It was hard to keep track of time while driving. Streetlamps, highways and fields all bled into one another. Whole towns could turn into a single, sprawling village in memory. Cities became vast, never-ending stretches of steel and asphalt. When they were crossing Nebraska, Remy swore he caught sight of a woman he first saw a hundred miles away, walking by with what looked like the same load of laundry.
Paige said he'd been up too long and offered to take the wheel. When he started climbing into the passenger seat without pulling over or taking his foot off the gas she screeched, hands grabbing at the steering wheel. It took some swerving, a few curses, and nearly getting his balls torn off by the stick shift to switch places. He watched her from beneath his lashes for five minutes, noting how she sat stiff, back not touching the seat, with her hands clutching the wheel until her knuckles were white.
"Can't drive, can you, petite?"
Paige swung around to glare at him, blue eyes flashing. Until she began to drift to the right. She jerked the wheel, veered the car into the oncoming lane. With a sigh the Cajun reached out and put her back on track.
That was her first lesson, and it lasted for an hour. He told her the basics: watch the speedometer, keep her eyes on the road and the car steady. At a four-way stop he heard her breath hitch and cracked an eye to see two cops sitting there; country police with nothing better to do and nothing that looked like a real building in twenty miles. "'Dey don' know you don't have a license," he soothed. "Just keep drivin' like you know how."
She did, pulled into a greasy spoon and jumped out of the car, proud as a peacock that she'd made it that far without crashing. Remy was proud that she hadn't stripped the gears more than a handful of times after he explained the basics of shifting. It wasn't a hard decision, letting her drive; not with corn fields as far as the eye could see. If she managed to do more than ruin part of a farmer's crop, he would've been surprised. Remy didn't tell the girl any of that; just smiled as she beamed at him from across the table.
After that, they drove in shifts. A couple hours each, enough to get her some good practice and to let his eyes rest.
They left Iowa behind in two days and zigzagged across states. When money was tight they'd pick up an odd job or two. Paige knew how to type and once landed herself a job working in an office for two weeks in a little mining town in Nebraska, but that was rare. Usually she found herself in an apron shouting short orders. Remy had a nose for the borderline illegal, but when in doubt went to manual labor. There were always people who needed a strong back to haul boxes or furniture. Two or three hundred dollars in hand and they were off with enough to keep them moving for a few days. Sleeping in the car stretched the money further, but he tried to find them beds when he could.
Paige's bruises faded, and she looked more her age. Some of the shadows faded from her eyes as they went west, turned the murky blue bright and sharp. She stopped jumping at loud noises, huddling next to him in restaurants whenever someone looked at her. Waitresses stopped looking at them strange somewhere outside Field, Kansas, and truckers didn't try to get Paige alone and ask if she needed help.
Corn and wheat fields gave way to rolling hills, then mountains. The Rockies were beautiful; sharp granite cliffs and peaks, deep ravines and roaring rivers. Tall, evergreens and aspens clinging to nearly-sheer rock faces. Paige swore her mouth hung open the whole way.
From Colorado Remy detoured to Arizona. The brilliant green of white-capped mountains gave way to desert seemingly with the state line. Stark, sheer cliffs painted orange, rust, and even purple towered over stretches of road that disappeared into the dusty distance. At times, graffitied road markers seemed the only indication that someone had been there since the road was paved. A few times, Remy broke out his bedroll and they slept under the stars, watching as the wings of the Milky Way rolled overhead. He surprised Paige with his knowledge, pointing out constellations and star patterns that she wouldn't have noticed.
Then came Vegas.
Remy was in puppy heaven: endless card games and crap tables, hotels full of them. The man had a near inexhaustible winning streak, and that's where they made their big money. Or he did. She spent most of her time with a throw-away camera walking the Strip. The air baked her lungs, the sun cooked her head until she broke and brought a baseball cap, but Paige didn't mind. All the pictures of Vegas she'd seen showed bright, colorful buildings, clean and sharp, rearing out of a sea of blue-blackness. In daylight they were faded and dusty from desert sun and sand, but at night, with neon lights blaring and darkness covering imperfections, they were beautiful.
They went out to dinner at the Stratosphere later that night after meeting back at the car, the first time they'd had money to spare on places more expensive than Spires. Somewhere, in-between arriving in Vegas and ten o'clock that night, he'd managed to get her a fake ID, boosting her age from sixteen to twenty-one. She didn't ask questions. They drank fine French wine and laughed, even with the waiter glaring at her. The glares eased a bit when Remy handed the man a hundred dollar bill and told him to straighten out his face. After that, it was all smiles. When Paige asked exactly how much he'd won, the Cajun leaned across the table, smiled, and told her they weren't sleeping in the car.
