23. No-Tell Motel

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"Layla, wake up

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"Layla, wake up. We're here."

The bland ham and cheese sandwich and the steady hum of the truck's engine had lulled me into a deep sleep soon after we left the gas station. Rubbing my eyes, I squinted against the brightly lit glow of the Motel 6 sign. A glance at the dash told me it was nearly eleven o'clock.

Jake killed the engine and rolled his shoulders. "We made good time. We're just outside of El Paso now so it should only take us about a half hour to get to the farm tomorrow."

That was the good news. The bad news was that Motel 6 had a minimum age for check in. I was rejected at check in by the clerk at the desk. Jake, was not.

"You're not 22 years old," I grumbled, following him down the battered hallway with my finger trailing a path across the pale peach wallpaper. The carpet was a dark green but had faded to a lighter shade down the well-trodden middle.

We stopped in front of a blue door with a number plate that read 107. Shrugging my backpack onto the same shoulder he had his duffel hanging from, he unlocked the door and pushed it open. "I can't believe you don't have a fake ID. We're going to have to fix that if we're gonna hang out."

Without dignifying that with an answer, I stepped past him and entered the room.

It was small and cramped but clean enough save for the strong smell of mildew and bleach. A queen sized bed with a faded blue and orange coverlet sat in the center of the room, dominating most of the space. Aside from the bed, there were two spartan nightstands, a single fraying chair and a small dresser with a big boxy TV on top of it.

No couch.

Jake set our bags down on the floor. "You can shower first if you want."

"You go first." I had to call Peyton.

Without responding, he bent down and reached for his bag. I shoved my sweaty hands into the back pockets of my shorts. Being in such a small space with him was making me uneasy. He was a big guy, probably the same size as Peyton, but they gave off different energies. Peyton was solid and reserved, steadfast in his bulk where Jake was... electric. He was leaner, graceful and agile, with an undercurrent of energy about him that seemed to hum just beneath his skin that made him... magnetic. Since he had his back to me, I didn't even bother to try to keep myself from staring at the way the thin cotton of his shirt pulled across his shoulder blades as he rummaged through his bag.

When he straightened up and looked at me, I belatedly realized that I would have to move to give him access to the bathroom. Flustered, I turned sideways, averted my eyes, and waited.

Oh, he noticed, alright. But this time, he had the decency to keep his fool mouth shut. In fact, he stiffened his spine and turned his face sideways, taking extra care to make sure he didn't brush against me as he passed.

Moments later, the shower started to run. Exhaling, I called Peyton, meaning to tell him the truth but ended up reassuring him that I was okay and bid him good night instead. Then, I flopped down onto the bed, stared at the stucco ceiling, and felt horrible.

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