Her hands clutch the steering wheel, turning her knuckles white as her breath catches in her throat. Her heart beats a million miles a minute as her foot smashes the accelerator. The makeup stain on her hand from where she spilled foundation jumps out against the porcelain of her skin, but she doesn’t notice. While she drives, all she can think about is Jamie. Her Jamie.
Vanessa met Jamie on a chat website for ABBA fans in 2017, and they hit it off immediately. “Voulez-Vous” was Vanessa’s favorite, “Waterloo” was Jamie’s. “Winner Takes It All” made them both cry and they both dreamed of rocking out to “Dancing Queen” with each other someday. When they face-timed for the first time and sang together, it was love at first listen.
And now, they were finally going to meet. Jamie and Vanessa. Vanessa and Jamie. Together. Finally. Vanessa can hardly hold herself together, she’s practically jumping out of her seat. She can barely keep her eyes on the road as she thinks about seeing Jamie, hugging Jamie, kissing Jamie. It’s almost too much to handle.
It was all very spontaneous, this drive. They were savoring one of their traditional late-night calls, but on that particular night, it was pretty silent, as both were tired from working all day. But theirs is the kind of love where listening to one another breathe is completely enough, just knowing that they’re alive and they love you is better than talking. But, without warning, Jamie says, “I want to see you.” Vanessa’s heart skipped a beat and she could hardly find the words. “Vanessa? Did you hear me?”
“Oh, yes, of course, I heard you. Do you want me to turn on the light?” She knew that’s not what Jamie meant, but she didn’t want to hope for something that might not happen.
“No. I want to see your face. In-person. Please. I can tell my director I have the flu or something, I know you can’t take off work but we can-”
“Oh my god, don’t even mention it. I can take a few vacation days.” Vanessa was beaming and she was glad Jamie couldn’t tell how damn happy she was right then. She had to keep cool. “I want to see you too.”
Jamie’s voice was shaky, nervous, shocked. “Oh my god.”
They had stayed up whispering for hours into the night, and finally, they settled on their decision. In two week’s time, Jamie was going to drive from Salt Lake City, Utah; Vanessa from Lexington, Kentucky; to Kansas City. They’d meet at a diner called Leed’s and then get a hotel together. They would stay there for a week and just enjoy each other for the first time ever. It was maybe the most thrilled Vanessa had ever been making travel plans.
And she was just as thrilled as she drove the highway to Missouri, her old Volkswagen sputtering westward to her destiny. The car she had for seven years would have some work to do, nine-hour drives weren’t something it was accustomed to. But she was determined. And if this stupid car had even an ounce of the determination Vanessa had, they would be just fine.
So, they sputter on. A myriad of colors passes by in the other lane, the whites and reds, silvers and blacks of the other vehicles blending together with the greens and blues of the trees and sky. Birds soar, and Vanessa’s heart soars with them. She’s been driving for an hour and she is just as excited as she was when she left Lexington. She needs to pee, and bad, but she holds it in. She doesn’t want to waste any time. Even if she only takes a minute, that will be a minute her and Jamie aren’t together, and that is precious. She won’t waste it. She can’t.
And that’s why, when her car breaks down after three hours of tedious rambling, Vanessa can feel her disappointment in her very core. In her conviction to reach her destination, she had forgotten to get gas. Now, she’s by herself at 8 in the morning on the highway, with a crappy car and a crappy attitude. How on earth is she going to fix this? She could call a car repair service, but could they get here fast enough? She can’t keep her love waiting. They’re supposed to be together in six hours.
Vanessa’s breaths are rough as she holds back emotion, the sting of bile in her stomach makes her want to throw up. She needs to sit down. Her body hits the grass next to her car and the inside of her elbows hug her knees as she tries to think. Could she walk? Could she bike? Is there a solution? Should she just give up? She could always call Jamie and call it off. That would be disappointing but she knows Jamie would understand. This is too much. Vanessa lets out a cry of frustration and buries her head in her knees, finally letting it out.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spots a patch of yellow. She doesn’t care enough to look at what it is, but then something comes out of the yellow and taps her on the shoulder.
“Honey? Are ya alright?” Vanessa looks up with a tear-stained face at a young blonde woman with worry in her eyes. Her accent is distinctly southern, and Vanessa feels the warmth from this woman. She can trust her. “Ya look rough.”
“Yeah, I’m,” Vanessa chokes on her words as she holds back a sob. “I’m on my way to Missouri, to see my um, my best friend, Jamie, and my car broke down and it just sucks and I need a car repair service but that’ll take so long and I NEED to see Jamie.” She lets out a wail as she collapses into herself again.
“Oh, baby, I’m drivin’ to California, I can take ya to Missouri! You can have this Jamie of yers take you back here to get yer car when ya see ‘im.” She smiles and gives a hand to Vanessa to help her up. “Don’t ya worry child, I’ll help you. What’s yer name?”
“I’m Vanessa Beach, and you?” Vanessa takes her hand and stands up, her knees wobbling.
“Leanne Granger, happy to meet ya!” They get in the bright yellow automobile, and Vanessa is once again on the road.
They start talking about their lives, and Vanessa learns that Leanne is a nurse at a hospital in Georgia, but her husband is in California on a business trip and she wants to surprise him.
