Abby eased off the gas. No sense in getting the Sterling PD all up in arms. And besides, it’ll likely take a while for those boys to retrieve the keys from wherever the hell they landed. With any luck, straight into a ventilation duct on the Gas-n-Go’s roof.
Jenny was still grinning. “Girl, the way you snatched his arm and tossed him on his ass all in one move, that was some kind of magic!”
“Abracabra!” Abby whooped, and held her hand up for a well deserved high-five. Jenn obliged and started digging through the brown bag, trying to decide on beef jerky or the pint of Crown Royal. Not necessarily the best, but she liked the purple bags.
Abby said, “But, there’s a problem.”
Not looking up from her treasure hunt, Jenn said, “What’s that, hon?”
“We forgot to get something at the Gas-n-Go.”
“Aw Christ, Abby!”
“Sorry, I was a little distracted back there. It’s all right. There’s a little place a few miles ahead. Besides, you’ll probably be ready for another pee break by then. It’s like, 5 minutes from here.”
Jenn had to smile. “Yeah, yeah. How’s about a little pull of Crown? It’s good for the soul!”
“Okay, but I get first drag. Who knows where that mouth of yours has been?” This brought hoots of laughter from both and Abby downed a good sized gulp just as they pulled in to The Blue Cactus Fuel Stop.
Abby did her business at the pump, and Jenn did hers inside. Lickety-split they were back on the road.
Cameron sat with his back against the post that was the base for a yellow road sign with a deer symbol on it. More accurately it once had a deer symbol. Years of target practice at the thing had reduced it to a few splotches of yellow and a shitload of vent holes.
He took off his straw hat, used his forearm to wipe the sweat off his brow, ran his fingers through his short, sandy hair and scanned the afternoon sky for any signs of thunderheads building up. That would be the perfect addition to his crazy-ass day.
Nope. Nothing but blue sky. Cam loved the scenery but he was a bit irritated at how long it was taking him and his thumb to cross this state. Three days so far and he still had yet to see the Welcome to Arizona! sign. So close to California but not close enough.
He thought there would be more traffic on SR170, even on a Sunday. Yeah, he could probably make better time by jotting south. Hitchhiking the Interstate 10 corridor was bound to be quicker. And, a lot more dangerous. He wasn’t in that much of a hurry to reach California.
For the umpteenth time in the last quarter-hour, Cam looked east for any west-bound rides. Seeing nothing he… Wait a minute. What’s this?
The hot pavement shimmers were gradually revealing some kind of vehicle approaching. A car. A big, red car.
Cameron sprung to his feet, thrusting his thumb out and holding up his well used hunk of cardboard that simply said, “CALI” in thick black marker.
The red car had gotten considerably closer and he could hear the deep thrum of it’s big motor. He could also see that it was a convertible and it was carrying – he squinted – No way! A couple of pretty decent lady-folk. He smiled his best smile.
The car showed no sign of slowing down.
Cam was thinking, “C’mon baby. Don’t say maybe.”
Jenn had spotted the hitchhiker before he had even seen their car.
“Abby, check it out.”
“Hmmm. What do you think?”
“I don’t know, Abbs. Let’s wait until we’re a little closer so I can get a good look.”
Their recent encounter with the truck boys back at the Gas-n-Go never even entered their minds. Abby and Jenny knew who they were and what their capabilities were. Strong, confident, incredible instincts. Especially when they were together.
They passed the now dejected looking fellow and got about another 300 feet when Abby stomped the brakes, put it in reverse, looked at Jenn and said, “I got an ok feeling about this one.”
Jenn nodded in agreement as they rolled up to the hitcher. Not a bad looking guy, maybe 30, kind of a string bean but not in a bad way. He had a pleasant smile and just gave off a good vibe. Best way to put it.
Abby looked him dead-on. “We’re not going to California. We can take you up the road a piece, not sure how far.”
Cam said, “I’ll be happy to go as far as you can take me, ma’am.”
Not needing to be told twice, Cameron tossed his CALI sign on the floorboard, hoisted his khaki rucksack on to the rear seat and plopped right down.
Abby said, “Let’s get one thing straight. One more ‘ma’am’ out of you and you’ll do the rest of the ride in the trunk. Understand?”
Cameron’s mouth fell open and he actually gulped. He started to stammer out a “Yes” and the girls burst into gales of laughter.
“Oh man! You should have seen the look on your face! I was just funnin with ya.”
A much relieved Cameron shook his head and let out a little laugh. “Y’all had me goin’.”
“I’m Abby and this here is Jenny.”
Jenn asked, “And who might you be?”
“Cameron Carter, at your service.” Cam briefly lifted his hat. “Pleased to meet you both.”
Abby got the Chevelle moving, and Cam tucked his hat on the floor, up underneath the front bench seat. It was his favorite and he didn’t want it going anywhere in the convertible whirlwind.
Abby looked at him in the rear-view mirror. “So, California? What, you gonna be a big rock star or something?”
