The Travel Bug

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: End your story with two characters reconciling.... view prompt

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American Contemporary Fiction

Friday, May 21st 3:30pm pick up car. 

I read and reread the note in my leather bound planner more times than my own acceptance letter to Northwestern. I tried to hide my smile by biting my lip but it was no use. I was ecstatic. I finally closed my book and rested my head on the hard plastic seat under me. The L felt more rickety today. We must have hit a nasty bump since the woman in front of me gripping her pole in a cherry red peacoat lost her balance and landed backwards onto my lap. 

“Sorry,” She muttered trying to rise up quickly and regain her stance by the pole. 

“It’s okay,” I said too softly knowing she probably didn’t hear. She smelled like maple. 

The screeching holt had never sounded so good as the L came to a complete stop. I swiftly made myself the first one out of the train. It was beginning to rain now. Perfect timing. Edison was already waiting for me at the opened garage. His co-worker blasted Nickelback while busy underneath the hood of a Sedan. 

“She ready for me?” I asked a bit anxious there would be an issue. 

“She’s all yours.” Said Edison as he threw off an oil stained sheet to reveal my new beaut. “73 Volkswagen Beetle. She’s drivable now. The paint job’s going to cost a bit extra and you could really use some new tires.” But I wasn’t even listening. I was just imagining myself RayBans on, the windows down, and driving southbound anywhere that wasn’t Illinois for the summer. 

It was dark by the time I made it out of the city. But before then, I couldn’t resist the urge to bring my new baby back to my midtown apartment where Sam was already there with his Cannon waiting with his Gucci bomber jacket he’d let me borrow. My photo shoot near Jackson Park was interrupted by a small child asking if I were famous. 

Now I was out of the city craze and looking up at a big black sky. It looked so massive without the array of buildings corroding it. The radio didn’t work but I didn’t care. The open roads helped me to think, helped me to write. I would be joining my sister and parents in the sunshine state as soon as I made it down there. 

I was reaching for my bottle of water when the sound of hard gravel erupted my eardrums and wore out my heart. My baby was on the side of the road and my sour attitude was just hearing how AAA wouldn’t get there for 4 hours. The only thing to keep me company was the sound of 50s music in the distance. I thought it was in my head until I cleared my eyesight to see a small diner with a row of semis in the back parking lot. 

I was welcomed into the place with a large refrigerator by the register with rotating pies inside. The booths were pretty full and the tables looked low and uncomfortable. I took a place up at the bar. I wasn’t used to this routine unless I was with friends ordering drinks. I took a laminated menu by the napkin dispenser. I don’t know why but all I really wanted were pancakes soaked in syrup, maple syrup. It was that moment when I smelled the familiar scent of maple. 

A woman was on the salmon colored coiled phone. She was the one from the L. Her apron looked very used and she had lines under her eyes. But something about her hair in her high cheerleader like ponytail made me smile at her. 

“What can I get you tonight?” She asked after seeing me smile. She slid her pad and pen from her apron pocket. 

“Just pancakes will do.” I spent the rest of my dinner in silence. She was too busy to check on me again but I made sure to tip well and wait by the car in case they showed up early. I really liked those pancakes. Maybe I’d have to return to try one of those pies I thought. 

That summer I rode the bug down through the Smoky Mountains, ate authentic southern BBQ, and pressed my luck at the casinos in Alabama. She rode well and listened while I wrote out loud my story ideas on my scratch pad. Next semester, I wasn’t just going to shoot for good grades but aim higher for my life goal. 

Happy parents welcomed me with store bought desserts and homemade chili in my mom’s well used Dutch oven. They looked relaxed with retirement which sparked a spontaneous idea from my mom. It was to take a trip to a place we’d never visited. Disney World. 

It was truly magical being welcomed inside the park by the scent of cotton candy and bubbles floating in the air hitting against the mouse shaped balloons. To my left was a trolly show and to my right a meet and greet from the big mouse himself. We all stared at Cinderella Castle like it was the 8th wonder of the world. It accompanied my third corndog and my third ten dollar bill. What really impressed me happened next on the carousel. 

There I was photo bombing my sisters selfies while riding a sapphire colored horse when I saw her again. The woman from the L, the diner, and now Disney World. Was this the most magical place on earth or the smallest? She was near the spinning teacups with family members wearing red matching shirts. Each shirt had a pronoun assigned to them. I read Grandpa, Grandma, son, and then hers. It said "mother". It was easy to assume she was a mom walking around her group in sequence pink mouse ears helping Grandpa. He was in a wheelchair and shed joyful tears when she placed the black ears on his head. They embraced and looked as if they were joining more people in red shirts near the arriving train. That’s when they made their way through the park where she disappeared into a sea of park guests. 

