"Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no!" Oliver Winkett was a twenty-nine-year-old office worker notoriously bad at using his vacation days. He was also an anxious puddle of a person. This was especially true when he woke up at ten-thirty am to find his alarm clock had died sometime in the middle of the night, leaving him an hour and twenty-five minutes behind schedule. He flung his charcoal-colored covers back and dashed to the bathroom, praying Iossa hadn't left yet. He checked his phone often as he powered through his morning routine, dressed, grabbed his bag, and fled his tiny apartment. There were no messages, which Oliver told himself was a good sign... right up until he arrived at the company parking lot to find no sign of Iossa's Cadillac. "Oh, no," Oliver moaned, clutching his bag to his chest.
"You're late too, huh?" a voice called to him. Oliver turned to see Ace Somers leaning against an old pick-up truck. The truck looked like it had been driven right off the junkyard with a dent in the side and a coat of mud covering the faded blue paint job. The truck bed had been converted into a camper. "Yeah, I just got here a minute ago." He waves his phone. "They aren't answering."
Oliver stared at Ace, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. "They - They didn't message," he manages. Other than the old truck and camper combo Ace was leaning against, the only other vehicle in the lot was the one-man security car.
"They did not... unless you count the 'ha ha' text I got from Lewis...." Ace slips his phone back into his pocket. "I guess it's us... and this …" He gestures at the pick-up.
"I thought Lewis was your friend," Oliver says. He feels like an idiot the moment the words are out of his mouth. Friends? What was he, nine? He drops his bag to his side through sheer force of will and picks his way across the parking lot to Ace.
"Tell that to Lewis." Ace sighs. "But this should be fine... We can catch up with them. And hope this doesn't explode on us..." It looked like it wouldn't make it out of town, but he didn't want to be such a spoilsport.
"Maybe don't put that out there?" Oliver suggests. "Since we have to take it and all?" He wipes away the dried mud from the windows of the camper, but he still couldn't see inside of it. He wipes his hands awkwardly on his jeans.
"You're right. I don't want to jinx it. Do you want to drive?" Ace asks. He had already tossed his bags behind the seat. He was also already planning to say to Lewis and the others when they caught up with them. This trip was supposed to be inclusive, and yet, he and Oliver were left behind to drive the pick-up they didn't want to take.
"Um, sure." Oliver puts his things in the back and moves the driver's seatback. He climbs in, adjusts the seat, does all the necessary checks, and puts his seatbelt on. "Sorry about this," Oliver blurts not five minutes into the drive. He clutches the wheel like it's a lifeline and keeps his eyes on the road. "I know you had this all planned out."
"Things happen, right?" Ace gets into the passenger side. "Not your fault. I'm choosing to blame this all on them."
What a relief! Oliver lets out the breath he was holding as subtly as possible. "They didn't try very hard."
"My theory is they got here early just so we'd have to get this one." He leans back best he can in the cramped quarters. "It smells like dust in here to you?"
"Maybe we should get one of those car air fresheners when we stop," Oliver suggests. He peeks at Ace. The other man is shockingly calm. Oliver thought for sure he'd be furious about having to go on an extended drive with Oliver, of all people.
He rolls down the window halfway. "We may need to. The last thing I want is to sneeze the entire drive to Netherwyld, Maine." He glances at Oliver. "The first stop is in Arkansas at the Salty Sea Campground."
Oliver wrinkles his nose. "The Salty Sea? I thought it was the Royal Reliance?"
"I think they changed it. We'll call the others when we hit Caramel City." It was about four hours away from their current location. Ace searches through his phone to keep busy as they drive. "Maybe it was better... or worse. I'm not really sure with Lewis at the moment."
Oliver bites his lip. The latest rumor floating around the office said that Ace and Lewis were an item. Office gossip was usually trumped up at the water cooler, but the very idea it was true crushed Oliver. He'd had a crush on Ace since the first project they worked on together. Oh, they hadn't been alone, Oliver had been part of a group, but he'd been impressed by Ace's keen intellect and intuitive grasp of what motivates people. He'd been smitten immediately, and those feelings never went away.
"He tends to be impulsive..." Ace glances at him. "you okay over there?"
"I'm a little anxious," Oliver says. Understatement of the century, he thinks. "I'm not usually a camper."
"Why did you agree to the road trip?" The plan was for the employees to compete in a summer road trip challenge as part of Travel Afar's latest scheme to promote a challenge package to stay at each of a selection of camping grounds with various challenges found at each one. The winner that made it to the last camping ground with the most challenges completed would win a free stay at Travel Afar's luxury resort in Hawaii.
Oliver stiffens. There was no acceptable answer to that. In truth, Oliver agreed because he knew Ace was going to be there, and he hoped to prove he wasn't the annoying leech people whispered. "Um..." he swallows his nerves. "Team spirit? I guess?"
Ace looks at him a moment, then nods. "Good reason, I guess." He gets a message on his phone. "They said they left an hour ago."
"Why did you agree to come?" Oliver asks.
"Free resort?" Ace smiles at him. "Who wouldn't want that?"
That smile sent Oliver's stomach all aflutter. He blushes. "You make a fine point."
The way out of town went smoothly, but about an hour later, the tire blew. And all was not smooth. "I really did jinx it, didn't I?" Ace asks with a sigh.
"Do you have a signal?" Oliver asks, raising his phone to the sky.
Ace holds his phone up as well. "Nope. Not a thing. You?"
"No." Oliver drops his phone into the driver's seat glumly.
"Think maybe there's a spare..." Ace looks behind them. "I was afraid to check the camper part. It smells."
Oliver squares his shoulders and marches to the camper. "I'm going in," he says.
"I will remember you fondly when the truck eats you," Ace says.
Oliver laughs. An honest laugh. "Just for that, I'll open the windows too."
"I will stay here while you risk your life," Ace teases.
Oliver tosses a goofy smile at Ace over his shoulder, unlocks the camper, and heads inside. It's clean, thank God, but it obviously hasn't been used for a long time. He coughs when he accidentally breathes too deep. The stale air was something awful. He goes to the windows and, with a bit of effort, gets them all open. There. That will help while they drive. Maybe if they get a little electric fan and keep it running...
Ace appears through the opening of the camper. "I managed to get signal up the road, but the closest garage is about two miles, and apparently, we aren't a priority. They said they'll get here when they get here. Until then, it looks like we're stuck here a while."
"Guess, we just have to make do." Though, Oliver failed to see the downside in being stuck with Ace longer.