“Twenty-five,” he says. “What about you?”
He glances at me ponderingly, pauses and then subtly purses his lips.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, twenty-year-old Cam short for Camryn heading to Idaho to see her sister who just had a baby.”
My lips smile, but my face doesn’t. It’ll take a while before any of my smiles directed at him can be genuine. Genuine smiles can sometimes give the wrong impression. At least this way, I can be civil and kind, but not the civil kind who after a few big smiles ends up in a trunk with their throat slit.
“So, are you from Wyoming?” I ask and take another sip of my shake.
He nods once. “Yeah, was born there, but parents divorced when I was six and we moved to Texas.”
Texas. How funny. Maybe all of my crap-talk about their cowboy boots and reputation is finally catching up to me. And he doesn’t look like he’s from Texas, at least, not the stereotypical way that most people assume everyone from Texas looks like.
“That’s where I’ll be headin’ back to after visiting my dad—what about you?”
OK, to lie or not to lie? Oh screw it. It’s not like he’s a private investigator sent by my dad to get information. As long as I steer clear of #1…my last name, and #2…any addresses or phone numbers that might lead him back to my house in the event that I ever go back home, and then end up in his trunk with my throat slit. I think telling mostly the truth will be a lot easier than trying to conjure up a fitting lie for just about every question that he asks me and then having to remember all of them later. This is going to be a long bus ride, after all, and just like he said, we’ve got several busses to share before we part ways.
“North Carolina,” I say.
He looks me over. “Well, you don’t look like you’re from North Carolina.”
Huh? OK, that was really weird.
“Well, what’s a girl from North Carolina supposed to look like?”
“You’re very literal,” he says, grinning.
“And you’re sort of confusing.”
“Nah,” he says with a harmless, humorous snarl, “just outspoken and sometimes people can’t deal with that kind of shit. It’s like, you ask that guy over there if your ass looks big in those jeans and he’ll tell you, no. You ask me, and I’ll tell you the truth—anything out of people’s usual expectations throws them off track.”
“Really?” I’m not any closer to understanding this guy’s personality than I was before I knew his name. I just continue to look at him like he’s sort of nuts and I’m sort of intrigued by it.
“Really,” he answers matter-of-factly.
I wait for him to elaborate, but he doesn’t.
“You are very strange,” I say.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask?”
He laughs. “If I think your ass looks big in those jeans.”
I feel my face crinkle.
“I’d really rather not…I uhhh—.” Screw this times two. If he’s going to play games, I’m not going to sit back and let him win all the hands. I smirk at him and say, “I know my ass doesn’t look big in these jeans, so I don’t really need your opinion.”
A devilishly handsome grin sneaks up at the corners of his mouth. He takes another drink from his soda and goes to his feet, offering his hand. “Looks like our eight minutes are up.”
Maybe it’s because I’m still completely confused by this entire exchange, but I accept his hand and he pulls me to my feet.
“See,” he says looking over at me once and letting my hand go, “look how much we learned about each other in just eight minutes, Camryn.”
I walk beside him, but still keep a little distance. I’m not sure yet if his crafty comebacks and that confident air about him annoys me, or if I’m finding it more refreshing than my brain wants to admit.
Everyone on the bus gets their usual seats. I had left the magazine I took from the last terminal sitting on mine, hoping no one would come behind me and claim it. Andrew also got his usual pair of seats behind me. I’m glad he didn’t take my willingness to actually hold a conversation with him as the O.K. to plop himself back on the seat next to me.
Hours pass and we don’t talk. I think a lot about Natalie and Ian.
“Goodnight, Camryn,” I hear Andrew say from his seat behind me. “Maybe tomorrow you’ll tell me who Nat is.”
I rise up quickly and lean over the top of the seat. “What are you talking about?”
“Calm down, girl,” he says, lifting his head from his bag he pushed up against the bus to use as a pillow. “You talk in your sleep.” He laughs quietly. “Heard you bitchin’ at someone named Nat last night—something about Biosilk, or some shit like that.” I notice his shoulders shrug even though he’s lying down with his legs stretched across the empty seat, his arms crossed over his chest.
Great. I talk in my sleep. Just perfect. I wonder why my mom never told me.
Briefly, I think about what I could’ve been dreaming about and realize that maybe I have been dreaming after all, and I just don’t remember anymore.
“Goodnight, Andrew,” I say and slip back down into my own attempt at a comfortable position. I give a quick moment’s thought to the way I just saw Andrew, who actually looked pretty comfortable and I decide to try laying down the way he is. I thought about trying to sleep like that a few times, but I never wanted to be rude by letting my feet stick out into the aisle. No one’s going to care, I guess, and so I ball my bag packed with clothes up and position it behind my head, laying my body out over both seats just like Andrew. I’m already comfortable. I wish I’d have done this a long time ago.
