Outside Ridgefield everybody say "Kanorado!"

Wednesday, Nov 24th
Kanorado, Kansas

The first few hours of a road trip were his favorite. The purgatory between waking and finally pulling away from the drive. Awake before the sun so they could beat it to the horizon. Going through the motions of loading the truck and slipping into the clothes laid out the night before, the world outside still dark and sleeping while the house bumbled with lamp-lit life.

The not-awake-enough-for-music quiet on the drive from home to the nearest McDonalds for black coffee and salty breakfast sandwiches. The sleepy flow of conversation, hushed as if to not disturb the slumbering streets.

But eventually, the sun would wake and rise to meet them. Blankets borrowed from bed and heavy eyelids were pushed aside to welcome the golden rays of the morning. Excitement warmed them and turned their eyes glittering with interest at the things that passed them by. Colorado was a whirl of trees and undulating land, cresting and falling beyond the window to the ebb and flow of their conversation.

Miles passed with the hours, quicker than he really expected. Sooner than he realized, they were passing state lines, and Kansas was welcoming them to... Kanorado!

"There's a city called Texarkana. I wonder who did it first." He mused as he searched for signs to the nearest gas station. It wasn't time for lunch, but they were Weres, which meant the snacks they'd packed this morning had been thoroughly ransacked. This was as good a place as any to find somewhere to stretch their legs and restore the cache.
They both had the same habit of beating the morning sun. Different routines often followed, lanes that ran parallel with few intersections, with Maxine usually being the one who had to head out of the house first. Today disrupted that pattern. Not so used to climbing into the passenger side and then finding him there so early in the day.

But it was all things nice. Soft in her hand, like a fresh ball of cotton. Despite the fact that they were riding off the last full moon, apprehension painted her in random moments. Not for any reason to do with worrying or disaster planning. There was just a certain degree of anxiety that came with being expected anywhere, least of all by her family, who'd most likely steal her boyfriend from her the moment they pulled into the driveway of her parents' home. And then that would be out of her hands and she couldn't control it!

All in all, a small sacrifice to make for what she knew would be a worthwhile trip for the both of them. A poor night's sleep that'd left her weary took most of the edge off there. It'd be fine. She wanted him exactly where he was and as he was, and she forgot all the rest when she remembered how willingly he'd agreed to come with her.

By the time the highway took them over state lines, her eyes were steadily following the sign that told them they were leaving Colorado. It passed almost too quickly, the reflection of her blue flannel cutting a soft outline in the window once all she saw were fields of wheat again. Had she not known better, Maxine could've sworn they'd already crossed over to her home state some while back. Kanorado disagreed.

Maxine laughed to wake herself up properly, running a hand over her cheek and towards the side of her face. "Us. We did everything first," she joked, aware of how that sounded. "At least that's what you're going to say if anyone asks."
Us. Them. Her. Kansas was a part of Maxine, making it now a part of him. It made him want to take her to Ouray. He would try and make a point to do that soon. Maybe in the spring, when the weather was nice and the basin was rich with growing things.

He grinned into the side of his mouth, conceding with a nod, "Alright, I'm on board with Kansas supremacy." He agreed, fingers fanning up atop the steering wheel, and coming back down in a drumming wave.

"Kanorado." He tried out the word aloud, snickering at how stupid it sounded. It was the kind of stupid that appealed. The sort of name he'd pick if he was ever given the opportunity to name a city.

"What snacks should we get?" He proposed as they approached what seemed like the only gas station in town.
Kanorado didn't sound entirely right when it slipped off his tongue. It missed the sound of practice. But it was sweet in its confidence, and when he snickered she looked over at him with a grin that bore the signs of experiencing all the same humour right beside him.

Cliff's follow-up question renewed her expression. Inhaling and then exhaling with soft bafflement and brows that sat high. They'd made it halfway through the road trip, so naturally her mind went forwards.

"Candy," she said. And then as if to elaborate what she meant, she added, "We should pick some up for the kids. They're going to drive you wild."
Candy? He cast her a sideways glance, mouth slanted in mild surprise. He knew she liked sweet things, but stocking up on just candy felt like a bad move right before a holiday based on eating a lot.

The clarification warmed his smile, blooming it further across his cheeks. The kiddos. He’d known there’d be kids there, of course, given her whole family would be there.

The reminder rekindled the excitement that had been an ever burning ember, warming the hearth of his chest and setting aglow his anticipation. He hadn’t been around children since the last time he’d seen Alejandra.

”How do you know what to get? All the candy?” He said in answer, “What do kids like most?”
All the candy was, in all actuality, not the wrong answer. Maxine had never put much thought into thinking about preferences when kids were going to be kids. They'd eat anything when all they saw was a fairy godmother that was slipping them sweets mom and dad weren't as lenient with. Being the only aunt was a uniquely cool job (and one she'd gotten into trouble about before).

"S'long as there's enough to go around they'll pick their favourites. Pop Tarts. Sour worms?" Maxine questioned with a chuckle, lifting the blanket from her legs to begin folding it. "We just can't bring peanuts in. Allergies."