Paige had never drunk wine before, which might have explained why, when they checked into a suite at the Bellagio, she made a complete idiot of herself.
He'd bought two more bottles of wine and brought them back to the hotel, and she'd popped the cork the minute she got to their room (Lucky was getting the spa treatment at the hotel's kennel). She remembered every little detail. Being so tipsy that she had to sit down in the shower or risk cracking her head on the beige marble tiles. Coming out of the shower and cracking the door to Remy's room. Him sprawled out on his bed, spread-eagled with his duster thrown over a chair, clothes still on. Going over and sitting next to his head, then before she lost her nerve, kissing him.
Remy didn't move after jerking in shock; just let her kiss him, his stubble scratching her cheeks and chin. When she climbed on him he took control of the kiss, and before he was done she was panting, her hands fisted in his hair and hanging on for dear life. She'd wondered what it would be like kissing him, fucking him, and he wasn't letting her down. His hands ghosted down her spine before wrapping around her waist, heat seeping through the silk robe he brought her in a boutique, sending shivers through her. It was strange. A few months ago, she never thought she'd want a man's hands on her ever again.
When her hand moved to his belt he gently but firmly pushed her to the side. The Cajun gave her one long, searching look, before ruffling her hair. "Two more years, Paigey," he said with a half-smile. "Then we'll talk."
Before she could run back to her room and bury herself beneath her blankets and a good layer shame, he swept her into his arms and carried her there. Sat her on the bed and gave her another slow, sweet kiss before going to his room and closing the door behind him.
He didn't mention it the next day. Didn't even look at her funny.
They spent a week in Vegas, floating through the neon-lit town starting at dusk until pale dawn threatened. He treated her to pedicures, manicures, facials. They saw shows and ate expensive meals in restaurants that didn't have prices on their menus. With the money he was spending Paige was anxious, but Remy never seemed to run out. When he did, he'd disappear in to a casino for a few hours and come out smiling, their money problems solved.
"Remy don' cheat," he said firmly when she brought it up after the third day. "De cards jus' like me too much, Paigey."
Remy brought her one dress the day before they left; a burgundy, spaghetti-strapped affair that clung when she moved and swirled around her calves. There wasn't any ceremony, it just showed up on her bed when she came out the bathroom one morning; a plain white box tied with sky-blue ribbon, just like the three pairs of pants, six shirts, and new sneakers that showed up two days before. Nestled in a corner was a pair of matching, strappy heels.
"Ev'ry girl needs one pretty dress, non?" was all the answer she got when she asked him about it.
She wore the dress once to dinner and then packed it away in her duffle bag, wincing every time she thought of how wrinkled the silk would get rolled as it was.
Paige brought him a gift after that. She'd wondered about it for days, trying to figure out what to get the man. He seemed to gloss over everything she tried to bring his attention to, once going so far as to tell her to save the money he gave her for herself. When she tried to argue he either rode over her, or stopped paying attention until she changed the subject.
The lighter was plain gold, the kind that looked like it came from forty's film noir; big, bright, and expensive. Paige counted her money, most of it saved from Remy's 'allowance', supplemented with her meager winnings through the week. Five hundred dollars, a sum that would have made her eyes pop days ago, all hers.
The jeweler behind the counter stared at her when she told the man she wanted a sunset etched into the gold. "Nothin' girly," she amended. "No rays or birds or nothin' like that." When he asked for more detail, she told him to use his imagination, handed him one hundred dollars for the deposit, and left before she could change her mind.
After two weeks Las Vegas disappeared like any other town they passed through, lost in desert and sand, one bright speck surrounded by a blanket of other specks. Paige stared out the back window until darkness swallowed the last lights, and all that remained was the steady thrum of their engine and two spreading pools of light trained on asphalt. Lucky was sleeping, head pillowed on his paws, fur shining from the kennel. She bet the dog never had it so good.
That night, anxiety began creeping into her. She was supposed to be sleeping so she could cover daytime driving, but she couldn't. A thought hit her when she handed Remy his lighter, and it wouldn't go away no matter how many times she told it to. What would happen when they got to California? When they got to the beach? It had become something of a quest, their getting to the Pacific Ocean, and he hadn't said she could tag on after that. Remy was ten years older than her; he wouldn't want a skinny kid trailing after him. She might have been good company for the road, but they wouldn't be on the road anymore. With a mental shake Paige turned over, ignored the sour fear in her stomach. She'd worry about that when they got to California, and besides, it wasn't like she'd never been on her own before.
Paige swiped at the finger tickling her nose. There was no wave of red behind her eyelids, so it couldn't be time to wake up yet.
