“That does sound healthier. And I, for one, am glad that I didn’t know you during the non-showering phase of your life,” I said, and she chuckled again before falling quiet, her gaze focused out the window. It took forever for us to get out of London traffic, but once we hit the motorway, it was smooth sailing for a while.
Finally, I built up the courage to ask her about the bag incident. “Did I make you feel uncomfortable when I took your bag earlier?”
Her shoulders tensed. “Why would you think that?”
“You just seemed weird about it.”
She shifted in her seat. “I wasn’t weird about it.”
She seemed adamant that she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, so I dropped the subject. We let the music drift over us before I pulled into a rest stop so we could use the bathroom and grab something to eat. When we got back on the road, Afric didn’t put her music on, happy to sit and be quiet for a while instead.
“Do you think it will be cold tonight?” she asked after a stretch of silence. “I’ve never gone camping the normal way before, only at music festivals, and those are always too noisy to actually bother trying to sleep.”
“It might be a little bit cold, but James loaned me a great quality tent and sleeping bags, so we should be able to keep warm. He also gave me a gas cooker, and I brought some food so I can cook us dinner.”
At this, she cast me a surprised glance. “You’re going to cook me dinner?”
“I’m going to attempt to cook you dinner,” I corrected.
“Are you a good cook?”
“I’m decent, though I’ve never cooked in the outdoors before, so it could go either way.”
“Well, even if it’s terrible, I’ll still eat it. None of my past boyfriends have ever cooked for me.” She fell quiet for a second, then frowned. “Not that … I mean, not that you’re my boyfriend or anything, I just meant …”
She was rambling, and it was almost shocking because she was always so unabashed about things. Nothing seemed to embarrass her, but now it appeared something had. I smiled gently. “Relax, Afric. I know what you meant.”
“Well, we don’t have a typical sort of friendship.”
“No. I think you might actually be my best friend now,” I confessed, glancing briefly from the road to her to weigh her reaction. A bright, pleased smile graced her lush lips.
“I’m your best friend?”
“Yes. Aren’t I yours?”
She thought about it a moment. “I always considered Sarita and Michaela my best friends, but both of them have been preoccupied with their other halves lately.” She paused, and I sensed her eyes on my profile. “I guess you are my best friend now. Huh.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Aren’t you surprised? Don’t get me wrong, I love that we’re friends, but I never would’ve expected this for us.”
“Me neither,” I said, smiling faintly as my thoughts wandered back to what she said about none of her previous boyfriends ever cooking for her. “A man’s really never cooked for you before?”
She shook her head. “Most of my boyfriends were gamers like me. We’re not exactly known for our culinary skills. Picking up the phone and ordering pizza is probably the most effort we’ll put into a meal.”
“My grandma taught me how to cook. She always said it was a good life skill to have.”
“If Phil taught you, then you must be good. That woman’s food is pure heavenly comfort. You’re so lucky you get to eat there every day.”
“I do recall her giving you an open invitation to dinner any time you want.”
“And I recall you saying you’d barricade the door if I turned up,” she shot back, and I laughed.
“Okay, perhaps I was being a tad dramatic. Besides, I’d have to let you in since we’re now best friends.”
A few beats of silence fell.
“So,” I hedged, “these boyfriends of yours, which one made you hate kissing?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t be a sneak. I never said it was a boyfriend who made me hate kissing. Did you ever consider that it might just be a natural preference?”
She blew out a breath, folding her arms as she brought her attention to the window. “No.”
“If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I’m being nosy.”
“You are being nosy. But I’ll tell you if you really want to know. It’s nothing deeply shocking or disturbing. It’s all very mundane, actually. When I was fourteen, I had my first boyfriend. His name was Gary, and he lived down the street from me. He was a year older, and I had a crush on him for a while. He had pale blonde hair and green eyes, and I thought he was just sooo handsome. Anyway, one of my friends asked him if he wanted to go out with me, he said yes, and I thought all my dreams had come true. Sadly, the dream didn’t match reality. Gary barely ever spoke a word to me. He’d just tell me to meet him at the back of one of the sports pitches near where we lived. We’d exchange hellos, and then he’d put his arms around me and start kissing me right away. I suppose that’s all being a boyfriend means to a fifteen-year-old, kissing and groping.”