The bus driver announcing that we’ll be arriving in Garden City in ten minutes wakes me up the next morning.
“Be sure to gather all of your belongings,” the driver says through his intercom, “and don’t leave trash on the seats. Thank you for riding through the great state of Kansas and I hope to see you again sometime.”
It sounded totally scripted and deadpan, but then I guess I probably would sound like that too, having to say the same thing to passengers every single day.
I lift up the rest of the way, pulling my bag from the seat and unzipping it to fish around for my bus ticket. I find it crumpled between a pair of jeans and my vintage-style Smurfs babydoll tee, unfold it and peer down into my next stop. Looks like Denver is about six and a half hours away, with two rest stops in-between. Damn, why did I choose Idaho? Really. Of all the places on the map, I chose mine based on a baked potato. I’m riding all this way and don’t even have anything to look forward to once I get there. Except more riding. Hell, I may just go ahead and use my credit card and buy a plane ticket home. No, I’m not ready for that yet. I don’t know why, but I know I can’t go back there yet.
I just can’t.
Surprised that Andrew has been so quiet, I find myself trying to see if I can glimpse him through the tiny space between my seats, but I can’t see anything at all.
“Are you up?” I ask, lifting my chin so maybe he’ll hear me back there.
He doesn’t answer and I lift up to see. Of course, he’s plugged in at the moment. I’m a little shocked I can’t hear the music funneling from the earbuds this time.
Andrew notices me and smiles, raising his hand and shaking his index finger as if to say good morning. I motion a finger too, toward the front of the bus to let him know there’s been an announcement. He pulls the buds from his ears and looks up at me, waiting for me to put words to the gesture.
A few days earlier…
I GOT A CALL from my brother in Wyoming today. He said our old man wasn’t going to be around much longer. He’d already spent the last six months in and out of the hospital.
“If you’re gonna see him,” Aidan said on the other end of the phone, “you better come now.”
I do hear Aidan. I do. But all I can really comprehend right about now is that my dad is about to f**king die. “Don’t you ever dare cry for me,” he’d said to my brothers and me last year when they diagnosed him with a rare form of brain cancer. “I’ll cut you right out of my will, boy.”
I hated him for that, for telling me in so many words that if I cried for him, the one man in my life that I would die for, that I’d be a p**sy for it. I don’t care about the will. Whatever he leaves me I’ll just let it sit. Maybe I’ll give it to Mom.
Dad was always a hardass growing up. He drilled the shit outta me and my brothers, but I like to think we turned out decent (and that was probably the plan behind the drilling). Aidan, the oldest, owns a successful bar and restaurant in Chicago and is married to a Pediatrician. Asher, the youngest, is in college and has his sights set on a career at Google.
Me? I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve secretly done a few modeling gigs for several high profile agencies, but I only did it because I fell on hard times last year. Right after I found out about my dad. I couldn’t cry, so I let it all out on my 1969 Chevy Camaro. Destroyed it with a baseball bat. Dad and I rebuilt that car from the ground up together. It was our ‘father-son’ project that began just before I graduated. I figured if he isn’t going to be around, then neither should the car.
So yeah, modeling.
Hell no, I never went looking for a gig. I don’t care about that kind of shit. I just happened to be at Aidan’s bar when a couple of scouts found me getting shitfaced. I guess it didn’t matter that I was…well, shitfaced, because they slipped me their card, offered me a generous sum of money just to show up at their building in New York and after three weeks of staring at that Camaro and regretting what I’d done to it, I decided, why not? That one check just for showing up could cover some of the body work. And I did show up. And despite the money I made from the few ads I shot being enough to fix the car, I turned down the fifty-thousand-dollar contract I’d been offered by LL Elite because, like I said, prancing around in my underwear for a living just isn’t my thing. Hell, I felt dirty for accepting the few gigs I did accept. So, I did what any red meat-eating, beer-drinking guy would do and I tried to make myself look more man and less pansy by getting a few tattoos and a job as a mechanic.
Not the kind of future my old man wanted for me, but unlike my brothers, I learned a long time ago that it’s my future and my life and I can’t make myself live the way someone else wants me to live. I dropped out of college after I realized that I was studying something I didn’t give a shit about.
What is it with people and their willingness to follow?
Not me. I want one thing in life. It’s not money or fame or a Photoshopped dick on a billboard in Times Square or a college education that may or may not benefit me later. I’m not sure what it is that I want, but I feel it deep in the pit of my stomach. It’s there sitting dormant. I’ll know it when I see it.