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Chapter Five

They were headed east on the highway. Nick and Amanda had kept up a steady stream of conversation, while Brian napped in the far back. Every once in awhile Nick had glanced back at Brian's sleeping form and laughed, "And he claimed he'd stay up the whole time we were traveling."

"Where is the first stop anyway?" she asked.

Nick smirked. "Actually, our first stop is the longest stop on the whole trip, and it took me forever to get the permits and special arrangements for it."

Amanda laughed, "You didn't wave the Backstreet Boy card did you?"

"I'm afraid I did," he admitted, flushing slightly, "But you do what it takes, right?"

"So.. Tell me... Where are we headed?" Amanda asked.

Nick grinned. "We're going to the Grand Canyon."

Amanda's eyebrows shot up, "The Grand Canyon?" she laughed, "And what on earth are w going to do there?"

"Camp, of course," Nick replied.

"Your bus isn't exactly going to blend in with the other RVs, you know," Amanda laughed.

"Oh I know, that's why we're parking it off site," Nick replied.

"So we're not actually camping at the Grand Canyon, we're camping near it," Amanda teased.

Nick smirked, "No. No, we're camping in the Grand Canyon. The bus isn't allowed in there, so we're taking the equipment in separately and there's a park ranger who's gonna drive us down and help set up and all that. We have special permits for staying in the canyon and campfires under supervision and all that. It took weeks for me to score the permits."

Amanda's face was appropriately stunned. "You're serious," she stammered at last, a gasping laugh escaping her. "You're really serious?"

"Yes," Nick laughed at her surprise, "Of course I am. Plus, you were the major inspiration for a big part of it."

"I was?" she asked.

Nick smiled and nodded. "Mhm. Remember the day I stood you up at the coffee house, and you said something about riding a donkey, and I flipped out and told you I'd explain why later?"

Amanda's eyebrow raised, "...you didn't."

Nick laughed, "We're gonna be taking a three hour tour along a cliff edge on burros."

Amanda snorted. "Sorry," she said, "I just can't imagine you on a burro. Almost less than I can picture you on the motor cycle you keep saying is in the back of the rig."

"Well, I'll admit," Nick said, laughing, "I can't really picture me on a burro, either, I'm not fond of - uh - horse-like creatures."

"You don't like horses?" she asked, astonished, "God, how can I like you? Horses are gorgeous."

"It's not that I don't like'em," Nick answered, "It's just that they don't like me. They're all out to get me, see."

"Out to get you?"

Nick laughed, it even sounded ridiculous to him. He glanced at her for a split second, then turned back to the road. "Every time I have ever ridden a horse, they have attempted to kill me," he said dramatically. "And then they laugh at me."

"That wasn't the horse laughing, it was probably your friends," Amanda teased.

Nick was smiling, but he said, "Hey stop picking on me! I get enough shit from the horses."

"And how many times have you ridden a horse?" she asked.

"Enough times," Nick replied firmly. His smile was curling the edges of his mouth slightly, as he suppressed laughter. "The last time it was at Kevin's ranch in Kentucky. The horse threw me into the mud, and I cursed at it, and it actually reared and broke my ankle."

"So it didn't laugh at you, it just traumatized you," Amanda said.

"No, it laughed at me after it broke my ankle. Like this," Nick made a funny wheezing whinny of a sound, which set Amanda bursting out laughing. "I'm telling you," Nick said laughing, too, "It was an evil, evil horse, and it was trying to kill me."

"It was about a hundred years old and it was the gentlest horse you could ever ask to meet." Brian suddenly appeared between them, pulling up a folding chair and leaning on both their armrests.

Amanda laughed, "Aww, did the mean little pony get Nick?"

Brian smirked, "It was Kevin's father's horse," he explained, "It was about eighteen years old at the time. A speckled mare," he said. "Darcy."

Amanda smiled, "Did Kevin's father keep a lot of horses?"

"Oh yeah, the Richardson's was like a farm," Brian said, "My brother and I used to ride our bikes over there to go visit the horses and the chickens and crap. Most of the animals ended up migrating to our place after Uncle Jerald died, but Aunt Anne kept the one horse because it was my uncle's favorite."

Amanda frowned, "How did your uncle die?"

"Cancer," Brian answered.

Nick's face clouded.

"I'm so sorry, Brian. God, it seems like everyone's got cancer these days," Amanda said, shaking her head. "When was it?"

"1991," Brian answered, "A long time ago. Nick never even got to meet Jerald."

"But damn if I met his evil horse," Nick piped up.

Amanda laughed, "Horses are not evil... You're being dramatic." She turned a bit in the seat to look at Brian, "Did you have a good nap?"

Brian smiled, "Yeah, it was nice to relax for once. My son keeps me going pretty much constantly."

"Baylee's a bundle of energy," Nick agreed, "He's like everywhere all at once. Like in cartoons, you know, when people have like bionic speed? Fwoom... Fwooon!" He jerked his head to indicate the speed. "That's Baylee."

Amanda laughed, "Aw. I've actually seen pictures of Baylee before," she said, "He looks exactly like you, Brian."

Brian grinned, "He's a great kid."

Nick nodded, "Yeah, he really is. He's like the only kid I can stand being around."

"You'll get to meet him when we get to Marietta," Brian promised with a smile, "We're meeting him and Leighanne at my house there before we finish the road trip."

Amanda smiled, "That'll be nice." She changed the subject, "So, why the Grand Canyon?" she asked.

"Well it's some place we've been, but never longer than a day trip," Nick said, listing reasons, "It's an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetimes. We're planning on doing the camping so we can see the sun rise and set over the edge of the canyon."

Brian smiled, "It's going to be beautiful," he said.

Something about the reverence in his tone when he said those words made Amanda look to him. "I'm sure," she answered, "It will be beautiful."

"But whether it's what I'm looking for or not..." Brian shrugged.

"What you're looking for?" Amanda asked, confused.

"Sure, didn't Nick explain the point of the trip?" he asked.

"Um... other than to see stuff he'd mapped out, no," Amanda answered hesitantly. She looked at Nick, who shrugged and mouthed 'my bad' to her, staying focused on driving.

Brian inched forward a bit further. "The point of the trip is to find the most beautiful thing in the world," he said. "Now I know it'll technically be the most beautiful thing in America since we're not going international with it, but that's what we're looking for."

Amanda was surprised by the depth of the purpose of the trip, especially coming from two boys that had always seemed so immature in her understanding. But to have a purpose like that for the itinerary... It was downright poetic.

"So you're going to the Canyon for the sunrises and sunsets?" she asked.

"For everything about it," Brian answered, "The whole thing of it. There's a reason they call it grand isn't there?" he asked.

"I've never been," Amanda admitted.

"Well then," said Brian with a smile, "I guess it's a good thing you came along."