The next morning, Miranda and I are up bright and early, plotting our next move when it comes to the trip. At 8:00, I call Wyatt to give him our decided proposition.
“Hey, you,” I say when he answers. “Miranda and I have some things we’d like to discuss with you. Think you can round up your buddies and meet us back at the Golden Egg?”
“Sure.” He pauses for a moment. “Will Sadie be there?”
I laugh. “Yes, she will be,” I say. “But don’t get your hopes up. I’m not quite sure you can afford her.”
“Oh, we’ll see about that,” Wyatt shoots back. “Is nine good?”
We share our goodbyes and hang up. I smile, giving Miranda a thumbs up. “It’s a plan,” I announce.
She chuckles. “I could kind of tell by that big, stupid grin on your face.”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, shut up.” Though I know she’s just teasing, I make a conscious effort to keep my smile from widening any more. “It’s not like he likes me, anyway. I’m pretty sure he’s just using us to get closer to Sadie.”
Miranda sighs. “Of course,” she says. “We’re only her wingwomen, after all.”
Miranda, Sadie, and I arrive at the restaurant just before nine.
“Unfashionably early, as usual,” I remark as Miranda parks at the front of the parking lot.
She laughs. “Like you’re not gonna want to primp beforehand.”
I shake my head. “I do not primp,” I say. “Though I would like you to tell me if I have something stuck in my teeth.”
“What would you even have stuck in your teeth?” she asks, giving me her signature ‘I-am-incredulous-at-your-stupidity’ look. “You haven’t even eaten anything yet.”
“I don’t know,” I reply. “But I do know that I have bad luck with these sorts of things. So, check me, please?”
She sighs. “Fine.” She rolls her eyes. “Smile?”
I obey, doing my best to give her the full view of every one of my (hopefully) pearly whites.
She gives me a quick once-over before giving me a thumbs up. “You’re good,” she announces. “Although I do kind of think you should check the back ones for spinach…”
I swat at her as she bursts into a fit of giggles. “My god, shut up.”
Of course, this doesn’t compel her to do what I’ve asked. She only laughs harder. “When was the last time you had spinach, anyway? I don’t remember eating it on the trip…”
We are about this close to a friendly wrestling match when I hear a knock on the passenger window. I turn around, only to find Wyatt peering in at us, lips turned up in a smirk.
I groan. Now he’s the one with the ‘I’m-incredulous-at-your-stupidy’ look. “Oh, god.”
After doing my best to make sure that my hair doesn’t look like a family of squirrels nested in it, I roll the window down for him.
His glance shifts between Miranda and I, his smugness somehow growing even more palpable. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything…”
“You’re not,” Miranda says. “Just spinach.”
He laughs. “Okay, I’m not even sure I want to know… Though the curiosity is sort of killing me…”
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” I say, reaching for the door handle. He takes a step back as I get out. “…or the produce section.” I peek back inside before shutting the door. “You coming, Randi?”
“You guys go ahead,” she says. She turns off the car before pulling her cell phone out of her purse, gazing intently down at the screen. “I’ll be in there in a minute.”
“Alright, then,” Wyatt says. He turns to me, smiling as I close the passenger door. “Ready to meet my band again?”
“So ready,” I reply. “I’m sure I make a much better impression when I’m sober.”
“Oh.” He draws the word out for a long time as we approach the door. “So you did get a little more than halfway smashed?”
“A little,” I agree. “Let’s just say I’m no longer a hangover virgin.”
“Oops.” He laughs. “Guess that’s my fault. And Joe’s, to some extent.”
“Joe?” I give him a quizzical look. “Who the hell is Joe?”
“God,” he says. “Remind me to never buy you alcohol again. I don’t think you can take it.”
“Me, either,” I admit. I loop my arm through his, pulling him through the entrance. “Now let’s go get breakfast. Maple is the only kind of syrup I need, anyway.”
We find Gabe, Pierce, and Tess at a large table in the middle of the restaurant, engaged in an intense game of paper football. Wyatt clears his throat, causing Tess and Pierce to raise their heads. Gabe remains engrossed in the paper straw wrapper, continuing to flick it across the table.
Tess elbows him in the side. “Rat,” she hisses. He jumps slightly before looking up.
Wyatt smiles, motioning to me. “Lady and gents,” he starts. “I have our woman.” He glances over to me, continuing his serious act. “Chevelle, will you please take a seat?”
I nod, pulling out the empty chair in front of me. Wyatt promptly follows by taking the seat next to mine. “We’re just waiting for her fellow associate,” he continues. “Then, we can officially begin our negotiation.”
“Sounds good,” Pierce says. Gabe nods agreement.
Tess just stares across the table at me, much like she did in the parking lot yesterday. Though her dark, coal-lined eyes look significantly less lively in the early morning light streaming through the window than the neon lights of the club, they still hold the same sort of intimidating mystery. Her silence makes it even harder to discern what she’s thinking, though the hardness of her expression suggests that she might be judging me. Quite frankly, this scares the **** out of me.
Luckily, I don’t have to be the only one under her menacing glare for too long before my fellow associate arrives. Miranda soon joins us at the table. “Hi,” she says cheerfully, seating herself in the chair on my other side. “Sorry if it took me awhile. I was taking care of some things.” She grins at her audience on the other side of the table before reaching across it. “I’m Miranda Daley. I’m the one who will be driving the bus you need for your excursion.”
Okay, maybe she won’t be all that helpful in getting Tess to not look at me like some alien creature. Excursion? Who even says that?
