Dutch comes out of a dingy rest stop with a dingy bathroom and a dingy proprietor and dingy snacks that she nonetheless stocked up on to find a stranger leaning against her car.
It's midnight, and the parking lot isn't well lit. The only person who might call the police is the trucker dozing a few spots away. He may think that will work in his favor, but it's actually going to work in hers. It's the work of a moment to get her knife out and against his throat. “You don't want to try anything.”
“I thought about stealing it,” he admits easily enough to make her blink, and pats the car's door with an odd amount of affection. “But then you looked kind of lonely.”
“I'm not.” She doesn't know how to be. “I'm just traveling. On my own. Get the hell away from my car. Hitchhike or carjack someone else, I don't care.”
He actually laughs, though she can tell from the way he's holding himself that he has a healthy respect for her knife. “You're running away, right?”
“I'm not accusing you of anything. What do you think I'm doing?”
“Apparently considering stealing cars.”
He runs his hands over it. She's still pretending that she hasn't named it Lucy, that she doesn't answer back whenever the chirpy voice installed in it reminds her to put on her seatbelt or fill up on fuel. “I mean, if you're going to run away, run away in style, right?” He looks down at her, somehow through his lashes. “Do you want some company?”
Dutch doesn't know what makes her do it. She's not sure she'll ever know. “Where are you going?”
“Didn't I just say? Anywhere you are. But I'm pretty sure that 'away' is the important direction.”
She puts the knife away and raps her knuckles on the door. “Get in. I'm driving.”
She tells him her name, or at least the one she's using now, when she finally gives up and pulls into a motel parking lot at noon the next day, a whole state away, even though he needled her for it the whole time they sat in a Waffle House eating breakfast. “You're coming in with me and sleeping,” she says when he's still grinning with delight at the single syllable she gave him. “I don't trust you not to steal Lucy.”
If possible, he looks even more delighted. “Lucy. Suits her. Beautiful name for a beautiful car.”
“And that's why I don't trust you not to steal her.”
The motel room smells like mothballs and fresh paint, and Dutch doesn't even bother getting under the covers. Johnny sleeps curled up under the extra blanket on the floor next to the window, and he sleeps like he's never woken in the night knowing something horrible could happen to him, but he wakes her after two hours, talking in the throes of a nightmare.
“Shut up,” she whispers, not expecting it to work. “If anyone comes bursting in here to hurt someone, they're not going to be coming after you.”
Incredibly, her voice quiets him. Dutch hasn't ever been able to comfort anyone like that before, and she watches him, startled, for a little longer than she should before she drifts back off.
Who is Johnny Jaqobis, admitting this to her when she had his life in her hands less than twenty-four hours ago? Dutch doesn't like feeling a step behind, but she does with him.
She doesn't answer, just keeps driving into the last light of the afternoon because somehow in the old stories west is where people go to make sense of their lives and make new ones.
Johnny squints into the horizon and hums along with the radio and talks back to Lucy when she warns them there are police scanners ahead. It's not a feature she's technically supposed to have, but Johnny doesn't bat an eyelash, just tells her that clearly she's already got a handle on Dutch's driving habits.
Dutch smiles, and hopes she stops herself before he notices.
She lets him drive for the first time two days later, when she couldn't sleep on their motel stop for more than ten minutes at a time and doesn't trust herself behind the wheel.
Johnny beams like she's given him an amazing gift behind the terrible novelty sunglasses he picked up in a gift shop and almost hits his head getting into the car because he forgot how far forward she has to have the seat.
The second they're on a flat stretch of highway, mostly empty and far away from any cities, he revs the engine and takes Lucy through a series of stunt-driver tricks that have Dutch whooping and clutching the handle over her door even though suddenly she trusts his precision, trusts him not to wreck them both when he's smiling so wide it looks like it hurts his face.
When he's done showing off, she falls asleep against the car window to the almost-familiar sound of him humming along with the radio, and she wakes up in the dark with more highway markers than she would have expected behind them.
“Let's stop for burgers,” says Johnny without looking away from the road, somehow knowing she's awake. “I'm sick of Fritos, and I never thought I'd say that.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, okay.”
Dutch almost scoffs, but he actually looks hopeful, and she's going to run out of highway sooner rather than later if she keeps going so fast. She sighs instead. “You're paying, and if you buy a cowboy hat I'm leaving you here.”
She doesn't know if she'll ever understand how he's brave enough to smile at her like that.
It's impossible, somehow, that no one out there in the world is missing Johnny Jaqobis, that he doesn't have a grandmother to scold him for an absence, a mother worrying and calling a disconnected cell phone number, friends trying to reach out through e-mail, a father coming home after a day out and sitting exhausted in their living room, waiting for the phone to ring. Johnny is too good not to be missed. There's something wrong with a world where he can slip through the cracks.
“How about you?”
He takes her hand over the gearshift, and she thinks anyone else, she'd break their wrist, but she turns her hand over and squeezes, watches the dashes and lines of the paint on the road without saying anything else.
Dutch doesn't want to, but now it's only half because of safety and half because she finds she likes this, a world that's only her and John and Lucy traveling through unfamiliar town after unfamiliar town. Someday, though, she thinks she could find a place to settle, if only for a little while at a time. A home base to come back to when it's safe, in between trips. “Not yet. Maybe if we ever find a place worth staying in.”
She's wearing his stupid sunglasses, and he didn't even leer at her when offering to put her underwear in with his to do the washing. They sleep in the same motel bed more often than not, and only a few weeks in she thinks he's stopped having nightmares, and she's learning to sleep better with someone else there watching her back. That's as “we” as she gets.
“Don't be stupid,” she says, the best she can do, and he just grins and somehow, miraculously and not surprisingly at all, he seems to know exactly what she means.
“Doesn't matter,” he says absently, too busy fiddling around in the console, doing something to tune Lucy up with some tools he picked up at a gas station and a computer interface on a phone she actually trusted him to buy. “If we don't like the first direction we can always go back and try the other one, right?”
Johnny always knows the right thing to say. “Right.” Dutch swallows. “Right, we can,” she adds, a little firmer, and turns the wheel.