“A bus?” Aidan says, unbelieving.
“Yes,” I say. “I’ll take a bus there. I need to think.”
“Andrew, Dad might not make it,” he says and I can hear the restraint in his voice. “Seriously, bro.”
“I’ll be there when I get there.”
I run my thumb over the end call button.
I think a small part of me hopes that he dies before I make it. Because I know I’ll lose my shit if he dies while I’m there. This is my father, the man who raised me and who I look up to. And he tells me not to cry. I’ve always done everything he’s ever told me and like the good son I’ve always tried to be, I know I’ll force back the tears because he told me to. But I also know that by doing it, it’ll create something in me more destructive.
I don’t want to end up like my car.
A single duffle bag packed with a clean pair of clothes, toothbrush, cell phone and MP3 player with my favorite classic rock songs—another mark that Dad left on me: “That new stuff kids listen to these days is shit music, son,” he said at least once a year. “Get the Led out, boy!” I’ll admit I didn’t completely shun newer music just because my dad did. I have my own damn mind, remember? But I did grow up on a healthy dose of the classics and I’m very proud of that.
“Mom, I don’t need those.”
She’s stuffing a Zip-lock bag with about a dozen little packets of hand-sanitizing wipes for me to take. She’s always been a germaphobe.
I’ve lived back and forth between Texas and Wyoming since I was six-years-old. Ultimately, I realized that I fit better in Texas because I like the Gulf and the heat. I’ve had my own apartment in Galveston for four years now, but last night my mom insisted I stay at her place. She knows how I feel about my dad and she knows that sometimes I can be explosive when I’m hurting, or when I’m pissed off. Spent a night in jail last year for beating the f**k out of Darren Ebbs after he punched his girlfriend in front of me. And when I had to have my best friend, Maximus, put to sleep because of congestive heart failure, I busted my hands up pretty good taking my emotions out on the tree behind my apartment.
I’m not violent in general, only to douchebags and occasionally, myself.
“Those busses are nasty,” she says, tucking the baggie down into my bag. “I rode on one back before I met your father and I was sick for a week afterwards.”
I don’t argue with her; it would be pointless.
“I still don’t understand why you won’t take a plane. You can get there in a fraction of the time.”
“Mom,” I say, kissing her cheek, “it’s just something I need to do—like it was meant to be, or something.” I don’t really believe that second part, but I thought I’d humor her with something meaningful, even though she knows I’m full of shit. I walk over and open the kitchen cabinet, taking two brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts from the box and drop them in my bag. “Maybe the plane is supposed to crash.”
“That’s not funny, Andrew.” She glances over at me sternly.
I smile and squeeze her. “I’ll be alright, and I’ll make it in time to see Dad before…,” my voice trails.
Mom hugs me back tighter than I did her.
By the time I make it to Kansas, I’m starting to wonder if my mom was right. I thought I could use the long ride to think, to clear my head and maybe figure out what I’m doing and what I’m going to do after my dad dies. Because things will be different. Things always change when someone you love dies. You just can’t prepare yourself for those changes no matter what you do in advance.
The only thing that’s a certainty is always wondering who’s going to be next.
I know I’ll never be able to look at my mom the same again….
I think the bus ride has been more of a taunt than a time for meaningful contemplation. I should’ve known that time alone with my thoughts would be unhealthy. Already I’ve decided that my life has been pretty much wasted and I’m going through all the eye-opening emotions: What am I here for? What’s the point in life? What the hell am I doing? I sure as hell haven’t had any epiphanies, or stared out the bus window, lost in some dramatic movie-moment when suddenly life becomes clear to me. The only music playing in the background of this movie is Alice In Chains’ Would?, and that’s not exactly an epiphany-moment kind of song.
The driver is just about to close the doors on the bus when I step up and he notices me.
Thank God, a bus I might actually get to sleep on; plenty of empty seats.
I head toward the back, my sights set on two empty seats right behind the cute blonde who I’m pretty sure is jailbait. I always have my jailbait radar on, especially after almost hooking up with a girl I met at Dairy Queen. She said she was nineteen, but I found out later she was sixteen and her dad was on his way to the pool where we were to pummel me to death.
My dad said it right once: “Can’t tell twelve from twenty these days, son. It must be something the government has been puttin’ in the water—be damn careful when you need to knock some boots.”
As I near the girl on the bus, I notice her move her bag over onto the aisle seat so that I won’t sit there.
That’s funny. I mean yeah, she’s cute and all but there are about ten or so empty seats on this bus, which means I’m going to get two to myself so I can sprawl my ass out however I want and get some much-needed shuteye.
