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Copyright © 2017 by Guy New York
Published by QNY
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
About The Author
IT WAS RAINING WHEN we got to Columbus. After eight hours of driving, far too much coffee, and definitely too much bad country radio, I was done. My sleepy companion was clearly done as well, although it was difficult to tell with her. She was shy, at least when she wasn’t talking about school and New York, and while we got along it was still far too new and awkward a relationship for it to feel easy. I pulled off Route 70 with a yawn as the rain battered the glass making it nearly impossible to see anything other than the lights in front of me. While the windshield wipers still did their job, they didn’t do it well.
“There should be a hotel up ahead. We can stop for the night, then hopefully drive the rest of the way tomorrow. Especially if this damn rain stops.”
“I like the rain,” she said quietly. Her feet were pulled up onto the seat, and she sat perched on them like she was in her living room on the couch, staring out the window on a lazy Sunday morning. Her blue shorts were banded with a white stripe around each thigh, and they instantly made me feel like it was the 80’s again, in spite of her youth. Why I had agreed to do this was anyone’s guess, but there I was, without anything to do but continue on.
“It’s nice to look at, but driving is another issue,” I said, trying desperately to spot the Roadside Inn up ahead. It wouldn’t be luxurious, but it would be dry, and there would be a bed and a drink, which I frankly needed more than anything else. Lisa had offered to drive, of course, but I was determined to do it all on my own. Her father had insisted she was a good driver in spite of her other faults, and while I mostly believed him, there was something about holding the wheel of my own car that felt important. The girl was twenty, and perfectly capable, but she was more prone to staring out the window and chewing her hair than she was to noticing traffic lights. I would make it just fine on my own.
I finally found the green lights and pulled off the road under the awning by the front door. The man at the desk was disheveled but polite, and he gave me a room–with two beds–and told me to park anywhere I liked. Lisa helped me unpack the bags, and I left her standing in the lobby as I went and parked the car before running through the rain back to the hotel. I was soaked by the time I got there, but at least I was out of the car and could once again feel my legs as the blood quickly returned to them.
As I stepped inside the door, brushing the rain out of my hair and trying in vain to dry off my glasses, I saw Lisa talking to a young man near the elevator. He was wearing just a bathing suit and carrying a towel, and she was laughing as he leaned in with one hand on the wall next to her head. Her normal quiet demeanor was still there, but her pose was relaxed, and her smile mischievous as she looked up into his eyes without a hint of embarrassment at all. Maybe she wasn’t as shy as I thought.
“Are you ready?” I asked, too tired to be worried about interrupting them.
“I’ll see you down there,” she said to him before ducking under his arm and pressing the button to the elevator. She didn’t look back as she stepped through the open doors, and even as we rode up to the fifth floor, she remained quiet. I thought of a million things to say, but each one sounded dumber than the last. I was nothing to her, so what did it matter? Besides, I was taking her back to college and she would have plenty of opportunities to make her own mistakes in New York. Her father would have had choice words, I was sure, but he wasn’t there and I was, and there was nothing to be done about it. Friends of the family hold about as much weight as crossing guards do to a twenty-year-old, and Lisa was no different. Especially when it came to her dad’s old high school buddy.
The room was clean, which was about all you could say about it. She instantly dropped her things onto the bed nearest the bathroom before rummaging about in her bag for a few moments. I pulled off my jacket and hung it in the closet to dry while I looked for something more comfortable to put on. Old jeans and a clean tee-shirt would be a welcome change, and if the bar downstairs was open, a couple of whiskeys would really do the trick. I had no idea if I was supposed to entertain the girl, but as far as I was concerned, she could handle herself. In fact, it wasn’t until she emerged from the bathroom in a bikini so small I didn’t believe it was a bathing suit, that I started to question my judgment. Among other things.
“Where are you going?” I asked, the accusation far stronger than I had intended.
“What do you care?” she said, grabbing one of the hotel towels as she slid on her flip flops.
“I just… nevermind,” I finally said, shaking my head. She was tall and thin, and the bikini didn’t leave much to the imagination. Not that I had ever imagined anything at all, but that wasn’t the point. If my best friend knew I let her walk down the hall like that, I would be in more trouble than I wanted to deal with. Just as I was about to say something else, my phone rang, and Lisa turned in an instant and headed to the door. I pulled it out of my pocket and struggled to answer as I watched her go, quickly realizing that I was staring at her perfect ass and I couldn’t look away.
