The rollercoaster of anxiety, excitement, and fear I felt leading to Penn’s arrival was nothing compared to the day of.
My fingers drummed nervously against the door panel as the taxi driver weaved in and out of traffic. Thai driving always had me on edge but this time it was for a completely different reason. In the short time since we’d become friends, he’d managed to root himself so deep it felt like I couldn’t breathe without him.
Yes, he’d become my respiratory system. Just like we take breaths without thinking, Penn had managed to embed himself in my life. But for all the happiness and excitement, there was also fear and anxiety. There were lots of little things we never talked about. That would all be coming to an end.
Then there was Cam. She was something I tried not to dwell on. I’d casually brought her up a few times. I had to. How could I call myself a friend if I pretended, they weren’t married and potentially going through something big?He either gushed about her or breezed to another subject, saying he couldn’t talk about it just yet.
The cabbie dropped me off at arrivals and I made my way inside the airport. I spent the hour before his arrival playing emotional ping pong. One minute I wanted to damn the consequences and throw myself at Penn. The next minute I was chastising myself for being reckless and irresponsible.
How could I do to her what had been done to me and not live with that regret for the rest of my life?
But—I wanted him. Possibly, was even in love with him.
But—he had someone. If I was right and there was something between us, then he needed to deal with his baggage in a respectable manner, on his own, and I’d needed to be patient.
It was all hypothetical anyway. I wasn’t stupid, actions painted a pretty clear picture of what was happening. But Penn and I had never talked about it, or us, or whatever might be between us. Hell, maybe I was romanticizing it all in my head like some pathetic loser.
I needed to slow my roll before I planned a future that didn’t exist.
I looked at my watch and saw there were twenty minutes before he arrived. Just enough time to use the restroom. I laughed when I saw myself in the mirror. I looked like a show pony. I had gone all out for his arrival. Until a few days ago, my body hadn’t seen a razor since I had boarded the plane in Portland. I looked like Grizzly Adams.
I went to a highly recommended hole-in-the-wall barber with the promise he’d do me right. I hoped on all that was good in life, that it wasn’t a double entendre.
The end result was more Hollywood than I could’ve guessed an old man in a tiny shop was capable of. It put the pre-Thailand haircut Kelsea gave me to shame. It wasn’t something I would’ve chosen but it wasn’t bad. My beard looked night and day better. He trimmed it from a six-month beard to something more respectable. Short, trimmed, but natural.
I knew Penn would notice the difference. Even when I lived in Lincoln and took decent care of myself, I never looked this maintained.I smoothed my shirt and scanned the crowd, constantly looking at the bag tags to see if any said PDX>BKK. That would tell me if he was close. Finally, I saw him.
He was finally here and I had no clue what to do. I stood on the balcony of the second floor as he rode the wave of travelers up the escalators.
I wasn’t the only one who had cleaned up. He looked as fresh as I’d ever seen him. He might’ve been one of the most attractive guys I’d ever met but he’d never been fashion-forward. He always had the same standard haircut and alternated between newer work clothes and older work clothes.
The new Penn, the one coming up the escalators, he stole my breath. It should’ve been a sin to look so good. His jeans weren’t his standard-issue Levi’s and the black V-neck he wore was new and fit perfectly.
While he stepped off the escalator and scanned the room, I snuck up from behind and grabbed his pack, making him stumble.
“Is this all you packed?” I repeated the words he had said to me all those months ago.
It took him a second, then he smiled. I’d never experienced a better greeting. His expression—I never knew you could smile from your soul.
“Nay,” he whispered my newly appointed nickname, that made me feel all sorts of good inside, before wrapping me in a desperate hug.
The world moved around us. It was perfect. He felt so damn good in my arms…so good I never wanted to let go. I dug my face in his neck and breathed in his scent. It was something I missed. No matter what he did, he smelled good.
“How was the flight?” I asked and I nodded for Penn to follow me. I grabbed his luggage and we made our way through the airport to the taxis.
“Long, subpar food, not enough legroom, you know—the norm,” he laughed. “But, hey, I’m here!”
“That you are,” I cheered. “What do you want to do first?”
“Shower and nap. It feels like a week since I’ve slept.” And it probably had been a week since he slept.
