A week later, I rolled over in my sleep and woke in the middle of the night, because suddenly I heard a crinkling noise on my back. When I looked behind me, there was a yellow post-it now crumpled on the couch. I picked it up and read, "Got you some iced coffee – in the fridge. 'Night Darc. –Ackley."
I smiled and rolled my eyes. It was still dark out, and we were still driving. When I looked at my phone, it was two in the morning. Whoa, talk about an epic nap. The past couple days I had been going to sleep almost right after dinner at 7. We had been traveling from city to city, stopping at signings and interviews and a couple concerts.
I sat up on the couch, rolling my neck around and getting a few cracks out of it. I heard loud snoring coming from each of the four bunks, plus in the back room where Fran's couch was. I got up and walked slowly to the fridge, trying to ignore the pain in my knees. I opened up the skinny fridge and saw inside was my coffee.
When I closed the fridge, I looked over to my right where the bunk beds were and I saw all of their private shades were drawn. I took five dollars from my wallet and walked over to Ackley's bunk. I opened his blinds, seeing a snoring popstar facing me.
He's actually really attractive, I thought to myself. I shook my head and slipped the five dollars into his curled hand.
I turned my back and started my way back to the couch when I heard a groggy voice call behind me, "Darcy?"
I froze, my drink in my hand, and slowly turned around. Ackley's head was poking out of his bunk, eyes squinted.
"Sorry," I whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Ackley shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "No, it's not a problem. What time is it?"
"A little past two," I answered.
"Bloody hell," he groaned, still rubbing his eyes. Suddenly he realized he was holding a five-dollar bill. "Why is there money in my hand?"
I shrugged and looked down. "I'm paying you back... for the drink."
"No worries," he said, holding the five-dollar bill out.
I shook my head. "It's the least I could do. I mean, you took me and Fran in – seriously, just take it."
Ackley rolled his eyes but took his hand back. "Girls," he muttered.
I chuckled. "Go back to sleep."
Ackley sat up a bit more. "Nope. I'm awake now." To prove it, he jumped down from his bed. He repositioned his knitted sweater on his body.
I walked back over to the couch, afraid that if I kept staring at him, I would never stop. I sat down slowly, trying not to wince at the pain now in my knees and my back.
"You okay?" asked Ackley, voice full of concern. He quickly sat down next to me on the couch.
"Nothing coffee can't fix," I said smiling and taking a sip.
Ackley raised an eyebrow. "Seriously Darcy – are you okay?"
I sighed and popped the straw out of my mouth. "Why did you bring me, Ackley?"
"Why me? Why choose me to tag along?"
He shook his head confused. "You told me you didn't want to be stuck in that town. You wanted to get out and–"
I held up my hand. "I get it, okay? It makes you and your boys look like martyrs taking Fran and me in. You chose us to get sympathy." I raised my voice because I could tell Ackley was about to butt in, "I'm not mad," I continued, "In a while, it won't matter anyway. I just wanted to know the truth."
"That is nowhere near the truth, Darcy," replied Ackley. "The truth is that I've lost someone to cancer – my Granddad last year. I got sympathy from fans, yeah, but I didn't like all the attention on us, and neither did the others. Trust me, Darcy, pity is not the reason you're here, though the tabloids may say differently."
I stayed quiet, sipping my coffee, embarrassed. I could feel Ackley's eyes on me, and he spoke up again, "So, a few days ago, you said... You know, about your situation."
"Yeah," I said nodding, "I'm not... I'm going to... uh, to–"
Ackley touched my arm. "You don't have to act brave around me. You don't want to say it, I get it. It's just... How are you so calm about it?"
I snorted. "I'm not, really. I'm freaking out Ackley." My voice was shaking. God, I had to learn how to control my tears. I cried too much. "These are all my 'lasts'. This could be my last coffee or the last time I wear this shirt. I can't wrap my head around the fact that this is all really happening. I keep thinking the cancer's spread to my brain and this is all a hallucination. And my mom..." I shook my head. "First, she lost her husband to another woman, then she lost my brother because she smothered him, and now I've run off for adventure with Fran and four of the most wonderful guys –"
"Wait, Darcy, stop. Back up. What happened to your brother? Your mom smothered him? She killed him?!"
I took in a deep breath. "God, no. Well – I have to tell you about my dad first to understand what happened to my brother. When I was eleven, my mom took me and my brother, Tom, who was sixteen then, out to lunch while my dad was supposedly called into work. Well, Tom got sick on the way into town so we had to turn back early. When we got back home, my mom found out all his things were gone and a note was stuck to the fridge saying how he found someone else and he was going to Las Vegas."
"Wow," he breathed, "I'm so sorry, Darcy." He looked away. "Milo's parents got a divorce recently, and we can all see the toll it's taken on him. But you..." He shook his head. "And what about your brother – Tom?"
I ran a hand through my mess of hair. It was odd telling someone this. Fran had been there, but that was years ago.
