tagRomanceBrad's Road Trip Ch. 20

Brad's Road Trip Ch. 20

bySpotInTheSand©

Here it is... the penultimate chapter. I wrote this one and the next/final one together, but due to mammothocity, broke it into two. As always, thanks to my editor, AnInsatiableReader, for helping me clean it up. When I send it to her, it looks nothing like the finished product you're about to read. Also thanks to samuraisan, who gave this and the next chapter a beta read.

*****

Day 18
Sunday, June 29, 2007
Grand Junction, CO to Pocatello, ID

I woke up in unfamiliar surroundings. The sun was up, but just barely. There were strange sounds around me, and even though I listened carefully for a few moments, I couldn't make them out. I realized I was lying on a blanket in the grass, and I was actually pretty cold. Where the hell was I?

I sat up and looked around, and the memories of just a few hours ago rushed back to me. Of course - I was in the Marine Corps recruiting tent, lying on a blanket I'd bought the night before. The sounds around me must have been the other nearby vendors, mostly food trucks, getting ready for the last day of the festival.

Nicole was lying right next to me, and I looked down at her - no, she wasn't.

Nicole was gone.

I looked around, but she was nowhere in the tent. I scrambled outside and searched around frantically. The sun was just above the horizon to my left, giving me more than enough light to tell she was nowhere in sight. I was still shirtless, and the cold morning air was covering my upper body with goosebumps and making my nipples hard enough to cut glass. I retreated into the tent and found my T-shirt lying in a heap on top of the blanket, where I'd been using it as a pillow.

I had no idea how long she'd been gone, but she'd taken everything with her except the blanket. I was generally a pretty sound sleeper, and she'd obviously been able to get up, gather her things and slip away without waking me.

How could she do this? She told me she felt as strongly about me as I did about her, so how could she just vanish in the middle of the night, leaving nothing behind?

Well, nothing was the wrong word - when I picked up the blanket, I noticed a piece of fabric tucked underneath, on the side she'd been sleeping on. It was a yellow thong, and lifting it to my nose, I could definitely smell the traces of her arousal. She'd left me no way to contact her, but she'd just ensured I'd never forget her.

Not that there was any chance of that happening anyway.

I wanted to throw up. I'd never see her again, and the thought made me sick to my stomach.

I stuffed the thong in my pocket and collapsed onto one of the recruiting tables in a dazed funk, not knowing what to do, where to go or who to talk to. I might have sat there all day if not for Gunny Granger's arrival.

"Sgt. Carver," he said, setting a big box of what I guessed were brochures down next to me. His utilities were freshly starched and his boots were shiny enough that he could have checked his clean-shaven face in the reflection. He had a slight scowl on his face that made it clear that he could kill me - and anyone else without a Bazooka in the general area - right now if it came to that. I didn't take it personal - I'd seen the same look on the face of pretty much every Gunnery Sergeant I'd ever come across, as if it was standard issue. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Oh, um," I said. I didn't want to lie, nor did I want to depress myself. "Had a pretty wild night at the show, and I couldn't make it back to the campsite. Figured you wouldn't mind me camping out on your grass."

"My grass is your grass," he said with a laugh. "You look a little rough, though. I don't miss the hangover days."

I'd had all of two beers after 6 p.m. yesterday, so it wasn't a hangover. I didn't tell him that.

"Yeah," I said. "Listen, thanks for your hospitality this week. I'm on my way out of town in a little while here. It was good meeting you and your crew."

We shook hands, and I stumbled away from the tent. I pulled out my phone to check the time, and realized Kelly had probably texted me several times last night. Alas, I wouldn't find out until I got to back to the campsite, because my phone was out of juice. My head was on a swivel for the entire walk back to the campground - I knew in my heart Nicole was gone, but if I was wrong, I wasn't going to miss her simply because I wasn't looking.

Outside of the festival vendors getting set up, the place was pretty much a ghost town, and my own campsite was no exception. Sara's car wasn't there, so I guessed she and Liz had stayed in town the night before. Russ had probably never made it back, and if Chad and Janine were in their tent, they were taking a break, because all was quiet.

I plugged my phone into my car charger and walked into my tent to start packing up. I rolled up the sleeping bag and stuffed it in my trunk, then crammed all the clothes into a duffel bag and tossed it in the back of the car. I was breaking down the tent when I heard something rustle behind me.

"You have fun last night?" Chad asked me. He stepped out of his tent, zipping up the door before he walked over to the picnic table in the middle of the campsite.

"Not nearly as much as you did, I'm sure," I said.

He grinned and shrugged with a 'what can you do?' look. "Who was that girl yesterday?" he asked.

"I ran her over in line for ice cream," I said. "And it went from there."

"Ah," he said. "I'm partial to ramming a hot woman's shopping cart in the produce aisle at H-E-B myself, but I guess just plowing them over works, too."

"Not that well, apparently," I said.

"Uh oh," he said. He grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler and chugged about half. "Couldn't close the deal?"

I didn't tell him I could have, but I chose not to.

"It's not that," I said. "Actually, we had a great time after the concert."

"So where is she, then?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," I replied, sounding as awful about it as I felt, but much more awful than I had wanted to let on in front of my former boss and roommate.

"Ouch," he said. "She got to you, huh?"

"Big time," I agreed. I grabbed my own water and killed it off in one long swallow.

"You at least get her number?" he asked.

"Nope," I lamented. "I was too busy living in the moment to think about the future, I guess. Of course, I was expecting the moment to extend to this morning, too."

"Wow," he said. "Middle of the night jailbreak. I've done that a time or two."

"Yeah, me too," I said. "And with the way I'm feeling right now, I'll never do it again."

He said nothing for a minute. We just sat there in silence on the picnic table, enjoying the crisp morning air and letting the smells from the surrounding campsites' breakfasts waft around us.

"Pretty crazy, huh?" he asked. "The two of us, two of the biggest bachelors in the state of Texas, getting caught up the same weekend, two states away."

I didn't want to tell him the truth, that I'd been caught well before arriving in Colorado, mostly because I didn't want to think about that right now. One massively fucked-up situation at a time, thank you very much.

"Yeah, that is pretty nuts," I agreed. "At least you didn't screw up and let yours get away." I motioned toward his tent, where I assumed Janine was still sleeping.

"True," he said. "But then, you didn't need me to land yours, and I can't say the same. I owe you big-time for that, Sgt. Carver."

"Any time, brother," I said, bumping fists with him. "So is that what she is? Are you off the market?"

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "We haven't talked much about it. I have to go back Tuesday. I have another year in, and she has 18 months left here. We'll see how it goes, but yeah. I think the plan is to see each other once a month and see what happens from there. She grew up in Texas, so she comes back fairly often anyway."

I remembered her talking about her east Texas upbringing, how her grandfather had been a raging racist, and how that had contributed to her fantasy of being with a black guy. I couldn't help but grin - it looked like she was going to be with him a lot more, too.

"Well, man, I'm glad it's all working out for you," I said.

"Thanks," he said. "But don't give up, man."

"I don't see how I can do anything else."

"You may not have gotten her number, but she must have told you something about herself that would help you find her."

I thought back to our chat yesterday. I guess there were some details there I could use, but... everything was just jumbled up. If I'd thought her arrival into my life had screwed things up in my head, her departure from it had made it 10 times worse.

"Maybe," I said. "I gotta get rolling and head back home, man. Give Janine my best."

"Will do," he said. "Let me know how it works out."

"Absolutely," I said. "Either way, I'll be fine."

As I waved goodbye and drove out of the campsite, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd just lied.

***********************************

I got coffee and gas at a truck stop before jumping back on I-70, and I stopped for a sandwich in Price, maybe two hours inside the Utah border. All told, I'd been driving for three hours and I'd been treating my cellphone like it was radioactive waste. I never wanted to turn the damn thing on ever again.

Finally, a few miles before getting onto I-15 - which would take me all the way back to my hometown - I broke down and turned on the now-fully charged phone.

As expected, I had about 20 text messages and I'd missed a few phone calls as well. None of the calls or voicemails had been from Kelly though, and only three of the texts were. I immediately ignored everyone else and went straight to her messages.

