Jake pulled the sun visor down and frowned at his reflection, trying to ignore the sound of Rose laughing, even though she was impossible to ignore. Though, usually, it was for good reasons.
"I need a shower," he grumbled.
"You wanted to a ride a horse," Rose said through her giggles.
"Just start the car."
"Falling off a horse isn't the same thing."
Rose wasn't done. Instead, she brandished the camera. "I have a video of it! Maybe this camera wasn't such a bad idea."
"You're a terrible person."
"You're welcome to jump ship at any time," Rose reminded him. "You could always start walking."
"My tailbone is killing me," Jake said. "I'm not moving for, like, a week."
"Oh, come on. We've got a lot of dead space between here and Vegas. We'll find some of those gigantic yarn balls and –"
"All I care about right now is a hot tub."
Rose started the car. "You're so needy."
Jake snorted. "And you're deleting that video."
"What, the one of you thinking you're a cowboy and then finding yourself face first in the dirt? I don't think so."
They left the horse stables behind and Jake tried not to glare at it before it disappeared. Children safely went on trail rides! He had done a thousand things more dangerous than getting on the back of a horse. Rose had sat elegantly on the black one that she'd been given while Jake had ended up face first in the dirt within five minutes of putting himself in the saddle. He'd good-naturedly climbed back up and they had gone on the trail ride but the longer he was sitting on the horse, the crankier he'd become. Then, trying to get off the damn thing, he'd stumbled and nearly put himself in the dirt, without the horse helping at all. It was the second one that had nearly put Rose over the edge.
"I'm thinking that I like this camera after all."
"No more live animals on this trip," Jake said, crossing his arms and then realizing it hurt his shoulders, let them fall into his lap. "It's a rule."
"Not even if we find a stray cat or puppy along the road and want to keep it?"
Jake snorted. "I've never had a pet and it's not like we have a backseat for it to hang out in."
"I've never had a pet either," Rose said. "I think that's the first thing that we've had in common!"
Rose sounded excited but Jake didn't care, really, that they had nothing in common. At first, Jake had liked Rose because there hadn't been so much as a thread of connection between them. New York was large and despite growing up in the same city, they hadn't so much as walked into the same pizza place. He had liked that they couldn't even agree if peanut butter or jam was better on toast. Now, it wasn't the reason he liked her, but it was still something he enjoyed about her. He would never had met someone like her if he'd stayed home and she was reason enough for Jake to feel like he'd made the right decision.
The sun was setting when Rose pulled into the parking lot of another motel. It looked pretty much like all the others – though this one was blue where the last one was yellow. Jake sat in the car a moment longer than Rose, waiting to feel something. They'd been driving around, taking their time and experiencing for weeks now. At some point, he'd been expecting to become tired of the constant moving, rotating through the same clothes, and really only speaking to Rose. He'd been expecting to become homesick for his friends and family and be drawn home by his love for them, his sense of duty, or his guilt that Gramps was having to pick up his slack. But, none of those feelings hit him as he got out of the car, holding his dingy backpack by one strap so he didn't have to pull it over his shoulders. He had forgotten what it was like to be sore and he definitely didn't miss that part.
Rose acquired a key and led the way to the room.
"Why don't you take a hot shower? It'll help with the soreness, I swear."
"Were you a high school athlete?" Jake asked.
"I was homeschooled. But, you need a shower no matter what. I'll go get us something to eat."
The room door swung open and, just as Jake expected now, there was only one large bed. It had just felt like a natural progression to his undefined relationship with Rose. Just like getting into her car, there hadn't been much discussion about it – they drove and talked and ate and, at night, they slept in the same bed. It was just a part of what they were.
"Or you could shower with me," Jake suggested, letting his bag fall to the floor so he could reach out to her, "and we can get food after."
His fingers reached the top of her arm brace and Rose jerked away from him.
"Can't take the brace off for that long," she said quickly. "Old injury, you know how it is. The amount of time I spend driving doesn't really help either."
"You could always let me drive. I have a valid license!"
"Random guys on the side of the road don't get to drive the car!"
"Go find another random guy and see how he works out and then I promise I'll look really good in the driver's seat."
Rose laughed. "Only cute boys get to drive the car."
Jake spun to face her and Rose devolved into helpless giggles.
"Enjoy your shower. I'm going to find some Chinese food." She kissed his cheek.
"The shitty kind?" Jake asked, kissing her cheek in return. "I told you that you'd like it."
She swept away and Jake took his shower. He heard Rose return near the end and he stayed under the flow of the warm water, hoping that Rose would come join him. Her mind was hard to change. So far, she'd back tracked on one thing: the music. The radio was never turned off now and Jake had probably killed hours on the road by sliding them out of static and into a local station. It made him want to turn his phone on and play his own music.
