Intermittent headlights punctuated the darkness at random intervals. Sometimes, they blinded him; others, they merely illuminated the surroundings (the occasional copse of trees, a random bird, poorly-paved gravel). As they drove on, the road cracked, pitted, even broke underneath their tires, occasionally blasting gravel and pebbles into the undercarriage and windshield.
Finally, a neon sign burst through the darkness, inviting rest and nourishment.
He was careful to only wake her with a gentle nudge. She mumbled something unintelligible (maybe a curse at him, or perhaps at the circumstances, or just a desire to continue sleeping in her uncomfortable, yet familiar position), and practically fell out of her seat.
On the other hand, he, all large arms and legs and stomach (the last to his chagrin), had to nearly unfold himself out of the seat, trying not to lean too heavily on the car door (an old door, by any account).
He made the arrangements at the counter; she caught a small catnap in the lobby chair, a paisley horror of auburn, bright green, and grey. The clerk at the desk leered uncomfortably, and neither of the traveling couple could tell which one he was leering at.
He was the model of modesty, afterwards, careful to open the door to her room first (and he let out a small, though futile, prayer that she would allow it to be his room, too) and carry her bags in first.
Afterwards, he went into his own room, a slightly dejected look on his face.
She slept fitfully on the uncomfortable bed, rolling and fidgeting to attempt to fit the contours of the ever-changing springs. Through the thin walls, she could hear his loud snoring, and, in some ways even more maddeningly, his lack of discomfort on his bed. It took her another two hours to fall asleep, and she could only do it when she heard the birds of the early morning chirping outside.
Though she slept fitfully, his sleep was fraught with nightmares: an image of a large baby, a feeling of freefall, a sense of being pursued. Before he slept, he felt a distinct pang, knowing she was close and yet pushed herself so far away, and the longing was still with him when he woke up.
They woke up late, and she took her turn driving in the morning. After two hours of driving (including one small hill, a town consisting of two trailers propped up against an adult video store, and an eerie ghost town), they came to their first sign of remote civilization. The billboard proclaimed that it was “Home to the World's Largest Chicken Egg!” However, when they finally saw the egg, they agreed, in their half-silent, barely-verbal way, that such a claim was dubious at best. They filled up on gas, and were on their way. However, she saw that the town was (miraculously, he could only suppose) holding a showing of Vincent Price's rendition of “The Raven” in their rundown movie theatre, apparently “The Only [One] in the Entire County!”
They found room and board (this time, the clerk looked like she wanted to have nothing to do with either of them, which they were each individually, silently grateful for), and then proceeded to eat in a diner that served hamburgers. However, the distinct lack of cows (or, in fact, any way for the town to apparently get burger meat) left them both feeling uncomfortable afterwards. They made the short walk to the movie theatre, and crowded (alongside, clearly, far more people than such a town could hold) in to the theatre.
As the movie began, he couldn't help but notice her; the lines on her face (never mars, no), the softness of her skin, the sheen of her eyes in the pale glow of the lamps that hung everywhere. Immediately, scenes from every Doris Day movie he had ever seen flooded into his mind, and he wanted to sweep her into his arms, smothering with a kiss that, though uninvited, she would return with a welcome that would shock strangers.
Of course, that meant that he didn't.
As the movie started, at least for her, the anticipation was incredible (she'd never gotten to see it on a movie screen). But, for some odd reason, she could not seem to stop from noticing her companion. He had been with her, true, even offered to assist her in this trip. She knew that he loved her (or, at least, he thought he did; she was careful to make that distinction in her mind), and that made her even more self-conscious than usual. She also knew that he knew that she had fallen for another (after all, she had told him herself), but that didn't stop her from enjoying his company. After all, she valued him as a friend; he was one of the nicest people she knew, and was always willing to help her.
But she couldn't help but hurt him like this, could she?
During the movie, his head lolled back on the seat, until he thought of the possible lice that could be resting in wait on the chair. He tried to stay awake and appear interested (after all, if he didn't watch it, how could he converse with her about it?) His arm hung, consciously alone, and he inched it, slightly, ever-so-slightly, closer to hers.
She noticed it, of course; the proximity within the small theatre made any movement noticeable. The first thought that ran through her head was how obvious it was, and she almost rolled her eyes.
But then she began to think, not on what was in front of her, but on what had been happening over the past day and a half…and especially of what had just happened then. If every movement is obvious and noticeable, then might it not follow that every movement held significance, especially here? In this small, alien theatre, far away from the lives that either of them had been leading for the past three years, might everything he does hold some significance? And, most importantly, might he not know full well of this significance?
Of course, the answer to that question was that he knew. He knew full well, almost painfully so. He was a friend, he knew that, and he held little hope that it could ever be anything more (after all, had it ever become that way? In the many times he'd tried to be more than “just friends”, he never was able to break that glass ceiling), and so he held this friendship, and he held it closer than he had ever held to anything.
But, somehow, he felt that tonight was an apex. It would be the night where their relationship would reach an apotheosis, or they would forever be friends and nothing more (after all, as much as he could not bear to be so close to her without being as close as he wanted, the only thing he could bear less was to be forever apart from her). He, of course, desired the former, but he simply didn't know how to make it happen.
Two days later, they stood at the party; he smiled, she smiled. She recounted the story to her family of how she had missed her flight, and how he had gotten her there. She noted the leering desk clerk (and, of course, the funny part of how the clerk might have been leering at him, not her), and the suspectly-named “largest chicken's egg in the world” (Didn't Uncle Aaron have one that was bigger? I'll even get the measurements from my purse).
He, of course, was hailed as a hero. There was no one else to get her there on time, and he was the only one who could have gotten her there on time.
He was given such note even the next day, at the larger get-together. He was proclaimed by the attendants at the party and given applause.
However, in spite of the adulation, he carried a pang in his heart the whole time, which made him angry. After all, it was the happiest day of her life…shouldn't he be happy for her? But no, he couldn't. It was, after all, the saddest day of his. As he watched her walk down the aisle with her father, he tried to make his tears look like tears of joy, but he and she would always know the truth behind them.