Disclaimer: None of the characters from the movie belong to me.
A/N: The story that you are about to read is told in the point of view of one of survivors of a tragedy that befell a group of five youths. Sorry, I just felt like doing that. Anyway, this story is told in Pepper's POV; it follows after the short story Life for Rent, which explains how Pepper hitched a ride with Erin and the others so I won't go through all that again. I hope everyone reviews and enjoys.
The dry, Texas heat whipped through the van through the open front windows, creating little breeze and making the car seem like an oven. I was sweating through my halter top and skirt but I wasn't the only one; Andy was covered with a thin sheen of sweat that glistened off his tan skin and managed to make him look attractive. I doubt that dry wind had the same effect on my matted and tangled hair. If the heat had any undesirable effect, however, Andy didn't seem to mind since Andy had his arm around my shoulder, a gesture I didn't mind despite the fact that it made the temperature a little bit more unbearable.
No one complained about the heat away as Kemper, who owned the van, piloted it down the cracked and deserted Texas highway. The gnarled trees that hung over the side of the road were the same color as the dry grass that weaved in the wind, surviving in spite of the lack of rainfall and oven-like heat. The undergrowth was the only thing we had passed since we had left El Paso a handful of hours ago; nothing but trees and heat.
"Kemp," moaned Erin from the front, shifting her weight in the seat to become more comfortable. "Can you turn on the A/C a little higher?"
Kemper reached over to the knobs that controlled the almost non-existent air conditioner and radio, which was blaring out some song about free birds by a guy I'd never heard of; Erin and the others were heading to Dallas to go to his concert. He flicked one of the knobs and the air vents whined for a moment before sputtering and going silent again.
"Sorry babe." Kemper said to Erin, who rolled her window down a little more and stuck her head outside, hair whipping out from beneath the white cowboy hat she was wearing.
The increase in the dry wind made the back of the van even more uncomfortable but I didn't say anything; even though I had grown up in Texas, I had never managed to get used to the heat. That was probably due to the fact that I had lived in the Lone Star State for only six years before my family moved up north, then back to the south then up north again. It was hard to get used to something when you were nothing more then a tumbleweed.
"Kemper look." Erin commanded and gestured out the window. We all turned to see where she was pointing and saw a stream, partly concealed by the tangled branches of the nondescript trees. The water rippled slightly in the breeze, looking clear, cool and inviting.
"We could stop there for a while, get out of the heat." Erin continued, looking imploringly at her boyfriend. "We could still make it to concert in time."
Morgan, the college boy who was often quiet unless he had something pointless to say, spoke up from where he sat on a beanbag, rolling a joint. "I feel like I'm baking to death back here." He remarked and Andy nodded in agreement, wiping his hand across his forehead to brush the sweat out of his eyes.
Kemper looked indecisive as I watched his face through the rearview mirror and I prayed that he would decide to pull over and spend a couple of hours near to cold waters. I still didn't know them well enough to offer my two cents in so I remained silent, the heat baking against my skin and imagined what the stream would feel like.
Erin made a puppy dog face at her boyfriend and he smiled, pulling the van off the road and into the dry grass, parking a few yards away from the stream. The tires churned up dust, which blanketed the windshield and made it difficult to see through the glass; the dust, which floated through the windows before Erin and Kemper could roll them up, made my nose itch and I sneezed. Andy chuckled lightly as I sneezed again, rubbing my nose with the heel of my hand.
Kemper shut off the van and listened to it idle as he looked over at Erin. "Planning on swimming in your clothes?" He questioned and didn't seem like he minded that idea.
"I bought these cute swimsuits down in Mexico." She informed him, sounding a little upset and I wondered if something happened down in Mexico between the two of them that I didn't know about. She turned around to face me. "You can borrow one too, Pepper."
I smiled. I liked Erin, and, even though we had only known each other since yesterday, I already considered her one of the best friends I'd ever had; moving around didn't allow you a lot of time to get to know someone.
Erin opened the front door and got out of the van; since I was closet to the sliding door, I reached over and slid the door across the track and hopped out. Andy followed after me and I tried to act like I didn't notice the way he stared at my ass as I jogged after Erin, who was heading for the back of the van. Andy hadn't bothered to hide the fact that he thought I was one of the hottest women in Texas but he hadn't done anything about it either. I hated guys that beat around the bush that way.
Kemper unlocked the trunk of his massive, rust colored van and Erin yanked her suitcase out, dropping it onto the dirt ground and kneeling in front of it. I knelt down beside her as Kemper headed back toward where Andy and Morgan were standing, gazing toward the stream. Erin unzipped her suitcase and flipped the top of it open; the mention of Mexico had drastically changed her mood and not for the better.
As Erin rummaged through her neatly folded clothes and I peered at her, trying to read the expression on her tanned face. "Is everything all right?" I questioned when I couldn't figure out what emotions played on her features.
Erin looked up and shrugged. "It's complicated." She said and pulled out two swimsuits: one white the other a violet, both decorated with flowers. She debated for a moment then handed the violet colored one to me, keeping the white for herself. "It's just that, sometimes you think you know someone then other times, you're not so sure."
