Camryn catches my eyes; she’s probably been trying to get my attention for the past couple of minutes, and for a second, I think she’s trying to indicate that she’s ready to go, but then she shakes her head, telling me instead to calm down.
Instantly, I do.
“So,” Asher chimes in to lessen the tension in the room, “how long have you two been going out?” He leans against the wall near the television, crossing his arms over his chest.
We look almost exactly alike with the same brown hair and crazy f**king dimples. Aidan is the oddball of the three of us; his hair is a lot darker and instead of dimples, he has a small birthmark on his left cheek.
“Oh, no we’re just friends,” I say.
I think Camryn just blushed, but I can’t be sure.
“Must be a good friend to come all the way to Wyoming with you,” Aidan says.
Thankfully he’s not being a dick. If he decided to take his anger on me out on her, I’d have to break his face.
“Yeah,” Camryn speaks up and instantly I’m absorbed by the sweetness of her voice, “I live near Galveston; thought someone should ride along with him since he was taking a bus.”
I’m surprised she remembers what city I told her I lived in.
Aidan nods kindly at her; his cheeks moving as he chews.
“She’s hot, bro,” I hear Asher whisper at me from behind.
I turn around at the waist and glare at him to shut up. He smiles, but he does shut up.
The ol’ man stirs almost unnoticeably and Asher moves over to the side of the bed. He thumps Dad on the nose playfully. “Wake up. We brought burgers.”
Aidan holds his burger up as if our dad can actually see it. “They’re good, too. Better wake up soon or they’ll be gone.”
Dad doesn’t stir again.
He has all three of us trained. We would never think to stand around his bed and look all depressed and shit. And when he dies, Aidan and Asher will probably order a pizza and buy a case of beer and shoot the shit until the sun comes up the next morning.
I won’t be here for that.
In fact, the longer I stand here the better the chances are that he will die before I can leave.
I talk with my brothers and Michelle for a few more minutes and then walk over to Camryn.
“Are you ready?”
She takes my hand and stands up with me.
“Already leaving?” Aidan says.
Camryn speaks up before I do and says with a smile, “He’ll be back; we’re just going to grab something to eat.”
She’s trying to diffuse an argument before it starts. She looks at me and I, agreeing to go along with it, turn to Asher and say, “Call me if there’s any change.”
He nods but offers nothing else.
“Bye Andrew,” Michelle says. “It was good to see you again.”
Asher walks with us out into the hall.
“You’re not coming back, are you?” he says.
Camryn turns away from us and walks a little ways down the hall to give us a minute.
I shake my head. “I’m sorry, Ash, I just can’t deal with this. I can’t.”
“I know bro.” He shakes his head. “Dad wouldn’t even care, you know that. He’d rather you be getting laid, or shitfaced, than hanging around his old ass in that bed.”
He does speak the truth, strangely enough.
He also glances at Camryn once after having said that.
“Just friends? Really?” he whispers at me with a devious grin.
“Yes, we’re just friends, so shut the f**k up.”
He laughs in his chest and then pats the side of my arm. “I’ll call you when I need to, alright?”
I nod, agreeing. When he ‘needs to’ call me, he means when Dad has died.
Asher raises his hand to wave at Camryn. “Nice to meet you.”
She smiles and he disappears back inside the room.
“I really think you should stay here, Andrew. I really do.”
I start to walk faster down the hall and she keeps up right alongside me. I slide my hands down in my pockets. I always do that when I’m nervous.
“I know you probably think I’m a selfish bastard for leaving, but you don’t understand.”
“Well, tell me,” she says, grabbing me around the elbow and we just keep walking. “I don’t think you’re being selfish, I think you just don’t know how to deal with this kind of pain.”
She’s trying to catch my gaze, but I can’t look at her. I just want to get out of this death sentence built with red bricks.
We make it to the elevator and Camryn stops talking since there are two other people inside with us, but as soon as we stop on the ground floor and the silver metal doors slide open, she goes back to it.
“Andrew. Stop. Please!”
I stop at the sound of her voice and she turns me around. She gazes up at me with such a tormented look on her face that it sort of hurts my heart. That long, blonde braid still hangs over her right shoulder.
“Talk to me,” she says more softly now that she has my attention. “It doesn’t hurt to talk.”
“Kind of like how it doesn’t hurt to tell me why Texas?”
That stings her.
HIS WORDS SHUT ME up for about five full seconds. My hand drops from his elbow.
“I think your situation is a little more important than mine right now,” I say.
“Really?” he says, “And you wanting to ride around alone on a bus, not knowing where the hell you’re going and putting yourself in danger; that doesn’t seem imminently as important to you?”
