Author's Note: Edited Anomously and by OpEd. (5/6/03)
I managed to get a job at a summer camp in Maine but had to start as soon as classes ended because the owner needed extra work done on the place. It killed any shot at an actual summer vacation, but I needed the money if I wanted to live off-campus next semester. One of the few good things about the situation was that the camp was in the middle of nowhere, so I would have nothing to spend my money on. My wrestling coach hated the idea but helped me put together a workout regimen to keep my skills sharp.
I sat on the bus watching the crowd of people boarding. I had arrived early to get the seats farthest from the driver. The bathroom was next to me, which was a minus, but no one could sit behind me, which was a bigger plus. I took a bus to the campus my first semester and learned that three angles of attack by the odor and nastier habits of people were too many. I had put my backpack on the seat next to me hoping that it would prevent other people from sitting there.
The traffic to the bus died quickly, and the bus driver got in.
I started to think I was having a lucky bus trip when sporadic traffic from the terminal to the bus started again. The bus driver started to get in and out of the bus, anxious to get going. A mass of people came out of the station and headed towards my bus.
I counted heads and came up with a good chance of having a partner.
She broke from the pack suddenly.
It was a girl/woman about my age, long blonde hair streaming back as she ran for the bus, obviously hoping for some kind of choice in seating. She hit the door of the bus, made a rough turn, and jetted towards the back. She hit a wall when she saw me.
She was pretty in that cookie cutter way that women my age can be; young, fresh, and still carrying innocence. At the time, though, two things crossed my mind: 1) female, which is always the preferred choice on an extended trip if you HAVE to sit next to someone, and 2) she did not look like she would acquire a ripe stench after a few hours in the bus, or even after more than a few.
She looked at me.
A brief flash of recognition passed between us and I thought I might have seen her on campus a few times. Then her face settled into exasperation at my having gotten there first. I took my backpack off the seat next to me. I saw the beginning of a sniff at the suggestion. I raised a hand to stop her from making a decision we might both regret. I pointed to a gentleman in the same aisle she occupied. I could not see him, but it did not take mathematical genius to know he was taking up more space than offered by his own seat.
She looked at him and walked quickly towards me. She took off her book bag and threw it into the overhead rack. I smiled as she plopped down.
"Don't think I'm gonna forgive you that easily for taking my seat," she said. I could hear a hint of laughter in her voice as she looked at the incoming crowd and shuddered.
"I'll be quiet. I swear! I won't even talk to you," I told her.
She looked at me strangely for a second before returning to counting the people getting on the bus. She was wearing a pair of jean shorts with a sweatshirt bearing our school crest.
"I think we might get lucky," I said.
"How?" she asked, looking at me briefly.
"They look like family, or at least close friends. They're gonna want to stick together. The chairs in the middle are their best bet. The loners look mean; they'll want to be in the middle, too, just to make the family people uncomfortable about talking. I already counted and there's just enough to leave the back rows empty," I explained while pointing out different people to her.
"Good!" she said with some passion.
I looked at her for a second. "First time on a bus?" I asked. She nodded. "You're not supposed to be on this bus?" I asked her.
"No," she said guiltily. "My parents sent me a plane ticket but they couldn't come get me. I'm supposed to take a cab home, so I returned the ticket for the cash."
"And pocketed the difference between the bus fare and the plane ticket?" I finished for her.
She started to nod but changed her mind.
She leaned against the bathroom wall and crossed her legs on the seat. She was watching our busmates intently for anyone crossing into our designated territory. The bus stopped filling up with the closest anyone had gotten to us being two rows in front of us. There seemed to be many people on the bus who wanted to sit in groups.
"You can stay back here," I said. She looked at me, confused. "I'm harmless, I swear."
She rolled her eyes. I tried to smile innocently. "You should sit back here for now. If you move up now and someone notices you, they might come back and sit down with you. Then you'd have to deal with someone hitting on you until one of you gets off."
