The Red Dirt Circuit

Brad is dragged along to a convention in Texas by his parents. Left alone in the hotel while they attend the convention dinner, and told not to wait up for them, he decides to hit Sixth Avenue, take in the Austin music scene, and then return to the hotel, before his parents get back. The rewards are fraught with "complications."


5. Everyone, To The Buses

Brad liked to screen his personal calls just so he could ignore them. The phone in his rook blinked red and someone had set the ring up to its loudest setting. He crawled across the king-size bed until he reached the phone and picked up.


“This is your wake-up call.”


“I didn’t ask for one,” was the only words that came to mind and, as soon as he said it, he realized he was talking to a computer. He slammed down the receiver, pissed.


Pulling the covers up and around his shoulders, he rolled away from the phone and pulled a large pillow over his head. The phone rang again and he finally picked it up the second time and only after the sixth or seventh ring.


“ G’morning Brad. Is something wrong? You weren’t picking up.” His mother’s cheery voice had that mixed-with-slight-concern tone sprinkled in.


“I’m fine, just how late did you stay up?”


“I dunno, maybe 2:00,” there was nothin’ on,” Brad said.


“They only service breakfast until 10:30 so I thought I’d call you to make sure you’re up.”


Brad thanked her and hung up. He was hungry but in a contest, sleep usually won easily. He was ready for some nosh—something to hold him over until lunch. He pulled on last night’s clothes and looked around for his shoes. He needed to be just decent enough to get down the elevator and to the breakfast room.


Only after he walked into the dining room did it occur to him that she might be there and he looked like he just rolled out of bead—which he had. No Jenn in sight, with a bit of disappointment, he raised one finger in answer to the waitress’ request.


He was hungrier than he realized and was easily able to finish off a short stack of pancakes, eggs, sausages, toast and something they called a “breakfast burrito.” Now that he was fed, he felt ready for anything. His mom’s note said to be ready at 1:00 for the afternoon group excursion. She didn’t say where so it had to be boring. Probably a museum or art gallery. Please God, no.


After showering, he felt like a brand new person. He was clean and now he was about to be bored. The meeting room was emptying and he sat slumped in an overstuffed chair in the lobby watching for his parents to exit. They would be last because his father could never leave a room without asking one more question. That’s where they differed: his father—curious about everything, and he—not caring about much.


He called Megan but the call went into messages. He realized that she might be pretty busy at the Y camp, especially since she was a counselor and her group was preschoolers. That age had a million different needs, happening every thirty seconds, or that’s what it seemed after listening to her information dump on him every day after work. That was way too much of a hassle for a summer job. Mowing lawns was so much better, especially since most of the homes had swimming pools and the owners didn’t mind them dipping if it got too hot.


Austin was hot but somehow it felt like a different heat. By the time they got to the hotel yesterday, the heat of the day was already letting up. He was hot just walking from the bus to the lobby but walking around last night, even though the heat was still in the 80s, he didn’t sweat buckets. Strange. Hope we’re inside with AC today.


They finally emerged, dad in deep conversation with an older man, his mom tagging behind, scanning the room for her son.


“There you are,” she walked over and stood over his chair, “You hungry?”


“I just finished breakfast a little while ago, but I probably could eat something,” he said.


“We don’t have much time because the bus leaves at 1:00,” she said. “You’ll need something to hold you over because we aren’t scheduled to eat anything until about 6:00.”


“Susan?” his dad called over to them. “When do we have to be outside at the bus?” Dad relied on mom to keep his schedule and remind him of all the little details. He was lost without her. Same thing with him. When mom was along he didn’t have to think, she arranged everything and he took the bad with the good, hoping the bad wasn’t too bad.


The bus line was pretty long, snaking under some shade trees just beyond the turnaround at the hotel entrance. A guy at the front had a clipboard and he was checking names off and giving out tickets.


The first bus was boarding and a second bus was in place for the overflow. By the time he and his parents got on line, it looked as though they wouldn’t make the first bus. Then he saw Jenn getting on the bus about fifteen people in front of him. Cool, he’d sit with her. It didn’t matter where the bus was actually going, she’d keep him from being bored.


The bees in his pocket woke up again. What is this? Every time he was thinking of Jenn, Megan called. Or was that just the sound of guilt going off in his pocket?

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