The ride to the apartment was tense and awkward. I had to put my hands in my lap to stop me from touching him. It seemed he had to restrain himself also. There was so much known between us, but left unsaid, that neither of us knew how to behave.
Every accidental touch was stroke inducing. If that wasn’t bad enough, we kept catching each other’s eyes. It was all so…juvenile.And I loved it.
I showed him around the flat then sent him to the shower. Sleep accommodations were nil, which meant that we’d be sharing a bed. It was something we’d done half a dozen times before but suddenly made me nervous. Things were different. Words had been started but not finished. Intentions had been implied.
I was setting an extra blanket on the bed when Penn walked in the room. He was freshly showered in athletic shorts and an old, ripped shirt. The whole thing made him look as delicious as ever.
He wiggled his phone. “I set the alarm for forty-five minutes. I just need a quick nap and then we can do whatever.” Penn crawled on the bed and covered himself up without a second glance. When he drifted off, I got up and turned off his alarm. Jet-lag was something I was familiar with and he needed more than forty-five minutes.
The list of things I could’ve done while he slept was a mile long, instead, I laid next to Penn. I had missed him so much, more than I ever imagined possible. Him napping allowed me the chance to soak him up after being apart for months without feeling stressed or pressured.
I ached to reach out and run my fingers down his jaw or trace the masculine profile of his nose. I bit my lip when his lips parted so he could snore ever so softly.
It wasn’t the right time to want him as bad as I did. But then again, I wasn’t sure there’d ever be a good time.
I was waiting for the judge to make my divorce official. Then the unacknowledged ball would be in Penn’s court and I had no clue what to expect from that.
Every time we’d FaceTime and every time we texted; I was desperate to lay it all on the table. I wanted confirmation that I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t imagining the spark between us. But no matter how much I wanted to; I couldn’t initiate the conversation. If Penn felt the same then he’d make the choice on his own without my input. Whatever he did, it couldn’t be because of me or something I said.
I felt my eyes grow heavy as I watched him sleep. An hour and a half later I woke feeling like a million bucks. My whole fortune, lying next to me. I snapped a picture of the sleeping beauty and posted it to social media with a caption parody of Ying Yang Twins: Get Low.
‘To the window, to the wall. To my comfy bed, I crawl. Down this big long hall. Ahh sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.’
I laughed as I posted it. If he had social media, he’d appreciate it. His family did, though and I knew they’d get a kick out of it.
He finally woke a few hours later. It was like watching a bear wake from hibernation; slow and difficult. He tried so hard to open his sleep riddled eyes but it was too difficult. He couldn’t do it. He lay motionless for a minute before trying again. He blinked and stretched and changed positions before settling back into a light sleep.
I propped myself on my elbow and watched him repeat the cycle as he slowly came to.
“I’m so fucking tired,” he yawned and pulled the blanket tight around him so he could go back to sleep.
“No, you don’t,” I chided when he tried to close his eyes again. “You’ve been asleep for three hours and now it’s time to get up or you’ll never get over the jetlag.”
“Three hours? More like three minutes.”
He groaned when I pulled off the blankets but reluctantly sat on the edge of the bed and tried to get his bearings. I had to do something; I couldn’t watch him be so damn cute.
“Get up and I’ll introduce you to the roommates.”
“So, this is Penn?” John’s voice was too suggestive and I wanted to punch him.
“So, this is the guy who pressured you to move halfway around the world on a whim?” Penn shot back.
“The one and only,” John puffed out his chest with pride.
I whacked his stomach and laughed. “I don’t think he meant that as a compliment.”
“No matter,” John waved us off with a sly smile. “I have no regrets. Let me introduce you to the pressure committee, for without them, Nash wouldn’t be here today.”
John took over the introductions as Penn charmed his way through my roommates. He was easily a decade older than the twenty-somethings but he blended seamlessly. There was something about him that you couldn’t help but be drawn to. Everyone was smitten.
We invited them to dinner but they declined. I think they knew it was a courtesy invite and I’d murder them if they actually came with us. I hadn’t said much about Penn but they weren’t stupid. You didn’t survive living in another country without some level of self-preservation.
