An all-new coming-of-age, friends to lovers romance is out this week from author Ginger Scott, and I have a sneak peek for you.
“What do you say? Should we take it for a pretend drive?”
“Huh?” I startle, meeting her waiting gaze. She leans her head to the left, lips parted in a soft smile that is void of her reality. How could I not indulge?
I nod and rush around the front of the Bronco to the driver’s side. This door is a little tricky, so I put my foot on the running board to brace myself as I pull the handle open, a trick Jake and I figured out last night. I grab the handle inside and pull myself in, wishing I could pop in the key and cruise away with the girl of my dreams. But the key is on my desk inside, and turning it in this ignition won’t do a damn thing anyhow.
Eleanor pulls her door closed, so I do the same. I grip the wheel and straighten my arms, leaning my weight back in my seat. I’ve seen my dad sit like this. It’s one of the few early memories I have of him tinkering on this thing, before his real work took over.
I sense Eleanor’s weight shift and feel her eyes on me before I turn to confirm that they in fact are. She’s managed to tuck her long leg under her body again, her bare knee popping out through the rip in her jeans.
“Where would we go?”
I must look shocked because she starts to laugh at whatever expression is on my numb face.
“Not right now, Jonah. I mean, if we could just back out of this garage, peel down the street.” Her open palm paints an invisible line from me to her side of the windshield. “If we could just go, where would that be? Anywhere in this whole world, where would that be?”
My brow lifts with my rapid blinking eyes.
“Oh, well . . . hmm.” I’m not great at imagining things beyond the practical. Part of my father’s genes. We aren’t really dreamers.
Her laugh is immediate and loud. I’d be embarrassed if it weren’t so surprising to hear. There’s a raspy quality to her laughter, one I didn’t expect, especially given how little she has to laugh about.
“I give you the option of anywhere in the entire world, and you want to drive four blocks to the hot dog joint. That’s classic, Jonah. Truly.” She grazes my arm with her fingertips as she continues to be amused by me, and I laugh along with her on the outside. Inside, I’m logging this memory of the time I both made her laugh and she touched me intentionally. Every time she says my name, too—a memory is logged. I shouldn’t be surprised she knows my name, given we have “known” each other for years. It’s just that I’ve never heard her actually say it before.
“Okay, so I should think bigger?” I force myself to relax, twisting to the side in my seat in an attempt to match her. I lean my shoulder into the seat back and grab the strings from my hooded sweater, busying my hands with the frayed ends.
“At least beyond town limits,” she demands.
Her arms cross her chest like an expectant teacher waiting for my answer to a question I didn’t hear in class. I tighten my lips and look down to the space between us to avoid her stare while I think of something that doesn’t make me sound like a loser. I could say Hawaii or Rome, but that’s not the point of this. It needs to be a real escape, one that these wheels could accommodate.
“I always wanted to hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains.” I lift my gaze with my answer and breathe a sigh of relief that she smiles in response. She approves. It was the only thing I could say that would not have been totally made up. I wouldn’t say I’m pining to go there exactly, but my parents used to camp there before they had me, and Grandpa Hank always talks about the fishing. I’ve never done either of those things—fished or camped. Seems like a guy my age should try it once.
“Blue. Ridge. Mountains.” She sighs out the words, staring up at the ceiling as she sinks deeper into the corner where her seat meets the door. Eleanor is a dreamer. My mom’s eyes dazzle just like hers are now. They haven’t in a long time, but they used to often—when she read me bedtime stories, when she planned road trips and vacations for the three of us, when she fantasized about getting a family dog.
“We’d camp, right? With a tent? Or . . . back there?” She reaches over the seat and points to the back of the Bronco. I swallow as I dare fantasize about a camping trip with Eleanor Trombley that involves the two of us sleeping side-by-side in such tight quarters.
“I mean, there are lodges and stuff—”
“No, we’d camp for sure. That’s the only way to do it. In the summer.” She folds her arms over her chest again and flits her eyes as she looks at what must be an imaginary scene above her head.
I run my moist palms over my jean-covered thighs in an attempt to stem my nerves. It works for exactly four seconds. My heart is beating out random rhythms and my mouth is so dry.
“I have fishing rods. Oh, and sleeping bags. We have so many sleeping bags. Before Morgan moved out, we used to beach camp in Michigan, on the lake. My dad even bought a stove you plug in to that little cigarette lighter thingy.” She leans forward and taps the space where the Bronco’s lighter is missing.
“The twelve-volt,” I say.
“Sure.” She giggles. It’s the one technical automotive word I know, and only because it’s how I charge my laptop in my mom’s car.
Eleanor’s gaze drifts away again, but the smile lingers for almost a minute as we sit in silence, basking in this pretend world she’s built based on some whim that came out of my mouth. It almost feels real, and that makes me want to dive under the hood and get this thing running.