"And you won't?" she said smiling.
I tilted my head to one side. "I'll make you a deal," I offered, "but only because I really don't want to HAVE to hear somebody hit on you for the rest of my bus ride."
"The jealous type?" she said, arching her eyebrows.
I hesitated at the playful tone in her voice before continuing. "You protect me from having to give this seat to someone else, and I won't hit on you."
"Yeah. This bus stops in other places and picks up people. Let's them off, too, but we could get unlucky."
Her hand flew out so we could shake on it.
I liked cookies, but not having to share a seat with someone bigger than her was a good enough reason to kill any shot with her. I was coming off an unlucky cookie jar year, so why ruin a perfect record.
I settled back as the bus driver started the bus. We pulled out of the station. Most of the stress from finals and moving out that I had been ignoring hit me at once. My body just dropped into exhaustion. I put my head back and looked up at the overhead rack; my eyes were barely able to focus. I had stayed up most of the night trying to make sure I did not miss the bus, making sure I left the room perfect, and trying to figure out how the hell the next semester would work for me. I closed my eyes and let the rumble of the bus knock me into a deep slumber.
A whinily insistent voice woke me. "Excuuse me, I neeed to uuse the bathruum."
I opened my eyes slowly, knowing if I let the voice wake me too suddenly I was going to bash its owner's head in.
We had both fallen asleep and our bodies had come to an accommodation. She had her back to me, lying mostly on my hip and legs. Her legs were sticking into the aisle, blocking the bathroom door. I was lying with my head to the window, my legs in her leg space.
"Excuuse me," the voice came again, louder and more insistent.
This time it woke her. She sat up and backed away from the woman, pressing herself tightly against me. I got my arm out of her way. I had nowhere to put it but around her. She latched onto it, not knowing why the hell this woman was almost yelling at us, but hoping for some kind of support.
The woman opened the bathroom door while staring at us angrily. We made eye contact and I absorbed the challenge in her eyes. She huffed and entered the bathroom. The girl turned and moved away from me. She was looking at me with her eyes wide. I started laughing and she immediately broke into laughter with me.
"Excuuse me," she mimicked in between bouts of laughter.
We quieted down when the bathroom door opened. The woman looked down her nose at us before walking towards the front of the bus.
"Excuuse me," the girl mimicked again.
We smiled at each other. I tried to stretch as much as I could. She tried the same thing with as good a result. I paid careful attention to her motions. She had removed the sweatshirt and the stretching was doing fascinating things to the front of her t-shirt. I stopped looking when she made eye contact.
She was smiling at me.
The bus driver used the intercom to tell everyone we would be making a food stop.
I looked at my watch and said, "When did you fall asleep?"
"About 30 seconds after you did," she replied, giggling.
"Hey, we'll get to use a good bathroom." She nodded in appreciation.
"Can we eat there or do we have to bring it back?" she asked.
"We eat there. We will probably get like a half hour, especially if it's a pick-up spot. They'll have to unload baggage and take on new passengers."
"But someone could take our seats," she protested.
I pointed at the overhead rack saying, "We put the bags on the seats making it obvious someone is sitting here." She nodded her head in understanding.
"By the way, my name is Elvis," I said.
She looked at me strangely. I was slowly getting used to how openly expressive her face was and my ability to classify her looks only somewhere between funny and strange.
"Ask my mom. I had nothing to do with it."
"Jessica," she told me with a brief smile.
We looked forward as the bus made the turn into the station. The bus came to a full stop and people started piling out as fast as they could. I saw some pretty rough shoving going on in front. Jessica looked at me and broke into laughter. We waited for everyone to get off the bus before we piled our carry-ons onto the seats. She stopped halfway down as we were walking to the front to watch the wrestling match that was going on for luggage beside the bus.
"Do they lose baggage?" she asked me.
"No," I replied. "Usually people steal it."
.... There is more of this story ...