Notes and disclaimers: nothing is mine, owned by larger corporate entities. No profit garnered here, ever. Thanks to tigs and fearlesstemp for awesome beta action. Title from the Mountain Goats' song going to spirit lake.




THE STARS GREW SOFTER OVERHEAD



"It's Landry's car," was the first thing he said when they were actually alone. Matt hadn't exactly found his feet. Overthinking, worrying about everything.

"Does he know you have it?" Julie smiled when he opened the car door for her.

"Yeah," he said. "He offered. This restaurant is, um, 40 miles away."

"Wow," she said.

And silence. He could try the line about Landry's car again but it hadn't worked the first time either. Coach Taylor and Mrs. Taylor had just stared at him. At least Mrs. Taylor had smiled. Coach Taylor just kept that look on his face, like they were down by twenty-one in the fourth quarter and it was all Matt's fault. Maybe he looked at all the guys Julie had dates with like that. Then Julie came down and she looked beautiful and Matt said she looked really nice and they left.

He still hadn't found his feet. Landry's big advice pretty much ended at making sure he nailed down the second date before the end of the night.

Julie said, "Tape player." She pointed at the radio and then went back to just sitting there with her hands tight in her lap.

"Yeah, we mostly, I think he just listens to the radio. He has some really bad tapes."

"So you prefer the radio," she said, laughing a little.

"Landry's idea of good music sucks." He liked some of it, but Landry wouldn't mind being a conversational run around. Matt wasn't going to tell him, anyway.

"So, this restaurant," she said.

"It's Indian food. Indian food and wings," he said. "I guess they just opened. They have a website and everything. I thought you'd like it, it's a lot of, um, tofu and soy."

"Cool. I've never had Indian food."

"Me either," he said. "But they had pictures. It looked interesting."

"Interesting good or interesting bad?" She was almost laughing again. It made him want to laugh, too, like always.

"Interesting good, mostly. There are some things I won't be trying."

"Are you going to warn me before I order or just let me guess?"

It was almost a rhythm and he knew he was smiling. "Maybe I'll let you guess."

"My grandfather makes this hash that looks totally gross. Like puke or something, all ground up. But it tastes really good. Maybe you'll be missing out."

"I think I'll let you risk that one," he said.

"Great," she said. "My hero." She looked out the car window for a moment. "Did you get anything she was saying yesterday in English?"

"No. Did you?"

"Not at all. I almost asked my mom, I swear." Then she was joking about Mrs. Roslinten and he was, too, and before he knew it, they were just talking. Score, he thought. He even made her laugh on purpose once.

"We're already here?" She looked around at the strip where he'd parked. "That seemed fast."

"I wasn't speeding," he said, getting out.

"I believe you," she said, patting the car.

The restaurant didn't look very Indian. It looked like a diner. It didn't smell like one, though, not like any in Dillon. And there was no one he recognized anywhere in the restaurant. He smiled and said, "You know what you want?"

She was looking down at her menu or something and trying not to laugh. Then she leaned across the table and whispered in his ear. "Oh my God, the guy behind me is – please, just give me an excuse to laugh." Her hair brushed his cheek as she sat back and it took him a few seconds to be able to think.

"I, okay," he said. It wasn't funny at all but she started giggling anyway. Then the guy behind her and his date got up and walked by.

She kept giggling until the other couple were all the way out of the restaurant. "First, he was like, why can't I get a micro-brew, where's a decent micro-brew and then it was all, don't repeat that to your mother, your mother can't know I drink, she's scary and wrong and I don't know, maybe it wasn't that funny." She was still laughing. "He had a really whiny voice, too."

"Sounds funny," he said. Close enough.

The food came pretty quick and it was actually really good. Different. They didn't talk but it was okay, not like when she first got into the car. She kept looking up and smiling at him which was just as good. Then she said, "You know what else I like about this place?"

"The desserts?"

"Not one person has stopped by to say hey."

"It is pretty nice. For a night. I, I like Dillon, too."

She rolled her eyes but she said, "It's not too bad."

When they were done and he'd paid, she stopped just outside the door. "That store's still open," she said.

"It isn't that late," he said.

"When do you have to get the car back?"

She was standing really close. "Uh, in the morning. I'm supposed to pick him up for church and then he'll drive me and my Grandma back after. But don't you have a curfew?"

She made a face and pulled him toward the store. "We have a few minutes." She was holding his hand and he hadn't even noticed. Smooth move. He kept holding on as she opened the door and they went in. Art supplies and craft stuff. She looked back and said, "I have to get my dad a birthday gift."

