This is the first part of a series. Refer to the Blog Index if you wish to read them in order.
When she’d struck out on her own, she’d left with nearly nothing, a bag of clothes, her car, her phone, some toiletries, a couple hundred bucks, and her scant resume with her new name saved to a thumbdrive. She spent the first hour driving as fast as she dared on the highway heading east. East would get her out of the state quickest, not that she was particularly enamored with her choices from there, it wasn’t about that. She only had so much time and so much money.
Once across state lines she made a beeline for the nearest big city. This route took her a bit south and a bit further east. She would be there in roughly another hour. Perfect timing to fill the tank and make her purchases. Until then she had nothing more to do but drive, slightly slower now, hovering within five miles of the speed limit, and stay awake. Not easy to do at 3am, but easier than being caught and going back.
She arrived in the city completely exhausted, the thrill of adrenaline rushing through her at her initial escape long since run out. It was 4am, a time she’d only ever seen once or twice in her life, and she was amazed by how many cars were on the road, she’d expected none, and by how many businesses were open, although this was a city and things would obviously run differently here.
She pumped her gas and tried to look casual as she glanced up and down the main street looking for other open businesses that would have what she needed. Spying an open drugstore she breathed a sigh of relief, topped up the tank despite the signage warning against it, and went back into the station for her change.
“Ladies don’t normally pump gas ’round here after seven or before seven,” the attendant commented, the toothpick sticking out sideways from the corner of his mouth bobbing up and down as he spoke.
“Hmmm,” she breathed as she collected the change from his out held hand, “thanks.”
Her impulse was to run back to her car but knew that would draw all kinds of unwanted attention from a man already paying her too much. She walked calmly back to her car, head held at what she hoped was a normal angle, trying desperately not to duck and make herself small. She got back in the car, locked the doors, and immediately set off for the drugstore.
Hoping any cashiers and workers in the store at this hour would be too tired to comment on her, she went inside, grabbed a handheld basket and walked around. She wanted to be sure she wasn’t remembered as odd so bought the sorts of things she figured people out at four in the morning bought: a box of cold and flu medicine and a box of tissue, in addition to the main purpose of her visit, a box of hair dye, some scissors, a bottle of nail polish, and an all-in-one makeup kit.
“Find what you need?” the cashier asked in a bored voice.
“Yeah, thanks,” she replied, “sucks being sick with nothing to do.” She gave a little laugh, followed by a cough.
“That’ll be $60.42,” the cashier said.
She blanched at the total but tried to turn it into a fake sneeze, “oh, right, here,” she handed him a wad of twenties.
The cashier handed her the change and in the same robotic voice said, “have a good day.”
She “you too’ed” as she swept up her bag and headed out. By now she was rather desperate to pee, but she also needed a place to do her hair, a place where no one would notice she’d been in the bathroom that long.
“Think, think, think,” she muttered under her breath as she sat in the car in the parking lot. She could turn around and go back into the drugstore, but that would make her memorable. She could go back to the gas station, but she knew that wasn’t really an option even as she thought it. She glanced up and down the street and seeing nothing that would work, she decided to start driving.
She drove back the way she came knowing she’d need to get on the highway again and hoping against hope that something would appear before she got there. Nothing. Most businesses were still closed and the ones that were open would definitely notice if she disappeared for more than five minutes. “Damn,” she said as she began steering towards the on ramp.
And then something caught her eye under the bridge of the highway. Something over on the other side. “That might work,” she breathed. She steered back into the forward lane after checking her mirrors and drove under the overpass. There it was, a neighborhood park well lit, grass cut, with a large stone building that looked like it may house a bathroom. She drove around the park a bit more looking for the parking lot, found it, and then decided to park on the street against the curb close to the bathroom.
She grabbed her bag from the drugstore, removed the scissors and hair dye, checked out her windows that no one was about, and jumped out, shutting the door and locking it as she sprinted to the bathroom. She tried the women’s room door and it was locked. “Shit!” she breathed. She went round to the men’s room door and tried it, locked too. She was trying not to panic, clearly there would be another option if she could just think of it, when she saw there was a third door. A family bathroom. Fingers crossed she approached and tried the door, unlocked.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she opened the door, looked into the dim interior to be sure it was empty, and then went in, locking the door behind her. She peed first as she couldn’t hold it anymore. Another sigh of relief and then she went to the sink and washed her hands. She looked up to see what she was going to do about her hair and realized there was no mirror. Of course there wouldn’t be a mirror at a public park, “stupid” she berated herself aloud. She grabbed her phone from her pocket and turned on the camera feature, flipping it around as though she were about to take a selfie. The lighting in the bathroom was terrible as she was too afraid to turn the electrical lights on and was relying solely on the light coming in through the skylight, and while the sun was rising it was still early.
