Dorthea breathed a sigh of relief when the shift bell rang. While she continued to load pressure cooker parts onto the conveyer belts, she looked anxiously over her shoulder and spotted her replacement, Char, sauntering toward their work station. She willed her to walk faster.
“Are you in a hurry to get out of here?” Char asked when she got close enough to see the anxious look on Dorthea's face.
“Oh?” Char pulled on her work gloves. “Something special happening tonight?”
“I have a bus to catch.”
“Don't you have that every night?”
“This is different,” Dorthea said, scooting out of the way as Char stepped in to take her place between the conveyer belts and the wire baskets. Then she yanked off her own pair of gloves while Char leaned over one of the baskets. “I'm going out of town for a few days.”
Char abruptly straightened and spun around to face her co-worker. “Really?” she asked, a smirk spreading across her face.”
Dorthea smacked her with her gloves. “Stop it. It's not for a guy. I'm going to… Um, I have some… Um, business, family business to deal with.”
Feigning extreme disappointment, Char returned to the baskets and pulled out a couple of lids. “Didn't think you had any family except your aunt,” she commented, placing the lids on the appropriate conveyer belt.
“I don't. At least, I don't think I do.” Dorthea sighed. “It's complicated. Listen, I really have to get going. I'll see you Monday.”
“Okay. Have a good trip. Hey, where are you going, anyway?” she called out as Dorthea walked away.
“Kalona,” Dorthea called back over her shoulder.
“Kalona? What the hell could be in Kalona?” Char asked herself as Dorthea disappeared into the hallway that led to the wash room.
Dorthea hurried up the steps of the apartment building and across the lobby. She wasn't too surprised to see Kim waiting for her, she had talked of nothing but her trip to Kalona all week and she was sure her roommate would welcome a few days of quiet.
Kim shooed her into the apartment as soon as Dorthea reached the door. “Your bath is running and I've got dinner cooking.”
“Kim, I don't want to be late.”
Kim held up her hand, palm facing her friend. “Don't argue. You have plenty of time and I refuse to let you out of here until you eat. Now go.”
“I don't suppose you'll—”
“Go! I'll have dinner on the table when you get finished dressing. And don't worry about your suitcase, I already double- and triple-checked it,” Kim called into Dorthea's bedroom as she walked toward the kitchen. “Added a few things, too,” she murmured, smiling.
“Are these okay?” Dorthea asked when she entered the kitchen a half hour after arriving home.
Kim, searching for something in the refrigerator, looked back over her shoulder. “What?”
“These pants, are they okay? I…” Dorthea chewed on her lower lip for a few seconds. “I don't know what's appropriate.”
Kim pulled back from the refrigerator holding a jar of pickle slices. “For riding a Greyhound bus several hours?”
Dorthea dropped her eyes. “I've never done this,” she said apprehensively.
Kim placed the jar on the sink then moved to where Dorthea was standing. She squatted down so she could look up into her friend's face. “I know you haven't, honey. It's going to be a long and tiring night on that bus. I say jeans are just the thing.” She smiled. “Might as well be comfortable.” She straightened. “Come on, let's eat.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely, I'm starving.”
Dorthea laughed. “Not that. Are you sure about the jeans?
“It's what I would wear,” Kim said as she retrieved the jar of pickles and carried it to the table. “They're comfy and you've got pockets for change and such. I think they're the perfect choice.”
Relieved to hear Kim's approval, Dorthea followed her to the table and sat down. “So, what's for dinner?”
“A nice healthy meal of hamburgers, fries, and salad— okay, that's the healthy part. But I figured the hamburgers and fries will fill you up and you won't get hungry during the ride to Kalona. And we'll pack up the left-overs for you to take.”
“Sounds good to me.” Dorthea reached for the platter of fries. “I can't believe you made these yourself.”
“It's not that hard.” Kim placed a hamburger bun on each of their plates. “You take the package out of the freezer; open it and spread them out on a cookie sheet. Put them in the oven for fifteen minutes and, Ta Da!, homemade French fries.
“Thank goodness for frozen food.”
“Amen, to that. Pass the ketchup.”
