Mary is taping up a box in Baltimore when her mechanic calls to ask her if she knows the difference between the heater return and the fuel return nipple.
"No," she snaps, attempting to wrangle tape and the phone at the same time. "And if this is a come-on, Lou, it is truly the worst."
Lou sees Mary twice a month when her Sable breaks down and he needs to wrangle money from her for the repairs, so he's used to her being nastier to him than that. His voice is muffled around a toothpick as he tells her that if she doesn't have mechanic skills, she's going to need to bring along someone who does. There's not a chance in hell that her car will make it across the country without someone who knows how to monitor and repair it.
"It won't be you," she tells him, although now it's more just general annoyance than any specifically caused by him. She hangs up and tosses the box into the corner of the living room where it bumps up against the stack of others, forgetting that it's the one containing all of her books. She hears the pages crumple, knows that they'll probably be creased if she leaves them, but she still has to pack the rest of the apartment and she doesn't have time to go back.
"Shit." She runs a hand through her hair, going over to the kitchen counter where her transfer documents and info are. She's supposed to be at the new office in Albuquerque in three days and that won't happen if she's trekking six miles through the middle of Oklahoma to find someone who's handy with a wrench. She's running through her options- buying a new car, asking for more time- but then she catches sight of the business card attached to the bottom with a paper clip.
"Marshall Mann," she says, smiling widely when he picks up. "Any chance you've been up close and personal with an engine in your time?"
"Shannon?" She's impressed because he hasn't heard her voice for six months since he called to convince her about that the benefits of WitSec and even living in Albuquerque. She even more impressed because he doesn't even hesitate, just answers the question. "Yeah, I worked at a repair shop for a couple of years at the end of high school. Why?"
"Because you strike me as Sammy Saves His Vacation Days, and today seems like a fantastic day to cash in."
And that's how Mary and Marshall end up road-tripping the thirty hours between Maryland and New Mexico. He flies in Sunday evening and meets her at her house. He is holding one cup of coffee, which is just as well because she already packed her coffee maker after brewing her own cup. They decide on four hour shifts. Marshall reads in the car. Mary mostly sleeps or stares out the window. For the first half day, they only talk to ask about breaking for lunch or switching drivers.
Then his mom calls. They chat for thirty minutes and he says "I love you" at the end. Not in a quiet, teenage boy mumble; he's happy, not ashamed. She smiles a little mockingly, just to herself because she feels that it's something she should do, but inside something clenches. The worst thing is that she can remember the last time she told her own mother she loved her: she was in college back in Jersey and came home to find Jinx passed out by the toilet. This was the stuff of Mary's earliest memories, so it wasn't surprising, but it had been a long day and Jinx was harder to wake and move than usual. Mary had knelt; she had called Jinx "Mommy" and told her she loved her and even cried a little as she coaxed and maneuvered her to bed. Afterward, she felt ashamed, almost remorseful, rather than delicate. She disliked herself more, so she hadn't done it again.
But Marshall says it simply, as if it is obvious and natural that between chatting about the new neighbors and his garden, he loves her. The honest ease with which the words slip out makes Mary both bitter and jealous.
They break down the first time in hour eight. Marshall replaces the alternator belt from the spare parts he has in the trunk. After ten minutes, she starts tossing peanuts at him.
"Could you stop that?" he says, head buried beneath the hood.
"Uh, could you hurry it up?"
A few minutes later, he slams the hood, washes up and slides back into the seat. He holds a hand out for some peanuts. "Can I have some?"
She snatches them away. "You didn't hurry as much as I would have liked."
"But…but they're mine. I brought them. They're fast, fun fuel."
"Use alliteration again and I will shove one down your throat and choke you. And, by the way, they're not that much fun."
He starts up the car, looks at her sidelong. "Your hoarding would beg to differ."
They're five minutes down the road when she holds the bag out for him. He seems suspicious, but slowly dips a hand in. She tucks a knee against the dash, pulls out a few nuts of her own. "So, what's your mom like?"
"My mom? She's great."
"Stay-at-home cookie baker, right? Probably her who taught you how to garden."
