Where the Railroad Ends

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Trigger warning: themes of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Adeline had decided. She hated walking.

After leaving St. Louis, Rowan decided it was time for her next road lesson; sometimes, you had to walk for days on end, and that part really sucked. They’d been on the move for two days and this time, no friendly old man and his pickup came to the rescue. They hadn’t passed any train tracks and Adeline was so close to just collapsing on the ground when finally, civilization. Well, not really civilization. It was a tiny, crumbling town midway to Kansas City. But still, after their trekk, it looked like heaven.

Rowan was wary.

“I don’t like the look of this place, cupcake,” He said as they entered onto the main stretch of road. “Look, there’s camping not too far from here, just another 30 minute walk-”

“I am tired of sleepin’ on pine needles. Feel free to go back out there if you want, but I am going to sleep in a bed tonight,” Adeline cut him off.

“Right,” Maddox agreed. “And I need real food.”

Pushing the door open to a little cafe, Maddox ushered them inside. It was quiant and nearly empty; probably typical of a Wednesday afternoon. They were taken to a booth and given old blue menus.

“How much you wanna bet these menus haven’t been changed since the 40s?” Esmeralda asked, making Adeline laugh.

“$5 says since the 20s,” She whispered, the other two women laughing along with her. Only Rowan looked uneasy, watching as their middle aged waitress approached them.

“What can I get you to drink?” She asked, taking down their orders. While Maddox and Esmeralda cracked a few more jokes, Adeline spotted a pay phone. It had been almost a month… she should probably call her family. Excusing herself from the table, she headed over to the old machine, dropping in a quarter. She dialed her mom’s home phone and waited, nervously tapping the stained metal.

“Barnes Residence, this is Charlotte,” Hearing her mother’s voice made her swallow nervously.

“H-Hi mama,” She said.

“Adeline?” Her mother sounded soft, nervous. “Adeline, is that you?”

“Yeah,” She cleared her throat. “It’s me.”

“Adeline, where in the hell are you?” Her mother shouted, making her jump. “I called your cell phone until it went dead, and no one has seen or heard from you in nearly a month! Say you just up and disappeared, with no trace. Your daddy wanted to put out a missin’ person’s report, but the police found a man with your ID and credit cards, tryin’ to buyout a liquor store! The man said last time he saw you, you were headed to the train station.”

“I, I got robbed, mama,” She stammered.

“The train station?!” She continued, as if Adeline hadn’t even spoken. “What in God’s name were you doin’ headin’ to a train station? Where were you goin’? I checked with your auntie in South Carolina, and she said she hadn’t heard a word from you. I thought you were dead, young lady! What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I told you I was leavin’-”

“You never said leavin’ the state! I thought you meant you’d go stay at a hotel for a few days, then come home. Where are you?” She repeated. Adeline swallowed and looked around.

“I’m, I’m in Missouri. I don’t know where exactly, some little town right now, but we probably won’t stay long,” She told her.

“Who’s we?” Her voice was ice cold.

“I… made some friends out here. We look out for each other. Um, Esmeralda, Maddox and, and Rowan,” She explained, looking to where her companions sat. “They’re really great people, mama, and we’ve done some amazin’ things. Like, a couple nights ago, we came across this abandoned factory, and-”

“Adeline Barnes,” Her mother cut her off. “If you tell me, that you’ve been out there, on the road, with some group of vagabond pot heads, I will come out there myself and drag you home.”

Adeline could feel the barbs in her words, so much they brought tears to her eyes. “Mama… why do you want me to come home so bad?”

“Because no daughter of mine is going to be some lowlife nomad,” She said simply. “Come home, Adeline Barnes.”

A tear fell from her eye and she wiped it away, sniffling softly. When she’d gotten rid of her clothes, she’d loosened the grip her hometown had on her. When she’d pierced her nose, it had done the same. But now, she could feel the noose tightening again, and she realized why Rowan hardly had anything that reminded him of home. It hurt too much to belong to one place, while you were experiencing a million others. If she ever wanted to really, truly feel free… she had to sever the tie entirely.

Steeling herself, she didn’t let her voice shake. “Then I guess you don’t have a daughter anymore. Goodbye mama.”

“Don’t you hang up on me, Adeline! Adeline, don’t you-”

She hung up the phone, letting out a shaky breath. Walking back to her table, she sat back down beside Rowan, feeling his hand touch her knee.

“You okay?” He asked, and she nodded, looking to Esmeralda.

“Hey, did you dye your hair yourself?” She asked.

“I did!” Esmeralda told her proudly.

“Then I need a favor.”

