He sits up and blinks at his watch.
Ten AM. Just four more hours to go.
The buzzing in his head grows louder and he groans, pushing his palms against his eye sockets. He feels his seat shift slightly.
A young woman, maybe twenty-five, twenty-six, is sitting on the empty seat next to him. Her hair is grey and tightly pulled back in a bun. Her long fingers pull her oversized shirt down, straightening it. She turns toward him, eyes slithering down his body. Her gaze tugs on his insecurities and he crosses his arms, dragging his hoody tighter around his body.
Then, to his surprise and apprehension, she extends her hand. “Hi. Ravenel.”
He must wait a beat too long, because she pulls her hand back with a click of her tongue.
She nods, smiling. Her teeth are bright, a contrast to the deep purple lipstick perfectly applied. “All the seats have someone sitting there. You looked harmless enough. I hope you don’t mind.” He has a feeling she wouldn’t care if he did mind.
But he doesn’t. He shakes his head. “Of course not.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Me too. My brother lives there.”
“What about you?”
“Moving. Got a new job.”
She puckers her lips in feigned thought. “Interesting.”
“You don’t like it?”
“Then why did you take the job?”
“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“Fair enough.” She pulls a notebook out of her bag then, turning it to a page in the middle. “My brother is getting married. He’s making me be in the wedding.”
“Making you? You don’t want to?”
“If it were up to me, I wouldn’t speak to him again until the day he dies.”
“If he’s dead you can’t speak to him.”
“No, but I could in the moments before his death.”
“What would you say?”
She captures his eyes with her own and smirks. “Ciao.”
“Are you French?”
“No.” She offers no other explanation.
“Do you have any other siblings?”
“Same. I don’t have any blood siblings but I have three step.”
“Marriage doesn’t create siblings.”
“Doesn’t it?” He said, head cocking. “Your families come together to make one. Isn’t that the whole idea?”
She shrugs. “I never got close to my step siblings. They’re good people. They don’t like me.”
“I hate them. Usually that kind of feeling becomes mutual.”
“Why do you hate them?”
“The usual. I thought my family was fine without them. Then they tried to move into my dad’s house with big smiles like everything was fine…”
She tells him about the time her stepsister painted an entire wall of their bedroom, gesturing occasionally. The bus turns, causing the sun to pierce the window and wrap around her. She looks like an angel, the way they were meant to be seen- intimidating and strangely judgmental.
“I punched her in the nose.”
“Why?” He asks, head starting to fog over.
“I hate the color blue. She didn’t even ask me what I wanted her to paint. Or even if it was okay to paint a beach scene in the room where I sleep.”
He nods. “Is she going to be at the wedding?”
“Will that be awkward?”
“Probably. So, Cain, what’s your story?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Everyone has a story. “
“Then write one.”
“What?” He squints. She hands over her notebook and a pen.
“Write a story. I’m going to take a nap. Wake me up when you’re finished.” She starts to pull a blanket out of her bag, draping it on her legs.
“Goodnight, Cain.” She leans back and closes her eyes.
Cain blinks, the notebook heavy in his hands. He flips it open, noticing each page is written in a different handwriting.
I don’t know why I’m doing this.
This is the story of when my mom died.
Ravenel handed me this notebook. I don’t have anything to write about.
The wind was strong. Macie struggled to walk through it.
Cain scans the stories, some personal, some fiction, some just written thoughts of why the hell they were doing this. Then he’s at the last page. It’s empty save for the word ‘Cain’ on the top.
He bites his lip and fingers at the pen Ravenel gave him. He looks around the bus, eyes gliding over the other passengers. Everyone headed to a different location for a different reason. Weddings, jobs, families, adventures, vacations… whatever it was, they were on this bus for a reason.
I’m moving to Chicago. The bus ride is nine hours long. I would have driven, it’d have made the journey much shorter, but I don’t have a car. I used to, but it broke down about a year ago and I didn’t have the finances to fix it or buy a new one. Maybe that’s why I took this job. I need the money.
Cain stops. He looks over at Ravenel, expecting her to be watching him. She’s not. He’s fairly positive she’s already asleep, how she managed that, he didn’t know. He returns to the page and crosses out everything he wrote. Why he took a job he’s not excited about is the least interesting story he could write.
He doesn’t know why he wants it to be interesting.
Cain closes the notebook and reopens it on the first page.
Write your story.
Notebook #4 filled with strangers stories. I don’t care what they write, as long as they write something. The only people who will read what they write are others who write in here. No last names will be written. All anonymous.
Everyone has a story to tell. This is your opportunity to tell it.
Cain watches Ravenel sleep. Every time the bus hits a bump, she shakes slightly but doesn’t stir. Her hands are hiding under the blanket. Her lashes brush her cheekbones . Her lips rest in a soft line. She’s completely and utterly vulnerable. And she doesn’t care.
Cain flips through the notebook again, this time closely reading every single story.
Leslie’s story is all about her boyfriend that just cheated on her. She found out earlier that day. At the bottom of the page there are dried circles where she assumingly cried. I trusted him with everything I loved. In my wildest nightmare he never would have betrayed me like this. And he didn’t even love her. She was just a living body at a club. What hurts most is he didn’t even try to apologize. He didn’t care. Why didn’t he care? Cain wants to hug this stranger. He wanted to buy out all of the closest grocery stores ice cream, cover her in a blanket, and listen to her cry.
He turned the page.
Tim’s son was turning three later that week. They were going to have a party at the park. His son loved the park and all the dogs that were always there. When we asked him who he wanted to invite, he said Snickers. That’s the neighbor’s dog. My son has friends, but his top priority was that dogs were their. So, we are inviting everyone we know with dogs. Also the local pet store. I’m waiting for a call from them now. Peter is very excited. Cain smiles. The party is long finished now, but he hopes Peter did have fun.
Cain feels himself beginning to smile. He turns back to his page and begins to write. He takes up five pages. It takes him over half an hour. His hand cramps. He feels tension seeping from his bones as he gets out something he never allowed himself to acknowledge before.
When he finishes, he closes the notebook and clips the pen on the side. He doesn’t wake Ravenel up immediately. Instead, he sits, holding the notebook against his chest, breathing in the stories.
After a few minutes, he turns and lightly taps Ravenel’s shoulder. She doesn’t jump or slowly stir with a dazed look. She just opens her eyes and faces him, like she was never even sleeping.
He hands over the book.
“Finished?” He nods. “Did you read the other stories?” He nods again. “Thank you, for sharing yours.”
“Uhm, yeah, no problem. It was… nice.”
The bus pulls into a station and she gathers her stuff and stands.
“Wait, I thought you were headed to Chicago?”
She smirks. “Don’t believe everything you hear. Bye, Cain.”