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Long Trip Home

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Eliza's bag--" weekender"-- is too shiny--" metallic leather with gold plated studs"-- to be born.

Henry stashed it behind the driver's seat so that he couldn't see it, but against all probability, sunlight manages to reflect onto the roof of the scar, creating a shifting, shimmery golden aura above their heads. And also on their heads. It makes Eliza looks like some angelic, fey creature with a golden aura.

"It's distracting."

"Is it, though?" Eliza says without looking up from her phone.

"It is."

"Is it?”

“It is. Listen, I’ll pull over, and—”

“Fine, I’ll drive.”

“No, we’re going to put your bag in the trunk.”

“It wouldn’t fit in the trunk, remember? Our suitcases are back there.”

“Well, then, we’ll put the bag in the back and one of the suitcases in the backseat.”

Eliza rolls her eyes at this and complains a lot when Henry stops the car to do just that, but he does it. He heaves a sigh of relief when he falls back into the front seat. And then he looks over at Eliza.

She raises her eyebrows at him with a theatrical smirk. “Better now?”

No. Without the gold reflections, Eliza looks less angelic and more like a pale, Grecian nymph. It’s not better at all.

“Yes,” Henry says, and turns back to driving. Everything will be fine. Eliza may be a nymph, but Henry is Odysseus, and he will struggle onward, despite temptation.

*

"Are you going to be on your phone for the entire trip?" Henry says shortly after mile 200. If he thought it was distracting having her bathed in golden light, it is especially distracting to have her beside him in complete silence.

"Planning on it," she says without looking up.

"Eliza, we are going to be stuck in this car together for five more hours. To spend all of that time in silence would be a waste of quality time together. We should converse. Or play games. What about I Spy? It’s the classic road trip game.”

“I spy someone old and grumpy.” She swipes her thumb across her screen three times in quick succession and then pauses to tap.

Henry adopts a different tact. “Are you shopping?”

“Maybe.”

“What about saving money? What about being on Team Budget?” Okay, so maybe that came out kind of whiny sounding, but they’d worked so hard on that budget, and the look on Eliza’s face when he’d presented her with a pink file drawer and rainbow file folders had been sort of the highlight of his week.

“I’m shopping, not buying.” She throws him a dazzling grin. “I disabled the app that stores my card numbers in my phone, so if I want to buy something I have take out my cards and type in the numbers by hand! Which is obviously too much work. Smart, right?”

She looks stupidly, beautifully proud of herself, but then she goes back to tapping away for another half hour, and Henry’s back to feeling lonely.

Maybe it’s the road—Henry doesn’t typically do a lot of driving—or maybe it’s that he’s dehydrated, or maybe it’s that his little obsession with getting Eliza to look at him is starting to make him a little crazy, but he opens his mouth and says,

“I bet you couldn’t go a whole day without that phone.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I bet you the presentation.” And that finally gets him a glance, because the conference presentation they’re giving was the result of a not-so-friendly mandate from Saperstein himself. “I’ll do it by myself. You won’t have to come, you can spend the whole day at the spa or whatever. I’ll tell Saperstein you were there and were amazing.”

And look at that, Eliza’s giving him full-on eye contact.

“Really? You’re going to lie to Sam?”

“Yep.”

“Huh.” She fixes him with a searching look, and even though he’s splitting his attention between Eliza and the road, Henry glories in it. “You’re on.”

*

As they near their destination, Henry starts to have alarmist visions of romance novel scenarios in which there is only one room left with a single bed, and Henry is forced to watch Eliza twirl around a hotel room in loose, soft pajamas, and then obviously, he flees for purposes of his own sanity, and wanders along the highway until he's picked up by a trucker named Brock and goes to live with him in Northern Canada. His imagination is getting excessive, clearly. So once they arrive, he says,

"Eliza, why don't you go check us in. I'll just stay here and guard the car." Henry nods decisively. Eliza takes this in and shrugs, heads off to the front desk. Henry remembers to call after her: "And don't let them talk you into upgrades!"

Eliza requests a single hotel room.

"Why would you do that?"

"You said we should save money," she says, mouth pulling down. "I figured, you know, we could just share and save a couple hundred dollars. I thought you'd be all proud."

Her face has gathered up into a frown that was designed by God to make Henry agree to things, because Eliza seems to have been actually trying to follow his advice.

"It's two queen beds. You'll have plenty of space. I promise I'll even keep my side of the counter super clean! I'll hide all my stuff in my bag!" Henry, having been exposed to the astounding number of cosmetics Eliza uses on a daily basis, understands this for the sacrifice it is. He unclenches his jaw.

"Okay.”

