"JUST SO YOU KNOW"
Amy closed her eyes tight, her stomach churning. She looked out to the scenery, the bus hitting a small bump, making her shoulder hit the metal lock at the bottom of the small glass window. The amarillo sky bled into the horizon, the desert before her only grew flatter and emptier. She sighed; the bus was empty except for her.
She didn't know where she was going, but she would know when she got there, and hoping this bus would be the one to get her there. Bus after bus after bus, for two months now, she hadn't been caught. She looked down at her stationary, filled with pink roses, as she looked at her pen.
The heat was nearly unbearable, enough to make your heart your last priority. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, reaching to the slope of her tank-top, pumping it a couple of times, trying to get any cool air. The moon was as big as the postcards showed, at night, she would watch it as the bus hummed softly. She would sleep on the brown leather seats, waking up to the sound of tires rotating underneath her. She ate food at the stops in between buses, smoky barbeque and sparkling water from the mountains, her stomach filled with things that weren't consumed before. She slept on benches, like she was a real actual nobody; she huddled around fires with people who were ragged to the bone, falling asleep to the smell of burning coal. She asked people where she could find happiness, which buses she would have to take. They never had an answer.
Her skin was bronze now, and she'd dyed her bright blonde hair, so now it was a pretty chestnut brown, sticking to her sweaty forehead as she popped in her contacts, to make her eyes blue. Like the color her cousin had. She looked totally different, she felt like a stranger, like she was sharing her body with someone else. She tore her gaze away from the window, looking back at her stationary. Should she write? What would she say? What if she accidentally gave away her position? She looked forward, watching the bus driver catch her gaze in the mirror above him. She smiled, watching him smile back. She watched the bus station come into view. "Sorry kiddo," he apologized as the bus came to a slow stop. "Better luck next time."
She smiled, sweetly. "Thank you." she picked up her backpack from the other seat, swinging it over her shoulder as she made her way out of the bus. As soon as she got out, her insides went cold, her heart stopping.
She could see him, a stark contrasting pale skinned boy, shouting out something, as people shook their head and walked on by. Her chest felt constricted. Shawn...she stopped, looking for a bus, any bus. She found one just closing. She ran to it, banging on the door, which had just closed. The door opened with a 'whoosh', as she smiled at the bus driver who eyed her. "Sorry. Thank you." she slipped her money into the box.
She made her way past wandering eyes, sitting down in the very back. She looked out the window, she saw him, passing out fliers with her face on them. So he was looking. She watched him as the bus started, watching him until the train station became the smallest blur in the distance, and all she could see was the cloud of dust they were leaving behind.
She dug out her stationary and started to write her letter.
The desert is beautiful at night, when the air cools and the moon comes into view. How come when you visited places, you never bring back stories? I would have listened if you did. I would have listened to you as you described a desert sunset, how the sky stays the prettiest yellow all day long, and how the heat sticks to you even after you're long gone. I would have listened to you talk about how the air smells like firewood smoke and you can fall asleep to the sound of coyotes and a guitar being played. The water here tastes like untainted mountain water, fresh, like it hasn't been contaminated yet. When it rains, people gather in circles and dance; you should have told me that the rain on your skin feels like redemption. You should have told me that people here sit on perfectly painted white porches and sip pink lemonade as they watch the clouds go by.
I thought of you the other day. When you lost a basketball game to your brother, who you never thought would catch up. Does it hurt to know you aren't the best?
Just so you know, you were always the better person, to me.
P.S. I saw you at the bus station. I hope you stayed long enough to catch that beautiful desert sunset.
It was early morning when she was jolted from sleep; she rubbed her eyes, looking outside. She saw a small town, and she could see the small old shops, perfect little white houses with blue shutters, and children playing in the dirt street, innocently.
She smiled, before reaching up to that small loop of rope and tugged at it. The bus driver's eyebrow rose as she stopped the bus, she grabbed her things. The bus driver had heard about her, she smiled. "Finally found a place you like, sweetie?"
Amy smiled. "Here's hoping."
She exited the bus, landing on solid ground, before making her way into the town. Her blonde hair was getting long, she should really get it cut. And she needed a shower, she hadn't taken one in two days. A man watched her as she made her way to him. "Is there a job I can get around here?" she asked.
He tipped his hat. "Ma'm, shouldn't you be looking for a house first?"
Amy smiled. "I don't need a home, just money. I'll find the rest along the way."
The man smirked. "Work for me on my farm, I'll let you stay in my daughter's old bedroom. I'll pay you alright, not too much, but I reckon it'll be enough to get by."
Amy gasped. "That would be amazing."
The man took her backpack, and she slipped into his old pickup. He looked at her. "So where you come from?"
Amy looked away. "I plan on forgetting."
"A pretty dame like you had to be leaving behind a few broken hearts. Surely you have a man?"
Amy shook her head. "Not one I plan on talking about, sir."
The farmer hit his knee. "Well, shoot. If you ain't got spunk!" he looked at her. "Can you at least tell me if you plan on stayin'?"
Amy looked at the farm coming into view. "I hope so."
Here on the farm, I can finally relax. I can sit on a bale of hay after feeding the cows and listen to the wind and the dandelion dust. It's quiet, it's calm, my mind has never been more peaceful. I've learned so many things. I delivered a newborn colt, and I helped name him too. The sun is still as hot, and people really smile, not those fake smiles you give because you should.