"After my dad left, my mom became a prison warden, as Fran likes to say. She would only let Tom and me out of the house for school. No friends could come over, either. And if we protested, it was like an atomic bomb went off inside her. It's like... she was afraid we would run off, like my dad – which, I guess, we ended up doing anyway." I swallowed, letting the reality of the situation hit me. I'd left my mom, just like everyone else had.
"She just loves you," butted in Ackley.
I shrugged. "She had a funny way of showing it. It was a miracle she let me go to your concert with Fran. Anyways – eventually it became too much for Tom. He packed his things and left the night he turned eighteen."
Ackley swallowed, clearly not knowing what to say.
"The weird thing is, the following morning my mom didn't cry or blow up or anything. She just went on with her day like nothing was wrong."
I finished my coffee and shivered a little as I let the cold drink sink to my stomach. Ackley was speechless. In time, Ackley raised his hand to cup my face.
"Darcy Fay," he whispered, sending another shiver through my body, but for a completely different reason. Who knew Ackley Mitchell would speak my name? Let alone like that? "You have got to be the toughest girl I have ever met. To go through all of that, and to be diagnosed with cancer, and still be able to smile... It's amazing."
I laughed weakly and looked down. "I don't have it as together as you think I do. I'm... I'm falling apart, Ackley." A tear of mine fell onto his hand. "And the worst part? I feel guilty, so guilty, for leaving my mom the same way my dad and Tom did. Without a second glance or another thought – just... gone." My chin quivered.
Ackley used his thumb to brush away a stray tear. "Don't cry, Darcy. Think of it this way – she had to let you go eventually. You're almost eighteen. If she kept up her antics of keeping you locked up, she would have lost you either way."
"Or I would die," I said, sniffling, attempting to smile.
But Ackley didn't find it funny. He was focusing on something else, something lower on my face. My lips. I swallowed, nervous.
"Darcy..." he whispered, inching ever closer, eyes never leaving my lips. His hand slid back to my neck, pulling me in. We were centimeters apart. His eyes were closed, and I was about to close mine when Milo decided now was an amazing time to bust in.
"MORNING LADS AND LASSIES!" he bellowed. Ackley's eyes snapped open and he leaned back, further away from me.
"Milo, bloody hell, mate," said Ackley, ruffling his hair, making my heart break. "It's two in the morning – why on Earth are you awake?"
"I'd like to say Jet Lag, but we've been in the States for approximately four months. So I'll just call it spontaneous energy," replied Milo, a big grin on his face. He was wearing sweats and a grey v-neck tee. He popped open the fridge and grabbed a water bottle. "Ack – you want one?" Ackley shook his head and Milo came over and sat down next to him, opening the bottle.
"I'm going back to bed," Ackley said getting up.
"Good night," I called back to him as he headed to his bunk. He got in without another word and shut his curtain. I turned back to Milo, who was waggling his eyebrows at me.
"I knew you and Ackley had a... thing," he said.
I blushed. "Oh please," I lied, "There's nothing going on. I've known him for all of a week."
He waggled his eyebrows again. "Sure, Fay, sure. I see you two hanging out, walking out on the streets together." He winked.
I smacked his chest and he stuck his tongue out. "Oh, wait, you're saving that for Ackley." He took another long sip of his water.
"Oh my god," I whispered. "I never knew you were so dirty." I shook my head and pulled the blanket tighter around my legs.
"Hey," he said, holding his hands in the air in mock surrender, "I'm not the one that fancies my best mate."
"I don't fancy him," I said mockingly. "You've been around the UK boys too much."
"Why not?" he asked. "You're both fit – I think your babies would be cute."
"Milo, I think you're forgetting that by the time New Year's rolls around I'll be six feet under the ground. Therefore, no babies for me."
"Oh," Milo said, his face falling. It was like I'd just sucked the grin off his face. "Right. Sorry."
"You guys need to stop saying sorry," I muttered, fidgeting with the blanket. "It's not like you could control it or not. It's fate, you know? You just have to deal."
There was silence for a couple of moments, and then Milo piped up, "Are you excited for next week?!"
"What's next week?"
"We're going to some TV news station for an interview."
"What does this have to do with me? Fran and I can just stay on the bus or walk around town. We've been fine doing that."
Milo grinned sheepishly. "Actually – you're doing the interview with us."
My jaw dropped. "What?! No! No way. I am no good with any of that. This is your time to shine – not Fran's and mine. No way. Nu-uh."
"It's too late to back out!" cried Milo. "While you were asleep, Michael called the station and told them about you two. They were all more than happy to have you join us. It's all planned out."
I groaned. "Please call them back up!" I begged.
"Nope." Milo did his goofy grin again and I felt like slapping him.
"I hate you," I scowled.
He shook his head. "Which is exactly why you hopped on the crazy bus out of town, eh? Anyways, I better head back to bed. See you tomorrow, Darc!" He lightly tapped my arm before getting up, throwing out his empty bottle of water, and walking back to his bunk.
Looks like we're not in Kansas anymore Toto, I thought to myself, as I saw the "Welcome to Arkansas" sign on the side of the highway.