“I can’t believe it was this simple to get back out of the forest,” Aloise said. “I was, like, twenty minutes from town.”
“Seventeen, actually,” Manny said, slowing down to pull into the gas station.
“It only takes seventeen minutes for me to go from my driveway to downtown Alpena.” He parked near a gas pump and hopped down from his Jeep, grabbing the gas can from the bed of the truck and setting it on the pavement. Swiping his own credit card at the pump, he had the gas can half full before Aloise even slid down from the cab and made her way around to his side.
“Qué estás haciendo?” She put her hands on her hips, momentarily distracting him. The can reached its fill line and overflowed while he stared at her slim waist and perfectly manicured hands.
“Whoa!” Manny jumped back to avoid getting splashed and hurried to stop the flow from the nozzle. “Apparently single-handedly destroying the environment. That’s what I’m doing.”
“I should be paying for that,” she said. “It’s my car we’re filling with gas.”
“True, but dare I remind you that I’m far wealthier than you’ll ever be unless you agree to marry me.” Manny replaced the nozzle into the holder on the pump and crouched down to screw the fuel cap into place.
“You haven’t exactly asked me to marry you.” Her playful comment sent shivers up his spine.
Without second-guessing his idiocy, and because he was already crouched at her feet, Manny lowered to one knee and reached for her hand. “My dearest Aloise, deny thy father and refuse thy name. But if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and you will no longer be an Ashish.”
“That’s Juliet’s line,” Aloise said. “Besides in all my childhood fantasies about the day my future husband proposed to me, never did I imagine he would propose at a gas station, kneeling in a puddle of gasoline.”
“But will you marry me anyway?” Manny squeezed her hand and grinned up at her.
“Quizás,” she said, pulling her hand away. “Now, come on, you have to come meet my father before I can decide.”
“Ooh, that’s right. What was I thinking?” Manny lifted off his knee, which now had a growing ring of unleaded gasoline soaking his knee cap. He’d probably have to throw these jeans away. That stain would never come out. “I have to ask your father’s permission before I can propose. Probably should change my clothes first. I’d hate to meet your father covered in gasoline.”
“I think I have a pair of sweats in my gym bag in the back seat of my Jeep.” Manny lifted the gas can back into the bed of his truck and brushed his hands on his now-ruined jeans. “Let’s go get your car.”
They headed back into the woods, which were now dark and foreboding. Being out here by herself at night would have been terrifying. He was glad Aloise found him when she did. He pulled up behind her car and pointed his headlights, so they shone like a spotlight.
Quickly sliding down from the cab, he lifted the gas can from the bed of his truck and hurried over to empty the can into her vehicle before she could protest. He wanted to take care of her. Not that she was a damsel in distress. Okay, she was indeed a damsel in distress and Manny liked the way he felt rescuing her.
Aloise didn’t argue and headed over to her car to start the ignition. With a little encouragement the rental vehicle purred to life. She lowered the window and called out to him, “I’ll follow you.”
“I gotta change my pants first,” Manny said, unbuttoning his jeans while walking back toward his truck.
“Are we heading back to your house?” She looked over her shoulder.
“No, I’m going to change right here by my truck.” He smirked and unzipped his jeans, toying with her.
“You’re going to take off your pants in the middle of the woods?” She glanced around as if nervous he’d make a spectacle of himself.
“You’re the only one out here to see me, babe. You can watch if you want to.”
“Muy divertido.” She faced forward and pursed her lips, raising her chin in defiance. He walked backward toward his truck waiting for her to peek out the sideview mirror, which she did. He grinned at her and raised his eyebrows then turned to finish his short trek.
Without any further teasing, Manny opened his back door and reached for his gym bag. Keeping the door open to provide some privacy, he slipped off his sneakers and removed his gasoline-soaked jeans, tossing them into the bed of his truck. His jogging pants matched his hooded sweatshirt and he didn’t feel uncomfortable heading to town in mismatched clothes.
He climbed into the Jeep and pulled forward, so his truck was perpendicular to her car. He rolled down the passenger side window and leaned over to razz her a little more. “Boxers or briefs?”
“I was not watching you change your pants,” she insisted. “Now show me the way out of this terrifying forest before I have a panic attack.”
Manny chuckled at her reaction, rolled up his window and let his foot off the brake, leading the way out of the Thunder Bay State Forest.