The first time the pair boarded a train and met other drifters, Adeline was shocked. Sure, they’d met some cool people so far, but meeting other people like them was a little bit of a reality check. Right, people did this. They weren’t the only ones in the 20s, on the road, experiencing life hands on.
Sitting in a boxcar were two women, with their respective belongings. Rowan had lifted Adeline up first, so she got to see them before he did. One of them had dark skin and a black afro, pulled up into a puff on top of her head. She laid on her back, cigarette in her mouth, head in the lap of her companion. Olive colored skin and short wavy purple hair drew Adeline’s eye.
All in all, they were beautiful.
Rowan looked a bit taken aback when he saw them, but greeted then nonetheless.
“Hey, mind if we join you?” He asked. The purple haired one smiled, teeth beautiful and straight.
“Not at all. We’re heading to St. Louis,” She told them, tapping her partner, who sat up. “I’m Esmeralda, and this is my girlfriend, Maddox.”
“Nice to meet you,” The dark skinned girl greeted them. That word made Adeline freeze. Girlfriend. Oh, God, they were gay. She’d never met anyone who was gay, let alone a gay woman! How should she act? Suddenly, she felt very-self conscious and took a step behind Rowan. Maddox noticed. “Hey, we scare you off so soon?”
“Oh, she’s a little shy,” Rowan looked at her, gaze confused. She leaned up and whispered in his ear.
“I’ve never met a dyke before,” She said quietly, making him wince.
“First, don’t call them that, that’s a super offensive word,” He whispered back. “Second, they’re people, just like you. Talk to them, I’m sure you won’t be so put off once you get to know them.”
Pulling out of their private conversation, Rowan took a seat and Adeline followed, her gaze never leaving the pair in front of them. They didn’t… dress the way she thought gay women would. Esmeralda looked very pretty, actually, in flared jeans and a white tank top, necklaces layered and fingers glinting with rings. Honestly, she looked like if Rowan were a girl. It made her snicker.
“Something funny?” Maddox asked, making Adeline fall quiet.
“No, sorry,” She said, drawing in on herself again. Esmeralda hit Maddox’s arm.
“Sorry about her, she just got her nose pierced and she’s taking her pain out on other people. Be nice!” She scolded her, looking back to the pair. “Where are you two from?”
“Georgia,” Rowan answered.
“You’re a long way from home,” Maddox commented, passing her cigarette to her girlfriend. “Where you headed to?”
“California,” Adeline spoke then, trying not to let these beautiful… gay women scare her. “But we’ve been makin’ some stops along the way. We just spent a week out in the forest, south of here.”
“Sounds like fun,” Esmeralda smiled, passing Rowan their cigarette, and he took it. Adeline was a little bit shocked by that but didn’t say anything. “I can’t remember the last time we pitched up our tent. This one’s been getting us motel rooms everywhere we go.”
“I’m sorry I don’t want to sleep on the dirt all the time,” Maddox rolled her eyes and looked conspiratorially at Adeline, who smiled in understanding. “But look, once we’re out of St. Louis, we can sleep under the stars again. Sound good babe?”
The pair leaned in and kissed. Adeline blushed wildly and looked at Rowan, who looked remarkably unbothered. He held the cigarette out to her, and she took it daintily, raising it to her lips. Last time, she’d breathed in and nearly died. So, she blew out. Her lungs still burned a little, but she hadn’t coughed. When the pair separated, she finally looked back at them.
“Where are you two goin’?” She asked.
“Nowhere really,” Maddox supplied. “Though she’s thinking Colorado.”
“Legalized weed and gay marriage, babe. It’s basically our dream. Plus, mountains!” Esmeralda said excitedly, making Rowan laugh.
“We’ll be passing through there,” He said, leaning back on one arm. “Might as well stick together until then.”
Whirling to face him, Adeline desperately tried to get his attention without speaking out loud. Unfortunately, her easygoing companion wasn’t looking at her. Instead, his eyes were on Esmeralda, who nodded.
