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Going the Distance

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Miranda turned her face up to the sun. Not a cloud in sight, and the day was warming up. Still, even at this time of year, it shouldn't be unbearably hot. The locals said they were going through a cool spell.

"Hey, Miranda?" Andrea said. "Remember back in Texas, when you got the crappy Chevy truck?"

Miranda winced. Thank goodness for the weather, because she'd need all the patience she could get if Andrea was in the mood to reminisce. "Of course I do. And it wasn't that bad."

"Yeah, right. It rattled and bounced and leaked oil like a motherfucker—" 

"Oh, honestly, your language…"

"Whatever, and it was just generally a terrible car, okay?"

Miranda sighed. "It wasn't the Boxster," she allowed. "I'll grant you that."

"Yeah. It was pretty awful. Hey, guess what?” Andrea wriggled her way out from beneath the Nissan Micra K10. Then she staggered to her feet, brushed the dirt off her jeans, and glowered at Miranda before spitting, "This is worse!"

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Miranda said, rolling her eyes and looking out again at the surrounding countryside.

Mountains on the horizon. Valleys beyond that. And stretching out all around them, as far as the eye could see, the waving grasses of the steppe. Astonishing, really. If pressed, she'd have to admit that rural Kazakhstan beat the daylights even out of the fall leaves of West Virginia.

Off in the distance, a lone shepherd regarded them from the midst of his flock. Miranda raised a hand in greeting. He waved back.

"I'm not being dramatic," Andrea said, putting her own hands on her hips. "Who's being dramatic? This heap is pretty much scrap and duct tape, and we're lucky if we can push it over 40 miles an hour—" 

"Those are the contest rules," Miranda reminded her. "It’s got to be a terrible car. The Mongol Rally is all in a good cause, Andrea. At least we're getting lost for charity this time. "

"Charity? We're the ones who need charity. The last village was fifteen miles back, the next one is ten miles ahead, and oh my God, we're going to die out here. We'll be eaten by wolves."

"Must you see the worst in everything? For instance—"

"Wh—see the worst? Me?"

"Our new friend over there," Miranda said, pointing at the shepherd, who had not ceased to regard them.

He waved again. Andrea folded her arms and huffed.

"The people of this region are remarkably hospitable,” Miranda said. “I'm sure we have only to walk over and say hello.”

"We're running out of money," Andrea said. "I really, really want to save the last of the bribe chest for the guards at the Mongolian border. If we ever get there. Which we totally won't."

"Maybe he'll help us out of the goodness of his heart.” Miranda adjusted her sunglasses. They were Gucci. "Or maybe he'll take these. Either will work. You just need to be resourceful.”

"Resourceful. Great. Why didn't I think of being resourceful? You know, I bet the twins are scared stiff."

Miranda shrugged. "When we were in Qostanay last night, I posted a picture to the rally website from my phone. I'm sure they'll see it.”

"A picture? Which picture?” Andrea glared at her. "It wasn't the one where I'd just spilled mare's milk all over myself, was it?"

"I cannot tell a lie."

"Great.” Andrea rubbed her hands over her face, streaking her cheeks with dirt. Miranda found it terribly appealing. "I'm going to get eaten by wolves and I won't even leave behind my dignity."

"Really," Miranda said, amused. "That's even better than last year when we got stranded in Canada. It was bears then, wasn't it?"

"Grizzly bears are not a joke. Didn't you see the movie about that guy who tried to live with them? Also, you know what else isn't a joke? Wolves!"

"Oh, come on," Miranda said, rolling her eyes again. "Where's your spirit of adventure?” She sniffed. "We become stronger by embracing the unknown."

"Says the woman who won't set a date," Andrea muttered.

Miranda tensed. The silence of the  steppe suddenly seemed oppressive. It had been years since Stephen, true, but still—Miranda had said yes, eventually, and surely there was no need to rush— 

"Yeah," Andrea sighed. “I know.”

Miranda relaxed. "It's not my fault you worked to get me to embrace spontaneity, and now I am."

"Spontaneity?” Andrea dug a hand into her hair. "After we get home I'm going to club you on the back of the head and you're going to wake up in front of a justice of the peace, that's how spontaneous I'm going to be. The twins'll help me, don't think they won't." 

"What a sweet thought. I'll be sure to dwell on it while we're getting eaten by wolves."

"God! You are just…"

"At any rate, we're wasting time," Miranda said, deciding Andrea needed some motivation. As always, it was up to her to provide it. "Why don't we see if we can get what's-his-name to wander this way? He might be of some help."

It worked perfectly. "I don't need some guy to fix our car," Andrea growled. She reached into her pocket and withdrew a slender pack of gum. She pulled a silver-wrapped stick out of the pack and thrust it beneath Miranda's nose. "Chew this. I need to use it to stick some stuff together and I hate spearmint."

Miranda unwrapped the gum and popped it into her mouth, chewing obediently. After a few moments, Andrea held out her hand, as if she expected Miranda to spit right in it. Typical! Miranda delicately removed the gum wad from her mouth and dropped it in Andrea's palm.

For some reason, this seemed to amuse Andrea, who suddenly grinned. Without a word, she leaned in and kissed Miranda, hard. "Huh. Spearmint's not so bad," she whispered.

Miranda, blushing and tingling, wondered what on earth the shepherd was thinking now. "One just has to keep an open mind," she managed.

"Yeah. I'm going back under the car. Why don't you play some music? I think the CD player still has batteries.” Before Miranda could reply, Andrea sat on the ground and, true to her word, wriggled on her back underneath the Micra.     

Well, she'd asked for it. Miranda opened the passenger door, reached behind the front seat, and pulled out the CD player. The car didn't have one built into the dashboard, of course. Caroline and Cassidy had refused to believe such things were possible when she'd told them. Then again, they weren't too sure about actual CDs, either.

She selected a disc, popped it in, and pressed play. Then she turned down the volume so it wouldn't scare the sheep.

As the first notes played, she heard Andrea groan underneath the car. "Oh, no…"

"Who else would it be?" Miranda asked as Willie Nelson joined Waylon Jennings in a duet.

"Hey, whatever happened to your musical theater kick? I was enjoying that one."

Miranda wrinkled her nose. "Andrew Lloyd Webber kept calling me.”

"No, I ain't goin' down to the border with you tonight," Waylon declared to Willie. "All the women are crazy, they like to party till daylight—" 

"Oh yeah," Andrea chuckled. “That’s right.”

"—on second thought, if I can find a clean shirt, I might."

"Anyway, there's no beating the classics," Miranda said.

"I guess not, huh? I might as well tell you, when we get back, I'm surprising you with tickets to Emmylou's tour. Shh, don't tell yourself."

With no one close enough to see, Miranda grinned. She leaned against the car door, crossed her legs, and looked once more into the expansive sky.

"The secret is safe with me, darling," she said. "So, how much farther to Ulan-Ude?"

The End