“I feel stupid for thinking it would be more poverty-stricken than this,” he said as we walked shoulder to shoulder around the city. “It’s so modern.”
“What were you expecting?”
“Stray dogs. Drug deals.”
“I can take you to the shadier parts of town if it’s drugs you’re looking for.”
“You’ve been holding out on me,” he gripped his chest. “You know I came here for the drugs and so far, it’s only been good company. What kind of crap is this?”
“Hey,” I elbowed Penn and he doubled over for theatrics. “No one needs drugs when they’re with me. I’m addicting enough.”
“I can’t deny that. I did fly halfway around the world for you.”
We both laughed but inside I was stroking out. Maybe the words were innocent, maybe they weren’t, either way, they were true. He had flown halfway around the world.For me.
So many races I ran without a cheer team and a dozen vacations I’d done alone. Never had Lee gone out of his way for me the way Penn did. Never would he have traveled to Thailand because he missed me. Penn loved me more than Lee ever had, even if it was only as a friend.
It was ten by the time we got home. The roommates wanted us to join their movie night but I wasn’t much of a night owl and, despite the three-hour nap, Penn was tired from traveling.
Penn showered again and I followed. When I got back to the room he was in his undies, rifling through his luggage.
What a sight.
He never flaunted his body. He never wore clothes that gave anything away and never carried himself in a manner that brought him attention. He was a specimen. Not the kind you find at the gym; not overly muscled and cocky. No, he was strong and broad from a life of hard work. He had little tummy skin rolls when he crouched over, the kind that told you loved fried food and dairy. I wanted to pinch them…with my teeth.
He looked up from his luggage and smiled as he pulled out a small bag that held a bunch of random crap like his phone charger and headphones.
“Are you ready to snuggle?” I asked as I pulled the sheets down on my tiny, full size bed.
“I’ve been waiting all my life,” he joked as he shoved his bag under the bed and stood up. “How do you want to do this?”
Straight face, straight face, straight face.
“I don’t know, what are the options?”
“Well,” he thought it over. “I can spoon you, you can spoon me, or one of us can sleep on the other's chest?”
All good options.“I like sleeping on my back but I’m also up for a good spooning. I’m versatile.”
Just in case you’re wondering, or, should ever wonder.
“Okay, yeah—” he looked a little awkward. “Lie on your back.”
I made a big show of lying down then held the blanket open for him and smiled.
“Crawl on in, big boy.”
He laughed lightly but did as he was told. We shifted around until we found a comfortable position, then he laid his head on my shoulder. It felt so right, like he was meant to be in my arms.The selfish part of me wanted to find a way to share a bed every night.
“Can I move my leg?” he asked.
“Make yourself at home.”
Penn draped his leg over mine and his arm over my chest then sighed in content.
“Why haven’t we done this before? This is surprisingly comfortable.”
I nodded and adjusted myself under his weight. I was comfortable. Not just physically but emotionally, too.“Thank you.”
“For what?” he asked, shifting his gaze in my direction.
“Everything. Being there for me after Lee, not pushing me, then pushing me. For being a friend, a real friend. For coming here.”
“I guess,” he shrugged against my chest. “Doesn’t seem like a big deal from where I stand.”
“Not a big deal?” I laughed. “We live very different lives.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, flying across the world is no big deal to you because it’s what you know. Inconvenience isn’t something your family takes into consideration when it comes to supporting the ones they love. Me? Well, I’ve traveled the world alone because Lee wasn’t interested. I’ve run dozens of races without anyone standing on the finish line because it was too far to travel. I love my dad and I know he loves me back, but getting him to come to anything that supports me is like pulling teeth. The dynamic you share with your family, where everyone shows up no matter what, it’s so foreign to me.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Hey, I’m not complaining,” I defended. “I think the way your family rallies is awesome. It’s something I’ve admired for a long time. I’m jealous. Most of the time I don’t mind doing my own thing, I enjoy it. But sometimes it would be nice to have someone go out of their way for me.”
“This is ridiculous,” he laughed. Not like hahathis is so funny, more like—are you fucking kidding me?