“Okay, I think I'm ready.” Dorthea was standing in the doorway leading from her bedroom. She carried a jacket and purse in one hand and her suitcase in the other.
“Everything tucked safely away like I showed you?”
“Yes. I only have ten dollars in my purse.” She smiled. “And the hamburgers you wrapped up. I sure won't get hungry before I get to Kalona.”
“They might not be fancy but they're better than the food you'll find in most of the bus stops. Where's the rest of your money?”
Dorthea set the suitcase on the floor. She patted the right front pocket of her jeans. “Fifty in here and,” she said then reached across and patted the left pocket. “Fifty in here. The rest is in my shoes. Which,” she continued before Kim could say anything, “will never leave my feet.”
“Good.” Kim moved closer. “Please be safe,” she said, wrapping her arms around her best friend.
Dorthea was caught off guard by the unanticipated show of emotion. “I, ah…”
Kim released her hold just enough to lean back and glare at Dorthea. “Oh, stop stammering. Friends hug. I've seen them do it.”
“I know. It's just… Well, it's just not like you.”
Kim considered the comment then re-tightened her hold. “I prefer to think it is like me. Now, since I'm going to be alone in this place for the rest of the week, give me a hug to help me get through it.”
“You will be all right, won't you?”
After several moments, Kim released her hold. “I'll clean.”
Dorthea laughed. “Well, that should keep you busy. This place could use a good going over.”
Kim chuckled then sobered. “Please, be careful.”
“Okay, we better get going,” Kim noted, bending over to pick up the suitcase.
“I thought I'd walk you to the bus stop.”
Dorthea smiled. “Thank you.”
Dorthea followed Kim to the apartment door. “I can carry that.”
“I know but I might as well make myself useful.”
Halfway to the bus stop, Dorthea could no longer take the awkward silence that had fallen between them after leaving the apartment. “It's about a thirty minute ride on the city bus to the Greyhound depot. I hope we've allowed enough time in case there's heavy traffic.”
“I hope I can get a seat near the front of the bus. I hate not being able to see what's ahead.”
“It'll be dark most of the way. You won't be missing much.”
“I wish I thought to take another day off.”
“I could have taken the bus that left this morning. Then I could have seen things.”
“Like what's between here and Kalona.”
Kim shrugged. “Not much. Farms. Towns. More farms.”
“I've never been outside of Cedarwood. I don't care if it's an endless pile of used tires, it would be something new and different,” she snapped, exasperated with Kim's indifference.
“You've never been out of Cedarwood?”
“No. Auntie wasn't much for traveling.”
Kim laughed. “I suppose not.” She softened her tone when she saw the look of consternation on Dorthea's face. “Hey, I'm sorry. You never really talked about it but I just assumed you must have gone… I don't know, somewhere.”
“Dammit, Dorthea, if I had known that then I would have insisted you leave this morning. In fact, I would have told you to leave yesterday.”
Dorthea sighed. “It's okay.”
“Hey, if you've got stuff wrapped up by Saturday, you could catch the morning bus back here.” She smiled when Dorthea brightened at the idea. “That way you could see the scenery and you wouldn't have to rush in to work as soon as you got home,” she added.
“We'll see,” Dorthea said while she silently pondered the possibility. “Oh, shoot, there's my bus.” She quickened her steps as a city bus pulled to the curb at the end of the street. The driver was just opening the door when they reached it. She stopped and turned to say goodbye to Kim only to have her almost crash into her.
“Geez,” Kim grumbled as she regained her balance. “Don't stop so fast.” She gently shoved Dorthea toward the open door. “Go on, git.”
“Don't you want to say goodbye?”
“I'm riding with you to the depot.”
“Yes. Now, will you get on the bus before he takes off without us?”
Dorthea grinned then spun around and moved up the steps leading into the bus. While the driver punched her pass, she looked around. Sure enough, Kim was standing right behind her holding a bus pass.
Dorthea accepted the coins the ticket agent handed her along with her ticket. Keeping a firm grip on the ticket, she walked away from the ticket booth to allow the next person in line to step up to the window. Looking around the depot, which wasn't much bigger than her apartment, she spotted Kim sitting at the end of a row of chairs set along the far wall. She shoved the coins into her jeans pocket and headed across the room.
