The waitress walked up to the guest seated at the table.
“Coffee?” she offered, sounding monotonous.
“Yes, please. I’ll take anything you are willing to bring me, after almost dying of hunger until you finally showed up. At least the lack of service here is consistent.” the guest responded, smirking.
When he raised his head for the first time and their eyes met, recognition flickered in the waitresses eyes.
“You?! I’ll be damned, didn’t think I’d see you around here again!”
“Same. But the way I took lead basically nowhere and the only way back leads me through your town.”
“What’s with the jungle in your face?” she asked, looking at him as if he were a common cockroach.
“Felt like going a bit more rugged.” Ewan told her ‘…and help hide from being recognized …‘ he thought.
“Total fail. You look homeless.” she evaluated. Her negative reaction bothered him.
“Thanks a lot. Good to see you didn’t loose that natural charm. Some things never change, huh?”
“Not in this town they don’t. Nothing ever changes here. Want anything to eat?” she smiled faintly.
“Oh absolutely! That’s why I came back. Taking the grimy cheeseburger and fries challenge again and that dark broth you sell as coffee.” he chuckled.
“You like living on the edge, I give you that. Definitely not afraid of a slow, painful death. I’ll be right back, Cast Away.” she laughed, it felt good and left him with a smile after she walked off.
Ewan couldn’t help but smile. Why was beyond him. She was still as rude, this town was still as crappy, as it had been about a week ago when he left here. Where he lived she would last an hour tops in service with that attitude.
When she came back with the order, Ewan looked at the food before him. Still not very appetizing, the waitress noticed his look, slid onto the bench across from him, grabbed one of the fries, dipped it into the ketchup and stuffed it in her mouth, before asking
“So, why are you really back?”
“Told ya. My attempt at the roadtrip dead ended. Nothing but desert as far as I went and a few more shitholes like this all to end at some mountain range that was closed for an undetermined time for some undetermined reason. Had to turn around and this is the first interpretation of civilization I have seen for the last 8 hours. My last stop was literally a farm with a gas station on it. So I thought I’d rest up for a minute and then try the one road outta here I haven’t taken yet, see where that goes.”
“That’ll eventually get you to the coast, guess that’s more up your alley. So a roadtrip then, sounds exciting. I always loved roadtrips. So much fun!”
“Not really. Been pretty dull and boring most of the time actually.”
“That’s because you are doing it alone. You need more people for that, at least one more person, THEN it will be the time of your life. The kinda stuff you tell your grandkids about.”
“Everyone I know is far away and busy with their own lives. They can’t get away, but I had to. Now. Got no choice but roll single I guess.”
“Running from someone or something?”
“A little bit of both. No worries, I am not a convict or something. Just someone trying to recalibrate his life and shake off some bad memories.”
“How’s that coming along?”
“Not worth a damn. Been gone for a little over a month now. Still don’t feel any better, nor enlightened in any way. Just even more lost and confused than before.”
“Sounds like a man who had his heart broken badly.”
“You have NO idea!”
“Hmm, starting to wonder about my people reading skills. I had you pegged for the type that does the heartbreaking, not the one at the receiving end of it. Well, whaddaya know?”
“You wouldn’t have been that wrong. I have been known to be a bit of a playa in my days.”
“Just a bit?”
“Ok, I have been a douchebag to a lot of women. But, what goes around, comes around. Came around and bit me in the ass so hard, I think there is a huge chunk missing.”
“Finally found the girl you liked and she dumped you?”
“Something like that. I liked her enough to make her my fiance. Long story.”
“Oh shit! That is tough!”
“Yeah. Now nothing in my life makes sense. Trying to find clarity. Which leads me right here.”
They spoke a little more, before she had to get back to working.
When Ewan was done this time, he requested the check, someone else brought it to him, he left a normal tip on the table and left. His waitress was nowhere to be seen, Ewan waited for her to return, when she didn’t, even after 30 minutes, so he assumed she went home. Without saying goodbye.
Car running, wondering where to go from here, he started driving when his passenger side door was opened, startled he slammed on the brakes, and watched the waitress pull back the passenger seat, toss a backpack onto the backseat, then climbed in after it, slammed the door shut and began unbuttoning her blouse.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Ewan asked mortified.