“That sounds great! We haven’t traveled with anyone else in a while, it’ll be a nice change!” She told them, leaning onto her girlfriend, who’d passed on her cigarette once again.
“What, getting bored of me already?” Maddox joked, making Esmeralda roll her eyes. Adeline took this as a moment to grab Rowan’s arm.
“Excuse us for a second,” She told the two girls, before pulling him to the other side of the boxcar. She spoke in a low whisper, not wanting the others to hear. “We can’t travel with them.”
“Why not? They seem cool, plus, their destination is on the way to ours. That’s how most drifters band together,” He told her, making her wave her hand at him.
“But they’re…” She tried to find the right word. “Different.”
“Different how? Because they’re gay? You’ll find a lot of gay people are just like straight people; you can’t even tell they’re gay sometimes,” He crossed his arms. “That southern prejudice is really coming out now.”
“Don’t say that,” She narrowed her eyes at him. “I just feel… uncomfortable travelin’ with… lesbians.”
Rowan shook his head. “They’re obviously very happy together. I doubt either one of them is going to hit on you or try to make a move. Newsflash; not every woman is every lesbian’s type. You may not even be attractive to them. Also, you know you’ve been traveling with a not straight person, right?”
She took a minute to comprehend that. “What?”
“I’m pansexual,” He scoffed.
“But, you hooked up with Bailey?” She asked, confused.
He groaned and ran a hand down his face. ““I don’t see gender, if I like you, then I like you. Gender doesn’t matter to me. You really should educate yourself, cupcake. You’re going to meet a ton of ‘different’ people on the road.”
With that, he turned and went back to the couple, leaving Adeline in a tidal wave of emotions. He was pansexual. He liked men and women? And now she’d be traveling with three not straight people. But Rowan was such a cool guy, such a man’s man. Could he really not be straight? Looking over at them, she saw the three of them talking, getting along. She’d been that way with Rowan this whole time… should his sexuality really change that? She liked him, a lot, as a person.
“Hey,” Maddox called out to her. “Might want to sit, we’re heading downhill.”
“Yeah, come back over!” Esmeralda waved her hand at Adeline. Rowan looked over his shoulder at her.
Maddox and Esmeralda did seem very happy together, as well as very open to others joining them on their trip. They both seemed like they knew a lot, old souls, her mother would have said. She crossed back over and sat down next to Rowan, taking the cigarette from his fingers when he offered it to her.
“Thanks,” She said softly, and he smiled at her.
“No problem, cupcake.”
St. Louis laid on a huge river that Adeline couldn’t help but marvel at as they hopped down off of the train. They were let off in an industrial part of the city, under a bridge carrying loud streetcars. Jazz music played from somewhere, and street vendors shouted out, clamoring for passerby attention.
“Let’s find somewhere to eat, I’m starving,” Maddox said, taking her girlfriend’s hand.
“I could eat,” Rowan agreed, holding his hand out to Adeline. “So you don’t get swept up in traffic.”
She rolled her eyes, but took his hand anyway, falling in step behind the couple.
They ended up in a restaurant with an attached bar, Maddox immediately getting a beer when they sat down. Their table was a ¾ circular booth and Adeline was shoved between Esmeralda and Rowan, but she didn’t really mind. The atmosphere was lively enough to not set her on edge, and her company was actually pretty good.
“So, we leave our car on the side of the road in Louisiana, and I’m thinking, this has to be it, we’re going to die in the bayou,” Esmeralda told them, making Adeline giggle and Rowan chuckle. “Then, our savior in a green pickup pulls up alongside us and says, ’¿Necesitas un paseo, hermana?’ Would you believe it was the same guy who’d given us directions to the gas station 75 miles back? That was the day I re-pledged my faith to God, because who else could have sent him our way?”
