Liz's cry startled him for a second, then he sighed and pulled his foot off the accelerator. "Call it nervousness," he murmured to her. "I want to get this over with."
"So do I, Sean," she said softly from her seat in the Toyota. "So do I. But we can't end it in jail, or in a..."
"Stop right there, or I'll panic," he said quickly.
"You really are scared, aren't you?" she said, astonished. "You weren't even scared when you first lear..."
"Oh yes I was, Liz," he replied with a smile. "Just because New Hampshire didn't scare me doesn't mean that Indiana won't." He shivered a little. "This and Illinois are the worst places we could be right now."
"Oh," she replied, then sighed musically. "You know, it is rather nice to be back in familar territory."
"I know. I don't have to bug you about that damn map every five minutes."
"MAP!! Liz, where is that damn map?!" she replied in a rough imitation of him. He laughed hoarsely, blending with her sprite giggles.
Celebration Station came into sight. "You were always trying to get me to go there. You had some birthday coupon or something," she said.
"I know, I know. You and your friends, though I liked you best," he said, steering onto the off ramp.
She looked at him, eyes shining with a curious emotion. "Thank you, Sean. That means something to me even though I know you're a born flatterer."
"Your welcome," he said, a touch of smile on his cheek. "And you know you can always see through my flattery."
"Yes...I know," she said softly.
They drove on in silence for a bit longer, both of their minds beating a similar jumpy tatoo. To be back here is so great, Liz thought quietly. Yet scary, so scary. I feel something dreadful that I can't brush off, and I know....I know what I feel.
It's so quiet in here, Sean thought, fingers tapping the wheel. In a movie, someone would be bursting out with some emotional sentiment right now. But for us, it's just quiet. TOO QUIET!! "Elisabeth," he said quickly.
"Yes, Sean?" she asked.
"Can you put in some music? I don't really remember stations," he said.
A grin spread over her face. "Can I put in one of my 'tapes', Sean?" she asked.
"I guess," he replied, voice heavy. She dug out the clear tape marked with red and blue triangles and a fat piece of yellow tape reading "The Trip Tape: Something to Drive Him Nuts." Quickly she slipped it in and the music began to play.
Think of me
Think of me fondly
When we say goodbye
Once a while
Please promise me you'll try.
When you find
That once again you long
To take your heart back and be free
If you ever find a moment
Spare a thought for me.
Now he didn't dare look at her. Despite the fact that they'd been together for two years, this was the tape that still managed to push all of the emotional buttons. This song would've been something he would've loved to have had Theresa with her clear, reedy voice sing to him. She had always had a basic understanding of his desire to leave, to move on, of his restlessness. Liz did too, in her own way.
At least, I hope she does. That way when I leave her with Aunt Beck out west, she'll understand, he thought sarcastically. It'd been a plan he'd considered for quite awhile now; it seemed so safe to him, to leave her out of his danger.
Yet he couldn't, and he didn't know why.
This song is so beautiful, Liz thought as she listened to the lyrics and music soar out of the stereo. And nothing like the crap he used to play. She managed a side glance at him, eyes wandering the same thin lines and concentration they always had before. She wondered, in the depths of her mind, if this song pushed the same buttons for her and as it did for him. After all, she'd always wanted to go far, far away from the little town we're they'd grown up. It was so...so...so SMALL and HOPELESS there, a barren field with wilted plants and lackluster smiles. And she knew that this journey, though made together, was, in some ways, made by two individuals who just happened to "share" the same car. The same experiences.
The same feeling? she thought. She'd long considered staying out West with relatives, seperating from him and going her own way. Yet, she couldn't abandon him, even though it was clear to both of them that abandonment might just be their salvation someday.
"Where do you bank at, Sean?" she asked.
"Tech, right down Broadway," he replied as he turned back onto 30. The tape whirred, and then came on one of her favorites--the duet between Eponine and Marius, "A Little Fall of Rain," from Les Miserables. She rated the best duet she'd ever heard off the musical stage, though her experience extended to maybe four musicals total.
That's all I need to know...
Unconciously, she joined in on the next words, "And you will keep me safe. And you will keep me close. I'll sleep in your embrace at last."
"I like this song."
It was Sean, not the tape. "Huh?" she asked.
He cleared his throat. "I always put up a pretense about hating your music, but I liked that song. Very touching."
She grinned to herself. "I never knew you could be so touched,Sean," she replied.
He managed to turn his eyes from the road to grin at her, then said, "You have no idea where I can be touched."
"You're walking into another pillow fight, mister," she said.
