On the Road Again
Jason blinked then squinted to see through a greasy train window. He watched a tumble-weed roll across a field then catch on alfalfa blades. He could still smell the farm’s manure-like scent. It would always be with him. And now the image of Cavale’s eyes would, too. It kept dancing through his brains and floating along the horizon while he stared at the scenes of blurred trees and fields.
Will had laughed at him for wanting to take a train. “When will you step into this century?” He’d chided Jason over the phone. “A plane’s faster, and now, with all the specials, it’s as cheap, often cheaper.”
“Don’t trust ’em,” Jason had mumbled.
Will had laughed again, a full, throaty laugh. Then, he sighed. “All right. Just get here by next week. Otherwise, Gramley won’t be here to sign the contract.”
Gramley had agreed with Will and Jason to buy the farm. Frederic received a scholarship and would move in with Will. And even if they received a good price for the place, Jason wasn’t sure which way his life would roll. Now, he wanted a cigarette badly now, and for a few minutes, he hated this new society that almost banned smoking cigarettes everywhere but still produced the huge gas-guzzling SUVs that had taken over the roads. He drove a 150 Ford himself, but he needed it for hauling. Besides, he knew how to drive a truck. He’d seen too many housewives driving around in Tahoes or other huge SUVs who couldn’t turn corners right with them. But mostly, the trend against smoking cigarettes, especially when states were legalizing marijuana, especially perturbs him. “Huh!” He’d often said to Will. “I’ll tell you what—just one of you non-smokers can sit in an airtight room overnight with a car running. And I’ll sit in one and smoke cigarettes all night. We’ll see who’s around in the morning.”
Still, whether or not he could settle his nerves with a hit of nicotine, thoughts about his future gnawed at him. What could he do besides farm? And it wasn’t like he was a success at that—having to rely on a teenage girl who flew out of the corral like some wayward roan. He leaned back against the vinyl head rest and closed his eyes. He felt fourteen instead of forty, and he didn’t know how he’d fight his way back into being confident about his life during the eighteen-hour train ride.
After the train rolled into Union Station in Kansas City, a young boy lugging a huge duffel bag and backpack fought his way down the narrow aisle. His straw-colored hair was unevenly cut, and strands of it dropped across his forehead when he glanced around at passengers. The boy twitched his nose, scanned the faces, and backpack swaying, kept moving down the aisle. Finally, he plopped his backpack into the seat next to Jason.
“Okay if I sit here?” The boy hooked his thumbs into his jeans pockets and grinned.
Jason nodded. “No problem.”
The kid grinned again, shoved his duffel bag under the seat, flung his backpack into the overhead compartment, and bounded into the seat. Again, he grinned at Jason.
“You headin’ to DC?”
Jason nodded, then shrugged. “Actually, Arlington, Virginia.”
“Hey, me, too.” He held out his right hand.
Jason shook it and smiled. “How old are you?”
“Kinda young to be traveling alone.”
The kid wrinkled his nose. “Nawh. I’ve been through a lot.” He shrugged. “B’sides, I’m meeting my mom there. She’s staying with one of her weirdo friends.” He grinned again. “Hey, what’s your name, mister? I’m Adam.”
After Jason told him his name, Adam bent over and dug in his duffel bag. He pulled out a Masters of the Universe comic book and propped it on an armrest.
Jason leaned forward and whispered into the kid’s ear. “You sure you aren’t running away?”
Adam flinched. He looked back at Jason and his forehead wrinkled. He started to stare at his eyes but then squinted. “Yeah. I’m sure.”
Jason watched the boy for a minute or two, but he said nothing and leaned back in the seat.
Adam opened the comic book and kept his gaze on it for a long while. Then, suddenly, he turned and looked at Jason. “What made you think I was running away?” he whispered.
Jason shrugged, chewed on his lip a few seconds, and looked out the window a few seconds more, then he glanced back at Adam. “Just sensed it.”
The boy looked at his knees. “Well, I am. Kinda. But I’m not running away from my mom. She is in DC. She went there for a week last November. Then she came home. But she went back in January and she’d been there ever since. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to get away from my grandparents. They’re just too old and crabby to be around kids.”
Jason crossed his arms and watched Adam poke his nose back into the comic. The child squirmed while he read, probably like he had when he was a boy. Well, now at least, he had a purpose: He’d help a runaway find his mother. It’d give him a stronger sense of direction than hunting down Cavale would. He sighed and looked out the dirty window again. The landscape had churned from flat, empty plains into plush, rolling hills.