Jake pulled his clothes on, thinking they'd have to find a laundromat soon.
"Did you eat all the egg rolls?" Jake asked when he stepped back into the room.
"There's one left," Rose said. "I'd grab it quickly if I were you. I find them addicting."
It was a quiet Wednesday night. They finished dinner and curled up in the bed, watching a sitcom. Jake groaned every time he moved and Rose slid behind him, massaging his shoulders with strong hands that felt like they were undoing knots that dated back to his first transformation.
"Where are we going next?" Rose asked.
Jake leant away from her hands with great reluctance to get their large collection of maps, tourist brochures, and library print-outs. While they waited for the clothes to finish at the laundromat, they usually tracked down a library to do some googling about attractions that they might be able to hit on the way and to guide them on whatever way that might be. He opened the map of Kentucky and the map of the United States before placing Rose's hands back on his shoulders.
"So, if we're trying to hit every state we possibly can, we should go to Indiana or Ohio next."
"Ohio's too close to New York. I'm never getting that close to there again."
Rose was, generally, a sweet person, Jake knew. She could be grumpy as she woke up and fumbled her way through her morning routine but she seemed herself by the time her hair was brushed and Jake handed her a cup of coffee. She could be sarcastic and witty but never malicious. Jake didn't believe she had a mean bone in her body. It was why the hatred and bitterness in her voice when she talked of New York always caught him off guard and made him curious. The more he got to know her, the more Jake wanted to ask, if only because she might give him some sort of answer. In the same vein, he wasn't sure that he even wanted that answer. If she was running away from abuse of some sort, would he want to know until she made the decision to tell him?
"So, it's Indiana then." Jake grabbed the Indiana brochure and flipped it open. "World's Largest Ball of Paint!"
"That's all that's in Indiana?"
"It's the first thing that caught my attention." Jake reached for the printed library pages. "There's catacombs in Indiana?"
"That's way too morbid sounding."
"Wanna go to jail? It's a rotary jail."
"That's where I'll leave you," Rose threatened, but she was also idly playing with his hair which took a lot of air out of her threat.
They picked out three destinations: a historic sweetshop, something called Gravity Hill – which Jake worried wasn't a natural phenomenon and he was putting himself at risk of being recognized – and the large paint ball. Then, Jake cleared the papers from the bed and snuggled into Rose again and fell asleep in her arms, feeling happy and peaceful.
As Susan did every morning, she checked the mailbox. She didn't remember the last time that Jake had written a letter, if he ever had. It didn't stop her from hoping that she would open the mailbox one day and there would be a letter or even a postcard from her son. As days turned into weeks and the weeks were evolving into a month, Susan's worry was only growing.
Jake's note hadn't said he'd write or phone or text or anything, at least until he knew he was 'ready'. She knew her son was headstrong, determined, and stubborn. She knew if he said he wasn't going to come home until he was ready, he would only be home then and not a moment before.
And, yet, when she woke up to no text on her phone and no letter in the mailbox, she felt betrayed.
This morning was no different. There was no word from Jake and Susan re-entered her warm, sunny kitchen where Jon was cooking breakfast. It was what he always did for her and the children on Sunday mornings and Susan could so clearly visualize Jake sitting at the table, barely alert and mumbling his responses.
It made her angry all over again – angry at him, angry at her father, and angry at herself. She wanted to rant and rage: didn't Jake love them? Didn't Jake understand that they missed him? It was everything that she had talked to death with Jon and nothing she wanted to say in front of Haley and, so, she held her tongue. Besides, it wasn't them that she wanted to talk to. But, her father seemed to be ignoring her. Most often, when she called, she got the glib voicemail of the electronics store. On the increasingly rare occasion that she actually got through, it was always Fu's voice on the other end of the line. He made excuses on why Lao Shi couldn't come to the phone, which was usually that Lao Shi was wiped out. Due to Jake's absence, he was putting in a lot of overtime – more than he could probably handle.
At first, it had made Susan sympathetic to her father and mad at Jake all over again. Now, Susan was mad at them both. Her son was missing, her father was the last person to have seen him, and was the only person who could possibly have any updated information. She needed to know if the Chinese Dragon had heard anything, even if Lao Shi had not.
But, there was nothing she could do about any of it in the moment, so she collapsed into the empty chair next to her daughter and let the silence reign.
Still alive! I haven't been getting much writing done recently (my boyfriend was in an accident and I've been helping to take care of him but he's almost back to 100% again!) but I'm still kicking. I hope all of you are staying safe! Let me know what you think of the chapter!
Let me know what you think of the chapter and don't forget that you can find me on tumblr: we - are - all - of - legend - now!