Running from Boulder
Cavelle didn’t know what to think. The look the gray-haired man on the bus shot her gave her the willies. He wasn’t an ugly man, but his cheeks sagged, and underneath them, his bones formed sharp ridges that looked as if they were chiseled from the gray slabs of the Flatirons back in Boulder. Scents of Patchouli mixed with curry emanated from him. The smells nearly made Cavale choke, but more than that, something else about him bothered her. His eyes seemed lopsided, and their dead expression scared her. She considered that perhaps his eyes reflected an unbalanced brain. Or perhaps it was scary that his forehead furrowed when he stared at her. Perhaps he was a narc or some dick her aunt had hired to trail her.
Something about his glaring look made her recall a scene at a wedding she’d attended when she was six. Her father’s cousin was marrying a childhood sweetheart, and the cousin’s sister sang Puccini’s “Une Belle De.” Although the soprano’s voice sent pleasant, tingling chills through Cavale’s neck, for the most part, she hadn’t felt comfortable during the wedding and reception. She’d felt ugly because she wore a hand-me-down dress with a black velvet bodice and an awful green, plaid skirt. While the wedding party and most guests wandered around in pastel colors, she was stuck in dark, drab hues. But her Aunt Marian liked the dress on Cavale, so she’d had no choice. She remembered hating her aunt that day, just as she’d hated her last week when the woman refused to let Cavale accept a scholarship to Kansas State. She wouldn’t sign the papers for it.
“You can go to school here. Such a beautiful campus, set right next to the Flatirons.” Her aunt squinted her gray eyes and frowned. “Don’t you realize how many parents spent extra thousands so their child can come here from out-of-state? CU’s a better school.” She’d crossed her bony arms and stood taut as a bulldog. “And you won’t need to pay for an apartment or dorm.”
“I absolutely must move out,” Cavale had shouted. “I need a change. And K-State has one of the best architectural programs in the country.” Then she’d pounded a fist on the kitchen table. “You can trust me. I’m not my mother!” Cavale’s mother had left her father for another man when Cavale was three. Although she barely remembered her, Cavale often spent time staring at snapshots and professional photos of the pretty blonde woman and running fingers over the portrait’s cheeks. She’d pretend her mother was on a trip—a long, long ocean cruise—and that someday, she’d return to rescue her from her wicked aunt, her father’s older sister.
“It isn’t a matter of trust,” Aunt Marian yelled back. A strand of gray hair fell from her tight braid. “It’s a matter of practicality, of logic, of common sense.” The woman turned, her full skirt swishing as she stomped into her bedroom. It was hopeless to argue, Cavale knew it. In fact, if she phoned her father at his New York office, he’d defer to his sister’s wishes. It was always that way, it always was. So Cavale completed the scholarship application, forged her aunt’s signature, and used a friend’s address in Manhattan, Kansas. She hid the forms in her garment bag. Two days later, she lugged the bag, a suitcase, a duffel bag and backpack with her when she slipped out of the house. Her Manhattan friend was a former schoolmate now studying architecture at K-State. But Cavale knew better than to rely on anyone. She’d use her friend’s place as a base to locate an apartment while she waitressed or sold shoes until the university sent the scholarship money. She’d managed to save quite a bit of money waitressing in Boulder. She stuffed five hundred dollars—two crisp, one-hundred dollar bills, five fifties, two twenties, and a ten—deep inside a pocket of her hobo purse. But she wasn’t sure how long she could make the money last, how much apartments went for in Manhattan, how long it’d take to find one in a safe area, or how long it’d take to land a job during the summer. And even though all these things worried her, they didn’t worry her as much as the strange man who kept staring at her.
She shuddered, fingered her spiked, auburn hair, which she later realized she shouldn’t have cut so short, then she looked out the smeared, greasy window to avoid the man’s face. The bus had rolled away from the last of the foothills now, and the land in eastern Colorado was as flat and drab as western Kansas. Nonetheless, Cavale forced herself to appear intrigued by the landscape. She made a game of it: she tried to count the number of deciduous trees that appeared on the horizon. Next, she figured, she’d try fence-posts that popped up more frequently. But here and there some herds of cattle appeared—some Black Angus, some white-faced Herefords—that created a flicker of excitement in her game.
