"How was your week, Shay?" Brea had just asked Shay how her week had gone, then when she'd tried to answer, waved it away. Shay didn't even try to say anything after that.
There had been a time when Brea had been interested, had been a true friend, had wanted to listen, had been willing to yield to someone else's thoughts and conversation. Instead, it was like a dead end street trying to talk to her now. For the past year Brea had become so self-absorbed, it seemed there was little for Shay to say to capture her interest unless it was about wedding venues, invitations or engagement party themes. It was just another reminder why she was glad that she'd decided against being roommates. She longed for a break from it all.
It was more than immaturity. Shay was afraid it was even more than an obsession with weddings, but was a character flaw that a lack of growth in her friend's spiritual walk had exacerbated.
After all, being self-centered was the flaw of human nature. If one did not die to self, self on the throne became a tyrant. It could get ugly.
Surely Wyatt felt it too, Brea's disregard for him as a person. It had to be be demeaning. Sometimes it was all Shay could do not to jump in and say something in Wyatt's defense when Brea belittled him. How could Brea expect to keep a boyfriend, especially one as wonderful as Wyatt, if she treated him so badly? If they didn't have so much history, so many years as a couple, Shay was sure Wyatt would have cut himself out of the picture long before now. Instead, all Brea seemed to think about, talk about, and dream about was the impending proposal. For all she knew, Wyatt was clueless that a forthcoming proposal was expected from him.
"As soon as Wyatt pops the question, I'm going to schedule an engagement picture shoot, and send out save the date cards. Then I can finalize all my wedding plans that I've outlined in my bridal notebook. I already have my dress picked out and have saved it with a down payment, you know, the one I sent pictures to you of me modeling. As far as the bridesmaids dresses go, I'm still vacillating on whether to go strapless or off the shoulder, tea-length or formal."
Shay opened her mouth to try to say that she preferred straps and long dresses, but she couldn't get a word in edgewise.
Shay had heard so much about weddings, it made her want to scream or run the other way when Brea whipped out yet another bridal magazine. It was all-consuming to the young woman, topics of bridal make-up, hairstyles, cakes, honeymoon destinations, etc.
Brea and Wyatt and Shay had all been friends for so long that they usually hung out together. Those two rarely went on dates alone anymore. Brea had bought into the whole "Save the kiss for the wedding," and wouldn't allow Wyatt more than hand-holding. To Shay, they almost seemed more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend. And the way they fussed! Oh, my!
One day out of the blue when Wyatt announced that he'd accepted a job offer across the country, Brea blinked and was shocked speechless. It was as if all the air went out of the room. Then fireworks erupted, tears, wails and tirades. All Brea's plans were quickly sliding away. Shay couldn't help but feel sympathetic with her. It pained her too, to think that Wyatt would be so far away.
"I think we should all go on a cross-country road trip together, you know, help me drive and see all the sights. That way you'd get the feel of the place where I'm relocating, and we can have fun on the way." Wyatt was trying to take some of the sting out of the announcement.
Brea stopped sobbing long enough to look up contemplating the offer. "Maybe," she shuddered.
"Of course, since it wouldn't look right if the two of us took off together, we need Shay to come along as a chaperone," Wyatt continued. He had obviously thought this all out. "After all, I will need help driving on such a long trip. Since you can't drive a clutch, Brea, Shay can help spell me behind the wheel." Then the plan was that the girls would fly home together once they reached their destination.
"I just know if I don't go on this horrid trip with him, I'll lose him," Brea cried later shedding real tears. "I don't know how long it will take before I can convince him to move back to the West Coast."
"Maybe you'll decide that you would really like living on the East Coast, if you did get married that is. Regardless, this will be an adventure! At least you'll be together on the trip." Shay tried to encourage her, but it only made her own heart feel worse thinking of never seeing Wyatt again. But she went on anyway, "In the meanwhile, think how much fun it will be to go places we've never seen before." Slowly, but surely, Brea caught a little of their excitement.
"I hate camping!" Brea whined. "Why can't we stay in hotels every night?"
"Because it costs too much money, honey. I'm only getting paid so much for my move by the company and can't afford that kind of luxury," Wyatt tried to explain while Brea pouted.
This was the fly in the ointment, the thorn on the stem, the ruffle on the placid pond, her insistence on hotel stays in between camping. She wasn't talking Motel 6 either. But Shay figured if they split the cost of the room between the two of them, she could swing it once in a while. Wyatt decided he'd just stay at cheaper hotels across the way or camp by himself while the girls luxuriated.
