“You must travel a lot,” I say glancing over.
“Not a lot,” she says. “Just once a year to visit my mama. She’s ninety-eight.”
“Yeah, that woman is as stubborn as a bull. Got the cancer five times already and she’s still livin’. Beats it every time.”
I smile warmly over at her.
“But if you don’t mind,” she says, pressing her back deeper against the seat and resting her head on it, “I’m in need of a long nap. I didn’t sleep a lick on the last bus—driver kept swervin’ all over the road.” She points upward. “Be careful on these busses. Y’meet all sorts of strange people and the bus drivers are usually sleep-deprived. Gotta watch ‘em, help keep ‘em awake by talkin’ to ‘em, or else you might end up over the guardrail upside-down in a heap of metal.”
Now why did she have to say that? I swallow down the memory of Ian’s wreck, which is eerily similar to her words and I just nod at her.
She closes her eyes, but then opens them back up and looks over at me one more time. “But really, it’s the people y’gotta watch out for. You never know who y’might meet, or what Ol’ Man Fate has in store for yah.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say. “Thanks.”
Tennessee slips by my window in a blur. Night falls and I eventually fall asleep, too. I don’t have any dreams; haven’t had a single dream since Ian died, but it’s probably better that way. If I have dreams they might provoke emotion and I’m done with emotion. I’m starting to get used to this feeling of not caring about anything. Aside from a few shady bus station dwellers, I’m really not afraid of anything anymore. I guess when you just don’t care it kind of makes fear your bitch.
I never used to curse this much, either.
The old lady and I depart ways in St. Louis and I ride all the way to Kansas with the double-seats to myself, finally getting to lay more horizontally across the seats instead of upright with my face pressed against the window.
Everything looks the same. Between home and Missouri, it seems the only things that change are the license plates and the signs welcoming travelers to each state, but then after you ride past them it’s just more trees and freeway. In every state there’s always a car broken down on the side of the road. There’s always a hitchhiker and a guy wearing a wife-beater carrying a gas can from his truck to the nearest exit where all the gas stations and fast food restaurants congregate. And there’s always, always a single shoe on the shoulder somewhere. I don’t know what it is with shoes being on the road. You never see a pair of pants or a shirt, and rarely do you see anything like a hat or a pair of sunglasses every once in a while. But the single shoes. What is it with the shoes?
A bus ride is like being in another world.
Everybody knows that when they get on, they’re gonna be here for a while. A long while. It’s overcrowded. People are usually packed in so closely that you can smell every different sort of cologne and deodorant and the different kinds of detergent and fabric softener that people use. And unfortunately, you can also smell the people that don’t wear cologne or deodorant at all and their clothes probably haven’t been washed in several days.
So far, I really don’t mind the ride so much. It only bothers me when I have to share space with someone.
There’s a two hour delay for my next bus and so I make my way through the partially crowded station in Kansas looking for a seat not too close to anybody else. Every bus station smells the same, mostly that overpowering fuel that’s starting to make me feel a little sick. I shift on the hard plastic seat, trying to get comfortable but it’s hopeless. There’s a couple of pay phones nearby and I briefly think about how obsolete pay phones are these days. Instinctively, I go to reach for my cell phone inside my sling bag, just to make sure that it’s still there.
The two hour delay drags by endlessly and when my next bus finally pulls into the station, I’m among the first small group of people to get up and stand in line. At least the seats on the bus have padding and I’ll be able to get somewhat comfortable again.
The bus driver, wearing navy blue and dark grey from the neck down, reaches out for my ticket and tears off his portion, handing the rest back to me. I tuck it safely down into my bag and board the bus, searching both rows of seats to find the one that feels like the one. I take a window seat near the back and instantly feel better once my body hits the comfort of the padding beneath me. I sigh and hold my bag close against my stomach, crossing my arms over it. It takes ten minutes or so for the bus driver to be satisfied that he has all of the passengers he’s supposed to have for this round. This time there’s only a handful of people, and thankfully, no screaming kids or obnoxious couples who don’t care that it’s gross to suck face in front of an audience. Nothing wrong with kissing in public—Ian and I did it all the time—but when it’s on the verge of becoming a porno, that’s a little much.
The driver goes to close the doors but then pulls back on the lever and they squeal open again. A guy gets on carrying a black duffle bag on his shoulder. Tall, stylish short brown hair and he’s wearing a tight-fitting navy tee and a sort of crooked smile that could either be genuinely kind, or something more confident. “Thanks,” he says to the driver in that laid-back way.