“Congrats, you got yourself a plus one for the roadtrip. You’ll see, with two of us there it will be fun! Now, keep your eyes forward for a minute.” she gestured forward and Ewan obliged.
“What? Why are you taking your clothes off in my car?! Stop it!”
Naturally Ewan turned to her, but quickly turned back around when he realized she was taking off the rest of her clothes. What was happening?! She really was crazy!
“What does it look like I am doing? The uniform belongs to the diner. This is my resignation. I just got paid, now they can go bite me.” she explained as if this was the most normal thing to do.
Ewan couldn’t help a quick glance in the rear view mirror, but she already had some top on, now she rolled down the window, threw out her balled up uniform as she climbed into the passenger seat, fastening her seat belt.
“Drive! What are you waiting for?” she looked at him expectantly.
“Drive where? And don’t you want to say goodbye and pack?” Ewan was completely overwhelmed with this situation.
“DRIVE!” she demanded.
“Ok.” Discombobulated, Ewan pushed on the gas pedal.
Ewan’s discomfort slowly let up. They made some light conversation, which mostly was carried by her, eventually she made him pull over somewhere to watch the sunset. He hated the interruption at first, but once they sat next to each other, even the bland, boring desert looked kinda pretty.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“Why?” she asked right back.
“It’s a normal question, isn’t it?” he defended himself.
“One you would not answer either, would you, city slicker? Relax, I am packed. That backpack contains all I have. I live everywhere and nowhere. Might as well live whereever it is you’re going and keep you from getting even more lost.”
“You are homeless?!” Ewan asked shocked.
“I am free. I am at home wherever I want.” she shrugged.
“That’s crazy! Look, I can get you some money and …”
“I told you before, I do not want your money.” her words had a finality in them.
“Tell me about yourself.” Ewan changed the topic.
“You are basically a stranger and now we are traveling together in the same car. Yet, I do not even know your name or anything else.”
“Ava? Never would have expected such a girly name from you.”
“What’s your name?”
Ewan froze. He had not even thought about this.
“I am … Kevin. McAllister. Kevin McAllister.” in a reflex Ewan lied, using Hannah’s last name, and the first male name that came to his mind. Why he lied to her, he didn’t know, but he felt guilty right away.
“Do you have any that money left you like to throw around, Kevin?” she asked him.
“We need to get a motel, so we can be fresh to travel tomorrow. I’ll pay for myself. After this town there will be a long time with nothing but desert for about half a day, so we need to get filled up on gas, food, drink and be well rested.”
“Sounds good.” Ewan wasn’t sure he was really ready to leave yet. Sitting here with her had felt … therapeutic.
They found a motel, but only one room was available with only one bed. After some debating and realizing their lack of better options they decided to take it, as she said she would Ava paid half despite Ewan/Kevin’s protesting, after walking into the room, they stood around awkwardly, until Ava slid onto one of the chairs, taking off her sneakers.
“Which side of the bed you want?” Ewan/Kevin asked, after realizing there was no other option. Not even enough floor space for him to sleep there. This was promising to be real awkward.
“Gentleman’s choice. I call dibs on the shower though. I want and need one badly! But you stay out here, those motel bathroom doors never really lock. You come in there or try anything cute and I will suckerpunch you in the balls!”
“No worries, I am not into girls that look like 13 year old boys.”
“I can only imagine what your fiance must have looked like.”
“Well, not like a pre-pubescent boy, that’s for sure. Rest assured, you are absolutely safe, not my type at all.”
“Yeah, I can guess what your type is, those fake girls. Fake tits, fake nails, fake lashes, bleached hair with extensions and a fake laugh.”
Ewan glared at her, unable to reply. She wasn’t all wrong, but all Ewan could think about was ‘…and fake love…’ as he watched the bathroom door shut and heard the water running.
Sitting on the bed waiting his turn in the bathroom, her unbridled criticism had triggered him to think about the way dating used to go for him. Ever since he was a teen boy, it had always followed the same pattern. Either he used the girls, or he got used, even long before he became famous, since he was from a wealthy family, which along with his looks was enough to attract the wrong type of girls. Never the best precursor for a happy relationship, and the older he got, the more he watched Eric and Hannah with their respective other halves be in love for real, the more his old life felt empty. But he was stuck in a rut, which seemed impossible to break out of.