But Shay didn't know how Wyatt put up with the constant nit-picking Brea did about everything, from what he was wearing, from his shirt to his pants, his socks to his shoes and how his hair was cut. She even complained about the hair on his chest. Her complaints were getting out of bounds as she felt her world slipping out of her control.
"If you think I'm going to shave my chest, you're crazy!" Wyatt exclaimed one day. "Do you want me to shave my legs for you too?"
"My dad does for my mom. All that hair is disgusting," Brea insisted.
"T.M.I." Shay said under her breath. She'd never look at Brea's dad the same ever again.
"Forget it. I'm not your dad." Wyatt was shouting now.
Shay just tried to be the fly on the wall, making herself small to keep out of their spat. Personally, she thought Brea was being absolutely ridiculous, of all the silly notions to make demands about!
Wyatt was just manly, no two ways about it. Why couldn't Brea appreciate what she had?
As they got closer to the time they had to leave on their road trip, the more griping Brea did.
"I don't want to eat at those fast food places either. I want to go in, sit down and be waited on."
Wyatt just sighed. "You need to be realistic Brea. I'll try not to make you eat at the service station's delis, but I can't swing fine dining every meal, only occasionally as a treat. It's not that kind of road trip. Can't you just get on board and be happy?"
"My parents never once have eaten at MacDonald or Burger King in their lives."
"Your parents aren't coming on this trip, are they?" By now Wyatt was gritting his teeth. "Lighten up, Brea."
She only glared. "Denny's is as low as I will agree to go."
"Then you'll eat alone. Shay and I will be at the fast food joints enjoying ourselves," he barked. Shay didn't blame him.
She bit her tongue. She wanted to chew Brea out for trying to sabotage all the fun right out of their trip. Hopefully Brea wouldn't be like a fussy toddler constantly demanding her own way, otherwise it would be a very, very long miserable time. But come to think of it, that's how she operated now more often then not. When had her friend gotten this way? Shay pondered this the rest of the evening, and the only thing she could come up with was that she was in a power play with Wyatt as her boyfriend. It was a battle she could not win, but Brea might blow it up into something even uglier before it was over. It certainly was not how to build a happy relationship into a solid bond. It must have become magnified by Brea's upset over Wyatt's choice to relocate across the country. That certainly had thrown her for a loop instead of tying the knot.
"I'll just ask my dad for plenty of money for the trip. Maybe I'll take you both out to a nice restaurant a time or two so you won't have to exist on burgers and fries," she smirked. It wasn't a pretty face.
Wyatt rolled his eyes. "If you don't want to go on this trip, just say so. I'm sure I can drive all the way by myself. I just thought it would be fun for us all to see some sites of national interest and visit other parts of the country together."
Shay sucked her breath in. She really, really wanted to go. Brea couldn't back out now. The plans were already made.
"Come on, Brea. We'll have a blast singing our way down the highway all together. You know you'll never be sorry for taking this opportunity. It will be so much fun!"
Brea's mouth was in a tight line, but she finally said, "Of course I'm going. I'm just not comfortable going low class."
Wyatt wouldn't leave it alone. "Are you saying that you think I'm low class because I like to camp and travel in my truck instead of staying at five-star hotels every night or flying? How else can I get my truck and belongings there?"
"Not really, well kinda. I just think staying in a tent when you can sleep in a nice hotel room is ridiculous. And a fast food diet is so unhealthy," she said as she crunched on Cheetos and took another sip of her Coke.
"Look, your fingers are stained orange, so don't talk to me about eating healthy, okay," Wyatt slammed shut the atlas and closed his laptop which he'd been using to discover points of interest he wanted to see on the trip. "That's all the fun I can stand for one night," he said sarcastically as he left to go put the map back in his cab.
Brea licked her fingers off so she could put a clip on the half-eaten bag of chips. "I don't know why he's so touchy. I'm only trying to make suggestions."
"Suggestions? You are practically starting World War III! I thought you wanted to go on this road trip. I, for one, am really excited about it, but you are a real downer." Shay was close to yelling at her friend, but took a deep breath.
"You both are too sensitive. I'm only going along because I won't have much longer to be with him. I'm guessing he's planning on going down on his knee at some point along the way to ask me to marry him. When he does, you'll be there to catch it all on video, so keep your phone charged. Do you think he'll do it at the Grand Canyon, or in front of the Alamo? I hope it's the Grand Canyon. But Lake Tahoe would be nice or Yosemite even."