I ate lunch with the descendents of Native Americans as they told me the story of the rabbit and the sun. They painted crushed beetles on my face; I made it look like blood was running down my cheeks, like a warrior. I rolled in the dirt, laughing until my stomach began to hurt; I made arrowheads and ate mixed berries until my mouth turned blue.
I was baptized, thanks to the local pastor. He said that before baptism, you're real dirty, full of sin. I held my breath as I plunged into the holy water. He told me I was clean now. It feels real good. Amazing. You wouldn't even recognize me if you saw me. And trust me, you've been to my town a couple of times, looking for me. I've said hello, once, just to hear your voice. You walked away from me, you didn't hear me. It didn't hurt, not at all. And I turned my back from you and started walking home.
Just seeing you was the best feeling in the world. You haven't changed at all. But you're still looking for me. It's been two years, all of our other friends have quit. I know you want to, too.
Just so you know, I was close to telling you. Real close. You don't have to feel obligated to look for me. You can stop anytime you want to. I'll never forget that you looked this long. It's weird, writing and knowing you can't write back. When I talked to you, and you weren't listening, it felt like that. Like I was a million miles away but right in front of your eyes.
I'm like these people in this town, I can't act fine when I'm not. I can't lie and say my heart is fuller than what it really is.
I love everything about this place, except that you're not with me.
With fifty dollars in her back pocket, Amy left on another bus. She watched the people. There was a small woman with a tight little basketball belly, another child asleep in her arms. There was a man with a mustache that tickled his nose as he flared his nostrils in thought.
She smiled, until the door opened, and she saw someone walking down the isle. Her eyes widened, but she refused to make a face. He came to her, the only other open seat. "Mind if I sit here?" he asked, as he smiled the same tilted and rugged smile she fell in love with.
She shook her head. Her voice was still but steady. "No, not at all." he did, she could smell him from where she was. She scooted a little closer, when she noticed the small thin sheet of paper in his hand. It was a photo of her. She was smiling, her skin pale, her hair sunshine blonde and eyes green. She had her arms around him, winking as she had her mouth open in a laugh. She looked at it, as if she was seeing someone else.
"Who's that?" she asked, more to herself than to him. He looked at her, and she looked up at him, and she could see his beautiful brown eyes. She backed away. She swallowed. "Girlfriend?"
She expected him to make a face, or to deny graciously, saying, 'we're just friends.' But instead, a smile swept his features clean. "Yeah," he confirmed, angling the picture so she could see. Her heart stopped beating, she wondered how long it would take for it to explode. "Amy McBride. She's been missing for nearly two years."
She played along. She just wanted to hear his voice. "How do you even know she's still alive?"
He looked at the picture. "She's been sending me letters." he smiled, his eyes getting a dazed look. "She's been doing...great, from the sound of it." he looked at her. "Have you seen her? She's about your height, fair skin, blonde hair, green eyes...ever seen her?" he asked, and she looked at her own picture. Not in a long while, she thought.
She pretended to wince. "Sorry." she looked back at him. "What do her letters say?"
Suddenly, he began to recite her first letter. Without any flaws or mistakes. She watched his lips form her exact words. "When it rains, people gather in circles and dance, you should have told me that the rain on your skin feels like redemption." Shawn told her, she watched him curiously. He went on. "I thought of you the other day. When you lost a basketball game to your brother..." he recited, and she scooted closer. He watched her the whole time. "Does it hurt to know you aren't the best?"
Amy suddenly breathed as they both looked down. "Just so you know," she whispered. "You were always the better person, to me." she filled in. The sunlight hit her back, fell over her like a blanket of comfort.
Shawn looked up in shock, their foreheads were almost touching. Her long eyelashes were touching his face, lightly kissing them. She looked at him, looking at his jaw, the dimples in his smile, all the things she missed so much. His voice was ragged, suddenly desperate. His husky voice chilled her.
"How did you..." she cut him off, pressing her lips against his. Their skin went cold, she felt her whole vision go blurry. She pulled away, her heartbeat in her ears, her cheeks pink. Shawn opened his eyes to look at her. "Amy?" his breath tickled her cheek. She pressed her forehead against his, letting out a sigh. This was it. Shawn pulled away, before wrapping his arms around her so hard she choked on her breath. She closed her eyes, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Just so you know," she breathed. "I've missed you too."
He held her. "Oh, Amy." he touched her head. "I thought I'd never see you again." Amy smiled, and with a tender hand, took the contacts from her eyes. They instantly became two windows of garnet green, a place that he knew, the most beautiful thing Shawn had seen in a long time. "I never stopped looking for you." he spoke. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you."
She smiled. "Didn't tell me what?"
He pulled her away so she could look into his eyes. "Well..." he smiled. "That I love you." he gave a small laugh. "I realized it just after you left, and that you weren't coming back. It didn't matter to me if I spent the rest of my life looking, if I ran the rest of my life at a slower pace. If I just saw your face, one time, it'd be enough." she couldn't look away. She smiled, her eyes sparkling. She hugged him, before smelling in his scent.
"Let's get out of here." she whispered. "Let's go."
Shawn looked at her. "Go where?"
Amy smiled. "Does it matter?" she laughed. "We'll know when we get there."
The two watched, as destination by destination rolled by, waiting for their own.