I nodded in agreement. "I know exactly what you mean." Or, at least I hoped I did. I figured she was talking about Kemper and something that he had done in Mexico but I didn't want to ask, in case she thought I was prying.
We stood and headed toward the woods that flanked the stream to change into our suits, away from the leering eyes of the boys, who were heading lazily down toward the water. "So," I decided to change the subject. "How long have you and Kemper been going out?" I didn't know if the mention of Kemper would exactly change the subject but it was worth a short.
"Almost four years." Erin answered, holding aside a branch as we headed deeper into the woods. "We want to get married but he still hasn't gotten me a ring."
Was that where the animosity between them was coming from? I didn't say what I thought, however, as we reached a thick grove of trees that would provide the perfect place to change. As I headed behind a tree I asked, "So, why did you go to Mexico?" I had been there only once, when I'd had the intentions of joining the Peace Core a couple of weeks ago.
"Kemper had a few weeks off from work and so did the rest of us, so we thought it would be a fun little summer trip." Erin answered from behind her own tree. "Plus we had tickets to the Skynyrd concert."
I pulled my swimsuit over my head and retrieved my top and skirt, not bothering to keep them from becoming balled and wrinkled; the heat had already done that. "I've been to Mexico; it definitely wasn't my favorite place." I admitted as I came out from behind the tree.
Erin emerged seconds later, pulling her long, thick hair behind her shoulders in a ponytail. "I know what you mean." She said as we started back toward the stream. "It wasn't at all how I imagined it, especially with Kemper stoned and drunk most of the time; not at all what I'd had in mind."
I wanted to ask her what she'd had in mind but she looked upset enough all ready. We dropped our clothes on top of her suitcase on our way down to the water; Morgan was sitting on a uprooted tree trunk, watching as Kemper and Andy dragged something out of the leafy foliage. They had already taken their shirts off in preparation for swimming.
I stepped closer toward them to see what they could possibly be retrieving and saw that they were pulling out two dusty but inflated inner tubes. Who would leave their inner tubes just laying on the side of the bank? I looked around for more signs that there was someone else around but couldn't find any.
"There's also a rope tied to a tree." Andy said once they had laid the inner tubes out on the sandy bank. "I guess someone's been here recently."
Andy tossed the two tubes into the water and then wadded in after them, driving beneath the surface before popping back up seconds later. "Water's cold." He admitted, shivering a little and climbing onto one of the inner tubes.
I stuck one foot in the water and saw that he was right; despite the heat of the day, the water was almost too cold for my liking. "C'mon Pepper." Andy teased from where he lay, sprawled out across the tube. He grinned and splashed a little water in my direction.
Gingerly, I pulled the other inner tube toward me and got onto it, trying to stay as dry as possible; I shivered as the water splashed onto my back, giving me goose bumps.
On the bank, it was clear that Morgan had no intention of getting into the water and Erin looked as though she was debating coming in as well. Kemper didn't let her decide for long because he lifted her off her feet and carry her toward the bank. "Kemper! Don't you dare!" Erin cried, though there was a smile on her face as she gamely struggled to get away from her boyfriend.
Kemper ignored her and tossed her into the water, jumping in seconds after her. Erin's head broke the surface and she didn't look too pleased. "God, it's freezing!" She remarked, hugging herself as she treaded water. Despite the icy temperature of the water, however, none of us made any move to get out and back into the hot Texas sun.
Kemper and Erin joked around with each other for a while, splashing and try to dunk one another; it seemed to me that whatever had made Erin so upset earlier didn't mean anything now. After a while, Kemper and Erin decided to swing off the rope Andy had found earlier and into the water; I decided to pass, I was just happily dry on my inner tube.
Andy paddled his inner tube in my direction but I tried to act like I wasn't interested, looking over at Kemper, who was already swinging over the stream. I finally looked over at him when he tickled my foot to get my attention. "What?" I questioned, trying not to smile at his boyish gesture.
With a smile, Andy said, "So, where're you headed?" It seemed like he had wanted to say something else, but those were the words that came out of his mouth.
"Wherever." I answered. "No where in particular." Ever since I'd left home a couple of years ago, I really hadn't been going anywhere particular, resuming my tumbleweed status.
"You could always come to Dallas." Andy said, trying to sound nonchalant and uninterested. "Hang out with me...and everyone else." He added with a shrug.
I smiled and shrugged as well. "Maybe." I answered lightly, trying to act just as uninterested as he was and doing a much better job of it.
Andy nodded once. "Yeah, that's cool." He said, looking around for a minute before gazing by in my direction. "You know, you're really hot." He muttered, looking flustered and almost embarrassed at having said those words aloud.
I grinned; it wasn't the first time I'd heard those words but this was the first time I had ever grinned upon hearing them. Upon first glance, Andy appeared to be a tough, ladies-man without a care in the world but I was starting to see him in a different light. I leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips, pulling away before he could even return the gesture.
Andy smiled and rolled his eyes, as though it didn't bother him to be teased. I smiled to myself as I gazed off into the woods, admiring the way the sun filtered through the tangled, leafy tree branches. For a moment, I thought I saw someone, or something, peering through the undergrowth but the image was gone before I could tell for sure. At the moment, however, it didn't really bother me; I was enjoying the water, the heat and the company too much.