robert vaughan

The bus ride seemed never-ending. Just the Texas portion seemed longer than his entire summer vacation. He fidgeted with the yo-yo in his pocket. The woman across the aisle smiled. She’d gotten on in Dallas. She looked sort-of like a past babysitter, Gail. Gail taught him how to cheat at poker by reading other people’s expressions.

“Cat got yer tongue?” she drawled. He shook his head, looked out the window.

Tumbleweeds. Prairie dogs. What a shitty trip. He was sure his breath stunk, his swollen feet ached. Would his mother even be at the bus station. Or would he have to walk the mile or more to her apartment. He didn’t really want to see her.

“I’m Alice,” the woman tried again.

“Kurt,” he said self-consciously, a hand across his mouth.

She smiled. “Yer kinda young to be traveling alone, aren’t you?”

He shrugged, noticed her daisy dukes, and her velvety, smooth thighs. “I guess.” He picked at the shredding upholstery on the seat in front of him. “I’m meeting my mom in Tuscon.”

“That’s nice.” She paused, bit her dry lips. “My mother died.”

“Oh, sorry.” He moved toward the window, didn’t mean to. He’d known a kid in fourth grade, Brad, who blurted similar things. Brad poisoned the cat, or his sister was in the hospital in a coma.

“It’s okay,” She said. “Mom wasn’t, I mean… She didn’t…”

Kurt was unsure what to say, so he watched the land zoom by, the empty, tawny landscape unraveling at seventy-five miles an hour. He wondered what happened to that Brad kid.

“She… killed herself.”

“I’m sorry?” He’d lost track of what she’d been saying. He turned toward her.

She looked grim. “I’m headed to Los Angeles for her funeral.”

There was something about Alice. She seemed like a bird he once found with a broken neck. It had flown into their trailer’s kitchen window. He wanted to move toward Alice, maybe even sit beside her. Instead he stayed put.

“I don’t like funerals,” he added.

“No, me either.” Alice dabbed at a tear, but she didn’t make any crying noise.

“Hey, do you smoke?” he asked.

“Not supposed to,” she said, trying to smile. “On and off.”

“I think we have a stop coming up. I’ve been charting this trip on a map.” He flushed it out from his jean jacket pocket. “I borrowed it from the library.”

“Oh, that’s what it is. I saw you studying it when I sat down. Where’d your trip start?”

He showed her the map, relieved to change the subject. “Here,” he pointed to the Washington, D.C. area. She leaned across the aisle, studied the map. He tried not to look at her chest, tried to focus on the map. She smelled like bubble bath.

“You poor thing, you’ve been traveling a long way.” She stared, then handed the map back. “What a huge country we live in.”

“You can say that again.” He looked across the aisle. She was fluffing her hair and putting on lip stuff. He wondered about her age. “We’re supposed to stop next in San Angelo. Wanna get off the bus, have a smoke?”

She looked up, smiled. “Sure, Kurt.” Nodded. “That’d be nice.”

“They’re Camels.” He showed her the pack. “It’s all I’ve got.”

“That’s fine.” She smiled again. Her eyes and lips sparkled. “Your company is a real treat. Yer a nice kid.”

He blushed, readjusted the yo-yo in his pocket. The bus driver announced the San Angelo stop, arrival in ten minutes.

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