Shay just shook her head. Brea was dreaming if she thought Wyatt had something like that planned. The trip was beginning to look like a last ditch effort to see if their relationship could survive. If the trip didn't kill it, his move would. Brea, she could see, would never be happy moving so far from home.
"I'm leaving to finish packing," Brea said storming out. "This trip may be the worst idea ever!"
As Wyatt came back in, Brea left slamming the door to make a scene. Shay spoke up. "Just so you know, Wyatt, I'm really beyond thrilled to be going on this road trip.
"I'll see you bright and early then tomorrow morning," he gave her a side hug, "and thanks for the encouragement."
She left quietly letting herself out the door, no slamming necessary.
This last night before setting off on the road trip after listening to their growing spats, Shay drove down to the beach to be alone. She was so excited for the trip that she had been packed for a week. Taking off her sandals, she let the cool sand slide through her toes. Resting just above the high tide line, Shay watched the moon dance across the waves in their bowing to the shore listening to the steady sound of the surf. It was a respite from the querulous, whining voice of her best friend. The water never failed to soothe her soul before, but tonight she felt tumultuous inside as wave after wave rose and crashed against her thoughts.
Shay drew a heart in the sand with her finger, but she stopped as she realized she had put her initials in it alongside his. A tear slipped down. Her heart ached for what was not hers to have. Was she breaking God's command not to covet, especially another's man? She tried to pray, but was overwhelmed with all the conflicting emotions struggling deep down. It wasn't fair. She gulped back a sob.
Wyatt was so handsome, tall and fit with a winning smile in his tan face and a sparkle in his golden eyes. He was the nicest guy she'd ever known, kind, considerate, positive and fun to be around with adventure as his middle name. How on earth he'd put up with Brea's petulance she could not imagine. She didn't know how or why she put up with Brea's peevishness either. What did Brea have that Shay didn't? Looks? Personality? What was her magnetism that kept Wyatt attracted to her? Was it just a long history?
Shay wiped away one tear after another as her heart cried out in a silent prayer, "Why?" Brea didn't deserve him. At this rate, soon she might lose both Brea as a best friend and Wyatt as he moved across country. It was a grief that threatened to break her heart . Desperation kept her hoping that the trip would come off as the best days of her life, the last days she would ever share good times with Wyatt.
Or, this road trip could prove deadly to both their relationship and that of Brea and Wyatt's because of Brea's her whining, pettish ways. More and more it made Shay want to jump in to defend him and jump down her friend's throat. She was beginning to doubt that this trip would be worth it when it could have been so wonderful.
"Dear God, I need your help, we all need your help. Help me not sin against Brea by coveting her boyfriend. Keep my mouth closed against words that could hurt and sever our relationship. But, please God, let this trip be the wonderful time it could be as we drive across this great and beautiful land and stop to stand in awe at what you have created. Please prevent anything that would hinder your plans in our lives. And God, most of all, bless Wyatt and give him this road trip in the way he desires and before he settles into his new job even if it is clear across the country out of the reach of our friendship any longer."
With a deep sigh, her hand smoothed over what she had drawn in the sand until it was obliterated. Maybe someday she would meet someone like Wyatt, but so far she'd not met anyone close, one who could rival the attraction she felt towards the wrong man. But she had to let him go once and for all in her heart. She was only going along as a chaperone, an after-thought on this trip, just an extra driver. Shay pushed her hair that had frizzled in the moist ocean air out of her eyes and took one last look into the deepening night as the moon hid behind dark clouds. The foam on the waves was ghostlike in its whiteness teasing the darkness.
She remembered the time she had first dreamed of Wyatt. It had been only days after her sixteenth birthday making her feel so very grown up. Brea had just got her driver's license and invited her to go to a party, a party they should not be attending. Wyatt was there. He'd been drinking and was shamelessly flirting. Feeling reckless, Shay had allowed him to put his arm around her waist and still remembered how his light kiss had loosed a flock of butterflies into her chest. Just the thought of that brief brush of his lips could resurrect a few flutters that were still there. But Brea succeeded in drawing him away, and by the end of the night, his arm was around her instead. Somehow, he'd shown up at church and turned his life around. Except he had still kept his arm around Brea, never letting go. He probably did not remember Shay at all from that night. Nothing had ever been said, not between Brea and herself and certainly not between Wyatt and herself. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Even though sleep had eluded her for what seemed like forever, Shay had finally fallen into a deep slumber. She was startled awake by her alarm trying to remember what day it was, if she had to get up and go to work kind of groggy morning thinking. Suddenly she threw off the covers remembering that today was the day! Road trip time! Wyatt was coming to pick her up at 4:30 A.M., just thirty minutes from now. Her bags were by the door along with her sleeping bag and two-man tent. She had even, for once in her life, laid out her clothes to wear. Today they would drive to Lake Tahoe. Tomorrow, Yosemite.
