I keep telling myself I should hate him. I've thought it a thousand times over the past few months; I should hate him for dragging me into this in the first place, for getting under my skin so much that I couldn't just let it go when he tried to walk away. Hell, I should hate him just for taking so long to give me back my wallet.
The thing is that I can't – and God knows I tried for awhile there – because thinking about him is the only thing that's kept me going all this time. So when I found him it was like waking up after a long fucking nightmare, or maybe it was just the first time I'd really been able to breathe since he ditched me in the hospital. And that must have been a pathetic fucking picture; me sitting in a wheelchair in one of those stupid nightgowns, staring down at that letter like it was my only friend in the world.
Funny thing is that he is my only friend in the world now, because I as much as told everybody else I knew to fuck off when I gave up everything to go looking for him. That's what stopped me from telling him why I came looking for him in the first place, what stops me even now from pulling over and making him look at me while I tell him exactly what I'm doing here. Because if he doesn't want me…well, I'd look pretty fucking stupid if it turns out he's only glad to see me because I've got a car.
After he asks me about the Mercedes the small talk kind of dies, and when he's quiet it's easy to tell that he's getting worse. It scares me enough to think about asking him if he's alright, but I know even if he's not that he won't tell me. So I let him sit there and stare out the window, and I try to keep my mind on driving and not on how fucking glad I am that I found him in one piece.
"So have you heard from Megan?"
The sudden question in the silence of the car startles me, and for a second I can't figure out who he's talking about. As soon as I do I look over at him, catching something in his eyes just for a second before he blinks and it's gone. "Megan? No, why would I?"
He shrugs, but there's something about his expression that makes it hard to look back at the road. "I don't know. You seemed kinda into her."
"What are you talking about? She was conscious for maybe three hours the whole time we were together."
I can feel him looking at me, sizing me up maybe, like there's something he's trying to figure out. I think about making it easier for him, telling him Megan's not really my type. I don't want to give him another reason to run, though, not after all the time I spent looking for him. But the silence is pretty unbearable while he's staring at me, and I finally open my mouth to say something when he turns away from me and starts talking again.
"You know that hero complex of yours is gonna get you killed someday, my man."
"I don't have a hero complex."
"Sure you do. First you wanted to save Megan, now me. Who's next? You gonna head over to Africa and wipe out world hunger?"
"I'm no hero. I just try to do the right thing." And it sounds so lame when I say it, but I don't know how else to explain it to him.
"The right thing." He laughs, bitter like he thinks I'm feeding him a line. Or he just thinks I'm a moron. "How does coming after me count as the right thing? You don't owe me anything."
"I know," I say, quiet enough that I’m not sure he can hear me. My knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel hard, and suddenly coming after him seems like the dumbest idea I've ever had.
"Look, with Megan it was…I don’t know, she just seemed so scared. Alone, you know? And it didn't seem right to use her as bait without at least giving her a chance to live."
He nods, slowly like he's still processing the words, then looks over at me again. "And with me?"
I glance over at him and he's looking right at me, no sunglasses for once and it's funny how much younger he looks when I can see his eyes. The answer to his question is right there on the tip of my tongue, but I know if I say it he'll just make me pull over and let him out again. "Just…drop it, okay?"
He's quiet for awhile and I start to relax a little because he's actually gonna let something go for once. He probably knows why I don't want to talk about it anymore, but as long as he doesn't make me say it out loud maybe we can just ignore it.
"Do you know why I asked you for a ride that day?"
Or not. My stomach drops as I look over at him again, but he's still staring out the windshield. "Yeah, sure. The local sheriff was hassling you and you needed to get out of town."
"See, that's your problem, Sean. You're too fucking naïve. I already had your wallet by then, you think I didn't look at the picture on your license? I could have given it back right then."
"Okay, fine," I say, ignoring the humiliation burning in my face when he reminds me of how easy it was for him to hustle me. For the first time since I started looking for him I get the feeling this was a bad idea, and if he's hustling me again I'm not sure I want to know. "So why'd you ask me for a ride?"
"Because I thought you had a nice ass."
My fingers grip the steering wheel hard and the heat in my face spikes a few more degrees, but I force myself to look at him anyway. "Fuck you."
"No, see, that's the thing. That's what I wanted to do, and if we hadn't run into Megan that first night…I mean I wasn't sure you'd go for it, but I figured it was worth a shot."
"Are you serious?" And it's gotta be the lamest thing I could have said, but my brain's too busy coming up with Technicolor illustrations of what could have happened that first night to concentrate much on words.
"So would you have? Gone for it, I mean," he asks, ignoring my question completely. I steal another look at him, but if he's yanking my chain he's got the best poker face I've ever seen.
"Jesus. I don't…I don't know. Maybe." And it's the truth, or as close as I can come to it. I've wanted him for so long I can't remember when it started, but if he'd come on to me that first night I don't know what I would have done about it. When I left L.A. I thought I had a pretty good idea of who I was and how to handle myself in any situation, but if the past three months have taught me anything they've showed me that I never had a fucking clue.
"Stakes are higher now, though."
I look over at him to find him watching me, and he holds my gaze for a beat before he looks back out the windshield again. "What do you mean?" I ask, hoping he doesn't hear the way my voice cracks.
He shrugs and I feel him turn to look at me again, but I keep my eyes fixed on the road. "Well that first night it would've been just a fuck, right? We didn't know each other – didn't even really like each other all that much. But now…you just spent three months on the road on the off chance you'd catch up with me. And me…well, I left you that pathetic fucking note hoping you'd take the hint."
"It wasn't pathetic." And I know that's not what he was expecting to hear, but after reading the goddamn thing every night for three months I can't just sit there and let him say that. I glance over at him again, but this time he's kinda grinning at me and I feel my heart skip a beat.
"Whatever. The point is that this thing…" He pauses and gestures between us, "…it's not just a fuck anymore."
"Is that a problem?" It comes out sounding more like a challenge than I meant it to, but we both know what I mean. He's right; nothing about this is simple, and it's just gonna get more complicated. But as long as we're here we might as well hang on to what little good we've got.
"No," he finally answers, but I know it's more because he wants to mean it than because he actually does.
We drive in silence for awhile after that, Nick staring out the window and me working hard not to look over at him every few seconds. And it feels weird to have everything out in the open without ever having kissed him or anything, but it's not like I can do anything about that while I'm still driving. I think about pulling over, just pulling off onto the side of the road long enough to take this thing out of the theoretical before he gets a chance to change his mind, but before I give in to the urge I notice a sign up ahead of us.
He notices it too, reads the words 'Lodging: Next Exit' and another sign announcing the exit for Crowley in two miles. "What do you say we stop a little early tonight?" he asks, nodding in the direction of the exit sign. "It's been a long fucking day and I've been walking for most of it."
"Yeah, sure," I answer, pressing down on the gas just a little harder. "Whatever you want."
"I sure hope you mean that." I laugh and look over at him, but his head's back and his eyes are closed. And the funny this is that I do mean it, even if all he wants to do when we get to the motel is sleep.
"Yeah, Nick. I mean it."
"Good." I hear him move again just before his hand brushes my neck, and when his fingers hit my skin I don't bother to hide the shiver. It barely lasts a second before he pulls his hand away again, but it's enough to convince me I'm not hallucinating this whole conversation. "Jesus, Sean. I can't fucking believe how glad I am to see you."
I smile and ease the Charger onto the off ramp, turning in the direction of the motel before I answer. "Me too."