More of a Benjamin
Gus rolled the car into a parking area for the handicapped, pulled the handbrake up and turned a bright smile to Noah.
“I’m going in. Stay here and act handicapped for me.” She said, unbuckling herself and letting the seat belt fly back into place. It was more of a command than a question. “Want anything?” She added. She hopped out of the car and shut the door, poking her head through the open window.
“I’ll pass,” Noah replied.
“You sure? This place has great hotdogs.”
“You know this place?”
Gus, looking startled at what Noah had just asked her, hurriedly changed her expression, giving him an awkward smile and rolling her eyes.
“No,” She guffawed. “I saw the sign on the way in. The word, great, was sarcastic.” She shrugged and started to back away from the car. “For all we know, the hotdogs are mashed up roadkill.” Gus then pulled a bunch of squirmy disgusted faces and laughed her way into the Convenience store.
Noah found her change of manner a little odd. She looked vividly shaken by his question like he had just asked her if she had forgotten to feed the dog and she didn’t want to admit to it. She lied. It was clear. Noah watched her carefully, the way she strolled around the shop, she knew those shelves, she knew where to go. It could just be him. After all, he wasn’t a very trusting man, not for the past nine years. Probably the reason his girlfriend wanted to have the Talk. Sit him down and tell him as gently as possible, ‘I can’t do this anymore Noah. I’m sorry.’ They’re always “sorry”, so fucking sorry; he couldn’t blame Malory though, she had stayed with his stupid ass for three out of those nine years.
Noah turned his gaze away from the store and onto the road. What was he doing here anyway, driving around with some stranger he knew nothing about? His head kept telling him anywhere’s better than that mall, in a coffee shop, being let down “gently” by the one girl he thought he could trust.
Maybe he could trust this girl. Maybe not. Noah wouldn’t necessarily give her a chance, but he was going to go along for the ride, wherever they were off to. He turned his eyes back to the shop and Gus was making her way toward the Jeep, two plastic bags in either hand.
She looked concerned for a moment but smiled as soon as their eyes met.
“Here, take this will ye?” She said, tossing the bags into his lap as she climbed back into the vehicle. Noah manoeuvred the bags to the back of the Jeep as a pack of cigarettes slipped and fell on the floor of the car, the word Marlboro printed in black typography across the box.
“I didn’t picture you as a smoker,” Noah said, bending over his chair to pick up the cigarettes. His girlfriend had been a smoker but had taken to Virginia Slims, not Marlboro.
“I’m not,” Gus answered. She shuffled around in her seat, taking off her jacket and throwing it in the back over the plastic bags. “I assumed you were.” She added.
First, he looked like a Benjamin, now he looked like a smoker. He wondered how Gus came to these conclusions. “Nope, haven’t smoked in years. Never actually took to it.”
Gus smiled. “Funny,” she said. “Guys like you usually smoke. Sorry,” Gus shook her head, clearly embarrassed. She jammed the key into the ignition and started the Jeep. “I’m such an idiot. You look like a Benjamin who smokes, and I just assumed. Sorry, won’t happen again.”
Noah felt embarrassed for her. He twiddled the cigarette box in his fingers, trying to think of something to say. Lightening the mood with a joke was not his strong suit, but he went for it anyways.
“What Benjamins were you hanging out with?” He cringed. It was bad before it had even escaped his lips, still, Gus smiled back at him. “Let me buy you lunch and we can forget about it over food.” He added.
Gus’s smile brightened a little more as she rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
They got the supposedly great hot dogs at the convenience store and sat on the hood of Gus’s car, trying to get as much of the food in their mouths and not on their clothes without a lot of success. Noah felt the oils and fats dribbling down his hand, and had just managed to rip a piece of bacon from out of the hotdog, followed suit by a spatter of fatty oil in his face. Gus’s shirt was marked with mustard and tomato sauce and so was most of her chin. The roll itself required both of her hands and even then, the sauce just piled on her tissue covered lap.
“I came prepared.” She said, smiling mustard and bacon at him when she noticed him staring at the tissues. He hadn’t come prepared, yet it was mainly his shirt that had taken most of the blow from the condiments.
Noah had almost finished his by the time Gus gave up on having eaten half. “I’m a big eater, but I just… I can’t.” She said.
“I am eating a heart attack.” He said. “You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?”
Gus laughed, almost choking on a piece of bread. “Yes, and yes.” She said, gulping down one last bite. Noah laughed too but felt it die abruptly in his throat.
“What? You know I wasn’t serious, right?” Gus said, looking increasingly worried at his sudden change in mood. “Noah? What’s up?”
Noah took another bite and shook his head. He didn’t want to bring it up. Not after he had bought her lunch to ignore the whole fucked-up cigarette confusion Gus had made. He sighed and tried to leave it alone with a simple, “It’s nothing.” But Gus surprised him by putting her tiny hand on his shoulder.
“Your girlfriend?” She asked. Noah did a double-take of her face. There seemed to be a pause in the air, in time itself before Noah finally spoke and his voice cracked for a second.
“What…what are you running away from?” Dare he asked. Gus stared at him. She took her gaze off and started to study the wrapping that held the soggy hotdog together.
“Why did you come with me?” Gus interjected. Annoyed, Noah gave in, scooting off the Jeep to throw his wrapper in the trash, and said,
“You offered me an escape. An escape from the realities I know I still got to face sometime. We all got to face things, eventually. But I didn’t want to face mine now. So, for the time being, I’m running away from pure pressure.”
“Girlfriend, father issues, work, life. I dunno, basically anything and everything.” Noah answered her second question, deflected it as best he could.
Gus nodded a kind of intrigued nod and gave him an answer to his question.
Gus leaned over and passed her wrapper for Noah to throw away, hugging her knees.
“It’s not what I’m running from; it’s what I’m running to. I’m running away from memories, sure. Bad ones. Then, again. I’m running to them as well.” She smiled at this, but something had changed in her eyes, something else was there. Something deep, like scar-tissue, was glazed over them before fading into her brown pupils. It was subtle, but it was there.
Noah stared at her for a few minutes, narrowing his eyes onto her; she had been just as vague about her answer as he had. If not more. For two strangers running away together, they sure didn’t want either to know anything about each other.
He decided to let it be. For now. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and felt the box of cigarettes floating around. The thought crossed his mind, a simple “oh, why not?” and slid one out of the box.
He stuck the long white stick in his mouth, hugging it with his lips, and fished around his jacket pockets. Gus was looking at him funny. Slight shock and amusement. He found his lighter, something he had to have on him for his girlfriend 24/7. This really seemed to amuse Gus.
“I thought you never took to smoking.” She said, her lip already beginning to curl. The cigarette lit in a huff and he tucked the lighter back into his jacket, eyeing his girlfriend’s initials carved into the silver. M.H.
Noah smiled and blew a cloud of smoke from his lips. “You said it yourself, Gus; I look like a Benjamin who smokes.”
To be continued…
Hope you enjoyed the third entry of “A Stranger’s Game.” Until next time. I bid you adieu…
Facebook Page: @phoebereverie