“Rinse hair with cool water to reveal your new cotton candy pink locs,” Esmeralda read from the container, looking up at Adeline, who sat on the bed in the couple’s motel room. They’d picked up hair dye at a local pharmacy and had gotten two motel rooms; one for Maddox and Esmeralda, and one for Rowan and Adeline. Said man was out, picking up some dinner for the three of them. Adeline hadn’t told him her plan, and had bought the dye while Maddox distracted him.

“Sounds easy enough,” Maddox shrugged. “You’re going to look hot.”

“Thanks for helpin’ me with this,” Adeline smiled, trying to ignore the chemical smell from the ends of her hair. “I would have been lost as hell without you two.”

“Of course! Dying your hair for the first time is a big deal,” Esmeralda told her, crossing her legs as she sat down next to her. “And I know Rowan is going to love it.”

At that, Adeline blushed. He was the one who’d told her she would look good with pink hair, so she’d assumed he would like it but… hearing it said out loud was something different entirely. Would he think she was trying to hard, with the nose piercing and now pink hair? It wasn’t like she was completely going off the deep end; she wasn’t going to go out and get a full sleeve of tattoos, but still… what if he didn’t like it?

“Hey,” Maddox snapped a few times. “Get out of your head. He’s going to love it and probably won’t stop touching it. Don’t worry.”

Esmeralda’s phone chimed and she hopped up. “Rinse time!”

Adeline kneeled next to the bathtub as Esmeralda ran her fingers through her hair, the water running a pretty shade of rose. She hummed.

“That feels nice. You’re really gentle,” She told the other girl, who smiled.

“I wash Maddox’s hair for her sometimes, when she doesn’t feel up to it,” Esmeralda explained. “With her hair type, if I move too fast, I could start ripping curls out. Guess it’s given me a tender hand. So you’ve realy never dyed your hair?”

“Nope. My mama let me get highlight sometimes, but never anything unnatural.”

“So no awkward leaning under facuets for you,” Esmeralda mused, making Adeline laugh.

“No, no impromptu hair dying at sleep overs.”

“I dyed my hair for the first time at a sleepover,” Esmeralda told her. “Middle school, seventh grade. My friend had a box of bright red hair dye, and I let her run streaks through my hair. It looked hideous.”

“It doesn’t sound great. No offense.”

“None taken!” She laughed at the memory. “My grandmother told me I looked like a stabbed cat, bleeding out of every wound.”

“Yikes,” Adeline laughed as well. “My sleepovers never went like that, back home. It was a bunch of stuffy heiresses laying around, talking about their dad’s next business venture, or their debut balls. Nothing fun, really. Well, aside from the one time a friend of mine got gum in her hair and basically went on a witch hunt. Said her hair was a valued product and was going to sue.”

“Damn, the upper class have interesting lives.”

Helping her sit up, Esmeralda ran a towel over her hair before picking up a hair dryer. When the water was gone, she helped Adeline brush out her waves before smiling.

“Okay, you ready?” She asked, leading her to a mirror out in their room. “What do you think?”

Her naturally brown hair now had beautiful, soft pink ends, running up some of her strands. She couldn’t help but touch one of the locs, marveling at how Esmeralda had managed to keep her hair soft. It smelled good too. It felt different, but good. Really good, actually. A far cry from the sad divorcee she had been.

“I love it,” She turned to face Esmeralda, hugging her. “Thank you so much.”

The room door opened and Rowan entered, carrying a takeaway bag. “Four subs, coming at you. You wouldn’t believe how far of a walk that sub shop actually was. Like, seriously, this town is tiny, you would think-”

Finally looking up, he saw Adeline. She smiled, pushing some of her hair from her face.

“So… what do you think?” She asked. His mouth was open, stopped mid-sentence as he stared. But his face didn’t look upset; at least, she hoped it didn’t.

“You left him speechless, Addy. Good on you,” Maddox teased, snapping Rowan back to reality. Esmeralda took the sandwiches from him and he crossed to Adeline, reaching out to touch one of her dyed strands.

“Wow,” He whispered, making her roll her eyes.

“You still haven’t told me if that’s good or bad,” She joked.

“Good,” He assured her. “Definetly good.”

Dinner was shared in Maddox and Esmeralda’s room before they split off, heading to their room next door. Adeline moved about, taking one of the beds and getting ready to shower, all the while aware of Rowan’s eyes on her. She didn’t mind it, grabbing a towel and heading for the bathroom. He caught her hand though, before she could enter.

“Yes?” She asked, stopping in her tracks.

