The obnoxious young woman at the car-rental counter tells Pete there are no more SUVs to be had. And Pete, in full flirt mode, says, “That’s okay. We can do a compact car.”
Myka whacks him in the arm. “No.”
“No? You always say words about saving energy and the environment and all that! You should be thrilled that we’re getting some dinky little gas-sipper!”
“Look, I would just like a little more room, okay?”
“You can scoot the seat back as far as you want,” he explains, as if Myka has never been in a car before. “There’ll be plenty of room for your freakishly long legs.”
“My legs are not freakishly long!”
“They totally are. So. Ford Fiesta it is.”
Myka says to the young woman, “Are you sure you couldn’t find us something a little more, um, roomy?”
“Sorry,” she says. She doesn’t seem sorry at all. She seems like the kind of girl who should be chewing, and snapping, a large mouthful of fruity gum. “Some kinda outdoorsy convention in town, you know? Duck hunters or whatever. They got everything bigger than, like, basically, the Fiats.”
“Oooh, Mykes!” Pete burbles. “We could get a Fiat, and then you’d have to ride with your legs hanging out the window!”
“Wonderful,” Myka says. “A Ford Fiesta.”
“Arriba!” Pete whoops.
They snag, they bag. What they snag and bag is in fact a set of golf clubs, which… is quite large. When they check out of their hotel—the first flight they could get out, which Artie insisted they take, is scheduled to depart quite late, and Myka had tried to convince Pete that they should “just, you know, maybe get some rest here” before leaving, but oh no, he was desperate to get dinner at some place that everyone on Yelp raved about that was right on the way to the airport and he was sure it was going to be the best meal he’d ever had—they discover that their luggage, supplemented as it is with niblicks and mashies, now occupies not only the cargo space, but also the back seat. Which means that neither Pete nor Myka can in fact scoot their seats back anymore. At all.
Myka is contemplating her knees—they are level with her eyes—when Pete says, “Yeah, okay, it’s a small car. You win.”
“In what conceivable way is this ‘winning’?”
“I’m trying to apologize. You should be nicer about it.”
“Here’s what I’ll do,” Myka says. “I won’t say another word about the car if you won’t say anything about my dropping you off at the restaurant so I can… um… run an errand.”
“Run an errand? What kind of crazy errand do you have to run at eight-thirty at night in Newark, New Jersey before we catch a plane at eleven?”
“Pete, would you like to listen to me complain about the car all the way back to South Dakota?”
Myka parks outside a tall office building, in a part of Newark that is most likely buzzing with white-collar workers during the workday. Now, however, the streets are silent and dark. A couple of people slink by the car. They don’t look friendly, and Myka contemplates when—and, almost, whether—to brave the pavement.
Any doubt she might have had, though, disappears when she sees the revolving door at the base of building begin to turn. She tries to tamp down her hopes; it might just be a random someone working late, someone who’s even more unnerved by these streets than Myka is…
It isn’t just a random someone working late.
Myka launches herself from the car, all her limbs exploding at once, it feels like, from the tiny space. She flies toward the person emerging from that revolving door with all the speed her suddenly clumsy, bumbling body can muster.
She collides with Helena and it’s glorious: they very nearly knock each other down with eagerness, with the need to hold each other so, so tightly, with the way their bodies can barely remember how to keep their balance when they’re this tangled with another person.
And yet when they kiss, it’s soft, almost shy. “I can’t believe you’re really here,” Myka says.
“Nor I you,” Helena breathes.
It’s been three weeks since they last saw each other—no, they’ve seen each other on Skype, and once, completely accidentally, on the Farnsworth. But it’s been three weeks since they last laid hands and mouths on each other, and they are hopelessly in love, and three weeks is a ridiculously long time. It might as well have been forever.
“Where is your car,” Helena begs, “because I must touch you, this minute…”
“Um,” Myka says. “About that.”
Helena perceives the Fiesta for the first time. “What is that?”
“Yeah, it’s the car,” Myka says.
“This is some hideous jape.”
“Look, you need to just not give me grief about this, okay? I didn’t have a choice.”
“All right,” Helena says, and Myka genuinely thrills to her determination, “we’ll… call for a limousine.”
“I wish I had thought of that,” Myka says, sadly, “but by the time it got here, I would have to wave goodbye to you right as it pulled up. Because how long can you be gone?”
“Not long,” Helena says. “I told Jane that I needed to step out. I am already imposing perhaps too much upon her good nature.”
