"Whatever floats your boat, baby," I said. I opened the door and stepped out of the car into the hot summer air. We were parked on the street outside Belle's apartment, in St. Louis, where unfortunately we would not be spending any time with her. She had an unexpected event come up, and had to miss us on our trip this time around. However, we were still meeting up with Mali, so the stopover in St. Louis wasn't a wasted afternoon. I'd talked to her from a pay phone an hour out of the city, and we'd made arrangements to meet at Belle's apartment, since that was the only place in the city to which I'd gotten directions.
The Muse leaned across the driver's seat and rolled the window down. "When is she supposed to get here?"
"I don't know. She had to get a ride over from across town somewhere. Don't worry your pretty little head. She'll be here."
"Don't melt out there in the heat, Stimpy," she said. She rolled the window up again and settled into her own seat.
It was a little odd, I thought, being outside of Belle's apartment, and with her not being around to meet up with. We'd known each other for nearly six years, and every attempt we'd ever made to get together had been foiled, always through no fault of our own: deaths, births, turmoil and joy, the universe kept tossing things our way to keep us from meeting in person. There was something epic in it that appealed to me, especially given the epic nature of this trip in my head.
Lost in thought as I was, I never noticed when Mali arrived. She and her brother had driven right past me and parked in front of my car, and it was only when I heard her say, "So you made it!" that I realized that she'd come up beside me. I made a little jump and turned, surprised, and greeted her.
"I had no idea you were there!" I said. "I was totally zoned out."
She smiled and gave me a warm hug. "Zoned is okay. You've been on the road for days."
The Muse had gotten out of the car and come around to greet Mali and her brother. "We've been lounging around Miranda's apartment for days. He has no excuse for being such a zombie."
"Muse!" Mali exclaimed, and hugged her, giving her a quick kiss on the mouth as well. "It's about time you two came down here."
"Oh, I know," the Muse said. "The road trip has been severely overdue. Like he keeps saying, we had to get out of Dodge."
"Then let's go someplace and relax a while, yes?" Mali said. She introduced us quickly to her brother, and then he got into his car and took off. "He's got some things to do tonight, so you're my taxi cab home now."
"Works for me," I said. "I didn't really come down here to see your brother, anyway."
"I might have," the Muse said. "He's cute."
I gestured with my thumb at the car. "Back seat, Muse. Mali's got to navigate. I don't know where we're going."
"Where are we going?" Mali asked. "Should I show you the sights? Want the tourist trip, or the local scene?"
"I came to see people, Mali, not the sights. Take us somewhere that we can sit down and chill out. I'd rather talk to you than see the Arch."
We got in the car, me driving, Mali next to me, the Muse in the back seat. "Head straight, then take a left," Mali said. "We're going to get some custard."
"Ooh," the Muse moaned from the back seat. "Sugar. Yes, that's a good idea. I'm having sugar withdrawals."
Mali looked over her shoulder at the Muse. "This is the best custard in St. Louis. Your toes will be curling once you get your first spoonful."
"I like having my toes curled," the Muse said. "And if your brother won't be around to do it, it might as well be from the custard."
"The Muse," I said to Mali, "is having a hard time this trip. She has apparently planned on throwing herself at all my friends or their relatives while we're on the road, and it's not quite going to plan just yet."
"Aw," Mali said sympathetically. "You're not really my brother's type, honey. Sorry." She turned back to the road. "You're more mine, though, so it's all good."
I glanced up in the rear view mirror and caught the Muse raising her eyebrow. She saw me looking at her and waggled them both at me then. "We can always ditch this guy," she said, "and you can show me some of the sights on our own."
"What?" I said. "Are all of my friends bisexual? Is that it?"
"Nah," Mali said. "Belle's painfully straight. Which is too bad, but there you go."
"Love the one you're with," the Muse said. "Like the song says."
"Turn right up at the light," Mali said, pointing. She guided us with a local's ease, and in a few minutes we were at the custard stand. There were easily thirty people milling about, in line and out of it, and I observed that the heat must have driven them all here. "Not just that," Mali said. "This place is an institution. It's always packed like this."
"Must... have... sugar..." the Muse mumbled.
"Let me park," I said, "before she dies back there."
I pulled into one of the few empty spots in the parking lot. The Muse was out the door before I'd turned off the engine. "She's a bundle of energy," Mali said, watching her run for the line.
"Wait until you see her after she's had the sugar."
"Keep your hands in the ride at all times," I said, and got out of the car.