I’m just leaving work on a Friday afternoon, when I hear a frantic honking coming straight towards me. I look up to see Cat driving the SUV straight towards me, full speed ahead. She screeches to a halt a foot in front of me, sticks her head out the car door window, and says, “Get in, loser, we’re going road tripping.”
“What?” I said, taken aback. Cat is a bit of a free spirit, but she’s not flighty in the least. She’s never pulled something like this in all the ten years I’ve been living with her. I guess once you hit your late twenties, you get a little weird.
“Get in, get in,” she says impatiently, jerking her head towards the interior of the car for emphasis. “You’re holding up the traffic.”
“You’re the one stopped in the middle of the road,” I grumble, going around to the passenger side. I sling my bag, which is full of sub-standard essays written by the class of tenth graders I’m attempting to teach English too, onto the floor, then hop in and buckle up. As I do, I note that Cat has got a big cooler and a mysterious shoe box shoved in the backseat, plus two large suitcases in the trunk.
Good grief, she’s serious about this. Just what is she planning?
“Annelyn, babe, you need to lighten the hell up.” Cat puts the car in gear and we lurch out of there, horns blaring in our wake.
“Seriously, where are we going? I have essays to grade,” I tell her.
“What did I just say?” Cat gripes, a playful gleam in her eye. “You can grade ‘em in the car. With any luck, we’ll be back before anyone has time to miss you. But if not, you can always call in sick.”
How long has she been planning this for? I wonder.
“Okay, honey,” I sigh. “Did you remember to turn the stove off before you left the house?”
“That’s my girl,” Cat says triumphantly. “And don’t you worry about the stove. Of course I turned it off. And I locked all the doors and windows, and told the neighbors to feed the cats. Why don’t you relax, already?”
The neighbor’s kids love our cats. We usually pay them egregious sums of money to look after them when we go up to the lake on three-day weekends. But I know that’s not what’s going on now, because those weekends are usually planned by me. Besides, Cat’s just driven onto the southbound interstate, not the northbound one.
“Okay, okay,” I say. “You win.”
I slip my shoes off, since I’m pretty sure this is going to be a long ride. Then I turn on the radio, only to hear the perky announcer woman going, “Today in the gay community –”
Before I can do anything, Cat has reached over and slammed the radio off. The reason “the gay community” is in the news is because they just tried to pass another equal marriage act. But I told Cat to keep it out of my sphere of consciousness so I won’t be disappointed if it fails. Or maybe it has already failed, and this little trip is Cat’s way of comforting herself about that. Reassuring herself that even though we can’t be united by law, we’re still a unit.
But of course we are.
“None of that nonsense,” Cat says sternly, glancing over to give me a reassuring grin. “There was no need for that, anyway. Ask me what’s in the backseat.”
“Huh? What’s in the backseat?”
“Finally, a question I like,” says Cat. “I brought along the entire CD collection. And because I’m feeling nice, I’ll let you be the DJ.”
I reach awkwardly into the backseat, prise the top off the shoebox with one hand, and find Vienna Teng, Cat Stevens, AC/DC, and Metallica staring up at me. The first two are mine; the others belong to Cat. Of course, she owns an iPod, but the car is too old for us to hook it up properly.
“Are you sure about this?” I ask, because usually Cat whines and complains about the kind of music I listen to. Says it’s too tame. Not punk rock enough, whatever that means.
“Sure, sure,” Cat says, almost rear-ending some guy in a blue sedan as she changes lanes. I don’t comment on that; it’s nearly a daily occurrence for her. To best describe her driving style I’ll use the kind of cliché I’d never let any of my prodigious ninth-graders use: she drives like a bat out of hell. But it’s not like she can’t drive. She has an uncanny intuition for when a police officer is lying in wait around a corner, and when her cop senses start tingling, she immediately starts driving like a model citizen. That’s my Catherine for you.
“Just try not to play too much drivel,” she says, and it occurs to me that maybe she’s taking us to a concert. A concert of some band I don’t like.
I laugh, digging through the box until I find the Pink Floyd, which I know both of us like.
“Will this do?” I ask.
“Looks like you’re in a party mood,” Cat says.
“You seem to be. So I’m taking advantage of it,” I say, putting the CD into the car stereo.
“Hell yes,” says Cat, grinning widely.
As the first chords of Echoes begin to play, I put my feet up on the dashboard and pull an essay out of my bag. I don’t know where we’re going, but Cat’s mood is indeed infectious. I realize how long it’s been since I took a vacation. Whatever Cat is up too, I appreciate it just because it gets me out of that wretched school. Besides, who wouldn’t want to go road tripping with their beloved?
Several hours later.
The cooler turns out to contain some Subway footlongs Cat picked up on the way over to get me, plus a few slices of gourmet chocolate cake. I eat in the car, and then we pull over to a small rest area at the side of the road so Cat can wolf down her own diner. Afterwards, we’re off again. Though she clearly has somewhere for us to be, Cat remains in a strangely cheerful mood for all six hours of driving – swearing good-naturedly at cars who forget to use their blinkers, singing along to all the songs I play, even the ones she claims not to like. Cat has a fantastic voice, and it’s a rare treat to hear her sing Sad Lisa and Scarborough Fair, which in my opinion are much better suited to her voice than the stuff her favourite bands churn out. Not that I don’t like those either. We sample almost all of the CDs in the box by the time she pulls us off the road. I only get through about 7 of my 25 essays.
“We’re at a motel?” I ask.
“Glad to hear you’ve still got eyes,” Cat says, but there’s no bite to her words. After she parks, we clamber out of the car, our legs cramped and shaky from the long drive.
“I’ll go check us in. You put the CDs away,” Cat orders. “Gotta keep the car clean. We’re moving out tomorrow.”
