John followed Klein off the bus in order to say good-bye and use the restroom. Klein told the driver, “Thanks. Have a safe trip,” and the driver nodded and smiled back to him.
Once they were in the terminal building and out of the traffic flow Klein shifted his small suitcase from his right to his left hand, extended his now free right and said, “John? It’s been really great sharing the last six hours or so together. It’s been both entertaining and educational.”
John let his tired black duffle fall to the ground, took Klein’s hand and asked, “So, are you going to tell Allison we slept together?”
Klein’s eyes got huge, his head jerked back and he snatched his hand away from John’s. “What!?”
John tilted his head to the left, held both of his hands out in front of him with palms facing upward and grinned. “What? You trying to tell me you didn’t sleep on that bus?”
“You, sir, are a sick S.O.B.,” Klein responded, smiling and shaking his head. “If we were in Tennessee I think we’d have to have a fist fight over that. Damn Yankee” he added, somehow managing to scowl and grin simultaneously. “Hey? What’s your last name, anyway?”
“Knopick. Two K’s, the first one is silent. How about you?”
“Hammond. No silent letters. Well, John silent K Knopick, it’s been a pleasure.”
“You too. Best of luck with school and Allison. Take care.”
“You too. Good luck,” Klein said before picking up his bag and heading out to the parking lot and his waiting friend.
John didn’t watch Klein leave. He grabbed his bag, darted into the restroom, took care of business and then headed back to the bus. A fat handful of folks had exited the bus in Effingham and a far less full one entered so the bus was a bit less crowded than it had been fifteen minutes earlier. It was almost two A.M. and in three and a half hours he should be in Chicago, good Lord willing. “Can’t happen soon enough,” he whispered to himself as he settled into what had been Klein’s seat, his overcoat again impressed for double duty as a make-do pillow, shut his eyes and willed the miles to fly by.
John figured he’d be asleep before the bus was back on the highway but even though he felt tired to the point of exhaustion his anxiety kept the sweet succor of slumber at arm’s length. Joni was less than three and a half hours away, a bit over two hundred miles and every millisecond brought him 34 millimeters closer to his darling. With thirty-four million millimeters to travel didn’t that compute to them being together in 195 minutes?
He exhaled loudly and thrust his head into the palms of his hands. ‘Jiminy, dude,’ he thought to himself, ‘just relax. No matter how you do the math you’re rolling north on I-57 and Joni will be there waiting for you. Let, it, go.’ He subvocalized Fat’s Dominoes’, “Walking to New Orleans,” but substituted crawling for “walking” and sang from in place of “to.” He then moved on to “Sooner or Later” by The Grass Roots, wishing that he could end this compulsive mental loop. Checking his watch, he was dismayed to see that it was only two fifteen.
Observing that it was quarter after two made his brain jump to the Lady Antebellum song, “Need You Now,” and the slightly altered chorus of, “It’s a quarter after two, I’m all alone and I need you now. Said I wouldn’t call but I’ve lost all control and I need you now. And I don’t know how I can do without. I just need you now,” repeated in his head four times before he could make it stop. He wanted desperately to call Joni but knew that doing so would be cruel, impolite, discourteous and ungracious. John searched for more synonyms for boorish but could only come up with three more. ‘Fatigue,’ he thought. ‘Nature’s way of telling you to go to sleep! Moron.’
He pulled his phone out of his pocket, thought about spending some of his prepaid minutes on a text but decided to wait until after five. If Joni was having anywhere near the trouble sleeping that he was having the last thing he wanted to do was disturb her. ‘I love you, Peaches,’ he thought as he slipped his phone back in his pocket and pulled Some Luck from his bag. ‘Come on, Jane Smiley, put me to sleep, won’t you?’ he asked himself as his bleary eyes focused on the print in front of them.