This is the final Road Trip Ficlet, and rounds up the “post book” material that’s going into the new edition of Regret Me Not this Christmas!
The absence of snow had made the last three days of driving much easier. Hal had made good time after Oklahoma and through Texas, and he’d managed to stop at some nice hotels in between, so Pierce was in pretty good shape as they pulled off of Highway 80 and negotiated their way through a series of surface streets and small suburbs.
“Historic Fair Oaks?” Hal asked, squinting in the dark. It was eight o’clock at night, and Hal was cooked and done. He’d thought he could maintain enthusiasm about anything forever, but the last week of driving had burnt him to the bone.
“It looks more historic in the light. Turn right here,” Pierce said, eagerness tinting his voice. “And slow, or you’ll miss Toyon. Okay– there. Turn right. And left. And… right. Into that driveway there.”
Hal’s first thought was that Pierce hadn’t been kidding when he’d said the place was “little”–but then, Hal had realized that a lot of the land plots in California were smaller than they were in Florida or even in the other states they’d driven through.
These houses, off the road, often hidden in driveway dips or up hills behind heavy foliage, weren’t mansions, and Pierce’s was no exception. Hal parked in the carport, noting there were no other cars there at all.
“It’s weird that you don’t have a car,” he said bluntly, yawning and stretching as he turned off the ignition.
“Well, my last car was the truck I wrecked,” Pierce admitted, looking at the house in the thin winter light. “It’s weird how familiar it looks, when my whole life changed.”
Hal tried to look at the place objectively, after fantasizing about it for nearly two months. It was small–Pierce said three bedrooms–but the siding was a dark blue that wasn’t your everyday sort of color, even in the moonlight. The trim was white, and bougainvillea grew over the porch railing and around the support posts, giving it the feeling of being a secret cottage, hidden in lush vegetation.
“There’s a door from the carport,” Pierce said, sounding as uncertain as Hal felt. “Let’s just get the luggage inside and see what we’re dealing with bed wise.” He paused, smiling slightly. “Think–we can sleep as long as I can manage it tomorrow. And we have no place to go forever.”
Hal giggled, a little hysterically. “I can stay here forever. That’s not a hardship. Lead the way, o captain–I’ll get the roller bags.”
Pierce took his time, getting out of the car slowly and stretching in the chill air. Of course, after the east coast, it was practically balmy–but after Florida, it was frigid. Hal decided he liked the way the weather sort of sat in the middle, and proceeded to drag all their luggage out while Pierce pulled his keys from his pockets and opened the door.
Lights came on inside the house, and Hal heard Pierce’s excited exclamation as he rolled the first two bags in.
“Oh wow! Cynthia totally came through!”
“Cause that’s what I want to hear when we arrive,” Hal muttered to himself, and then walked into the bedroom and totally took back every mean thought he’d ever had about Pierce’s ex. “New bed?” he asked, feeling dumb.
“New bed,” Pierce said, sitting on top of of the king sized sled-style bed and bouncing. “And it’s–” He yawned. “Perfect.”
It was already made–probably in the last week–with mint green sheets and a dark green comforter. The frame was sturdy oak, and Hal could tell from Pierce’s delight that the mattress was bouncy as hell.
“Get ready for bed then,” Hal told him, some of the anti-climax easing up. He went out to the car and gathered the rest of the bags, and when he got back, Pierce was standing in front of the bed in his boxers, going through the stretching regime Hal had taught him before they’d left.
Hal stood for a moment and watched him finish, every muscle in his body straining, a look of intense concentration on his face.
“You’ve gotten so much better at that,” Hal said, feeling dreamy and exhausted and odd.
Pierce looked up from a particularly painful stretch and smiled. “I’ve had good incentive.”
Hal smiled a little, realized that he couldn’t feel his face, he was so numb from exhaustion. Pierce dropped his stretch and walked over to him, wrapping his arms around Hal’s waist and touching their foreheads. “Go shower,” he said softly. “There’s shampoo and soap in the cupboard, and extra toothbrushes and everything. I’ll turn on the heater and check out the houseplants and turn on the wifi. You’re done. I can tell. Shower, drop into bed, stay as long as you need to. Eventually you’ll stop seeing the road behind your eyes when you close them.”
“You see it too?” Hal said plaintively, because it had been on auto loop for the last five days.
“Only every minute of the day. I hope you’re done with traveling for a while. I want to stay here, build a pool, and show you the wonder and delight of my tiny corner of the state.”
Hal breathed out a sigh of relief. “We have to visit your sister next year,” he said, and something about the last two months made that possible. Next year, the two of them, at Sasha and Marshall’s. It was a date.
“And I really want to go to Europe on our honeymoon,” Pierce mumbled dreamily. “Our real honeymoon. When there’s rings and a ceremony and everything.
Hal’s dizziness grew a little more acute. “Is that a proposal?”
Pierce nuzzled his cheek. “It’s an expected outcome. A logical conclusion. I’m so tired I can barely see and you’re going to fall down any second. But I love you more now than I’ve loved anyone in my life. There has to be a wedding and a marriage. You… you belong here, in this room. Give it a week, a month–I’ll ask you then, okay? When we’re not hearing the car in every heartbeat, and you know the way to the bathroom–“
“Yes,” Hal mumbled. “I’d marry you tomorrow. I’ll marry you in my sleep. I don’t need a week. I mean, I’m gonna need a week–mint green? Was that her choice or yours?”
“Mine,” Pierce told him, smiling a little. “I was a redheaded kid–“
“You’re a redheaded adult. Whoever told you you weren’t was full of shit. But fine. I can live with mint green. As soon as I can see my phone–“
“And it’s charged,” Pierce said, his smile growing. The phone had died coming through Bakersfield, of all places.
“Yeah, that. I’m gonna buy us a big unicorn pillow pet. And two rings. And every day until we get married we’ll walk in through the bedroom door and see the big unicorn pillow pet and the rings. And we’ll be just as married the day before the wedding as we will be the day after.”
“As we are now,” Pierce said happily.
“I so belong here,” Hal told him, not even needing to see the backyard. “I so belong here with you.”
“God, you do.” Pierce’s voice grew a little choked, and Hal felt tears starting in his eyes, but their hug wasn’t going away.
“I’ll shower in a minute,” Hal said thickly.
“I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
* * *
Eventually they both made it to the shower and as Pierce wandered around the house checking rooms and turning on lights and the wifi. He sorted the mail on the table, and saw the envelope immediately. Big and legal and official looking. He opened it up and smiled a little, none of the bitterness he’d expected in this moment washing over him, all of the sweetness of that mangled proposal filling his heart instead.
Good. That chapter with his wife was closed, and they could move on.
He wandered back to the bedroom, feeling so much better in body and spirit than he had when he’d left Sacramento in November. HIs body might not ever be back to where it had been before the accident–but his spirit was so much better.
His spirit had found hope. Had found sweetness.
Had found Harold Justice Lombard the Third, and the joy of being a unicorn.
He crawled into bed and sighed, the sound of Hal’s SUV on the tarmac fading.
“Anything interesting?” Hal mumbled.
“Yeah. My divorce will be final in June.”
“Wanna get married in July?”
“God yes. Where do you want to honeymoon?”
“Somewhere we can fly.”
Hal chuckled. “I love you. Tomorrow we’ll see about the pool.”
“I love you back. Tomorrow we’ll have sex.”
“Let’s do that first.”
“Absolutely. G’night, Hal.”
So much to do. So much to see. So much to live, all with the man by his side.