even more with each angry syllable.
"I know," she said. "I'm sorry, Sean. But you know what's back here!! You know what could happen!!" Her eyes were stained with tears now, and they threatened to overflow and spill down her flushed cheeks any moment now.
"Come, sit, and let my tell you why," he said quietly.
"I have to warn you--I'm experiencing violent urges," she said softly, a trace of humor in her voice. But neither of them laughed. She knew, as he did, that to come back to Indiana--particulary this area--could be a certain death for either of them. Yet he had come back, and she wanted to hear his reasons before she pryed out his heart with her pencils.
"We're low on funds, amiga," he whispered carefully. "Jared
gave me some money, and we've been
rationing all the way here, but we're out. Tonight we sleep well, but tomorrow we are broke."
"You spent it all here," she whispered. "Why?"
"Because we weren't going to get anywhere otherwise," he replied.
"Oh Sean," she said. "Even a little money could have got us to Roselawn, and I'm sure Mig would love to help..."
"No," he said carefully. "I'm growing tired of charity."
He shook his head a little--how could she
understand the depth of his pride? How many sleepless nights had come from the $500 Jared had given them?
"Chicitita," he whispered, using the Spanish for little girl. It was his endearing term for her, one he used only in the deepest of moments. "I have a large acount. My parents were spendthrifts, and I am one too. I hoarded every penny, every leftover dollar. I can give us some real cash, something that would allow us a little more freedom till we can get out west."
She turned away from him, facing the imageless TV. "I never knew, Sean. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you worry too much," he replied automatically
"As do you," she said, a grace of a smile lighting her face. Then it fell, and her eyes became raw and full of emotion. "I'm scared, Sean," she whispered.
"So am I," he replied, using his fatherly tone. "But we'll make it. I'll drive the limit, I promise--and we have enough gas to go practically anywhere within a 30 mile radius." His eyes began to glow with softness. "We can do this."
She smiled now, more sure. "Of course we can," she said. "Now let's get some rest."
"All right," he replied. "But aren't you going to change?"
"I used to wear this to bed. No big deal," she replied, her hand on the light. She turned, offering him a smile. "Good night, Sean."
"Good night, Liz."
"Sweet dreams," she murmured as the light clicked off.
He awoke sharply, staring
into the darkness, feeling so strange. His eyes caught the clock--2:30--and
he snorted in disapproval. He had to get up in three hours for work
and school and other things in his assorted life.
A sudden cramp of discomfort nagged him; he had to use the bathroom. As he padded toward it, his feet barely making a sound, he wondered why he felt so strange. Maybe it was that crap he had for dinner--turkey bean casserole, his mom called it. It had tasted like rubber and smelled just as delicious.
He opened the bathroom door, flicking on the light. Slowly, yawning, he turned to check himself out in the bathroom mirror. Probably look like crap, he thought to himself.
He looked. He blinked. He screamed.