Didn’t you flash your green eyes at me?
They had been driving for a long time now. For hours, all she had seen was a forest of evergreens that seemed to push on forever through the morning mist. If she were to lower the car window, she would feel the damp chill of the fog. There were no artificial lights breaking through the mugginess. What a difference this is—upstate New York—from New York City, she thought.
As the car sped on, she had allowed him to play part of his playlist quietly in the background, and she sure as hell didn’t regret it. She hadn’t given him enough credit—he knew the most gorgeous pieces that she had ever heard. In fact, she had only heard about three disco songs in the past four hours.
He was humming along, and when she first heard him, she had stopped dead in her browsing through her phone. It sounded low and intimate, like the rough beginnings of a lullaby. She couldn’t say that he was destined for a singing career, but oh, my God. He could sing her to sleep any time.
They hadn’t spoken to each other in a while. Hours, in fact. Her throat had a lump in it anyway. And she wouldn’t do anything to stop him from humming.
But he spoke once again after a song ended and another started. “Hey, do you remember ‘Peace Train’ by Cat Stevens? I was talking to you about it a while back.”
She didn’t respond for a second because his eyes had caught the hazy light of dawn. They looked exactly like the trees then, but lighter, with traces of golden brown swirling around his pupils. How did he do this to her? She cleared her throat. “I don’t know that song.”
“You don’t.” He was staring at her earnestly now with the beginnings of a smile. “But this is it. Listen.”
She wanted to retort with something like “I’ve been listening for these past hours,” but stopped herself. This was it? She sank back into her seat and closed her eyes. The gentle waves of guitar strums washed around her, and then Cat Stevens began to sing. “Now I’ve been smiling lately…”
When the song ended, he switched off the system and turned to her. “What do you think?” He grinned, taking his hands off the steering wheel to feign strumming on a guitar. “Peace train, take this country…”
She didn’t have to give him a second look before he put his hands back on the wheel. “I’m not trying to die before I turn at least eighty-two, thank you very much.”
“You’re no fun.” He pouted, but he turned sober again, his green eyes searching her face. “But really, what do you think?”
“It’s pretty,” she said. She licked her lips before continuing. “And this was written around the Vietnam War, right?”
He nodded. “It was,” he said quietly. “My parents really love it.” He caught her eye again, and his serious face cracked. “I’m sensing a ‘but’ here…”
“He sounds like a hillbilly,” she blurted out.
And for a second, she thought she had offended him because his eyebrows wrinkled and then he looked away from her in favor for the road. But he started laughing, one of those belly laughs that never seemed to end. She blinked, perplexed. Yes, that was one of the stupidest things that she had ever said in her life, but… She let go of herself, laughing along with him until the corners of her mouth and her stomach hurt. They both gasped for air, and he had to pull over to recover, coughing, all with something warm and fuzzy in his eyes as he stared at her.
Maybe this was what love is about.
In no time at all, they stopped at a gas station upon entering a nice little city. She looked around, blinking the drowsiness away from her eyes furiously. She caught sight of a large clock on the side of the brick building. It was already 11 a.m. She couldn’t be tired this early in the day. But she yawned and stretched anyway, hopping out of the car with Calvin.
She found that her legs were weak and tottery. She had to grab the side mirror to keep herself from falling. Gracious, she thought. She should have asked him for rest stops to stretch her legs while they were driving so that she didn’t develop any blood clots or anything.
He came over to her side of the car, eyebrows raised. “You okay?”
“I need to walk around a bit…” She stumbled again as she tried to walk closer to him. He caught her with his forearms, pushing her gingerly against the car.
“Careful. Anyway, luckily for you, this is it. Not much more driving for us.” He leaned his elbow next to her against the car. “Welcome to Plattsburgh, babe. Population of 20,000, last time I checked, so it’s not exactly a hillbilly town.”
She smiled, moving a little closer to him. “Any landmarks?”
He took the hint and pecked her lightly on her lips. “We have a monument that’s a rip-off of the Washington Memorial in D.C., if that counts as anything.”
“Good enough.” She reached for his wallet in his back pocket, but he grabbed her wrist before she could take it out.
“I hope you’re not trying to grope my ass,” he said, taking the wallet out for her.
She covered her mouth with her hand, eyebrows raised in innocent denial. “Oh, I’d never.”
He gave her his wallet, snorting derisively. “Sure, whatever. Go buy us some drinks from the store, would you?”
As she walked into the store, the bells attached to the top of the entrance clanging, she took a deep breath. So this was where he grew up.
He was so gorgeous. How did she catch someone like him with a social life like hers? And how did she grow to trust him so quickly, and vice versa? But now wasn’t the time to speculate and doubt; after all, she had a job to accomplish. She snapped open her hand mirror and fiddled with her lipstick, speculatively gazing at her own face with her ordinary dark brown eyes and pale skin.
She exhaled with a smile when she finished. It was no wonder his eyes were so unlike hers, so green—one could only live around a forest for so long before taking something from it.
As they drove a little further out of the city, he said, “My extended family lives a little closer to Lake Champlain. We were just driving through the city to get to the family gathering.” He looked at her and shrugged. “Makes me wonder why anyone would bother spending their lives around here, though.”
She shrugged back at him. “It’s beautiful.” Like you.
She wanted to slap herself for that—that line was even cheesier than Calvin’s best pick-up lines.
“So is the Big Apple,” he countered smoothly.
“They’re different. NYC’s like a mass of artificial lights. Upstate New York is like a breath of fresh air.” She glanced at him. “I think I’m a fan of the artificial lights, though.”