“Oh my God,” he propped himself on his elbow and looked at me in the dark. “Nash, you have the entire town eating out of your hand. You always have. I can’t speak for your dad or Lee but half of Lincoln would drop everything if only you asked. You could have a full cheering section at every race you’ve ever run if you really wanted. People would trip over themselves to support you.”
“No way. If that’s true, it’s only because they feel obligated since I give so much to the community.”
“No, it’s not. You’ve always had this thing about you. You bring out the best in people. It makes them want to know you, to be friends with you, to be a part of whatever you’re doing. Everyone loves you. I’m not surprised you’ve never seen it. I guess it’s part of your charm.”
“I think the jet lag’s gone to your head.”
“Remember the year you were asked to be a celebrity server at the annual Chamber of Commerce fundraiser?”
“What do you remember about it?”
I thought about it.“It was busy and I pretty much fucked everything up. I spilled soda all over Cathy Robinson’s shirt before dropping three full plates of food. The whole night was a nightmare.”
“Sure, if by nightmare, you mean the most successful turnout, ever.”
It was busier than expected, which was part of the reason I fumbled so much. Too much pressure.
“Nash,” he laughed as he used his thumb to smooth the furrowed lines on my brow. “You had a line out the door of people waiting to sit at your table. Didn’t you find it weird that you were slammed when the other waiters had empty tables?”
“They were more efficient at getting people seated, served, and out the door,” I defended myself. “I’m a terrible waiter. I couldn’t even bus tables when I was in high school.”
“Maybe, but you were also the most requested waiter, ever. Hell, we tried to get seated in your section but the wait was too long, they made us sit at Rogers table.”
“You’re the Knotts,” I teased. “Why would you want to sit at my table?”
“We might be the Knotts to some people but did it ever occur to you, that to everyone else including us, you’re Nash Cushman?”
“No, never, not once,” I laughed at his absurdity.
Here I was cuddled on a full-size bed with Penn Knott, one-third of the most sought-after trio in Lincoln. People fell over themselves to be noticed by them, to be invited to their gatherings, hell, they’d piss themselves just to be acknowledged. And he was telling me that they thought I was the desired one? It was a weird pill to swallow. Not a bad one, just strange. Like taking Aspirin and getting pop rocks instead.
Penn sighed and laid his head back on my shoulder. “Go to bed…Nash Cushman.”
The way he said my name, like a teenage girl talking about the quarterback god, turned me inside out. How could I be Nash Cushman when he was Penn Knott?
I didn’t know what time it was when I woke but it was dark. The only light was the glow of the street lights. Penn was awake. Not surprising since jetlag was a bitch. The surprising part was what he was doing.
His fingers traced the soft flesh between my belly button and hip bone.
Before my brain spun out of control, I tried to convince myself that it was innocent. He was awake with nothing better to do—nothing better to do than softly stroke my skin in the middle of the night. It meant nothing. Maybe he was in deep thought and didn’t realize what he was doing.
Penn found my bullseye. It took every ounce of energy to not get an erection. There was one spot that left me defenseless and vulnerable to attack, Penn being the one behind enemy lines only made it worse.
There was something about being caressed in that area that sent me straight to level ten erotica. A small moan escaped followed by a full-body shudder. Like thunder following lightning. His hand stilled. Something I was both thankful for and disappointed by.
Just when I thought I was off the hook, he softly traced his fingers across my belly to the other side. If he thought the effect would be lesser on one side than the other, he was wrong. Before I could take a full breath of air my body was reacting to Penn’s touch.
I should’ve stopped him, made a show of waking up, but I didn’t. I didn’t want him to go further but, God, he felt good to be touched.
He must’ve decided to test the waters. He stopped and let my erection falter before restarting again. He kept switching from my left hip to my right and back again. The whole while, I pretended to sleep while dying inside.
Eventually, he moved his science experiment to other parts of my body. Leg, knee, side, ribs, chest, you name it, he touched everywhere. I was so turned on by that point he would’ve gotten a reaction if he’d touched my nose. Still, nothing got to me the way it did when he touched my hips.