We’re not staying here? Well, it’s only the Sun Inn, after all.
Once we’ve got a room, Cat and I cart the suitcases and the mostly empty cooler, which takes both of us to carry, up to it. The room is cheap and tacky, all synthetic drapes and spray-on ceiling, but at least it’s clean. Cat unpacks, but she won’t let me see the contents of her suitcase. I consider playfully trying to force my way into it, but decide I don’t want to risk spoiling her fun.
“What do you want to do now?” I ask, since it’s only nine o’clock.
Cat grins big. “Well, you know what you’re supposed to do when your girlfriend takes you to a motel for the night, right?”
I disapprove of Cat’s use of the word girlfriend. I deeply regret that I can’t call her my wife or even my fiancée, but Cat, who claims to be leery of commitment, says she doesn’t mind much. It would be better for me to call her my partner, but that sounds so boring. And, it’s a dead giveaway that we’re not like everyone else.
I laugh anyway.
“Cat, it’s not like we don’t have sex at home all the time.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she says dismissively. “Look, if you’re not in the mood, we can just watch some TV or something boring like that. It’s all the same to me. I’m doing this all for you, baby.”
“Mm hmm. You’ll find out why tomorrow. Come on now, what do you want to do?” All this said in a tone of impatience.
Come on, Annie, live a little. Even though they’re my thoughts, it’s Cat’s voice saying the words.
“Well, you know what they say. When in Rome…” I say.
Cat’s face lights up with eagerness, and then her expression changes to a seductive pout, which she knows I can’t resist.
“Oh baby,” she purrs “After this, they won’t be saying anything about anything else for a long, long time.”
The next morning.
I wake up with Cat cuddled up against me, watching TV.
The blonde newscaster is trying to say something about gay people again, so Cat clicks her tongue in exasperation and switches to the Discovery Channel.
“Morning,” I say sleepily. Cat shuts the TV off and turns all her attention to me.
“Morning,” she says, putting her face in the crook of my neck and planting a kiss there. “Ready to get up?”
I glance at the clock on the bedside table. “It’s only eight. How long have you been up?”
She kisses me again and puts her head on my shoulder. “Since 7:30, not too long.”
What in the world? Cat is not an early riser on the weekends.
“I guess I’ll get up,” I say reluctantly.
“You know what? I’ll go have a shower, and you can get up when I come out,” Cat offers. “If you want breakfast, check out the cooler. There should be some muffins in there.”
“Sounds good,” I sigh, rolling over to bury my face in the pillow as Cat disentangles her arms from around me. I hear her shut the bathroom door and turn the water on. After lying around for a few minutes, I decide I am hungry after all, so I get up and find the food in the cooler, just like she said it would be. She brought French vanilla, which are my favourite. I smile to myself as I eat, thinking about how great this adventure has been so far, and wondering where we’ll end up at the end of it. It seems like we’re heading for California, though I can’t think why. My favourite theory so far is the concert idea.
Cat emerges from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her just as I finish up.
“Your turn,” she says. I pat her butt as she goes over to the chest of drawers.
“Cut that out, it’s too early in the morning,” she complains.
“You’re the one who made me get up,” I retort, standing up and heading into the bathroom.
“Don’t be too long in there,” Cat calls through the closed door.
When I come out of my shower, Cat is nowhere in sight. I figure she’s paying for the room or something. When I open my drawer, I find that the only underwear Cat has packed for me is lingerie.
That’s my lovely, dear, idiotic girlfriend for you.
I’m sitting on the edge of the bed thinking about nothing in particular when Cat comes back 15 minutes later. As soon as I see her, I can’t help but stare. Cat doesn’t get dressed up often, but when she does, she tends to look like a silent movie heroine from the thirties. She’s wearing a beautiful red dress that flows over her figure and brings out the warm tints in her dark, cascading hair. I feel underdressed in my light, pearly blouse and pleated shirt (and black lace bra, damn you, Cat).
“Should I change?” I ask. Cat shakes her head, shuts the door behind her, and comes to sit on the bed beside me.
She takes one of my hands in both of hers.
“I’m shit at speeches, so sorry, but this is going to be short. I know you haven’t been paying attention to the news lately, but they finally passed it. Gay marriage is legal in California.”
My breath catches in my throat. Cat swallows loudly, the only outward sign that she’s nervous, but I can feel how unusually warm her palms are.
“We’ve been together for ten years now, and I think that’s long enough for me to figure out that I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”
Cat reaches in between the folds of her dress and pulls out a ring box, of all things, which she holds out to me.
“So please, Annelyn, would you be my wife?”
The sensible thing to do is burst out crying, so that’s exactly what I do.
“Of course,” I sniff, pressing my free hand to my eyes. Cat takes the ring out of the box and slides it onto my finger.
“I love you,” is all I can say. And then it’s all too much and I just cling to her and sob, because my heart is absolutely bursting, and I never thought this day would come. Cat holds me tightly, and when I finally calm down enough to let her go, I see that her eyes are glistening too. I beam at her so hard I think my cheeks will become frozen this way. I wouldn’t mind that, I think. I want the whole world to know that the woman I love has just asked me to be her wife, and that when we get married – and we will get married – it won’t be some kind of sham or set-up, it will be equal in the eyes of the law.
“So, have you guessed where we’re going yet?” Cat says, giving my hand a squeeze.
I didn’t think my smile could get any wider, but it does. Because I know the answer to her question.
I say, “City hall.”
Been ten years waiting
But it’s better late than the never we’ve been told before
We can’t wait one minute more
Oh, oh, oh, me and my baby stand in line
You never seen a sight so fine
As the love that’s gonna shine at City Hall