This will be fine. Henry will face this

“Team Budget?" She holds up her hand hopefully for a high five.

"Team Budget," Henry says, and touches his palm to hers, and tries to remember to be Odysseus.

*

It is almost exactly as bad as Henry envisioned.

Eliza wanders around the rooms while brushing her teeth, flipping through the room service menu, murmuring at the suit that Henry hung up in the closet, gazing out the window. Her pajamas consist of a loose t-shirt and shorts. She forgoes a bra, which, Henry was not looking, thank you, he was doing the opposite of looking, he was destroying his eyesight by keeping his face as close to his laptop screen as possible, but he'd glanced up at the wrong moment, when she'd been lifting her shiny bag onto the bed, and her billowy shirt had pulled tight across her chest for just an instant. Henry puts his eyes back onto his laptop after that and doesn't take them off.

"Oh come on, are you just going to taunt me like that?"

"What."

"I can't use my phone, but you can just sit there with your laptop all night."

"I'm doing work," Henry manages.

"Give me back my phone."

"No."

"Please?"

"No."

"Please."

"Eliza. Why don't you watch some television?"

"I can't watch television; you have my phone."

"You could watch it on the TV."

"But then you have to just, like, watch whatever's on. And the show could already be halfway through. It's completely stupid."

"You don't watch TV on a TV," Henry says, shaking his head, but his eye is drawn to movement in the corner of his eye. He sneaks a peek despite him to the way Eliza's leg is bouncing compulsively against the sheets. Her arms are crossed over her chest. "Are you having physical withdrawal symptoms? Over your phone?"

"I just." Her voice gets small. "I get nervous without my phone. I start thinking about, like, things that could go wrong. About money, and rent, and credit cards, and my mother, and responsibilities, and I just. I need a distraction."

"Ah," Henry says and he can actually feel himself curl away from her. Because that voice right there, is worse. Worse than her legs and her smile and her carefully corralled cosmetics, is that tiny, vulnerable voice, spilling a secret that she doesn't tell anyone else, and she wants Henry to help her. Well. Help her he will, he could distract her, he'll protect her, he'll tell her all his secrets so she doesn't feel so shy and small when she should be flinging her freakishly long limbs all over the place, and--

"Henry? Come on, talk to me. We could converse, you know, like you said in the car. We could—oh! I spy something green!”

"I have work to do," Henry says, and pointedly types something into his Word doc.

"No you don't. You have the entire presentation memorized; you practiced it in front of me. Please, Henry?"

“We should really go to bed,” Henry says desperately, and flips off the bedside lamp. They sit there in silence for a few minute, and then he has to turn it back on in order to put away his laptop. The last thing he wrote into the open doc was Tie me to the mast, which is not helpful at all.

Eliza waits until he’s settled under the covers and turned away from her.

“Goodnight,” she says, and it’s probably the best and worst thing she’s said all night.

*

Henry wakes up with the resolution to apologize, because he is not Odysseus, and Eliza is not a Siren, or Calypso, or Circe, or any other temptress. She’s just his friend, and his little obsession with her is making him be a bad friend.

When he turns over in bed, she’s already awake across the room, fully dressed and writing rapidly on a hotel note pad.

She notices him looking at her. “I didn’t use my phone!” she says immediately. “I was just writing down all the ideas I had for tweets. And then I also had ideas about the presentation. Which, obviously, I will not be going to, because I’m going to win this bet, but you know, I thought it might be a good idea if you added in...”

And then she’s crawling across the gap between the beds to show Henry her notes, and her truly amazing little idea for the presentation, and how maybe Henry could fit it in between sections 2 and 3 of his talk. And it occurs to Henry that there’s another female character in The Oddyssey, and that’s Penelope. The woman Odysseus is going home to.

“So!” she says, and produces a cup of coffee out of nowhere and sets it down in front of his face. “You have a good time at your presentation! I’m going to the spa, as per your excellent suggestion.”

“Okay,” Henry croaks. He’s not awake yet, really, and takes a sip of his coffee in lieu of trying to string together a sentence.

“’Bye!”

“Eliza.”

“Yeah?” She turns her head back over her shoulder, a purse hanging from her elbow. She looks a little tense, like she wants to get away from him.

“I’m sorry about not wanting to talk last night,” he says.

“It’s okay.”

“No, really. I was pretty…rude yesterday. All day. And I apologize.”

She turns back to him and presses her red lips together. “Apology accepted. Are you sure you don’t need my help with the conference?”

“No, you go have fun. You’ve earned it.”

She smiles at him, a big, true smile, and Henry smiles back helplessly. Penelope indeed.

“’Kay, bye!”

Henry covers his head in the pillow as the door swings shut.