He didn't reply, just looked back at the road and grinned again. Deftlyhe manuevered in and out of traffic, a skill she'd long admired of his. She had her license, and had driven when he needed to sleep, but Sean was never quite comfortable with her behind the wheel. It didn't matter--she prefered his smooth driving style to her cautious one. Besides, she knew she couldn't have handled the car with her insides feeling as gittery as they did now. She'd long learned not to look worried on the outside, because Sean would start asking questions she couldn't squeeze around, and then she'd have to tell him why, and he'd say something that would unintentionally make her feel stupid for ever worrying at all in her life.
You know, I'm starting to wonder if I've been around him for too long, she thought to herself, and grinned. He came to the first red light they'd hit, near the White Castle, which was luckily on Broadway.
A sudden fear hit her. This is the spot were the cop pulls us over for something, calls up our names, arrests him and returns me to home where I'd have to answer questions. And you know what Liz? You couldn't lie to them. Not after how Jared defined a lie. Which would mean...
Which would mean a future she didn't want to touch on. Not now, at least; she knew it would show up in her sleep, in a dream. The curse of an overactive imagination.
The light turned, and Sean guided the car onto the street. "Just a straight shot, Liz," he muttered.
"Uh-huh. I do remember some things about the city's layout," she replied, twisting the cheerful barb into a glum statement.
"You're worried, aren't you? You're really paranoid about this," he said as the tape went silent, then began to spit out the spooky music he connected to a "Joseph...." song. It wasn't one of his favorites; it was depressing.
"Yes, I am," she stated with a sigh. "So close..."
"Hey, it'll be okay," he reassured.
Bar all the windows...
And shut out, the light
"Yea, I suppose," she replied.
Darken my daytime
And torture my night.
If my life were important I
Would ask, Will I live or die?
"But I know the answers lie far from this world," Liz echoed, voice matching the richness. She shivered. "Creepy to hear this, now."
"It's just a song," Sean replied.
"Uh-huh, just a song. Songs have motivated love and lust and downfalls galore," she retorted.
"Name one downfall," he replied as the road sped by and the tape whirred into another verse.
Just give me a number
Instead of my name
Forget all about me
And let me decay
I do not matter....
"Destroy me completely, then throw me away!" she echoed again before saying, "The music that caused Salome to dance, therefore leading to John the Baptist losing his head."
"Music wasn't the direct cause. Herodias was," he retorted.
"Okay, then, be rough," she replied heavily, sighing. Thinking for a second, she then said, "I'm a blank now, Sean, thanks a lot!! Now I'll have to concede victory to you."
"You could always just postpone," he said simpathetically.
"Uh-huh. Then it'll be on my mind all day, and while you're in the bank, I'll run in shouting 'I've got it!' just to show you up, and then problems occur," she retorted.
"Speaking of the bank, we're almost there," he said, nodding toward the building hunched on the corner of Broadway and 109th.
She tensed invisibly, but he still sensed it. "I haven't sped, have I?" he asked quietly.
"No, you've been surprisingly good about it."
"Thank you for building my ego," he said drily.
"Oh please, you know you're fabulous," she half-mocked, half-joked.
"Why thank you!" he replied with forced cheer.
The turn signal flicked, and flashed. The car slowed. Tension built. The tape ran on in the silence as the nose slid into the parking lot. He parked along the side, intending to make this a quick trip. Her eyes were worried as he put it in park, front end slightly to the left. A click,the radio was off. A click, the engine was off. A clunk, a ching, and the keys were dangling in front of her.
"If there's any commotion, or it takes me more than ten minutes, get out of here," he said quietly. "The two of us can't get caught."
"Hush." His eyes were liquid worry despite a calm, soft voice. "You know that if they get us both, it's over. Everything changes. I'll be...you'll be..."
" 'Leave your worse nightmares unspoken, and they tend not to come true,' " she said quietly.
He looked at her for a second, hand unconciously unlocking the door. "All right, who said that," he asked, turning away, hand gripping the door handle.
She grinned at his back. "me."
He exited the car with a half smile on his mind, and softly shut the door. She stared at the keyring as his lean form went for the door, walking in front of the car at a diagonal, then leaned over and put the car and in Accessory. She clicked on the radio and listened to the opening lines of "November Rain".
Inside, coiled in his gut, nervousness percolated. Fear slammed at the backs of his eyes and on his forehead, screaming into the headache, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? GET OUT OF THERE!!" Somewhere he found steadiness, and was able to fill out a form with his name, social security number, and withdrawal amount. He found his driver's license, and walked up to a bored looking cashier.
Three minutes later, he actually exhaled a breath. It had gone through; they had CASH AGAIN! Enough to get them somewhere, away from here, a place they couldn't be tracked to. He felt like he was walking on air as he opened the door and headed toward the small blue car
If he'd seen the eyes watching him, his feet would have hit ground and took him back to reality in a flash. He would've avoided that night completely, breaking his second promise to keep his first. However, they were quiet eyes, silent eyes, smiling eyes--as they took the body they were in out to the door, took down the license plate, and walked back. The smile had stretched to her face.
