Derek knew he had a reputation for being a loner. Cora’s only reaction to the news that he’d decided to become a long-haul trucker was, “A job where you’re forcibly alone all day, several feet above everyone else? How perfect for you.” Kind of mean, but not untrue, like many things Cora said.
But as much as Derek had appreciated the silence and solitude at first, he now honestly found it kind of… boring. Which was why he didn’t hesitate to accept the call when his cell rang, even though the screen clearly read “unknown number,” usually a sure sign of a telemarketer. This was a cross-country haul and he was desperate.
“May I speak to Derek Hale?” said a rather apathetic voice.
“Hello, sir, my name is, uh, fuck—my name is Mike and I’m calling from your cellular service provider with a reminder that you are eligible for a new phone.”
Derek was pretty sure “Mike” was supposed to sound a lot more chipper about this amazing opportunity. “How exciting,” he responded flatly.
“Mike” sighed. “I know, right? I mean, clearly your current phone still works fine, otherwise how would I even be talking to you.”
“Do you even know who my cell service provider is?” Derek asked, and caught sight of his smirk in the rearview mirror.
“Uh… honestly, dude? Not a clue. If you’ve got complaints about your service, I’ve got a number I can transfer you to.”
“Oh, I don’t care either, I was just curious.”
“Mike” spluttered out a laugh. “So you want to hear about this fabulous new phone? You haven’t hung up yet.”
“Go for it. Does it have features?”
“You know, it does. So many features! Very few of them actually useful to any sane human being. I think they’re going for a quantity over quality approach here.”
Just to see what would happen, Derek stayed quiet other than to make a vaguely encouraging noise, and like magic, “Mike” continued on into a fifteen-minute description of all said useless features, complete with some highly original and clearly unapproved commentary on each one.
Derek hadn’t laughed so much in… years, probably.
When the guy finally ran out of features to skewer, Derek asked, “So what’s your real name? It’s certainly not Mike.”
“Are you telling me forgetting my own name at the beginning of this call was a clue?”
“A small one.”
“Yeah, no, they said I had to pick something else. No one can pronounce my real name, and my nickname was apparently too awesome for company policy to handle.”
“So your name is…?”
“Stiles. I usually go by Stiles.”
“Nice to meet you, Stiles.”
“So, seriously, why haven’t you hung up yet? I’m literally not allowed to hang up on you, but what’s your excuse? My scintillating wit and sparkling conversational style?”
Yes, Derek thought, but went with, “I’m a trucker.”
“Oh my god, are you so bored? I don’t think I’d be able to do it. Well, actually, maybe I would. I bet you see new stuff all the time. Is getting to travel all over cool? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever seen?”
Normally Derek cut this line of questioning off with a short, “I just see a lot of asphalt, mostly,” but this time he found himself dredging up every ridiculous roadside attraction he’d ever passed. “Not that there are as many now, “ he admitted. “There are so many highway bypasses now to keep the main flow of through traffic out of cities and towns, you don’t get nearly as many quality balls of twine as I’m told you used to.”
“That’s a tragedy, man. So what route are you on this time? Let’s see if we can find anything cool that doesn’t require a detour.”
Over an hour later, Stiles was in the middle of reading him a review of the 10 Best Diner Milkshakes in Montana when he was interrupted.
“What? No, it’s a customer.”
“You’ve been on that line for five hours,” Derek heard faintly in the background.
“You told us we couldn’t hang up until the customer did.”
“No, he’s still clearly connected, see?”
“No, I mean you’re fired.”
“Cool. Hey, Derek? I gotta go. Call you back in a few!”
Derek stared at his phone where it sat in its little hands-free holder in dismay. He’d gotten Stiles fired? Well, shit.
No more than ten minutes later, he got another call, this one with a familiar California area code.
“Hey, Derek! Sorry about that, just had to grab all my stuff.”
“Stiles, you got fired. I got you fired.”
“Dude, I hated that job. At this point, I was basically just playing chicken with HR to see how long it would take them to fire me. So, favorite ice cream flavor?”
