Date: July 13, 2004
Title: Random Acts
Feedback: would be delightful!
Distribution: Gossamer, Ephemeral, yes; anyone else, just drop me a line. Thanks!
Timeline: Post "The Truth"
Rating: PG-13ish for a bad word or two
Disclaimer: Not mine
Summary: How legends are born.
For Char, in honor of her cross-country trip.
We are going, Heaven knows where we are going We'll know we're there
We will get there, Heaven knows how we will get there, We know we will
It will be hard, we know
And the road will be muddy and rough
But we'll get there
Heaven knows how we will get there
We know we will
After all this time on the road, he never thought he'd see himself pick up a couple of hitchhikers.
Suspicion ran deep with him, always had. He was well-suited to his loner life on the road. He kept to himself at truck stops, avoiding even the casual chatter of the waitress or the guy on the stool next to him. He got his food to go if the place was crowded, preferring the solitude of his rig over the false camaraderie of the truck stop cafes.
But these two caught his eye as he paid his bill. Not that they were trying to; in fact, they looked more like they were trying to blend in than stand out. But something about them made him look, and look again.
At first, he thought it was a man and a boy, sitting side by side in the booth. The man was dark-haired and weary-eyed, stubble flecked with a few gray hairs. The boy had chopped-off yellow hair and was smooth-skinned. He wore an oversize denim jacket, sleeves so long they almost hid his hands, which were twined with the man's.
Maybe that's what made him look twice, and then he realized that the boy was actually a woman. She'd been looking down, studying their linked hands, but when she looked up he could see the unmistakable curve of her lips, the astonishing blue of her gaze as she looked at her companion.
They both looked a little the worse for wear. The man looked up and caught him staring. He let his eyes slide away, as though he'd merely glanced over them as he waited for his order. He left the restaurant in a hurry, feeling strangely guilty -- as if he'd been spying or something.
Later, after he'd had his dinner and some shut-eye, he went out to take a leak before starting on his way. He saw them again, at the edge of the parking lot. The man was helping the woman put on her backpack.
He looked around. Except for a couple of long-haulers, he didn't see any other vehicles in the lot. Were they nuts, planning to walk through the night? The days were still warm, but even in the desert it got cold at night. And no one who meant well would pick up hitchers on a lonely road at night.
Afterward, when he thought about it, he couldn't explain why he'd approached them. They weren't asking for help. His policy had always been to leave well enough alone, and these two were adults who must have had their reasons for doing what they were doing. It was none of his business.
But approach them he did. "Where're you headed?" he asked gruffly.
They turned as one to face him, identical defensive moves. The man said, in a voice nearly as rusty as his own, "Just up the road a ways." He looked wary, as did the woman beside him.
"Me too," he heard himself say. He could see the exhaustion written all over their faces and in the sag of their shoulders. "Come on, I've got plenty of room."
After a long moment of silent communication with his companion, the man nodded.
He opened the passenger side and noted how the man stood and let the woman pull herself up into the rig, watchful but respectful, ready to help only if asked. He hoisted himself up after her, stowing his pack behind the seat, but placing hers so she'd have a footrest.
He also noticed that the man had placed himself in the middle of the seat very matter-of-factly. He shrugged to himself and started his rig, letting the engine warm before pulling out of the parking lot.
The woman was asleep, her head pillowed on her bunched up jacket, before they were a mile down the road.
"You got a name, fella?" he asked, just to be making conversation. He still couldn't figure out what had gotten into him, picking these two up.
"You can call me Bobby," the man said. "And she's McGee," he added. "We're traveling light."
So light they'd left their real names behind, he thought. The least the guy could have done was let the woman be Bobby. Maybe they took turns.
"What's yours?" Bobby was asking.
"Sam," he said. Close enough, anyway. It was his middle name, and he hardly ever used it, but two could play at this name game.
"Good to meet you, Sam," Bobby said. There was something odd about the way he said the name, like he suspected it wasn't his real name.
He upped the ante a little. "You running from something?"
The guy flinched, just a bit. "You could say that. Also running to something," he added cryptically.
They rode in silence for a while. Sam noticed how the man kept contact with his companion. His hand always rested against her leg or her hand. If she moved in her sleep, he was instantly aware but did not disturb her if she settled again.
Bobby turned and caught Sam looking again. "It's harder on her," he said.
"So what are you running to?" Sam asked.
The man hesitated a moment. "The truth," he said finally.
Sam half-expected him to pull out a religious tract, but Bobby shrugged and looked out the window a moment, then turned back to Sam. "There's bad stuff out there, waiting to happen. We're doing what we can to stop it."
