With nervous excitement, John had taken his seat and according to his ticket assignment. He purposefully reserved a window seat to occupy his mind on the journey. He gazed out of the window, as the remaining passengers boarded, and the crew performed their pre-departure routines.
It had been many years since he had travelled, and he thought back to the days when his parents – now deceased – had taken him on vacations. They never drove more than a few hours from their home, but John had great memories of the places they had taken him. He had travelled by plane a handful of times during his career and by vehicle but something about the clickety-clack appealed to him.
He'd never married and never had kids. In fact, during his career he hadn’t made any friends and pretty much kept to himself. He’d saved up most of his salary for the past twenty-five years and had decided to retire and move on to something else – something unknown and new and fresh. He had nothing holding him back and decided to embrace the uncertainty of travelling and visiting some national landmarks.
As he continued gazing at the station from his seat, he began wondering if he’d lost his mind and contemplated if it was a good idea to leave. He reminded himself that it was too late, as all his belongings were packed in his suitcases and everything else had already been sold off or donated. His apartment lease had expired, and he had nowhere to go but forward.
His trip was predetermined and would begin with a two-day trip to South Dakota then to Montana and on to Colorado – visiting all the landmarks along the way. These were places he’d never been such as Mount Rushmore, Glacier National Park, Yosemite, and etcetera.
As the whistle blew, a gentleman had taken the seat just across the aisle from him. He was about John’s age and immediately engaged in small talk. He was on his way to visit his sister in South Dakota for the summer. John explained to him that he was embarking on a longer journey and would be visiting Mount Rushmore as his first stop. Stephen, as he introduced himself, then explained that his sister didn’t live too far from there.
For the better part of the following two hours, they talked about their lives – something John didn’t normally share with anyone. Stephen explained that his sister had lived alone for her entire life and was about to embark on her own journey and move to Alaska. That’s why he was spending the summer with her. He went on to say that she worked in the station where he was to end his journey.
Coincidentally, John was also going to the same station and from there he’d planned to rent a car to visit Mount Rushmore and then return to the station to continue his journey.
They talked on and off for the two days and had become comfortable with each other – knowing they’d soon be parting ways. And that’s when Stephen asked, “Hey, how about I take you to see Mount Rushmore?”
John stammered, “Um, I guess I could. I have a couple days to burn.”
“Great,” Stephen returned. “You’ll like my sister. She’s very hospitable.”
Soon after their conversation, the conductor indicated that they were approaching the station. Everyone was disembarking, at least for the night. John’s plan was to stay the night and then drive the next day to Mount Rushmore. He wasn’t sure how Stephen’s sister fit into the equation, but Stephen did elude that he’d be meeting her.
They both exited and walked through the exit gate and into a waiting area where other passengers were being picked up by relatives and some were boarding buses. John asked Stephen where he was going from there and indicated he needed to check into the motel. Stephen replied, “My sister is picking me up. You can come with us. We’ll drop you at your motel, which is only a few miles from my sister’s place.”
John began to feel uncomfortable with the whole situation. He had just met the guy and had grown more and more anxious the more they talked.
Within a few minutes, a car pulled up – it was her. She waved and Stephen waved back. She got out and they hugged each other. Stephen yelled over to John, “we haven’t seen each other in a year.” They seemed to be privately catching up when John noticed Stephen point back at him.
His sister looked John’s way and smiled. “Get in,” she yelled.
They drove about ten minutes when John noticed his motel, but she kept driving. “Whoa, that’s my motel,” he blurted out.
“Nonsense,” she replied. “You can stay at my place.”
“No,” he insisted. “I don’t want to bother you. I already have arrangements.”
“It’s fine, really it is,” she replied.
Within a few minutes, they arrived at her home. From the outside, it seemed quaint and well kept. They all exited the car and made their way in the front door. John couldn’t help thinking about what he was walking into.
They all took a seat around the kitchen table. “My name is Clara,” she offered. “You’ve already met Stephen.”
“Yes,” John laughed. “My name is John.”
“Nice to meet you. Anyone like something to drink?”
“I’ll have an iced tea, if you have it.”
“Sure thing. Stephen?”
They spent the next few hours talking and sharing stories. Nearing midnight, Stephen excused himself for bed. John was also going to excuse myself, but Clara kept talking to him. She was very personable, and they seemingly had made a connection, at least in John’s mind. They talked for another hour or so as she explained her move to Alaska. By that point, John had become comfortable with staying for the night.
Early the following morning, Clara was up making coffee and breakfast. Stephen and John crossed paths in the hallway, on their way to the kitchen. The three discussed the day’s itinerary and that they’d all be visiting Mount Rushmore together, which was fine with John. At least he’d have some company – it beat going alone.
By the end of the day and during the drive back to Clara’s, John had become saddened knowing that he had to leave the next day. As they arrived home, everyone decided to get to bed because they were all feeling tired.
The next morning, John awakened to Stephen yelling out, “We need to leave now if you’re to make the next leg of your journey.”
John threw his stuff together and thanked Stephen for everything. Clara was already headed out to the car. Stephen waved and yelled from the door, “Bon voyage, it was a pleasure.”
John waved back. “Thank you. Till we meet again.”
They raced to the station, but they were too late. John was somewhat disappointed yet not.
The car ride back to Clara’s house was comical because both thought the idea of missing check-in time was funny and worth poking fun. John felt they had made an even deeper connection, considering they barely knew each other.