I could feel his own erection against my leg. I wouldn’t say he humped me but he wasn’t idle either.I was out of my mind with lust and about two seconds away from grabbing his hand and forcing him to touch me when he stopped what he was doing. I thought about telling him he needed to finish what he started, but he wrapped his arms around my torso and burrowed his face into my neck. Penn’s breathing was labored and heavy. He held me so tight I worried for my own safety.
My erection wasn’t forgotten but the way he held me, like he was holding onto something he couldn’t live without, that was the only feeling that mattered.It wasn’t long before his heavy breathing slowed and I knew he was asleep.
I hated Lee and Paul for what they did to me. If Lee wanted to mess around outside of our marriage, he should’ve left me first. Same with Paul and his marriage. It seemed so simple to me. Why would anyone put themselves in a position that would open themselves up to infidelity? It doesn’t just happen. You see it coming and choose to do nothing about it. It was something that always frustrated me.Yet, there I was, lying in bed with Penn. I’d handwritten an invitation to trouble. It was one of those fancy invitations with gold overlay and everything.
Dear Trouble, I saved you a front-row seat to my own destruction. I trust you’ll encourage me along the way. I’ll even let you hand me the shovel as I dig my own grave. -Nash
But I wasn’t Lee or Paul.I might’ve opened the door but I wasn’t going to be selfish and ruin someone else's life. I wasn’t going to do any of that, but for the first time in my life, I knew the temptation and it was no joke.
I was ecstatic to wake up alone. No way could my face keep the previous night a secret. I’d need coffee and a shower before pretending like Penn hadn’t plucked my fiddle like a master composure.
I pulled on my running shorts and made my way to the living room. Penn was sitting at the kitchen table, staring out the window with a cup of coffee. He was a million miles away as he strummed the mug with the same fingers that explored my body the night before.
Funny, I’d never considered hands to be an aspiring attribute until that moment. I tried to think about Lee’s hands and what they looked like. They weren’t the hands of a man who knew how to build a house, cut lumber or fix a car…that much I knew.
“Well, this is a first. You’ve never beaten me out of bed. Jet-lag?” I asked, taking my eyes off his all-knowing hands and moved through the kitchen to ready myself a cup of coffee.
“Yeah, I’ve been up for a while. So long it’s almost time for a nap,” he lifted the mug to his lips and took a sip—never looking directly at me.
“How about we go running instead?” I asked. “Jet lag is a cruel mistress who will slash your tires and key your car when you’re not looking.”
He finally looked at me. His brow lifted and a smirk pulled at the corner of his lip. I found it amazing how dark eyes like his could light up an entire room.
“You want me to go running on day-two of a fourteen-hour time change? I’ll be worthless and better suited to run with toddlers.”
“Perfect. I’ve always been great with little kids.” I walked to where he was sitting and leaned down until we were eye level. “Would Pennington like to go for a wittle wun wun? Maybe afterward we can go to the park and get ice cream. Does that sound like fun?” I cooed and softly bopped him on the nose with my finger.
He broke into laughter and whatever awkwardness and tension he was holding on to, disappeared.
“Ice-cream for breakfast?” he smiled brightly. “You’re my new favorite person.”
“New favorite?” I cocked my brow. “More like securing my place at the top. Now c’mon,” I patted my leg like I was beckoning a dog. “Only good boys get ice cream.”
He collapsed on the grass and draped an arm over his eyes.
“Is this what it felt like after you ran in Seattle? Because, if so, I can’t—” he huffed. “I’m dead.”
“You know that was less than three miles, right? Seattle was twenty-six.” I reached out and pressed the back of my hand against his sweaty forehead, then his cheek. “Your color looks good and you’re not throwing up. I think you’ll survive just fine. You’re just out of shape.”
“No, I’m not,” he whined. “It’s the elevation. My lungs aren’t used to this altitude.”
“This altitude?” I laughed. “We’re at sea level. It’s the same here as it is in Lincoln. Stop making excuses, you big baby.”
He groaned like a dying whale. He wore a pair of my running shorts and an old cut-off tee that had seen better days. The shorts were perfectly too small and there was a gap between his waistband and the hem of his shirt. It left a peak of his tummy and the dark hair that lay beneath.
He sat up on his elbows and looked at me with the biggest puppy dog eyes I’d ever seen. “Did I earn ice cream?”