After brushing her teeth and her hair, then with a quick swipe of mascara across her lashes, she filled a thermos with coffee that she had set to brew at exactly 4:00 A.M. Brea was supposed to bring the doughnuts. Shay was ready and dragged everything outside to wait on the porch. Five minutes, ten minutes, seventeen minutes later he finally drove up. Brea wasn't with him. She probably overslept or took too long putting on her make-up, and they would have to go back for her.
But a nervous Wyatt got out of his truck with a tarp over the belongings that he was moving to the East Coast. The back seat of his double cab was filled with camping gear. He ran his fingers through wild hair and stared at her in a funny way.
"She's not coming," he said.
"What! Why?" Shay's stomach plummeted like a broken elevator.
"She broke up with me. I mean, I kind of broke up with her so she could break up with me... anyway, she's not coming. What do you want to do?"
"I'm still going, of course. You need help driving, don't you? I mean we are grown-ups. We can handle this, right?"
He seemed to heave a sigh of relief. "Good. That's what I hoped you'd say. I'll tell you more when we get on down the road."
He took her things and threw them in the back seat on top of the camping equipment. While she buckled up, he shifted from park to drive and they were off with a little bit of a heavy foot on the gas. Excitement tightened her chest while bewilderment fogged her thoughts. Was this how God was answering her prayer? She'd never dreamed it would happen like this. Was she fool-hearty to jump at the chance to drive cross country, just Wyatt and her alone? It certainly wasn't considered proper, and some might look down on her, but this had been too long in the planning to give up now! Besides, he needed her.
He kept glancing over at her. I picked up some doughnuts. We can stop for a fast food breakfast down the road a ways How does that sound?"
"Great! I brought the coffee. He held out his mug as she carefully poured the steaming hot liquid trying not to splash any on his fingers, which was hard considering how her hand was shaking. Then she poured hers. It spilled a little when he down-shifted pulling to a stop at a red light.
"Ouch!" she yelled as it sloshed on her bare leg below her shorts.
"Sorry! I should have braked more smoothly I guess."
"No, I should have waited until you were on the freeway. My fault, not yours." She smiled but could not look him in the eye yet and grabbed some napkins out of his glove box to clean it up.
"I hope you won't mind driving for a while a little bit later. I didn't get much sleep. We were on the phone until two-thirty this morning before the dust settled." He was grinning. Actually grinning. "You don't know how good it feels!" Suddenly he yelled out his open window with his fist thrust up into the air, "FREEDOM!"
Shay couldn't help her mouth being dropped as wide open as a mitt in left field trying to catch a fly ball. "What? Aren't you upset over this? I'm guessing Brea is fit to be tied. She had your wedding practically all planned out and was sure you were going to pop the question on this trip."
"You're kidding, right?" He glanced over at her.
"No. You mean you weren't planning on asking her to marry you after all this time together? I mean, if you survived this trip with her, that is," and Shay actually giggled. "Oops. I shouldn't have said that."
"No, that's exactly how I felt, as if I'd never survive this trip instead of enjoying it like I had hoped. He ran his fingers through his unruly hair and glanced over at her again. "The only reason that I never put a stop to it was that I really do need help driving, and well, because I was hoping you'd still want to come. I mean, I knew you'd really enjoy it and were truly looking forward to this trip almost as much as I was. But I didn't know if...you know...if you would still come without her since she is your best friend and all."
"I doubt I'll still be her best friend after this. In fact, that's her calling me now." Shay put her phone back in her purse after checking caller I.D. and setting it on vibrate.
"Don't answer it. She'll only rail at you," he warned. "She was adamant that you wouldn't dare still come with me. She's one angry woman."
"I'm not answering it. I don't think I'll be answering any of her phone calls on this trip. I doubt I want to hear anything she has to say to me now."
"I blocked her calls. I don't want to wrangle with her ever again. I feel chewed up and spit out.
Last night was my last time to listen to her griping. I finally had enough. Our relationship has been at a dead end forever, it seems. It was hanging by a thread, and I should have broken it off a long time ago, but I had this trip in my mind and wanted to have you along."
"Huh?" She whipped her head over and looked at him. He needed to break away from staring at her before they had a wreck, so she turned away first.