“Just saying…” His eyes were warm as they laughed at her, probably at some snarky remark he had made mentally. “I didn’t live here for most of my life. I grew up in Ithaca. There’s more civilization there, in case you were wondering.”
She only shook her head. “There's more forest there than in suburban New Jersey.”
They didn’t speak for the rest of the ride to his family home, but she felt it between them: the little feeling of contentment that welled up in her chest.
They were attacked by a jumbled mess of greetings as soon as he raised his hand to press on the doorbell. Hailey couldn’t help holding onto his arm a little anxiously and rubbing her red lips together as she looked around the little house surrounded by a fantastic view of the foggy forest on one side and on the other side by the crystal waters of Lake Champlain that seemed to stretch on forever. A group hug forced her thoughts of the somber gray sky out of her mind immediately, and she patted someone’s back awkwardly.
Immediately, Calvin pulled her away from their arms. “Let’s get you a drink,” he said, sitting her down on a loveseat in the living room, which was almost directly next to the front door. She wanted to protest that their drinks in the car had taken care of her sufficiently, but shut her mouth—the truth was that she didn’t want to meet his family by herself, no matter how much Calvin had waxed lyrical about them on the way.
They were gentle in the interrogation, she found with some relief. His cousins sat themselves around her familiarly, and one of them even placed one of her toddlers in her lap. She stroked the little boy’s tufts of dark hair idly as she listened to Calvin’s uncles continue their conversation about the prospects of the conditions of the lake in the coming spring. By the time Calvin came back with a glass of iced water, she had relaxed back in her seat and she was quite sure that she was steadily becoming more popular than he was in his aunts’ esteem.
He pushed one of his male cousins off playfully and dropped down next to her. “Wow, Sheila already handed Will over. I can take him if you want.”
“No, it’s fine.” The little boy’s bright dark eyes followed hers as she smiled fondly at Calvin. “He reminds me of Vincent.”
An aunt, who was surrounded by everyone else on the several couches, looked up. “You have a little one?”
“My nephew,” she said. “He’s adorable, just like this one.”
Calvin’s mother, who had the same striking green eyes as Calvin, said quietly, “Calvin was a precious little thing when he was growing up, too.” Her blonde fell gently around her shoulder as she exchanged a look with Calvin’s father, who looked remarkably like Calvin himself with his strong jaw. “We thought he would be quite the James Dean.”
Both she and Calvin flushed. “Mom, stop it,” Calvin muttered. But Hailey kept silent because she agreed.
“I hope not in a bad way,” his mother continued anyway. “Have you broken any hearts yet?”
Calvin rolled his eyes and said something that Hailey couldn’t hear, but that didn’t matter. She had already answered his question for him in her head.
He was going to break hers if they were going along at this rate.
He pulled her out of the house sans jacket once his family members were properly occupied by a basketball match on TV. She tripped along with him as he walked around the house to the side facing the woods. The reason, she realized a split second later, was because the window looking out was part of a bedroom, not the living room. “Slow down!” she said.
“Sh.” Then he kissed her against the window, his hands weaving through her loose hair. She gasped a little, kissing him back frantically, and held onto his shoulders helplessly. They stood like that for a couple minutes before he finally sensed her shivering.
“Sorry. I should have grabbed something for you.” He rested his forehead against hers, his warm breath coming out as mist. “But if it makes you feel better, I don’t have a jacket either.”
“It doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Sorry. So, what do you think?” He kissed her briefly again, but his eyes weren’t as playful. “Have they scared you off yet?”
“They’re sweet,” she said. She pushed at his chest, and he straightened, pulling her up with him. “I think they like me more than they like you.”
“You liar,” he shot back. “Haven’t you heard? I’m the puppy-turned-James-Dean of my family, although I have yet to race cars or discover my hidden affinity toward theatre.”
She closed her eyes and smiled widely. “They love you, you know,” she said softly. “You sure you didn’t grow up with them?” God, and if he didn’t see that, he was missing a lot in his life—like the way she looked at him like a lovesick puppy too many damn times, the overgrown teenager she was.
“Doesn’t everyone love me?” His eyes still danced, but there was something behind them, like he wanted to ask her specifically. “You’d feed my ego immensely if you said 'yes'.”
She hesitated. It had only been a couple of months, after all, and she still didn’t know so much about him. And he hadn’t shown her anything beyond flirtation and little gestures. She was never sure if he was truly serious about anything in his life. But again, for her… she must be frustrating to him because she thought too much and said too little.
But she opened her mouth and spoke out anyway. “I love you, too.”
He sucked in a little breath, his eyes sparkling. “Really?”
“Must I prove it?”
He shook his head, smiling gently. “No, you don’t have to. You’ve already said it in other ways, you know. But I’ve been ambiguous, haven’t I?”
“You make me so, so confused,” she admitted under her breath. “But you’ve said it a little—”
“You gorgeous, you, I’ve loved you for a long time now.” He watched her frozen expression after there was a pause in between them. “Aren’t you going to say anything to this fella?”
She pulled his head down closer to her and kissed him square and hard on the lips. And God, she was still so confused and dazed, but she was going crazy.
Well, she was drunk with him, after all.
Hey guys! Here's the update for the day (ish). So while I've writing this chapter (think of it as a series of memories and snapshots in time), I listened to a lot of Sam Tsui and his new video, a mashup of Uptown Funk and Lips Are Moving. Check it out! It's wonderful, and I hope you have a lovely day!