At my nod, he managed to find enough energy to race me to the ice-cream shop two blocks away. Chocolate for me. Strawberry for Penn.
“Oh, by the way,” I said as we walked around the park with our ice cream cones. “Do you still have my truck?”
“I do. It’s parked next to the trailer.”
“Okay, cool. I’ll have my dad pick it up.”
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s kind of fun. I drive it once a week or so to keep it alive. You should see the looks I get when people wave and realize I’m not you,” he smiled proudly. “And for the record, I don’t know why you were complaining when you drove my truck, way more people wave at you than wave at me. It makes me feel like the princess in the Homecoming parade,” he shook his arm and rubbed the pretend ache away.
“Ahh, poor Pennington,” I reached over and squeezed his bicep, “are these big things only for show?”
He made a show of flexing his muscles.
“These big things fixed your truck and flew halfway around the world to see you, so you better be nice to them.”
“Nothing but respect, I assure you,” I winked and squeezed his arm once more before letting go.
We decided to go home so we could shower and change before heading out for the day. It was the only time we had to tour the city before we began our trek across Thailand.
I knew Penn and I would travel well together. We were both laid back and rolled with the punches. We didn’t have a lot of time and if we wanted to see everything on our list, then we needed to be flexible and quick.
Penn loved the markets. There were so many vendors and Penn kept finding things he wanted to take back home. A gift for everyone. Literally.
Penn’s hand was on the small of my back as we navigated the hordes of people. I found myself reciprocating the gesture when I had the chance. I also found myself touching his arm or pinching his waist to get his attention.
“Ooo, what’s that?” Penn stood behind me and rested his chin on my shoulder as he watched me look through a basket of wallets. I tried not to react when I felt his breath on my neck.
“Turns out they scored a great deal on luxury wallets. See this?” I flashed him the brown leather bi-fold that I was holding. “This is a Tom Ford wallet. They’re normally four-hundred bucks but these are on sale for forty. Do you think they buy direct from the manufacturer?” I joked, knowing they were fakes.
I felt him laugh against my back. “Since when has Tom been spelled with two m’s?”
I furrowed my brows and inspected the wallet closer. I elbowed him when he tossed his head back and laughed. He played me, there wasn’t two m’s. A moment later he reached around me to look at a different wallet, never taking his chin off my shoulder.
“I like this one,” he flipped the newest wallet over and opened it using one hand while the other lay gently, innocently, on my hip.
He looked at the tag. “Also forty bucks. Sold.”
We bought our fake wallets and moved on. He found the knock-off items amusing and bought one for everyone because he thought they’d find it hilarious.We had planned to eat at a nice restaurant but by the time we were done, we were exhausted. We found a local hole in the wall and called it a day.
“I feel bad that we didn’t see more of the city.”
“Don’t. I had so much fun today,” he said over his plate of Pad Thai. “It was perfect.”
“It was fun, wasn’t it?” I smiled and took a bite of my own food. “And to think, this is just the beginning.”
Penn looked at me, held my eyes, then smiled. The smile itself was small but his eyes told a different story.“Yeah, just the beginning.”
Penn was toast by the time we got home. After waking up in the middle of the night and then staying up all day, he could barely keep his eyes open as he stripped for bed.
“Do you want to change positions?” I asked. He was the overly tired one and deserved to have dibs on the most comfortable position for him.
He shook his head and motioned for me to go first. He yawned and crawled in after me. Too tired to give a fuck, Penn wrapped his body around mine. I wasn’t even fully settled before his breathing was slow and steady from sleep.
The sound of Penn’s alarm woke me. It took me a second for my brain to defrost from sleep. His phone was inconveniently placed across the room so we couldn’t ignore it. It played a soft musical tone, unlike the loud, intense ringtone my phone had.
We weren’t in the same position we’d fallen asleep in. Penn was on his belly with one arm curled under his head and the other hung over the side. My head rested between his shoulder blades. It was surprisingly comfortable. I could’ve stayed there all day if my morning wood wasn’t digging into the back of his thigh.
I pushed myself off and tilted my hips away from his body, not willing to go there.“Penny Poo, time to wake up,” I sang, still hovering over his beautiful frame.