“I’m telling you, he must have been following us,” Maddox insisted, shaking her head. “But still. We got out and never encountered any alligators.”
“I swear, as long as I live, I will never enter Louisiana or Florida. Too many animals that could kill me,” Adeline told them.
“You say that, but if I headed south now, you’d have no idea and follow me the whole way,” Rowan bumped her, making her gasp and hit him back.
“I’d know when I read that big ass Welcome to Louisiana sign! Then I’d shove you out of the movin’ train,” She told him, Maddox and Esmeralda laughing at their antics.
“You two fight like an old married couple. It’s cute,” Maddox said, making Adeline blush brightly.
“Ah, we aren’t-”
“Okay!” Their waiter cut her off, food in hand. “So we have a Hickory Burger, a Pastrami on Pretzel Roll, an order of Buffalo Fries for the table, a Garden Salad and a Roast Beef on Brioche Roll?”
He set their food down and they thanked him, all of them picking up a fry, at Rowan’s request.
“A toast,” He said proudly. “To four like-minded people coming together. Thank God, or Vishnu, or the Universe, or whatever bipedal alien creature is out there, brought us together.”
They all cheered and dug in, sharing conversation about their travels, their lives, music, life; anything that came to their minds. Adeline found their two new companions very easy to talk to, and soon, they were laughing and joking together like old friends. Their light atmosphere was not shared by the staff, however, who were all running around, frantically shouting at one another. Apparently, the live music had canceled on them, and the crowd was getting restless.
Their waiter rushed by their table, then backpedaled, seeing Rowan’s guitar case.
“Do you play?” He asked, and Rowan nodded. “Great, could you please, please come play for us?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m just having a nice dinner with my friends here-”
“We’ll pay you $600. It was what we were supposed to pay the band with,” He cut him off. Rowan’s eyebrows raised and he stood, grabbing his guitar.
“Sure,” He then looked back to the table. “But only if my leading lady can come with.”
Adeline, in the midst of chewing her sandwich, looked at him, wide-eyed. The waiter nodded and grabbed her wrist, pulling her up to her feet.
“Of course, sure, come with me.” He led them through a few scattered tables and before Adeline could protest, she was shoved onto a stage, in front of the whole restaurant. A spotlight hit her and she groaned, blinking and stepping back. Rowan walked up to the microphone and tapped it before speaking into it.
“Hey St. Louis, we are not the band who was scheduled to play tonight. What was their name,” He looked at the drum set and wrinkled his nose. “Cannibal Sacrifice? God, that sounds really unappealing for dinner.” The crowd chuckled and Rowan was brought a stool, which he sat down on, taking out his guitar. “Instead, I’m Rowan and this is Adeline, and we’re just gonna play you a few songs.”
He plucked a few notes and looked up to her, mouthing the words, “It’s okay.” He then began playing, music that she recognized from him, slow and indie sounding. It felt relaxing like it always did when he played. However, now she was supposed to be the one singing. She hadn’t sung anything but church music since her 18th birthday. Rowan gave her a worried gaze, mouthing at her again, so minutely she almost couldn’t see it.
So, she rested a hand on the mic and started singing.
“The strangest thing is happening to you and me, and I’m too scared to let you see,” She looked down at Rowan, who looked a little shocked. “Because I know that we’ve both been here before and I don’t know what I want anymore…”
Growing up, her friends had always told her she could be a singer. She never thought about it, because her mama had forbidden her from ever pursuing singing unless it was classical. But what mama didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, right?
“So whisper some secrets into my ears… tell me, won’t you, that there’s nothing here. Oh, my love, hide me from the storm, keep our hearts warm. Oh, my love, the demons that I see, take you away from me. Oh, my love, tell me it will be, for now, just you and me. Oh, my love, I see it in your eyes, keep me by your side, tonight…”
The crowd cheered a little, and Adeline heard Esmeralda yell out for them. But she couldn’t take her eyes off of Rowan. She didn’t… know where these lyrics were coming from. Somewhere deep in her mind, she guessed, she must have written them.
