“Cruising down the freeway in the hot, hot sun,” Montana belted out the lyrics of OMC’s song How Bizarre. She got as far as the first chorus, “Oh Baby (oh baby) you’re making me crazy,” before her mother reached over a turned the radio off.
“Mo-om!” she whined, her eyes never leaving the highway.
“You’re making me crazy,” her mom countered. “Just because you’re driving doesn’t mean you get dictator rights over the radio.”
“Funny,” Montana mumbled, “you always do when you drive.”
“That’s because I’m your mother!”
Montana clamped her mouth shut as she felt her mother glaring. Slowing the car down she put on the turn signal as she lined up to make a left. Good weather on this crisp autumn day meant there was a line of cars. Finally able to make the turn Montana took it, only to suddenly veer to the side of the road.
“Montana!” Her mother yelled. “Are you trying to kill us?”
But Montana didn’t answer. Her gaze passed through her mother to the young man standing at the side of the road, a heavy pack on his back.
“Pele?” She called out, somehow managing to find her voice.
Her mom turned to look. “Start driving now! It’s just some dirty old Indian.”
“He’s not dirty, and he’s certainly not old!” Montana glared briefly at her mother, “He’s Pele and he goes to my school.” The young man turned around confirming Montana’s guess. “Pele!” This time she called louder while leaning over her mother.
“Tana, that you?” Pele bent down to look through the open window. Montana’s mother shrank back.
“Yeah. What are you doing out here?”
“Bah, Dad kicked me out again, so I’d figure I’d hitch a ride to my Grandma’s.”
“Well hop in, I’ll take you.”
Seemingly forgotten Montana’s mother quickly spoke up. “What? Not on your life. There’s no way I’m letting a dirty Indian in my car!”
“MOM!” Montana glared at her mother as her cheeks turned bright red. “He ain’t Great-Paw-Paw. He’s in my math and biology classes and helps me all the time with the stuff I don’t get right away.”
“You want to see my report card Mrs. Arrau,” Pele rummaged in his pack. “I brought it with me. My Grandma always likes to know how I’m doing in the white man’s school.”
He carefully proffered a paper to Montana’s mother. Mrs. Arrau stayed pressed against her seat and peered at the paper down her nose. “Fine,” she muttered, “But he sits behind you.”
“Thanks!” Pele grinned at her. She did not return his smile.
Montana popped the trunk so Pele could stow his hiking backpack. Watching him in the mirrors she phased into her own little dream world. Pele was a handsome Brave from some Native American myth. She was the pioneer woman he’d stolen from her family’s wagon. Of course, Montana wasn’t white, but for this moment she pretended she wasn’t the heart broken Indian he’d left behind.
“So where to?” she asked, shaking the dream from her head.
“Supia,” Pele laughed as he climbed into the back. He leaned forward and Montana could feel his warm breath on her neck. “Keep going straight though here. I’ll let you know the turns as we get to them.”
Conversation in the car was limited as Montana kept herself focused on the road. It was better than listening to her mother mutter “dirty Indian” every few minutes. That and it kept her distracted from Pele’s nearness. Still each time he gave a direction Montana's heart skiped a beat.
“Turn left here. We’ll keep on this road as long as we can.” Pele sat back.
“Better not be too far,” Montana’s mother muttered, arms crossed and body pressed into her seat.
Not long after Montana’s mother uncrossed her arms to keep from being battered about. The dirt packed ruts and oversized stones turned Topocoba Hilltop Road in an obstacle course. Montana navigated the car as best she could until at last she could take them no further.
“Just let me off here I’ll hike the rest of the way,” Pele stated as they slowed to a stop.
“Are you sure?” Montana asked.
Montana stepped out of the car to stretch. They were alone out here. Here, where nature ran rampant, there was nothing but flowers and fall foliage as far as the eye could see. She sighed.
“Done this hike a million times,” Pele’s voice brought Montana’s eyes to him. His smile took her breath away. “You’ve already saved me from having to camp out here.”
“I did?” Montana squeaked.
Her eyes flicked between Pele and the surrounding country side, unable to decide which held more beauty. Shouldering his pack he closed the trunk and stood before her. Montana’s heart beat faster.
“Yeah.” Pele’s eyes locked on her face. “Hitching a ride to Grand Canyon Village is easy. Normally I have to hike the rest of the way from there. Most tourists prefer the helicopter ride to the eight mile hike. So thank you.”
“You ain’t welcome,” a crabby voice came from the car.
Montana grimaced, but Pele was still smiling. He extended his hand for a handshake and she took it. Warm and strong, his grip sent shivers down her spine. She didn’t want to let go.
“Will you be gone long?” she blurted as his hand slipped away from hers.
“Hope so,” came another interruption form the car.
Pele’s smile turned sad. “I don’t know Tana.” He sighed. “Dad really flew off the handle this time. I’m afraid of what I might do to him if I stay there any longer.”
“But what about school? You do so well, you could get scholarships to good colleges. Become a doctor or something.” Montana blinked back the moisture forming in her eyes.
“I can do well in Supia too you know.” He grinned at her as he posed. “I am strong brave, wiling to dance in the traditions of my ancestors that white man will pay to see.”
“Dirty Indian,” Mrs. Arrau snorted from the car.
Montana’s laugh died in her throat. She wanted to ask Pele if she could come with him and never return. But her vocal cords were knotted by a lump as her eyes began to tear.
“Hey,” Pele proffered a tissue, “I’m not dying you know.”
Montana managed a slight smile at that as she whipped her eyes.
“So,” Pele shifted his feet. “Thanks again for the ride, hope I didn’t stink up the car.” He waved and was off walking down a path that only he could see.
“Well let’s get back home before the day is completely wasted.” Montana’s mother grumbled after another moment of silence.
Giving her mother a piercing glare Montana returned to the driver’s seat. It wasn’t until they reached home that Montana found Pele’s lucky silver medallion on the back seat.