The sun seemed uncomfortably brighter in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Especially to Suze Price who for the last few years had resided in a dark basement apartment in her parent’s house and could only be forced into existence daily by a Venti Iced Americano from Starbucks. Grace Branch however was already up and sitting by the pool on an old chaise lounge circa 1979, sunglasses on soaking up the first rays of the day.
“You’re so weird.” Suze mumbled through sleepy teeth.
“Oh but you do still love me though don’t you?” Grace asked never moving her head in fear of losing one ounce of the beautiful warmth that caressed it.
“I’ll love you after I get my Americano.” Suze stumbled back through the sliding glass door and immediately into the living room couch.
Grace loved the sun in Arizona almost as much as the lack of humidity. In Atlanta the humidity is, as her father would so artfully put it “like someone soaked a beach towel in a bucket of sweat and then threw it over your head” and Grace as well as most who heard that description would begrudgingly agree. Also most people would not know the fact that it also has approximately thirteen more inches of annual rainfall than Seattle, Washington; a place where when you say the name and people instantly and unconsciously picture a grey rainy place that inspires instant suicidal tendencies.
Suze crept slowly through the sliding glass doors once more less than ten minutes later wearing a pair of running shorts, flip flops, a grey hooded sweatshirt and oversized glasses.
“Now you like stylish, or is it crack-addicted.” Grace pondered.
“Close, Venti-addicted, now be quiet and drive me to the store Jeeves.” And she tossed the keys to Aunt Betty’s SUV to Grace.
“Did Betty say it was okay for me to drive her car?”
“One, it is an SUV dummy and two, she said yes and please get her an Iced Coffee in a bottle.”
Grace got behind the wheel of the late model white Dodge Durango and adjusted the front seat. Pulled out her iPhone and punched in Starbucks into Google and saw that there was one 2.5 miles away on the corner of Lake Havasu and Swanson Ave. Arizona was much flatter than Georgia and it seemed like she could see for miles ahead.
Waves of tan desert landscaping gave way and faded into strip centers, apartment buildings and office parks until finally she spotted the entrance for the Sunset Plaza shopping center.
The Starbucks sat at the end of a very tan, very boring looking strip center next to a AT&T cell phone store which was oddly down two stores from a Sprint cell phone store. Inside it looked like every other Starbucks in the world, same colors, same music playing and even the employees looked kind of familiar to Grace. Suze ordered her Americano, Betty’s bottled drink and an Espresso Frappuccino for Grace using what had to have been the last few dollars on her gift card and told Grace she was heading to the bathroom. As Grace waited patiently for the deliciously caffeinated concoctions to magically appear from behind the counter, she noticed a boy slightly older than she was. He was wearing tan cut off shorts and a faded Violent Femmes t-shirt. His hair was a little longer than her taste and a little blonder as well but she was okay with it. She wanted to say something but her words failed her, and what would it matter anyway he lived two thousand miles away.
“So do you like the Violent Femmes or are you being ironic?” Grace finally got the nerve to say.
“I like them, I saw them at Coachella and I downloaded a Best of on iTunes and can’t stop listening to it.”
“That’s cool, sorry to be annoying but usually when someone is wearing a shirt of a band I like they are being ironic or rocking something from a thrift shop.”
“Well, comically it’s my dad’s shirt he gave it to me after he heard me jamming them in the car.”
“Oh wow that’s pretty cool, my dad likes some decent music too, maybe we can all hang out and barbeque or something sometime.” She felt the flush come to her face as she said it but couldn’t halt the words.
“Yeah, maybe.” He responded with a smile.
His phone rang and he faced the other way to take it but Grace could still hear everything he was saying. Suze appeared from the bathroom and Grace jettisoned the idea of speaking to the boy further because she knew that it would be a train wreck of epic proportions to try to have a decent conversation with her mentally challenged BFF in tow.
“Are you checking out that stud?” Suze whispered.
