James Morgan is adamant that this is not a road trip.
He has nothing against road trips, generally speaking, unless it’s that they’re insufferably clichéd for an eighteen-year-old just out of high school, and he’s always done his best not to be clichéd, because somebody as screwed up as he is deserves at least to be unique. And it’s true that this resembles one: their bags are stuffed in the trunk of the car underneath the tent and they’re relying on a map and hope to navigate the wilderness of Scotland (of all places!).
But he does love his car, though he’s reluctant even to consider what kind of deal Sullivan and Nuala made with the laws of physics to get it here to the UK. And he loves the people in it: Nuala in the front seat, her legs curled up to her chest, fiddling with the radio; Dee in the back with one hand holding up the precariously balanced bagpipes while Paul, next to her, is half crushed by her harp.
“Who brings a harp on a road trip?” he asked her before they set off, and she grinned in the way that makes her look almost like she did when they were younger, before Luke.
“I thought you said this wasn’t a road trip,” she said, and he can’t argue with that. So, there’s a harp, and everything else in the car is packed around that.
Road trips, he decides, are not planned the way Terri Monaghan teamed up with his mother to write them a detailed itinerary, planning out every stone circle they should visit and every youth hostel they’ll stay in; when they run out of youth hostels, they know the locations and rules for every campsite in the country. At the time, he pointed out to Nuala that if they’re trying to remain inconspicuous, stone circles aren’t the best place to go, but she just laughed and said that it was too late for inconspicuous. So they’ll probably run into the sidhe at some point, and as he’s rather proud of having fixed his car, he’d rather they didn’t screw it up again.
(He’s also not sure that road trips usually include the bit about buying dinner off the back of impromptu roadside concerts, mainly because most people don’t take a harp when they go driving around the British Isles.)
“Where to?” he asks Nuala, who stares at the map without comprehension until Dee, competent as always, takes it off her and reads out some obscure place name from the backseat. The ex-fairy scowls, but she’s yet to get the hang of cartography even if her accent is far better when it comes to Scots Gaelic.
James nods and spins the dial so that the reel on the stereo fills the car, and they drive. They’ve been driving uninterrupted for a couple of hours now, and haven’t seen much, but he’s fairly sure they’re halfway across the country. Scotland is tiny. It’s like half a state. Not even that.
“Do you think they’d appreciate an oboe serenade?” says Paul, when they pass a sign indicating that the nearest rest stop is coming up.
James looks at him in the rearview mirror. “Dude, nobody appreciates an oboe serenade.”
“Says the guy who plays an instrument that’s so loud he has to practise out in the middle of nowhere.”
Paul has a point. The bagpipes aren’t exactly friendly to the neighbours, and most people have got used to seeing James lugging the case up the hill to go and practise away from the school. Of course, they’ve finished now. If he survives this trip and ends up at college, he’ll have to hope there’s enough open space for him to play.
“At least mine's portable,” he says, passing the baton of instrument-based insults over to Dee so that she can deal with it, and she looks up at him with her grey eyes meeting his in the mirror and says nothing, because she knows she doesn’t need to. Of course she plays the harp. Playing anything else wouldn’t be Dee.
“Stop the musician pissing contest,” says Nuala.
For some reason, that strikes James as highly entertaining. “Is that a contest for pissing musicians, or musicians who are pissing? You should be more precise in your wording.”
“You’re telling one of the sidhe to be more precise in their wording,” she deadpans.
“Last thing I knew, you were human and doing wonderfully.”
“Last thing I knew, you should have been watching the road.”
Defeated, James turns his attention back to driving. If this country had normal roads—straight lines with multiple lanes where people actually drove on the correct side—he’d be fine at talking at the same time. But these are like paths or something, twisting all over everywhere, and he has to concentrate in case a tractor comes around the corner unexpectedly.
There’s no tractor around this corner, but there is a hitchhiker. Hitchhikers definitely aren’t in their itinerary, though James has hitched a few times and know what it’s like to watch everybody drive past, and he’s a little tempted to stop. In the back seat, Dee and Paul look at each other and unanimously make a decision.
“We don’t have room for them,” they say.
And they don’t. They had to pack everything in (and Terri Monaghan over-packed with supplies, convinced they were going to starve, and his mother gave him half a hundred Scottish guidebooks because she was so excited that he was going to her home country, and he knows he’ll never use any of them, and then there’s the harp and the bagpipes and the oboe), so they’re not going to get another person on the back seat unless they chuck the tent or something, which James isn’t sure is a good idea.
As they get closer, James sees that the stranger has light hair and isn’t carrying a rucksack, though there’s a small case of some sort in his hand. A flute case? Of all the things to be carrying through the countryside, that seems like a fairly useless one in terms of survival, so perhaps not. But that is what it looks like.
“James,” said Dee, very sudden, very urgent. He slows down and lets Nuala take the wheel so he can turn around to look at her. She’s pasty white. Not that she isn’t always super pale, being generally the ethereal harp-playing cliché, but this looks like more. “It’s Luke.”
For a second, James has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. He turns around and Nuala gratefully lets him take the wheel back under his control, just in time to rescue them from the edge of the road, and looks more carefully at the hitchhiker. A pale-haired flute player in the middle of nowhere for no reason, and he’s trying to hitch a lift.
“We don’t have room for him,” he says, but he knows that if it’s genuinely Luke, Dee isn’t going to let him drive past. It’s probably a coincidence and the guy just looks vaguely like Luke Dillon (because why would he be here? He’s one of the daoine sidhe now), but James has to admit there’s something familiar about the guy.
“Please,” says Dee. “At least slow down. Ask him where he’s going. He might not be going our way.”
There’s only one road on the map for some distance, so even if he wants the other path when it branches, the stranger would be glad of a lift that far. But James doesn’t say this much, because it’s probably true that they could still get out of this. Anything that deviates from the timetable is welcome in his books, too.
Picking up a hitchhiker would definitely turn this into a road trip, though.
He sighs and pulls over. The guy looks up hopefully, and damn it, if it’s not Luke Dillon then it’s a carbon copy of him. James wants a pen. He needs a pen to scrawl all over his hand: Luke Dillon is here. It’s the only way he’ll recognise it as real. But there are no pens and that would be too obvious, and it’s been weeks since he marked his skin so he doesn’t want to break the streak. He takes the worry stone Nuala gave him from his pocket and rubs at it. He’s worn it down; it’s smaller than it used to be. Doesn’t matter, though. That’s the point.
“Hello, pretty girl,” says the hitchhiker, looking straight past James to where Dee’s sitting frozen in her seat in the back. “Can you give me a lift?”