Now, we stand in front of room 719. He ushers me inside, and it's all I can do to not gawk at the room; it's huge. Tommy pokes his head in the other room and comes back out, frowning.
"They got the beds already. I'll sleep on the floor, and you can have the couch." He is carrying two pillows and grabs some extra blankets from a closet I didn't see.
"No, you're the one with stuff to do in the morning. I'll take the floor. The carpet looks soft enough," I add quietly to myself.
"If you insist." I take the pillow and blanket he's offering to me and spread them out on the floor. "If you want a shower, take one tonight. Guys are faster, and we'll need one in the morning." He smiles as my eyes light up. A shower is something I hadn't counted on. I nod to him and shut the bathroom door behind me.
I've always taken fast showers. It was necessary in order to maintain a peaceful existence. Plus, the thought of being naked for longer than I have to in a hotel room with three strange guys is a driving force.
So I'm wrapped in a towel six minutes later, my wet hair clinging to my scalp, when I realize that I left my duffle bag in the other room. I facepalm myself for being so stupid.
I listen at the door, praying that Tommy's already asleep. My plan is to tip-toe out there and grab my bag. I don't hear anything,taking that as a good sign, and open the door. But the plan fades out of my mind when I see the glow of a lamp and Tommy's dark figure stooping over the couch now turned into a bed.
He looks up and I feel my cheeks grow warm. I mumble something about leaving my bag out here and hurriedly take it back into the bathroom with me, shutting the door. As I sift through its contents, I remember that I've left my pajamas at home, in the washer. Great.
I open the door again, only my head poking out. "Hey, Tommy?"
"I'm really sorry, but I've forgotten my pajamas. Could I borrow a tee shirt and some sweats, just for tonight? I promise you'll get them back in the morning." My cheeks feel hot again.
He nods, and I get a small glimpse of a smile on his lips as he turns away. When he turns around again, the smile is gone and he hands me a white tee shirt and gray sweat pants, which are too big for me. The shirt is a little baggy, and it hangs off my shoulder. But since he was nice enough to let me where it, I don't complain. It's actually quite soft.
When I'm dressed, I open the door again and drag my bag over to my makeshift bed.
Tommy is lying on top of his blanket in just his own sweat pants. I look away, so I won't be caught staring. "My mom told me to pack those, just in case. I'm glad I listened to her for once," he says with a laugh.
"Me too," I say. As I lay down, I hear him sigh.
"Well, good night, Grace." He rolls over and switches off the lamp.
I want to reply, but I'm asleep before I can even think of what to say.
I wake up to an argument.
"Tommy, why'd you bring her back to the room with you? We can't have a girl with with us!" With a start, I realize that he is talking about me.
"Derek, I owe her. She fixed my brother's truck last night; I couldn't just let her sleep on the street." I roll over, pretending to still be asleep.
"That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard. Don't try to fool me."
"For the last time, I did. Not. Sleep with her!" Tommy nearly shouts. My eyes widen in understanding, and I stop pretending to be asleep. I am fully awake now. Derek snorts. He is about to say more, but I decide it's time to intervene.
I clear my throat and they both stare at me. Tommy's face gets red, and Derek looks at me as if I've just come back from the dead. "Firstly, I am a virgin, so he's not lying to you. Secondly, I would appreciate it if you could keep your voices down. I'm no longer asleep, but other people are." I point to the wall, indicating the occupants on the other side. "I would prefer it if the whole of Chicago does not think that I'm a whore."
"There you go," Tommy says, his face still red. He grabs the guitar case at his feet and hurries out of the room. Derek storms into the bathroom as another guy leaves it, looking bewildered.
"What time is it?" I say, scratching my head. I take my hair out of a bun and run my fingers through it. It is still damp.
"It's six-thirty," replies the man.
"I didn't know anything could live this early in the morning," I say, folding up my blanket.
"You get used to it after a while. I'm Adam, by the way. I hear you're our new, uh... hitch-hiker."
"Yeah, I am. My name is Grace," I tell him as I place the pillow and blanket neatly back into the closet.
"It sounds like you've met Derek already."
"Oh, yes, he's charming." I didn't realize I could be so fluent in sarcasm when my brain can't even think proper thoughts yet. Adam laughs.
"He's like that every morning. You just surprised him is all. He'll warm up to you, probably."
"Good to know." Tommy reenters the room and doesn't look at me.
"Morning," Adam says cheerily. "Tom, we're running late. If we don't leave by seven, we won't make it on time."
"Don't tell me; I'm ready to go. Derek is the one holding us up."
