Author's Note: Heaps of apologies for the beyond late update. Schoolwork, extracurriculars, and family obligations got the best of me and I haven't kept up with this story the way I promised myself I would. But my summer begins in two days (hopefully) giving me more time to write. For now, here's the second installment.


the fourth

Early this morning (and I mean really early, six a.m. early), the Caddie pulled up to my house ready to make its way cross-country. I opened the door for Marcus as he made his way up the walk. Tired, but excited, I kissed him good morning and invited him inside. He followed me into the kitchen where my mother and father sat at the breakfast table drinking coffee, my father reading the sports section of the paper first.

"Hey Mr. and Mrs. Darling," Marcus said as we entered.

"Good morning, Marcus," my mother greeted. She was obviously tired. Dark circles rimmed her eyes, evident without makeup. She wore her bathrobe and her hair hadn't yet been brushed.

"Hello, Marcus," my father said without even looking up from the article he was reading. Consternation marred his features. The Knicks had obviously lost again.

Marcus shifted from foot to foot. The only other time I had ever really seen him show any signs of nervousness was when he told me that he was going to California for college. Apparently having to see your girlfriend's parents minutes before the two of you leave on a cross-country road trip where you will be having sex in cheap Motel 6's or the back of the car (depending on where you decide to stop for the night), and knowing that aforementioned parents likely know this, makes a guy nervous. I decided to save him from the mental torture.

"Well, you guys," I said, "this is it." I went to my mom first and she stood and gave me a big hug.

"Call me every night," she sniffled, "even if you have to call collect. And be careful."

"I will, mom. I promise." I made my way to my dad, "Bye dad." We hugged and he kissed me on the forehead.

"Have a good time," he told me as he let me go. I smiled, one huge, mega-watt, probably could be seen from outer space, smile, "I will. Thanks dad." My dad then shook Marcus's hand, my mom told him to 'take care of our girl', and we were on our way. The first thing he did once we were in the Caddie, and once my parents had waved good-bye for a final time and shut the door, was to pop Barry Manilow into the 8-track.

"The showman of our time, huh?" I joked.

"The showman of our time," he smiled at me. Content, I leaned back into the seat, and the car pulled away from the curb. We rode in silence for a while. Marcus hummed along to Barry and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. We were stopped at a traffic light and it reminded me of one of the conversation starters that Marcus had used when we had first started talking and had become whatever it was we were. I still don't know if we could actually be called friends back then.

"Did you know that the average American spends six months of his or her life waiting for red lights to turn green?" he had asked me. The memory gave me a mushy feeling inside; the feeling I used to only get after watching Sixteen Candles.

"What?" Marcus interrupted my thoughts.

"What?"

"You have this look on your face. What are you thinking about?"

I smiled, "The average American spends six months of his or her life waiting for red lights to turn green." He obviously remembered this, too.

"Well then let's not waste it." At a break in the traffic he sped through the intersection at top speed, just missing being clipped by a car coming from the other direction. I laughed out of shock, my eyes wide and my heart pounding a little bit.

"I can't believe you just did that."

"Can't you?" I didn't respond just smiled at him. He smiled back.

"Ok," he said, turning his eyes back to the road. "This is probably the only time we're going to take a road trip cross country, so what do you want to see?"

"You mean like landmarks?"

"Yeah."

"The ones that parents and their children go to for their Kodak moments when they take their family vacations?"

"Yes, Jessica." Marcus smirked.

"Hmm, I'll have to think about it. Although I don't know how anything I might come up with could top the Five Wonders of Pineville." He laughed and grabbed my hand, kissing it.

We drove all day; I even drove some.

"You're going to let me drive the Caddie?"

"Yeah."

"But you love this car."

"Where are you going with this Jess?"

"I don't know. I'm just surprised I guess."

"Should I be worried about your driving?"

"No!" He laughed. "Give me the keys," I took them and made my way to the driver's seat. "I'll show you," I muttered under my breath, despite the childishness of the comment. I drove and drove, finding a rhythm as we sped along the highway that it seems only the longest car trips, the ones where you're really not sure of where exactly you'll end up, can have. Tonight we ended up in a tiny town just on the border of Ohio and Kentucky. And I learned that Motel 6's aren't always that bad...

The next morning, I woke up to Marcus shaking my shoulder chanting, "Jess! Jess!" in a loud whisper until he'd broken through my overtired, sleep-induced fog.

"What?" I whined groggily. He only smiled.

"I know where we're going."

Author's Note: Now of course Marcus and Jessica will eventually end up in California. That's the whole purpose of the trip in the first place! But that doesn't mean they can't make a few stops along the way. Again, apologies for the late update, but hang in there and stay tuned...