It was time to go. It wasn't fun anymore, and if it wasn't fun, what else was there? Jeni pondered this a moment, pausing as she stuffed her meagre belongings into the worn and stained duffle.
Life was a once only ride and be damned if she was going to get bogged down in Hicksville, with a dead end office job slowly sucking all the life and light out of her to make some rich asshole even richer.
She wondered how "normal" people managed when it wasn't fun anymore. The people with jobs and mortgages and kids, how did they go on — especially the ones with kids — they couldn't just pack their stuff and walk out to thumb a ride. No wonder so many of them looked miserable all the time and bitched about their wives and husbands, their jobs, bosses and workmates when they gave her that lift away from not fun.
With that thought, she zipped the old bag closed and quietly left the room, hoisting the duffle on her shoulder as she crossed the cracked car park and headed for the highway.
Three weeks later Jeni was standing on the side of a different road, having hopped rides with truckers, a couple of businessmen on a road trip, and three girls in a beat up minibus heading cross country to a global warming rally. They'd offered her a permanent place on the bus and she was tempted, but decided she needed to do her own thing for a while — she'd been in a group or, more recently, one of a couple, and making group decisions for nearly two years.
She was enjoying the total freedom of solo life on the road. She didn't know where she was going; it didn't really matter right now. She had enough money to just float for bit longer before she needed to get work. She could waitress if she had to, but she planned to rejoin the picker and packer route of the seasonal fruit harvesters, which was how she usually kept herself alive when the weather was warm. The work was physical, but the rewards were good if you were. And she was good, really enjoying working in the fields and orchards. Besides, if the job became a drag, or the people gave her grief, she could walk out any time, getting paid for what she'd done so far and just moving on.
Right now she was drifting slowly west, towards California, staying in places as a long as the mood took her, keeping to minor highways when she moved on. There were fewer vehicles than on the interstates, but more chance of being picked up. It seemed the asshole quota was a bit lower too — on the major routes too many drivers thought they were buying something when they stopped. Jeni had forgotten that minor problem about travelling alone; it didn't come up as often when you were with someone.
Not that she hadn't been known to give a ride for a ride, if the mood took her. She just objected to it being expected of her, particularly from some overweight sweaty lump whose breath smelt like a grease pit. Some people had no respect for themselves. Was it any wonder they had no respect for anything else?
Jeni sat on her duffle, letting her mind drift as she waited for the sound of traffic. The day was perfect: sun warm, a gentle breeze wafting the aroma of nature — leaves, grasses and blossom — to her. She remembered trying to describe this smell to a tightass in a suit who'd given her a lift several years before. He just didn't get it. To him it was all cowshit and mud. He never saw the beauty all around him, he was too busy with the "real" world of business and getting ahead. "You seem like a smart girl, why don't you make something of yourself instead of throwing your life away?"
She smiled at the memory, shaking her head. As far as Jeni was concerned, the way she lived was far more "real" than his, and it was he who was throwing his life away. Sadly, she thought, he was probably helping throw the planet away too.
The rumble of a big diesel engine intruded on her reverie. She stood, thrusting out her tits and her thumb hopefully. She'd learned the tit trick years ago — her companions always laughed at how she could get the male drivers to stop and the females to accelerate. And most truckers were male, so she was fairly sure of a lift.
Hoisting her bag, she plastered a cheerfully grateful smile on her face as the truck pulled up beside her and chirped her thanks as she climbed aboard, sliding the duffle onto the seat between her and the driver.
After the initial chatter, she had settled into a companionable silence with the driver, Bobby he said his name was. He was a pleasant enough type — not sweaty, nor overweight. She wasn't sure about his breath yet. He was a couple of years older than her, but it seemed they agreed on a lot of things, shared a love of nature and hatred of office jobs and he was mildly envious of her footloose lifestyle. He'd agreed to take her as far along his route as she wanted.
Once she'd decided he was all right, she dragged the duffle onto the floor and rested her feet on it, scooting down in the seat to get more comfortable. Bobby grinned at the removal of the barrier between them. He knew he'd passed the test. She trusted him.
