Bodo was waiting down at the bottom. “Do you want me to bring da bike up dare again? Or are we staying down here?”
I looked up at the slope and then off at the service stations, gently lifting Buster from the basket at the front of my handlebars. “I don’t know. I was originally thinking go up, but now … I feel like I want to be able to just take off without worrying about getting bikes down. Just in case.”
“I agree,” said Peter, sitting down on the ground. “Let’s stay down here tonight. Can we eat now? I’m starving.” He tipped his water bottle up and almost drained it, putting the remaining bit in the bowl for Buster who wasted no time drinking every last drop.
I walked over and handed Peter my bottle. He looked like he needed it more than me.
“I can’t take yours,” he said, trying to push it away.
“I can make more. We have cooking water and bleach. But I’m sure it’ll rain later, so don’t worry about it. Drink. You don’t look so hot.”
“I don’t feel so hot, either,” he said, no longer arguing. He finished my bottle and then laid back, right on the gravel. Buster laid down in between his legs, resting his head on Peter’s thigh. Peter didn’t move a muscle.
I gestured silently at Peter so Bodo would see, and he nodded.
“I will get da camp site set up for sleeping if you want.”
“Yeah, go ahead. The sun’s moving over there, so do your best to find a spot that will still be in the shade in a few hours.”
“Of course, yes, I will do dat,” he said, digging out the tarps.
I got out the parts for the water catcher and set it up just outside the shelter of the highway overhead. I knew that even with blue skies now, the clouds could come in quickly and bring the rain with them. We were lower on water than I liked to be, especially since I was planning to make pasta with sauce tonight. Peter really looked like he needed the calories and I had a terrible craving for tomatoes that was getting harder and harder to ignore.
I went back to the site that Bodo had set up, and sat down. “Bodo, have you ever had a garden?”
“Yes. My mudder always had one when I was growing up. I had to pull da weeds all da time. Dat was my chob. One of many.”
“I want tomatoes. Real ones, not the kind from a can.”
“Dey are easy to grow. I can do dat for you.”
Hearing him say that warmed my heart. I’d been taking care of my own survival for so long, and now Peter’s, it was nice to hear that someone was going to do something for me for a change.
Bodo looked up from his organizing and smiled at me. “You look happy about dat.”
“I am.” He had the nicest blue eyes I’d ever seen on a guy. I’d noticed them before, but for some reason, they looked even bluer today.
“Goot … I mean, good. You are very pretty, but especially when you smile.”
I looked down at my dirty, raggedy fingernails and laughed. “Wow, Bodo, you don’t set the bar very high, do you?”
“What does dat mean?” he said, a confused expression on his face. “Set da bar?”
“You think I am making a lie, don’t you?”
“Not necessarily. But I haven’t had a shower in weeks and I’ve probably never looked worse in my entire seventeen years of life.” I looked up and smiled at him anyway, happy with his effort, even if it wasn’t true. “So I find it hard to believe you can see beneath the grime to anything that looks appealing, but I appreciate the gesture.”
“Well, what I see looks pretty good to me. Plus, you are very strong, like my mudder was. She loved me a lot and I loved her too … but I also atmired her. No matter what, she always did the best she could. Efen when my fadder left, she always worked very hard to make sure dat I could do thingks. Like come to the Unitet States for example.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Well, that sure worked out well for you.”
“It did.” He shrugged, ignoring my sarcasm. “The worlt that we knew is ofer. Not just here, but efreywhere. Apart from my mom, dare was no one dare in Chermany dat I cared about so much. I’m okay with being stuck here. With you and Peter and da little doggy.”
I was impressed with his positive outlook. Germans were tough, there was no doubt about that.
“Bodo, what’s your last name?”
I giggled. “Your last name is Rooster? As in cock-a-doodle-doo?”
He smiled. “What dit you just say? Cock-a- … what?”
We were both grinning like idiots at each other. “I said, ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’. That’s what roosters say. You know? Male chickens?” I put my hands in my armpits and did a few chicken wing-flaps for effect.
“Ohhhh, I ssee. No, not a rooster. Spelled like R-U-S-T-E-R. See?”
I laughed some more. “Okay. I would have pronounced that ruster, like the word ‘rust’.”
“You can say it however you want. I don’t care, really. It’s not a problem.”
“No, I like rooster. That’s cool. I can see that,” I said, pretending to look him over.
“What do you mean? Like I am a proud bird who walks around a bunch of girl chickens and tells all de udder boy chickens to go away?”
“Maybe.” He did seem to be perfectly at ease around me. Either that meant he was supremely confident or he didn’t consider me to be a member of his henhouse.
“No. I am not dat proud. Plus I am a one-chicken kindt of guy. I don’t think I could manatch more den one chicken at a time.”
I don’t know why that made me so happy, but it did. It’s not like there was a lot of competition around here or that I’d decided that I wanted him to be my boyfriend. But still … he was funny and cute and didn’t seem stuck-up at all.
