Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cadillac Dreams

Shasta would later admit to herself it was his ass that made her stop.

Tight, faded jeans rose up his legs, sticking out of tattered blond cowboy boots that had seen better days sometime before either of them were born. Lengthy hair the color of the boots was tied in a ponytail, shaking from side to side as he walked with hitching steps alongside Interstate 10.

"Where you headed?" she asked from the driver's seat of the sky blue Cadillac convertible with the top down.

Jay stood there in the steaming summer Arizona heat and grinned, showing her his perfect whites between lips that had been fighting a losing battle against the heat but obviously were quite full in better climes.

He was immediately taken with her as much as she was with him. She looked young, probably in her early twenties, but she could easily pass for younger with those dark green eyes and the long, night-colored strands that played around her face in the open wind. The dress she wore was pale and thin, covered with raspberry flowers but covering little of her.

"Do you make a habit of picking up strangers on deserted highways in the mountains?" he asked, keeping the grin.

If his bottom hadn't done it, the tiger's grin beneath those azure eyes did. Shasta's breath grew sharp, then she realized she had a question to answer.

"I haven't picked you up, yet," she said, her own grin flashing, "and besides, I don't know if we're going the same way. You didn't say where you were going."

"Nowhere fast," Jay replied, the smile on his lips faltering.

"Been there," Shasta said, her smile failing also.

"But now I'm just headed east," Jay said.

"Me too," Shasta said. "I'm going to Omaha."


"Sure. Why?"

"I don't know. I've never been there. Why are you going?"

"I'm from California."

Jay waited a second for further explanation, but when none came, he asked, "Which means?"

"Everybody goes to California," Shasta said, rolling her eyes, "but when you're from there it's nothing special. You tire of the beaches after a while and the fast life isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Now that he was stopped, Jay realized his feet were hurting from the constant walking on gravel and he leaned against the Cadillac's door.

A semi-trailer roared by, sending winds to toy with their hair.

"So why Omaha?" he asked.

"When you're from California, there's no place to go," Shasta said. "I've never been to Omaha. Don't even have a clue to what's there. So I picked it off a map and decided that's where I'm going."

"Just like that, huh?"

"Yeah, just like that."

"Need some company?"


Twisting the AM/FM radio's knobs through the channels, Jay came across an oldies station out of Phoenix that was playing "Try A Little Tenderness." His fingers stopped turning as soon as he recognized the song.

"That answers my next question," Shasta said, keeping her eyes on the road.

"And what question would that be?" Jay asked, keeping his eyes on her.

She flashed a sidelong glance at him that set his heart to beating faster again, and said, "There are two types of people in this world. Elvis people and Beatles people. You're obviously an Elvis person."

She loved hearing his laugh. It was not too guttural, like that of heavier men, but stronger than boyish.

"So do you pick up strangers all the time?" Jay asked when his laughter had calmed.

"Yep, that's me," Shasta said. "Lost causes, lost puppies and lost men. I bring them all home."

Jay was immediately laughing again, his thin but solid chest rumbling beneath the white, sleeveless pullover he wore.

Eventually he was able to get control of himself. "No, really. How do you know I'm not some deranged person out to get young girls on the side of the road?"

"Well ..." Shasta hesitated as she eased into the left lane to pass a slow-moving pickup truck, "... those jeans are too tight to hide a knife or anything."

Jay was silent.

After a few seconds passed, Shasta eased the Cadillac back into the right lane and glanced at Jay. He was staring straight ahead.

"Or anything," he said, the grin that sent shivers through her returning.

It was her turn to laugh, giggling like a girl on her way to becoming a woman. "Yeah, or anything," she said.

Their eyes met.

A silent moment passed.

Finally, Jay said, "You better watch the road."

Shasta blushed and turned her head back to the highway.

* * *

The motel was in a dust-covered microcosm of a town called Two Guns just off I-40 east of Flagstaff some little ways.

There was less than fifty dollars cash between the two, but Shasta had a Citibank Visa that paid for the night and filled the '66 Caddy.

"You sure you don't want me to sleep in the car?" Jay asked as they put the top on the vehicle.

