Excerpts for Highway to Hell
Some people think that Texas has only one season, that it's summer all year long. In fact, the Lone Star State does have four seasons: Hot, Humid, Horrible, and Hellacious. But when I decided to road-trip with D&D Lisa to South Padre Island, I didn't think that last one would be so literal.
I shouldn't have been surprised. I'm Maggie Quinn: Psychic Girl Detective. Lisa is an amateur sorcerer. We aren't exactly normal college freshmen. Yet there we were, doing the normal college thing, setting off on a Rite of Passage: Spring Break at the Beach.
An odd choice, since I hate any water deeper than a bathtub, I already have a boyfriend, and if you couldn't tell from her nickname, D&D Lisa isn't the beer and boobfest type. Neither am I. But we'd wanted to take a road trip, and the destination had started as a joke. Then I pitched an article to the editor of the Bedivere University newspaper-who seemed amused by the whole World's Least Likely Spring Breakers angle-and to my surprise, Lisa went along with it.
In the end, our reasons don't matter, except to explain how we came to be cruising down State Highway 77 in the smallest hour of the morning, even though we knew-better than most-what kinds of things go bump in the night.
I flexed my hands on the Jeep's steering wheel and sank lower into the seat. It was a long drive, which hadn't seemed so daunting until I realized how much of it was through landscape so desolately featureless, it made me think Dante must have visited here before he wrote The Inferno.
“If I owned Hell and Texas, I'd rent out Texas and live
Lisa paused in fiddling with the radio. “What's that about?”
I shrugged. “Something I read once. Like . . . Did you know Velasquez County has more cows than people in it?”
There was just enough light from the dashboard to see her roll her eyes. “Remind me to never go up against you on Jeopardy!”
Under a nearly full moon, the coastal plain was as flat as a silver-gray sea, cut by a black ribbon of highway and a smaller thread of railroad tracks running alongside. Now and then we'd reach a crossroads, where there might be a grain silo, a water tower, or a tiny fruit stand, deserted for the night and only adding to the barren atmosphere.
It seemed like there should be more traffic-other spring breakers, semis on their NAFTA routes, minivans loaded up like the Griswolds' station wagon in Vacation-but since we'd passed Corpus Christi, the signs of civilization had dwindled to zero. We'd passed the last minimart an hour ago, and with nothing on the horizon but more road-and eventually Mexico-I was beginning to regret the twelve ounces of Coke I'd downed to keep alert in the unrelieved boredom.
“You didn't have to come with me,” I pointed out.
Lisa had given up on the radio and plugged my iPod into the adaptor. “Is it so weird to want to do something normal?”
I glanced at her silhouette, arching my brows wryly. “For you? Yes.”
“I'm taking a break from my sorcerous studies. It will be just like the old days, except that instead of sitting around in the caf mocking the jock-headed and lame, we'll be sitting on the sand mocking the drunk, sunburnt, and slutty.” She bent her long, denim-clad leg to an impossible angle and propped her foot on the dash. “Besides, I'm ahead on all my coursework, so what else am I going to do? Sit around and play World of Warcraft all week?”
Our friendship had endured four years of high school, freshman semesters spent at colleges half a country apart-not to mention the forces of darkness. In the past year, one of us had summoned a demon, one of us had vanquished it, and our friendship had nearly fallen apart. Then we'd had to team up to defeat a sorority who had the devil on speed dial. Lisa had saved my life, which went a long way toward reestablishing trust between us.
That's a grossly abbreviated summary of events, of course. The important thing is, Lisa isn't a bad person, though she sometimes thinks she is. Really she's just . . . complicated. Which I guess you would have to be to summon a demon, even sort of unintentionally, in the first place.
So I could see her wanting a break from that for a week. As for myself, a feature article for Bedivere U's Daily Report was just an excuse. My real reason was tiny, pink, colicky, and possessed of a wail like an air-defense siren.
I'd been an only child for eighteen years, and while I didn't mind sharing the bright center of my parents' universe, I'd been completely unprepared for the disruption that my infant sister brought to the house. Lately I spent long hours away on campus, or at my boyfriend's apartment. But with school out for the week, and Justin going out of town, too, I was at loose ends. I would have jumped at a chance for a trip to the moon.
Lisa clicked through my playlists, looking dissatisfied with the selection. “You're going to have fun this week, right?”
I glanced at her doubtfully. “Surrounded by the drunk and disorderly? We are going to study the natives, not to become them.”
“Which does not preclude having a good time. You're not going to be all goody-two-shoes?”
“What does that mean?” Since I had already taken the unprecedented step of lying to my parents about our departure time in order to avoid the “Two girls driving alone at night” speech, I really didn't appreciate being called a killjoy.
“Don't get pissy. I just don't want you to mope around because Sir Galahad isn't there.”
“Sir Galahad” is my boyfriend, Justin. He and Lisa had started off on a bad foot, though they've since reached a kind of détente. Lisa, in her D&D terminology, says that Justin is a Lawful Good Paladin. She doesn't always mean it as a compliment, but it's absolutely true, so it's hard to take offense.
“Just because I have a boyfriend doesn't mean I require a guy to be happy. And if I ever do, just shoot me.” Needling me was Lisa's way of breaking up the monotony of the drive, but that didn't stop me from getting defensive. “Besides, it's good to have some time apart.”
“You're sure?” She prodded me like a bug under a microscope. “It doesn't irk you he's spending the week with this buddy of his?”
The only thing more provoking than Lisa in a good mood was Lisa in the throes of boredom. “Why should it irk me?”
“It's your first school break as a couple.” She was fishing, and I was determined not to take that bait.
“Henry's been his best friend since forever. They're going to hang out and do guy stuff. It's not any different than you and I going off to do girl stuff.” I shot her a look.
“Not that I can remember why that seemed like a good idea.”
“Because we're best friends.” Lisa unplugged my iPod and replaced it with hers. The screen cast her face in a cool glow, at odds with her devilish smile. “And when I take over the world, I'll appoint you to a place of distinction in my Council of Evil.”