“Is it possible to be conceited anymore?” I voiced my thoughts aloud without even realizing I was doing it. But it was out there now and I was curious to know what Bodo thought, so I waited for his answer.
Peter spoke up before he did, though. “No.”
“Oh, it’s possible, I think, but it wouldn’t do any good,” disagreed Bodo. “Not unless dare was a group of guys around and just a few girlss.”
“Does it ever do any good?” I asked.
“Sure. Women go for dat.”
I frowned at him. “Whaaat? You’re nuts. Girls don’t like conceited guys.”
“Yes they do,” agreed Peter.
“You guys are nuts.”
“Then why do all the conceited guys have girlfriends and all the nice ones don’t?”
He had a point there. Maybe. “But which came first? The girlfriend or the conceit?”
Peter sat up slowly and tried to reach around to brush his back off. I leaned in to help him as he explained himself.
“Try to imagine back to when you were in like third or fourth grade. Which boys did you have a crush on?”
“None of them.”
“Come on. Don’t lie. Okay, which ones stood out to you, then?”
Bodo was watching us intensely, looking very interested in our discussion.
“I guess the ones who stood out were the ones looking for the most attention.”
“Were they just loud or showing off.”
“Showing off, mostly.”
“And when they did that, did they get positive reinforcement or negative?”
I tried to think of the few boys I could recall from my much younger days as being kind of loud and in-your-face types, and remembered three of them. Two cute ones and one not so cute. I realized that the cute ones were seen as cocky, as if they had something to crow about, and the not so cute one just seemed obnoxious.
I sighed. “It depended on what they looked like.”
“Explain dat part,” said Bodo, leaning in and studying my face.
“Well, I hate to say it because it sounds so shallow, but the ones that were good-looking were encouraged, and the ones who weren’t, were looked at as obnoxious and shunned.”
“So you encouraged the conceit of the good-looking guys and told the ugly ones to stay in the background, essentially,” said Peter.
“God, that’s terrible when you put it like that,” I said, a little disgusted with myself. “Man, was I shallow or what? I helped perpetuate the problem from the time I was like, ten or something.”
“Don’t feel bad about it. We all did. It’s how we were raised.”
“It’s dat theory of efolution. The handsome specimens survive to make babies. De ugly ones dat have less desirable thingks die off. Nobody wants to make babies with dem.”
“So your theory that women like conceit is true to some degree. That’s sad.”
“Yes, but it is good for the survifal of de human race. You want to make babies with de ones who are strong and bold and fearless. Dey are de ones dat will make it through the tough times.”
I didn’t want to look at Peter because by Bodo’s definition, he was going to survive and Peter wasn’t. Or at least, Bodo had better chances than Peter did.
“Well, I’m not worried about making any babies,” said Peter, lying back down.
“Yeah, he just wants someone to cuddle with,” I teased, nudging his leg.
“What about you, Bryn. Where is your boyfriend? Why issn’t he with you and Peter and Buster.”
“I don’t have one.”
“I don’t belief dat,” said Bodo, smiling at me.
“She’s telling the truth,” said Peter. “I never saw one.”
“What do you mean, you never saw one?” I demanded.
“In the couple weeks I spied on you. I never saw anyone at your house but you.”
“You jerk,” I said nudging him with my foot. “You didn’t tell me you were spying on me.”
“Well, I had to make sure I wasn’t living behind a canner, didn’t I?”
I obviously hadn’t given Peter enough credit. The kid was sneaky. I’d never seen or heard anything. “That kind of makes me nervous that you were able to do that without me knowing. It makes me wonder how many other people managed it.”
“I never saw anyone spying on you, other than me, if that makes you feel any better.”
“I’m not sure if it does or not.”
Bodo was looking off over towards the gas stations. “Dare’s a Cracker Barrel over dare.”
“I saw that. I used to love that place,” I said wistfully.
“They have cool candy,” said Peter.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” I said, smiling. “I haven’t had any candy in ages.”
“Do you want to go over dare and see if dey haff any?”
I shook my head. “Too risky. It’s not worth getting shot or eaten over some jaw breakers.”
Bodo shrugged, but I saw him stealing glances over at it from time to time for the next few hours. The sun was high and sapping the rest of my strength away. Peter had fallen asleep and was snoring lightly, Buster sound asleep in his legs.
“Don’t even think about it, Bodo,” I said, lying down, joining Peter. “I don’t want you getting killed or captured.”
“You don’t haff to worry about me.”
“Whatever. If you go over there and get caught, I’m not coming for you.”
He didn’t answer and I fell asleep before I could bother to worry about it anymore.
The canners had me in their grip, pulling me by the shoulders towards their fire pit area. I was struggling, but they had ropes around me and I couldn’t get free.
“Bryn! Bryn!” yelled Peter.READ MORE >>