Rest Stop

By CarolROI

Just three miles from the rest stop
And she slams on the brakes
She said I tried to be but I'm not
And could you please collect your things
I don't wanna be cold
I don't wanna be cruel
But I gotta find more
Than what's happening with you
If you'd - open up the door

I'm washing my hands in the sink at the rest stop when I hear it. A man and woman are arguing, at the top of their lungs for it to reach all the way inside the rest rooms. I shake my head, remembering the few times Jim and I had been that vocal with each other. It takes a lot for me to get really angry, to blow up, to scream. I'm more of a talker, an analyzer, while Jim is more of an exploder. He lets it build and build and build until, like a volcano, he erupts. But when it's over, he's done--until the next time.

Me, I try to keep the lines of communication open, to discuss things, to vent my feelings before I get to the point Jim does. I realize I haven't done a very good job lately. My drunken ranting at Jim and my hasty decision to leave was my version of exploding. And it's not like I didn't see it coming, what with the whole blow up over what Jim read of my diss, and the Alex thing.

I really fucked up there. I knew when it was over we needed to talk, to sit down and deeply explore the whys and wherefors of what had happened. But I was just so glad for it to be behind us that when Jim acted like it was nothing, I went along with him. Part of me didn't want to examine the roll I played in the whole mess too closely, and I guess I didn't want Jim to see how badly I'd screwed up. Can't get much more screwed up than dying, right?

I take a good look at my reflection in the mirror. The bruising around my eye is at its height of brilliance, purple, chartreuse, and a sickly shade of olive green blend together to form a vivid reminder of why I'm here. Well, no more getting involved in other people's business. Blair looks out for Blair, that's my motto.

Drying my hands on a paper towel, I exit the restroom just in time to see a man shove a woman so hard she falls down on the patch of grass between the parking lot and the rest rooms. He trots off, calling her a bitch, and, getting into a primer gray Impala, peels out of the rest stop.

She said - while you were sleeping
I was listening to the radio
And wondering what you're dreaming when
It came to mind that I didn't care
So I thought - hell if it's over
I had better end it quick
Or I could lose my nerve
Are you listening - can you hear me
Have you forgotten

I rush over to the woman, not more than a girl, really, and ask, "Are you okay?"

Sitting up, she brushes the grass out of her long dark hair, and I get a glimpse of what my eye will look like in a few more days. Anger surges through me, and it's all I can do to hold myself there, to keep from going after him.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Good riddance to you, you motherfucker!" she yells after the departing car.

I give her a hand up. "You want me to call the cops?"

She shakes her head. "No. I'm fine. I don't ever want to see that creep again."

I glance around. No one else seems to have noticed what just happened. "Is there someone you can call?" I ask.

She shakes her head. "We were headed to my sister's in Waco. If I can get there, someone can come get me."

I give her a smile. "I'm sure my uncle and I could give you a lift to Waco. We're headed in that direction." In fact, we're only about a hundred miles out, and Waco is where we're due to drop the cargo we picked up in Sacramento. Then it's on to Owen's ranch and a brief rest before heading out again. "My name's Blair."

"Felicia," she answers. "Thanks for the offer. Let me get cleaned up and then we can go."

Once she's finished in the restroom, I urge her to call her sister, to let her know what happened, what time we're getting into Waco, and most importantly, who she's with. I want her to know she can trust me, that nothing will happen to her while she's with me.

That done we head for the rig, where Owen has been waiting patiently. "Pick up a stray, there, son?" he asks as I help Felicia up.

I glance at her, wondering how much I should say. She saves me the effort. "My ride and I had a disagreement. Blair offered to take me to Waco. I hope that won't be a problem."

"Nope, not a problem at all, young lady." Owen gives us both a smile.

I swing the door closed and, putting the truck into gear, my uncle heads back on the road.

Just three miles from the rest stop
And my mouth's too dry to rage
The light was shining from the radio
I could barely see her face
But she knew all the words that I never had said
She knew the crumpled-up promise of this
Broken down man - and as I opened up the door

Felicia takes advantage of my offer to lie down in the back. I stay up front with Owen, thinking. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately. She seems like a quiet kind of kid, at least now. Or maybe the argument with her boyfriend took all the spark out of her. Kind of like me, in a way. My spark, my fire, has been gone for a long time.

And once again I come back around to Alex, to drowning, to being called back to life. I remember that moment, that bizarre dream, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, so clearly. I was the wolf, running through the jungle, the ground cool and damp beneath my feet. And the smells, my god, the smells. It was like seeing with my nose. I knew the trees, the plants, the animals, not by sight, but by scent. It was an incredible, amazing, beautiful moment. I never wanted it to end. I wanted to run through the jungle forever and ever.

I think I would have too, if the jaguar, Jim, hadn't come after me. When we leapt into the air, combining in a burst of light, I thought I was doing the right thing. I *wanted* to come back. I didn't want to leave this world yet, to leave Jim.

But now part of me has to wonder why. I've made such a mess of my life, and by extension his, before, and after the fountain. Now all I want to do is out race the past, to keep ahead of the memories. I look out the window at the countryside rolling by. It's been a long time since I've been in Texas. Not since the last summer I spent on Bess and Owen's ranch when I was seventeen. A new place and new memories are just what I need.

She said - while you were sleeping
I was listening to the radio
And wondering what you're dreaming when
It came to mind that I didn't care
So I thought - hell if it's over
I had better end it quick
Or I could lose my nerve
Are you listening - can you hear me
Have you forgotten

Owen pulls the truck into a slot at the truck stop. "Well, here we are kids. I'm going to get in line to get gassed up. You go on in and call your sister, let her know you're here."

I look out the window again. A car catches my eye, but when I turn my head, it's gone. Opening the door, I climb out and help Felicia down. "Owen," I call up, "when you're done, come on inside. We can get something to eat while we're waiting for Felicia's sister." He gives me a wave to let me know he understands.

Felicia and I head for the door of the restaurant. "You hungry?" I ask.

"Yeah, just let me call Marta and I'll join you." She heads off to the phones while I wait by the restaurant.

It's late, and the place is pretty empty. Just a couple truckers and a waitress are visible inside. I hear the door from outside open, but I'm not really paying attention until someone grabs my arm and slams me into the wall.

"Where is she!"

What in the hell? "Where's who?" I ask. Wrong answer. I feel my feet leave the ground, and the young man leans in closer, one hand holding me up. His pupils are dilated, and I can smell beer on his breath. Drunk and high are a dangerous combination.

"The chick you picked up at the rest stop! Felicia! Where is she?"

"Look, man, I don't know. I just gave her a ride and now she's gone!" I lie, hoping he will believe me. The gun I feel pressing against my throat tells me he doesn't. If I wasn't so damn scared, this might be funny. Even when I'm no longer a part of Jim's dangerous life, the freaks find me.

Felicia chooses that moment to come back from using the phone. She screams, and then all hell breaks loose.


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