written very, very late at night. But I forgot how much fun Paul and Suze could be...post-series, obviously. Crossposted to LJ and the AO3.
Six days after graduation, Paul showed up in my driveway with three suitcases, two atlases, and said, "get in, Simon, we're going to Canada."
I raised my sunglasses and looked at him, sun glinting off both his hair and his shiny silver car. "You sound like Regina George," I told him. It was the only appropriate response.
Paul sighed. "Suze. Come on. Road trips are fun."
"Road trips with you are not fun," I pointed out, in what I thought was rather logical fashion. "I don't trust you. Or cars. I don't trust cars with you in them. I have had bad experiences in cars with you in them."
"Yeah," Paul said. "Sure. You can stay here with Brad and be rid of me for a week. Or you can take advantage of the two weeks your parents are spending out east with David and like, get in the car. Don't forget your passport."
"I have plans," I said.
"You have two months of tanning before college starts. Those are your plans," Paul said. He tossed me a duffel bag. "Come on. It's seven days. How much trouble can we get into in only seven days?"
I raised an eyebrow. "I don't want to find out." Because I knew Paul and I knew myself and yeah, the answer was plenty.
But I took the duffel bag anyways.
Paul only spoke once we passed through Concord, almost three hours of silence- well, not silence, since there was classical music playing at a low hum in the car, barely audible over the sound of the engine. I'd relaxed by that point; luggage in the backseat and my sandals off, feet up on the dashboard, watching California pass us by.
"I'm surprised you're here," he said.
I shrugged. "What girl doesn't dream of going to Canada on her summer break?"
We'd left pretty late- like either of us were waking up before noon, now that there was no more religion class to go to and the shitshow that had been prom was over (thank God for Father Dom was all I could say). Paul got off the highway in Redding.
"Did you know," he said in the lobby of the motel, reading off a pamphlet, "that Redding is exactly halfway between the Canadian and Mexican borders?"
"I did not know," I said. For some reason, the motel wasn't air-conditioned, and it was getting up into the nineties outside. Sweat was pricking down my spine, and even though I knew Paul was going to pay for the rooms, I was wishing we could have just slept in the car.
But that would have been bad. Like, even a worse idea than me, seven hours earlier, throwing a bunch of clothing into a cheap duffel bag, forgetting my curling iron and my good moisturizer, and grabbing some hoarded babysitting money to drive to Canada with someone I didn't want to call a friend.
It's a good thing the only person home was Brad, and he probably wouldn't notice my absence.
He glanced over at me, his credit card tapping again the cheap wood of the desk. "Two rooms or one, Suze?"
"Two," I said. "Definitely two."
He handed me the room key when we went back outside, and I immediately began plotting a cold shower. The heat pressed down in a way it never did in Carmel. It felt like a Brooklyn July.
He leaned in close, mouth right next to my ear. "Did you," Paul whispered, "even let Jesse know you left?" He opened his door and entered. I heard the click of the lock.
I stood outside my door for a few extra minutes before I went inside.
We drove for like eight hours that next day, getting stuck in some really horrific traffic. I'd thought Oregon would be cooler and wetter than California, but maybe it was because we were in the middle of the state- Salem, where we stopped, was almost as hot as Redding, though not quite. I was beginning to miss tanning on the beach.
We didn't talk about what Paul had said before I'd gone to bed. Well, not to bed. I'd taken a shower and spent a lot of time successfully staring at the ceiling. There was significantly less sleeping.
There weren't even any ghosts to distract me.
Over a really pitiful excuse for a Continential breakfast, Paul had handed me my phone. "If you want," he said. "It was sticking out of your bag, the one you left in the car."
"Thanks," I replied, but I didn't call anyone.
We'd talked about college stuff until we hit the Oregon border, and then we talked about the high school we were leaving behind. It was the type of conversation you'd have with anyone, really, anyone you didn't know that well, anyone you didn't have history with.
I was able to sleep that next night, until my phone buzzed and woke me up.
You're not home, Jesse had sent me.
I didn't respond.
"We're gonna get to Vancouver today," Paul said. He'd put on Queen, he'd said as a wakeup call, and I was absentmindedly harmonizing with the opening chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody. "See? I told you it wouldn't be that bad."
"We've had like, barely any meaningful conversations," I pointed out. "Of course it isn't that bad."
"Yeah," Paul responded. "Kind of the point." He shrugged his shoulders, hands a perfect ten and two on the wheel.
"What do you mean by that?" The words felt ashy in my mouth- if I was expecting some nefarious plot, this really wasn't it.
"I mean I wanted you to see that- I don't know, that this wasn't everything. I mean-" he took a breath, correcting himself. "That what your life is right now, it wasn't everything."
"This is about Jesse," I said.
Paul looked over at me then for the first time. "No," he said. "This isn't about Jesse."
We got one room in Vancouver.
It was finally cooler here, the air mistier and trees greener, and I breathed it in, let it fill my lungs and open my chest. I flung my bags onto the bed I was claiming as my own, the one under the antique-looking window.
There were surprisingly few ghosts in Vancourver.
"What's it about," I demanded, "if it isn't about Jesse?"
Paul opened the minibar and tossed me a Coke. "Here," he said. "Have this."
I took it, popping the tab. "Thanks," I said. "So what isn't about Jesse?"
His eyes were dark, and serious.
"Suze," he said. "You gotta- look, you're going to college." I nodded; it was Berkeley for both of us, though he was going pre-law and I was going gods-only-know. "And like- Jesse is dead."
"He's not," I said, through numb lips. "I saved him. You know I saved him."
"Yeah," Paul said, "and maybe it was a great thing, the stuff all love stories are made of, but maybe you also took away all other options for yourself."
"I wanted to give you this," he said. "Consider it a graduation present." He turned, leaning to pick up his stuff. Headphones dangled uselessly out of an unzipped side pocket. "Look, I'm going to get another room."
"No," I said, and yeah, I totally surprised myself. "You don't have to- just. Stay."
When he turned again, back to face me, his eyes had darkened, became predatory. I knew that look; once I had been scared of it. I wasn't anymore.
He made his way to me in two quick strides and then he cupped my face in his hands.
"Stay," I said again, even though it was the mother of all bad ideas. "Okay?"
He kissed me like I was drowning.
I lost my virginity not to Jesse de Silva on our wedding night, but to Paul Slater in an old hotel room in Vancouver with rusty latches on the windows and a candelabra on the mantel over the bricked-over fireplace.
He left his mark: a smudge on my collarbone, a bruise on my hip, the sting of kisses over my stomach, and while I knew it then I knew it years ago- he and I were the reckless ones.