Anne smiled. “Owen? You’ll do it?”
“Yeeees?” He stretched out his face, and the word too, drawing it out until it was almost unrecognizable. In fact, K wasn’t sure that he had said yes. Possibly it was some young person slang of “Eghths.” But statistically speaking, it was probably yes.
“Do you often impugn the English language with your young person slang?” K asked, because it never hurt to double check. After all, not all hypotheses were correct.
Oh, who was he kidding, K’s hypotheses were always right. “Science really is amazing,” he continued. But he was ignored by Anne and Owen in favor of a starting contest, Anne craning around her seat to glare into Owen’s eyes.
Sometimes, K thought, she was a little scary.
K was very good at staring contests. He had even beaten that man on the bus this morning so badly he had not only blinked but run away. So it really was unfair of them to leave him out like this. Oh, well. It was harder to have a staring contest while driving Anne’s van, anyway. The last time he had tried Fausta had hit him over the head until he was facing the road again.
"You’ll have fun," said Anne again, as Owen leaned his head against the window with a groan, clearly defeated.
Mr. K nodded. Safety was important. He even had a very fetching safety vest he wore at all times.
Fausta clearly agreed because she piped up with, "It will be fun, you will see.”
"I came for beer, not to be some kind of-" Owen stopped himself, shaking his head. Then he smiled. And it wasn’t an Owen smile, no, it was an Anne smile, all sharp teeth and predatory confidence.
"No, you want to know what, this is profiling," he said, decisively. Owen gestured down at himself. The sweatshirt he was wearing was clearly hideous, but K wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything.
"Damn right it is, do you know how many friends I have under the age of 20? Specifically one who like sports and Ryan?" Anne stressed the name. She must really like saying Ryan's name. Mr. K certainly did too. Ryan seemed fond of it himself, come to think of it.
Oh, Ryan. K missed him. "I like Ryan."
“I know you do, K," said Anne softly. Mr. K liked it when she said his name, too. It probably had something to do with the fact that Ryan was his best friend. Some sort of transitive power of names. He nodded to himself, because it made perfect sense.
"Yes, so do I," said Owen. "Why don’t you make him do it? He’s basically a teenager, too. And why aren't you dragging him along on this little adventure, anyway?"
"I am here," said K. Because he was. But maybe not, because the other three continued their conversation without him.
"No, he means why Ryan not here. Because Owen think he is too cool for us," said Fausta, "He think if Ryan here then maybe he would be hanging with a radio star. But, I tell you a secret.”
K leaned around so he could hear it better. He liked secrets. But then everyone started yelling at him. That really wasn’t nice. But Fausta refused to say anything else until he turned around, so he did, even if he kept his eyes glued to the mirror. He wasn’t missing the secret.
"Ryan, he not cool." said Fausta solemnly.
Mr. K waited patiently for her to continue. Because that wasn’t a secret. That was a --
“That was a lie,” said K, trying to put all the horror he felt into his voice. Mostly it just sounded echo-y to him, so maybe it wasn’t all that effective especially because Fausta just caught his eyes in the mirror and shook her head.
Clearly she was wrong. K didn’t know much about being cool, according to his classmates and coworkers and family, and that one guy at the checkout counter, but he did know that Ryan was cool.
"She's right, sweetie. I mean, a grown man spending all day talking about games, what do you call that?”
It didn’t sound like a question, but Owen answered anyway. "The dream," he said, soft and wistful, like he had just seen a unicorn. K glanced out the window, but, sadly, no unicorn was there. He wasn’t surprised, though. Unicorns were crafty, but one day, one day he would get one of those horns and then how he would laugh and laugh and-
Oh, that was honking. K pulled his foot off the brake and started them moving again. Apparently the conversation had passed him too, just like that Jetta with the broken taillight. Some people just had no respect for other drivers.
"See, that's why you're perfect for this. Nate likes those games, like the one with the ball and the other with the big posts," said Anne. “Oh, shut up. I know things.”
Owen sniggered. “About balls? Actually, I thought you would know plenty about sports, I mean, statistically-”
"Who is stereotyping now?" Anne grinned smugly, like she had won some war of words. Well, she was a lawyer. Who knew what they did in those “courtrooms” anyway. "Yeah, see, that, that was cool, what, I did right there.”
"OK, maybe a little," said Owen.
K was still stuck on the fact that Nate liked sports. K knew nothing about sports. Clearly he would have to go spend more time with Ryan and learn. After all, you were supposed to pay attention to your kids’ interests. Speaking of, "Where are the little darlings, anyway?"
"Really." said Anne. It wasn't a question. K didn't like sentences like that, the tricky ones that might mean one thing or the other depending on inflection or expression, especially since Anne's face didn't look anything like the flashcards he'd had to practice on. “Do you know what we’re doing right now?”
Oh, but he did know that one. “Driving.”
