PART I: ROUTE 66
She was just outside of Barstow and heading to the Arizona border when she decided this was a bad idea.
Granted, it wasn't a totally sudden decision or anything. Her self-doubt had been growing for hours. But it really took charge when she gassed up and stared around that godawful place they called a city that was the last feeble gasp of civilization before she went straight into the desert. And she realized that Kingman was the exact same thing and how she was gonna look driving a six-figure-plus Audi Spyder into that town right now being who she was.
So she pulled off to the side of the barren interstate and sat there in the blazing sun for a while, air conditioner still going full blast because she wasn't some animal. She stared out at the Mojave. Yeah. This was the land songs and horror movies alike were based on, all right. And she'd been driving from Santa Monica for like five hours now and realized she wasn't going to go any further. Yet.
Then her phone rang. She glanced down at the caller.
Of course. Of fucking course it was him.
"Hey," she said.
"Hi Andrea--" he started.
"You got some kind of psychic powers or something?"
"Cause you caught me just as I pulled off the road on my way to Arizona and thought better about it."
"Yeah. I took Route 66 for a while because it's supposed to be cool or something."
"I have no idea what Route 66 is. I might've heard the name somewhere."
"You're not missing much. I'm in the ass end of nowhere. Gotta give Verizon credit I'm honestly surprised there's decent service where I am."
"Maybe you can work out some product placement or something."
Andrea chuckled. It was a terrible joke. But then again, wasn't this how all their few conversations started before they got to the meat? She heard him cough on the other end, like he was just waiting for this awkward pause to play out so he could drop whatever hammer he had planned. Fuck. She wasn't ready for that yet.
"So," he finally said.
"So," she said.
"How are you?"
She smiled. "Good, I guess. I've gone back to being blonde for like the first time in ten years. Feels weird. You probably wouldn't even recognize me."
"You're a blonde?"
"No seriously. I had no idea. You still with that BMX guy?"
"Dev? Eh. Occasionally. You still bored to death and working for your dad over there?"
"Same as always, I guess. I'm still trying, though. When I can. And obviously you've aware of Arizona if you're--"
"Look, can we keep with the small talk for a while? I really don't know if I'm ready to talk about this yet."
"...You just said you were already going there before you--"
"Yeah, before I changed my mind and realized that maybe it wasn't exactly the right time, OK? Just... give me ten more minutes of chit-chat. I need a cigarette first or something."
"Those things'll kill you, Andrea."
She got out of her car and suddenly missed Minnesota. Days like these were about the only days she did that. Andrea pulled a lighter out of her pocket and lit up and reflected for a second on how young she still was. Christ, there was something to be said for finding your fame early, but it could leave you exhausted beyond belief and thinking you were way older than you actually were at times. Granted, she still looked good, bad habits be damned. And no, she hadn't had any work done outside of the fixing her vision for good a couple years ago.
"Don't worry. I've got like five years left. I figured it out way back when--"
PART II: SANTA MONICA
It was July 7 and as Andrea finished her jog along the boardwalk and lit up a cigarette, she reflected on what she'd figured out and what she'd continue to espouse about in her conversations three years later. And it was something damn important.
It was the realization that she could smoke like a chimney up till around age 30 -- which was so far into the future it wasn't even fucking conceivable right now -- and so long as she quit then, she wouldn't have to worry about lung cancer or any of the other horrible byproducts of long-term smoking because she'd give her body plenty of time to repair itself. And the short-term stuff, you might ask?
Don't make her laugh.
See, that was why the beautiful people smoked. There was no worrying about yellow fingers or yellow teeth because you could nip those side effects in the bud long before they turned problematic. There was no nicotine in your clothes because you never owned anything long enough to let the smell burrow in and if you did? Just drop it off at your local dry cleaner to the stars and go back to your morning soiree alongside the other beautiful people that packed the beach and boardwalk here all day, every day. There were designer shades on every face and bronze on every body because baby, this place was fucking Neverland.
Yeah, it was a place where they could live beside the ocean and leave the fire behind, all right. And they could almost forget that hey, SOTF. Version 5. That plane crash from Seattle. And all those snakes left behind in the back of her memories were slithering up to the surface, where they mingled with all those wonderful magic fairies and pixie dust that fame and fortune brought. It was one toxic and heavenly mix.
Andrea lived in a top floor almost-seaside condo stuffed with cheap, mismatched furnishings and expensive toys: an old kitchen counter with a nickel-plated Nespresso; a ratty coffee table with expensive green and a custom-made pipe. And speaking of, there was Dev, sprawled on the leather couch with one tatted-up forearm thrown over his eyes.
"When'd you get here?" she asked.
He mumbled something incoherent, so she flopped down on top of him. That woke him up, at least enough to move that arm down and fold it around her.
"I dunno, half hour ago? More? You're sweating all over me Dree, you gonna take a shower?"
"Romantic. What, you come to comfort me?"
He played his fingers in her hair. Devin Redden was six feet tall, bright eyed and shaggy haired; he looked like an overgrown teenager at 25 and would probably still look like one at 45. He'd grown up on a sprawling Colorado ranch alongside two tomboy sisters and three roughhouse brothers: his older sister Hayden had been an Olympic snowboarder; his youngest brother Tyson was a freshman prospect at Vanderbilt with a 94-mph fastball. Devin had spent his childhood careening down mountains on bikes and boards, then moved to Cali to join the BMX circuit and become the latest of the Redden brood to make a career of the extreme.
"Not, like... comfort, babe."
"You expect to come in and see me having like PSTD flashbacks or something?"
He smiled. "You know what I mean. I know you're cool."
Of course. She'd already done CNN again. No breakdowns on air. No heading home to sleep and waking up clutching the sheets like some cheesy old movie. Wasn't her style. Wasn't what people'd expect of her.
And speaking of expectations, she was feeling fine partially because she'd always expected it, hadn't she?
"I'll take that shower now."
When Andrea got out of the shower, her cell was ringing.
"You can get that," she called out.
"Huh? Oh, uh ok-- ah shit. Sorry, too late."
"Who was it?"
"Uh..." Devin glanced down at her phone, then chuckled. "Who's Ben from Hong Kong?"
She stopped in her tracks.
Well, that was a new fucking wrinkle. 'Cause it had been what, two years?
Pretty much. She could still remember--