It was the trip from hell.
It was a hot day in July when Braden and Aimee took a long drive to fulfill Braden's birthday present. His birthday was a month ago, but it took time to plan for the both of them to be off work long enough to accomplish his wish—to go skydiving. Braden had gone once before, but he was hoping to talk Aimee into jumping with him this time. No such luck.
Instead, the couple was driving for five hours to reach a place in the middle of nowhere for Braden to lunge out of a plane. Aimee secretly thought he was a bit insane. He wouldn't tell her where they were going, which meant he didn't tell anyone else either. She'd had to leave her precious puppy at his mother's house while he told his mom that they were going 'out' for the day.
It left a knot in her stomach. But Braden had stuck with her for two years, even though they were normally hours apart. He'd earned her trust and then some. She was so glad they'd be going to grad school at the same university.
Braden had the windows down; the wind was whipping through her hair and surely causing painful tangles, so Aimee glared at him. He had the music all the way up—if you wanted to stretch ESPN radio far enough to call it music. She looked at him closely. His shaggy hair was flopping about in the wind, making him look boyish. (Though Aimee doubted that anyone that tall, or with those muscles, could be considered a boy.) His eyes were focused, but his fingers were tapping on the steering wheel.
They divided the time equally. For two and a half hours they drove his way—tangles and all—then they drove her way. Halfway there the windows were rolled up and Sister Hazel played softly in the background of the car.
"So where are we going again?" Aimee asked. She watched an endless stream of trees pass outside the window.
"Outside Joplin, Aims, I told you." He never took his eyes off the road. It was one of the things she loved about him. It helped to make her feel safe.
The music flowed into something else mellow while the air conditioner ran at full blast. Aimee ran her fingers through her hair, winced when she came upon a tangle. They pulled into a gas station, and Braden got out to fill up the tank.
He was muttering about the price of gas when he slid back into the truck. Aimee was still trying to comb through her long brown hair. Braden reached over and ran his fingers through the long locks, helping to untangle the knots gently. Her heart rose as a lump in her throat.
Sometimes he was just so indisputably sweet.
Once her hair was back to normal (relatively speaking), Aimee put it back up in a ponytail and they continued the drive. She was sleepy, resting her head against the window. Thankfully she didn't snore, but Braden had been around her enough when she was sleeping to know that. When she woke up she noticed that Better Than Ezra was on. They were still listening to her music.
She had to smile about that.
When they arrived at the airport hangar, Aimee lost the goofy grin. The "airport" was a dusty field with a tent set up. It was past noon, and she was hungry and tired. The desolate sight only spurred irritation. She crossed her arms over her chest, very much like a child sulking.
"Are you sure you don't want to go, Aimee?" Braden asked again. She glared at him. He sighed, ran his hand over his pant leg. "I'll be back in an hour, Aims. You can read your book and keep the car on."
He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She still sat with her arms crossed. He sighed again and opened the door.
"Wait, Braden," Aimee said. He turned back to her. She leaned over and kissed him. It was fleeting but heartfelt. "Be careful."
He leaned in, let the kiss linger. He cupped her face in his hands and broke away slowly. "Mmkay. Be back in an hour."
Aimee was reading Prozac Nation when the plane started up. She watched it fly off, losing focus on her book entirely. She shook her head and began reading again. Her favorite books were about people whose lives were in shambles. As a psychology student, she especially liked to read biographies. Aimee thought it was interesting how people expressed themselves concerning a traumatic event in their lives.
And if she needed more examples of that, she'd just contact her sister, an English Literature professor.
But just for now, Aimee closed her book. She had an amusing conversation with her sister, the afore mentioned literature professor, via text message, then she began to look out the window. She could see trees swaying in the breeze on the corner of the field. Sweat beaded on her forehead.
Wait, sweat beaded?
Aimee frantically checked the air conditioner. Nothing was happening. She turned off the car quickly. It sputtered. That was never a good sign, Aimee decided. She sighed, turned the key just enough to roll down the windows, and began muttering about dust and tangled hair.