“All set?” Kim asked when Dorthea sat down in the empty chair next to her.
“Yes. And he said it shouldn't be any problem if I want to change to the earlier bus on my trip back.”
“I didn't expect to see this many people traveling on the bus.”
Kim looked around the room, she silently guessed that approximately forty people were sitting or standing around the busy depot. “I doubt all of these will be taking the bus. Some are probably here to meet passengers on the incoming bus and others are, like me, here to say goodbye.”
“How often have you taken the Greyhound?”
“Really? By the way you know all about it, I thought you'd ridden it a lot.”
“No. We took trips when I was a kid but we drove. My dad traveled for his job and he'd take us with him when he thought he could sneak us along without his boss finding out. That way, it didn't cost him anything but what we ate. But when he lost that job, the trips ended. I remember Mom talking to him about taking a trip after that.”
Dorthea saw a look of anger flash across Kim's face. “What happened?”
“He slugged her and said if she ever brought it up again he'd do a lot more.”
“Me, too,” Kim said regretfully as her shoulders slumped and she slouched down on the chair. “It's hard to believe it but we actually enjoyed those trips. He wasn't so ready to lash out when we were traveling; I think he really liked being on the road. Mom wasn't as uptight and he didn't drink as much either. It was really hard when he lost that job.”
“He couldn't find another one like it?”
Kim shrugged. “Maybe. If he had tried, that is. But he usually wasn't sober long enough to go out on interviews. He blamed mom and me since it was because his boss caught him taking us along that he was fired. But it was really just another excuse for drinking.”
“That must have been hard. How old were you?”
Kim thought for a moment. “Around eight or nine.”
“So, where did you go on your bus trip?” Dorthea asked, hoping the change of subject would lighten Kim's mood.
Kim brightened and drew herself up straight on the hard chair. “When I was twelve, Mom decided I would spend the summer with my cousins in New Mexico. I'd never met them but I didn't care because it meant I'd be away from my dad for a whole summer. She put aside a few dollars every week from the money we received from welfare.” She smiled. “I can still remember that day. Mom had met me at school and we walked straight here. She gave me a small paper bag packed with a few snacks and said my aunt had plenty of clothes that would fit me so there was no need to pack any of my own. Now, I know she just didn't want my dad to figure out what she was planning. She bought my ticket, gave me a slip of paper with my aunt and uncle's names and address written on it. She told me to stay close to the bus driver if I had to get off the bus at any of the stops and that my aunt would meet me when I got to Alamogordo. That was the damn best summer of my life.”
Dorthea wondered what her father's reaction had been to his daughter's absence but her question was drowned out by an announcement on the overhead speakers.
“All passengers for Charles City, Latimer, Eagle Grove, and points west, please proceed to door one. All passengers for New Hampton, Waverly, Waterloo, and points south, please proceed to door four.”
“That's you,” Kim said as she watched a pair of buses pull up to the wall of glass doors on the east side of the depot. She wrapped her fingers around the grip of Dorthea's suitcase and stood matching her friend's movement.
“Well, I guess I'm off then,” Dorthea said, reaching for her suitcase.
Kim handed the bag over then wrapped her arms around Dorthea. “Be safe,” she whispered as she tightened her hold.
Dorthea relaxed into the embrace, realizing she liked the feel of Kim's arms wrapped around her. “I promise. You be careful getting back home.”
“Last call for departing passengers,” the loudspeaker squawked causing Kim to release her hold.
Looking into Kim's eyes, Dorthea hesitated for a moment then turned and hurried across the depot to the door where the driver of her bus was checking tickets of the boarding passengers. Kim followed her but at a much slower pace. She found a spot to stand where she wouldn't be in the way and watched as Dorthea placed her suitcase into one of the luggage compartments under the bus then climbed up the steps and took a place on the seat directly behind the driver. A few minutes later, the driver backed the bus away from the building. Kim wrapped her arms around her body as the bus drove off into the night, her skin still tingling where Dorthea's cheek had brushed against her own.
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