Chapter _; book i
Working chapter title: the truth about dichotomy
The day Pilot met Eden was a cold, miserable day in October.
He was speeding his way down interstate 10 in Louisiana. The clouds rolled above him endlessly, twisting and thickening; growing in size and mass and gradually getting darker. It was three pm, but beyond the clock on his dashboard, he'd never have guessed. The sky was a dense, ashen mess through the view of his driving screen. There was a dilapidated bus stop about eighty meters ahead; the plexiglass siding was warped and littered with posters of events long transpired. It wasn't unusual to see abandoned bus stops or train stations scattered over the continent, but it was unusual to see one with it's "pick up needed" light on.
[In fact, Pilot realized, he hadn't seen one blinking green like that in over fifteen years. Not since the switch to water-sustained engines.] For a moment, he wondered if it was a fluke - something in the wiring, perhaps. Or some teenage punk trying to cause some insignificant chaos. His spedometer clocked at 90 as he passed the pickup location.
A figure sat inside, huddled down to avoid the near-hurricane winds. He hit the brakes and threw the gear into reverse. Part of him acknowledged that there was a reasonable amount of danger in picking up a stranger, but he dismissed it. Pilot was many things, but overly cautious was not one of them. He parked the car and got out just as the hooded figure peeked out from beneath the thin layers of sheltering fabric to see what the noise was.
"Weather doesn't look too good for sitting outside," he said, narrowing his eyes and raising his hand to shield them so he could see. Electric blue eyes met his, and even from such a distance he could feel the shiver of chemistry run down his spine.
"Who are you?" She yelled, straining to be heard over the torrential downpour. Lightning struck a tree no more than twenty meters away. They say it never strikes the same place twice, she pondered, but was she willing to risk that right then? This guy, this stranger, could very well be her one and only chance to get out of this storm. Indecision wracked her, though it was hardly a question at all. Eden shook violently from the chill that had engulfed her hours before, her fingers were not even numb anymore - practically blue and in more stinging pain than she thought possible. Every raindrop hit her skin as a stab wound.
He walked around the car and came up to her, stopping a foot or so away and taking off his leather jacket. Without asking, he pulled it around her shoulders. Through the already sopping wet layers of her clothing she couldn't even feel the jacket. "My name is Pilot," he said, able to speak quite a bit lower since they were closer. "Pilot Ricci. I need you to trust me, and let me get you somewhere warm and dry.
She stared up at him, her vision shaking with the violent tremors of her body, studying his face and weighing out her options. There were no other options, she decided. He leaned down, bringing his gaze level with hers, and when she could see the intricacies of his emerald eyes, she stopped questioning his offer.
"All right," she said, her words coming out as gradual stutters, and tried to nod her head.
He didn't ask permission to touch her, let alone lift her into his arms and carry her over to the car, but she wasn't a hundred percent certain she'd have been able to stand on her own. The car was warm, the blessed heat was more wonderful than anything she rememered. The plush leather seat vibrated soothingly beneath her, also equiped with seat heaters and a comfortable place for her to lounge her head. She tried to fight the urge to sleep, reminding herself that she was in a car with a stranger and no one knew where she was. But the thirty-six hours of travel and the blasted thunderstorm combined with her likely hypothermia left her powerless to fight it. When he turned the volume up a little bit and she recognized the soft, jazzy sounds of one of her favorite bands, she stopped bickering with the inevitable and shut her eyes.
Pilot drove for another six hours, trying not to study her too much while she was unconscious. It seemed to be a creep-like thing to do, he had decided; to stare openly at a woman while she had no idea. He'd do his staring while she was conscious, if he felt the need to stare. The darkness helped; with the thunderstorm so massive over them, there was little to no light available. He ignored the urge to turn on the interior lights.
Finally starting to feel groggy himself, he pulled into a hotel parking lot and went inside. He wasn't worried she would steal the car, seeing as it wouldn't start without his fingerprint, but he hoped she wouldn't wake up before he got back. He didn't want her to think he'd gotten any underhanded ideas about their circumstances. The rain had stopped and sections of the night sky were beginning to become visible through the remaining clouds. He could see part of the moon that hung behind him reflected in a puddle.
There was no one in the lobby when he walked in, which suited him just fine since he had been soaked to the skin picking up the nameless woman asleep in his car and he was less than dry. His clothes smelled of old rain and too much humid heat. He slid his card over the scanner and made his selections; two adjacent rooms, single beds with bathrooms and one with a small kitchenette. The machine spit out two keycards and his receipt. The small glowing map took over the screen and blinked at him.
You are here, it read, flashing a red star in the little box that represented the lobby. A line moved from his digital representation and down the hall, up three flights of stairs, and down another hall. Left, up three, and right, he reminded himself before exiting the hotel to make his way back to his vehicle.
When he opened the passenger door, he found she was still deeply asleep and he thanked whatever fortune had smiled upon him. He lifted her easily, her small figure weighing no more than a hundred ten, hundred twenty, pounds. She was still mostly wet, but she was warm now. He wondered if she would wake on her own to change clothes or if he would be forced to wake her up or change her himself, but ultimately decided to postpone the decision until he was faced with it for certain. Any number of things could wake her up along the way.
Nothing did. He let the door to the room close automatically behind them and set her down gently into a chair. He didn't want to allow her bed to become soaked through because of her clothes. He had only turned the dimmer onto level two, which was really just a little bit brighter than candlelight, and in the dim glow he was able to really see her. Her features were sharp, she didn't have a cute button nose or overly plump lips - which was hugely popular in most girls around his age. Instead, her nose was pointed and narrow, her lips were naturally a little plump and her jawline was pronounced. Her eyebrows were more rounded than anything else and they softened her features dramatically.
He shook off his momentary stupor and left to go fetch his suitcase.
He tapped his knuckles on the connecting door between their rooms, hoping the knock would be enough to wake her without there being any awkward tension between them. It would allow her to think things through before facing him, he thought, and hoped it was the polite choice. She'd clearly needed sleep, he wasn't sure waking her was the right idea.
From beyond the door, he heard the soft thunking of boots on the carpet. The door swung open and she stood before him, still dressed in her drenched attire. He held out a pair of his own cotton pajama pants and one of his band tshirts, both well-worn and probably a few sizes too large for her, but dry and comfortable. "I thought you might like a change of clothes," he offered, pulling the right side of his mouth up in a half-smile. Something about her unnerved him and he couldn't place what it was. She hadn't done or said anything, but there they were, awkwardly looking at each other across the bridge of their exchange over the invisible boundary of the doorway.
Her eyes were soft when she looked up at him, and the smile that crossed her lips was easy and casual. "Thanks, Pilot." She paused, as if chosing carefully what her next words would be. "How long was I asleep?"
"Just a little over six hours," he shrugged, "you should probably get back to sleep. You seemed to really need it."
"There were quite a few things on that list," she responded, "and thanks to you it's gotten quite a bit shorter." She gestured with the dry clothes. "I hope you'll let me pay you back."
He shrugged again and immediately wondered how many shrugs it took for someone to appear falsely non-challant. "I wasn't worried about it," he said. "Are you hungry? I was thinking of getting some room service and watching a movie."
"I'm starving," she said, her eyes lighting up at the mention of food. "Let me change?"
He instantaneously recognized his floundering for what it was: maladroit chivalry, and, frustrated at his own oafishness, he stuttered over his response, cementing his behavior. "Ab-absolutely. I didn't - er... Sorry," he said, ducking into his room and shutting the door quickly in an attempt to quell the nervousness in his stomach.