October was passing quickly. The trees which had been brightly colored were now turning brown…
Shug drove up that road for two hours before he stopped. I was furious with him.
Each time we’d pass a Shady Rest or other little family owned motel, I’d ask him, “How about here?”
Shug would look at it, grimace and say something like, “They probably haven’t changed the sheets in years,” or “I’ll bet there’s mold in the bathrooms,” or some such other lame excuse. The farther we went, the angrier I got.
What finally suited him was a Comfort Inn about an hour south of Nashville. He rolled my car into the parking area, stopped, and twisted the key. Then he turned to me and grinned.
“Okay,” he said. “Here.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad we’ve found somewhere fit to house your royal highness,” I fumed at him.
“Why are you so angry?” he asked.
“Two hours, Shug,” I bellowed. “We’ve been driving for two hours. In that time we had to have passed up twenty places we could have stopped.”
He stretched his hand across the console to take mine. I jerked it away.
“Don’t touch me,” I snarled. “I am so pissed off at you.”
Shug chuckled. “What are you pissed off about, Caroline?”
“I wanted to stop. You didn’t stop,” I growled. “You ignored me and my feelings.”
“No, I didn’t,” he said, his hand firmly resting on mine. “I extended the anticipation.”
“Not so, buster,” I said. “You just pissed me off, that’s all.”
“Caroline?” He twisted in the seat so he was facing toward me.
“Why did you want to stop?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
There was silence in the car. I looked up at him from my sulking rage. He sat there, his face in a crooked grin, his eyes sparkling like a lake in the summer sunshine.
As I thought about it, I couldn’t help but laugh. I started to giggle. “To screw,” I acknowledged. It seemed so silly.
“Do you still want to?” he asked.
“No. I’m mad at you,” I smiled into my lap, trying to hide it from him. I looked out my window so he couldn’t see my face. I felt his hand come to rest on my shoulder.
“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” he said, a chortle in his voice. “You got mad at me for not stopping so we could screw. And, you’re now so mad, you don’t want to screw anymore. Is that it?”
I started to laugh. I knew he could feel it, that hand on my shoulder. I turned to face him.
“You’re a mean son-of-a-bitch, Jeremy Shugart. You know that?” The two of us were laughing out loud now. “You could have stopped hours ago.”
“Caroline, my love,” he said, “if we do this trip in fifteen mile increments, stopping every fifteen miles to make love and spend the night, it’ll be July by the time we get to St. Louis. And, Christmas before you get home to Tulsa.”
“Okay, okay,” I conceded, wiping the tears from under my eyes. “You’re right, I supposed. It was pretty silly, wasn’t it?”
He shrugged. “It’s okay, as long as we get over it.” He patted my shoulder.
Our chuckling and giggling subsided. I had heard what he said. Suddenly, I had the feeling that I had to know.
“Am I?” I asked him. “Am I what you said?”
“What?” Shug asked in return. “I don’t…I don’t understand.”
“You said ‘Caroline, my love.’ Am I? Am I your love, or was that just a figure of speech?”
Shug looked uncomfortable. He shifted back in his seat and looked forward through the windshield.
“Caroline,” he began.
“Yes?” All of a sudden my gut was in a tight knot.
Shug looked at his watch. “It’s been fifteen hours.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “You don’t have to answer. I’m sorry I asked.”
“You’re not,” he said. “You’re not sorry at all.”
“Yes, I am,” I nodded. “I shouldn’t push.”
I continued. “It was an endearment. I understand. It was like ‘honey’, or ‘sweetheart’, right?”
He looked at me. This smile had none of the impish nature I’d seen before. This one was warm and sincere. “It’s so new,” he said, softly. “I want to make certain it’s not just the novelty, the newness, the excitement.”
“You’re very mature for your age, Shug,” I said. “I’m acting like a teenager, and you’re behaving like an adult. I’m learning to respect you for that.”
“I had to grow up fast when my Dad died,” he said. “I had to become the man in my family at seventeen. There was no one else to do it.”
We sat in silence for a long moment. Finally, I screwed up the courage to ask, “When do you think you’ll know?”
“About us. Whether or not I am your love.”
Shug sat quietly. I could almost hear his mind working. He looked into the mirror and out the back of the car. “I don’t know, for certain, when I’ll know. But, I’ll tell you Thursday.”
“Thursday?” I asked him. “Why Thursday?”
“Because it’s not Monday or Friday. And, it’s not Wednesday, you know, the middle of the week. Because Tuesday would be too early. Thursday is the perfect day,” he said.
“You know, there’s absolutely no sense to what you’re saying,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s like that six-minutes thing this morning. But, when you say it, you make it seem completely rational. What about Saturday and Sunday?”
“Oh, well, that’s easy,” Shug gave a wave of his hand, “Saturday is way too far off. That would be too late. And, Sunday is today. There’s no way I’m telling you that I love you today.”
Shug froze. As I watched him, his face went dead white. He realized what he’d just said and it shook him.
“It’s okay, Sugar,” I whispered. “There’s no way I’m telling you that I love you today, either.”