When the bus finally rolled into a truck stop at a border town, Goodland, Kansas, Cavale waited till she heard passengers swish through the aisle. She looked away from the window to check where the gray-haired man was headed so she could avoid him. It appeared that he’d already left. Nonetheless, she needed to stretch, so she grabbed her purse and headed out to the restaurant. She felt better after she’d scanned the booths aligned by the windows. The gray-haired man had disappeared, so she slid onto a cushioned seat in a corner. She rapped her fingers on the Formica table and searched the room for a waitress. Then, she saw the gray-haired man leaning at the bar in the middle of the room. She pulled a menu from the stand on her table and drew it up to hide her face. Finally, a waitress appeared. She raked her frizzy black hair with long, maroon nails and chomped gum, but she smiled when Cavale looked up from the menu.
“What can I get you?”
“I’d like some water. And coffee—lots of cream.” Cavale drew up the menu again when she saw the gray-haired man turn his lopsided eyes toward her. “But I’m not quite sure what to eat. What’s the special?” She felt a bit safer with the waitress blocking the gray-haired man’s view.
“Roast beef au gratin. Vegetable beef soup or our other soup-of-the day. It comes with a hot, homemade roll.”
“What’s your regular soup?” She wanted the waitress to stay there. On the other hand, if she ordered quickly and got her food right away, perhaps she could slip out of the place before the man saw her.
“Beef and noodle.”
Cavale wrinkled her nose. “Two-eyes, over-easy and hashbrowns. No toast. And lots of ketchsup.”
Once the waitress whirled away, Cavale lifted the menu again and pretended to study it until her order came. The runny eggs were the first meal she’d had in twelve hours. She held the yolk in her mouth then bit into the wheat toast. Aunt Marian had often chided her for dunking toast into the egg, so Cavale had learned to hold the egg on her tongue until she could pop the toast into her mouth to blend its taste with the egg. Today, the eggs tasted unusually good. Besides, they took her mind off the strange man, and after she’d gobbled a few bites, she glanced up to find he’d disappeared. She leaned back in the booth and exhaled loudly.
After she’d gulped down the water and coffee, she glanced around once more for the man, paid her tab and stepped outside to jog to the restroom. The building was a strange one that didn’t allow customers to enter the restroom from the restaurant. Rather, they had to walk outside and around a corner to its entrance.
Sunlight reflecting off the asphalt made Cavale squint as she hurried down the sidewalk. Suddenly, the gray-haired man stood in front of her and blocked the sidewalk just outside the men’s entrance. He fiddled with something under his waist, and then he turned to Cavale. He grinned and in his right hand, he held his penis. She gasped, turned and sprinted back down the sidewalk, then darted back into the restaurant. There, she stood beside a gum machine and trembled. Odors of ham frying, hash-browns and eggs now sent acid to her stomach. She slumped over the gum machine and sobbed.
“What’s the matter, honey?” He jumped when a man placed a hand on her forearm. She drew her arm into her chest and was about to dart away when she saw it wasn’t the gray-haired man. Instead, the man who stood beside her dressed neatly, and his blue eyes looked kind. His red hair was cut in a professional style, and he looked like somebody’s father. Nonetheless, she couldn’t stop shaking.
“I . . . I can’t get back on the bus—the man—the weird man—he, he.” She stuttered in between sobs, but somehow, she managed to tell the stranger what the gray-haired man had done. She felt guilty, too, as if she’d caused him to do it.
The man took her hand and led her to a booth. “Want a Coke? I’ll buy.”
“First, I’d like to go to the restroom.” Cavale glanced at the exit. “But I’m afraid to go back out there.”
“Let me accompany you. My name’s Will, and I have a set of twins not much younger than you are.” He walked with her to the restrooms, and the gray-haired man was no longer on the sidewalk. After he waited outside the door, he walked her back into the restaurant. Cavale quit shivering and smiled. At least, he was the fatherly type.
“Where are you headed, young lady?”
“You’re kidding. I’m on my way there to visit my brother. Why don’t you get your things from the bus? I mean, if you aren’t afraid to ride with me.”
Cavale stared at him a long time. She was afraid to take a ride with a stranger, no matter how kind he seemed. She’d heard of the BTK killer—and how he was a church deacon and appeared to be a nice guy. She sighed and looked at the bus. On the other hand, the gray-haired man would be waiting there, and she knew exactly what he was about.