Cameron chuckled. “No, nothing like that. What are you two doing out here?”
Jenn said, “Just a little road trip. A chance to hang out. And drink a little Crown.” She winked and handed it to Cam. Without a word, Cam took it, had a good swallow and offered it to Abby.
“Hoo-wee. Thanks, my whistle needed a little wettin.”
Abby took her turn and focused on the road.
Miles passed, shadows lengthened. Jenn and Cam were small-talking their way cross-country. Abby looked at Cameron in the mirror. “Hey Cam, how’d you get that thingy on the side of your head?”
Cameron reached up and stroke the small swollen spot that had a light scrape to it.
“Oh, this? Pbbbt. People. I swear. I was this side of Arcane a couple of days ago – You know where that is? Anyway, I’m stand there with my lucky thumb out when this big truck slows down. Nice truck, actually. Newer and had a bit of a lift on it.”
The girls exchanged glances.
“Anyway, they slow down and instead of offering me a ride, this jerks throws a half empty beer can at me. Hard. But I got good reflexes and I ducked my head enough to avoid a direct hit.”
Abby said, “Man, people suck. But hey, they usually get what’s coming to them, right?
“Right!” Cam yelled. Then “Kar-MA, Kar-MA!”
The red 60’s convertible cruised down the road in the late afternoon sun, with these three raising their fists in the air yelling, “KAR-MA! KAR-MA!”
There may have been alcohol involved.
“Guys, the sun’s going to go down soon. I know a spot just off the road where we can make a fire and hang out. I probably shouldn’t drive any more tonight.”
Jenn and Cam saw she had a good point.
Cam said, “No complaints here.”
“Good plan.” Jenn chimed in.
As the sun made hay with purple and orange on the western edge of the sky, Abby turned on to a barely noticeable road that winded into a box canyon of sorts. Abby turned off the car and silence filled their ears, the only interruption being the constant tick-ticking of the Chevelle’s engine cooling. The smell of sage and desert greeted them and made fragrant memories that would stay with each of them for years.
Cameron was already gathering random sticks.
“There’s just enough light to get some firewood, girls! Get on it!”
“Oh and watch out for rattlers!”
Cam laughed and deposited a good-sized armload of sticks on the ground near the small rock circle Jenn had constructed.
Within minutes, Cam had produced a lighter and a doob for later. He got the wood blazing like a pro and the three sat amicably on a good sized log.
Abby said, “Cam, for reals. Why California?”
“Well, nothing Hollywood about it. Dad owns an avocado grove just outside Santa Barbara. About 30 acres. Uncle Hank called me a few days back, told me Dad had a bit of a stroke and needs help managing the farm. I had moved to Texas and things weren’t working out in Waco, so done deal. I’d do anything for him.”
Cam left it at that and Abby didn’t prod any further.
Jenn said, “Damn, I wish I had bought more Crown!”
“Hold on a sec.” Cam stood up, stretched and went to the car. He fumbled in his rucksack a moment then went and sat back down on the log, hands behind his back.
“Whatcha hiding there, big boy?” Abby knew damned good and well what it was. She could tell by the shape of the bottle. It wasn’t Coca Cola.
“Johnny Walker! Oh we are going to hate ourselves in the morning!”
Cam looked Abby dead in the eye. “Yes ma’am.”
Jenn laughed so hard she fell backwards off the log and Abby threw a stick at Cam’s head, barely missing.
And that is how the night went. Laughter, well-know songs sung in unknown keys at great volume, jokes and insults in equal measure and somber, serious conversations.
In short, it was perfect.
The rent is due when the sun rises, and Johnny Walker is a harsh landlord.
Moaning, grunting and cursing, the three gradually stirred to life. The fire was letting out it’s dying gasps of light smoke swirls as our crew gathered their things and tossed them in the car.
Abby said, “Cam, we’re about 30 miles from the state line. There’s a Denny’s there. Breakfast is on me, but then we gotta go and you can get your next ride.”
“Sounds good to me, Abby.”
Some would argue the merits either way about Denny’s as a good hangover breakfast spot. When it’s the only place around, it’s the best place around. The three made the best of it. They drank their weight in coffee, ate over-easy eggs mopped up with toast wedges and sides of bacon all around.
None of the three were any good at goodbyes and an awkward, three-way hug with light pecks on wet cheeks was the best they could do.
The girls put the top down, started the convertible and headed to the entrance to SR170. Abby turned on the blinker. After a few seconds of not moving, Jenn looked up.
“Abby, is everything ok?”
A long moment ensued. Abby looked at Jenn. “I kind of like avocados.”
“Me too, hon. Me too.”
Cam was kneeling on the sidewalk, organizing his rucksack. He heard the throaty rumble of a big-block Chevy and looked up.
“Are you headed to California, big boy?” Abby winked at Cam while Jenn looked on, a small tear streaming down her cheek.
Cam gave the obvious reply: “Yes, ma’am.”
And go west they did.