“Don’t do this to me, man.” Adam Everett stood in the lobby of his dorm, a small duffel bag at his feet, and stared at his cell phone in disbelief. Ridiculous as he couldn’t see the face of his friend in the matte black surface, but sometimes instinct won out over sense. “I’ve been waiting for almost an hour.”
“Sorry.” Jim’s laughter after the apology proved the words false. “But she gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse, or at least one hell of a blow job.”
“Don’t tell him that!”
Adam heard the indignant squeal in the background, the faint slaps and giggles audible over the crappy college radio station Jim listened to and thought made him cool. Enough to grasp that Jim’s girlfriend didn’t appreciate the comment. But he found it hard to be concerned about Lori’s injured feelings when not only would he bet the statement true, but he ended up being the one left hanging.
“What am I supposed to do now?” Adam didn’t know which made him madder: himself for whining, or Jim for screwing him over once again. He kicked his duffel to the side, trying to stay out of the way as the few remaining residents rushed around him, eager to head out and away from the grind of the semester.
“You can get a ride with someone else. Everybody goes home for Christmas break.” Jim’s voice sounded slow and lazy. Probably stoned again, and he had promised Adam he wouldn’t get messed up and drive.
“Yeah, and everybody’s already left.” Adam paced, his boots scuffing across the tile floor, and struggled to keep his anger from bleeding through into his voice. He should have known better than to count on Jim. They were the last ones out of their circle of friends still on campus, all because Jim had promised to pick Lori up after work. Mentioned how this would be his only chance to see her for two weeks, and she didn’t care to drive in the snow. Well, then why did she choose a college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula?
“S’not a big deal, just offer to pay for gas like you did me.”
A trio of girls pushed past him, bundled against the weather in colorful skiwear and talking a mile a minute. The blonde on the end hit Adam with her bag, knocking him in the shoulder as she passed, and she waved rather than stopped. “Sorry,” she called out, pulling a knit cap down over her curls. They climbed into the SUV waiting in the front circle and drove off. The vehicle’s tracks were quickly erased by a fresh powdering of snow.
“That’s the problem, asshole.” Frustrated, Adam ran his hand through his hair. Easy for Jim to act like this was no big deal. “I paid you already. I need my money back.”
“You snooze, you lose.” Jim laughed again, overpowering Lori’s voice, faint and questioning over the fragile connection. “The tank’s full and we’re on the road.”
“The car’s big enough for all three of us.” Adam hated having to ask, and didn’t want to be a passenger when the driver was under the influence, but he had promised his older sister, Sherry, he’d be home this holiday, and he couldn’t disappoint her. Of course, that had been before the transmission on his car had gone out, and he’d had to scramble for a ride. Maybe he’d be able to talk Jim in to letting him drive, at least until he came down. “Come pick me up.”
“Not happening. I’m a one-woman man, not a one-man man like you. Aren’t I, baby?” Adam fumed, forced to listen while Jim and Lori exchanged sloppy kisses. “Besides, change of plans. We’re heading west, not south. Leaving all this winter wonderland crap behind.”
“Vegas, here we come,” Lori yelled enthusiastically into the phone. “Woohoo.”
“Jim,” Adam had to shout over her voice. “Don’t you hang up on me. Jim?” Lori kept hollering even as Jim disconnected and left him hanging on to dead air. “You asshole.”
Adam hit the redial on his phone and listened as it immediately transferred to voicemail. The fucker had blocked him. Impatient, he hung up and dialed Jim’s number again, only to get the same result. He ended the call, too mad to leave a message, and stared out the glass doors. Snow blanketed the sidewalk and everything else visible from the front entrance; barren trees and shrubs hidden under their coating of white. Low-hanging clouds blocked the late afternoon light and hinted at the long night still to follow. Thick, heavy flakes continued to fall as steadily as they had for the last several hours. The newscasters kept calling for the storm of the decade. Adam called it a pain in the ass.
With a shrug Adam reached for his duffel and slung the strap over his shoulder. He pulled on his gloves and tightened his scarf around his neck before he pushed open the glass door, flinching at the first blast of cold air. No giving up. He had promised Sherry he would come home, and that’s what he intended to do.
Adam’s footsteps echoed through the deserted corridors of the student union. Most of the campus buildings were already locked down for the holiday and any students staying during break had moved over to a temporary dorm. Adam had spent the last couple of years the same way, drifting around the ghost town and waiting to be let back into his room once college life began again.
The ridesharing board hung in the hallway outside the cafeteria, the normally crowded area eerie with locked doors and darkened lights. No music or tempting smells to distract him. No coffee. Adam used his teeth to remove his gloves from numb fingers and stuffed them in his pocket while he looked at the listings. Adam had never taken advantage of the ride exchange services before. Even knowing the campus approved all postings, he was uncomfortable with the idea of getting in a stranger’s car or letting a stranger into his.