The first had been sent around 9 p.m. the previous night, saying she was on a break at work and was very much looking forward to reading my e-mail when she got home, as well as hearing about any fun I was going to get into tonight. Yeah, somehow I doubted she'd be looking forward to anything involving me when I told her what really happened last night.

The second text was around 3 in the morning, explaining that she'd had to work extra late and had just barely gotten the store closed, and that she was so tired she'd have to wait until the morning to read my e-mail. She was a little disappointed that I hadn't texted her all day, but she knew that I knew she was working.

The one she'd sent around 11 a.m. - just a couple hours ago - shook me the hardest. She didn't complain that she still hadn't heard from me, or that I hadn't texted her about what I'd done last night, or anything. She simply said that as far as she could remember, yesterday had been the first day since our first phone call that we hadn't talked on the phone, and that while she knew it was mostly her fault due to work, it still made her sad.

Yeah. I just about took a right turn off the next bridge after I read that one.

As conflicted as I was, I knew by now Kelly would be worried about me, maybe even going as far as to call my mom and ask if she'd heard from me. That would get my parents worried, and all I needed to do to stop it was send one little message.

Me: Hey. I didn't plug my phone in last night, and it was dead when I woke up this morning. It's just now fully charged up. I'm somewhere south of Salt Lake City, and should be home in a few hours. I miss talking to you, too, and I'll call later.

That wasn't a lie - I did miss talking to her. I missed how easy things were between us less than 24 hours ago. She'd made this road trip even better than I thought it would be, and I couldn't imagine what it would have been like without her constant presence, even if it was just her voice. She really was the best woman I'd never met.

That made me feel even guiltier, because none of this was her fault. Sure, she'd been at work, but the main reason I hadn't texted or called had nothing to do with that. Normally, nothing would stop me from sending her 12 teasing text messages while she was on the clock, knowing she'd read them later and get herself off. But something had yesterday.

A 5-foot-2, brunette, Australian, sultry-as-all-hell something.

Kelly's last text message also told me that she had more family functions to attend today, the last day of the weekend before everyone went their separate ways, and so she might not be able to talk until later in the evening. She also wondered exactly what I had planned for tonight. My last text to her the night I'd slept with Sara and Liz had been pretty straight forward:

"See you tomorrow."

Tomorrow was now today, but I had no idea how I would face her now. No fucking clue. But I was going to be at my parents' house in a little over three hours, and Kelly's apartment was just 45 minutes beyond that, in Idaho Falls. I was going to have to come up with something.

"What a fucking idiot!!" I shouted to no one in particular. I pounded the steering wheel futilely, doing nothing but hurting my knuckles in the process. The steering wheel, in particular, was not impressed. It grinned back at me as if I'd just punched a big, inanimate plastic-coated rubber circle or something.

I'd been with so many attractive, sexy, 13-on-a-scale-of-10 women in the past two-plus weeks. I'd had four threesomes, two foursomes and one huge orgy. I'd had sex at concerts, by the beach, in tents, and even once or twice in an actual bed. I'd hooked up with redheads, brunettes, blondes and everything in between. I'd fucked a lingerie clerk with a lingerie model's body on the floor of a lingerie shop. I'd fucked a Hooters girl in every hole until she passed out. I'd fucked a professional cheerleader, for crying out loud. I'd even managed to go back and rewrite my past, changing one of my few negative sexual encounters into one of the most amazing nights of my life.

There had been a close call here and there, but none of those women had distracted me from my main goal - to get back to Kelly, have sex for about 33 hours, and then tell her how I felt about her.

No, somehow that had happened after the long string of casual hookups had ceased, after I'd deliberately put my guard up, knowing I only had one more sunrise before I could get to her.

"How the FUCK did I let her get to me?!" I shouted, loud enough that the people in the cars I was whizzing by on I-15 might have been able to hear me. As I yelled it, though, I knew it wasn't true.

I didn't let Nicole get to me. I just never stood a fucking chance.

All I'd done is accidentally knock her down, help her back up and then look at her. And that was all it had fucking taken.

The heat between us was so intense that we could have been standing on the surface of the sun and there wouldn't have been a noticeable difference. Once we started talking, then when she smeared the ice cream all over my face... and oh yeah, that out-of-body spiritual excursion that had been me applying sunscreen to her body...