Sam waited, but no more was coming out of the man's mouth. "Just the two of you?" he asked. The man looked pretty strong, but the woman was so tiny. What could she do?
"It'll do for a start," he said. "We hope we won't always be alone."
"I'm not much of a joiner myself," Sam said cautiously, still expecting some sort of pitch.
"That's okay, I'm not recruiting," Bobby said with a small grin. "We just appreciate the ride."
"Neither of you seems like the type for the open road," Sam ventured.
Bobby shrugged again and smiled a little. "Yeah, it wasn't my original career path but you work with what you've got."
"Do you have a place you call home?"
The man was silent for so long that Sam thought he'd asked for too much information. But when he glanced over, the man who called himself Bobby was gazing on his companion, stroking her hand softly. Sam turned away quickly. He was pretty sure he wasn't meant to see that.
Finally the man said, "We don't have a home in the widely understood meaning of the term." He spoke very softly, his eyes still on the woman. "But we'll know when we get there."
Sam just grunted in reply. The other man didn't say anything more, just sat holding the woman close, whose head now rested against his shoulder. He stroked her short hair as he stared out the window.
The thousand-yard stare, Sam thought. I've seen that before. Hell, I've done it before.
There was something about these two. He couldn't put his finger on it, but they had an air about them. Like they were veterans of some war. But it wasn't over yet for them, he could tell.
He had some experience with that, too.
Bobby finally relaxed enough to sleep a little bit, his head resting against the woman's. Sam drove steadily through the night, heading for the horizon.
The sky was promising to lighten as he pulled into the truck stop. Bobby woke up first, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes. He looked surprised that he'd slept. He turned to the woman and drew a finger gently along her cheek, and she opened her eyes instantly. "Where are we?" she asked.
"A little ways outside of Yuma. I'm heading for Vegas if you're going that far."
Bobby shook his head. "We're gonna look someone up near here. Can we buy you breakfast?"
Sam shook his head. "I was just going to ask you," he said, surprising himself again.
"Can't let you do that," Bobby said.
Maybe they weren't as down and out as he thought, or maybe Bobby was just putting on a good show, and hoping desperately that Sam wouldn't take him up on his offer.
He'd let them off the hook. "Naw, I'm gonna push on," he said. "You're okay here?" Why was he so reluctant to part company with these two?
"Yeah, we're good," Bobby said.
Sam climbed out of the cab and came around to help them unload their gear.
They stood awkwardly next to the truck. Bobby cleared his throat a little. "I said last night that there's a lot of bad in the world, but there's good, too. As a friend of mine used to say, you're good people." He reached out his hand and took Sam's in a firm grip. "Thank you," he said.
The woman held out her hand as well. "You've been a great help to us," she said. "Thank you."
Her smile just about did him in. He dredged up a word his mother had always used when he left on a trip.
"Godspeed," he said, the word filling his eyes with remembered kindness.
She patted his hand before letting him go, then took her partner's hand. He watched them turn away. She didn't seem so tiny any more. Maybe it was a trick of the rising sun that they walked toward, but their silhouettes matched, and the shadows they cast back seemed the same height, too.
The sun was making his eyes water. He rubbed his sleeve across his face and went back to his rig.
He didn't tell anyone about this strange encounter. Who'd he tell, anyway? He had no one waiting for him at home to listen to his tales of the road. He wasn't the kind to write stuff down, either. And really, what was there to tell? He'd picked up a couple who were down on their luck. He was no Good Samaritan but he'd done it anyway.
Why did he think he'd done something so good?
He wondered about them once in a while. He hoped that they'd gotten to wherever they were headed. He hoped for more good people for them.
Several months later, he passed a man leaving a truck stop cafe, whistling a familiar tune.
Impulsively, he turned and put his hand on the man's arm. "What's that tune?" he asked.
The man looked at him strangely but didn't take offense at his familiarity. "'Me and Bobby McGee,'" he said.
"That's what I thought," he said. "Sorry to bother you, friend." He turned to go.
"Wait," the other man said. "I know what you're talking about."
"I gave them a ride not long ago," he said. "Up by Kalispel. Good people."
The use of the phrase struck him. "Yeah," he said. "Thanks."
He took to whistling the tune himself from time to time. Every now and then, someone would catch his eye and nod slightly or smile.
He began eating inside the cafes more often, and striking up conversations. It surprised him how many good people were out there.
Whoever those two were, wherever they were, they'd started something.
Author's notes: The song at the beginning of the story is "Woyaya" by Sol Amarfio and Osibisa. The other, "Me and Bobby McGee" is by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Parker. I have borrowed them without permission, but with great respect.
Thanks for reading!
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