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By the time she finally finished with the car lot and sat in the loaner Chuey was supposed to drive her to the airport in, she only had about forty-five minutes to execute the next part of her plan. She took a deep breath and turned to her driver.
“Chuey? I know you’re supposed to take me to the airport but there’s a bus station a few blocks away and it would save me so much money if I went home that way. Do you mind?” she asked.
“Nah, that’s cool. I drop you there,” he replied, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
True to his word he took her to the bus station, helped her get her bag out of the back and then gave her a mock salute-wave. She smiled and saluted back then walked into the station towards the departures board. From this angle she could see in the departure screen the reflection of Chuey as he got back in the car, pulled out of the space he’d been in, and drove across the street, parked in the lot, and walked into the coffee shop. That’d been about what she expected. The boss had given him time to take her to the airport, and he was going to use that time.
She laughed under her breath, and turned to look at the line of people waiting to buy tickets. Third from the front was a woman who looked pretty New York: black and purple hair, sensible walking shoes, and a fabulous little skirt and shirt outfit with the jewelry to match. But she was too close to the cashier, it’d be risky. She continued scanning the line. There, near the end, a young guy with a backpack and a duffel bag. He looked like a student and he looked kind of New York, but also not, kind of country. She wasn’t too sure, but he was her best bet so she approached him.
“Excuse me, um, is there any way you’re going to New York?” she asked.
He pulled the earbud out of his left ear and said, “New York? Yeah.”
“Great! See, I bought this ticket earlier for New York but now that it’s almost time to go I just…I can’t. I don’t belong there, I don’t belong here! I need to go home, only they don’t do refunds and I’m out of money, and,” here she let out a little whimper and hoped she could get a tear or two to roll down her cheeks. Gulping she continued, “I just need to get home. If you’ll take my ticket and buy me a ticket going as far west as you can for the same price as New York? I’d really appreciate it.”
He looked at her hard. Then he looked behind her and around the depot. “No refund, huh?” he asked, clearly not expecting a response. “How do I know this is a real ticket?”
“Oh you can take it. I’ll sit right over there,” she turned and pointed to a chair, “and you can ask the cashier, they’ll tell you it’s real. I promise!”
“I’m not saying yes,” he replied, “but I’ll check this out and let you know.”
“Thank you,” she said, “I’ll be right there,” she pointed again and then walked over to the seat. She waited and watched as the line advanced and soon he was talking to the cashier. She could see him, and he could see her, but if the cashier tried to see her, they wouldn’t be able to; the angle and the cashier’s little building were all wrong. She saw him hand over the ticket and then take the ticket back. She saw him get out his wallet, pull out some cash, and then put his wallet back. She tried not to act too excited as he walked towards her.
“Okay. So, here’s the thing,” he said, “I don’t know how far west you need to go, but I figure you can’t get much more west than Los Angeles,” and he handed her a ticket.
Her jaw dropped open and she read Los Angeles on the ticket. “You bought me a ticket to LA?” she breathed.
“Well, whatever kind of trouble you’re in, if New York can’t fix it, LA’s the only other city that’s got a shot,” he replied.
“But that’s…it’s so much more than a ticket to New York,” she said.
“I want to pay you back,” she said firmly, looking into his eyes.
“That’d be great,” he said, “I don’t exactly have a lot of extra money to spend, but I don’t exactly expect to hear from you again,” he laughed.
“No, I’m going to pay you back, as soon as I can,” she said, “how do I reach you?”
He slid his backpack off his back and rustled around for a paper and pen. “Use your back?” he asked.
She giggled and turned around, automatically reaching up to swipe her long hair out of the way, remembering too late that it wasn’t there. She could feel him writing on the paper, a line here, a curve there. It suddenly felt intimate and she considered exchanging her ticket for one to New York after all, but shook her head quickly. Stick to the plan.
“Alright,” he said, and she turned around to see him folding the paper in half, and in half again. “I hope to hear from you, miss?”
“Sarah,” she said, “I”m Sarah. And I will pay you back, mister?”
“John,” he said, “I hope you find what you’re looking for in LA.” He handed her the paper, put the backpack up on his shoulders, grabbed his duffel, and began walking out to the buses.
She grabbed her bag and went to the bathroom, finding an open stall, walking in, bolting it closed behind her, and leaning against the door. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and fumbled while holding the duffel to open the note:
“They do exchanges, so whatever you’re up to, be safe. If you really do want to pay me back, or look me up: John Stihl, SUNY Oneonta, Psychology Department, 161 Fitzelle Hall, Oneonta, NY 13820.”
She folded the note back up and put it in her pocket. She didn’t know when or how but she would pay him back. In the meantime she had work to do, her bus would be leaving in twenty minutes and she still had to get rid of her phone. She didn’t know much about how those things worked, but she’d seen in a movie that people could use them to find you. She pulled it out of her pocket and bent the two pieces away from one another until they snapped. She put the two pieces back in her right pocket and searched her left pocket for a coin.
Leaving the bathroom and heading for the buses, she stopped by one and dropped down. She shoved the two pieces of phone under the tire with her right hand.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
She turned and stood up to see a security guard. She smiled and held up the quarter in her left hand, “yes, sir! I just found this quarter. Do you hang on to that stuff or is there a lost and found I can take it to?”
He smiled and pushed his cap back a bit, scratching the hair that’d been stuck under the brim. “Well, now, I don’t expect anyone’s going to come looking for a quarter. You just go on ahead and take it.”
“Thanks!” she said, putting it in her pocket and continuing on her way, looking for her bus. With any luck he’d be thinking about telling his girlfriend or roommate or someone about the sweet young lady that found a quarter and wanted to turn it in, and not thinking about what she looked like or what she might have been doing.
She found her bus and walked on, looking for a seat just a couple seats in on the driver’s side. She wanted to be close to the driver in case any weirdos bothered her but not so close that she could be seen from the doorway. She sat down, pulled a sweatshirt from her bag and folded it into a pillow. She put the sweatshirt against the window and her head against the sweatshirt. Now if that guard came around her bus looking for a second glance to add detail to his story he wouldn’t see her.
She settled in for what she knew would be a very long ride. Grateful for all the good luck she’d had. Grateful for all the helpful people she’d met. Missing that chocolate croissant from that morning and wishing she’d thought to bring some food with her.
“Never mind that,” she told herself, “your name is Sarah Jones and this is the beginning of the rest of your life.”
~~~That’s one hour~~~