“Terminal” was written well before “Tracks” but, in my mind, it is now (after a light rewrite) a sequel to that later, slightly shorter story. So, if you haven’t read “Tracks” yet, read that first. Or don’t. It probably doesn’t matter since they have unrelated origins and were intended as standalone pieces.
By Lee Wright
Even though there are plenty of empty seats, a guy in a cheap charcoal suit has plopped his ass down just two spaces from me. His name is Bill, he’s in real estate, and he’s telling me about how the government is killing him with their regulations and taxes. He’s tan, tall, broad-shouldered, and only a little soft in the middle. He’s chewing his Nicorette loudly—the second piece since he sat down. A dozen red roses lie on the seat between us. Several petals are considerably darker than the rest, a few leaves are wilted.
“You waiting on family” he asks.
I shake my head slightly.
“You’re too young to be waiting on a wife. Girlfriend?”
I nod once.
He smiles wistfully, eyes focused on something beyond the doorway or maybe on nothing at all, and says, “I was probably only a little bit older than you when Lila and I got married. She was my only real girlfriend. She was a cheerleader, I was a running back.” He shakes his head and bites his lower lip. “Probably would have married her even if I hadn’t knocked her up after the prom.”
I fold my arms across my chest and stare at the grimy concrete floor. A row of tiny black ants marches from under our row of seats to a discarded ice cream wrapper several feet away.
“Been married almost ten years,” Bill tells me. “Two beautiful kids.”
He shows me the pictures in his wallet. Lila’s not bad; she has good cheeks, bright eyes, and hasn’t quite lost the cheerleader figure. The kids, however, are ugly little fuckers, pug nosed and portly.
“She’s visiting her mother. Been there with the kids for a week.” He runs a soft hand through his thinning hair. “First time we’ve been apart since we got married.”
A rumbling diesel engine grows louder, air brakes sigh, the rumble subsides. He stands eagerly. “Bus is here.”
“Don’t forget your flowers.”
As he picks them up, a petal falls onto the floor.
I consider reminding him to put his wedding ring back on, but decide against it.
Lila and the kids are last off the bus. Jessica and Julie were third to exit, but Jessica moves slowly, supported by her friend. She stops, leans against the wall, lets the eager crowd pass.
Bill’s kids mosey over to him and give him half-hearted hugs; he tousles their hair. He kisses Lila on the cheek, tries to hug her but she’s unresponsive. As Bill leads his family away from the gate he gives me a wink and a quick thumbs up.
Jessica makes her way toward me with an almost shuffle-footed gait. Her long hair is pulled back from her face and she isn’t wearing makeup. I meet her halfway, we embrace gently. I don’t ask her how she’s feeling and I avoid eye contact with Julie. We go outside to where Julie’s boyfriend, Tom, is waiting in his mom’s station wagon. Jessica and I climb into the back seat. I take her hand in mine. I want to say something comforting, reassuring, healing, but I’m only seventeen and woefully short on wisdom. Instead, I just sing along softly when Tom turns on the radio.
On the ride back to her house, Jessica rests her forehead on the driver’s side window. Her face is half mirrored in the window and I see my own ghostly reflection over her shoulder. Beyond us, the world is a gray blur.
© 2012 Lee Wright
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