It was quite possibly the dumbest idea he’d ever had but driving from Oakland to DC seemed like something cool when he’d first thought of it, and cooler still when Josh met the chick who’d answered his post on the ride board. She wasn’t a supermodel, but she was definitely easy on the eyes. Her name was Dylan, and she was moving across country for a job working in a congressman’s office, which was a lot more than he had. The move was almost entirely because his brother lived there and had a vacant basement that he and his housemates were fine with Josh crashing in until he found a way to make some money. Dylan agreed to split expenses down the middle and had only one medium-sized suitcase by way of luggage, so and when he picked her up, Josh felt pretty good about partnering up with her. Any girl who could move to another city and have only one piece of luggage with her had to be far from high maintenance. On the morning they were slated to leave, Josh had woken up at about three a.m. and stuffed the trunk and most of the backseat with his own crap – electronics and computer stuff mostly. He’d sold his furniture, his bike and everything else that anyone would pay more than a buck for. It was time to cut bait – school was over with and his life had begun.
Dylan was waiting for him outside her apartment with two of her friends. Josh watched as they said goodbye with hugs and tears and promises to call from the road and then they were on their way. The plan was to drive for ten hours a day, find a cheap motel to sleep and get there in a minimum of four and a half days, though Dylan said she was open to taking as long as a week if they saw anything along the way worth stopping for. Josh thought it might even be a good time, but now, almost seven hours in, and she had barely said a word. She listened to music on her iPod with her hair hanging in her face so that he couldn’t tell if she was even awake or not. Outside of Barstow she pulled out her ear buds to ask where they were and then put them right back in again when she got her answer.
“Perfect,” Josh said out loud. “Might as well have brought along a mannequin.”
Not that he wanted a chatterbox, either. His ex-girlfriend Alex was a chatterbox. Josh had been grateful for the excuse of the move to DC to break it off with her. Then he heard that she’d taken about a day to rebound with some loser and had some twinges of regret. But that was all over with now, and he was totally open to a casual fling with his travel companion if she would open up a little bit.
Just as Josh had made up his mind to put on his own tunes, Dylan removed her ear buds again and stuffed them in her pocket. Then she stretched, yawned and turned to look at him as though just remembering that she was not alone.
“Had to do my morning meditation,” she explained.
“Long meditation,” Josh said.
“I fell asleep, actually,” Dylan confessed with a laugh. “That always happens. It’s monks chanting. It calms me, but then I get so calm I fall asleep.”
“Hate when that happens,” Josh said.
“So should we stop for a late breakfast?” Dylan asked, glancing at the time.
They’d left Oakland just after two a.m. so it was still early, but the traffic was just beginning to pick up. A couple hours to top off the gas and eat would be welcome. They pulled off an exit in Barstow and found a diner near 99 that was populated with truckers and cops. It looked a little shabby, but Josh didn’t feel like venturing much further into town and risk getting turned around and Dylan didn’t seem to care, so they got a booth and looked over the menu. After a moment Dylan put hers down and looked around.
“This is like one of those horror movies,” she said under her breath. “Where some stupid couple goes wandering into a small town and gets attacked by zombies or something. It always starts in some dive like this, doesn’t it?”
“You’d have to be wearing a shirt denim skirt that barely covers your ass and cowboy boots though,” Josh said.
“Of course,” Dylan said. “Because ultimately that’s why I get killed, right? Because I’m basically just a slut?”
Josh chuckled. He was liking this girl’s sense of humor. Maybe the trip was looking up after all.
“So tell me again why you’re headed to DC?” she asked. “What’s your life plan?”
“I wish I had one,” Josh said. “I’m headed to DC to see whether I can’t figure one out before my first student loan payment comes due. How ‘bout you? What’s your plan besides working for some big-shot congressman.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll become his mistress or something. That might be interesting,” Dylan said deadpan. But when Josh laughed, she didn’t laugh with him.
“What can I get for you two this fine morning?”
Their waitress finally appeared, complete with pink and white gingham uniform and a net covering her hair. She barely looked at them as she spoke. Josh ordered a full breakfast, anticipating another long drive before their next stop, but Dylan only wanted a slice of apple pie and a coffee.
“I don’t eat much,” she explained when the waitress was gone.
“We can grab a couple bags of chips and stuff,” Josh suggested.
“Y’know what I just thought of? We should’ve gone north so we could drive through Vegas,” Dylan said. “I’ve never been, have you?”
Josh smirked. “Yeah, I’ve been.”
“Uh oh, I sense a story,” Dylan said. “Spill it.”
“No story. Drunken high jinks, the usual.”
“I see. If we get to know each other better, maybe I’ll share some of my own high jinks.”
“You’re about to go work for a congressman,” Josh said. “I’m pretty sure your highest high jinks are pretty tame.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Dylan said.
She scooped up her hair and fastened it into a high ponytail and fluffed it out. She had ears that were slightly too large, but oddly enough, they added to her charm rather than detracted from it. Josh looked out the window and checked on his Jetta to distract himself. This was his problem; he got into it with chicks too quickly. And before he knew what was happening, he was somebody’s boyfriend and she was talking about him coming home with them for a weekend to meet the parents. He had the kind of face that made girls think he was trustworthy, his friend Mark was always saying.
Maybe, but only the women who were looking for something serious cared about trustworthy. And Josh was not looking for something serious, especially not now when all he had ahead of him was a directionless existence in a city he was unfamiliar with, mooching off his older brother and his friends.