As I predicted, Tess gives her a look similar to the one she gave me. (The ‘get-this-dork-away-from-my-band’ look.) Gabe, however, seems amused. “Excursion?” he says. “Interesting word choice.”
Miranda beams at him. “Thanks.”
As I wonder exactly how awkward this is going to get, Pierce breaks the silence. “So,” he says. “Before we start having any sort of serious discussion, does everyone know what they’re going to eat?”
Everyone answers, a cacophonous mix of pancakes, waffles, French toast, and eggs served in every way possible. After reciting these answers to a passing waitress, the game begins. Before our meal even arrives, Miranda and I have been effectively interrogated.
“So, what’s your car like?” Gabe asks.
“She’s a vintage Volkswagen bus named Sadie,” Miranda answers proudly. “She seats ten, plus instruments.”
Gabe is pleased. “Nice,” he says. “We’ll have our very own Mystery Machine.”
“Do you want us to pay you for gas?” Pierce inquires.
“If you want to,” I say.
Miranda nods. “We certainly wouldn’t oppose it.”
“And exactly how much free time do you have to devote to us?” Wyatt looks over at me, grinning. “You wouldn’t happen to have any other engagements, would you?”
I grin back at him, shaking my head. “As far as I’m concerned, we have all summer,” I say. “Take as much time as you need.”
After a while, Tess cuts into the mostly technical questions with her own vaguely personal query. “And what, exactly, are your intentions?”
I freeze, turning my attention towards her as I swallow a mouthful of sand dollar pancake. “What do you mean?”
She grimaces, giving me that ‘you-are-too-stupid-to-live’ look again. “I mean,” she starts. “Why do you want to do this? Honestly.” Her eyes are ice cold, staring right through me. “Don’t know if it’s because I’m the only band member of the female persuasion, but I seem to be the only one who thinks there’s something strange about some random groupie suddenly deciding she’s our new chauffeur.”
Suddenly, the reason for her coldness hits me. Though my brain supplies me with an idea for a comeback, it’s a less than eloquent one. I have the suspicion that, if I were to ask her if she thought I was trying to get into Wyatt’s pants, I might not be a candidate for the task for much longer. Rather than giving in to my impulse, I decide to play dumb. “I’m afraid I still don’t understand.”
Tess makes a quite obvious groaning noise. Pierce gives her a look as if he’s afraid she might be choking on her French toast. He seems relieved when she speaks again. “What I’m basically asking is if you have any ulterior motives,” she says. She looks pointedly between Wyatt and I. “Particularly financial ones.”
Oh, wow. Okay. Apparently, I wildly misinterpreted her the first time. Still, the fact that she’s accusing me of being a gold-digger is hardly any better. Especially when it’s somewhat true.
Being the genius that I am, I open my mouth. “Ummm…”
Luckily, Miranda speaks up for me. “Nope.” She shakes her head, curls flying wildly. “No ulterior motives here. Just two gals trying to help out.”
Again, she would have been a lot more convincing if she didn’t have the corniest vocabulary in the word. Excursion? Gals? She sounds like a freaking sit-com dad.
Tess glares at her dubiously for an uncomfortably long period of time before finally looking back down at her plate. “Okay,” she says. Her tone makes it clear that she doesn’t believe a bit of it.
Halfway through our meal, an awkward silence settles. Either everyone has run out of questions to ask, or Tess’s blunt accusations killed the mood.
By the time the check is there for us to split, I’m unsure if we made any sort of agreement at all. The resting look of disgust on Tess’s face makes me even more anxious.
Feeling pretty defeated, I make my escape to the parking lot. The chime of the bell on the door announces that Wyatt isn’t too far behind me. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo on the awkwardness.
“So,” he says. “I think that went well. Don’t you?”
I snort. “If you consider being interrogated like a murder suspect to be ‘well,’ then yeah. That went really well.”
“What are you talking about?” he replies. “That’s what all job interviews are: one or more people interrogating you and generally treating you like you may be an axe murderer. Because, who knows? You might actually be.” He stops his stride, staring at me with wide eyes. “You wouldn’t happen to have a butcher’s knife hidden in Sadie’s glove box, would you?”
I laugh. “Believe me, I have no intentions of murdering you. Unless you’re really annoying, that is.”
“Yikes. I’ll try to stay on your good side, then.” He digs around in his pockets before shoving something into my hand. “A Dum-Dum for your troubles?”
I smile, looking down to see yet another lollipop. This time, it’s watermelon flavored.
“Thanks,” I say.
“No problem,” he replies. “That’s what friends are for, right?”
I laugh. “If you mean taking much more candy than recommended, then yeah. You’re the best friend ever.”
“I’m flattered.” He pauses, gravitating towards Sadie again. Even if Tess does hate my guts already, I have a feeling that Wyatt is still up to our deal. This is confirmed when he returns his attention to me. “So, if you still want to do this, you and Miranda can meet us wherever tomorrow morning,” he says. “It’s totally up to you, of course. I mean, if you’ve changed your mind, that’s cool. I just…”
“Wyatt,” I cut in. “Don’t worry. I’m one hundred percent up for it. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
That crooked smile of his surfaces on his face. “Good to know,” he says. “In that case, you can come pick us up at Mickey D’s tomorrow, bright and early. We kind of have a nine hour drive ahead of us.”
“Deal,” I reply.
Like business partners, we shake on it to seal the deal. I pretend not to notice when Tess walks out of the door, nor when she proceeds to give me the evil eye.
I have a feeling that I will probably be doing a lot of pretending this summer.