“Hiya, Jens,” he repeated, smug grin growing wider by the second. “How’s that math looking now?”
“Looks a little like me punching you in the dick.” I sat down, placing my napkin in my lap.
He laughed and pulled out a chair for Ziggy as she joined us. “I love being right,” he said, leaning over to kiss her.
She gazed back at him in confusion. “Huh?”
“I just . . .” He turned, stabbing a forkful of eggs and smiling at Pippa as she pulled out the chair beside me. “I’m just really looking forward to this trip.”
We crowded around the shiny silver van at the curb, watching Niall arrange the luggage in the most efficient way possible and deciding who would sit where. Ziggy had thought of everything. The van seated eight, so our little group of six fit inside with plenty of room to spare. There were pillows, blankets, snacks, water, satellite radio, and even travel-size Yahtzee, Boggle, and Scrabble.
We’d decided to share the driving, but—it being my sister’s forum here—we decided who would take first shift via the dorky scientist version of Rock, Paper, Scissors: Pipette, Beaker, Notebook. Pipette stains notebook, notebook covers beaker, beaker smashes pipette, she explained. It took longer for us to figure out the hierarchy than it did to just fucking agree that Will would drive first, but when I smashed his pipette with my beaker, we were off.
Pippa slid into the seat beside me, offering me a knowing smile. “Hey, friend.”
She pulled the game pieces out with an odd, wolfish smile.
Okay, so Pippa was surprisingly good at Scrabble. I tossed the box back into Ziggy’s games bin and looked over at her.
“That was fun,” I said flatly. “ ‘Gherkins’? What the hell, woman.”
She let out a delighted laugh. “I sat on that G and K for most of the game, sweating it out.” Leaning forward toward Ruby and Niall, she asked, “Anyone up for more Scrabble?”
“I’ll sit by you on the next stretch,” Niall said, smiling over his shoulder at her. “I’d be happy to take one back for the men’s side.”
“In your dreams,” she teased. Falling back into her seat, she sighed, looking out the window. “Road-tripping is such a different experience here than in England.”
She swept the hair from her forehead and turned slightly to face me.
“You could get from one end of England to the other in a single day,” she said, and then raised her voice to the row in front of us. “About fourteen hours from Cornwall to the Scottish border, wouldn’t you say, Niall?”
He considered this. “Depending on traffic and the weather.”
“Right,” she said with a nod. “But the roads are endless here. You could start driving on a Monday and keep going for days, truly let yourself get lost. Wouldn’t it be lovely to do that? Get a motorcycle or one of those silver Airstream campers and just drive and drive, no destination in mind?”
“Stop at all the sights. Eat junk food in every state,” Ziggy said from the front seat.
“Need every restroom along the way,” Will added with a wink in her direction. He looked up, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror. “Do you remember the dart trip we took in college, Jens?”
“Dart trip?” Pippa asked, looking between us.
“I don’t know how much Ruby has told you,” I said, “but Will and I went to college together. That’s how he knows Zig—Hanna.”
Her eyes widened, seeming to realize that there was an ocean of untold stories between us, and two weeks stretching in front of us for her to hear them.
I smiled. “A dart trip is where you basically throw a dart at a map to decide where you’re going. In our case it landed near Bryce Canyon National Park, so the summer before junior year that’s what we did.”
“Apparently Will’s aim veers a little to the left,” I said. “A lot to the left.”
Will grinned at me from the mirror. “God, we were so broke.”
“I remember us having four hundred dollars—what felt like a fortune at the time—and it had to cover gas, food, toll roads, and somewhere to sleep. And when money ran short we had to, uh . . . improvise.”
Ruby had turned fully in her seat to face me now. “In my head you both worked as strippers in a roadside bar somewhere in Nebraska. Please don’t spoil this for me.”
Will barked out a laugh. “You aren’t that far off, actually.”
“How long a trip was that?” Niall asked. “I’m not an expert on US geography, but that has to be, what, three thousand miles?”
“About twenty-five hundred,” I said. “In Will’s mom’s old Lincoln. No air conditioning. Vinyl seats.”
“No power steering,” Will added. “A long way from the leather interior and DVD player in this thing.”
“Still one of the best weeks of my life.”
“Maybe you’re forgetting about our little hike through the canyon?” he asked, meeting my eyes in the mirror again.
I started to laugh. “I try to forget.”
“Well don’t leave us hanging,” Pippa said, and reached out to place a hand on my leg. It was an innocent touch, one meant to urge me into my story, but I felt the heat of her palm, the point of each finger through the fabric of my pants.