As the allotted time draws near, the steady summer heat becomes far less bearable; I want the air conditioning of the mall, not the filthy downtown sidewalk. I can't sit on the burning tarmac, so the best I can do is prop myself up against the lamppost, letting my eyes move over the scars in the paintwork. I run my hand over the rough paint and feel my insides squirm in a way they haven't done since the last job interview I went to.
I wonder what this Joel will be like. I don't know his age, what he drives, or whether he likes the kind of music that makes my ears bleed. I can feel my hairs stick to the perspiration on my face; I must be as beaded as the dawn grass. My hand begins to shake in a way I can't control, and all I can do is loop my thumbs into my jean shorts pocket and hope to look casual.
I can barely formulate a thought. There is no cooling breeze, no cloud to block the high August sun. I now curl my fingers around the thin fabric of my top, waving it in and out to create just a little air flow, but it's not enough, like an ice cube into a steaming hot bowl of soup. He's late, whoever this Joel is, and I'm just praying he's not a creep. Perhaps he's some irritating "man on a mission" ready to fill my head with information I never wanted to know.
But whoever he is, we'll be locked in a tin box on wheels together all the way to Phoenix, and that road is longer than one of Grandpa's war tales. Just when I think I'll have to go inside, an old Chevy pulls up, like that Mater out of the Cars movie. It's blocking my view of the street, and suddenly I can't sit. What if he drives right past? I'll never get there, never see Mike again. I jump up like I'm sitting on a wasp and throw an angry glance at the man getting out of the heap.
I stop and force my face into something more pleasant.
"Yes, and that must make you late," I fake smile, and I bring my hand up to wipe away a bead of sweat. The man laughs, and I can't help but notice how handsome he is.
Where his eyes were, the green of fresh dew was glinting in the sunlight off a leaf of green emerald. His lips were pale and thin, and his nose slender and rounded. A prominent jaw curved gracefully around and the strength of his neck showed in the twining cords of muscle that shaped his entire body; strong arms, bold thighs and calves, a firm chest and abdomen. He wore a tank top that helped to define his features even further, and I couldn't help but blushing.
By now, he had walked up to me and was holding out his hand.
"Joel," he says as I shake his hand. "Or late, whatever you want to call me." He winks at me, and I turn my head down.
"Let's just hop this train already."
Joel pauses. "Yeah...about that. We're gonna have to wait here a bit longer."
"Excuse me? 2 hours I've been here, waiting for you! A man I knew nothing about except that he was to get me back to Arizona to my son!" I collapse onto the sidewalk, no longer caring how scalding it may be. "At least tell me what we're waiting for."
"Sorry, Kate, but I can't tell you that."
"Don't call me Kate."
He shrugs and leans against lamppost I had been using for support minutes ago. "Whatever."
I sigh loudly and look up at Joel. I see the car keys dangling out of the pocket of his pants, and I debate whether or not I could snatch them and run away in the car. Before I could do anything, though, he spoke.
"You mentioned your son. What's his name?"
I wonder if I should tell him or not, but I figure that at some point during the 11 hour train ride with him, I would probably tell him anyway.
"Michael. I call him Mike most of the time, though."
"Why aren't you with him?"
"Can't tell you that. He's safe, though, and I'll be coming home to him soon."
Joel says nothing, but instead glances at his watch. He looks up and down the street, worry creeping onto his face. Eventually, he gives up and closes his eyes, leaning his head backwards onto the post.
"Give me the keys."
His eyes flicker open. "No can do. I'm not stupid; you're just going to drive away and leave me on this street."
"That's not true. I need you to catch that train."
"Yeah. I believe you."
"I just want air conditioning! I'm going to die of heat stroke or something." I know I'm probably beginning to look like a psychotic murderer, but I couldn't care less at the moment. I just want to return home to my son.
"Fine. But if you drive away, you will regret it." Joel tosses me the keys, and there isn't a doubt in my mind that I want nothing other than cool air on my face. No way was I making a run for it.
But before I head to the car, Joel asks, "How do you know Mitch, anyway?"
Mitch had hooked me up with Joel; he's the sole person that made me getting home to Michael possible.
"My husband knows him from work."
"Where does your husband work?"
"Why do you need to know everything about me?" I know I won't ever mention that my husband, David, had actually drowned a few years ago. Joel doesn't need to know that.
"Okay, okay, I'll stop. Just trying to pass time." It was now his turn to wipe sweat off of his face.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, Joel leaning against the lamppost and myself sitting in the passengers seat of the car, watching the occasional bird pass by.
"Why is this thing...or someone so important that we must wait in this heat for?" I finally ask.
Joel considers this, keeping his eyes closed so long that I wonder if he fell asleep.
"I would without a doubt die for the person I am waiting on."
I leave it at that.
Minutes turn to hours, and by then I have exited the car; I don't want the battery to die.
"The train will be here soon," I say.
"Should we go...?"
"No. I would rather miss that train than miss this person."
"I can't miss this train. My son is at home, and he hasn't seen me in months. I need to get to Phoenix." Part of me feels bad, but I'm sure that Joel has seen this mystery person in the last 5 months. I haven't seen Mike for 8.
Once again, Joel is silent.
About another half hour passes before he shows any sign of life. Joel sighs, gathers himself, and mumbles,
Filled with relief, I head toward the car. But a distant rumble of an engine comes from behind me, and I turn to see another Chevy thrumming up the road. Joel's face fills with joy and he sprints toward it, paying no attention to me. The sun is setting, and it's getting hard to see, but I notice the car door spring open. A little girl pops out and charges at Joel, burying her face in his shoulder. Who was-
I smile, forgetting for a moment about Michael, forgetting about my husband's death, forgetting how hot and tired I am. Joel said he would die for this person. I know would die for Michael. Joel was waiting for his own child to bring home.
He was waiting for his daughter.