"Can I have just a moment to brush my teeth, when Derek is done?" I say, not wanting to hold them up any longer, but not wanting to leave looking the way that I do.
"Of course," Tommy says. Adam sighs. I sit on the floor, my back against the couch. I can't stop fidgeting. A second later, I stand up again and begin to pace, chewing on my thumbnail. The back of my neck prickles, and I know that one of them is watching me. I don't care.
"Are you alright, Grace?" Tommy asks after a minute.
"Yeah, I just really have to pee." The bathroom door opens and I get my tooth brush, tooth paste, and a pair of slightly dirty jeans out of my bag. I squeeze past Derek, shutting the door behind me.
When I'm dressed, I open the door and start brushing my teeth. I hear them talking again, and strain my ears to catch what they're saying.
"Tom, I know you didn't sleep with her." That's Derek.
"Only because she had to announce that she's a... you know." Tommy sounds like he's uncomfortable.
"Yeah; and will you grow up, man? It's just a word. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is, you at least want to sleep with her, right?"
"Derek, you're disgusting. What if she hears you?" It sounds like Adam.
"The water is running," Derek replies, as if that solves everything.
"Derek, while I agree that she is attractive, I am not going to sleep with an eighteen year old girl." That's Tommy. "I don't even know her," he adds.
I nearly choke on my tooth paste, and hastily spit it into the sink. The noise is disgusting, but there is nothing I can do about it.
"I would, if she looked like that," Derek tells them. I cough and try to make as much noise as I can. They go silent, and so do I.
Quickly, I tie my hair up in a pony tail, wet down my bangs so they lay flat, and exit the bathroom. Adam and Derek are no where to be seen, and Tommy is staring out the window over looking the parking lot.
"Here's your sweat pants," I say, holding them up. Avoiding my eyes, he takes them. "I hope it's okay if I wear the shirt for today. I'm all out of clean ones."
"Keep it," he replies. His voice is hoarse, and he clears his throat. "It really doesn't fit me."
"Thank you. For," I pause. "For everything." He nods and picks up his guitar and his own duffle bag, and I follow him out into the hallway.
I assume that the guys are already checked out, because Tommy walks past the front desk without so much as glance. The receptionist is glaring at me again, so I keep my eyes trained on my toes.
When I look up again, there's a purple bus pulled up in front of the lobby doors. Without pause, Tommy climbs into the bus. I stand outside, staring at it.
"I thought you wanted to come with us," he says a second later, his head reappearing in the door way.
"I-I do," I stutter. "I just wasn't expecting a bus." I climb in after us.
"Well, what did you think we'd be taking?" Derek interrupts.
"I don't know, a..." I have to think for a moment. "A minivan?"
All three of them burst out laughing. I feel uncomfortable and give a nervous laugh. "A minivan? Tommy, where'd you say you picked her up from? Why on earth would we drive a minivan?" Derek is doubled over, and nearly falls when the bus lurches forward.
"Yes, a minivan," I snap.
"Calm down Grace, Jesus." Derek pants. "But seriously? Why a minivan? I mean, where would keep all our equipment in a minivan?"
"Derek, she doesn't know who we are," Tommy says, smiling.
"Equipment for what?" I say. They ignore me.
Adam's mouth falls open, and Derek begins to laugh again.
"Nice try, Tommy."
"I'm serious, Derek. She doesn't have a clue," Tommy replies. Derek gapes at me.
"I don't understand. What is going on?" I ask.
"Oh, please, let me tell her," Derek pleads. The look in his eyes is unnerving.
"Tell me what?!" I demand, almost shouting.
Tommy glances at me, grinning. "Let's see if she can't figure it out on her own."
"Figure what out?" I am exasperated now. What the hell is going on? What aren't they telling me?
"Oh, this is going to be so much fun," says Adam.
I roll my eyes, telling myself that it doesn't matter. I sit down at the table across from the guys. Tommy takes my bag and puts it with the others so it's not in the way. "Anyway, I was guessing a minivan because that's what normal people do. But whatever is fine; I'm not complaining, as long as it gets me out of Chicago." I try to explain my apparently ridiculous misconception. I tune out Derek's smart retort, and turn to stare out the window. The roads are surprisingly clear for Chicago, but then I remember that it we are travelling at an ungodly hour. I watch a little kid in the back of a small red car pick his nose and eat it as they pass. Suddenly, I don't have an appetite any more.
Adam sits down next to me, blocking me in. Soon, the guys are enveloped in conversation, debating which super hero powers are better than others. I stop listening after Derek explains in detail how the Black Widow would defeat Cat Woman in a hands-on battle.