"Paigey-Paige, time to wake up, non?" The finger was back, this time with friends, and she snorted, draping the heavy duster over her face. Her eyes opened, but she kept her breathing steady. Remy liked waking her up; pulling on her ears, bothering her nose; once, in a small town outside Corpus Christy, he shined a penlight on her eyelids until she threw a pillow at him.
A wet nose snuffled under the coat and touched the skin of her waist. "All right, all right! Ah'm up!" She yelled, batting Lucky away.
"Good." something warm and steaming was dropped next to her head.
Paige threw off the duster. She was right; it wasn't time to wake up. The sun was still down, but the sky was the peculiar powdery blue of pre-dawn. The car was parked facing a cliff, Remy leaning against the hood. More driving to Santa Monica, then, she thought as she opened the bag. Remy had turned her on to croissants and coffee first thing in the morning, and no matter where they stopped, he always managed to find some still hot from the oven.
"Where are we?" she asked around a mouthful of pastry.
He uncurled himself and opened her door. "Take a look."
Paige climbed out of the Ford. "If we're still in the desert I'm slapping you one."
Remy's large hands went to her shoulders and turned her around.
Paige took a small step forward. They were in a parking lot, and beyond that… sand. She could just hear a dull, rhythmic roar, and beyond that a dark, rolling mass that broke with sprays of white.
"Thing a beauty, non," Remy said.
"How 'bout a swim?"
Paige swallowed. "But I don't have-"
Something swept into the line of her vision, and she focused on it. There, on a plastic hanger, was a barely-there blue bikini with yellow polka-dots. She whirled around. "I never should'a sung you that song."
Remy pouted. "So you won' wear it?"
"No!" She wasn't wearing anything that had dental floss for the back panel.
The Cajun gave a long-suffering sigh. Then brightened. "You should just say you wanna go skinny dipping." He yanked his shirt over his head.
"Argh!" Paige swatted at him, then blushed when her hand met smooth, firm skin.
If he noticed, the Cajun didn't let on. "Fine, fine." Remy pulled a bundle out of his pocket and tossed it at her.
Paige unfurled the dark cloth. It was a single black one-piece and a pair of matching swim shorts with red writing across the butt. "Sexy?"
Remy shrugged and started loosening his belt. "You comin, or what?"
Paige dived into the backseat, shimmied out of her shorts and tank-top, and slid into the suit. She looked down, admiring the breasts that had made a long awaited reappearance after weeks of near starvation. She'd filled out nicely, she noted. No one would ever call her busty, but at least she looked like a girl again.
Remy knocked on the window. "You done in there, or you waitin' for help?"
She opened the door, gawking at the two towels he hand in hand. He'd changed into a pair of red and black trunks that went to the knee. "Where you keepin' all this stuff?"
The Cajun winked at her. "Trade secret."
The sand was cold, slid through her toes in icy grains, grated under the nails and threated to swallow her feet, and Paige loved it. There were other people in the parking lot, dressed in wet-suits and shorts, some carrying surf-boards or smaller versions of the same. A few of them smiled her way before running towards the water, kicking up sand.
Near the water, Paige shivered. The air was damp with spray, the water swirling in frothy patches "Kinda cold for a swim, in'it?"
"You gettin' cold feet on me, girl?"
The tide chose that time to come in, covering her toes with frigid water. Paige squeeked and danced away.
"It's freezing!" she yelled.
Before she could move further away Remy grabbed her and hauled her to his chest, arms going under her knees. "No backing' out, Paigey." He walked into the waves.
She swatted at his arms."Remy! Remy! No… NO!"
The last no was cut short as he dropped her. The water wasn't any higher than his thighs, but she was submerged to her neck. Salty water, saltier than she'd ever imagined splashed on her lips, into her mouth, and she sputtered. She was so getting him back for that.
Remy must have picked up on her mood, because by the time she found her feet again (and who would have guessed how difficult that would be, with waves steadily trying to snatch the ground from under her) he was already well away. Lucky was in shallower water, bounding back and forth, barking like mad.
"I'm gonna kill you!" Paige yelled. Remy turned and flashed her one of his million watt smiles before starting into a dead run.
"Gotta catch me firs', Paigey!" He shouted over his shoulder.
She wasn't out of shape, but Remy had legs that seemed to eat up ground, and Paige found herself falling behind. Until Lucky decided to get in on the game and tripped his master, sending them both crashing down in a spray of golden fur and sand. Remy was almost to his feet when she jumped on his back, legs latching onto his waist.
"Traitor," Remy muttered to the retriever before spinning in a circle.
Paige held on, laughing as she was rocked one way, then another. For the moment, she wouldn't worry.
A/N: This was supposed to be a one shot, but after four years I decided to add this little extra. Thanks for reading. I doubt there will be more to this story, so this is the end. Hope you enjoyed the read :)