"He paints?"

"Not that I know of," she said. "But I thought, I dunno. I wanted to get him something, something fun?"

"I don't think Coach, your dad doesn't strike me as a crafts person."

"Maybe a nice pen," she said, letting go of his hand to point at a big wall of them. "These are pretty nice."

"A pen?" He shrugged. "I guess. He has a lot of pens."

"I know. He's so hard to get anything for. And whatever I get, he'll just say 'this is perfect.'" She turned around and walked down the next aisle. This time he was waiting for the smooth hand move but it was still really nice. She squeezed his hand as he followed her into a large selection of paper in bright patterns and solids.

"My grandma says that, too. She says she doesn't even want anything, just a card and your company."

"You can't do that, you have to get a gift," she said.

"I know," he said. "Her birthday's in May and this year, my dad said he sent her something, you know, from Iraq and we didn't even get it until June. And it was totally battered and beat up, like someone stepped on it. A lot. So I open it up and there's just these newspapers all wrapped up and some shards and dust inside. And a card. So I figure, okay, and I give her the card and I won't tell her her gift got broken. But she opens the card and he wrote 'enjoy the gift.'"

She laughed. "What did you do?"

"I showed her the box and I asked him, well, what did you send? And he said it was a plate or something. And I said, you just wrapped it in newspaper? He totally thought that would be enough. He just bought another one and had someone else wrap it up. It took another month before it showed up." He stopped there. The first time he showed the plate to her, she hadn't remembered the broken one.

She shook her head. "You have to use bubble wrap."

"I guess he thought they had special mail or something."

She pulled down a sheet of thick blue paper. "I'm getting this. I can make a nice card at least." They walked to the front and Julie opened her purse.

The clerk glared at them and then rang up the paper. "This is for scrapbooking, you know."

Julie nodded. "Thanks." She tucked it into her purse.

When they got outside, he took her hand this time. She looked up at him, smiling. "I'll make him a scrapbook, for sure." She laughed. "Remember when that guy yelled at you while we were trying to get dinner? Here's some pictures and captions to capture that moment forever."

"A whole page for Voodoo," he said, laughing, too.

"Oh, good one," she said. She stood super close to him and brought his hand to her hip and then she was right there and they were kissing. Just like that and everything was perfect.

She stepped back and said, "That was your good night. I didn't want to do it right at the door, you know."

"Good plan," he said. "I guess we should head back."

He opened the car door for her and she said, "Thank you." She just stood there for a second and this time he kissed her. You wouldn't think something like that could get better but it did. He was pretty sure he could have pushed the car home himself if he had to, he felt so good. He said, "Good night again."

"Yeah," she said and nearly tripped when she got in the car.

"We should do this again," he said. He finally remembered Landry's advice.

"Definitely. We can even stay in Dillon." She paused. "But I like the driving, too."

"I can," he said, "I can drive twenty miles out of town, turn around then come back. Long way around."

He'd promised Landry he'd bring the car back with a full tank. Between dinner and the gas, the next date would probably have to be sharing a small thing of fries somewhere they could walk to. Hopefully she'd be all right with that.

He stopped to fill up a few minutes from her house. When he got back in the car, she leaned over and kissed him again, touching his cheek and bringing him closer. She sat back and said, "Just because."

He tried to start the car and stripped the gears, then it lurched forward. She busted out laughing. He said, "You're just laughing at me now."

"Yeah," she said, "but it is pretty funny."

"Fine," he said. "I've been doing pretty well all night. He never lets me drive his car."

"Clearly," she said. And then they were right in front of her house. "Of course they're still up."

He could see Coach Taylor staring out the window. "Scary and wrong, right," he said.

"He's not that scary." She kissed his cheek and got out of the car. "See you tomorrow," she said. "I had a great time."

"Me, too," he said as she closed the door. "See you tomorrow."

He drove back to his house and parked in front. The lights were out, at least. He looked in the kitchen and everything had been washed and put away. He opened the door to his Grandma's room quietly but she stirred as he stood there. "That you?"

"It's me, Grandma, I'm home."

He stayed at the door. She said, "How was your date tonight?"

"It was good. Really good," he said.

He could see her smile as she turned on her side. "Go to bed now, honey."

"Okay," he said. "I love you." He closed the door softly.

Everybody had a good day. He almost couldn't fall asleep, it was such a weird feeling.

THE END.



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