His thoughts were interrupted by Ava leaving the bathroom, just a towel wrapped around herself, the skin rosy and damp, the hair wet. Seeing her like this made her look very feminine, delicate and almost vulnerable, especially when she smiled at him.
“Forgot to grab a change of clothes.” she shrugged, then facepalmed herself.
After digging through her backpack she disappeared in the bathroom again, shutting down Ewan’s faint hope for a repeat performance from her mini-striptease in the backseat of his rental car.
He never responded to her, couldn’t. His throat had a big lump in it, his heart was racing.
“Idiot! What the hell is wrong with you!? Bad enough she is here in the first place, the very last thing you want is to get tangled up in the mess that is her.” he told himself quietly, then continued thinking ‘…you came out here to change your ways, not dream about nailing the first girl you spend a few hours with!’
After his own shower they both turned in, Ava didn’t seem bothered in the least by having to share the bed and fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Ewan just laid there watching Ava sleep, realizing how much he had hated being alone before, and how much nicer having her here was. A perfect stranger, potentially a totally crazy person. But somehow he felt more at ease now than throughout the entire first part of his trip.
Her prediction about road trips being fun with two people was also true. She took over the wheel sometimes, and made him stop a lot more than he had on his own, to take in the scenery while stretching their legs.
They talked – luckily she didn’t seem to mind sharing personal things but asked few questions and if, accepted his brief, evasive replies as if realizing that he couldn’t talk.
They laughed – a lot, sang along crooked to the radio, shared meals, but not a room again, much to Ewan’s dismay.
Idly watching her, he caught himself more than once, mind wandering to places he wanted to deny himself.
After about a week of being on the road with her, he knew a lot more about her than she about him. He was very careful to avoid certain subjects, lied if he needed to. His acting talent came in very handy, even though he felt guilty.
What required no acting was how much he liked when he could make her laugh. By now he’d do just about anything to hear that sweet laughter, such a feminine and honest sound. When he had her in stitches again, the feeling was better than any award his acting had won him.
Ava was the no nonsense type and certainly the most down to earth girl he had ever met. She was not afraid to speak the truth, no matter how brutal it was, but seemed to have a kind heart under the rough shell. And she made him laugh, so much, seemingly effortlessly. Such a positive attitude, even though her own life had not always been too smooth.
She and a bunch of brothers had been raised by her very overwhelmed father, after her mother had died. Money had always been tight and from the sounds of it, the father wasn’t good at domestic stuff, nor did he have a single clue how to raise a little girl after all the boys, which explained why Ava was tomboyish. Some fight with her dad and brothers, caused Ava to run away from home at only 13 and since she had lived on her own. The way she told him about it was without even a hint of bitterness, unlike him whenever he spoke about his mother.
What she knew about Ewan were a few bits and pieces of truth, the rest was some made up story. She still thought his name was Kevin. And now Ewan was too scared what the truth might do, were he to tell her. He pushed the thoughts about how all this was to continue far from his mind. A bridge to be crossed when they got there, now he wanted to live in the moment, like Ava.
Until the day the first domino fell, setting in motion a sort of unstoppable chain reaction.
At the motel, finally sharing a room again, someone came to the door. When Ewan answered two guys wearing face masks forced their way into the room brandishing guns, demanded money, wallets, Ewan’s phone – just anything of value.
Scared, Ewan shielded Ava behind him letting them all have whatever they wanted, praying they wouldn’t shoot.
The crooks also grabbed Ava’s backpack and Ewan’s suitcase, then off they were.
In just seconds everything but a few clothes and shoes that had been laying around the room, was gone. All their cash, Ewan’s credit cards, his phone … everything.
After calming down Ewan/Kevin realized he could not even call the cops. If he did, his cover might get blown. Ava didn’t seem too eager to go that route either.
“Now what?” Ewan asked, mostly rhetorically.
“Good question. They literally took my clothes. Dammit!” Ava said.
“Some of my stuff is left, over there, it’s clean. You’re welcome to any and all of it.” Ewan/Kevin offered, earning one of those smiles he’d do almost anything for.
“Thank, Kev.” she smiled that smile, but being addressed with the wrong name stung. Damn lies!
Ava seemed to remember something, her smile faded, she ran outside, then came right back in, frowning.
“They took the car too.”