“Pretend for a moment that I, I care about you. Don’t tell me for a moment it’s not a smart thing to do. You know that you don’t have to face this alone… trust me, I’ve been there, and I wish that I’d known.” She repeated the chorus of the song again, finally looking out into the audience. She wasn’t nervous anymore, singing the unknown lyrics from the heart. People whistled and clapped as the song came to a close, and she finally looked back to Rowan, who looked so stunned, she was surprised he was able to play.
They sang a few more songs, a couple of covers before Rowan sang some of his originals. They played eight songs in total and had the crowd on their feet when they bowed. Rowan stood from his chair and bowed, then pushed Adeline forward. Somehow, the cheering got louder and she blushed, bowing again before rushing back to her table.
Esmeralda hugged her. “That was awesome! Did you guys practice that?”
“No,” Adeline laughed, feeling a bit floaty. “Not at all.”
“You sounded good together,” Maddox told them as Rowan sat down. “You’re pretty good with that thing.”
“Only because I had an amazing singer backing me up,” He looked at Adeline, still shocked. “I didn’t know you could sing like that.”
“What was your plan if I couldn’t sing?” She asked, smiling at him.
“Fake a heart attack and run out in the commotion.” He shrugged, making Maddox bark out a laugh. “But really. You were amazing, cupcake. I guess there’s still a lot I don’t know about you.”
“Hey, you’ve got all the time in the world to learn,” She told him, and he gave her a fond look.
“I guess I do,” He whispered.
“Okay, I think everyone deserves another round of drinks after that, on me,” Maddox said, flagging down their waiter again. She ordered for them but Adeline couldn’t take her eyes off of Rowan, and the feeling was mutual. They shared some kind of enamored gaze, Adeline picking up her drink and looking away eventually. But she felt his eyes still on her.
Strangely, it didn’t bother her very much.
The next day brought them sightseeing, taking buses and walking about the city. Museums, art exhibits, and water features; they saw it all, and Esmeralda took pictures of it all. She was an aspiring photographer, Adeline had found, with hundreds of polaroid print outs scattered across hers and Maddox’s belongings.
Rowan and Esmeralda bonded hard over being able to speak Spanish with one another, talking in rapid fire while the other two women hung back. While they haggled with a street vendor, Adeline sat on a bench, looking through some of the photos Esmeralda had taken of her and Rowan. There were a couple of them posing with strange statues, some of Rowan with butterflies all over his dreadlocks, and ones of them splashing in a fountain together. She’d even caught them when he’d lifted her up by her waist, water framing their happy faces. A warmth filled her chest as she looked at the photos, a warmth she really couldn’t… comprehend.
Maddox sat next to her, and she put her photos away.
“She’s really happy,” She said, looking at her girlfriend. “She’s hasn’t been able to speak Spanish much since we left the South.”
Adeline looked up at Rowan, who was animatedly speaking to Esmeralda, who gestured just as wildly back. “I really don’t know when the last time he spoke Spanish was. Probably years ago… I’m glad he has the outlet now.”
“Me too,” She sighed, looking over at Adeline. “Thanks for letting us hang around you guys. I know that being around lesbians is a new thing for you… but you didn’t hang us out to dry. I appreciate that. You’re an okay girl… for an ex-debutante.”
Laughing, Adeline leaned back. “Thanks. You guys are pretty cool too. You know, for being the only gay people I know.”
“Hey, gotta start somewhere,” Maddox chuckled as their partners brought over their lunch. “Thanks, babe.”
“Can you believe he tried to upcharge me for a vegetarian taco?” Esmeralda fumed, plopping down on her girlfriend’s lap. “Some people are just so stupid! Cocinera de mierda. Anyway, enjoy!”
Rowan shook his head and looked between the three women. “So, what’s next?”