Highway Chapter 9
She had come back. Even from the end of the street, I could hear her footsteps. I didn’t quite know it was her, I could only hear that whoever it was happened to be running like a bull. The noise increased and I began to feel a strange sensation.
But I knew this sensation, for it was one I had encountered many times before in my life. I stopped, suddenly aware that it was the feeling of encountering another drifter. Faint, but still very alive.
A small smile graced my lips as I knew it was Veronica. She had come back for the purpose of travelling with me. I knew that had to be why, for otherwise she wouldn’t have come back at all, much less sprinting down the street like a crazed horse.
I turned around to greet her as she came close enough, only to see her crash into a blond girl wearing a cheerleading uniform. They both tumbled to the ground, Veronica landing very ungracefully right on top of the other one. The girl responded with a very high pitched whine, but Veronica was already jumping away for her.
She must of thought me leaving, for her pace was just as fast as before, as if I was running away at this very moment. She hadn’t even stopped to retrieve her bag when it had gone flying away.
This made me happy, for it showed me how much she had wanted to go on the journey. The people spread out, fearing that she would mow down another one of them. I saw the blur of moment the same time I saw her emerge from the sea of people.
Another boy wearing a football uniform had stuck his foot out, by no means an accident, and Veronica had caught her ankle on his. She crashed to the ground, hands thrown out in an attempt to catch herself. Her palms were scratched up pretty bad, and when she shifted and pulled her hands away, there was blood on the ground. Nothing serious, I knew, but it still had to have hurt. He chuckled under his breath.
Resolving to deal with the boy in a moment, I looked to Veronica. Laying on the ground, huffing and puffing, and her hair askew, she was still a beautiful girl. Her eyes were puffy, from the crying I assumed, but they held no hint of tears now. Something about her spectacle had made her even more special. She looked as if she were about to viciously attack the boy, and with good reason, until I walked up to her.
She looked up at me as I came closer, straining her eyes against the sun Stopping about a foot away, I bent down to help her up. I smiled at her, a genuine smile, for she had turned a day of sorrow into a day of joy. I held out my hand for her to take, and she raised her arm before hesitating. Grasping her forearm instead of her scraped palm, I pulled her upward until she was standing next to me, although a bit shakily. That was good, I thought, for her fall hadn’t caused any damage.
I let her go once I was sure she wasn’t going to fall over, and walked over to where her bag had fallen. Everyone’s eyes, including hers, followed my path. I picked it up from where it had laid, a green duffel bag. It was lighter than I expected, and I wondered what she had put inside. I put it over my shoulder and walked back to where Veronica was standing.
Before I got there though, I stopped in front of the boy who had tripped her earlier. A jock by definition, he was tall and muscular, but not as tall as I was. Using my extra height as an advantage, I stood over him with a disapproving look on my face.
“Next time you see someone walking by you, you should keep your extremities to yourself. You could seriously hurt someone like that. We wouldn’t want your ‘mistake’ to cause anyone pain now would we?”
He looked at me, defiant, but I knew he would back down. When another moment passed and he still hadn’t said anything, I spoke again.
“Did I word that simply enough for you? Let me try again. Pain is bad. Girly get hurt. That’s bad. You no do that again, okay?”
His face grew red, and several people in the crowd snickered. I gave him a look, daring him to say something. He seemed to size me up, and I could tell he wasn’t liking the odds. I was taller than him, and my muscles, toned from long days walking and surviving in the wild, were just a strong as his if not stronger. He held my gaze for a moment longer, then looked away, mumbling something incoherent.
Although those on the path weren’t violent people, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t fight or didn’t. We did what we needed to do, and that included punching him in the face if he attacked me.
Veronica was following me with her eyes, and I could sense her amusement at the situation. The boy had probably bullied her for years.
I needed to talk to her, but in front of all these people didn’t seem like an appropriate place. It also didn’t seem like a good idea to leave those cuts on her hands open. I turned to her.
“Are you ready to go?” I asked.
without any hesitation, she nodded. We would stop once we left the gates, perhaps to find a bathroom where she could wash her hands, and then I would speak to her about what she needed to know. I nodded, and turn to the gate. She caught my sleeve.
“Wait one second,” she said.
I was curious, but I did wait. She turned to the people still gathered, and took a long hard look at every one of them.
“Ever since I was little, you guys have made my life a living hell," she announced, "But now I know, that every one of you are the people that I need to feel sorry for. You can’t see anything but this town and your ‘perfect’ little lives. But your lives will mean nothing in a few years, and I will be happy. I bid you all farewell.”
