Vincent looked at the shiny green coupe in the driveway. Then he looked at the small mountain of luggage Pancakes had stacked in the driveway by the front door. He had yet to investigate the available space in the rear of the car, but even from this distance he could see that the entire interior of the vehicle would never hold all the bags Pancakes wanted to bring on their trip. They wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.
“What exactly were you thinking when you rented this car?” Vincent asked.
Pancakes looked defiant. “I was thinking, basically, ‘go.’ You said to get a car, so I got a car.”
“And you also packed your bags. You were the one who knew how big the car was, and then you packed these enormous bags. I just don’t really get that,” Vincent said.
Pancakes turned to walk away. Since when did Vincent question her? This was unexpected and new. And unwelcome. That dumb girlfriend of his, Jalasso, had changed him somehow. She couldn’t believe those two hadn’t stayed broken up. “Vincent,” she said as she went back to the house, “you know what I don’t get? How your little girlfriend let you come on this trip in the first place. Isn’t she jealous?”
Vincent turned and followed her. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“Oh, you don’t? Well, what’d she say when you told her?”
“Yeah, right. Nothing?”
“Well, I didn’t tell her yet.”
Pancakes stopped and turned to face him. “Are you kidding? You didn’t tell her?” She was pleased by that, but she tried to sound appropriately outraged. “How could you not tell your girlfriend?”
Vincent shrugged. “I don’t have to,” he said. “We’re on hold for the summer.”
“On hold? What is that?”
Vincent shrugged again. “I don’t really know,” he said. “That’s what we agreed. She was going away for the whole summer, so we said we’d be on hold. I don’t have to check in with her on everything. She doesn’t check with me.”
Pancakes squinted at him. “This was your idea?” she asked.
Their road trip together had been hastily arranged, and Pancakes hadn’t really done all that much planning other than securing a car and overpacking. Vincent was taking care of the details. She assumed he knew that. They hadn’t really discussed it in detail. She’d simply known that it was essential for her to get lost for a little while, and she especially needed to lose her boyfriend Brandon, who had grown a bit too serious about their undefined relationship. Apparently after a few months he felt the need to start asking her questions about her feelings and her intentions, and none of these questions were to her liking as she didn’t have ready answers for them. It was really, she thought, the wrong time to press her on anything. She didn’t know and she didn’t know and she didn’t know. All she knew for sure was that her college plans for the fall had been established, and for the moment she needed to prepare herself for the imminent onslaught of effort that would bring. A chain-smoking pseudo-boyfriend didn’t enter the picture. At least not in a good way.
One of the more irritating aspects of Brandon’s behavior was the increasing static he seemed to have with Vincent. It was funny at first. Pancakes liked the fact that, as she said to Pastina, “the boys are getting tough.” Given the temperaments of the two guys in question, it would never come to more than a battle of wits, but after a few months of that, Pancakes was tiring of the game. Vincent obviously had the upper hand, witswise, and that prompted Brandon to become a little meaner in his comments in order to hold up his end of the animosity. One moment in particular stood out to Pancakes as indicative of the degree to which things had devolved. In May, her long beloved cat Mourning Becomes Electra (she never tired of explaining that the cat’s name was not, in fact, “Morning,” as people tended to assume) had died. Pancakes had arranged a small funeral at her family home, and she had been astonished when, standing over the two-by-three foot grave, Brandon had intimated that Vincent might have had something to do with the cat’s demise.
“What are you, Charlie Chan?” Vincent had asked. “Are you going to explain the method, motive, and opportunity for my crime?” Brandon had been stymied for a proper reply, saying only, “Just so you know, I’ve got my eye on you.” Looking back now, Pancakes realized that was the beginning of the end for Brandon. She hated to admit that something like that was so important to her, but his inability to spar verbally turned her off. After all, Vincent wasn’t exactly a sarcastic knock-out artist.
A lengthy delay later, after which it was so late that they decided to eat lunch at Pancakes’s house rather than drive an hour down the road and stop somewhere far less inviting, the road trip finally got underway. “The only thing is,” Pancakes said as she settled into the passenger seat and leafed through the enormous cloth album of compact discs she’d brought, “we have to be back sometime in August so we can get ready for school.”
“That was kind of implied,” Vincent said. “Besides, Jalasso will be back at the end of August.”
“Who?” Pancakes asked innocently.
“My on-hold,” Vincent corrected her.
Pancakes smiled. “We’ll see. We’re going to be out on the road for a long time together, Vincent. You may not want to go back to her after I’m done with you.”
Vincent looked a bit panicked and took a drink from his bottle of water. “I don’t know where that came from,” he said.
“Yeah, well, I don’t know why you’re not telling me something else, then,” Pancakes said. She selected a disc and slid it into the player. “If you’re in love with that girl, why did you let her go off all unattached? What are you doing out here with me, alone and unsupervised?”
“You wanted to go on a trip.”
“What did you want to do?”
“Get the hell out of there so I could stop thinking about how much I wanted Jalasso to be around.”
Pancakes sipped at a cup of watery iced coffee. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Vincent sighed and shook his head. “It’s pathetic, I know.”
“It’s not pathetic to be in love with her,” Pancakes said. She felt very strange making the statement. She didn’t really believe it, but at the same time she realized it was still true.
“But the ‘on-hold’ part. I don’t want us to be on hold. We can not-be-together, but that doesn’t mean that we have to suspend things officially.”
“I get it.”
“I mean, after the spring break thing.” Vincent didn't have to explain further. He and Jalasso had come close to the end then. She'd spent her break in Florida. Enough said.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry too.”
The two rode in silence for a while, letting themselves be distracted by the insistent pulse of the music Pancakes had selected and the blur of scenery sliding past them as Vincent drove. Finally Pancakes said, “Well, if it makes you feel any better, Brandon actually cried when I told him I was leaving.”
Vincent tried unsuccessfully to suppress a small smile. “Sadly, it does make me feel better. Not that he was a bad guy, but still …”
“Yes, I know. And for the record, I never for a second thought you were a cat murderer.”
“It was just his whole thing,” Vincent said. “And always with the cigarettes. God, I mean, after a while the casual way he smokes seems really self-conscious, you know? Didn’t you say he smoked in the bath tub?”
Pancakes made a face. “Don’t remind me. I can’t tell you how gross it is to be in the shower and realize there’s ash and tobacco all over the place. He used the soap dish as an ashtray, and he never cleaned it out.”
“So you stopped smoking?” Vincent asked.
“Well …” Pancakes looked out the window. “Okay, not totally. I’m working on it. I hope I’ll be done by the time we get back.”
Vincent’s eyes widened. He took his gaze off the road for a moment to give Pancakes a look of fearful astonishment. “Are you telling me that you’re going to go through withdrawals with me along for the ride? I thought we were friends.”
“We are,” she said. “That’s what I’m counting on in the hopes that you won’t end up killing me if I get too cranky.”
“You were waiting to tell me that until after we crossed state lines, weren’t you?”
“I didn’t think we’d hit on it so early. Why? Are you going to turn back?”
“I guess not,” Vincent said.
“Yeah, so here we are: two old friends out on the road, recently single—”
“One of us is single. The other’s on hold.”
“Two old friends, one recently single, one quote on hold unquote. And one of us is giving up smoking. What about you, Vincent? Are you giving up something?”
“At this point,” he said, “hope.”