* * * *
He looked over at his sleeping companion, curled into the seat, ponytail swung around to rest under her chin. It's funny how normal Liz looks tonight, he thought. Usually she's the spooky one to look at. He wiped his forehead; the sweat created small pools in his hand. Tonight, though....I'm the freak.
She stirred slightly in her seat, and her face contorted in displeasure. He wondered for the first time in two years whether she was plagued with nightmares also, especially of that hellish first week. Not that I was any help, he thought as he unlocked the door, opened it and stepped into the night. A breeze from the north ruffled his hair, skewing it over his forehead; he shoved it back and it stayed obediantely, slicked by persperation alone.
The sound of the popping trunk brought Liz to conciousness with a start, and she hit her head on the ceiling. "Ouch," she grumbled aloud. "Two years and I still hit my head on the car...you'd think I'd learn by now." It was only then that she looked around at her surrondings, and felt her eyebrows raise. A well manacured lawn, a curving sidewalk heading into a glowing white door, a blue house....where were they?
Glowing white door.
"MIG!" she cried cheerfully as a memory surfaced. She surged out of the car and took a tumble into the soft grass, causing Sean to look at her oddly from the sidewalk. She stared at him back, blinking, before whispering, "We're here!"
"I said I would take you here. Have I ever lied?" he asked, setting the black backpack on the ground next to its dull, dark green companion and slamming shut the trunk.
"Yes. But only once or twice," she replied, childlike vivacity leaping about her voice. He smiled at it, shook his head, and hoisted the black backpack. A glint sprung into his eyes, too minute to be seen by anyone but Liz, and he heaved the backpack at her. "CATCH!" he called.
It hit the ground and rolled a couple of times, causing her to squawk (softly) in displeasure at him. "Sean, if you broke my pencils, I'll have to break yours," she protested.
"How childish," he retorted. "Besides, I distinctly recall that you said you wouldn't touch that area with a 39 and 3/4 inch pole."
"How awake was I?"
She growled at herself, "Just like me to make a promise I have to keep," before scooping up the bag and joining him on the walk. Together they traveled toward the door, his paces just slightly behind hers. She finally gave him the graceful, thank-you-very-much-Sean smile he'd been waiting for, then rang the doorbell.
It opened within seconds, puzzling Sean and Liz, who'd been unaware of the pair of eyes on them since they'd pulled up. A savage looking Mexican man stood there; over his shoulder was a puff of strawberry blond hair, most likely his wife. He didn't even pause at the two of them standing there, looking like they'd just had a bright light shone unexpectedly in their faces; instead, he scooped up Liz in his equivalent of a bear hug, saying, "CHICA!!"
"Hola to you too, Mig," she replied, hugging him back not quite as fiercly as he hugged her. Discomfort filled her unexpectedly; after all, this was MIGUEL, her MORE THAN GOOD friend! However, Liz had gone through a small change in her last months of isolation with Sean. She'd become so accustomed to his touch that anyone else's felt unnatural, and wrong, as if they secretly were evil under their benign fingers.
He set her down, not noticing the difference; really, it was slight. He next gave Sean a bear hug of a handshake, noticing the sober look on the boy's face. "And you SEAN!" he called, voice ringing around the lot; Sean winced, at both the handshake and the loudness of his voice.
"Hello, Mike. Could you keep it down?"
Something flashed across Mig's face, and he nodded obediantely. "I forgot, Sean," he said quietly.
Noticing his friend's emotion, he smiled reassureringly, and clapped his hand on the taller man's shoulder. "It's all right. It has been awhile," he replied brightly, with more juice in his voice than he had in him. A bead of sweat nudged down his nose, and fell in a salty splash onto his lip.
"Almost two years!" came the delighted reply, and his smiled widened as the strawberry blond head appeared, connected to a browned face with rosy gray eyes set in deep sockets. "Move, Miguel," she protested, pushing him away, and gracefully went and hugged Sean.
"Hello, Miranda," he said shyly. Miguel's wife was half a foot shorter than him, but gave off personality like the sun shines. He'd always been impressed by her, and a little daunted and awed, too--if you tortured him enough to say it. She released him and gave a stern look to her husband and Liz.
"What are you doing, keeping them out here? It's chilly, and who knows who could be watching! They might get suspicious," she berated in her sparky way.
"I was just so happy to see them alive," he confessed in a voice more meant for passion than for meekness. However, she accepted his hidden apology with a bright smile, and ushered them all inside.