It wasn't until the sound of the door slamming woke her up that she realised she'd been asleep. She sat up, peering out the windows to figure out how long she'd been asleep and try to get an idea of where they were, to see if there was a name on the diner.
There was no diner. There was no gas station, no truck stop, nothing. There was a little cabin in the middle of nowhere. Bobby must've turned off somewhere down a lane. The truck was parked beside the cabin on a dirt track surrounded by trees. There was no sign of the main road. There was no sound. Even the CB was quiet. Jeni sat up very straight, very fast. What the hell was going on?
She reached for the door handle to climb out when Bobby pulled the door open from the outside. "I was hoping not to wake you up, but seeing as I did, you might as well enjoy the scenery."
Jeni climbed down, seething with questions. "Where the hell are we, Bobby? Why'd you stop?"
"Hey, simmer down, little lady. I was gonna tell you about this place, but you dozed off on me. I didn't have the heart to wake you, so I had to leave it as a bit of a surprise." He smiled and waved his hand around with more than a touch of pride.
"This is my small patch of paradise. The cabin and the hundred acres around it. It's where I come when I want to get back to nature, and that's what I plan on this weekend. I figured you'd like it too, being all environmentally friendly and all. You wanna take a look around?"
Jeni tried to hide her astonishment. This man, who she'd met only a few hours before, expected her to stay the weekend with him? He was so sure of it, in fact, that he hadn't even bothered to wait for her reaction and was already up the steps and unlocking the door, ready to give her the grand tour of the place. He looked mildly surprised that she hadn't moved to follow him.
"Ahh, Bobby? What happens if I say no?"
"That's where I come in to persuade you to stay."
Jeni jumped and whirled around at the sound of the voice behind her. Another man was nonchalantly leaning on the side of the truck, smiling at her. He was big and obviously strong, very fit, dark and creepy looking in a 'where the hell did you come from, you scared the crap out of me' kind of way.
Where the hell had he come from? She frowned, puzzling it out. He must have been in the sleeper cab — must have climbed in there to hide before Bobby stopped to pick her up. This had been planned and she could be in very deep trouble.
As she watched the new development, he heaved away from the truck and moved toward her, towering over her, herding her towards Bobby.
She backed away. She'd always had a rule about riding with more than one man unless, of course, they were her companions. Hoping to maintain a level of calm and ease that she no longer felt, Jeni shrugged. "Hey, it was just a hypothetical question."
Deliberately turning her back on Scary Dude, Jeni followed Bobby, who she might have to move out of 'Likable Almost Friend' category and into 'Treacherous Asshole'.
Inside the cabin was clean, spartan and small. The living area sported an old but comfy looking couch in front of an open fireplace and a pine table with four straight back chairs. No TV. The walls were bare, as was the floor, except for a worn and scorched rug in front of the fireplace. Tucked into one corner was a basic kitchenette. Two pots and a pan hung over the stove and a kettle sat on top of it. There was a small bench and a sink on one wall, a pantry and fridge on the other.
"Where's your freaky friend?"
Bobby smiled. "Don't worry about Frank. He'll be checking the firewood and starting the generator."
Right on cue, the front door burst open, Jeni jumped in fright, and Frank entered, carrying a box, which he took to the kitchen after kicking the door closed.
"Here's the supplies," he said to Bobby as he dumped the box on the bench. "The wood's still stacked by the back door. Fire's your problem, I'll get the generator going." Frank turned and, brushing past Jeni as if she didn't exist, went out the back door.
"Great, let's get that kettle ready." Bobby was totally at ease — he often had women here. He knew how it worked. They either settled down after the initial surprise or they didn't. If they settled, they both had fun; if they didn't, Bobby still got a weekend away from the road.
He filled the kettle and set it on the stove, ready for when he heard the generator kick in. While he waited he began to unpack the box of supplies into the pantry and fridge, tossing an old newspaper and a box of matches to Jeni.
.... There is more of this story ...