“Um, just, you look,” His eyes ran up and down her body, before coming back up to her face, stopping on her lips. “Really good. Being on the road suits the pretty heiress. Who knew?”

“Thanks,” A warmth filled her face and she bit her lip. “I kinda… owe it all to you. You, you were the one who showed me how… nice life can be out here.”

“No,” He said, moving a little closer to her. “All I did was let you follow me. Your experiences are because you were brave enough to try them. This… is all you.”

They looked at one another, a breadth’s width apart. Adeline knew he was still staring, and she licked her lips a little, wondering, just for a moment, what it would be like to kiss him. Would he be a good kisser? With all his experience, you’d think he would be. Would kissin ghim be like Jackson; bland, the same every time, with no variation? Or would he kissed like he lived, passionate and free? A part of her wanted to know.

Then, a car honked outside, and she stepped back.

“I... have to shower,” She whispered, pushing open the bathroom door.

“Go ahead.”

A knock on her motel room door woke her up and she groaned, standing up out of bed. Rowan was still asleep and she decided not to wake him, figuring it was either Maddox or Esmeralda who’d been locked out of their room. She wrapped the first piece of clothing she could find- one of Rowan’s jackets -around herself and answered the door.

An older man stood there, a kind smile on his face. He looked down at her through wire glasses, holding a small tablet in his hand.

“Pardon me, is your bofriend here?” He asked.

Still groggy with sleep, Adeline decided not to fight with him and nodded. “Yeah, he’s asleep. Why?”

“I just need to have a little chat with him, if you wouldn’t mind, dear,” He tried to step past her, but she blocked his way, eyes narrowing a little bit as she slowly began waking up.

“Why? He’s asleep, can’t this wait until tomorrow?” She rubbed some sleep from her eye.

The old man chuckled. “I’m afraid it can’t. You see, your little boyfriend is a criminal.”

That woke her up. “What are you talkin’ about? Rowan hasn’t done anythin’.”

“On the contrary. I was checking my security tapes after I closed up, and I happened to see your boyfriend hanging around my appliances section, eyeballing something a bit intensely. So I go to do inventory, and would you believe two of my 12 inch frying pans were gone, as well as a tea kettle?”

“So?” Adeline crossed her arms, hearing shuffling and shifting behind her. Rowan was awake. “He didn’t steal anything.”

“Well, why don’t I bring him down to the Sheriff, and they can talk it out amongst themselves?” He tried to push past her again, and Adeline stood her ground.

“You won’t be doin’ anythin’ of the sort! Rowan didn’t steal shit from you!” She shouted, feeling a hand on her shoulder.

“Adeline, calm down-”

“Little lady, I would thank you kindly not to raise your voice at me,” The man’s voice had dropped a couple of octaves, and he took a threatening step towards her, hand on his belt. “We wouldn’t want anything unforseen happening to you.”

Looking down, Adeline saw the handle of a gun, tucked between his pants and his shirt. She took a worried step backwards, into Rowan’s chest.

“Are you… threatenin’ me?” She asked, shocked.

“Of course not,” He stood up straight. “Just a warning.”

Below them, blue and red lights flashed, and the man sighed. “Finally. Excuse me for just a second. Don’t go anywhere.” He turned and headed down the staircase, and Rowan gently closed the door before springing into action. He rushed to their beds and began tossing their clothes into their bags.

“We need to get out of here,” He told Adeline, who looked very confused.

“Why? You didn’t do anythin’ wrong, he’s just accusin’ you of stealin’ for no reason!” She exclaimed, grabbing her shirt and pulling it on. “Unless…”

“Adeline, I didn’t steal anything,” He promised, tugging on his jeans. “But that doesn’t matter to them. So let’s get the hell out of here.”

They crossed quietly to Maddox and Esmeralda’s room, letting themselves in. Rowan woke them up and told them about the cops, which got the couple dressed in record time. Adeline was still confused when Maddox dropped the fire escape down, the four of them crawling down the metal ladder on the back of the building. They then took off running, having to pass by the entry road to the motel. Adeline heard the old man yell.

“There they go!”

Under the cover of night, they ducked off the road and into the trees, cops close on their tail. Aderenalide pumped through Adeline’s veins as they crashed through foliage and ducked under limbs, Rowan leading the four of them down a steep slope to a set of train tracks. A cargo engine passed by them, their savior.

Adeline was lifted into the car first, then Esmeralda, then Maddox. The three of them lifed Rowan into the boxcar and huddled into the dark, listening as the cops and old man followed the slope further downward, away from the drifters.

Through pants and harsh swallows, Adeline spoke. “Why, did we run, if we didn’t do, anythin’?”