She opened her book again in a huff and began reading. Aimee was now wishing she'd brought a murder-mystery novel with her. She could use the tips on her everythingisgoingtobefine boyfriend. Better yet, she'd take lessons from NCIS or CSI on how to murder, then rely on Psych for advice on how to not give it away. She chewed on her nails. She was desperately hoping that the car would start after a nice rest. She really needed to be at work tomorrow afternoon to earn the money to pay rent on her apartment.
She could hear the plane roar in the distance. It was returning. Braden would have to walk from his landing point, which could take a little while. That gave the car time to cool down, right? She could only hope that everything would be fine.
Except she forgot about the windows being down. So when the plane landed, dust flew into her eyes and mouth. It tasted like saw dust.
By the time that Braden walked up thirty minutes later, Aimee was sweating like a pig. They say that women "perspire" or "glimmer," that they don't sweat. But Aimee was definitely sweating. She was hungry, smelly, tired, and irritated. Braden shook hands with the pilot and walked toward the car with a smile on his face.
"Aimee!" he shouted. "Aimee, you should have gone with me. It was amazing!"
"Yeah, what a rush," Aimee muttered. "I'm glad you enjoyed your birthday present, sweetie."
He slid in the car, leaned over and kissed her. It was slow and sweet, a thank you without words. He pulled away with a confused look on his face.
"Baby, why isn't the car on?"
"Well, um, it just died." Aimee started running her hands over her face. "I think it overheated."
Braden cursed. He got back out of the car, muttering the entire time, and lifted up the hood on the car. He cursed, this time not as good natured as the first one. He slammed the hood down on the car and walked toward the driver's side door.
"Are you going to call your parents or am I?" he asked, grimacing. Aimee's dad was a tall man, with about as much muscle as a gorilla. But in reality, Braden was more worried about Aimee's mother. She was a scary little woman. "Damn it."
Aimee started to panic. They were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Her cell phone was dying. She was sweating and hungry and tired and, by this point, she smelled awful. If he would have just told her how long the trip was going to be, they could have taken her car. Her eyes suddenly grew hot.
"Don't you 'damn it' me. It's your fault we're in this mess." She was glaring at him.
He gaped. "You're the one who overheated the car!"
"Only because there wasn't any other place for me to go, like you said there would be." She crossed her arms over her chest. Too warm. She unfolded them again.
He ran a hand through his hair. "You were supposed to go with me, so a place for you to read a book for an hour wasn't an issue."
When Aimee opened her mouth again, Braden just held out a hand. "I get that you're pissed, but you've got to call your mom. I'll see what the airplane mechanic thinks."
She opened her phone, grimaced, and then dialed her mom. She explained what happened slowly and tried not to cry. Braden really thought the entire thing was her fault. Aimee could see the mechanic shaking his head. There were drastic hand-motions. Braden ran a hand over the back of his neck and walked towards the door again.
"Aims, we'd better call a tow truck or something. It's not moving until we fix the thermometer thing." He sighed, and then he looked at her. "We'll figure it out, babe. There's no reason to cry."
Aimee's mom was still on the phone, so Aimee just sniffled. "You think it's my fault. You're mad at me."
"Oh, baby, no." Braden crawled in the car, felt the heat rise another ten degrees in the confined space. "I'm just frustrated. You're right. I should have told someone where we were going; I should have checked that they would have someplace for you to go. But we're here now, and we need to find a way to fix this."
Her tears dried, even though sweat was pooling so much that it was hard to tell. Her mom was still on the phone, but the voice has gone deeper. Her dad must have picked up. "Aimee," he said, "Give the phone to Braden."
Braden did quite a bit of nodding, some flushing, and some stammering before handing the phone back to Aimee. He picked up his own phone and called his mom. By the time the two of them had finished the conversation, things were arranged.
Aimee's parents would drive up tomorrow morning to revive the car and get Aimee to work on time. Until then, Braden paid for the cab drive to a hotel. Aimee paid for the hotel room for the night. They knew that it would be awhile before the cab showed up, so they turned the key enough to get the windows down before climbing into the backseat.
Braden tried to look at this positively. As his grandmother always said, "if life hands you a spoon, exchange it for a fork and stab something." Thanks to his misadventure, he got to spend a night alone with his girlfriend in a hotel far, far away from their parents. There were no roommates to tiptoe around or send on errands.