“I’ll be at the pool,” she said, stopping at the last minute to throw me a smile over one shoulder. And then she was gone, the door was closed, and her father’s voice was repeating itself on the other end of the line.
“If she behaving?” he asked again. I had known Brendan forever, which was the only reason I agreed to do this. But that didn’t make it less awkward. As far as I could tell, she was a perfectly normal college student, inspire of what her father said. Trouble-maker, difficult, uncontrollable, and most often pain-in-the-ass were all words he used to describe her.
“Yeah, she’s been fine. She was mostly quiet on the road. We just stopped and I’m heading down to the bar. I don’t see why you’re so worried about her,” I finally said, shaking my head as I tried to get the image of the girl’s ass out of my mind.
“Look, I didn’t want to say anything this morning, but I am worried about her. This break was kind of a shit show, at least when it came to her, and I just wanted you to know.”
“What do I need to know, Brendan?” I asked. He had a habit of leaving out important pieces of information, he’d done it forever, so while I wasn’t surprised, I did find myself slightly annoyed.
“It’s just that she’s been acting out recently. Not like the old stuff, fights and shit like that. This is different. I don’t know how to say this, but she’s getting a reputation.”
“As?” I asked, the impatience clear in my voice.
“You know, for getting around a bit,” he said awkwardly. I knew this was hard for him but come on man.
“Like I said, she seems fine. She’s barely said a word since we got in the car.”
“Okay, okay, I don’t want to make you worried too. Just keep an eye on her. The rumor is she’s turning into a bit of a slut, and I don’t want you to have to deal with that shit, you know? Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. You don’t have to watch her, but just keep an eye on her.”
“So, you do want me to watch her,” I said, wondering how he could so casually call his own daughter a slut, and really wishing he had told me this before we got halfway across Ohio.
“I’m just saying if she acts out or is difficult don’t be surprised. And thanks again man for doing this. Sorry, the storm fucked up all the flights. You’re a good friend.”
“Yeah, well thank me when we get to New York and I drop her off. And when I’m back, you’re buying rounds for a month.”
“Whatever you say, man, just thank you.”
We talked for a few more minutes, him telling me how many times she got into trouble in the last few weeks, and me promising him that she was behaving herself perfectly. Lisa had planned to drive back to school with some boyfriend, but she apparently broke up with him just days before the trip, and since I was going to New York for work, it somehow sounded like a good idea for me to bring her. Now, I was suddenly wasn’t quite so sure. My old friend knew me, but he also had a few blind spots. Especially where his friends were concerned. Fuck, why did he have to use that word?
She was quiet around me, and while I was smart enough to realize that we don’t always see the full picture, I still thought he was overreacting. To be fair, I hoped more than anything else, because the last thing I needed was to get caught up in something stupid again. It had been years since Molly, and I hadn’t indulged in anything close to that since. But by the time I hung up, I was aching to get out of my clothes and get a drink before I started thinking bad thoughts.
I quickly undressed, making sure to bolt the door first, and I found my dry clothes. The soft cotton felt fantastic against my skin, and I brushed my hair quickly in the mirror before slipping my shoes back on to go find that drink. I needed food as well, but let’s be honest, first things first. I did one last check of the room before grabbing my key and wallet and heading to the door. There was nothing in the world that a little Redbreast Twelve Year wouldn’t fix. And if one didn’t work, two or three usually did the trick.
I took the elevator back down to the lobby and noticed that the rain had only gotten worse. There was thunder and lightning now as the storm fully hit us, and I was glad to be inside. The hallway was empty as I followed the signs to the bar, but just before I turned the last corner, I made the choice to walk the wrong way for a moment to look in on the pool. I tried to resist, but I easily convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with a little peak. I was only checking in to make sure Lisa was okay, and it had nothing at all to do with the size of her bikini or her alleged recent behavior. It’s not like I was going to peer in and see her getting it on with the hotel manager or something.
I thought she was cute when she got in the car, anyone would, but it was more of a passing thought. Twenty is a bit young for me, so while I noticed her, that was about it. At least until that fucking phone call and everything it implied. She was suddenly ten times more appealing than minutes before, and it wasn’t even related to her bikini. So I smiled and tried to pretend I was just being curious. In fact, anyone would have looked, it was the most natural thing in the world. And what Brendan didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him, right? Why did he have to tell me she was out of control? If he had never mentioned the string of boys, the breakups, and the older men, I probably would have ignored her completely. As it was, I found myself more curious than was appropriate, the one word he used tumbling through my mind like an old friend. Slut, I said over and over again, reveling in the familiar sound and everything it implied.