Her voice was defiant and snarky, but powerful and assertive. Low murmurs broke out within the crowd, but she had already turned away, walking past me. I could only imagine the liberation she felt during this moment. I gave one last look at the people, and then quickly caught up to Veronica.
She was looking straight ahead, with no intention of looking back. I could see her future stretch out before her, just as the road did.
“We need to pull over, I need to talk to you, and you need to get those hands washed. I wouldn’t want you to get an infection," I said.
She seemed surprised by the sudden interjection on her musings, but she agreed. We looped around, for there was a small pit stop just behind the town. She went into the Ladies Room while I browsed the racks politely. The man running the place didn’t seem to even notice our presence though, so I just waited for Veronica to come out. When she did, we relocated ourselves onto the bench outside.
I pulled a little tube out from my bag, ointment. “Here,” I said handing it to her, “it will help it heal faster.” She smeared the clear fluid onto her hands, wincing slightly, but overall reacting well to the pain. That was good, for one needed to be tough to be out here. She gave it back to me with a small murmur of thanks. She seemed hesitant now, and not the confident proud girl she was before. I could only wonder what was bothering her.
Figuring she would tell me if she wanted me to know, I shrugged it off.
“Look,” I began, “I need to know that you are completely and entirely ready for this to happen.”
As she started to interject, I held up my hands, signaling her to let me finish.
“Now don’t get all defensive on me,” I said, holding my hands up in a calming gesture, “it’s just that this is a big decision to make. The Way is very lonely sometimes, and even though you have me now, you won’t forever. If you find your way, you won’t want to stick around, because you will be doing what I do.”
She was looking at me thoughtfully now, so I assumed I had her attention.
“This also isn’t a journey for the faint of heart,” I continued, “We camp on the road for 3, 4, sometimes even 5 nights at a time. There are bugs, and animals, and you will get dirty. It isn’t generally dangerous, but we do occasionally share the road with bandits.”
That brought back bad memories.
“But the reason I am telling you this,” I interjected again, “is only because I think that you can do it. I am not trying to scare you or ward you off, I am just letting you know that this isn’t easy. But I do strongly believe you can do it. You have had obvious hardships before, and everyone in that town seemed to be mildly afraid of you. It is very clear you have the thick skin required for such a task. I also can see that you want to go on this journey with a passion. I do not know if it is just because you wanted to get away from there, which I wouldn’t blame you for, or if you are seeking a truer meaning. Maybe it’s a mixture of both. Whatever it is, you have already gone to great lengths to make this happen. So I am telling you that I believe you can do this, but I need to know you are willing and ready to do this. I can’t take you with me if you can’t commit to sticking it out.”
I leaned back, to let her know I was done talking. She sat there, glancing between the ground and I, looking back and forth. Then with a sigh, she turned her whole body towards me, folding her leg up onto the bench with the other dangling just above the ground. An interesting quirk, I thought to myself in amusement.
“I…” she hesitated a moment more, then continued, “I originally thought to go because you were so different than everyone, just like me. Then I thought, why not, I have nothing here for me anyway. While I am still mostly there, I want to be like you in a way as well. You just seem so content with the world right now. I still think you are a little bit crazy, but I think so am I. The crazy people need to stick together right?”
I smiled briefly.
“I think I am ready for it all.” She said in a shaky tone.
I raised my eyebrows at her, for that had not been certain at all. She glanced at me, and then with a deep breath changed her tone.
“I mean I AM ready. Not I think. I know I am ready. One hundred percent into this.” She said, much more resolved and confident.
This girl was returning back to normal again. She was looking at me, as if she dared me to challenge her claim. I could see her determination and her eyes had ignited with something akin to rebellion. I knew, that even though it might not be for the right reason, she was going to do this. But hey, is there a “right” reason? I didn’t start for the right reason either. As long as you end up in the same place, it doesn’t matter the reason.
“All right then!” I said with a deep breath. “Let's get going! We got at least a few miles ahead of us, maybe more until we hit a good spot to camp!”
“Five miles or more? Why the hell is he so perky about it?” I heard her question under her breath.
I took off, leaving her behind. I heard her scramble behind me for her stuff, and called out in indignation.
“Wait up! Don’t be a jerk! Come on!”
I had started to walk faster, just to bother her. As she caught up with me, she gave me a glare and grumbled.
This was going to be interesting, to say the very least.