Things don’t go as planned and several hours later, just after dark and I’m still wide awake, staring out the tall window beside me with music blasting in my ears. The girl in front of me has been passed out for about an hour and I got tired of hearing her talk in her sleep; though I could hardly make out anything she was saying, I didn’t really want to know. Kind of feels like spying, hearing someone’s thoughts when they have no idea what they’re doing. I’d much rather hear my playlist.
After I finally fall asleep, my eyes crawl open when I feel something tapping against my leg. Wow, she’s kind of beautiful even with her hair all smashed on one side of her face and the darkness covering the rest of her. Jailbait, Andrew. I don’t have to remind myself that she’s probably jailbait to keep myself from doing anything I know I shouldn’t, no, I remind myself because I don’t want to be disappointed when I find out that I’m right.
After a quick back-and-forth about the possibility of my music being what woke her up, I turn it down and she slips back down into her little bus-seat-cubicle.
When I lean up over the top of her seat to look down at her, I’m wondering to myself what possessed me to do it. But I’ve always been one for a challenge and her spunky attitude towards me in a conversation that lasted less than forty-five seconds was enough to shake her hand in this metaphorical bet.
I’ve always been a sucker for spunky attitudes.
And I never back down from a challenge.
The next morning, I offer to let her borrow my MP3 player, but apparently she’s as much of a germaphobe as my mother.
A man, probably in his early forties, has been sitting on the other side of the bus, three seats up from the girl. I saw the way he was looking at her when I first got on. She had no clue he had been watching her and it’s disturbing to think about how long he’s been watching her since before I got on, or what he’s been doing to himself sitting up there all alone in the dark.
I’ve been sort keeping my eyes on him ever since. He’s so enamored by her that I doubt he knows I’ve been watching.
His eyes keep glancing between her and down the center of the aisle towards the matchbox restroom. I can almost hear the gears churning in his head.
I wonder when he’s going to try to make his move.
Just then, he gets up.
I slide out of my seat and into the one beside her. I just play it off like it’s nothing. I can feel her eyes on me, looking at me wondering what the f**k I think I’m doing.
The man walks past, but I don’t let him see my eyes because then that would give away that I’m onto him. Right now, he probably thinks I’m just playing my own game with the girl; that I’m making my own move and for now, he’ll get over it and probably try again later.
And later is when I’ll cave his face in with my fist.
I reach into my bag and fish for the baggie of antibacterial wipes my mom packed. Ripping one from the packet, I wipe the earbuds down and then reach over to her. “Like new,” I say, waiting for her to take them, but I know she won’t.
“Really, I’m good. But thanks.”
“You’re probably better off anyway,” I say, putting the MP3 player in my bag. “I don’t listen to Justin Bieber or that crazy meat-wearin’ bitch, so I guess you’ll just have to do without.”
Judging by that irritated look on her face, I pissed her off. I laugh quietly to myself, turning my head at an angle so she doesn’t catch me grinning.
“First off, I don’t listen to Justin Bieber.”
“And second, Gaga isn’t so bad. Playing the shock-value card a little too long, I admit, but I like some of her stuff.”
“That’s shit-music and you know it,” I quote my father, shaking my head.
I put my bag on the floor and lean back on the seat, propping up one foot on the seat in front of me. I wonder why she hasn’t told me to leave yet. And this also worries me. Would she have been ‘too nice’ to tell that man to leave right away if he had made it here before me? There’s no way someone like her would be in to someone like him, but face it, sometimes girls let that overly sympathetic gene get the best of them. And that few seconds is really all it takes.
I look over at her again, letting my head fall sideways against the seat. “Classic Rock is where it’s at,” I say. “Zeppelin, the Stones, Journey, Foreigner—any of that ringing any bells?”
She rolls her eyes at me. “I’m not stupid,” she says and a grin lifts one side of my mouth because there’s that spunky attitude again.
“Name one song by Bad Company and I’ll leave you alone about it,” I challenge her.
I can tell she’s nervous, how she gently bites down on her bottom lip, and like talking in her sleep and being watched by bad men, she probably doesn’t even know it.
I wait patiently, unable to peel the grin from my face because it’s amusing watching her squirm, trying to sort through all of the times she was in the car with her folks listening to this stuff, searching for some memory that will help her in this critical moment.
“Ready For Love,” she finally answers and I’m impressed.
“Are you?” I ask and something hits me in this moment. I don’t know what the hell ‘it’ is, but it’s there, waving at me from behind a wall, like when you know someone’s watching you, yet you don’t see anybody.
“Huh?” she says, as caught off-guard by my question as I was afterwards.
A smile creeps up on my face. “Nothing,” I say, looking away.
The pervert from the restroom comes quietly back down the dark aisle and goes back to his seat, no doubt pissed off that I’m sitting where he wants to be sitting. I’m just glad she waited for him to pass by before finally asking me to move so she can have both of her seats back.