Doing her best she parted her hair in the middle using her hands, fingers combing strands this way and that. It would never work, she just couldn’t see well enough. She thought again and realized her best bet was a ponytail. She swept all the strands up into her left hand, making sure she got it all, then pulled the rubber band she always wore on her right wrist up and over the mass of hair, twisting it, and pulling the hair back through. Once it was all in as nice and tight a tail as she could make she put her left hand around the rubber band, using her finger and thumb to count off roughly an inch away, and then raised her right hand with the scissors and began cutting. She cut as close to her finger and thumb as possible, being careful not to cut herself in the process.
She didn’t realize how difficult it would be to cut through all that hair with cheap drugstore scissors, but she powered through and finally felt the last of the hair drift away. Using her left hand she felt around the new stump for any errant hairs. Finding none she took the rubber band out, ran her fingers through her new short hair and then, taking a deep breath, looked into her phone camera. She almost didn’t recognize herself. The hair cut really wasn’t that bad, obviously not professionally done, but not any worse than a strip mall haircutter would do.
Wasting no time she grabbed the box of dye and began reading the instructions. It was may more complicated than she’d expected, than she’d seen in The Fugitive. There was all kinds of water and wait time and towels suggested on the box that simply weren’t options for her now. She stuck her head in the sink, hit the little push down knobs and felt the freezing cold water course down over her scalp and face and neck. Continually depressing the knobs so the water wouldn’t stop she got what was left her hair good and soaking wet. She then grabbed the plastic bottle from the kit, cut open the bag of powder and dumped it. Again she depressed the knobs to fill the remainder of the bottle with water. Plunking on the lid she shook and shook and shook the bottle until she was sure the powder had all dissolved. Then she put her head back down in the sink and began squirting the bottle all over her head as close to the scalp as she could get without being able to see what she was doing and using her fingers to help spread it out to the ends of her hair. She scrubbed all around her ears and neck and forehead.
“This better work,” she said softly. Not wanting to wait the fortyfive minutes suggested on the box she began cleaning up the impossibly long strands of her hair from the floor, shoving them in the now empty hair dye box, she ran out of room and began putting the remaining strands on a paper towel she pulled from the dispenser. Once she was fairly sure she’d gotten it all she figured she’d used as much time as she could afford and she began to rinse out the dye. Plunging the water knobs down over and over, scrubbing and rinsing and scrubbing until the water going down the drain was just only slightly discolored. She began grabbing up all her stuff to leave when she heard voices.
She stopped and waited, holding her breath. It sounded like a man and a woman, what were they saying? She heard a metallic click and a thank you, followed by footsteps and another metallic click. Someone was unlocking the bathrooms. She stood stock still and waited as the footsteps approached her door. There was the metallic click as her door was unlocked.
“They’re all open now,” she heard the man call, his footsteps retreating.
“Thank you,” she heard a woman holler, slightly muffled by the building.
She waited several breaths before walking as quietly as possible to the door, pushing it open. She looked about and saw a green truck marked with what she assumed was a city emblem, possibly a ranger, pull away from the parking lot. She walked out of the building and turned to the left so he wouldn’t be able to see her. She dumped everything in the first trash can she saw and made her way to her car, checking over her shoulder once to be sure the woman in the building wasn’t coming out, hadn’t seen her.
She got back in her car and realized from the overhead cabin light that her shirt was ruined. She quickly took it off and grabbed another shirt from the trashbag full of clothes in the backseat. Throwing the new shirt on, she took a look in the rearview mirror and stifled a surprised “oh” as it escaped her lips. She didn’t look like herself at all. Not at all. Unfortunately there was also a very dark and telltale ring of brown all around the edge of her face from where the dye had gotten into her skin a little bit, nothing she could do about that but wait for it to fade, which she was sure it would in a few days.
She knew she should go somewhere else before playing with the makeup but she was too excited. She grabbed the little kit and read the little guide so she’d know what each thing was and where it went. Unfortunately there wasn’t much info on the how of it all, so she had to guess. She put some of the purple stuff on her eyelids and some of the pink stuff on her cheeks. She looked in the mirror again and giggled. She was definitely not herself, but she didn’t look too terrible. She’d have to get better at the makeup for sure, but her main goal of being someone else had been accomplished.
“You’re Sarah now,” she told her reflection, “Sarah Jones. Easy.”
She started the car and began heading towards the highway again. The sun was now up and there was decidedly more traffic. She joined the line of cars merging east and turned on the radio.
“Sarah Jones,” she said again.
~~~That’s one hour~~~