He seems angry. I can tell that he is, but most of it, if not every bit of it, is because his father is upstairs dying, and Andrew doesn’t know how to let him go. I feel sorry for him, for being raised to believe that he can’t show the kind of emotion needed in a situation like this, or else it will make him less of a man.
I can’t show the emotion, either, but I wasn’t raised that way, I was forced into it.
“Do you cry at all?” I ask. “About other things? Have you ever cried?”
He scoffs. “Of course. Everybody cries, even big tough guys like me.”
“OK, name one time.”
He answers easily: “A…movie made me cry once,” but he suddenly appears embarrassed and might be regretting his answer.
He can’t look me in the eyes. I feel the mood lightening between us, despite what created it.
“What does it matter?” he says.
I smile and step up closer to him. “Oh come on, just tell me—what, you think I’m going to laugh at you and call you a p**sy?”
He breaks a small grin underneath the embarrassed flush of his face.
“The Notebook,” he says so low that I didn’t quite catch it.
“Did you say The Notebook?”
“Yes! I cried watching The Notebook, alright?”
He turns his back on me and I’m using every shred of strength I have to hold back the laughter. I don’t think it’s at all funny that he cried watching The Notebook; what’s funny is his humiliated reaction admitting it.
I laugh. I can’t help it, it just comes out.
Andrew whirls around with eyes wider than plates and he glares at me for a second. I yelp when he grabs me and throws me over his shoulder, carrying me right out of the hospital.
I’m laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes. Fun tears, not the ones I stop shedding after Ian died.
“Put me down!” I beat my fists against his back.
“You said you wouldn’t laugh!”
Him saying that only makes me laugh harder. I cackle and let out weird noises I never knew I could make.
“Please, Andrew! Put me down!” My fingers are digging into his back through the fabric of his shirt.
Finally, I feel my shoes touch the concrete. I look at him and I do stop laughing because I want him to talk to me. I can’t let him leave his father.
But he speaks up first:
“I just can’t cry around or for him, like I told you before.”
I touch his arm gently. “Well then don’t cry, but at least stay.”
“I’m not going to stay, Camryn.” He stares deeply into my eyes and I know just by the way he’s looking at me that I’m not going to be able to change his mind. “I appreciate you trying to help, but this isn’t something I can give in to.”
Reluctantly, I nod.
“Maybe sometime during this road trip you agreed to, we’ll be able to tell each other the things we don’t want to tell,” he says and my heart, for some reason, reacts to his voice.
There’s a flutter inside my chest, just between my br**sts behind my ribcage.
Andrew smiles brightly, his perfectly-shaped green eyes like the centerpiece of his sculpted face.
He really is gorgeous….
“So, what have you decided?” he asks, crossing his arms and looking all inquisitive. “Am I buying you a plane ticket home, or are you really set on the road to Nowhere, Texas?”
“You really want to go with me?” I just can’t believe it and at the same time, I want more than anything for it to be true.
I hold my breath waiting for him to answer.
He smiles. “Yes, I really do.”
The fluttering turns into hot mush and my face smiles so hugely that for a long moment, I can’t seem to soften it.
“I just have one complaint about tagging along though,” he says, holding up a finger.
“Riding on that bus,” he says. “I really f**king hate it.”
I chuckle quietly and have to agree with him on that one.
“So how else are we supposed to go?”
One side of his mouth lifts into a knowing smile. “We can take the car,” he says. “I’ll drive.”
I don’t hesitate.
“OK?” he says, pausing. “That’s it? You’re just going to hop in the car with a guy you barely know and trust him not to rape you on a deserted highway somewhere—I thought we already went over this?”
I tilt my head to one side, crossing my arms. “Is it any different than meeting you at the library and going out with you a night or two later, alone in your car?” I tilt my head to the other side. “Everybody starts out as strangers, Andrew, but not everybody meets a stranger who saves her from a r**ist and takes her to meet his dying father practically in the same night—I’d say you passed the trustworthy test a little ways back.”
The left side of his mouth lifts into a grin, disrupting the seriousness of my heartfelt words. “So this road trip is a date then?”
“What?” I laugh. “No! It was just an analogy.”
I know he’s aware of that, but I need to say something to help distract him from my reddening cheeks. “You know what I mean.”
He smiles. “Yeah, I know, but you do owe me a ‘friendly’ dinner in the company of a steak.” He quotes with his fingers when he says ‘friendly’. The smile never leaves his face.
“I do, I admit it.”
“Then it’s settled,” he says, looping his arm through mine and walking me toward the cab waiting near the parking lot. “We’ll pick up my dad’s car from the bus station, stop by his house and grab a few things and then we’re on the road.”