And that was how the drive was to wherever for the next several hours.
I sang so much with him that my throat became sore.
Of course, all of it was classic rock with the occasional early nineties: Alice in Chains and Aerosmith mostly, and none of it bothered me one bit. I actually loved it all and the memory it was creating in my mind. A memory with Andrew.
We find a rest stop off the freeway in Jackson, Tennessee, and take full advantage of it. We slip inside the restrooms to change out of our wet clothes, which we’ve been in for longer than either of us realized. I guess our fun together in the car with my less-than-stellar singing and him pretending he loves it distracted us from everything else.
He’s dressed before me and already waiting inside the car when I stroll out wearing the only thing I had left in my bag that was clean: the white cotton shorts and varsity tee I like to sleep in. I only brought one bra and I happened to be wearing it when I was being rained on so it’s completely wet still. But I’m wearing it anyway because there’s no way I’m getting in that car with him bra-less.
“I am not wearing these shorts for your benefit,” I say, pointing sternly at him as I crawl back inside the car. “For the record.”
The corner of his mouth lifts into a grin.
“Note taken,” he says, jotting it down on a pretend tablet.
I lift my butt from the seat and grasp the end of my shorts, pulling them just a little so they aren’t crawling up my crotch and to cover a little more skin on my thighs. I start to kick my black flip-flops onto the floorboard until I see how saturated the floor mat is and decide to leave them on. It’s a good thing the seats are leather.
“I’m gonna have to find some more clothes,” I say.
Andrew’s wearing jeans again and his black Doc Marten boots, and another plain gray t-shirt, lighter in color than the last one. Like anything, it looks good on him, but I kind of miss his tanned muscled calves and the black and gray Celtic tattoo on the ball of his ankle.
“Why is that all you brought?” he asks, keeping his eyes on the road. “Not that I’m complaining, of course.”
I smirk over at him. “I guess since I didn’t know where I was going I didn’t want to lug a bunch of crap around.”
The sun is shining in Tennessee and we’re heading south now. The other side of the freeway is grid-locked because of road construction and we both express how glad we are that we’re not on ‘that side of the road’. Eventually, the daylight fades behind the landscape and dusk bathes the rice and cotton fields in a purplish haze; there’s always some kind of massive field on either side of the freeway, stretching far off in the distance.
We make it to Birmingham, Alabama a little after 7:00p.m.
“Where do you wanna stop for clothes?” he asks, creeping along a city street lined by stop lights and gas stations.
I rise up from the seat and look around, trying to glimpse the lighted signs for someplace suitable.
Andrew points out ahead. “There’s a Walmart.”
“I guess it’s as good any,” I say and he makes a left at the stoplight and we pull into the parking lot.
We get out and the first thing I do is pull my panties out of the crack of my butt.
“Need some help?”
“No!” I laugh.
We walk together through the sea of cars in the parking lot, my flip-flops snapping against my heels. Instantly, I recoil into myself, knowing I look like hell with a dirty, matted braid over my shoulder and dressed in these skimpy shorts that keep crawling up my ass. No makeup anymore, since my becoming-one-with-the-rain washed it all off. I keep my eyes on the bright white floor as we walk through the store and avoid eye contact with anyone.
We head to the women’s clothes first and I grab a few simple things: two more pairs of cotton shorts that are still short but not up-my-crotch short like the ones I’m wearing, and a couple of cute v-neck graphic tees with random stuff on them. I hold out on my desire to visit the panties and bras section. I think for now I’ll make do with what I have.
Then I follow Andrew over to the area by the pharmacy where all of the vitamins and cold medicines and toothpaste and stuff are.
We go straight into the aisle with the razors and shaving cream.
“I haven’t shaved in a week,” he says, rubbing the stubble that has been growing on his face for the past few days.
I think it’s sexy, but with or without it, it’s still sexy so I don’t complain.
Why would I anyway?
I grab a pack of razors, too, as well as some Olay shaving cream in a gold can. Then in the next aisle, I pick up a small bottle of mouthwash because one can never have enough mouthwash. I adjust my purse on the opposite shoulder as the items start to fill up in the other arm. We go into the next aisle and I pluck a set of shampoo and conditioner from the shelf, trying to balance them in my hands with the other stuff, but Andrew takes it from me and carries it instead. He takes the mouthwash, too.
We head over to the medicines and there’s a middle-aged couple standing in front of the cough syrup, reading the labels.
Andrew says casually, without lowering his voice, “Babe, did you find that yeast infection stuff?”
My eyes spring open and I freeze in front of the Tylenol.
He removes a small box of Advil from the shelf.
The couple pretends not to have heard what he said, but I know they heard him.
