Truthfully, he lives right next door to the Sexy Tree and I think that’s the only thing that bothers me about this whole situation.
You know damn well that it doesn’t really matter what’s going on in your life, who you just lost, how much you hate the world, or how inappropriate it is to have an attraction to someone before that mending phase has reached the acceptable zone. You’re still human and the moment you see someone attractive, you can’t help but make note of it. It’s human nature.
Acting on it is a whole other story and that’s where I draw the line.
That’s not gonna happen, no matter what.
But yeah, the fact that he’s hot bothers me because it only means that I will have to try that much harder to make sure that nothing I say or do will give him the wrong impression. Hot guys know they’re hot. They just do, even the ones who don’t go around flaunting it. And it’s also human nature for hot guys to automatically assume that an innocent smile, or a conversation that goes on for three minutes without awkward silence, are signs of an attraction.
So, this ‘friendship’ is going to take a lot of work on my part. I want to be nice, but not too nice. I want to smile when necessary, but I have to be careful and measure the level of the smile. I want to laugh if something he says is funny, but I don’t want him to think it’s an I’m-so-f**king-into-you kind of laugh.
Yeah, this is definitely going to take work. Maybe an old lady would’ve been better, after all….
Andrew and I wait in the terminal for nearly an hour before the next bus pulls into the station. And as expected, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have two seats to ourselves this time. The line waiting to board already looks like there might not be enough seats to hold everyone. Dilemma. Crap. Andrew and I are suddenly temporary friends, but I can’t bring myself to ask him to sit with me. That might count as one of those things that gives the wrong impression. So, as the line inches forward and he follows close behind, I’m hoping he’ll take it upon himself to sit next to me. I’d rather it be him than someone else who I haven’t even spoken to.
I make my way toward the center of the bus and into two empty seats, passing up the one on the outside and taking the one by the window.
He sits next to me and I’m secretly relieved.
“Since you’re a girl,” he says, putting his bag on the floor between his feet, “I’ll let you keep the window seat.”
After the bus is full and I can already feel the extra body heat rising up all around us from so many people crammed inside the space, I hear the door squeal shut and the bus lurches in motion.
The drive doesn’t seem so long and torturous anymore now that I have someone to talk to. It only takes about an hour of constant conversation about everything from what all of his favorite classic rock bands are, to why I like Pink and how much better her stuff is than Boston and Foreigner who sound the same to me. We argued about this for twenty minutes out of that hour—he’s really stubborn, but then he said the same about me, so maybe we’re both guilty. And I let him in on who ‘Nat’ is, though I don’t go into the gruesome details of mine and Natalie’s relationship.
By the time the night falls, I realize there hasn’t been a single awkward moment of silence between us since we boarded the bus and he decided to sit next to me.
“How long are you staying in Idaho?”
“A few days.”
“And then you’re riding back on a bus?” Strangely, Andrew’s face has lost all of its humor.
“Yeah,” I say, not wanting to go too deeply into this topic because I don’t already know my answers in advance.
I hear him sigh.
“It’s none of my business,” he says looking over at me and I feel the space between us closing in since he’s sitting so close, “but you shouldn’t be traveling around by yourself like this.”
I don’t look at him.
“Well, I kind of have to.”
“Why?” he asks. “I’m not trying to hit on you or anything, but a young, devilishly gorgeous girl like you traveling by herself in the slums of the bus stations of America is dangerous.”
I feel my face break into a smile, but I try futilely to hide it.
I look over at him. “You’re not trying to hit on me,” I say, “yet you call me ‘devilishly gorgeous’ and practically use that what’s-a-girl-like-you-doing-in-a-place-like-this line all in the same sentence.”
He seems gently offended.
“I’m serious, Camryn,” he says and the playful smile on my face dissolves. “You could really get hurt.”
In an attempt to shift the awkward moment, I grin and say, “Don’t worry about me. I’m confident in my ability to scream really loud if I get attacked.”
He shakes his head and takes a deep breath, slowly giving in to my attempts to lighten things up.
“So tell me about your dad,” I say.
The almost-smile flees from his face and he looks away from me. It wasn’t an accident, bringing it up like I did. I don’t know, I just get this strange feeling that he’s hiding something. When he briefly mentioned back in Kansas about his dad dying, on the outside it didn’t seem to faze him. But he’s going all this way, by bus at that, to see his dad before he dies, so he must love him. I’m sorry, but you’re never unfazed when someone you love is dead, or dying.
Sounds strange coming from me, who can’t cry anymore.