He groaned then stretched his muscles. It was incredibly sexy to watch his body flex like that.
I had always thought Lee was sexy. He was neither fat nor fit and I thought I loved that about him. I was starting to think my mind had adapted for survival reasons. I needed to find him attractive because he was my husband. But looking at Penn, I couldn’t help but think I had been royally screwed over in my past. I had definitely pulled the short end of the stick when it came to Lee.If I’d had a taste of Penn before Lee—well, Lee never would’ve given me a boner.
Reluctantly, I crawled over him and walked across the room to silence the alarm. Penn was sitting on the end of the bed, his dark hair a total mess and his shoulder slouched as he tried to wake up.
“Sleep well?” I asked as I grabbed my clothes for the day.
“I don’t know,” his deep morning voice sent chills down my spine. Two whole weeks of that deep baritone would be the end of me. “I feel like I just went to sleep.”
“You did—” I glanced at the clock. “Eight hours ago. Sleep time is over my friend. We have places to go and things to see.”
I discreetly watched as Penn rolled out of bed and fumbled his way to the bathroom. Honest to God, I wasn’t creeping on him. It had nothing to do with him being half-naked. He could’ve been drying dishes or tossing something in the trash, it didn’t matter, I just like watching him.
We were already packed and I had everything waiting by the door. All I needed was him and we could start our long-awaited and much-anticipated road trip.When he finished tying his shoes, he tossed his jacket over his shoulder to signal he was ready to go.
“Took you long enough.” I held his pack out for him and when he made a grab for it, I playfully pulled it out of reach. “I was starting to think you’d changed your mind about spending the next ten days traveling with me.”
He reached for it again, this time I let him grab it and watched as he slung it over his shoulder. He opened the door and paused.
“Changed my mind? There’s nothing, in my whole life, that I’ve looked forward to as much as this.”
“So, this is your car?” He tried not to laugh but failed miserably. Maybe he wasn’t trying so hard after all.
“Yes,” I opened the small trunk and threw my bag in. “It may not live up to your standards but this beauty is going to get us where we need to go. It may not be in style, it may not be in comfort, hell, it may not be without breaking down, but dammit,” I pounded my fist on the roof in faux determination, “we will get there!”
“Does the radio work?”
“I’ll take that as a no. What about air conditioning?”
“Define ‘air conditioning’.”
“Oh my god,” he opened the passenger door. “Please tell me the windows roll down?”
I made a big show of rolling down the window, which I had to do carefully because the hand crank was missing part of the handle. Penn followed my lead and tested his, too. For a run down beater the windows were surprisingly easy to roll. Like, it practically fell down it was so easy.
“Bet I can do this one with my pinky.”He could not, in fact, do it with his pinky, which made me laugh.“My pinky has jetlag,” he whined in defeat. I rolled my eyes and laughed at how cute he was.
Penn was too busy noticing how incredibly uncomfortable the seats were to comment on the fact the car sounded like a jet plane when it started or how it shook like a cheap coin-operated hotel bed when it idled.
We said goodbye to Bangkok.
Road tripping with Penn was everything I could’ve asked for. He didn’t complain that the radio didn’t work or that it was hot as hell outside. For three days we travelled without much of a plan. Between sleeping in hostels and eating at local hotspots, we saw everything there was to see.
Penn was looking through his phone when he burst out laughing.“Oh shit, look at this—” he shoved his phone in my face. When I struggled to drive and see the picture, he scooted closer until he was pressed against my side. Evidentially, the close proximity gave him the stability he needed to hold the phone steady.
The picture was one we’d taken on the way back from the waterfall. There were these giant boulders that sat on a cliff and overlooked the vast canyon. From the right angle you could make it look like you were hanging over the canyon like Ethan Hunt in the opening scene of Mission Impossible. The picture turned out great. I looked like a total daredevil even though I was mere inches off the ground.
“I’m so impressed with myself,” I smiled at the picture. “I’m definitely posting that...along with the one of you.”
He eyed me suspiciously. “Which one?”
I hadn’t shown him the photos. I kept one eye on the road as I thumbed through my phone until I found the ones I was looking for. They were hilarious.
