The place where my car was being repaired was only an hour’s drive away, but I decided nonetheless to take the first leg and spare the girl the extra drive. “It’s fine, I can handle it,” Jess protested a few times reluctantly as we set off. “You just drove all the way out here yesterday after all.”
“Hey, I can’t complain,” I countered, deflecting guilt where possible, “this little bug is fun to drive.”
Jess pouted her lips and stared out the window at the passing trees. She spoke up a few minutes later as we were turning on to the highway. “My dad was reluctant at first to let me drive, but it’s not all that bad. I actually started learning by bringing us to my dad’s work- the church on Sunday mornings. Nobody on the road.”
“That’s nice,” I said, eyes on the road and hesitation on how to hold a conversation with a girl of that age.
“But,” Jess spoke up again, turning to look at me out of the corner of her eye. “It seems like if I… if we get to the White House, I won’t be able to drive anymore.”
“Like, with the secret service. You always see the president in that big, heavy limo-car thing.” She gestured. “I guess they don’t want the most important person in the world getting in a crash or something.”
“That’s about the gist of it,” I said, looking in the rear-view. The highway was mostly empty, save the black sedan holding its distance behind us. In the rear-view and beyond the tinted windshield was Agent Barth, hands to the wheel unmoving.
Jess patted the sides of the car’s seat. “I’ll miss this bug if that happens… driving it too.”
I shrugged, but couldn’t conjure up any words of wisdom to make the girl feel better. She went silent and concentrated once again on the scene out the passenger window. My eyes tracked to the road, and I succumbed to the hypnosis of the dashed center line and messy patches in the asphalt.
A short time later in our journey, I caught Jess looking up at me from her seat. I didn’t care to look her way, but she finally spoke up nonetheless. “How old are you, Jude?”
“…Eight years…” She mumbled.
“Nothing.” The girl spoke up. “It doesn’t seem like you have a girlfriend or wife or anything.”
“Nah, I don’t. No luck either way.”
“I’m bi.” I said with a shrug. “Big thing is, I’m not too good with relationships, so I’m single.”
“As in… bisexual. Liking both boys and girls.”
“You’ll end up in hell!” Jess declared before slapping her palm over her mouth as if finding her own reaction disgusting. “I mean… that’s what some say…”
I let out a sigh, immediately recognizing what I had unleashed. “People believe plenty of things that aren’t in the scriptures.”
“My father… I don’t know… does he know?”
I shrugged again. “If he does, it wouldn’t make much difference, would it? It has nothing to do with my employment, does it?”
Jess shifted about in her seat back and forth. “Well… that’s up for him to decide… but… I’ll keep it a secret, Jude. You’re nice, and not like… those others…”
I pondered what she meant by those words, but kept my silence rather than asking her.
The first half of the journey ended and we picked up my car without any trouble. I turned over the keys to Jess looking forward to a comfortable trip back in my own car. Nature called, however, and we decided to stop in town at a local ‘greasy spoon’ as Jess called it to eat lunch. Barth followed us inside, and quietly sat at a table across from us, adding to the newly-found awkward silence.
After we placed our order, the agent stood and kicked at my foot with slight eye contact. I watched him wander outside, and I excused myself. Barth was around the corner leaning against the side of the building. “Funny how this played out, we can have some time away from the rest of the family to discuss the plan moving forward. I’m thinking about involving the girl, too. She’s shown discomfort with the target as well. Perhaps her father will listen to her more than anyone else. I bet if we convince her to-”
“Whoa, slow down,” I spoke up, scanning the lot for any onlookers. “I think we need to go one step at a time.”
“Getting her by herself again like this won’t be easy under the Cummings roof,” Barth suggested. “But it seems she trusts you, or something of the like.”
“Hard to say now.” I frowned. “I kind of… came out to her.”
“As in… coming out as a gay man?”
“I identify as bi…” I paused, passing the suited man a judging glance. “How did you-?”
“You went in to donate blood once, and answered on the questionnaire that you had experienced sexual contact with-”
“Okay, okay, keep your voice down. Look, it just came out in casual conversation.”
Barth frowned. “And you’re afraid now that the girl is going to out you to her father? None of his preachings has ever indicated particular feelings for or against the LGBT community.”
I peeked around the corner, glancing in the window for our table. “Well, the best thing to do is to leave the girl out of it. If she doesn’t like the thought of me working with you and against her father, she has ammunition to turn it back on me. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
After taking in Barth’s plan, I slithered back into the restaurant, leaving the suited man to return at his own pace. Jess was already eating. I finished my own food in silence, offering only a few glances across the table at her.