CJ and Annie hit the road to get away and unwind. Sometimes it's all about the journey.
“You’ve got to be frickin kidding me? Now? Now is when you want to update?”
Annie fisted her hair doing the already messy bun no favors. A noise, half sob and half growl rumbled from her throat and her head bounced off the laptop’s keyboard. CJ winced. Crossing the room, he leaned down to kiss the back of her head.
“I don’t think this is what your neurologist had in mind when she encouraged you to get back into your writing.”
Taking a deep breath, Annie flopped back in her chair. CJ had to fight a chuckle at how adorable she looked with a pout gracing her full lips and the imprint of several keys pressed into her forehead.
“I can’t do this. I lost my mojo somewhere out in that forest.”
The despair in her tone stole his amusement. He didn’t want to think about how close he’d come to losing her. Dwelling on the plane crash and the what-ifs wasn’t good for either of them. Kneading the knotted muscles of Annie’s shoulders, inspiration struck.
“Come on. I know just what you need.”
“If you say sex, I’m not going to argue.”
Chuckling, he spun the chair and pulled her up into a kiss.
“As tempting as that sounds, we’ll save it for the cherry on top. Right now, you need to get out of here.” Giving her ass a light swat and a fondle, he nudged her toward the bedroom on the other side of the loft. “Get dressed. We’re going on a road trip.”
Bare feet on the dashboard, Annie cupped her hand in the warm air flowing outside the Jeep’s window. Spring had finally made her way to the wilds of Wyoming. In front of them the asphalt wound and climbed through the towering pines like a path to nowhere or possibly anywhere. CJ had been right. It felt good to be free of log walls and failed expectations. Out here, wind in her face, she could breathe.
“Where are we going?”
“Wherever the road takes us.”
The words were similar to her fanciful thoughts, but she teased him anyway.
“My studly hunting guide doesn’t know where we’re going? I thought you always had a plan, Boy Scout.”
His beautiful dimples popped. “Does it matter?”
That grin was infectious. She couldn’t argue. “Not as long as I’m with you.”
“Now you’re catching on.”
Leaning up, she fiddled with the radio, not surprised to find mostly static. Radio stations were hard to come by in this state. Thank God for playlists. Syncing her phone up, she chose her “CJ” list and hummed happily as country music flooded the Jeep. Thanks to her parent’s influence, she’d listened almost exclusively to Classic Rock before she met CJ. Country was growing on her. She loved how so many of the songs told a story. Sure, there were plenty of Rock songs with a real story behind them, but few laid out a tale the way Nashville’s scribes did.
Shifting in her seat, she studied the large duffle and cooler he’d put in the backseat.
“Do I want to know what’s in there?”
“What does probably mean?”
CJ grinned at her again. “It means as nosey as my cute wife is, it’s probably killing you.”
Annie stuck out her tongue but still reached for the cooler. Bottled water, cans of pop, Gatorade. She frowned at the sandwiches, chocolate bars, carrots, celery, and vegetable dip. A rummage through a canvas bag on the floorboard revealed jerky, marshmallows, graham crackers, kettle chips, and Twizzlers. Boy Scout was right.
“Drinks make sense. Snacks are necessary road trip fare. The sandwiches and veggies,” she made an iffy so-so motion with her hand. “Good middle-of-nowhere tailgate picnic materials, but s’more makings? Are we planning on camping?”
“First probably, now maybe. You are just full of information!”
“I thought we’d just get in the Jeep and go where the road takes us.”
Annie mulled over his words watching Mother Nature’s beauty roll by. It didn’t sound like a bad idea.
“Can adults do that?”
“We’re both self-employed. I don’t have any clients until Friday. Why not?”
“What about the horses?”
“I’ll call Dad if need be.”
“Just that easy,” he agreed. “Think of the Jeep as your very own rolling bubble, my beloved hermit.”
“Seriously,” he said, reaching for her hand. “If you think about it, from the beginning some of our best talks have come while rolling down the road.”