When they arrived back at Clara’s, John did his best to rearrange his plans and according to the station’s schedule, but it seemed that he wouldn’t be able to continue his journey until Friday – some three days away.
Over the course of the following days, John learned that while Stephen was slated to stay the summer, it was really only two months and not the three months he had assumed. He also learned that Clara had sold her house and would be forced to relocate, temporarily, prior to her move to Alaska. Clara had also arranged for all her furniture and fixtures to be included in the sale. So, she essentially had nothing to move except clothes and personal items – making her journey easier.
Clara had already resigned her position at the station, where she’d worked for some twenty years. John began to wonder why Clara hadn’t already moved because she’d seemingly had everything in order and could leave at moment’s notice. He also wondered why Stephen was there except to see her off. There was nothing for him to do.
Leading into Friday afternoon, when John was due to leave, Stephen received a call that his son had been hospitalized with a rare heart condition. Stephen immediately made plans to leave but needed a ride to the airport. Everything seemed to be turned upside down, quickly. John realized he’d need to find his own way to the station because Clara would be taking Stephen to the airport.
Everyone said their quick goodbyes and John stood and watched Clara and Stephen pull out of the driveway and disappear.
John did his best to make arrangements to get to the station, but to no avail. It just wasn’t in the cards. He made the call to the station to inform them that he was unable to make it. They informed him that he’d have to wait another week before being able to continue his journey. While he was disappointed, a part of him was okay with spending another week with Clara.
Clara returned later and was completely surprised to see John still at her house. However, there was a part of her that was happy.
Clara insisted that John stay with her for the coming week and he eventually accepted her invitation. They became emotionally attached to each other in that week.
During their dinner on Wednesday evening, Clara had asked when he was scheduled to leave. John shyly replied, “Well, honestly I never scheduled my departure.”
Clara looked at him puzzled, “What? Why not? You have your planned trip.”
“I know, but…I just can’t convince myself to leave.”
“We’ve made a connection, yes. But I’m still leaving for Alaska in a handful of weeks.”
“Yes, I’m aware and I don’t want to interrupt that. So, how about if I stay till you leave?”
“I would like that very much.”
“I mean, neither of us needs to work and you’re pretty much ready.”
“That is true. What would we do?”
“We’ve seen Mount Rushmore. How about we take the scenic drive to Devils Tower?”
“We could. Sadly, I’ve never been there in all my years here.”
“So, we’ll go, yes?”
With that, they spent the next two weeks planning the trip. Their time together was enjoyed by both, but John especially. He’d never opened up to anyone in his life like he had with Clara. She enjoyed the time as well, but she was less needy than John. She was alone by choice and John was alone because it was the only life he knew.
On the night before their trip, Clara and John prepared some food and put together a basket. They packed sufficient water and extra clothes, just in case. They hugged in the hallway and parted ways to their separate bedrooms.
In the morning, they ate a light breakfast, packed the car, and headed out. They had a short drive to get to the highway, which would lead them to the main highway into Wyoming. The weather forecast was not favorable, at least for the morning, but they pushed forward. As they got into the second hour, heavy rain began to fall causing traffic slowdowns. A storm had formed and was barreling right at the traffic. At several points, visibility was poor, at best. Causing major slowdowns and near accidents. As they were deciding whether to pull off and wait out the storm, they were struck from behind by a large truck. The truck pushed them into the truck in front of them. Their car was pushed up and under the trailer and tore off a portion of the roof. Both John and Clara were knocked unconscious and were pinned in the mangled steel. Neither of the truck drivers were injured. Each attempted to rescue John and Clara, but it was a near impossible task.
Fire and Rescue Services arrived within approximately twenty minutes from the time of the accident. They worked diligently for an hour just to get Clara out. She began to regain consciousness as they placed her in the ambulance. Extricating John was much more difficult. In fact, he was pronounced dead and remained in the car. Clara was taken to the nearest hospital where she began asking about John. Eventually, she was informed of his death. At first, she remained silent, but shortly was overcome with emotion.
Clara was cleared to go home after about seven days. She had many lacerations, a concussion, and a broken arm. During her stay, she was forced to arrange for John’s transport and services back in town. She knew that John had no family, at least that he ever mentioned. He left behind no contacts and no living will. She was on her own.
Sadly, there was no service for John and his body was cremated – and a marker was placed in the local cemetery. Clara had agreed to pay the fees, which was nothing to her. More painful for her was the fact that the services were held while she remained in the hospital. She thought John deserved better.
When Clara arrived home, she did her best to settle in and get adjusted to the arm cast, but she knew life for her would be physically challenging in the coming weeks. She couldn’t imagine the emotional challenges that would soon follow.
There was a bag of personal items that the hospital staff had indicated were collected from the accident. It contained the extra clothes they had packed for the trip, John’s wallet, and his wristwatch. Also in the bag was a card. She pulled it out and removed the envelope. She read the card and cried uncontrollably. The note read that their time together was a blessing, and she should follow her dream for Alaska, and he would not stand in her way. It was signed, “Bon voyage. I love you, John.”
Clara grieved in the days remaining and leading up to her planned departure. On the morning she was leaving, she stopped at the cemetery to pay her last respects and to say her goodbyes. She mustered up the courage to tell John, “I love you too. Bon voyage, John. Bon voyage.”