Even though there are plenty of empty seats for him to choose from, I still make it a point to slide my bag over onto the one next to me, just in case he decides it’s the one for him. It’s not likely, I know, but I’m a just-in-case kind of girl. The doors squeal shut again as the guy walks down the aisle toward me. I look down into the magazine that had been sitting inside the terminal and start reading an article about Brangelina.
I sigh with relief when he passes me up and takes the pair of empty seats behind me.
Finally, an under-populated bus I might actually get some deep sleep on. It’s all I really want to do. The longer I stay awake, the more I think about all of the things I don’t want to think about. I don’t know what I’m doing, or where I’m going, but I do know that I want to do whatever it is and get there soon.
I doze off after staring out the window next to me for an hour.
Muffled headphone music blaring right behind me wakes me up sometime after dark.
At first, I just sit here, hoping maybe he’ll notice the top of my now fully awake head bobbing over the seat and decide to turn the music down.
But he doesn’t.
I lean up, reaching back to rub a crooked muscle in my neck from sleeping on my arm and then I turn around to look at him. Is he asleep? How can anyone actually sleep with music blasting in their ears like that? The bus is pitch dark except for a couple of dim reading lights shining down onto books and magazines from above the passenger’s seats and the little green and blue lights at the front of the bus in the driver’s dashboard. The guy sitting behind me is covered by darkness but I can see one side of his face lit up by the moonlight.
I contemplate it for a second and then push myself up with my knees on the seat and I lean over the back of it, reaching out and tapping him on the leg.
He doesn’t move. I tap him harder. He stirs and slowly opens his eyes, looking up at me with my stomach hanging over the top of the seat.
He reaches up and pulls the earbuds from of his ears, letting the music funnel from the tiny speakers.
“Mind turning it down a little?”
“You could hear that?” he says.
I raise a brow and say, “Uhhh, yeah, it’s pretty loud.”
He shrugs and thumbs the MP3 player for the volume button and the music fades.
“Thanks,” I say and slide back down in my seat.
I don’t lie down across the seats in the fetal position this time, but lean against the bus and press my head back against the window. I cross my arms and close my eyes.
My eyes pop open, but I don’t move my head.
“Are you asleep yet?”
I raise my head from the window and look up to see the guy hovering over me.
“I literally just closed my eyes,” I say. “How can I already be asleep?”
“Well, I don’t know,” he whispers. “My granddad could fall asleep in two seconds flat after closing his eyes.”
“Was your granddad narcoleptic?”
There’s a pause. “Not that I know of.”
Wow, this is awkward.
“What do you want?” I ask as quietly as he had.
“Nothing,” he says grinning down at me. “Just wanted to know if you were asleep yet.”
“So I can turn the music back up.”
I think about it for a second, uncross my arms and lift the rest of the way from the seat, turning at the waist so that I can see him.
“You want to wait until I’m asleep to turn the music back up so that you can wake me up again?” I’m having a hard time getting this.
He smiles a crooked smile.
“You slept for three hours without it waking you up,” he says. “So, I’m guessing it wasn’t my music that did it, must’ve been something else.”
My eyebrows draw together. “No, ummm, I’m pretty sure I know it was the music that did it.”
“OK,” he says, slipping away from the seat and out of sight.
I wait for a few seconds before closing my eyes in case this might get weirder and when it doesn’t, I drift back into the Land of No Dreams.
THE SUNLIGHT BEAMING IN through the bus windows wakes me the next morning. I lift up to get a better view, wondering if the scenery has changed any yet, but it hasn’t. And then I notice the music blasting from the earbuds behind me. I creep up over the top of the seat, expecting to see him sound asleep, but he looks back at me with an I-told-you-so smile.
I roll my eyes and sink back down, pulling my bag onto my lap and sifting through it. I’m starting to wish I’d brought something to keep my mind busy. A book. A crossword puzzle. Something. I sigh heavily and literally start fiddling my thumbs. I wonder where we are in the United States, if I’m even still in Kansas and decide that we must be because every car that passes by the bus has Kansas license plates.
When I can’t find anything interesting to look at, I pay more attention to the music behind me.
Is that…? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Feel Like Makin’ Love comes from the guy’s earbuds; I can tell at first by the distinctive guitar rift in the solo that everyone knows even if Bad Company isn’t their kind of music. I don’t hate classic rock, but I much prefer newer stuff. Give me Muse, Pink or The Civil Wars and I’m happy.
The earbuds dangling over the back of the seat and practically on my shoulder scares the crap out of me. My body jerks up and a hand flies over as if to slap away a bug that at first I think just landed on me.
“What the hell?” I say, looking up at the guy as he hovers over me again.
“You look bored,” he says. “You can borrow them if you want. Might not be your type of music, but hey, it’ll grow on you. I promise.”