Three days earlier I studied all night with a girlfriend for a physics exam and afterward drove four classmates 12 hours to San Diego for spring break. The entire trip the girls giggled and cackled behind me while a Korean kid sat silent up front. I decided we scared Jae. Although, being a confused immigrant might also explain his silence. Either way, he only said thanks when I dropped him off at his house. For that matter, Cindy told me how to find it.
The rest of the trip to Oceanside I drove in a blur on autopilot. All of the lights merged into a slow motion light show and I doubt I could even tell you about the trip. I arrived at the motel, went to bed, and slept nearly all Sunday despite my mother’s pleas to come to the beach. In the morning, I drove her north to Anaheim where we rode the teacups, stood in a long line for the bobsleds, and paddled a canoe. We ate dinner on the bayou, visited the pirates, posed with Mickey Mouse, and explored the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Overall, mom had a great time and I played the sweet son. By nightfall, the sky exploded with fireworks and we headed back south. Mom slept pressed into the window missing the nuclear power plant, the Marines, and the moonlit beach. As the tail lights on the interstate blurred into red, I again drove like a drone.
Tuesday, I left mom in the room sadly wondering why I was heading back to college. I made Spring Break last only as long as a three-day weekend with an irritating baby. At the studio I planned to make a lot of cash in the remaining days of my break.
Before I left, Cindy called to say she wanted to ride back with me to school.
The truth be told, I barely knew Cindy. The one time we ate dinner she wrangled my nerves. Too much talking about her roommates, the boys in the Quad, and the reasons men were stupid. I tried to nod and agree, but even I found her curt comments cut too close for comfort. I only agreed to drive her north because she would pay for part of the gas. She said a friend was traveling too, which reduced the odds I would have to entertain her.
We met in Escondido near Kit Karson Park at a fast food shack hidden behind the freeway. After Cindy hugged her mom and dad goodbye, she and a tall kid with black hair hiding his eyes climbed into the back seat. He looked like a cross between David Bowie and Bruce Lee. She introduced him and I think his name was Henry. It didn’t really matter because I didn’t plan to spend too much time talking to him.
We headed north with them laughing and talking and me watching the road. The first miles were green with avocado orchards mixed with round rocks. As soon as we headed down into Temecula, the countryside started looking brown. The desert took hold around Victorville as the heat beat down on the windshield. I turned up the air conditioning and wiped the sweat from my face. For most of the trip, Cindy and Henry napped. Eventually, they woke up and started talking. I tried to ignore them, but a person can take only so much sagebrush, rocks, and creosote, before they look for other things to hold their interest.
“Charlie can’t know,” said Cindy.
Charlie lived with his six brothers, two sisters, a dog, and parents in Idaho. He had a pale face, red hair, and freckles across his nose. Compared to her exotic friends, Charlie looked more like a thumb. To top it all off, Charlie asked Cindy to marry him, which made him her finance. Talk about weird.
“If he found out he wouldn’t understand.”
Had she killed a dolphin? I had no idea, but I was sure it had to do with Charlie.
“I love him. I just needed this.”
“It felt good didn’t it,” said Henry.
Did Cindy and Henry hook up? I laughed and pretended I heard something on the radio.
“He’s such a weird ass,” said Cindy. She was talking about me and I saw her staring back in the mirror. I locked on her gaze a little too long and quickly returned to the road. I cared less. Silence held us for a few more miles.
“I first saw him at a bike shop in Mission Beach,” she said. “His blonde hair reached the middle of his back tied up in a pony tail. He interested me. I guess he saw me staring because he skated over to me and the other girls.”
She was talking about a one night stand. This time I just smiled.
“It was awkward at first. He asked my name and I learned his was David,” she said. “He lives in Pacific beach but came down from Santa Cruz. David plans to be a film director.”
Sure he does. I bet he becomes a salesman working at a call center in El Monte.
“We went down to the pier and shared a chocolate cone. He held my hand. Then we kissed.”
I leaned back a bit against the head rest.
“Then what happened?,” Henry said. Yes, what happened next?
“I blushed. Then all of my friends showed up and I had to go.”
“You just left?”
“Pretty much. We had to get back to Chula Vista.”
That was it? Just a kiss? I really thought she had gone all the way down a scandalous path. This seemed more like barely dipping your toe in the ocean.
Seven more hours of brown rocks, creosote, and sand. Maybe I should butt in and ask the obvious question? I looked at her in the mirror. A sandy-haired girl who thought it a scandal to kiss a boy who was not her finance. On second thought, no; it failed to interest me.
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