Maddox gave Adeline an intense look. “It didn’t matter if we did anything or not. Those people were going to find a way to put the three of us in jail either way.”

“Why would they do that?” She asked, and Maddox chuckled, shaking her head.

“Of course, the pretty, rich, white heiress doesn’t understand,” She spat. “We were in a small town. In Missouri, and Rowan is ethnic. That’s all that mattered. It didn’t matter if he actually stole or didn’t, what mattered was that he was an outsider. The underbelly that they so obviously didn’t want encroaching into their city.”

“Why would that matter?”

“It matters to them, cupcake,” Rowan said.

“People like us deal with that all the time,” Esmeralda said, taking Maddox’s hand. “Racial bias, gay panic...”

“I’ve never seen anythin’ like that-”

“That’s because you’re the ethnic majority, sweetheart. You had everything handed to you on a silver platter, easy peasy, all your life. Some of us didn’t get to live in the lap of luxury. Some of us had to fight to be heard, and even then, had to fight not to be eliminated,” Maddox rolled her eyes. “That’s why Rowan carries a gun, why I have a knife and why Esmeralda has brass knuckles. Shit like that happens to us all the time.”

Adeline looked to Rowan, who stared out into the night, a far away look in his eyes. Had he… dealt with this before? Being run out of town because he wasn’t the right color? Had people threatened him with guns and cops… because he wasn’t white?

“I… I had no idea,” She whispered.

“It isn’t your fault, Addy,” Esmeralda whispered back. “It’s the world we live in. We’ve just had to deal with it a lot more than you have.”

“What do you mean? Back home?” She asked, looking to Maddox, who had a cigarette in between her lips.

“Yeah,” She said, lighting it. “Back home. In Texas. Hell on Earth.”

“What… happened?” She asked. Maddox blew out a long stream of smoke before running a hand down her face.

“It wasn’t racial there but… a minority is a minority. My dad was a pastor. Had a huge, huge Evangelical church, with over 3000 members. He was one of those people who claimed he could cast out demons, and people would come from everywhere to see it. Had people falling down, speaking in tongues during church. And he’d cast them out, and the crowd would cheer. Wasn’t any demon he couldn’t get rid of, wasn’t any curse he couldn’t cure… except me.

And he tried. He tried like hell. Sent me to conversion camps, tried therapy and medication, anything he could. And for a while, it worked. He declared himself the only pastor in the world who could ‘cure the curse of homosexuality’. Then… I hit high school and… I met Esmeralda.”

Her girlfriend squeezed her hand and began speaking. “We dated in secret. Holding hands under tables and behind backpacks, we’d say we were studying together just so we could be in the same room together. And we were doing fine until, someone saw us. We were kissing in the girl’s locker room, and word spread and by the end of that day, I’d had the word ‘dyke’ spray painted onto my locker.”

Maddox let out a shaking breath. “My dad was waiting for me when I got home from school that day… with a baseball bat. He told me… to tell him Esmeralda’s address. And I knew, I knew that if I did, he’d go over and k-kill her. So I didn’t,” She looked down at her lap, fists clenched. “And he beat the shit out of me with that bad. He screamed the whole time, calling out bible verses and trying to rebuke the devil out of me, but I, I…”

“Her neighbor brought her to my house, and I barely even recognized her,” Esmeralda cupped her cheek. “She stayed with me for a month, and I nursed her as best I could without medicine or experience. And by the time her dad found us, we had enough money to leave. Hopped a train and never looked back.”

“I know he’s looking for me,” Maddox whispered. “And if he finds me, he’ll kill me. So I just have to lay low, for a few more years, until the statute of limitations runs out, and I can be free. You’ll never know what that’s like, Adeline. To be trapped by something you can’t control, and didn’t choose.”

Adeline looked between the two of them, then back to Rowan. It was a somber moment, shared between three people who understood one another. She went and sat by the door of the car, letting them talk quietly amongst themseleves.

Eventually, Rowan came and sat next to her.

“I’m sorry,” She whispered.

“For what?”

“For doubting you,” She looked over at him, and he sighed, leaning back.

“Don’t worry about it, cupcake. I’m not mad at you.”

“I would be. I’m just as bad as that guy, or Maddox’s dad-”

“Hey,” He cut her off. “You are not like them. You were a little uneducated, sure, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. Because unlike them, you chose to educate yourself, and got over your prejudices. People who are a part of the problem would never have done that.”


Rowan held his hand out to her. “I wouldn’t have let you follow me if I didn’t think so. You’re a good person, cupcake.”

Sighing, she took his hand. “So are you Rowan.”

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