“I think there’s an army base or something near here,” Dylan was saying now, playing with a loose strand of her hair. “I’ve seen a couple military guys walk in and out since we’ve been here.”
“You like men in uniform?” Josh asked.
Dylan looked at him. “I don’t like men at all, but sadly, I am heterosexual so it’s been a dilemma.”
Again Josh couldn’t tell whether she was joking or not. He watched as she began meticulously shredding her paper napkin into almost perfectly matched strips then laying out them across her plate.
“I’ve gotta go to the head,” Josh said sliding out of the booth.
In the bathroom he pulled out his cell phone and called Aaron. His brother was clearly distracted and as he spoke, Josh could hear the sounds of him rustling about in his kitchen, probably making coffee or something.
“Are you over your dumb-ass idea of driving across country yet?” Aaron asked.
“Nah, it’s alright,” Josh said, not wanting to admit that maybe he’d been rash.
“This girl I’m with is kind of interesting, so . . .”
“Good. At least there’s that, huh? Well call Mom. She’s freaked out about this. I told her guys generally don’t get abducted at truck stops and then she started spouting off traffic accident statistics . . .”
“Okay, I’ll call her when we stop for the night.”
“You planning on sharing a room?”
“To save money, sure. But . . .”
“Sure, sure. Anyway, glad to hear you made it through the night. Late for work, gotta go.”
Josh looked at the now silent cell phone. That just about summed up their relationship. Aaron was always on the go and confident about where he was headed while he was always standing still, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on in his own life. Dylan was cute, but something about her suggested that he was out of his depth, and Josh was sick of feeling out of his depth. He dialed his parents’ number and listened to one ring before deciding that it was probably not worth it. The only thing that made him feel less sure of himself than a conversation with Aaron was a conversation with his mother. So he took a piss instead and waited for an interval that ensured his breakfast would be waiting for him when he got back.
They ate in relative silence then hit the road again. Josh was beginning to feel the weight of having been up since one a.m. and didn’t think he could hold out much longer. Dylan was digging through the brown calfskin duffle at her feet and finally resurfaced with a notebook which she held up as though it were a prize.
“Want to liven things up a little bit?” she asked waving the book back and forth.
“Sure. What is that?”
“My roommate’s journal,” Dylan sang.
Josh glanced at her. She was wearing a self-satisfied smirk that had an undercurrent of real meanness.
“She let you have that?”
“Of course not. I lifted it before I left. You saw her. She was the skinny one with the trashy blonde highlights.”
Josh laughed uncomfortably. “So I guess you’re not great friends?”
“No. She’s a whore. She pretends to be my friend, but she’s not. She hangs around me, being all fake and picks up my leftovers.”
It took Josh a moment to realize she was talking about men.
“So you’ve dated some of the same guys, I guess.”
“If you want to call what she does ‘dating’, then sure. I suspected she was trying to hit on a guy I was going out with and when I found her diary, I discovered it was a lot more than that. She was screwing him. Right under my nose.”
“That’s too bad,” Josh said.
“I don’t care about him, I care about the betrayal,” Dylan said, her voice changing.
“But if you don’t care about her either, then what’s the betrayal?”
“She doesn’t know I don’t care about her. I was nothing but nice to that freak.”
“Okay, so let’s hear some of it.”
“I’ve been reading it for about a week,” Dylan said. “Watching her frantically looking for the damned thing while pretending not to has been quite entertaining, let me tell you.”
Josh knew women could be vindictive, but this was the first time he felt like he’d been granted an all-access pass.
“Okay . . .” Dylan began flipping through pages, finally stopping and nudging him in the side. “Okay, so this part is one of my favorites. I should start highlighting this stuff.” She cleared her throat and began reading in a goofy little-girl voice: “ ‘In all honesty, Dylan was never that nice to Brett, so I have no real reason to feel guilty. If a guy calls you only once a week, that means he’s not that serious about you, Dylan, get a clue! So when we ran into each other I had no intention of hooking up with him. But he looked really good and was funny and touchy-feely with me all night and the next thing I knew we were making out. I went back to his place and then he’s got his hands under my blouse and it was all over . .’
“So you feel okay about reading this?” Josh stopped her only because he was beginning to get embarrassed and he didn’t even know this chick whose journal this was.
“Why shouldn’t I? She took something of mine, so I took something of hers,” Dylan said.
“And in this scenario, what was yours would be . . ?”
“Brett. Keep up, Josh.”
“But did you even like him that much? And to be honest, from the sound of it, maybe he just wasn’t . . .”
“Okay, I see,” Dylan interrupted him. “You’re a puritan. Sorry. I thought maybe you would appreciate the humor in this girl’s pathetic little so-called life.”
She slapped the notebook shut and shoved it back into her duffle. Then she pulled out her iPod and ear buds and turned on Coldplay, so loud that Josh could hear every word of the Viva la Vida chant. If he could have taken both hands off the steering wheel, he would have put his head in them.
Dylan gave him the cold shoulder for hours. He drove and she listened to music. It was only when he dozed off for a moment and the car drifted off into the rumble strip on the shoulder that she tapped him on the shoulder and offered to take over.
They pulled into a rest area and Josh got out to change seats with her.
“I’m going to run in and grab some gum,” she said sweetly. “Do you want something?”
“Nope, I’m good.”
“I’ll only be a moment,” she promised with a beatific smile.
When she walked away, Josh got the distinct impression that she’d added a twitch to her walk on purpose. He didn’t know what it was, but something about this girl was off.