They talked until Derek pulled off the highway for dinner; he refused to be that asshole who talked on his phone while ordering, but he did call Stiles back once he was on the road again. When Derek hit his driving hour limit for the day, he checked into a motel and then texted Stiles a picture of his movie options to get an opinion. They watched Lethal Weapon 4 in tandem, and he got all of Stiles’ opinions about Jet Li being the best villain the franchise ever had.
Stiles refused to keep him on the phone after that, insisting Derek get an adequate amount of sleep during his mandatory uninterrupted hours off, having apparently looked up truck driving regulations and absorbed them all in an hour, and Derek was smiling as he hung up. He slept better that night than he had in recent memory.
He called Stiles the next morning bright and early, as soon as he hit the road.
“Ugh, why?” Stiles mumbled.
“Figured you’d want to get a good start on looking for a new job.”
“You’re not my real dad.”
Derek’s truck cab filled with the sounds of Stiles’ tangents and Wikipedia rabbit hole trips and all the worst job ads he could find. (“I could deliver strippergrams, Derek!” “What job category are you even looking in? Focus, Stiles.” “You’re no fun.”) Derek wasn’t sure he’d ever had a day pass so quickly.
“So why’d you pick trucking?” Stiles asked at some point around lunch, or at least so Derek assumed, since his mouth sounded full.
Derek shrugged, not that Stiles could see it. “I needed something to do, and I don’t like people very much.”
Stiles made an interrogative sound.
“I’m not… super comfortable in social situations. My sister said this was my dream job.”
“But… Derek. You’ve been talking to me for two days straight now. Not even my dad lets me talk this much.”
“I don’t… it’s not… Talking to you isn’t hard, though.”
Stiles scoffed. “Do you know how many complaints I’ve heard about jumping subjects and starting conversations in the middle? From Scott, no less, and he’s known me most of my life.”
Derek frowned, annoyed on Stiles’ behalf. “Well, I guess everyone else just needs to learn to keep up.” Half the fun of listening to Stiles ramble for him had been trying to unravel the logic chains. They were always there.
“Aaaand that’s enough embarrassing personal conversation for today!” Stiles said, and then clapped his hands. “On to more important concerns: Where are you going to eat tonight?”
When Derek had first started driving, he’d taken a lot of pictures on his phone, but Cora’s interest in sunsets was apparently limited, and after a while it really did all start to blend together. Now, though, he started taking pictures for Stiles, who always had something to say about them. They learned about the most common trees of the Midwest, and then the intricacies of the prairie ecosystem, which led to investigating the differences between groundhogs and gophers, which then hopped to marsupials and the Australian outback vs. American ranchlands.
Derek felt like he was waking up again.
“So where do you live?” Stiles asked a few days later. He was supposed to be filling out an online job application and had been complaining about having to fill in the same damn information for the fiftieth time. “I mean, assuming you ‘live’ anywhere. Do you just consider the open road your home now?”
“I am not that pretentious.”
“Maybe you have hidden depths. A secret desire to be the next Kerouac. I don’t know, man! But seriously, where’s home for you? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I don’t mind. Beacon Hills, California.”
There was a pause, notable mainly for how devoid of typing or any other noise it was. “No shit?” Stiles finally managed.
“No shit,” Derek confirmed. “How do you not know this? You know my phone number.”
“Yeah, but people can take their phone numbers with them anywhere now. Area codes don’t mean anything. Do you seriously still live here?”
“Well, I mean, my sister does, and I keep a room in her house, so yeah.”
“Cool,” Stiles said, sounding distracted, and let the subject drop.
Derek dropped his load off in Maryland, picked up another, and prepared to head back west.
“Crab cakes!” Stiles insisted in Derek’s ear.
“You have to go out tonight and get crab cakes for me! I need a full report. My dad can’t eat shellfish anymore and it sucks.”
“Why does that suck for you?”
“I can’t eat stuff he’s not allowed in front of him, Derek, what kind of monster do you take me for? Oooh, this place has really good reviews, go there!”
Derek obeyed. If nothing else, his road meals had definitely improved by taking Stiles’ suggestions. Though he did possibly regret the bubblegum-flavored milkshake.