Seven minutes later they were sitting around their table, a hot drink in hand for each, since the night was cold. The windows and curtains had all been shut; the fluffy white lace thing over the front door window had been swept over, and that very same door locked. The radio crackled softly on the counter, tuned into Miguel's priveliged frequency for the benefit of all.
"So...what brings you back this way?" Miranda finally asked after some idle chatter.
"Sean," Liz replied, sipping the mug that held hot chocolate, whipped cream, and a tot of Bailey's--for extra warmth.
Miguel raised his eyes at him. "I told you to take care of her, not bring her back to danger," he said, the Mexican accent clouding his voice.
"We were almost out of money, Mike, otherwise I wouldn't have risked it. Panhandling is not a very private profession," Sean replied, taking a slug of his coffee, which was spiced up with alcohol as well, though Sean's rough tongue wasn't tuned to the taste. "And I've taken fine care of her."
"He has," Liz reiterated. "Rare mistreatment, an occasional bruise, but that's about it."
"Bruise?" Miranda asked, eyes widening. "Are you two...."
"We sleep together for comfort and protection, not out of lust," Sean cut in. "It's easier to make an escape when you only have one beds, not two."
"So you two are still.....bajo un maldicion?" Miguel asked.
"Si," replied the two in unison, the words familar to them.
"Dios miyo," he whispered, then said, "What happened out East? And what you sought?"
They exchanged glances, and Liz buried herself in her mug again as Sean said, "We didn't find that, but something more precious. Control."
"Es un bendicion," murmured Liz.
"I'd love to understand Spanish one of these days," said Miranda, whose keen eye had been tracking their eye movements and facial expressions this whole time. "But I get what you said. So Jared was no help?"
Liz laughed. "He was friendly and charming and generous, and convinced us to seek control, but no, he was no help," she replied, smiling.
A bead of sweat dropped into Sean's mug; though he took no notice of it, Miranda did. She looked to Miguel and mouthed something, and he started. "Sean, are you all right?" he asked.
"Um...yea, fine," he replied, even though sweat still beaded on his forehead and his underarms were damp.
"No, he's not," Liz said. "We're going to need a room with a window tonight."
"Sean, listen! You've got to tonight, otherwise I'll be stuck driving tomorrow!" she rounded on him, eyes fierce and the sound of fury building in her voice.
He acquiesed immediately, understanding this was a battle he wasn't going to win.
"So, where do you plan on going from here?" Miranda asked.
"Out West," Liz said.
"The Dakotas, or Montana, maybe even Idaho," Sean said. "They're all pretty sparsely populated, and with our knowledge and strengths we can either start a restaurant or get a job as ranch hands."
"We'll send you a postcard," Liz promised.
Miranda smiled. "I got worried until you mailed me that first one from Ohio. After that, everything was fine. I didn't expect the next one until sometime next month, but you showing up takes the place of six months worth of postcards," she said, eyes shining in the light. Miguel grasped her hand. "We've really missed you two."
"I've missed both of you too," Liz said quietly, and from the right angle you could see a tear dangling in her eye. "Sean, too."
Sean nodded, now sweating from his forehead and his neck, the thin streaks of water making him look as if he wore a flesh colored prison uniform. His color had risen to a dramatic tan, nearly red, and his eyes seemed to occasionally flash a different shade, a pale green-gold. His hands toyed with the fabric of his jeans, and his body temperature, if charted, would've looked like a third degree equation, all "s" curves and squiggles. Nausea came and went, and that combination with the hot flashes made him feel nearly delirious. He'd never pushed himself this long, for so far, and the urges within him were maddeningly powerful.
The three companions at the table noticed rather quickly that Sean had just taken a dive, and they made quick, idle chatter as they gulped down their drinks. Finally, Miguel escorted Liz to a bedroom on the first floor, with windows overlooking the street; Miranda sponged Sean's scalp with cold water, his eyes closed, eyelids trembling, as he tried to stave off his delirium. Liz next came back and quietly assited him to bed, then bade the rest goodnight before disappearing behind the fake wood door. A sharp click told them that the door was locked.
"It's amazing how much they go through," Miranda remarked as she and Mig ascended the stairs to their own bedroom.
"For each other, too. Did you see the way she helped him in to bed? Like an old married pair, eh?" Miguel replied.
Miranda smiled and nodded. "They've almost been married for two years. Doesn't it seem like that to you, Mike? That they ran off and got married and just haven't told anyone yet?"
"Si," he replied. "I just hope they make it through this craziness of theirs without any trouble."
"I know what you mean," Miranda replied as they shut and locked their own door. "If one lost the other...."
Miguel's flashing eyes told her he knew exactly what she meant.