Road trips to Yellowstone Park, Devil’s Tower, and Jackson Hole, along with meandering drives that carried them from the Big Horn Mountains down through the plains of the Powder River basin flooded her mind. CJ never tired of showing off his beautiful state. She closed her eyes, and images of Lake Michigan’s rare blue ice popped out of the past. That one seemed a lifetime ago already. One of their first trips together. He was so right.
“I guess the close quarters create a cocoon that allows us to forget about the outside world and open up with less fear of what others have to say,” she said, squeezing his hand.
“That’s as good an explanation as any. I like it. And baby, you never have to be afraid to share with me. Screw the outside world. It’s you and I, ride or die,” he promised with a wink.
Warmth and joy flooded her. What had she ever done to deserve such a perfect man?
“Have I told you lately how amazing you are?”
“Right back at you, beautiful. So, talk to me.”
Stroking CJ’s rough, capable hand with her thumb, Annie searched for the words to explain her fear. Her husband was a blue-collar, practical man that believed anything was possible with hard work. Would he understand? It sounded ridiculous even to her. She closed her eyes. How to explain that her current writing drought went far beyond a little writer’s block. This was like the Berlin Wall. It would be so easy to blame her lack of mojo on the plane crash or the ensuing brain bruise, and CJ would support her. Her stomach churned. How did she explain her panic that it was something far less sinister?
“I have this nagging fear slithering around in my mind,” she confessed softly. “It won’t go away, and the mental whispers are getting louder. What if my inability to write stems not from the trauma of the plane crash or the concussion but the other changes in my life?”
Only the hum of the tires met her question. The churning of her stomach was joined by tightness in her chest. A panic attack was really all she needed right now to complete her mental breakdown. She tried to focus on the towering pines flying by, but tears blurred her vision.
“Other changes like your move to Wyoming and our marriage?” CJ asked, his voice low and serious.
“As crazy as it sounds, what if being truly happy after this many years somehow robs me of the ability or … or the need maybe to live vicariously through the characters in my silly little romances? Does that even make sense? God! I don’t know anymore,” she admitted, dropping her face into her hands.
“To be fair, you’ve had a lot going on. Even if you look beyond the crash and your recovery, you dealt with painful family drama, planned our wedding, and started a new business all within a matter of months. Is it possible that you just need life to settle down a little so you can find your new writing groove?”
Wiping frustrated tears away, she nodded, wanting desperately to believe his words.
“And, as much as you want to move on, I don’t think we can completely discount the possibility that you could still be dealing with some of the Post-Concussion Syndrome symptoms,” he continued.
“Team that with my normal anxiety and everything else,” she agreed, nodding and fluttering her hand in the air to take in all they’d been talking about.
He reached over to cup her cheek. She hadn’t even realized that he’d pulled off to the side of the road and stopped. Their foreheads pressed together.
“I know I’ve said it before, but you’re too hard on yourself. The Neurologist said there wasn’t a way to put an exact timetable on things. Think about how far you’ve come. The headaches have faded. You’re having an easier time focusing. It’s just going to be a matter of time, and like today, that is a journey that we will take together.”
“You always know the right thing to say.”
“Just the truth, and it is easy to speak from the heart with you, baby.”
“I’m sorry I’m ruining our road trip.”
“You’re not. I wanted you to get out of your head and away from what was stressing you out. I was hoping a change of location might get you to open up, and it did.”
Forehead pressed to CJ’s, the warmth of his fingers on the skin, the last of the tightness eased from her chest. Sharing her fears with him always helped. No one understood her like he did, and maybe they never had. His words of a moment ago struck a chord deep in her. This was a journey they would take together. She couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather travel the rest of her life with.
“Anytime, beautiful. Now, what do you want to do?”
She smiled. “Let’s just drive.”
WC ~ 1590
© Mara McBain 7/2022
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Prompt: Write a short story using the lyrics to "Drive" by Ben Rector, as inspiration!