Yeah, I didn't yet know what Kelly looked like, but I knew after all we'd experienced together, even if it was all on the phone, that I'd find her gorgeous. I was well past the point of wondering if we would have a connection when we met.

But then my brain bounced back to Nicole - I KNEW she and I had a connection, even after just a few hours together. Now that I had experienced it with her, that I knew that kind of link could exist between two people, I'd be selling myself woefully short if I accepted anything less.

And since I already had it with Nicole, it would be impossible to have it with anyone else, even someone as incredible as Kelly.

Right?

There was another part of my brain reminding me that it really didn't matter what I had with Nicole, because what I didn't have was her phone number. Or an e-mail address. Or any other way of getting in contact with her. Hell, I didn't even know her last name. For reasons I'd never get to clarify, she'd decided to remove herself from my life almost as quickly as she'd arrived.

I figured I probably knew the reason, anyway. She'd asked me to make love to her, and my brilliant response had been to confess my love for another woman. She'd replied by telling me she loved her boyfriend, too. She saw very clearly the dilemma we faced, and rather than stringing it out and agonizing over the decision, she eliminated the newer, less stable relationship.

It made sense from a logical standpoint. Sure, she was in Los Angeles for a while, but once that was done, she'd be back in Australia, and I was in the States. How the fuck would we have ever made that work, anyway?

Logic didn't really matter, though. I wanted her so badly, and like Chad had said, if I really, really worked at it, I could find her. How many Australian exchange students could there be at UCLA? A couple hundred, maybe? Even if there were a thousand, how many of them were named Nicole? She said she was from Melbourne, so that would help, too. The school wouldn't just hand over their admissions records, of course, but I'm sure they had some grad assistants and interns working in their offices, and the law of averages said that at least one of them had to be an attractive female I could sweet-talk into doing me a favor, right?

Just then, my phone pinged.

Kelly: You better call me. I'm not missing out on talking to you two days in a row. I'm glad you texted, though, because I was starting to get slightly concerned. Drive safe.

I texted back that I was fine. I started to add that she had nothing to worry about, but I erased it before I sent the text. I hadn't lied to her since our first phone conversation, and I didn't want to start now.

I could wander around in these mental circles for the rest of my drive and the rest of my life, but it wasn't going to make a damn bit of difference. At the end of the day, my situation boiled down to this:

I hadn't been lying to Nicole the night before: I loved Kelly. I hadn't told her that yet, but I'd known it for a few days now.

On the other hand, if I'd just gotten to spend a few more hours with Nicole, I was pretty sure the colossal feelings we had for each other would have morphed into love, too.

I was so, so fucked.

******************

The nostalgia hit me like a tsunami when I pulled off the busy four-lane boulevard and into my neighborhood. It would still take me a few minutes to get to my house, but even though I'd only lived here for the four years of high school, the memories were everywhere.

There was the city pool, where I'd been a lifeguard, given swim lessons during the summer, and checked out more than a few bikini-clad high school classmates. Up the street from that was the little league baseball complex, where some of my American Legion and travel baseball teams had practiced, and where I'd been an umpire for the kids' games.

I took a left onto Williams Drive, and passed the house of the girl I'd taken to my Junior prom. I'd come up with the idea of asking her by taping the question to an alarm clock hidden in her room and setting it for 2:45 in the morning, but I didn't want to give her mom the wrong impression by asking if I could go into her teenaged daughter's bedroom, so I got one of our mutual friends to do it. The memory of sitting by the curb while she went in and planted the clock was still fairly fresh.

A right turn on Susan Street took me past my friend Nathan's house. I remembered hanging out there with our circle of friends a lot of weekends, playing video games, drinking whatever alcohol we could get our hands on and chatting about our classmates late into the night. We'd joined the Marines together, but he'd gone off to boot camp a few weeks before me. He'd suffered an accident during the swim qualifications, when the chlorine in the water led to some kind of chemical reaction in his lungs. Nathan spent the next three months in the hospital before finally passing away, and my own combat training had made it impossible to attend his funeral. The house basically looked the same, but I'd heard his parents had moved out and eventually gotten divorced. It didn't matter - to me, that would always be Nathan's house.

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