“I hate to ask it, since you’re the one driving, but you do know where we’re going, right?” asked Owen.
“As a hip member of the younger generation, I think you would be able to recognize a GPS,” said K, gesturing at the machine he had hooked up to the van.
“Oh, I recognize real GPS alright,” replied Owen.
“Enough, or I’m kicking you both out of our car,” said Anne. “Don’t think I won’t do it.”
“She would, she is very fierce. Very fierce indeed.”
Anne smiled. “Thank you.”
“She’s also crazy. She needs a man to calm her down,” said Fausta in what was probably meant to be a whisper to Owen.
"I have no idea why you decided to come along to pick Nate and Abby up from camp with us," said Anne spitefully.
She really shouldn’t speak so harshly when saying the little dearhearts’ names, but K didn’t get a chance to point that out, as Fausta decided to snap back, "Because there no bingo this week, and Anne said she would buy booze."
“So much booze,” sighed Owen. He started to grumble something about it being a honeytrap, bait-and-switch no-good awful trick to make him hang out with Nate, but K was stuck on one thought.
"Anne, how could you? Buying alcohol for your children!"
“Dont even start with me, K. I don’t know how or why you are here either, much less how you got my keys.”
"I love our road trips," said K, because he did love their roadtrips.
"When we go on a road trip before?" asked Fausta.
"Of course! We flew out from the Core on our Firefly class ship and Fausta said 'shiny' and Ryan wore very tight pants." K thought about what he just said. "Possibly that was a dream."
"We can always hope," said Owen.
It very effectively killed the conversation, anyway. That would not do. Lively conversation was integral to the success of any good road trip, so K took a stab at it. "The average amount of cream in a double stuffed Oreo is not even close to double the stuffing in a regular Oreo."
"Man, now I'm hungry."
K started to pull over. It took awhile with this vehicle. Not like his Winnebago. No grace to it at all, and no beautiful Jude Law hanging from the mirror, looking back at him so knowingly. It was those eyes. "So blue," he said.
"Yes, we stop now," said Fausta, kicking the back of K's seat. He didn't care, though, thinking about the way Jude's eyes would shade just a hint darker when he was mad. Oh yes, Jude was always right when he had those eyes. He would need to cut them out, if he didn't want to secretly pass K messages, which, well K wasn't going to judge, but restraining orders were so passe.
"I really don't think that is the best idea," said Anne, like a buzzkill. That was another word he didn't quite understand. How could you kill a buzz? No, she was not a buzzkiller, she was a funkiller.
Because it wasn't, K thought, looking at the sign, the best idea. No, it was the greatest idea.
"It's the greatest idea," said K, sharing. People liked it when you shared your thoughts and emotions. It facilitated communication, according to the pamphlet he read in a shrink’s office when he was seven. Which was strange, because the shrink hadn't really seemed to enjoy it when K shared his thoughts.
Owen saw it too. He was sitting up straighter in his seat. "I don't really want to say it, but I'm with K on this one."
"Traitor," said Anne, who was looking straight ahead. Boring. She might be cool, but she was missing something amazing.
"We're stopping, we win," said Fausta, leaning her head up between the front seats to glare at Anne, pointedly.
"Yes, yes we are winning," said K, because yes, yes they were winning. They were winning everything. Winning like the wind. Or maybe like a Joe Gulloni, from third grade. He had won every spelling bee. K had gotten out on S-U-S-dsfhskdhfjk.
"There's nothing here, anyway," said Anne as she pulled open her door, glancing around.
Owen cackled. Cackling was such an amazing word. "Tell them, Sabrina," said K.
"Sabrina?" asked Fausta.
K sighed. "Owen is clearly a teenage witch." It was obvious. He had cackled. No appreciation for pop culture these days.
"I don't know how to respond to that," said Owen. But clearly he did, because he continued, "Anne, look up."
"A billboard?" Anne asked, before pausing and looking at their excited faces. "Ryan's billboard."
"Oh yeah, baby."
Anne laughed, a full ringing peal of joy as she pulled her quarry out of the trunk. "OK team, huddle up. Time to make a plan of attack.
A huddle! K was learning more about sports all the time. He sprinted out of the car to the others, slinging his arms around his team. “I know I have a paintball gun in the back from our outing last week. What are we gonna do about this billboard. I’m thinking a classic mustache."
“Ryan would look debonair with more facial hair, but I have a better idea,” said K. Because oh yes, this was going to be fun.
And he was right. 20 minutes later, looking at the beautiful lime green skin and pink hair that really brought out the color of Ryan’s eyes, K was happy to be proven right.
"OK, this might have been a good idea," said Owen. "I still don't want to be big bro-um, mentor to your son. But if he's anything like you it might be fun. Though not cool, trapping me in a road trip to make me agree."
“Group hug!” shouted K.