“He’s a good man,” Andrew says, still looking in front of him. I get the feeling he’s picturing his dad right now, that he doesn’t actually see anything in front of him except for his memories.
He looks over at me and is smiling now, but it’s not a smile trying to cover up any pain, more-so one washed with a good memory.
“Instead of taking me to a baseball game, my dad took me to a boxing match.”
“Oh?” I feel my smile light up. “Do tell?”
He looks back out ahead, but the warmth in his face never leaves him in this moment. “Dad wanted us to be fighters—.” He glances over. “Not boxers or actual fighters, though he probably wouldn’t have minded that so much, either. But I mean fighters in general, you know, in life. Metaphorically.”
I nod to let him know that I understand.
“I sat ringside, eight-years-old, mesmerized by these two men beating each other and the whole time I could hear my dad talking over the crowd next to me: ‘They fear nothing, son,’ he said. ‘And all of their moves are calculated. They move one way and it either works, or it doesn’t, but they learn something from every move, every decision.’
Andrew catches my eye briefly and his smile dissolves, leaving his expression standard. “He told me that a real fighter never cries, never lets the weight of any blow bring him down. Except that final blow, the inevitable one, but even then they always go out like men.”
I’m no longer smiling, either. I can’t tell exactly what’s going on in Andrew’s head right now, but we share the same sober mood. I want to ask him if he’s OK, because it’s obvious that he’s not, but the timing doesn’t feel right. It feels weird because I don’t know him well enough to be digging around inside of his emotions.
I say nothing.
“You must think I’m a dick,” he says.
I blink, surprised. “No,” I answer. “Why do you say that?”
He backs off immediately and downplays the seriousness of his own question, letting that devastating smile slip back to the surface again.
“I’m going to see him before he kicks the bucket,” he says, and his choice of words shocks me a little, “because that’s what we do, right? It’s a customary thing, kind of like saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, or asking someone how their weekend was when really you don’t give a shit.”
Damn, where is all of this coming from?
“You have to live in the now,” he says and I’m quietly stunned. “Don’t you think so?” His head falls to the side and he’s looking at me again.
It takes me a moment to get my head together, but even then I’m not sure about what to say.
“Living in the now,” I say, quoting him, yet at the same time thinking of my own belief of loving in the now. “I guess you’re right.” But I still wonder exactly what his take on the belief is.
I straighten my back against the seat and raise my head a little to look over at him more closely. It’s like suddenly I have this great desire to know all about his belief. To know everything about him.
“What is living in the now to you?” I ask.
I notice one of his eyebrows twitch for a second and his expression shifts, surprised at the seriousness of my question, or the level of my interest. Maybe both.
He straightens his back and raises his head, too.
“Just that dwelling and planning is bullshit,” he says. “You dwell on the past, you can’t move forward. Spend too much time planning for the future and you just push yourself backwards, or you stay stagnant in the same place all your life.” His eyes lock on mine. “Live in the moment,” he says as if making a serious point, “where everything is just right, take your time and limit your bad memories and you’ll get wherever it is you’re going a lot faster and with less bumps in the road along the way.”
The silence between us is just two minds thinking about what he just said. I wonder if his thoughts are the same as mine. I also wonder, more than I want to admit, why so many of his thoughts already make me feel like I’m staring into a mirror when I look at him.
The bus glides heavily over the freeway, always loud and rarely soft. But after so long, it’s easy to forget how unpleasant a bus ride is compared to the luxury of a car. And when you’re thinking more about the positive aspects of a bus ride, instead of the negative, it’s easy to forget that there’s anything negative about it at all. There is a guy sitting next to me with beautiful green eyes and a beautiful sculpted face and a beautiful way of thinking. There’s no such thing as a bad bus ride when you’re in the company of something beautiful.
I shouldn’t be here….
I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE brought up my dad. Not that I’m pissed about it, but I’m surprised that she seemed to really want to know. That she even remembered. She didn’t dive into questions about what I do for a living to calculate how much money I might make, or giggle and blush and look all stupid while reaching out to touch my tattoos, using them as an excuse to touch me. Huge f**king turn-off. I mean yeah, it’s a turn-on when you’re just looking to get laid—makes it easier—but for some reason, I couldn’t be happier that Camryn didn’t do it.
Who the hell is this girl?
And why am I even thinking about this stuff?
She falls asleep before me with her head propped against the bus window. I resist the urge to watch her, noticing how soft and innocent she looks, which makes me that much more primal, more protective.