They chose to ignore the foul stenches they were both emitting and laid beside each other on the small seat. Sweat pooled into the fabric, making him aware of how long it had been since he'd cleaned it. The sun was setting outside, making it a bit cooler in the vehicle. Braden fumbled to grab Aimee's fingers. She fell asleep, snoring softly. Braden laughed, careful not to wake her, and kissed her on the forehead.
They dozed off, only to be awakened by the cab honking its horn. He felt well-rested and wondered how long it had been. He checked his watch—2 hours. Aimee was already gathering her things from the front seat. He turned the key enough to roll the windows up, locked the car, and then joined Aimee in the cab. The cab driver was a stocky, borderline pudgy, with a cap of dark brown hair. The cab was clean, nearly immaculate, and the air conditioning was running at full blast. Aimee sighed.
"The bulk is from muscle, so don't piss him off," Aimee whispered. Braden shot her a funny look. She must have known he was thinking of asking why it took two hours to travel thirty miles.
"How do you know that?" Braden asked, narrowing his eyes. The little man looked like he spent leisurely amounts of time sitting in a recliner watching television. "We're heading to the hotel that's closet to food in Joplin," he said louder for the cabbie's benefit.
The cab moved forward, and Aimee whispered. "I've picked up things from watching Psych." Psych was Aimee's favorite television show; it had something to do with observing people. Or maybe it was about tricking people into thinking that you're psychic. He couldn't remember. She kept trying to convince him to watch it.
She continued. "He has strong forearm muscles and no fat visible around his face. He's also single; no pictures of the wife or kids up there. Of course, he also looks frustrated and tired. Bags under the eyes."
Braden looked at her. Her eyes were twinkling. "So, basically, don't piss him off."
Aimee smiled at him, "Exactly."
He leaned down and kissed her. It was fleeting. Braden knew she wasn't much of one for public displays of affection. "If I had to be stuck without transportation in a strange city, I'm glad that it's with you."
The cab driver snorted. Aimee had to giggle at that reaction. She squeezed his hand. He looked down. Her left hand was tangled his right hand. He took a long look at her ring finger and had a realization that hit him in the gut.
He wanted his grandmother's ring sitting there.
Braden tried to not hyperventilate. They had never talked marriage, except when she jokingly told him that she wanted to marry a mob boss. They'd only just finished their undergraduate degrees, and they were both headed to grad school in the fall. But the more that Braden thought about it, the more that he felt like it was the right thing for them. When the cab stopped, Braden squeezed Aimee's hand before letting go. She got out of the cab while he paid (a hefty sum of cash that made him wince in reaction). Aimee went to the front desk of the hotel. He could see her wincing from the front door.
They checked in quickly before going to find something that resembled food. They decided on fast food—what else do you find that's open at 10:30 at night?—and Aimee ordered two cheeseburgers with a side of fries. She also got a large sweet tea. Braden followed her lead.
They sat down at a table, the cool plastic a welcome feeling after a day of sweating. The people in the restaurant sat far away from them. Braden decided that they must smell worse than he originally thought. At least the cabbie hadn't complained. Aimee didn't eat delicately. She dug into the burger, making a little sound of pleasure.
They'd have to take showers later. Braden smiled, thinking about it, and tilted his head to the side. "Marry me." Her mouth fell open. The sight was more than a bit disgusting, but it only made him laugh. She closed her mouth rapidly.
"We'll get in and out of trouble together. We'll fight. We'll kiss and make up. We'll work hard and play harder. We'll drive our parents crazy and then become crazy parents. I'll cook, and you'll decorate." She was still gaping at him. "And we'll take our car for check-ups every six months."
Now she laughed and nodded. "Alright, but only if I get a ring, to seal the deal and all."
"How about my grandmother's?" He asked her.
Her eyes filled with tears. "Sounds perfect."
I don't own Joplin, Missouri. Or Psych, Sister Hazel, NCIS, Better Than Ezra, or CSI. Or cabdrivers.
This is my submission for the Popping That Question (Ridiculously Happy Oneshots) contest. Voting begins July 1st, and the guidelines for the competition are at this website: ridiculouslyhappy [dot] webs [dot] com [slash] contest [dot] htm
Some of this is based on real events (though they thankfully didn't happen to me). Please review! It's been awhile since I've posted anything on here, and it's good to be back!