But what else could he do? He had given Jim his available cash toward his share of the trip’s expenses and didn’t have room on his debit card for a bus ticket. Now Adam needed to find someone willing to trust him enough to pay up at the end of the ride when he borrowed the money off his sister. He tried not to think about how much it would take to fix his car.
An hour later, Adam sat on the floor in the hallway, his coat and duffel a makeshift cushion between his back and the wall, surrounded by scattered pieces of paper torn from the exchange board. Most of the drivers heading south had already hit the road. A couple of people who answered their phones sounded too weird for Adam to consider them an option, and two had hung-up once he confessed he couldn’t pay up front. With a groan he stood up, jiggling the kinks out of his legs and searching for any listings passed over the first time.
A colorful postcard pinned to the upper right-hand corner caught his attention. A pure white star flared against the navy background and intrigued. Adam flipped the card to the back.
“Do you know the reason for the season?”
Bold letters proclaimed the message, and Adam frowned as he let the heavy stock drop from his fingers. Sure he did. Presents, decorations, drinking, and a little relaxation with some obligatory family tossed into the mix. But he wasn’t batting a thousand when it came to the goodwill-toward-men part of the holiday, and time was running out. He hadn’t made arrangements to stay on campus over the break, and with no cash for a hotel he would be doubly screwed if he didn’t find a way back to Flint. Not to mention letting Sherry down.
Adam picked up his phone again and hesitated. He plastered a smile on his face, all the better to fake a good mood, and dialed his sister’s number.
“Hey kiddo,” he said when she answered in the first several rings. “How you doing?” He listened to her quiet chatter, happy she had been kept busy today and unable to worry about her pending divorce.
“Look, my ride is running a little behind.” He shook his head when her voice changed, disappointment filtering past her excitement. “No, no, I promise I’ll be there. It’ll just be later than I thought.”
He let her talk, the actual words not mattering as much as her mood, and kept searching the board for anything he had missed. Finally Adam ended the conversation before he let his situation slip out. “Are you watching the snow? Yeah? Real pretty. Okay, I need to go. I’ll call you when I’m closer. Yep, I miss you too.”
Twenty minutes later and Adam felt like he had spent the entire day in voice mail hell. He never realized so many people recorded cutesy holiday messages complete with music and sound effects, and could have happily lived without that knowledge. Worse, he was no closer to a ride. He grabbed his phone and tiredly dialed the next number. The listing appeared older than the rest, the ink smudged, and he squinted to better make out the last couple of digits.
He closed his eyes, shoulders hunched while he waited for the call to connect. Expecting another crappy holiday message Adam was surprised when a rough voice answered.
Adam paused, taken with the deep, husky tone. Did he wake this guy up? “Uh hi, my name is Adam Everett.”
“Good for you. What do you want?”
“Sorry.” Adam blinked and scrambled to organize his thoughts. He needed to pull this off. “I’m here at the union on campus, and I found the posting on the ride share exchange. I need to get to Flint and was wondering if your passenger seat is still available?”
“My number was where?”
The surprise in the voice wasn’t a good sign, and Adam slumped back against the wall.
“Uh, the campus ride share? You’re looking for someone to split expenses?”
“Have you seen the weather report? You want to drive to Flint in this?”
Adam stood up, the better to help himself think. “That’s why your number’s here, right? I’m looking for a ride.”
“Cut things a little late, didn’t you?”
Despite the layer of dry sarcasm something about the guy’s voice resonated with Adam. The steady, low burr soothed his frazzled nerves, and he crossed his fingers, hoping for the best. “Yeah, well.” Adam started pacing again, ignoring the colorful decorations on the walls as he willed this guy to come through. “My car’s transmission just took a shit. The ride I had planned bailed on me and is headed to Vegas with his girlfriend and all my cash. So, to be up front, I can’t give you any gas money until we get there.”
“Happy Holidays, huh?”
The stranger yawned, the exhalation audible to Adam and his mind flashed an image of long, lean muscle arched and stretched across soft cotton. He shook his head to clear it and tried again, the calm, rational argument he meant to say lost behind a frantic stream of consciousness that slipped past his lips before he could stop.
“Look, I’m desperate. I promised my sister and her kids I’d visit for Christmas. Her husband just split, and it’ll be their first holiday alone. I’m broke until the start of next month, and don’t have a place for the night because I didn’t make arrangements to stay on campus during the break, and all the offices are closed. My buddy stiffed me even though I know I give better blowjobs than his girlfriend and everyone else has already taken off. So, if you haven’t hooked up with a passenger, I could really use some help instead of the commentary.”
There was a long moment of silence during which Adam realized exactly what he’d said. Shit. He knocked his phone against his forehead before daring to place it back to his ear.
“Where are you at again?”
“I’m at the side entrance to the union. 1400 Townsend?” Adam tried to squash the hope that started bubbling up. “Does this mean—?”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Black Ford truck.”
The line disconnected before Adam said any of the effusive thank yous trembling on his lips, but he ignored the discourtesy. It was only an eleven-hour drive. Rude he could handle, as long as he ended up at his sister’s.