Wyatt continued. "A big part of her argument was about you. She said I was looking at you too much in a way she didn't appreciate, and I realized I couldn't deny it. I have been. I admit it, and have been in a way that I shouldn't have as long as I was her boyfriend."
Shay kept her gaze out the window. Her head felt like a snow globe that had been turned upside down and shaken with her thoughts gradually floating down like glitter around the tiny plastic pink flaming standing on one fragile leg inside. Shay was trying to make the scene settle in her brain, or was it in her heart?
He was still acting nervous. "You have to know how I admire you, Shay. You are intelligent, working a job that makes a real difference in kids' lives. You are the best Christian I've ever known and are beautiful inside and out. You are a lot of fun to be around. Besides that, I've hardly ever heard you complain about anything!" He was grinning again now.
She was speechless. "I've always been jealous of Brea. You were the perfect boyfriend, yet she treated you like dirt. I couldn't understand how you could stand that."
"I don't know about the perfect boyfriend thing, but believe you me, I've asked myself that same question more times than I could count. I think it was because I came to the Lord at the same time as I began dating Brea. She just seemed to be part of the whole package deal, until lately. Did you notice the change in her? It's become all about her. One reason I think that I took this job offer was to put distance between us. Truthfully, this opportunity has been almost a year in the making. The only downside is that it will put distance between us as well. You're not just Brea's best friend, but one of mine as well. That's pretty much the only thing now I'll regret, that I'm moving away from you."
Shay blinked back tears. "That's how I feel. I think that's why this road trip means so much to me, like one last hurrah."
He reached over and gave her hand a squeeze that sent a jolt through her. He didn't let go instead weaving his fingers through hers. "You don't know, can't imagine how glad I am that you were still willing to come, and I don't mean just to help with the driving. By the way, you know I'm available now," and he winked.
Shay blushed like a sunrise. "I'm sure you'll find somebody to date once you get to Virginia." She tried to pull her hand away, but he tightened his grip.
"What if I'm not looking for someone in Virginia?"
The heat still flamed across her face.
"Let me put this more plainly. I'm going to lay out all my cards on the table here." He was definitely nervous as he cleared his throat. His palms were sweaty. "I broke up with Brea for many reasons, but the main one is that I'm attracted to you, Shay, big time. I know it's too soon, but think about it, and let me know if I have a chance. I hope this trip can give us that chance to find out if there is, if there could be something special between us."
She looked at him with the tears glistening in her eyes. "You've always had a chance, Wyatt. There's never been anyone else in my heart but you."
He grinned like a cat with dentures, "That's even better than I hoped you would say. Why don't you unbuckle and scoot yourself over here closer to me in the middle seat. Since we've got a lot of miles to go, let's start it off right."
She met his grin with her own and quickly moved the box of doughnuts and buckled next to him in his roomy cab with a bench seat. He picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles which were holding tightly to his.
"That's better. How long have I known you, Shay? I'd say it's a long time."
"Since I was sixteen."
"That was you, wasn't it, at the party I mean. You were the girl I kissed, weren't you."
"Yes, my first kiss." She hid her smile letting her hair fall down covering her face. He did remember her.
"I bet you thought I'd forgotten, didn't you."
"I was sure you had."
"How could I forget something like that?" Wyatt went on. "I guess it was just that I was weak, you know, as a baby Christian that I let Brea take over my life. I guess I thought she was something like a life preserver to hang onto instead of trusting God. But I can't believe I allowed myself to be pulled along for so long. It was wrong. So wrong, like a bad habit or something. I think too that I was worried if I broke up with her, I'd lose you as well."
"It would take a lot more than that to lose me, Wyatt."
Shay battled guilt with unbelievable happiness. She silently prayed with a gratitude that bubbled out of her heart, "God did you truly hear my prayer, cause I'm sure loving how you are answering!"
After they had stopped for a breakfast at McDonalds, Wyatt yawned. "Are you sure you won't mind driving? I know you know how to drive a clutch, so do you care if we switch places now? When you get hungry, we can stop and eat lunch, maybe in Truckee, then I'll take back over driving."
"I was planning on it."
But before she could climb in behind the wheel, he put his hand to the back of her head and brushed his lips across hers like he had done when she was sixteen. As many or more butterflies took flight now as then filling her chest, sending it fluttering. It was just like she remembered, but without the beer breath."
"Thanks," he said gazing into her eyes.
He was soon sound asleep with his cowboy hat across his face while she was more wide awake than she'd ever been. Wyatt broke up with Brea because he liked her. "W" + "S" was once again drawn across her heart.