"Actually it was my grandpa. He was a man who knew his flowers. Also grew the best runner beans I've ever tasted. My mom met my dad when she was a marshal. One of six female marshals in the country at the time. She did stay at home with us until my youngest brother was in school. Now she owns a gun range." Marshall takes the peanuts from her, tipping some carefully into his mouth while keeping an eye on the road. Mary is usually jumpy as a passenger because there isn't anyone she trusts to drive as much as she trusts herself, but out here all they can really be concerned about is a small wilderness animal darting into their path. Worrisomely, Marshall seems like the type soft-hearted enough to swerve dangerously to avoid killing any roadside mammalia. "Strangely, although I love my mother, I believe that you'd get along well."
She gives him her traditional snotty Mary face, sarcastic smile with nose wrinkled and tongue poking out a little, which makes him smile that weirdo grin. She finishes the last of the peanuts and, still chewing, asks, "Aren't you going to ask about my family?"
"Nah. I already know you have a mom and a sister, neither of whom you seem to like very much. Other than that, when you want to tell me, you'll tell me. One question, though: how did you end up being Mary with a sister named Brandi?"
It's not an unusual question, but usually one she doesn't bother answering. But she's starting to feel…she won't say fond, but definitely charitable towards Marshall Mann. He did fly from Albuquerque to drive her right back there. "My dad got to give me my first name and my mom got my middle name. They switched when it came to my sister, so she's Brandi Katherine."
"What name did Mom give you?"
"First of all, Mom's named Jinx-"
"Everything makes sense now."
"-and my middle name is…" she mumbles to the window.
"Crystal, okay, my middle name is Crystal."
Marshall bends his lips in, but the smile makes its way out anyway. Mary glares at him.
"What's your middle name?" she demands, obviously miffed.
"Atticus," he says, not ashamed and still grinning. "My mom loves 'Mockingbird.' And Gregory Peck."
After that the two of them are like girls at a slumber party; they keep meaning to shut up, but there's always something tiny that's just too interesting to keep inside. By the end of the day, Mary knows that Marshall speaks three languages other than English, is conversant in four others (one is Klingon), loves olives and all other food, does the crossword every morning, and scopes out county fairs for the funnel cake. She also knows everything she never wanted to know about the history of plastic surgery, violins and Norse mythology. He understands that she's bitingly and unrelenting sarcastic with a crack for everything, that she wears heels even when she shouldn't, never wants pets, took her marksmanship test sleepless just to prove that she could. She scored perfectly and it makes her feel safer to have that absolute trust in her skills. Even now, she is wearing a small caliber pistol around her ankle because she's always alert.
They stay at a motel in the middle of nowhere overnight, sharing a queen bed that sags in the middle because it's Mary's treat. Mary changes into a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of the room without embarrassment, slipping her bra out through her sleeve. Marshall turns his back anyway. In the middle of the night, he wakes up and discovers that Mary is a cuddler. He makes a note to tease her in the morning, but then he realizes that it isn't nestling like that of the women he has had in his bed. It is more like the animals he took care of at the shelter when he was a kid, the ones who had been so starved of affection that they would burn themselves on heating pipes just for some semblance of warm contact.
He doesn't mention it in the morning as they set out on the second day. Marshall wants to play car games, but knows that it isn't a real option. Neither minds music, but they can't decide on a station together. By this point, they each know how the other takes his or her coffee. Mary turns her tongue blue during the last stretch, sucking down a knock-off slurpee in the most obnoxious way possible. Marshall tries to steal sips every few seconds.
They break down again beside the sign that says "Welcome to Albuquerque." Marshall is able to get the Sable running again, but it's obviously not a lasting peace. He gives her directions through the city, ducking out of the way when she hits him because they have arrived not at her new apartment, but at a car dealership.
"Mary, we aren't even officially partners yet, so I'm sorry to have to be the one to break this news, but your car is a hazard. It's sucking up twice as much money as it's worth and I would consider it a service to myself and to society if you would put it down."
She finds the Probe tucked away at the very edge of the used part of the lot. She buys it just to spite him. He still stays at her apartment for three hours, ironing the pages of her books to uncrumple them before he puts them on a shelf in alphabetical order. He shows up the next morning to take her into the office. He knows just how she likes her coffee.
The day the two of them retire, Marshall toasts the Mercury Sable as the true builder of their partnership. No one understands but Mary, but she laughs hard enough for everybody anyway.