“I mean are you even sure that’s what’s causing the itch?” he goes on and I’m literally melting from the heat in my face.
The couple does glance over this time, covertly.
Andrew is grinning his ass off at me from the side, pretending to be reading labels.
I want to smack him, but instead, I play him at his own game.
“Yeah, baby I found it,” I say as casually as he had. “What about you? Did you see if they have extra-small sized condoms?”
The woman turns her head and looks right at him, up and down, and then she eyes me before going back to reading labels.
Andrew doesn’t break; somehow I knew he wouldn’t. He just smiles over at me, enjoying every second of this.
“One size fits all, baby,” he says. “I told you they fill out better when you can actually make it hard.”
A spitting noise bursts from between my lips followed by laughter.
The couple leaves the aisle.
“You are so bad!” I hiss at him, still laughing. The can of shaving cream clanks against the floor after it falls from my arm and I bend over to pick it up.
“You’re not so innocent yourself.”
Andrew grabs a tube of antibiotic ointment and holds it in the same hand with the Advil and we head to the register. He tosses two packages of beef jerky on the moving belt and a pack of Tic Tacs. I get a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer, a tube of ChapStick and a package of beef jerky for myself.
“Gettin’ brave aren’t yah?” he says about the beef jerky.
I smirk at him and put the plastic gray item divider in-between his stuff and mine. “Nope,” I say. “I love jerky. If it contained radioactive material I’d still eat it.”
He just smiles, but then tries to tell the cashier that his and my stuff is ‘together’ as he pulls his credit card from his wallet.
“No, not this time,” I argue, laying my arm on the belt next to the item divider. I look right at the cashier and shake my head, daring her to ring my stuff up with his. “I’ll pay for mine.” She looks between me and Andrew briefly, as if waiting for his turn.
When he starts to argue back I turn my chin at a stern angle and say, “I’m paying for my stuff and that’s that. Deal with it.”
He sort of rolls his eyes and gives in, sliding his card through the machine.
When we get back in the car, Andrew rips the top strip off one of his beef jerky bags and pops a jagged piece into his mouth.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive some?” I ask.
He shakes his head, his jaws working hard on that stiff piece of jerky.
“We’ll get another motel and crash for the night.”
He swallows and pops another piece in his mouth and puts the car in drive and we pull away.
We find a motel a few miles out and grab everything and take it up to our side-by-side king rooms. Green checkered carpet in this one with matching dark green, heavy curtains and a dark green flowery bedspread. I turn the television on immediately, just to give some light and animation to the dark and gloomy atmosphere.
He paid for the rooms again, using how I ‘got my way’ with paying for the stuff at Walmart as his excuse to get away with it.
Andrew checks the room out first, just like the last time, and then plops down on the recliner by the window.
I drop my stuff on the floor and rip the bedspread from the bed and toss it in the corner next to the wall.
“Is there something on it?” he asks, leaning back into the recliner and letting his legs splay below.
He looks exhausted.
“No, they just scare me.” I sit on the end of the bed and kick off my flip-flops, drawing my legs onto the bed Indian-style. I place my hands within my lap because still wearing the white cotton short shorts, I feel a little exposed to him with my knees open like this.
“You said: since you didn’t know where you were going,” Andrew says.
I look up and it takes me a second to understand what he’s referring to: back in the car when I mentioned my reason for not bringing more clothes. He knits his fingers together, laying his hands flat over his stomach.
It takes me a moment to answer, although the answer I give him his vague:
“Yeah, I didn’t know.”
Andrew lifts his back straight up from the chair and leans over forward, resting his arms on his thighs, his hands draped together below his knees. He cocks his head to one side looking across at me. I know we’re about to have one of those conversations where I can’t foresee if I’ll accept or dodge his questions. It’ll depend on how good he is at drawing the answers out of me.
“I’m no expert on this stuff,” he says, “but I don’t see you setting out alone like you did on a bus, of all things, with a purse, a small bag and absolutely no idea where you’re going just because your best friend stabbed you in the back.”
He’s right. I didn’t leave because of Natalie and Damon; they were just part of the pattern.
“No, it wasn’t because of her.”
“Then what was it?”
I don’t want to talk about it; at least, I don’t think I do. A part of me feels like I can tell him anything and I sort of want to, but the other part is telling me to be careful. I haven’t forgotten that his issues outweigh mine and I would feel stupid and whiney and selfish telling him anything at all.
I look at the TV instead of him and pretend to be halfway interested in it.
He stands up.
“It must’ve been pretty bad,” he says walking over to me, “and I want you to tell me.”
Pretty bad? Oh great, he just made it worse; even if I did tell him, at least before I wouldn’t have had it in my head that he expected something really horrible. Now that I know he does, I feel like I should make something up.