When they went over Donner Pass with a view towards Donner Lake, he woke up. Then they dropped down and drove into Old Truckee.
"There's an old railroad car diner that I read about. Let's try it," Shay said. They were rewarded with delicious food as promised. The interior was decorated whimsically. It wasn't many more miles until Lake Tahoe came in view. It was stunning, the blue, the deep fathomless blue. They stopped at Kings Beach and walked the shoreline. The water was freezing cold. Shay had taken her sandals off, but chickened out wading.
He rolled his pants legs up and said, "Climb aboard!' He took her piggy-back out into the water.
"Don't drop me! It would get my phone wet," she squealed.
"Hey, why don't we ask that kid if he'll take our picture. We want to document this trip, don't we? In fact, we can take at least one picture everywhere we go with you riding piggy-back."
"That's what I am doing, isn't it, going piggy-back on your ride across country to your new job?"
"I guess that's one way of looking at it. Then that's how we'll capture each moment on Instagram," he added, "even if it will make a certain someone spitting mad," and he grinned.
The drive around the lake took some time, but it was worth it. Then after South Lake Tahoe, they wound up and around before catching one last look at the lake far below like a jewel shining in the sun in a setting of snow-capped mountains. As they were driving through the forest, she fiddled around until she found an old blue grass station that made her just itch to sing along to the twang. So they did. Loudly! It was faster to drop back down to the valley to eat the miles before climbing back up again, this time to Yosemite. It had that classic beauty, like climbing into a post card. But it was dusk and time to find their campground and set up their tents.
Though tired, the campfire unwound their weariness.
"I love this," Shay sighed sipping on hot chocolate.
"It's been quite a day, a long, long day. We won't try to fit so much into one drive every time. Sometimes it will be just us going down some long lonesome highway without many stops."
"More time to sing to the radio," Shay added.
Wyatt put his arm around her and hugged her to him. "That's one thing I love about you, Shay. You are so positive, not a whiner." She let her head rest on his shoulder.
The long day caught up with them, so they each headed into their own small tent across the fire from each other. Shay had just drifted off to sleep when chaos erupted .
With pans clanging and cries of "Bear! Bear!" Shay froze in her sleeping bag. Suddenly she was being drug along as the fleeing bear's foot caught momentarily in her tent ropes tearing the peg free and leaving her piled up next to the picnic table. It was over in an instant, but Shay couldn't stop shaking as she unzipped and fought her way out of the tangled mess. She cautiously stepped out and clung to her sleeping bag like a security blanket.
"Wyatt, help!" she cried turning her head frantically looking out for the bear as she hugged her pillow close to her chest with one arm and her sleeping in the other standing on wobbly legs. The neighboring campers were still making a hullabaloo.
He was out of his tent in a second pulling on his jeans before she could cry out again. He put his arms around her. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you? Good grief, you are shaking like a leaf!"
"I...I think the bear ripped my tent. I'm too scared to set it back up anyway. Can I...would you care if I sleep in there with you? I'm scared." She couldn't help the tears slipping down her face that he wiped away with his thumb.
"Of course , come on in. I'm sure the bear is scared away for tonight. That's what those people get for leaving their food out like that. I'm glad to see they are finally putting it in the iron lock box. That was a close call for you though getting snagged by the runaway bear. Thank God you weren't hurt. You weren't were you, I mean when you hit up against the picnic table and all?"
"No, just shaken up."
He looked down as she looked up, and he kissed her. It turned from the light kiss of her memory into something quite a bit different. Her heart was caught in her throat as he broke away. The tent was small. Too small for the two of them really, especially when he kissed her goodnight like that pulling her up tightly in his arms. She had clung to him, putting her arms around his neck, responding kiss for kiss.
Wyatt was running his hand through his hair saying, "This isn't going to work, Shay. I can't do this. I think you're going to have to sleep in the cab with the doors locked." He could barely catch his breath. Her own heart was pounding harder than when the bear dragged her tent.
"I think you're right." Her face felt more heated than when sitting by the fire. She once again grabbed up her sleeping bag and pillow. "I'll need the keys," she said with her hand out without looking at his face. He put them there.
It was hard to stay curled up to fit the space with the stubs of the seatbelts poking into her back. She couldn't relax at first either while straining to hear any indication that the bear had returned. More than that though, her head was swimming with thoughts of the kiss, of Wyatt and how they could go about this trip keeping boundaries in place. Finally sleep tangled in all her churning thoughts and dragged her away.
