In which both of our main characters learn something unexpected, which will come to a head shortly. 🙂
It was a different car.
The thought kept running through Claire’s mind as she sat in the passenger seat. Beside her, Noah was a dark silent presence, his eyes on the road and his knuckles white where they gripped the wheel.
When she’d left town, Noah had been fresh out of law school and his car had been with him since high school. It had been an old blue sedan, and Noah had probably spent more money washing it over the years than he did buying it. He’d picked her up for school in that car, driven them to concerts in that car.
They’d had sex in that car.
Shifting a little, Claire pushed the thought away. It seemed wrong to think about that somehow. Not with Richard back at the hotel waiting for her. And not in this new car with its sleek black paint and shiny chrome and real leather seats.
She wondered if Noah had ever had sex in it. If there’d ever been a girl in the backseat with her skirt up around her waist and her shins scraping the seat and her ragged breathing loud and desperate.
“What happened to your old car?” Claire blurted out. “The blue one.”
Noah slanted a look over at her. “You still remember that?”
Rolling her eyes, she said, “Of course I do. That car was like your only friend.”
Something in his face relaxed a little. “Oh yeah? And here I thought you remembered it because of all the places you made me drive you.”
“I never made you drive me anywhere!”
“Please, Noah,” he mimicked with a half-smile. “I’ll die if I don’t try this recipe, and the local store doesn’t carry cod.”
Claire huffed. “That was a legitimate emergency and you know it. Besides, you ate it, didn’t you?”
Noah laughed, and it sounded just like she remembered it. The sound was rich and deep and loud, the only part of him that was. It turned heads, that laugh. It’d turned hers. Every time.
It was good to hear it again, and for the first time she really thought that maybe they could be friends again. That maybe their stupid decision to add sex into their friendship hadn’t ended it forever.
Still, she couldn’t let him get away with that. Reaching over and poking him in the ribs while he was driving was an art form – hard enough to make him yelp, light enough not to send him swerving all over the road.
“Hey!” Noah jumped, but his hands stayed steady. He shot a glare at her.
Yep. She’d still got it.
Unrepentant, Claire grinned back. “The car, dope. Did it finally break down? Did it pass the threshold for rust and just dissolve slowly around you while you were driving?”
“It’s a good car.” The words were familiar, as was the tone they were said in: half-resigned, half-defensive.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. Any car that can run is a good car, right?” Claire voiced the familiar words. Then she realized something. “Wait. ‘It’s’? Not ‘it was’?”
There was color spreading up Noah’s neck, a faint dark flush that was almost impossible to see if you weren’t looking for it. He stayed silent.
“Noah Foster.” Claire shook her head fondly. “You still have that car.”
The noise of a sigh sounded loud in the quiet. “…it’s in storage.”
Something soft and warm spread open in Claire’s chest at the admission, and she had to turn her face to the window to hide her growing smile. “I never knew you were that sentimental.”
Outside, the forest flashed by. It was funny how even that had been different in England, the tall pines and overcrowded saplings replaced by different trees and different wildflowers.
“I wouldn’t call it sentimentality,” Noah said. “Not everyone finds it easy to just walk away and leave everything behind.”
His tone hadn’t been accusing, but Claire bristled all the same. “I didn’t walk away!”
To her irritation, Noah didn’t even spare her a glance. His eyes were all for the road. “I never said you did.”
“You implied it.” It felt childish as soon as she’d said it, and she hated herself for it. What was she going to do next, tell him that she was rubber and he was glue?
“Hey.” Now, Noah did look over at her, a frown creasing his brow. “I didn’t mean it that way. I think it was very brave, what you did.”
He looked like he was telling the truth. Or at least Claire thought he did. Would she even know anymore?
Finally, she said, “Yeah, well… thanks.” She knew her tone was grudging, but she couldn’t help it. He’d hit her right in the insecurity that had been lurking for years.
“Hey,” Noah said again, more firmly. His hand reached out and squeezed her knee, the gesture quick and familiar. “Seriously, Claire. I don’t know if I could have done it.”
The place that he’d touched tingled, and Claire blew out a long breath. Well, there went all her wondering about whether or not he’d changed—he was still Noah after all.
Noah with his quick brain and his tendency to go straight for the jugular without even noticing. Her shoulders relaxed as the thought brought back memories.
“It was hard,” she admitted. “But I knew I had to do it. Even though I was scared, I never seriously considered turning it down.”
The car swerved slightly, and Claire sat up straighter, looking around. Had there been a fox in the road or something? She opened her mouth to ask, but Noah was already talking.
“You never thought about turning it down,” he repeated, and his voice sounded dark. “Not even for a second?”
Unsure of what was bothering him, Claire shook her head. “No. It was what we’d worked for, after all. And with Skype and everything, I knew that I could stay in touch with everybody here.”
“That’s true.” It sounded like every word was dragged out of him. “You were able to keep in contact. Even over long-distance.”
Oh. Was that was bothering him? That she’d stayed in touch with everyone… but him?
There was no way she could say that, though. So instead she smiled at him as she said, “Yes. And I hope I can keep doing it, even after I go back.”
Noah’s hands flexed on the wheel, but his voice sounded a little less stiff when he said, “And your training was good?”
It took no effort to be enthusiastic about that topic. Claire smiled brightly. “Oh, Noah. It was fantastic! So much better than any of the training I could have gotten around here, y’know?”
Finally, Noah smiled. “Oh, I know. Trust me, after all the studying you made me do I could probably map out every culinary school within a hundred miles.”
“Oh, cry me a river. At least what I made you help me with was interesting! Meanwhile, I could probably take the LSATs right now.” She shuddered. “I know what tort law is, buddy. That’s on you.”
That laugh again. Unable to help her instinctual reaction to the sound of his amusement, Claire relaxed further back into the seat.
“It’s good that one of us knows that. I pretty much forgot everything as soon as I’d passed the bar exam.”
“Psh. As if.” She didn’t believe that for a second.
A sideways look at Noah showed that he was smiling, the same slight curve of his mouth that used to make her knees weak. “You always did have too much faith in me.”
Turning back to the window, Claire’s smile faltered. Yeah. She really had, hadn’t she?