The Greyhound's motor hummed quietly through the night, massaging her temples with sensual grace. The setting was perfect for slumber, but she propped up heavy lids and pressed her forehead against the cold sheet of scratched plexiglas. So many miles of blackness. She strained to see something. The whole point was to see something, but the world offered only her own reflection, washed every second or so in the fleeting glow of passing streetlights.
She pushed back the seat and eased into the comfort cruiser's plush padding. At dawn it seemed like pair of vagrant's trousers, tarnished with wear and torn in the seat. Hours, miles, memories later, it surrounded her with warmth. She thought of the first boy she ever kissed. She wore his jacket, his ring, his old Rugby shirt with the ever-stained elbows. Nine men, two kids and four jobs later, she wore a leash.
The young man next to her mumbled something, swatted an imaginary fly from his nose, and fell back to blissful unconsciousness. Ten hours en route and he slept the last eight. She wanted to smack him, but he was too gorgeous to wound. She could never hold a grudge against a pretty boy, especially one with lush auburn hair. A lock wrestled free from the spray and dangled by his forehead. She wanted to eat it up. The boy had cheekbones you could count on. Harry had no cheekbones. The poor bastard had no definable anything.
She looked again at the mock mirror and found the truth starting back at her. Laugh lines, eyes flanked by marching wrinkles, a speckling of gray dashed about her hair. She closed her eyes and imagined time passing faster than the lines on the roadway. Diets, crunches, miles on the treadmill. They were nice ideas, but they couldn't stop the aging. She'd trade a lifetime for the plaid flannel skirts of her yesteryear, but high school halls were so far from this dingy little bus, this forgotten strip of nothing.
The Greyhound sighed, slowed, and drifted slightly to the right. A moment later the brakes settled into the locked position and a dim cabin light drifted through the mobile people cocoon. The driver's voice crackled softly, spouting local facts and average temperatures. The rest stop offered bathrooms and phones and a restaurant supposedly known for its pecan pie. He offered forty-five minutes for coffee, leisure, and mindless chatter, then back on the road. He was brief and quiet and so certain sounding, like one of those good fathers she read about in Disney books. She thought of hers, then didn't.
"Where are we?" asked the pretty boy.
He squirmed and stretched and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. She watched him through the blackness, pretending not to hear. He asked again, so she turned and met his hopeful eyes.
"Somewhere in the Carolinas, north I think."
"North if we're lucky."
She shrugged and looked away.
"Are you getting off?" he asked.
"How about some coffee then?"
He stood and offered her his hand. She took it on reflex, then winced and yanked it away. He frowned slightly and walked head down through the crowed tube.
She sat silently while the bus emptied, her eyes glazed over, staring into the night. She pulled a compact from her purse and checked her face. Her makeup held, but her hair needed work. She ran a brush through a section of matted blond curls, but gave up on the second stroke. She was tired of primping. Ten years of looking just so did nothing for her life. Why should today be any different? She tied it in a scrunchy, grabbed some cash from her purse, and stepped to the street.
An unexpected burst of cool air rosed her cheeks and sent a chill down her back. It had been a long time since she felt cold. She missed it all, snow, jackets, cuddling by a fire. Even a half-assed Carolina winter felt real in the face of what Florida offered. She looked north and thought of snow angels and New Year's in New York. She turned her collar up, stuffed her hands in her coat and walked to a deserted bench outside the restaurant. She watched as a stream of headlights ignored the speed limit, silently wishing to swap lives with someone, anyone at all.
"Hey," said the pretty boy, tapping her on the shoulder. "I thought you could use this." He handed her a cup of coffee and smiled. "I guessed light and sweet."
"Good guess," she said.
They shared a moment of comfortable silence, each staring into the nothing spread about the road. No words, no trite conversation, just breathing and thinking and a whole mess of not getting to know each other. It was the best relationship she never had. Then he spoke and ruined it all.
"You just look it."
"A woman like you alone on a bus? It doesn't make much sense to me. Something had to put you here."
"Well you sure as hell don't dress like bus people. I do, but that's more of a college thing than anything else. I'm here because I'm broke. You're here because something went wrong."
"My jeans tell you all that?"