The next morning, Wyatt tapped at the truck window. He stood there grinning out of his shadow of a beard with his hair standing on end and.
"Morning, sunshine! Coffee's ready. We can eat day-old doughnuts until we find something a little more ample later on."
"I think there's a café not far from here just beyond the campground. After that, there's not much until Vegas.
"Sounds good to me."
She sat away from him hugging her coffee mug. He was examining her tent.
"I think it's okay. The rip is minor, it's just all tangled around the picnic table. I bet you rolled around in there before it was over though, huh." His smile warmed her all over. "That's rather a traumatic way to start a road trip, wouldn't you say?"
She forced a smile thinking more about the kiss than the bear. That had her more rolling and twisted than a pup tent dragged by a big hairy wild animal. Why, shoot, it made her blush just thinking about it.
"Are we camping or staying in a hotel tonight?" Her mind refused to think straight.
"We're supposed to camp near Flagstaff, Arizona, before going on to the Grand Canyon the day after. After that we made reservations on the reservation, on Navajo lands. It's a three-star hotel in a wide spot on the road, separate rooms, of course. They have a lady who makes Indian fry bread right there in the lobby. Then the next day we'll see Mesa Verde before camping near Durango. I've always wanted to see the cliff dwellings and ride the Silverton-Durango train."
"We're lucky we got those tickets. I hope we can get our money back on Brea's. They weren't cheap, " Shay added.
"Well, it's on her credit card, so that's up to her. We already paid her back for ours." Then he muttered, "It's her loss."
"Are you having second thoughts about breaking up with her?" Shay couldn't help asking.
Wyatt snorted and about spit out his coffee. "Are you kidding me? Brea never kissed me like that in all the years we went together!"
"Shh!" She looked around to see if anyone heard him.
He grinned at her. "I don't quite know what to do with you." Then he winked. "It's going to be a challenge to behave ourselves. And the trip just started."
Shay wondered herself. She still couldn't believe Wyatt had feelings for her, feelings like the ones she'd always had for him hidden away.
She checked her phone. There were a host of calls from Brea. She gasped. Her friend had made terrible insinuations and posted it all over Facebook. Good grief!
"It's Brea." She showed him the posts. "She's causing trouble."
"I didn't think she'd stoop that low. I'm surprised, but not really surprised that she's turned hateful. Sorry she's treating you like this though."
"Well, she's exploiting the fact that I still came on our road trip. Too bad. I'm glad I came."
Wyatt came and sat by her. "Not as glad as I am. " He hugged her shoulder. "You tangled with a bear, after all, and came out on top. You can handle her, Goldilocks!"
Shay playfully bumped his shoulder. "I'll handle her by ignoring her."
"Good. Well, let's break camp, grab some breakfast and go see Half Dome. We'll have someone take another piggy-back picture "
"Sounds good to me," she smiled and finished her cup of coffee in a hot hurry.
Even though it was the beginning of summer, there were still patches of snow as they stood on granite slabs and looked back at the massive mountain face. A Japanese tourist gladly took their picture, then they took his in turn. Leaving the park, the road swooped and dipped as they were swept a long way away from civilization. Finally, finding themselves in all the bright lights, they found a cheap feast of prime rib in Las Vegas and then drove further on.
It was dark before they set up their tents in the Kaibab Forest near Williams. They just zipped themselves up without even daring a goodnight kiss. They were bone weary travelers and cautious.
Shay ducked into the rock house gift shop and museum to get away from the sight of the two of them together. Wyatt had his hand on the middle of her back leading her away as he bent over talking to her.. It was too much. Shay couldn't listen to any more. Brea was taking Wyatt away again just like she had when Shay was sixteen. Well, this would be the end of this road trip for her, and the end of her friendship with Brea. She would return the rental car for her and then those two could cozy up the rest of the way without her along. She would catch a plane out of Flagstaff and head back home. At least she got to see Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon first. Tears slipped down her face and her chest felt as tight as if a boa constrictor had the squeeze on her. She climbed up the stairs appreciating the quiet of the interior. Shay just stood in front of the large paintings on the wall without really seeing them, just waiting for the farewell when they found her.
They took care of everything but getting the actual license online. It was a good thing that they both had their social security cards with them. She'd forgotten to take hers out of her wallet after needing it to confirm her security clearance at work recently. He had his in his wallet because of the move.
The fry bread was delicious, hot and sweet. Speaking of which...they didn't even try to kiss that night. They both were afraid that their brakes might fail if they went down that road. One last night to be found alone in their beds. Even sleep left them alone. Bright and early the next morning, they drove to their next destination and walked through the amazing Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.