Later that night after some earth pounding fireworks and a long commute back to our Holiday Inn my sister and I had one too many ciders at the hotel bar. Instead of heading back to our room and blaring Ed Sheran and annoying our parents on the other side of the wall, we decided to take a walk outdoors. Down the cracked sidewalk was the ugly side of Orlando. If you weren’t distracted by the overabundance of car horns near the busy streets you could see the rows of convenience stores selling knock off Disney t-shirts and little huts that passed us by reading “Cheap tickets”. What was mysterious was the fuchsia colored hut that loomed in the distance. 

A neon sign in the white gravel parking lot read “Palm Reader - Open”. My drunk sister was already holding up the door for me giggling into her sweatshirt sleeve. I presumed she was covering her nose because once I walked into the hut the scent of heavy incense hit my senses and made me feel a bit flush. There was a red velvet curtain covering a back room and the waiting area had two mental folding chairs from a high school graduation. The sound of sitar music came from the glass coffee table littered with plastic crystals. After several minutes of my sister’s laughter at knock off Picasso portraits and me trying to dry my sweating palms, a large woman in a gray turban emerged from the velvet curtain and motioned for us to come forth with her black cat like nails. The sounds of her necklaces walked us to a doorway with hanging purple beads into a room with a small round table. The lights were dim and the glow of the black light made her teeth look extra white as she grinned at me. The same red velvet curtain wrapped the room for a wall. 

“Sit.” She said, motioning to a nearby stool. Her bangles raddled as she reached for my hand and slowly unfolded it. My sister stood nearby and watched curiously. “Your lines are good, very good.” Said the woman grazing over my skin just lightly. It felt kind of good. “You work hard and have a good brain, child. You will be very successful one day.” I could hear my sister snicker at the cliche fortune. And then came the big one. “You will meet the girl of your dreams for the first time a few years from now and when you do, you will know she is the one.” 

It was really humid in New York City that day. I kept loosening my tie to get some air flow in the backseat of my Uber Deluxe. Sadly, the air conditioning needed fixing. I checked my Rolex, 3:32. Damn it, I was late. The traffic looked like a Hot Wheels collection displayed on a table top instead of the usual place of things. 

“It’s a Saturday we’ll get there soon enough” My driver said after hearing me sigh for the third time. There was no use in staring at my watch to get the time to move so I gazed through my opened window. And just like, as I’d seen her years before, there she was again. The woman from the L, diner, Disney World, and now New York City in broad daylight in her cheerleader ponytail. I wasn’t going to let her get away again without some sort of introduction.

I busted out of the Range Rover into the stand still traffic. My driver yelled at me asking if I’d lost it. I made it onto the sidewalk with only half a dozen car honks to wake me up. But I was awake and I wanted to finally meet her. She was about a block and a half from me now. She looked as if she were in a rush. Who wasn’t in New York City? The streets were littered with people busy on phones, carrying big brown bags, and having no awareness of the fact that I needed to get to her. 

“Watch it” A man in a Nick’s Jersey said as I tried bustling past. Others scoffed as I pushed my way through a group of Wall Street brokers. I could barely keep my sights on her. I felt like I was looking through a kaleidoscope tainted with crystal gems only in reality, people of the city smoking joints and others asking for spare change. And then I lost her. I didn’ even know which way she took but it didn’t matter now. I was standing outside of my original destination. 

I had to take the ally into Barnes and Noble where my publicist was waiting for me smoking a lipstick stained cigarette. “You’re late.” She hissed. 

“Didn’t you expect me to do a bit of traveling today?” She wasn’t in the mood for jokes. Instead, she walked me through the storage room to a large oak desk where I sat next to an easel with a poster of the cover of my best selling book: The Travel Bug. My beetle was the artwork and the inspiration for my loosely based fiction novel. The line of customers was happy to see me eagerly waiting for me to sign their own copies. Some of them had doggie eared pages and posted notes on certain chapters. It was an absolute pleasure getting to meet others who constantly called me a success and a kid with a good brain. Sam even showed up with his mom who couldn’t believe she knew a celebrity. 

Soon after signing my book for a vintage car collector, I looked up to see her standing in front of me, holding her copy of my book from that same smile years ago at the diner. My heart felt full. She slid the book to me and pointed at my beetle on the cover. 

“This book was phenomenal but this car is even more extraordinary.” I blushed a bit flustered on how to respond, but she spoke before me. “Do you want to know who has this exact same car, style and year? And even takes it across the country on her own excursions?” 

“Who?” I asked playing along. 

“My daughter. She’s your age, and a graduate from Northwestern as well. She’s a bit of an introvert but I’m going to force her to say hi. Melody!” And there you were. Wearing a pink beret, carrying my book like it was a newborn child. You had the same smile as your mom. 

And so my beautiful bride. The rest was truly history. I cannot wait to see you today in your effortless white dress walking with your dad down the aisle coming towards me. About now you’re probably sipping on mimosas with your girlfriends, getting your make up done, even though I prefer you without it. I’ve already got the beetle set up for after the reception. Empty cans tied to her bumper with a hand painted sign that says “Just Married.” 

August 13, 2023 23:12

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1 comment

Charles Corkery
05:05 Aug 24, 2023

Well done. Enjoyed this


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