Tired feet inside of thirsty leather boots shuffled down the gravel along the quiet desert highway, leading north by everywhere, south by the past. The sun began it's descent behind the mountains lining the horizon, casting a golden glow across the sand, cooling the wind whipping across her wild brown hair. The subtle sound of tattered jeans rubbing themselves apart filled her ears in-between gusts of air running across the highway from the mountains to the east. Sweat, dirt and sun radiated up through her stained t-shirt that once read of some past alumni or simply a random pick up out of a goodwill store. Exhausted blue eyes looked forward down the highway that seemed to run on forever, her head turned behind her down the same endless road and a tear escaped far enough to get caught by the dry skin of her cheek.
Her ear twitches, the low rumble of a diesel engine purrs in the distance, an arm strains to lift up into the air. A chewed up thumb creeps up, a silent approval of this change in her scene, but her movement remains a slow zombie slide down the shoulder. Eyelids fall briefly, in her mind she's laying in a hot tub, a hot meal half eaten on the bed in the adjoining room...and a soft sigh escapes her chapped lips as the semi flies by her in a roar. Knees buckle and lock just as a scoop of wind attempts to lift her spent body from the ground and take her away. The eager wind doesn't go without and pulls her down to the gravel and a loud hiss escapes her dry throat as a new flood of pain waves through her. Bracing herself on the warm asphalt, she slowly lifts up, blood from her knees a paint brushes smear across the dirt and highway. A quivering lip shakes a drop from her nose, preceding the slow burn building in her eyes.
"Hey you ok?" a voice from behind startles her from nearly breaking and she twists to see a small white pickup and a younger redheaded gentleman hanging from the driver-side window.
She doesn't move, not nodding for fear the weight of her head would just pull her body to the ground. Not shaking her head because admitting what she already knew was true No, I am not ok might pull away the veil of denial that's kept her moving forward this far. She just stood.
His eyes scanned over her body, she saw in his eyes that he noticed she'd been on this road, any or all of the roads, for a while. His friendly helpful smile wiped from his face as he noticed the blood soaking down her shins, but her head tilted slightly when, after seeing her in this state, his smile returned, "Let me give you a ride."
The cool night wind caressed her face with an endless stream of cold soft hands. Her arm dangled from the passenger side window, a slightly upturned hand catching the night air. Her eyes scanned the star filled sky, watching them move across the sky as some oldie hummed from her left.
"So where are you headed?" his eyes kept glancing over to her, but never fully looking at her, which made her want to smile. It wasn't the first question she'd been asked as they traveled down the highway. But it was growing clear his bright youthful smile was going to fade soon if she didn't say something. And while she might not have any investment in how he gained his happiness and joy, she was concerned with how far down the dark road she'd be going by truck or by foot.
"Down this road," rasped from her mouth, startling even her. Had it been that long since she'd said something out loud? ran through her head. Her hands twisted a bottle of water he had given her hours ago that had built up a cool ring of condensation between her legs. The bottle met her lips, tilted up and began to wet her still dry throat, but she could feel it had banished her rasp away, "At least as far as you can take me."
A smile crept across her face, tensing muscles in her face she'd not known existed until she'd stopped using them, and let out a small laugh, "Thank you."
His face looked quizzical and of course it would. She was laughing at a joke only she knew.
"Sorry. Been a while since I've said that one."
Still looking confused, "Thank you?"
Another laugh escaped, two in one night. New record "I haven't had someone stop to give me a ride for a while."
His blue eyes scanned over her body, she wasn't sure if he was checking her out Who would?! or sizing her up but he eventually let his thoughts be heard, "Pretty thing like you? People on this highway must be blind."
"Or scared they'll pick up a crazy person," she looked over to him and he made eye contact with her for the first time of the night and she felt a chill, "Do I seem crazy?
His smile grew wider, touching from ear to ear, "Not at all. Just a little down on luck I'd say."
She leaned back in her seat and a big sigh escaped her, "If it was only as easy as luck."
"You headed to family?" his head bopped up and down to the song and for a moment she felt like he wasn't so much asking to make conversation but just doing a mental checklist in his head from the how-to of casual conversations. It'd been a while though since she'd been through the motions.
"No, I have no family to go to," her head shook, even as the last word trailed from her lips, a visual ellipsis to her thought. Her feet looked down to the sun-beaten boots and a scuffed up bracelet that dangled on her small wrists, "either family I've had, I'm just going where the road takes me."
Not turning his head but still seat dancing to his music, "Sad to hear. Bad blood with a boyfriend, husband or lover?"
The toe of her right boot pushed at the heel of her left, her hands come together and the fingers of each fiddle with the scuffed bracelet on one wrist and the oval of metal on the other, like checking off a mental list. Her eyes turned to the night sky again, gave a thought about all the people out there that were looking up at the same stars as her " Just me on this road. Living in the moment. Letting go of the past."
She noticed out of the corner of her eye him leaning forward and turning the music down to a whisper and reach down to a box by his gear stick. Her head turned slowly to see the shine of the dashboard lights bounce from the knife held between them, "I'm not entirely sure how much further down on luck you can get my hitchhiking friend, but you might want to consider the depth to which you are living in this exact moment."
His hand lifted the blade up and she stiffened as the cold from the edge pressed against her neck. The stiffness wiped away and a sigh left her, "Well...we'll see where this road takes me."