As we progress out of city limits, and the world starts waking up, the traffic thickens little by little. I am lost deep in thought, and so I am surprised when a piece of popcorn hits me in the face. The sun is high over head when I return to the world of the conscious and my stomach rumbles with hunger. I dig for the pop corn between my legs and pop it in the mouth.
"Well?" Derek prompts.
"If you could have any super power at all, what would it be?" He repeats
This, again? I think for a minute. when I was little, I had this discussion many times with my dad. I smile at the memory of him putting me up on his shoulders and racing around the yard, helping me fly.
"I don't need super powers," I answer finally, my father's words ringing in my ears.
"Why not? Tommy, she isn't Wonder Woman in disguise, is she?"
"Surprise. I was going to tell you, but the time didn't seem right." Tommy winks at me. Derek looks pointedly at me, and Adam is studying my face. I shift uncomfortably and put my legs under me.
"Well," I repeat after my father. "Where's the challenge in that?"
Derek shakes his head, clearly miffed by answer. Adam shrugs, while Tommy nods his appraisal, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Are you a religious nut or something?" Derek asks me? He's not accusing, nor does he sound like he really cares.
"No. Religion is just an excuse for people to be narrow-minded."
He nods and drops the subject.
"So, Grace. What prompted you to be a career hitch-hiker?" Adam asks, cutting through the silence.
"In other words, what are you running away from?" Derek clarifies.
"I'm not running from anything. I just know when people don't want me around."
"That's not an answer," Derek scoffs.
"It's a long story." I return to gazing out the window. A small girl in the back seat of a van sings along to a song I can't hear with her family. I sigh, wondering why I never got that opportunity.
"We've got time."
"Derek, she doesn't have to tell us anything if she doesn't want to," Tommy says in my defense.
"No," I change my mind. "You guys are doing me a huge favor. You should at least know why." I take a deep breath. "The short version is that my step dad kicked me out."
"And the longer version?" Derek asks quietly.
"Three years ago, my dad... left the picture. Only four months later, my mom was remarried to a rich man she doesn't love. And if that is love, I sure as hell don't want anything to do with it. Anyway, she told me it was because she couldn't support us, and he could. He's hated me since day one, and I have never understood why.
"The last three years have been, unpleasant, to say the least. I am a useless dirty whore, according to him. My prom night he told me he wouldn't support the baby I was bound to have, as if that would ever happen." I roll my eyes. "I tried being nice for a while, but there is simply no pleasing this man."
"When I finally learned that there was no point, I stopped trying, and I challenged him a lot. As you might imagine, that didn't go so well." I angled my head to reveal a pale scar hiding under my jaw. I look out the window to avoid the pity and astonishment I could feel emanating from them, and wondered why I even showed it to them.
"Two days ago, I found out something I shouldn't have. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone. I believe him, and so I packed my bag, and here I am."
Silence follows, interrupted only by an angry car horn from the vehicle next to us.
"Wow, Grace. Why didn't you report him?" Adam asks. He rests his hand gently on my shoulder, and I shrug away from him.
"Because of this." I reply simply. I stand and pull up my shirt to reveal another pale scar just under my ribs. Surrounding the scar is a large, purple bruise. It's fading, and it doesn't hurt very much any more, but all the same, it serves its purpose.
"Why not just move in with your dad?" Derek asks. I pull my shirt down and shrug, sitting. "Rotting in a coffin doesn't really sound like it'd be any better." It comes out harsher than I meant it to, and the thought of my father's skin falling off nearly makes me sick. My throat is tight, and I look out the window again, not really seeing anything.
Tommy kicks Derek under the table, hard.
"I'm sorry, Grace," whispers Adam.
"Well, don't be. And you can all stop looking at me like that. I'm not a kicked puppy."
"Never said you were." Derek's voice is sharp, but his eyes are kind. I smile, groping for a new topic.
"So, where are you guys going?"
"Indianapolis. There's going to be a concert. Do you want to come?" Tommy gives me a knowing smile, and I feel, again, like I'm missing the joke.
"I don't have a ticket," I reply.
"You won't need one," Adam and Derek say at the same time, grinning.
"Oh, please let me tell her?" Derek groans.
"Some friends of mine." Tommy answers. He's trying hard not to laugh, and failing.
"It's okay. You'll see when we get there." Adam reassures me as he pats my shoulder.
"You guys totally suck. You know that, right?" The guys ignore me and return to their conversation about super powers. It shortly changes to the greatest movies, and I tune out as Adam disappears behind a narrow doorway in the back of the bus.
Pushing everything out of my mind, I stretch my feet out and use my hoodie for a pillow. The sun is out now, shining directly on my face. I close my eyes and before long, I am sleeping.