When the convertible was topped and locked, Shasta stood there with her flowered dress waltzing as the wind lifted its edges and tossed them side to side. The setting tangerine sun highlighted her figure through the thin material she wore, outlining her legs and the curves of her young hips. Her face was dark with the sun behind her, but Jay knew she was looking at him with a pout on her lips.

If he hadn't been in love with her before, he certainly was now.

"Just a thought," he said.

"Not tonight," she said. "No thoughts. No thinking. No pasts."

She glided around the car and her delicate fingers entwined with his, pulling him close enough that he could smell the California beach snuggling quietly like a sleeping giant in her hair.

"You sure about this?" he asked.

The sun sunk further in the desert, its last limbs of light tracing her jaw and showing him half of her face while the rest was hidden in shadow.

"As sure as anything I've known," she said, leaning into him.

An eighteen-wheeler cruised by the front of the hotel, knocking dust and gravel into the air. The old man who ran the place took a last look out the office window before closing the shades for the night, his eyes briefly falling on the young couple but quickly looking away in embarrassment. A coyote howled somewhere.

All went unnoticed. They embraced and lips touched lips.

Later that night they sat in the bed, rumpled sheets offering the only clothing. He lit a Pall Mall and sucked in its bitterness, savoring the tobacco as its taste mixed with that of her lips on his tongue. She stared out the half-open shades that showed busy people leading busy lives driving by on a busy highway.

The only light was from above a phone booth outside their room near the interstate.

"This has got to be the most ... kind day of my life," Jay said, shooting out smoke from between his teeth.

Shasta gave no sign she had heard his words. Her eyes were focused on a spot in the sky, leaving Jay to wonder if she were counting stars.

"When I walked away from my rig this morning, I had nothing to look forward to," Jay went on. "I just knew I'd had enough of Bud Anglin telling me where to drive to all the time. I had to get out on my own. Get away from this life that was killing me slowly, day by day, until I was just another truck driver living between stops and bars, like my father."

"Your father was a truck driver?" Shasta asked, her face turning to look at his.

He couldn't see her expression now she no longer faced the phone light.

"Yeah," he said, "but he got himself killed a few years back. Truck accident in West Virginia. Icy roads did it more than anything."

Shasta's eyes turned back to stare at her spot in the sky. "I wish my father had been in an accident."

Jay puffed at the remains of the cigarette and dropped the butt in a water-filled cup next to the plastic sign reading "No Smoking" on the bedside table. "He was a real asshole?"

"Yeah," Shasta said as if dazed, her eyes still far away. "The only thing he cared about was the Cadillac."

"And now you've got it."

Shasta's head turned again, her eyes searching his. "I dreamed about that car ever since I was a little girl," she said in a voice little more than a whisper. "All I ever wanted was to just get in that car and drive."

"To Omaha?" Jay asked.

A smile crept across Shasta's lips. "Not exactly," she said. "Not then, anyway. I just wanted to drive. To get away from California. To get away from my father."

Jay leaned in to her and draped an arm across her naked back while his other hand reached for her chin. His fingers played across the crook of her left jaw, coming to rest on a small scar hiding beneath the curve of her bottom lip.

"Is this your dream come true?" he asked.

Her breath grew heavy, then caught in her throat as she closed her eyes and was pulled forward. Their lips touched barely, Jay gliding his over hers.

"This is better than my dream," she said.

* * *

The desert's morning sun glared down as if emperor of the sky, sending vassals of light to blaze from the chrome of the Cadillac.

The door to room number eight opened and Jay stepped into the brightness, his eyes squinting before he reached up to remove the sunglasses hanging from his shirt collar.

Shasta followed, her dress more rumpled than the day before but still dancing in the wind, and she locked the door behind them, leaving the key in the knob.

Jay's sunglasses slid from his hands and onto his eyes while his other hand snagged the Cadillac's keys from his jean pocket.

"I'm driving," he said, looking at Shasta with a smile that melted part of her.

"I've got shotgun, then," she said, returning his grin with one of her own.

The top was soon down on the classic and they were squealing out of the hotel's gravel parking lot, sending dust and sand to drift away lazily.

"Omaha," he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment