"We've just arrived in Vernon. I'll stop here for about ten minutes. If this is your destination, thank you for travelling with Canadian Bus Co. If you're continuing on to our final destination, this is your opportunity to stretch your legs before we get back on the road."
I should take his advice and stretch my legs since we'll be on the road for another nine hours, but it's cold out there and warm in here, so that's an easy decision. I watch other passengers as they leave the bus, hurry to grab luggage or switch seats. Everyone is wearing their warmest jackets and are equipped with mitts and toques. Thankfully, the bus wasn't full when we left Kelowna, so the seat next to me has remained empty.
And I'm hoping to keep it that way. It's not that I'm anti-social, but I'd rather keep to myself than make small talk with a stranger on a bus. Small talk is the worst. I'm content with my headphones in my ears or a good book in my hands.
I'm about to put my headphones back in and listen to some new One Republic when my cell-phone begins ringing in my hand. I answer with a smile on my face when I see Anna's name flash across the screen.
"Hi! How's the bride to be?!" I asked with unbridled excitement.
"Hi, back! I'm great! I can't wait to see you!" Anna squealed happily, and my smile grew wider.
"I'm so excited to finally get there. Although, it's getting colder and colder the further east we travel."
Anna and I have been good friends for many years, I miss her a lot ever since she moved to Alberta and I stayed back in British Columbia. It was a tough transition to be so far from her, but we've managed to stay close with late-night video chats and daily text messages.
"Yeah, that's what I get for having a February wedding. Don't worry, I promise you won't freeze!" She laughs.
"I'm seriously holding you to that!"
"You really should have flown, Mar. It'd be way quicker and more comfortable."
"I know, but being a starving student means a flight is not in the budget. Besides, I've always enjoyed driving. I find it relaxing. I've been lucky enough to get the seat to myself," I say, eyeing the vacant seat next to me.
I can hear the smile in Anna's voice when she replies. "Score! Well, I just wanted to check in and let you know I'm so excited for you to get here."
"Me too," I say, feeling myself getting a bit emotional all of a sudden. Anna and Kaden are perfect for each other, and their wedding is going to be stunning. I can't wait to see Kaden's face light up when Anna walks down the aisle. In case you didn't notice, I'm a bit of a romantic.
Anna's voice breaks me out of my wedding trance. "Marlee? You still there?"
"Yes! I'm here. I was just thinking of what a beautiful bride you're going to be."
"Are you crying again?" Anna asks, amused.
"I'm not crying. You're crying, " I say, through a sniffle, earning me a laugh from Anna.
"Marlee, you're going to need some waterproof mascara for Saturday!"
"Tell me about it!"
As I talk to Anna about the wedding details, I watch the bus begin to fill up with more passengers. After a few minutes, the seats are all nearly full. I'm delighted that the seat beside me is still empty. That is until a large burly man wearing a bright orange puffer jacket and an angry expression, walks in my direction.
"I think I spoke too soon," I whisper, "someone is coming to sit by me. Damn, Anna, I should go. I don't want to be that person chatting on my phone and annoying the other passengers on the bus."
"Okay, no worries, girl. Text me when you get closer."
"Will do! Love you!"
"Love you. See you soon!"
As soon as I hang up, the angry, orange man plops down into the aisle seat to my left. Immediately, I feel the oxygen available to me diminish. The man's large frame overflows from the compact bus seat, so much that his elbow is pressed against mine. I try to take up as little space as possible, inching closer to the window to create a bit of space between us. Bad idea. He took that as an a opportunity to take up even more space.
Now I'm shoved against the window, and the man either doesn't realize or just doesn't care that he's invaded half of my seat. Not only that, but he also keeps clearing his throat every five seconds.
Please, please, get off at the next stop. Please?!
The bus begins to move again, and I decide to make the best of the situation, trying to forget how uncomfortable I am. I put my headphones in and press play on my One Republic playlist. Shutting my eyes, I lean my head against the cold window and let the music take me away. But not even one song passed before I felt a tap on my shoulder. I open my eyes to find the orange man staring at me, looking pissed.