Not a consideration either of them had to make, but a sure enough reminder they were visiting a very human family.
Pop Tarts absolutely did not count at candy. But there were thankfully enough options for other actual candy that he could spare breaking that news to Maxine. They were unlimited, save for anything with peanuts.

He would have been genuinely lost without the clarification. At least for a few moments. He didn't know what kind of sign it was that he'd entirely forgotten that people could be allergic to peanuts. How fragile human bodies were that even the mere suggestion of a kind of nut could send you to the hospital. He genuinely couldn't remember the things he'd been allergic to as a human.

"Okay. Let's get as much candy as we can get for twenty dollars and become the favorites." He suggested.
"Alright," Maxine fell into relaxed agreement, flopping the unevenly folded blanket back in her lap.

"Did your sister ever have any kids? Because I don't... you don't need to be worried. They'll love you. I mean they'll have all the questions for you." She gave him an understanding glance, fingers hooking under the car's handle without pressing and pushing it open.
He was pulling the truck into the tiny parking lot when she asked it, the engine quieting to a trundling hum as the tires crunched over gravel. Her words warmed him more than the vents in the dash did, despite the small tinge of disappointment that was inspired by thinking too long about his sister or his mother's side of the family.

"Good thing I'm good at answering questions." He assured, not in the least bit worried that he'd find some way to entertain curious questions. He looked forward to it, actually. Even from those older than the children. The more miles they covered, the more he was anticipating actually getting to meet Maxine's family. Her family was so much of what made up Maxine. The love they fostered, the lessons in loving and caring they'd instilled. He was eager to see the source of the love that Maxine spouted daily.

"And as for your question. Yes, two, but I've only met the older son once." He admitted as he pulled into a parking spot proper. Was he ready to admit that it had been at his father's funeral that he'd met the kid? He'd barely been walking at that point. His mother and half-sister had come to the viewing out of what he assumed was respect. He'd been angry back then. It was hard to revisit that time, even in memory.

But if Maxine asked, he knew he'd answer. He was about to see so much of her past, no doubt get to hear plenty of stories of the woman and girl she'd been before he knew her. He didn't have much in the way of family to tell Maxine all of those things, so he'd just have to be the one to share all of who he'd been.
She could feel it. Without meaning to, she could pry and spy how what she asked or said made him feel. In only small dulled doses, but even the slightest glimpse of something was much much more than she'd ever had before. Learning to be okay with that didn't happen overnight. So all she could do was try to not feel like she was choosing to read his mind when she wasn't supposed to be, by leaning into the knowledge that he was going through all the same as her. Cliff rarely gave her a reason to doubt, anyway.

The elaboration earned a weaker smile. Estrangement seemed unbearable, especially with family. Maxine knew it could be necessary. Was, in some cases. But it was an experience she lacked so severely when she was lucky enough to have had such a stable home.

He didn't even call him his nephew.

"Oh yeah, you're going to lose your mind," she promised, knuckles running down his beard. Gradually her expression turned to an all-knowing tease. "I just can't wait to see it."

Chuckling, she disappeared out the door like she'd misbehaved. Forgetful when it mattered, he could count on her having left her wallet somewhere obvious in the truck.
He leaned into the touch in the way someone turns toward a source of warmth. Subconsciously, not because he chose it, but because his body was naturally inclined to do so. He felt the magnetic pull of her at all times, and it was a show of decades of learning restraint that he wasn’t constantly touching some part of her.

That being said, he reached out a playful hand after her when she stole away through the door, her bet against his sanity leaving him bemusedly nervous. What, exactly, was he getting into? And how much was she going to enjoy herself?

He was swift in turning off the engine, not once looking for her wallet, instead grabbing his own. A thoughtless thing. He’d pay her way through the entire world without a blink of an eye if she didn’t stop him.

Soon he was close to her again, reaching that same hand to gently pinch at her hip. “You won’t miss me when I get whisked away?” He teased.
Spurred by him, Maxine was full of roguish laughter as she closed the door before his outstretched hand could reach.

The wind's chill was a bitter surprise as she headed towards the door on foot, wrapping her flannel around her with tight arms, pinched on her hip moment's later when he reappeared. Contrary to what she would've done were she ticklish, she swayed conversationally into him with her shoulder.

"'Course I'll miss you," she relented there, voice drifting low, her grin a whisper. "But I'll get to feel you around even when I'm not with you." :3
How was it possible to want her closer, even now? Even when it nearly felt like they shared their breaths between their lungs. He maintained that proximity to her as they approached the door, and he distantly noted to himself that he would probably have to be mindful of how much he touched her when they were around her family. He didn't want to send the wrong message. Even as Maxine stated quite plainly why it'd be a struggle.

"Mm," He mused to the sound of the bell above the door chiming, "Not a bad deal, now is it?" The warmth of the store welcomed them, and his eyes drifted to the shelves, wondering how much a store in a tiny town like this would have in stock.
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