“What!? SHIT! We have to call the cops now, gotta report the damn rental stolen. Crap!”
Lacking any other choices, cops were called, reports filed, Ewan managed to avoid Ava hearing or seeing his real name.
Ewan awoke from a brief nap to find Ava gone. His heart stopped, sitting up he found it hard to breathe, afraid she moved on without him, wondering what he was to do now.
That was when she walked in, carrying a few bags, tossing some clothing on the other bed, before sitting next to him, he felt like a mountain range fell off his shoulders.
“Where have you been?” Ewan realized he sounded like a nagging husband, trying to keep from grabbing her and hugging her so tight, it would crush her, after the scare of thinking she might have left him.
“Getting me a job! Soon we’ll have money again, Kev.” she was back to her old chipper ways and hearing himself addressed with the wrong name still stung.
“You got a job in … what … half an hour or however long I was out for?!” Ewan/Kevin couldn’t believe what he heard.
“Yup. And some instant cash. And food. You hungry? I am starving.” she pulled a wad of cash from inside her bra, and offered it up to him, when he didn’t take it, she tossed it on the bed.
“What?! Did you rob someone?”
“What if I did?” she gave him that ‘come-and-get-me-smile’ that did something to him.
“But you didn’t, right?” he asked, worried.
“Nah, relax. Someone had car trouble. I walked by and helped them. Nice older couple. Were very grateful. Gave me 100 bucks and some muffins. Hungry?”
“How … you … I don’t even know what to say.”
“How about ‘aaaah’. The muffins are filled with something I have no clue what it is but tastes like heaven! Open wide!” she proceeded to fondle off what she seemed to deem the best piece of said muffin and stuffed it in Ewan’s mouth. After the initial surprise, while she expectantly watched him chew, he smiled and just wanted to hug her. No, he definitely had never met anyone like her in all his life, nor would he ever again. She was and would always be one-of-a-kind.
Ava went to work that night and every night after that, providing for them, without complaining once. Pay wasn’t great, but it helped. Ewan was amazed by the way she just shared all she had with him.
“How about we get you a job too, princess? You look beyond bored. Plus, with two of us making money we may be able scrape together enough to continue your roadtrip, unless you love this place enough to settle for good.” she told him one night after she got dressed for her shift.
“Uh, no. I was ready to move on a week ago, but there is nothing I could do here that I am good at.” Ewan wasn’t lying.
They hardly needed actors or people with Economics degrees in this village, and he couldn’t get any money transfered without his family knowing where he was – and Ava asking uncomfortable questions while probably also finding out who he really was. He wasn’t ready for that yet.
“What ARE you good at? Not trying to be mean, but really, what?”
“I don’t know … office stuff … got a degree in Economics.” Ewan told her more half-truths.
“Yeah, pretty useless here. So plan B then. About time for you to get a lesson in real life, princess. You’ll come with me tonight. I’ll get you a job. It’ll be fun – at least for one of us.” she grinned at him.
“I can’t wait tables!” Ewan protested.
“Oh no, we won’t start you off at the top, Buttercup. I got something else in mind for ya and that may cure your arrogance for good. A monkey could do it, so I have faith you’ll get there – eventually.” she winked.
Once at the diner, it didn’t take long for Ewan/Kevin to get tired of her grin whenever she called him to a newly vacated table.
“Be sure to actually clean it good this time, busboy. Don’t make me call you to redo it again, got it?! And a little faster, if you please. Chop, chop!” it was obvious she enjoyed every second of this.
“Screw you!” he told her, hiding a smile.
“Nah, thanks, you’re not this 13 year old boy’s type.” she winked at him, making him smile when she used his old insult against him now.
That was when the house of cards tumbled, Ewan turned – and almost fell over when he saw who just walked in. He had nowhere to hide, the two men who just walked in had spotted him at the same time he had seen them.
“Ewan! What the hell son! There you are – FINALLY! We were so worried! Your mother and sister have been crying their hearts out after you just disappeared without a word!” the older one of the two came straight to him, followed by the younger one, Ewan’s younger brother, and a family resemblence between all three was hard to deny.
“Dad? Lucas?” Ewan paled, a quick side-glance showed that Ava had seen and the wheels were already turning in her head, while Ewan was bracing for the truth to come out and hit like a freight train at top speed.
-to be continued –