“No, now shut up.” She could over hear that he was talking to his mom and she was reminding him they were all going on a Jeep tour at 3:00 and he was supposed to meet them by 2:30 at Adventure Jeep Rentals.
“You know what might be cool Suze?” Grace said trying to sound coy.
“Wasss that?” The drinks had arrived and Susan Price was devouring Americano like it was manna from God.
“We should go on one of those Jeep tours while we are out here.”
“Sure I like nature.” She slurped down another gulp “And cute boys too.” Grace blushed, she hadn’t realized Suze could tell what she was doing but then again she was probably just reading her mind, Grace sometimes wondered if she could.
It was 101 degrees at 2:30 in Lake Havasu outside of Adventure Jeep Rentals and even though it was a dry heat every last bit of Grace’s clothes are now sticking to her. She didn’t see her prince charming or his family but she wasn’t going to explainto Betty that she no longer wanted to do a Jeep tour because there was no hope of her bumping into a guy she had barely said hi to.
“Where’s the cutie?” Suze asked.
“What cutie?” Aunt Betty spoke up.
“Grace saw a cute boy at Starbucks and she heard he was going to be here and that’s why we are taking a Jeep tour.” The sentence was like hot air release from a meth addicted balloon.
“Well cute boys or not I paid for a Groupon for this so we are going to have to enjoy it anyway.” Betty smiled and motioned the girls toward the counter.
They were given a choice of a two door jeep with the top off or a four door with the top on and air conditioning; they chose the latter. It was a nice new silver Jeep Rubicon Wrangler with the name of the company on the side and as promised it had ice cold air. Their tour guide was a bit of a greasy looking fellow of about thirty five with long stringy hair that hung to the shoulders. He wore a company shirt that was either over washed or sun faded or both, old Levis that looked like he had bought them new and then worn them to this particular weathered point and tan hiking boots that must have been made for the desert.
They took off for what the guide called the loop, a shorter loop through the desert that wouldn’t take very long because they had only purchased the basic package. But the guide had told them if they wanted he could maybe bounce off of the loop a couple of times free of charge. As the Jeep traversed the terrain, the guide droned on about different facts of the desert endlessly creating a dull hum in Grace’s ear. That and the constant bouncing motion of the Jeep almost incredibly began to lull her to sleep.
“Well that’s a first.” The tour guides words cut through the Grace’s dream world like a dirty butter knife.
“Well I know that the desert facts can be a little boring but usually the bouncing keeps even the little kids awake.” He smiled as if to let her know he wasn’t offended.
“Seriously that was just super relaxing.” She felt surprised herself. “I hope when I get my Scout up and running I don’t get stuck on a back road and pass out while driving.”
“Are you talking about an International Scout?”
“Yeah I’ve got a 1980 Midas edition.” Grace beamed with pride at the chance to brag about her big green baby.
“Wow, I bet that cost you a pretty penny.”
“I think my dad said my mom only paid $2,500.00 for it back when she bought it in the eighties. There’s no way we could afford it now. Especially because it’s been garaged ever since my mom died so it’s only got like fifty thousand miles on it.”
“Oh I’m sorry to hear about your mom; at least you’ve got something to remind you of her like that.” The Jeep bounced hard and Suze yelped loudly.
“Can we have some fun now?” She cried. With that the guide down shifted the Jeep and punched it sending it hurling towards a hill and almost getting airborne.
“WEEEEEEEEE!!!!!, That tickled my tummy!” Suze was now less bored.
They cut through dirt trails, over hills and even spotted an odd pig like creature named a Javelina and definitely spent more time than was allotted for the loop. Even with the AC on the entire tour they had all become sticky with sweat and ready for a trip home to see who could be the first to crash head first into the pool. As they left, Aunt Betty slipped one of her cards in the fishbowl by the door for a free tour which prompted Grace to ask if she had enjoyed it that much. That prompted Suze to ask why Aunt Betty needed business cards. She simply replied “I have business cards so I can put them in fish bowls and I enjoy anything that is free.”