“Yeah,” Myka says. “I don’t have a lot of time either. I left Pete in a restaurant, and you know fast he eats. And like I said in my text, we have to be at the airport in… oh, god, less than half an hour.”
“All right,” Helena says, again with that determination, “we will make do.” Then she gets a full look at the car and what it contains. “Let me see if I understand the situation properly. We cannot even access the rear seat?”
“Because of the golf clubs,” Myka says mournfully. “I know.”
“I really did not think I would one day feel nostalgia for… what was that garish vehicle?”
Myka says, now longingly, “A Lincoln Navigator.”
“Now that was an automobile,” Helena says. “With a great deal of room to… maneuver.”
“Don’t remind me,” Myka begs. Because the idea that they aren’t going be able to… maneuver like that, in the twenty minutes or so that they’ve got, is going to drive her insane.
“Get into the contraption,” Helena orders. “This minute.”
“Okay,” Myka says. At least they can be… sort of alone, for that twenty minutes. Sort of alone, and not worried that some Newark thugs are going to break things up. Because while Myka has no doubt that she and Helena could deal with any problems, dealing with problems takes time. And that’s the precious thing right now…
“This is a ridiculous machine,” Helena pronounces, once she’s in the passenger seat and Myka is in the driver’s. “Who in the world would want—”
“If you would please shut up,” Myka says, surprising even herself. She twists her body and covers Helena’s as best she can—it doesn’t work, not at all, but at least they are locked in a kiss, and even though her legs can’t move because her knees are trapped under the dashboard, she can take her left hand and start to move it against Helena, who makes a noise that has to be good…
Apparently it isn’t good, because, “Wait, no,” Helena says. “I can’t quite…”
Myka gives up. She takes her hand away. “This is ridiculous!” she fumes.
“Yes,” Helena agrees. “But it is the situation in which we find ourselves.”
“I know,” Myka pouts. “I hate it.”
They are silent for a moment. “You are my love,” Helena says, as if in apology.
“You’re mine too,” Myka responds. “I just want…”
“I want that too.”
Helena looks sideways at Myka. “Do you know what I would do, if we were at home?”
Myka expects some kind of extreme description, for Helena can be quite explicit when she is of a mind to be. Instead, though, Helena says, “I would kiss you for hours. Hours upon hours. I would kiss you in ways you did not know a person could be kissed. I would kiss you in ways that I invented on the spot. I would show all the ways in which I—”
“Just kiss me now. Please. You have… eight minutes. Kiss me now. Kiss me in as many of those ways—” and then Myka’s mouth is occupied, and she is fully present in this moment, but she also yearns to be in her bed, in their bed, because it has to someday become their bed, because this cannot go on. It is exciting, it is stimulating, it is waking her body up in ways that she did not know were possible… but it is not enough. It will never be enough.
Thirty minutes into the flight home, Myka is closing her eyes. She is thinking about Helena. She is thinking about the last kiss she and Helena shared, in the revolving door of the office building: “I can speak no sense to the other Regents after this,” Helena had said. “Good,” Myka had told her, which Helena had answered with, “Pleased with yourself, are you?” and then, before Myka could say anything, a whispered, “you should be,” followed by one last press of lips.
“You know,” she hears Pete say, “you don’t have to lie to me.”
“About what?” She doesn’t want to open her eyes.
“Don’t play dumb, because you’re not dumb. I see your face, Mykes. I know only one person makes your face look like that.”
Myka sighs. “I wanted you to have some kind of plausible deniability. I could get in trouble. I don’t want you to get in trouble too.”
Pete sighs too. “Don’t worry about me. I never get in trouble.”
“You get in trouble all the time!’
“Yeah, but it doesn’t bother me. So no big.”
“Well, it would bother me.”
“I know. Which is why you shouldn’t lie to me, because I’ll help cover for you. Okay?”
“We don’t even end up in the same city often. Hardly ever,” Myka says. “This was just a coincidence.”
“Okay. When the coincidences happen, we will find a shag van for you, okay? Just say.”
“I don’t want to have to say.”
“Fine. Don’t say. But then we need some kind of signal, like a tie on the doorknob? But you don’t wear ties. How about a code word? You could go, ‘Pete, girlfriend,’ and I would know that you meant H.G.”
“You do see, right, that that is technically saying?”
“Yes,” Pete says. “Yes, I do. And I think you need to get used to it. Because I think H.G. is worth the saying. And you know what else I think?”
“No,” Myka tells him, even though she has a pretty good idea. And she loves him for it.
“I think you think so too.”