“Why are you driving to California and not flying?” Vanessa can’t imagine driving so long and being as chipper as Leanne.
“Oh, planes scare the bejesus outta me… I wouldn’t be able to go through the barf bags fast enough!” They both giggle and Vanessa tells her about Jamie. She probably describes her lover for an hour, but when she starts talking about something she’s passionate about, she finds it hard to stop. And she’s damn passionate about Jamie.
“Wow… It sounds like y’all are just perfect for each other. My husband probably hasn’t talked about me that way in months! I’m happy for ya.”
Vanessa smiles and grabs Leanne’s hand on the steering wheel. “I’m sure he loves you just as much as I love Jamie. Just as much as you love him.”
Leanne smiles sadly and looks in Vanessa’s eyes. “Thanks, darlin’, but I’m not so sure.”
They drive for a while in silence, and Vanessa eventually lulls off to sleep. She dreams of a tall, dark figure with bright green eyes and the sweetest smile anyone had ever seen. She dreams of leaping into the figure’s arms, of feeling the figure’s warmth, of kissing the figure’s lips. She loves it, and it loves her. The figure pulls away, and Vanessa can’t tell why. Slowly, the faceless figure morphs into the person she loves most: Jamie. She cries out and tries to jump into the arms of her sweetheart, but Jamie pushes her away, and hard.
Vanessa wakes up in a cold sweat, with Leanna hands on her shoulder. “Honey, are ya ok? You were crying in yer sleep.”
“Yeah, yes, I’m fine, just a bad dream.” Vanessa wipes the tears from her eyes. “Where are we?”
Leanne beams and gestures to their surroundings and Vanessa finally realizes they’re in a city. “Oh my god, we’re here. We’re in Kansas City. Oh my god, thank you so much!” Vanessa leans over and hugs Leanna as tight as she can. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, I owe you a million. Thank you.”
Leanna laughs and holds Vanessa’s hand. “Sweetheart, ya don’t have to thank me. I’m just glad I could bring ya to yer love!” She kisses Vanessa on both cheeks and hands her a slip of paper. “Here’s my number, if ya ever need anything please let me know. I didn’t know exactly where I was supposed to go, but if ya want ya can get one of those scooter things and they’ll tell ya!”
Giggling at the scooter comment, Vanessa puts the paper in her pocket. “If you ever need anything, I’m in your debt forever. Thank you. Oh my god!”
“Girlie, you need to go get yer beau! Don’t bother with me no more!” Vanessa nods and grabs her suitcases, getting out of the car.
“Thank you, Leanne. Seriously. Thank you. I could’ve run into much scarier people on the highway to Missouri. I’m glad it was you.” Leanne flashes her a grin and blows her a kiss.
“See ya sometime, girlie.” Vanessa smiles back and starts walking along the sidewalk while Leanne flashes bright yellow past her. She puts Leanne’s number in her phone and starts looking for a bus stop or a subway she can take. The whole city is foreign to her, but she knows Jamie is here somewhere, so that comforts her fears.
She looks at herself in her phone. Oh god. She looks a mess. Her mascara is smudged, her braids are all wonky, and her lipstick looks like she just kissed a mountain lion. She swears and runs to the nearest convenience store. Thank goodness there’s one on every street corner.
The obvious stoner boy (named “Fabio” according to his name tag, “420blazeitboy” from the tattoo on his collarbone) at the counter gives her a peace sign and a giggle. “You good, mama?” He giggles again. “You look like hell. I can give you heaven. If you want. Which you should.” He winks and her eyes roll into the back of her head. Good lord.
Vaness fixes her hair and makeup in the bathroom until she looks somewhat presentable like her Volkwagon hadn’t broken down and like she hadn't slept in a stranger’s car. It was a hard task, but for Jamie, she could do anything.
She asks her new friend blazeitboy where Leed’s is, and he looks at her like she’s an idiot. “Are you kidding mama? Everyone knows where Leed’s is.”
“Don’t call me mama, I’m 23. I’m not from here, just tell me and I’ll give you a dollar.”
His eyes light up. “It’s, like, a block from here. You’ll find it if you’ve got working eyes.”
She pulls her wallet out of her purse and gives him a dollar. “Buy yourself some Cheetos, blazeitboy. Thanks.”
He flashes another peace sign as she leaves, which she ignores. She’s on a mission, and now she finally is near her destination.
Then, finally, she sees it. A hoppin’ diner christened “Leed’s” and a swarm of people walking in and out, mouths watering and bellies full. She almost couldn’t contain her excitement, she was like a kid again.
She searched among the crowd for a tall, black, green-eyed beauty, but she couldn’t spot Jamie anywhere. She was starting to panic. She wasn’t too late, was she? Did Jamie think Vanessa had bailed? Is she about to lose the love of her life?
“Vanessa.” The soft, gentle voice brings her out of her paranoia. She gasps as the person she’s been wanting most to see for years smiles at her. “Vanessa. You’re here.”
“Jamie.” She falls into her arms, into the arms of the woman she loves. “I love you. I missed you.”
She runs her hands across Vanessa’s spine. “I love you too. I can’t believe you’re here.”
Vanessa melts into her as the two women kiss in the middle of the diner, and she knows the journey was worth it.