I grab my bag and purse from the seat next to me and shoulder them as I march my way across the terminal, past a boatload of disgruntled passengers who clearly don’t have the option that I do, and make my way to the ticket counter.
“We’re closing the counter down ma’am,” the employee says on the other side.
“Wait, please,” I say, throwing my arms across the counter exasperatedly, “I just need to get another ticket somewhere else. Please, you’ll be doing me a huge favor!”
The wiry-haired old woman wrinkles her nose at me and appears to chew on the inside of her cheek. She sighs and then taps a few keys on her computer keyboard.
“Oh thank you!” I say. “You’re awesome! Thank you!”
She rolls her eyes.
I swing my purse around and toss it on the counter and search quickly through it to find my little zipper wallet.
“Where are you traveling?” she asks.
Oh great, there’s that million dollar question again. I look around the counter for any other ‘signs’ like that baked potato back at the North Carolina terminal, but I don’t see anything obvious. The old lady is starting to get even more agitated with me and it makes me more anxious to hurry and figure this out.
“Miss?” she says with a heavy sigh. She glances at the clock on the wall. “I clocked out fifteen minutes ago. I’d really like to get home to my dinner.”
“Yeah, I’m so sorry.” I fumble my credit card out of my wallet and hand it to her. “Texas,” I say first as a test, but then afterwards I realize it felt right on my tongue. “Yeah, anywhere in Texas would be great.”
The old lady raises an ungroomed reddish brow. “You don’t know where you’re going?”
I nod furiously. “Uh, yeah, I just mean that I’ll take any bus going to Texas that’s next in line.” I smile across at her hoping she’s buying this load of crap and doesn’t feel the need to have my driver’s license checked out for anything suspicious. “I’ve already been here for six hours. I hope you understand.”
She looks right at me for a long, unnerving moment and then takes my credit card from between my fingers and starts tapping her keyboard again.
“Next bus leaving for Texas is in an hour.”
“Great! I’ll take that one!” I say before she even has a chance to tell me whereabouts in Texas exactly.
It doesn’t matter. And she’s in such a hurry to get home that she’s doesn’t seem to think it matters, either. As long as I don’t care, she surely doesn’t.
I get my brand new bus ticket and shove it inside my purse next to the old one as the counter closes behind me at 9:05 p.m. and I feel a small sense of relief wash over me. Walking back towards my seat, I fish around in my purse for my phone, pulling it out to check to see if I missed any calls or text messages. My mom called twice and left a voicemail both times, but still no call back from Natalie.
“Baby, where are you?” my mom asks on the other end when I call her back. “I tried calling Natalie to see if you were staying with her but can’t seem to catch her. Are you OK?”
“Yeah, Mom, I’m fine.” I’m pacing in front of my chair with my phone pressed to my right ear. “I decided to take a trip up to see my friend Anna in Virginia. I’ll be here for a little while hanging out with her, but I’m OK.”
“But Camryn, what about your new job?” She sounds disappointed, especially since it was her friend who gave me the chance and hired me. “Maggie said you worked for a week and then didn’t show up or call or anything.”
“I know, Mom, and I’m really sorry, but it just wasn’t for me.”
“Well, the least you could’ve done was be courteous and tell her—give her a two-weeks-notice—something, Camryn.”
I feel awful about how I handled that and normally would not have done something so inconsiderate, but the situation unfortunately warranted it.
“You’re right,” I say, “and when I get back I’ll call Mrs. Phillips personally and apologize to her.”
“But it’s not like you,” she says and I’m getting worried she’s steering too close to the reasons why I really left and all that which I refuse to go into with her. “And to just up and leave to Virginia without calling me or leaving a note. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Stop worrying. Please. I’ll call you again soon, but I gotta go now.”
She doesn’t want to and I can tell by how deeply she sighs on the phone, but she gives up.
“OK, well you be careful and I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mom.”
I check my phone one more time, hoping maybe Natalie sent me a text message and I just didn’t see it. I scroll back to several days, even though I know full-well that if there were any unread text messages on my phone that there would be a little red circle on the icon indicating it.
I end up scrolling back down so far without realizing it that Ian’s name pops up and my heart freezes inside my chest. I stop it right there and start to run my thumb over his name so that I can read the back-and-forth between us shortly before he died, but I can’t.
I thrust the phone angrily back into my purse.
NOW I REMEMBER ANOTHER reason I don’t like soda: it makes me have to pee. The thought of being trapped on that bus with just a tiny matchbox restroom in the back forces me straight toward the facilities inside the terminal. I chuck the half-full soda in the trash on my way.