“Why are you only applying for all these low-level jobs? You clearly don’t actually want any of them,” Derek said on day two of the return trip. “What do you really want to do?”
Stiles sighed. “That’s just it, I don’t know. My degree isn’t obviously useful, and while I can spin related skills like nobody’s business, it never seems to matter. I just gotta, you know, pay my bills. I even still live with my dad. I’m the ultimate millennial cliché.”
“Well, I majored in history and I live with my sister, so I can’t judge.”
“Yeah.” The I guess hung loudly unspoken in the air.
“Hey, Stiles, make me a deal. Only apply to jobs you actually really want until I get back, and I’ll buy you the kitschiest thing I can find at the Iowa 80 Truckstop.”
Stiles immediately perked up. “Really?”
“Okay, but I really do want the absolute worst thing you can find.”
A comfortable silence passed for a few minutes, and then Stiles said, “Hey, that means you’re gonna have to see me in person!”
Which was when Derek realized he’d started taking it for granted that he was returning home to Stiles for days now.
Oh, he was so screwed.
Three days later, he pulled back into Beacon Hills, unloaded and without another assignment for a week. Stiles had reluctantly hung up to go to a job interview half an hour previously, and the now unaccustomed silence echoed around the cab in a way it never had before. Derek switched on the radio and then switched it off again. He took a picture of the “Welcome to Beacon Hills” sign and texted it to Stiles, then resolutely locked the screen and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently the rest of the way to Cora’s house.
He was relieved she was at work when he got in, because he knew if he had to talk to her right now, every sentence would start with “Stiles,” and he had no idea how to explain that he’d been talking to a former telemarketer for a solid week, all day, every day, and all he wanted to do was talk to this person he’d never met some more.
Cora would kick his ass was Derek’s main conclusion, as he started a load of laundry and went to take a shower on autopilot. He wasn’t really sure if he meant she’d kick Stiles’ ass for being some sort of phone stalker, or his own for being a gullible idiot, but the truth was it’d probably be both if she heard the story as it was now.
There was a text waiting for him when he got out of the shower: an address.
He took a deep breath, beads of water still dripping down his neck, then sent a quick “omw,” and threw on the best pair of clean jeans he could find and a Henley Cora had once grudgingly admitted was a good color on him. Then he grabbed Stiles’ gift and the keys to the Camaro. He may have actually peeled out as he accelerated down the street, and he prayed Ms. Mancuso across the street wouldn’t call Cora to complain.
He dialed Stiles’ number as pulled up in front of the house.
“Derek? Do you need to cancel?” Stiles said as soon as he picked up. He sounded almost resigned.
“No,” Derek said, already on his way up the walk. “I just thought… since this is the only way we’ve ever talked before… so you’d know it was me.” He didn’t even bother to wince over his lack of eloquence, just reached out and rang the bell.
The door flew open immediately, revealing wide brown eyes under hair that looked like it’d had nervous hands running through it recently and a mouth parted in surprise, or at least those were all the details Derek managed to take in at first.
“Oh my god,” Stiles breathed, lowering his phone. “You… do not look anything like I pictured. Are you real?”
“Last time I checked.” Derek gave him a tentative smile as he put his own phone away. “Disappointed?”
“Oh, your present,” Derek said, holding out the neon pink and orange camouflage trucker hat with the Iowa 80 logo spelled out in green glitter.
Stiles’ eyes widened even further as he grabbed for it eagerly. “It’s hideous! I love it!” And then he threw his arms around Derek in a giddy hug.
Derek froze in shock for a moment, not sure the last time anyone but Cora had touched him casually, and he felt Stiles stiffen and start to pull away.
“Sorry,” Stiles started, but Derek cut him off by wrapping his own arms firmly around Stiles’ waist and burying his face in the side of Stiles’ neck.
“Hi,” Derek mumbled, voice muffled against Stiles’ shoulder.
“Hi,” Stiles said, and Derek could hear the smile in Stiles’ voice, the one he’d been listening to for days and days now.
He drew back far enough that Stiles could turn and lead him into the house. “How was your interview?” he asked, and everything about this, about being here with Stiles, felt normal. “I want to hear all about it.”