Leaving in the middle of the night was Ben’s idea.
Not that Tom didn’t agree with it –he’s here, isn’t he?- but he probably wouldn’t have thought of it by himself. He was too absorbed with what his family would think about him not setting in search of a job with his English degree right away… which led to wondering how they’d take it if he admitted he didn’t really feel like going into that field after all, and then somehow about telling them he wasn’t really into women either and—long story short, Ben had to intervene.
It’s not the first time Ben stops by –although it is the first time they’re raiding the fridge that late in the night… or early in the morning, it really depends where you’re looking from. The good point is that Tom doesn’t need to worry about him stepping on the second to last step in the stairs, the one that creaks like crazy at the barest contact. The bad point is that Ben apparently can’t refrain from commenting on Tom’s house one last time, even though they know they’re not going to see it in a long time.
They’ve planned everything.
For months –almost since the school year started, in fact- they’ve been looking at maps and tourist leaflets, comparing prices, calculating driving times, figuring out some form of schedule for the biggest road trip of their year.
Tom knows some of their friends are going to go to Scotland, Ireland and back this summer, and that’s similar to what he and Ben had planned at first –a few weeks touring France, and then back. But then Tom looked at the map and said: “You know, while we’ll be in Paris and Versailles, we might as well visit Vaux-le-Vicomte… you know, the castle that inspired Louis the fourteenth.” And then Ben had nodded and said: “Well if we’re going to do that one, there’s also Fontainebleau, and then we won’t be too far from the Loire.” And then from the castles of the Loire river, they’d looked south and found the Wine Road, the Pyreneans, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany… and before they knew it, their road trip was scheduled to last a full year and take them across all of western Europe, sometimes even beyond that.
Tom is so excited he feels like he’s been on the verge of a heart attack for the past two days.
Today, they went to retrieve their diplomas and set everything in order, and Tom’s mom cooked for them, meat pie and pudding –which Ben is now stuffing on the backseat. Tom snorts at the sight and pushes against the door to close it after he set the alarm back on, then joins Ben who is waiting in the passenger seat of his small red car.
“I’ll drive us to Dover,” Tom reminds him, “You can sleep ‘till then.”
But Ben grins, and Tom knows he won’t be able to sleep, anymore than he could if he wanted to. He turns the keys into the ignition and the stuffed twingo grunts as he takes it onto the road and off toward an adventure Tom can’t wait to put on his resume.
“Did you put pickles in those?”
“Oh for the love of… yes, Benedict, I did put pickles in your sandwiches.”
“Aw, come on, don’t be so cross,” Benedict says, and takes a huge bite of his first ham-and-pickles sandwich, Tom forced to listen from the front seat.
Ben decided after their first toilet break that he was going to sit in the back with all the food and last-minute additions to their trip. Tom knows the video recorder is somehow balanced on Ben’s right side and filming him, and the thought makes him smile –somehow he can’t wait to show the video around. He knows it’ll be awesome, having their friends and family watch, and be the kind of insufferable dorks nobody knows whether they should hate or love, laughing at their memories, making private jokes that leave everyone else confused while they struggle to breathe again amidst their giggles. Tom knows Ben thinks like him, because he’s currently stage-whispering at the camera: “So I hope you’re enjoying this part of the trip because it’s probably the last time you understand anything that’s going on.”
But first, Ben needs to figure out his angles, because Tom is pretty sure the only thing he’s filming right now is a close-up of his left nostril.
(He gets a confirmation of his thoughts when a biker zooms past him in a flash and the knee-jerk veer to the left he does sends his face against the camera in a rather painful way.)
“WOOOO-EEEEEEEEEEEH! BONJOUR LA FRANCE! JE T’AIME! BON MATIIIIIIIIN! COME ON TOM! SAY HELLO TO NORMANDY!”
Tom managed to grab a few hours of sleep during the crossing of the Channel earlier this morning, and then when they stopped to sleep on one of the nearby beaches with the front seats bent as far back as they could and sunglasses on their faces –although Ben woke him up to watch the sun rise- and now he’s driving with the biggest grin in his repertoire as they go west to the Mount St. Michel. Benedict has his head outside the left hand window, putting the lack of traffic to good use –Tom is slightly nervous because they’re on the right and if anybody comes in front of them Ben is at serious risk, but he’s in too good a mood to really protest. He does, however, want to poke fun at Ben and so he says:
“I CAN’T YELL AT FRANCE RIGHT NOW, I’M DRIVING!”
Truthfully, he doesn’t really need to yell that hard, because they’re not on the motorway and Ben can probably hear him even with the wind in his ears, but they’re in holiday for the next year, they’re young, they’re free, they’re happy... why not yell be loud and ridiculous and obnoxious? If you have something to say, say it from the rooftop is what Tom likes to say, and he’s damn well going to put his words to practice.
“YELL AT THE ROAD THEN!” Ben shoots back. “COME ON, GIVE ME A WHOOP! COME-ON-COME-CON-COME-ON!”
Tom snorts at Ben’s antics, jumping on his seat with his ass bouncing on the cushion like a clown jumping out of its box while his ridiculous hipster scarf threatens to spill into the wind and on the road. Tom can’t help but let out a scream of joy.
“YAY FOR YOUR LAUGH MATE!” Ben says, and Tom shakes his head. “COME ON, DO IT AGAIN!”
“NO, I’D LIKE TO KEEP MY VOICE, THANKS!”
“BOLLOCKS!” Ben says, “WE’VE BEEN YELLING FOR TEN MINUTES, YOUR VOICE IS GOING OUT ALREADY!”
“NEVERMIND!” Tom answers. “NOW GET YOUR HEAD BACK IN OR GET READY TO BE STABBED IN THE GUT WITH THE WINDOW!”
Tom pushes the window button and it rolls up with a whine as Benedict comes back in, hair in a complete mess, and then dies into the glove compartment. Tom watches from the corner of his eyes as his friend removes a burned CD box and a triangular piece of paper.
“What is that?” Tom asks –despite himself, he swears, he knows the look on Ben’s face and he’s pretty sure anything that will happen in the next five minutes is going to be incredibly stupid.
“This,” Ben says, brandishing his paper –a red triangle with a bleeding steak in the middle and the words ‘Roast beefs on the road’ printed out on the bottom- “is for our protection and everyone else’s comfort, and this...” –he puts the CD in the player- “is my special gift for you!”
Tom’s grin widens again as he hears the guitar start while Ben stacks his improvised road sign to the rear window and comes back in front. He shakes his head, determined not to fall for the obvious trap, nay –the blatant attack against his voice, but Ben looks at him with half-laughing, half-pleading eyes.
“Come on!” He says, “you know you want it! I don’t care if Monday’s blue, Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too! Tuesday I don’t care about you—”
Ben whoops when Tom cracks the volume up and joins:
“IT’S FRIDAY, I’M IN LOVE!”
It’s just past nine am on a Friday morning, they’re in France, and Tom has never felt so exhilarated in his life.
This is going to be an awesome road trip.