"Your music is too loud," he grates.
"Oh.. you can hear it?" I asked, surprised. The headphones I have are noise cancelling, and I don't have the volume very loud.
"Yeah. If I listen really close, I can."
I try not to roll my eyes before saying, "okay... sorry. I'll turn it down."
I turn the volume down to the point where I can barely hear it. Annoyed, but not wanting to dwell on it, I shut my eyes again and try to lose myself in the music. That's when I hear him mutter loudly, "it would have been nice to get a window seat."
Pretending I can't hear him, I keep my eyes shut. There was no way he was getting my seat. Window seats are everything. Maybe I'd consider switching if he was nicer, but it's a little late for that.
As if things couldn't get worse, orange man pulls out a laptop and a backpack. My mouth falls open when he starts to thrash in his seat, organizing his many belongings. He glances over at me, and begrudgingly, we make eye contact. I get the impression he wants to say something, so I take out my earbud, even though I can hear him without doing that.
"Mind holding this?" He asks, but I'm not sure why he bothered because he doesn't let me answer. Instead, he just shoves his heavy backpack onto my lap. I can not believe this is happening. Not only is he obnoxious and rude, but now he's using me as a table!
He starts pulling books and things out of the backpack, while it's resting in my lap. I can't take much more of this.
"Ummm..." I say, working up the courage to tell him off.
"Damnit! I forgot my Physics 101 textbook! How am I supposed to study now?" Exasperated, he flails his arms all around and all I can do I stare at him in utter disbelief.
Finally, I find my words, and I don't feel bad when I hear the angry tone of my voice, "do you mind taking your backpack?"
He seems to snap then, letting out a loud, irritated sigh and then abruptly ripping the backpack from my lap. Meanwhile, his laptop begins falling off his own lap. He reacts quickly to grab it before it falls.
In the process of catching the laptop and putting it back onto his lap, his elbow goes up and hits me square in the nose.
"Ow!" I cry.
Once again, either he doesn't realize, or he just doesn't care that he's hit me in the face. I'm on the verge of snapping, for real this time, so I take some deep breaths like I would in yoga. I remind myself that not everyone was taught manners, and the only thing I can control in life is how I react.
After a few minutes, he settles and finally moves his backpack down to the floor under the seat. He's furiously typing away on his laptop, but I ignore how irritated I am and mind my own business. Until he's in my face again...
"Your music is driving me crazy, lady!" He's staring at me, his nostrils flared, and his expression intense.
Enough is enough.
"Okay, listen here, you! My music is hardly audible! Your typing on the other hand..."
Orange Man is outraged. I think I've woken the beast, and I'm actually a little afraid of what he's going to do next.
I blink twice when a man appears in the aisle. And not just any man... a very, very handsome man.
"I'm Hayden." The handsome stranger reaches his hand out for my grumpy neighbour to shake. I'm not surprised when Orange Man doesn't move a muscle.
"Gary. What do you want?"
"I couldn't help but overhearing the commotion," Hayden says. I can't help but notice the deep, chocolate colour of his eyes. "Would you want to switch seats with me? I'm right behind you with a window seat to myself."
It all happens so fast. Gary gets up quickly, and Hayden collects his things. The men switch places, and just as soon as he arrived, Orange Man is gone, and I can breathe again.
The big question on my mind now was, how did I not see Hayden coming onto the bus? He must have slipped by in the mass of people who piled on when we stopped in Vernon. He sits next to me, and I can instantly smell his cologne. It's so manly and woodsy, a considerable upgrade from Gary who smelled like day-old French fries. Hayden looks over at me with a smile, and I can tell right away that he's a charming guy.
I give him an appreciative smile back. "Thank you, seriously."
"No problem, but you better keep your music down." He winks at me.
I laugh lightly and find myself getting lost in his handsome face once again. Those eyes, that jawline, that thick head of hair - he is just my type.
"You probably heard already, but I'm Hayden. What's your name?"
We shake hands, and I grin at him. It's not a voluntary grin either, I literally can't help myself. This bus trip just went from good, to awful, to incredible, real damn quick.