We piled into the car and flew south. Betty was riding shotgun and immediately began assembling a list of shore points to hit. Sandy Hook was a must; we'd been there in elementary school to talk about its historical importance, or fossils, or something like that. All we could remember was the bizarre mass of people who didn't seem to appreciate the beach for one of the two reasons we were there that day - to appreciate whatever it was we were there to appreciate for class, or to swim and play and be kids in the ocean. We had to go to Sandy Hook at this older age, to set the memory straight if nothing else. Benny was in the back seat, refusing to wear his seatbelt.
"Benny, put your god damned seat belt on, for Chrissakes," I yelled at him gleefully. He immediately began throwing himself around the entire backseat as though he were on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, or bumper cars, without any restraint. His legs soared around through the air in a way that I was genuinely confused for a second, seeing him in the rear view mirror. I didn't have that much space in the back, did I? Immediately upon Benny's performance, Joon began barking and jumping around, watching Benny and presumably enjoying himself just as much, although perhaps a little worried about the safety of his best friend. When Benny sat up straight again, Joon started licking his face and panting. Benny scruffled Joon's fur and kissed him back, put on his seatbelt, and instructed Joon to sit down in his own seat, which Joon did properly and with a smile. Joon didn't really do much of anything without a smile, come to think of it.
"Buckle your seatbelt, Joon. We don't want you suing Rory if we get in an accident. Isn't that right, Sally?" Benny directed spat his playful insults at me while Joon looked back and forth between the two of us, getting in on the joke.
"I can't plan our glorious trip with all this ridiculousness going on!" Betty pushed play on the CD player in the dash, and immediately the LCD sprang to life, a vibrant red background, and Sigur Rós cam on with Gobbledigook. An absurdly good choice, if you can call it a choice.
"Ahhhhh," I exhaled, as though finally getting the rest of my body into a hot-tub. "One of these days I have to learn Icelandic so that I know everything they're saying. I must know!" I proclaimed. Betty giggled and guffawed incredulously. There was a whole lot of rib-poking going on.
One hour into the drive, the hour of the day finally smacked us each in the face. Benny was passed out with his mouth wide open, and one arm draped dead across Joon's shoulders. Joon rested his jowls on Benny's fire-orange board shorts, awake but placid. Betty had long since abandoned her list and the two of us had completely forgotten the point of going to multiple beaches in the same day (the idea had originally reminded me of those folks who bike from the east coast to the west, dipping a tire in each ocean, and for a moment perhaps our mission hadn't paled in comparison in importance and significance). By now our purpose was dubious and Betty rested her head against her seatbelt. Her curly auburn hair blew wistfully behind her, occasionally across her eyes and face, being met with a blink and a finger to coral it behind her ear once again.
She looked at me, and I looked back at her for a quick moment. She was smiling in the way that had first drawn me to her. These days we were both feeling a bit tired, and it was showing. To see her smile at me genuinely and for the weariness in her eyes to be the sunrise's fault instead of my own was a breath of fresh air not unlike that I expected to breathe once we got off the highway. The smell of the salty breezes for me is always a palate-cleanser.
I wanted to kiss her, or mouth "I love you," or somehow bridge the gap between us, but I knew that any attempt to do so would only point out how big that chasm had actually grown, and so instead I settled on planting a genuine grin on my face, readjusting my grip at 12 o'clock on the wheel, and continuing to coast. My left hand picked at a fray of my jean shorts, pulled it clean off. I rolled it between my thumb and middle finger into a fuzzy little ball and flicked it mindlessly onto the floor.