Passing up the first three stalls, because they’re disgusting, I close myself up inside the fourth and hang my purse and bag on the hook mounted at the top of the blue door. I spread a good layer of toilet paper over the seat so I don’t catch anything; do my business fast and now comes the strategic part. With one foot propped on the toilet seat to keep it from flushing on its own because of the sensor, I fumble the button on my jeans, reach out to get my bags from the hook and then open the door, all still with one foot propped awkwardly behind me.
And then I jump out fast right before the toilet flushes.
Blame it on Myth Busters; I was mortified for months after the episode on how the toilet really does spray invisible germs on you when it flushes.
The fluorescent lights in the restroom are duller than the ones in the waiting area. One flickers above me. There’s two spiders burrowed behind webs tangled with dead bugs in the corner wall. It stinks in here. I step in front of a mirror and look for a dry spot on the counter to put my bags and then I wash my hands. Great, no paper towels. The only way I’m drying my hands is by that obnoxious blower hanging on the wall, which never really dries anything, but just spreads the water around. I start to wipe my hands on my jeans instead, but I hit the large silver button on the hand drier and it roars to life. I wince. I hate that sound.
As I’m pretending to dry my hands (because I know in the end, I’ll be wiping them on my jeans anyway), a moving shadow behind me catches my eye in the mirrors. I turn around and at the same time the hand drier turns off, bathing the room in silence again.
A man is standing at the restroom entrance, looking at me.
My heart reacts and my throat goes dry. “This is the ladies restroom.”
I glance at my bags on the counter. Do I have a weapon? Yeah, I did at least pack a knife, though little good it’ll do me when it’s several feet away inside a zipped-up bag.
“Sorry, I thought this was the men’s room.”
Good, apology accepted, now please get the hell out of here.
The man, wearing dirty, old running shoes and faded jeans with paint stains on the legs, just stands there. This isn’t good. If it really was an accident that he came in here, surely he’d look more embarrassed and would’ve already turned tail and left.
I march over to my bags on the counter and I notice from the corner of my eye that he takes a few more steps toward me.
“I…didn’t mean to scare you,” he says.
I throw open my bag and dig around inside of it for my knife, while at the same time trying to keep my eyes on him.
“I’ve seen you on the bus,” he says and he’s still drawing closer. “My name is Robert.”
I swing my head around to face him. “Look, you’re not supposed to be in here. It’s not exactly the place for conversation and I suggest you leave. Now.” Finally, I feel the contours of the knife and grip it in my hand, keeping my hand hidden inside the bag. My finger presses down on the thin metal piece to set the blade free from the handle. I hear it click open and lock in place.
The man stops about six feet from me and smiles. His black hair is oily and slicked back. Yes, I remember him now; he’s been on every bus change with me since Tennessee.
Oh my God, has he been watching me all this time?
I pull the knife out of the bag and hold it up clutched in my fist, ready to use it and letting him know that I will not hesitate.
He just smiles. That scares me, too.
My heart is banging against my ribs.
“Get the hell away from me,” I say, gritting my teeth. “I swear to God I will f**king gut you like a pig.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he says, still smiling eerily. “I’ll pay you—a lot—just if you suck my dick. It’s all I want. You’ll leave the bathroom about five hundred dollars richer and I’ll get this image out of my head. We’ll both get something out of it.”
I start to scream at the top of my lungs when suddenly another dark shadow catches my eye. Andrew barrels into the man, hurling his body over a two foot space and onto the long counter. His back crashes into one of the mirrors. The glass shatters and shards rain down all over the place. I jump back and shriek, pressing my back against the hand drier, waking it up again. My knife fell from my hand at some point. I see it on the floor, but I’m too afraid to move right now to pick it up.
Blood drips off what’s left of the mirror when Andrew pulls the man off the counter by the front of his shirt. He pulls back his other hand and buries his fist in the man’s face. I hear a nauseating crunch! and blood pours from his nose. Again and again, Andrew rains blows down on his head, one bloody hit after another until the man can’t hold his head up straight and it starts to bob and sway drunkenly on his shoulders. But Andrew goes in for more, digging both of his hands into the man’s shoulders and lifting his feet from the floor, bashing his back twice against the tile wall.
He knocks him out cold.
Andrew lets go and the man’s body falls against the floor. I hear his head thump against the tile. Andrew just stands there hovering over him, maybe waiting to see if he’s going to get up, but there’s something disturbingly untamed in his posture and his enraged expression as he stares down at the unconscious man.
I can hardly breathe but I manage to say, “Andrew? Are you alright?”
He snaps out of it and jerks his head around to face me. “What?” He shakes his head and his eyes narrow under lines of disbelief. He marches over. “Am I alright? What kind of question is that?” He fastens his hands around my upper arms and stares deeply into my eyes. “Are you alright?”