John slept. He slept as the Greyhound traveled northward on the final leg of Interstate 57, as it bypassed and then continued traveling north beyond I-80; the highway that, if traveled in a westerly direction, would take him to within twenty miles of the very spot where he’d inadvertently participated in the killing of Sydney Porter. Many times he and Joni had driven down to Iowa City and then hopped on an I-80 east bound bus to Chicago to see a Cubs game. Taking the bus avoided parking fees in Chicago and allowed them to drink to their hearts’ content in Wrigley Field without fear of consequence. The ticket price of thirty-five dollars times four had seemed like a bargain back in the good old days.
He slept as I-57 ended and merged into I-94 west (though the bus traveled due north at this point) the highway they’d once followed east to the town of Saint Joseph, Michigan with its lovely Great Lakes lighthouse. He slept as the short, western most section of I-94 flowed into I-90 which made a bee-line five blocks east; straight toward the Illinois side of Lake Michigan. It wasn’t until the big bus took the off-ramp for Wacker Drive and circled back through the congested maze of limited access roads and what would soon be busy downtown city avenues and boulevards to Van Buren Street that its rapid deceleration to accommodate a red light finally managed to jolt John awake.
This wasn’t his first bus journey nor his first time to the Clinton Street Greyhound station and he quickly collected his wits and realized that he should be at his journey’s end in just a few short minutes. Jolted awake he silently recited The Lord’s Prayer, a Hail Mary and an Act of Contrition. Normally he would include personal meditation, specific thanks for the gifts he’d been given in his life and petitions for others but this morning he did the bare minimum of communicating with The Man Upstairs. God knew what was in John’s heart and anything he neglected to do at 5:30 this morning he’d try to make up for before he went to sleep that night.
Finished with his opening salvo of prayerful communication he checked his phone and sure enough there were two text messages from Joni, one sent just before five that she was on her way and another twenty minutes later informing him that she was waiting curbside with her motor running.
“Perfect,” John texted her, “I should be out in less than five. Two blocks from the station,” before he closed his flip phone and stuck it back in his pocket. ‘Motor running,’ he thought, looking outside at the street-light-illuminated, intermittent-piles of filthy snow that had accumulated along the street intersections. ‘Good indeed. It’s gonna be cold after New Orleans.’
The bus pulled into its berth and the sleepy passengers filed off. John was able to debus quickly from his coveted fourth row seat and after thanking the driver and stepping down the two short steps to the asphalt he pulled his coat tightly around his neck with his gloved left hand. “I’m shivering in Chicago,” he sang to himself to the Fats Domino “Walking to New Orleans” tune. “Jiminy Cricket it’s cold outside.” He hurried through the terminal, whistling what he thought of as the Dean Martin and Doris Day song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Once he was through the terminal’s vestibule he scanned the street for Joni’s car.
Not only was it cold, it was also dark at 5:40 in the morning. Luckily for him Joni stood next to her car languidly flapping her arms back and forth above her head. John saw her from a distance, waved back and emitted a piercing whistle to let her know he had seen her. The man next to him gave John a dirty look to which John shrugged before dog trotting to his waiting wife. When they met he dropped his bag to the ground, enveloped his beloved in his arms and stood holding her in the what was for him frigid twenty-five-degree air. He didn’t care. He hadn’t felt this warm in far too long.
“Oh, you feel heavenly, Peaches,” he whispered in her ear. He squeezed her hard, ran his hands down from her shoulders to her forearms, brought her to him and kissed her thoroughly.
“Hi, sailor,” Joni replied after the lingering kiss ended, a strong flavor of melancholy in her voice. “Going my way?”
John smiled at her and said, ”’Where ever you go I go; and where ever I go you go.’ Isn’t that what we used to say?”
“Sure is, Lover. Get your bag. Do you want to drive?”
“Lord no. I want to look at you,” he answered as he scooped up his bag, opened Joni’s door for her and walked around to the passenger side and got in. “Home, Jane; and don’t spare the horses!”
“Aye, aye, captain,” she said with a terrible British accent. “Is there a shilling in it for me if we make it in record time?”
“I’m afraid I’m shillinged out. I’m busted, babe. But if you play your cards right I might have something especially for you.”
“Promises, promises. I’ve heard that kind of talk from other seamen, sailor. You just mind your manners, young man,” she said with a wink before pulling away from the curb and heading southward to her home.