Penn had tried to duplicate the awesomeness that was my Mission Impossible pose when the situation took a turn for the worse. Instead of looking like a shirtless badass; clinging to the side of a massive rock while his muscles rippled under the heat of the day, he was screaming and ducking for cover as a couple of small bird dive bombed him over and over. I’d taken so many pictures it was practically a live action video. By the time the bird left him alone, I was curled on the ground laughing harder than I ever had before.
Turns out that there was a nest with baby birds sitting a foot away from where we were hanging on the boulder. Looked like mama only had patience for one of us to dilly too close for comfort before she decided to pull out a can of whoop ass.
“You didn’t!” He grabbed my phone so he could get a better look. “I almost died and you were taking pictures?!”
“You didn’t almost die! It was a tiny bird.”
“Yeah, okay, easy for you to say. She wasn’t aiming for your face. You didn’t see what I saw, Nash. She was out for blood.”
His reaction had me laughing all over again. He kept the commentary going, telling me how terrible I was and explained, in detail, how his life had flashed before his eyes as the mama bird tried to defend her young. The more exasperated he got, the harder I laughed.
It was nice—the laughing and teasing. Lee and I always had fun together but it was different. Lee never let loose the way Penn could. Something I never saw until now.
When the laughter died down, he turned his attention to the old, dilapidated bench seat.
“Yeah,” he bounced a few times. “This spot is way more comfortable. Over there (his former spot by the door) feels like I’m about to get a surprise colonoscopy.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I laughed. He’d just excused himself to be saddled against me for the remainder of the trip. Without wasting another second, he draped his arm on the back of the seat behind me and pretended it wasn’t weird that he was sitting bitch in the tiny car.
At first, we both kept our legs from touching but the car wasn’t big and I don’t think either of us cared enough to pretend. It took an hour or so before our thighs were pressed against each other as we drove through the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t that big of a deal, yet, my heart was racing and my hands felt clammy.
It was just Penn and I—a few thousands of miles from home. It was easy to pretend that things were different; to imagine neither of us had baggage back at home. Baggage that kept us apart.
“How’d you get started running?” Penn asked as we drove.
“How’d you start wrestling?”
“I signed up for it.”
“Me too. My parents always told us that we could do whatever we wanted as long as we did something. We could either participate in sports, music, or art. I wasn’t interested in a lot of sports but I did cross country because Seth wanted me to.”
“So, do you play music?”
“I mean, yeah. Running was the only sport I really did which means I played a lot of music in the off season. I was never serious about it until I joined Yevo. Now I’m pretty decent with the guitar, piano, and the drum box.
“Of course you are.”
“What’s that mean,” I side eyed Penn.
“You would be good at everything.”
“Oh, because you’re not? How many sports did you letter in your freshman year?” When he didn’t answer, I continued, “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“Whatever,”I mocked, then squeezed his knee, making him squirm. He tried to swat my hand away but I kept digging my fingers into his leg until he was laughing and flailing against me. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do while driving but there was no one around and the speed limit wasn’t all that fast. I finally let go. By the way he was eyeing my leg I knew he was planning on retaliating. I sat up and put both hands on the steering.
“I’m driving,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, well, you can’t drive forever.”
I looked at him and found him smiling. Every now and then I’d change the gear and leave my hand hovering over his leg, just to freak him out. That, and the glare he gave me turned me inside out—had me totally tied in knots.
“You’re walking a fine line, Nay,” he warned after my hand hovered one too many times.
“What?” I asked oh so innocently. “You took my arm rest and now I don’t have anywhere to put my hand when I’m not shifting gears. I guess I’ll just have to set it here,” I said, resting my hand on his knee. I didn’t grip his leg like I had before, but I was walking the line and, judging by how stiff he was, it made him nervous knowing I could attack at any moment.
He eyed my hand on his leg but didn’t say anything. We drove through a small town and after every gear change, my hand went right back to his leg. Yeah, I was doing a shit job at keeping the door between us closed. The constant smile on Penn’s face made it clear that he was doing a shit job, too.
So, we drove on. His arm draped behind my seat, mine over his leg, both of us pretending like it was normal as fuck.
Totally normal for Penn to graze his thumb over my shoulder or for me to do the same on his leg.