Then hand in hand running back to the truck, they slammed the door shut, and he gunned it to Durango. They would get there in time to pay for their marriage license and make it to their appointment to exchange their vows before a judge. The Silverton-Durango train ride was already planned for the next day.
She had just enough time to change into the one dress she had packed. Wyatt surprised her by finding a bouquet of wild flowers for her sold by a vendor at a farmer's market nearby.
The next morning they came down almost too late to grab something to eat before going out to the truck. Wyatt stopped. Shay looked up at him to see him white as a sheet, then looked at the truck. The tarp was gone and so were all his belongings.
"What on earth?" she gasped as he was calling the police.
While he waited there to make a report, she walked the couple of blocks to the train station and found the ticket counter. After explaining all that had happened complete with her tear-filled eyes, the man sighed and said, "We normally can't do this, but I just had a cancellation a few minutes ago for tomorrow, if you want to switch."
She reached through the window startling the poor man by grabbing his hands, "Yes! Oh, yes! Thank you."
Then she got a couple of coffees to go and met up with Wyatt. He was sitting sideways in the cab with the truck door open and his head down in his hands. Everything had seemed to fall into place with their wedding, but now this? It was the first challenge in their married life.
"What all did they take, Wyatt? What were the most important things stolen?"
He looked up and gave her a sad smile. "Thanks for the coffee. There's not a lot that was irreplaceable. I sold most of my bigger pieces at the yard sale figuring it would be cheaper to replace than move them. My car insurance will cover most of the loss. It's just some pictures, books and sports memorabilia that I'd collected that I'll miss most." Then he grinned, "Actually, most of those photos don't mean much to me anymore anyway, if you know what I mean. It's just a shock to be ripped off. I was just saying a prayer for the thieves. Someone must have pulled their own truck up and unloaded it all into theirs sometime in the night. I'm not about to let it ruin our honeymoon, though, no matter what." And he kissed her. "What'd the people say at the train station?"
She brushed the hair off his forehead. It was hard to keep from constantly touching each other, as if their marriage was all a dream that would go "poof" and disappear like his belongings in his truck.
"I was able to switch our tickets for tomorrow. It wasn't their policy, but he made an exception for us under the circumstances."
"You mean we don't have anything else to do today?"
"Just see if we can reserve the room for another night."
"And then?" He raised his eyebrows with a look that made her blush before going on. "Actually, that will give us time to look for a ring together, maybe later this afternoon."
"And maybe time for a few phone calls to tell our family what we up and did," she added. "What do you think your family will say?"
"They'll shout 'Hallelujah!' I wish I could see the look of relief on my mom's face when I tell her the news. They've been adamant about me breaking up with Miss Bossy Pants forever. They will be thrilled I found you. My brother has even asked me before why I didn't ask you out instead."
"Tell him, I like him too," she laughed.
"What about your family?"
"They think the world of you, especially after you helped them move into their down-sized house. They ask about you ever single time we talk."
"We're good then. My mom will want to host a reception, but since we're not coming back for a while, that will have to be nixed."
"That will be my mom's first question too. Maybe our families can get together and have a little party when we fly back at Christmas for John's wedding. After all, I won't need a plane ticket home now since I'm staying."
"Are you sad about eloping, you know, missing all that wedding stuff. I'm sorry you didn't even get to buy a wedding dress."
"It's perfect! This has been perfect, everything! No regrets. How about you?"
"Are you kidding me? I've got the most beautiful woman from both sides of the Divide, smart, and sweet too."
"And I have a handsome, hairy man who doesn't even need to shave his legs and chest!" They both burst out laughing.
"Remind me to call my work Monday and put in my two-weeks notice. I still have vacation time coming so that means I won't have to go back."
They sat down for a nice lunch at a café and savored the way time had slowed down for them after their wedding, at least for the moment. Even if Wyatt lost everything he owned, they still had each other.
"You'll be there to help pick out things for our apartment once we get the insurance settlement," he said. "We might have to sleep on an air mattress for a week or so though."
"We like camping so we'll be fine. At least there won't be any bears," she giggled.
"Somehow I don't think you'll be nearly as picky as Goldilocks," he said with a grateful grin.
"As long as you are there, I'll be a happy camper."
"I count my blessings that God gave me you." His sincerity was in his eyes and swallowed her whole.
She wove her fingers through his and hung on tightly.
"I will ask my folks to clean out my apartment. There's a few things they can ship for me and store the rest in their garage."