"No, that designer blouse of yours does the trick. You could have flown to wherever it is you're ultimately going, but you didn't and I find that interesting. There's got to be a story behind it."
"You a writer?"
"Shit no. Pre-law. But that stuff can be pretty dry. Between semesters I become an avid people watcher. I like to size 'em up, you know? Every now and then I go deeper and try to step into their lives and figure them out from the inside. It's good practice for the courtroom."
She blew the steam from her coffee and sipped it slowly. "So what else do my clothes tell you?"
"That you left in a hurry. Bus trips are long trips. People on busses go one way and intend to stay. You brought a knapsack? That's nothing. I bet you take more than that to the gym."
"How do you know that's all I brought?"
He smiled sheepishly and kicked a patch of dirt on the ground. "I noticed you when you got on in Tallahassee. I've been riding since Tampa."
"Where you headed?"
"Boston, and you?"
"Not sure. I was thinking New York, but I might get off in D.C. if time doesn't start passing."
"That's another tip off."
"A lady like you with no set plans."
She poured the remainder of her coffee on the grass and tossed the empty container to a nearby trash can. "What's with all this woman like me crap anyway? You don't even know my name."
"You're right I don't," said the pretty boy, pushing back the hair from his eyes. "Care to help me out on that one?"
"Oh I see."
She straddled the picnic bench to face him square. "See what?"
"You've got guy troubles. That's what this is all about."
"No sale kid," she said, laughing despite herself. "That's too easy. Every woman has guy troubles, even the ones without a guy."
"So what is it then? Money, family, a career gone bad?"
"You're a real piece of work. You know that?"
He nodded and watched her fidget her way into a patch of silence. She looked to the trash and longed for the cup she tossed. She needed something to hold, something to busy her hands, but the table was bare and her purse was on the bus. Moments ticked away, but he just sat there, daring her to give in. She did.
"I was happy once. I was popular and pretty and drove this wicked little Camaro. Everyone knew me. Everyone. Now I'm just a jobless mini-van pilot who hates her daughter for turning into the me I was when I was young. I'm so damn jealous of everyone. I just had to get away."
"Away from who exactly? Her? No, I don't buy that. It's not a who at all, is it? It's more a what, right? You're running from time, hoping to bump into the girl you used to be."
He took a pin from his letterman's jacket and fastened it to her coat. "Here, this might help." He lifted her chin and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. "It's all right," he said. "Really."
She smiled and for the first time, noticed his eyes. They were brown, warm, and colored with the innocence of youth. He believed in things. She could tell. He cared. He tried. He laughed hard and often. In his world, mountains were still climbable and he'd try every one. He'd yet to see a fake corporate smile. He'd never been cheated on, or lied to. Santa came every Christmas and he always kissed someone on New Year's Eve. She wanted desperately to be the girl he held when Dick Clark did his business. Just once. Just one more dance at the prom.
He knew she was thinking it over, running through the pros and cons in her mind. He backed off, stayed silent, just watching, waiting, and hoping her state of despair was enough to send her over the edge. It was. At her prompting they made wild, hurried, passionate love right there on the table. She kissed him afterwards and raced to the bus like a love struck schoolgirl.
He watched her for a moment, then pulled a pack of Newport Lights from his coat pocket. He tapped the package to his left hand, knocking the tobacco in place. He mouthed a cigarette, fumbled with his lighter, and struck fire on the third attempt. A pack a day, just like his pop.
He thought about the old man as he sucked a batch of smoke to his lungs. Time sure beat him up. He pictured him passed out on the couch, beer on the coffee table, football on the tube. Mom would be out gardening or shopping or raising hell at some PTA fund-raiser. She never slowed down that one. Always moving.
He took another drag, but all at once the cigarette tasted bitter. He snubbed it on the table and flicked it to the grass. A moment later he was crying.
Tim Toterhi is an author, martial arts instructor and business consultant. He has published several short works of fiction and is currently writing a women's self-defense empowerment book. Copies of his novel, "MacLoughlin's Game" can be found on-line at: www.e-pulp.com/mainstrm/game.html. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Windy on Mars ~ Greyhound
The Woman Whose Lover Kept Leaking Her Love
Dance of the DNA
|The Ten Commandments
of Creative Women