Providence

Chapter 6: Cindy

Destiny, I soon found out, can be rather boring.

It's easy to assume that if you're a fifteen-year-old girl, trying to hitchhike to a different state after illegally flying about two thousand miles, that there's little to no room for boredom.

But then, you know what they say about the word "assume."

Only in the books, I thought gloomily, rubbing my tingling arm as I gave it a break from what seemed like an endless stretch of thrusting my thumb into the air. It's only in the books that heroes get picked up right away. Why can't real life work like the books, ever?

I had been attempting to flag a vehicle down to take me the rest of the way to Kansas for nearly three hours now, and I hadn't seen a willing car yet. All the tourists must've been in bed, because there were few enough cars rolling along the highway at eight or so in the morning that I had started entertaining the somewhat depressing thought of jumping onto a passing semi, of which there were plenty. At this rate, it didn't seem like such a bad idea, except for the fact that I wasn't eager to be picked up by a fat, dirty old geezer with a too-tight shirt and potato chips.

Being the experienced runaway/hitchhiker that I was, I'd even thought ahead and hadn't brought a water bottle (despite being only eight or so, it was already blazing hot) or a book in case no one felt like picking me up. So the only thing to keep me company was my thoughts, which tugged every which way and followed uneasy paths.

What was Tyrone, anyway?

It was a question I had yet to answer. It was so easy to just think of Tyrone as a number of letters sewed together by some invisible rule of language.

But then, looking deeper into the matter in the cold, hard caverns of the cynical side everyone has, I knew it was not.

I had done some research on Tyrone in the few days I had allotted before my not so grand escape. I had copied and pasted all of Holly's emails with any references to Tyrone (even including, on a whim, the useless web link). After digging through both the e-mails and several Kansas maps, I had determined, to the extent of my poor geography skills, that Tyrone was somewhere in the middle of the state, and only a few hours away from Wichita, give or take.

I was grateful I could be assured about that, because the fact that Tyrone, Kansas showed up on no maps and didn't return results when Googled did nothing to appease my sense of foreboding about this whole thing.

So I would drift, if that was the right word, until I found someone who knew where it was and could take me there. I was willing to excuse the lack of information about Tyrone: maybe it was a new town.

But nothing seemed to answer that one, apparently simple question: what was Tyrone, and how did you get there?

The passing trucks started sounding like a rhythm, one that I unconsciously found myself listening to—roar of tires as one approached, blast of noise as it drew level, the dwindling sound as the semi drove away—as my thoughts drifted to Andy…Tyrone…what the heck am I doing…

A car beeped loudly, twice, waking me up from my restless doze. I realized I had—somehow—fallen into a sort of half-asleep trance, my thumb still poised in the air. Blinking, feeling rather slow and lackluster, I groggily looked up to find the source of the car horns.

And was startled to find a dark-green Mazda van pulled to the side of the road, just a few yards to my left, with a woman—short hair, with a good deal of roundness about her—getting out of it, coming up to the side of her vehicle and, with a hand shaded across her eyes, calling, "Do you need a ride?"

Guess it was destiny crossed my mind even as I started picking up my bags.

--

The woman, I found out, was Cindy.

She didn't give me her last name, and I didn't give her mine. And yet somehow, in the territory of the unknown and wrapped in a shroud of secrecy, I found a friend in Cindy.

This was probably because the first thing she said to me when we were both in the car was, "Do you want some French fries? I just stopped at McDonalds."

And then she promptly answered her urgently ringing cell phone.

I slowly pulled some French fries out of the bag, studying the woman out of the corner of my eye. The action of answering her cell phone—even as I thought it, her phone clicked off, gave her three seconds, and then promptly rang again—was so familiar it was eerie. My mom, a budding real estate agent, had much the same routine. McDonalds, constantly ringing cell phone, life on the road…

Cindy nodded to no one and ended her call ("You'll see progress soon, don't worry, Jack.") before triumphantly clicking off her phone and chucking it into her purse.

"My boss will execute me for that," she said easily, unwrapping her sausage-crammed biscuit, swaddled in a blanket of grease.

"Sorry…"

"Oh, it's not your fault, dear," she answered quickly through a mouthful of sandwich. " I need a break to eat breakfast, anyways." Despite her full mouth, the words came out distinct and easily understandable—the talent of someone who lived to eat and run, I concluded.

When I didn't say anything out loud, she took a sip from her Diet Coke and glanced at me. "So, Maria, where would you like me to take you?"

Ah, the moment of truth.

As eager as I was for the answer, my words came out stumbled and awkward. "Um, I'm heading for—well, if you could take me to Tyrone, I'd—Tyrone, Kansas, please. I'd really appreciate it. " I spat the last few words out quickly, mentally groaning. Why couldn't I just talk straight, say what I meant without sounding stupid?

Cindy didn't look offended by my choppy answer: she simply took another sip of her drink and looked thoughtful.

"I'm sorry, Maria, I don't think I know where Tyrone is. Which is astonishing, considering my profession." She laughed softly to herself. "But I can't say I've ever heard of Tyrone. Is there any particular county you were looking for, perhaps?"

I only dimly remembered giving her an answer, saying something about Harvey County, because I was struggling to keep my facial expressions from giving me away.

The Internet hadn't been wrong, after all.

I tried to think rationally: it wasn't entirely inconceivable that Cindy didn't know where my destination was. In fact, it was quite probable, as Tyrone was apparently a small town, not well known. It really made sense that one woman didn't know what it was or where it was.

It was just the rest of what I knew about Tyrone that made it a little harder to stomach. The green-eyed animals, for example.

I shook off those thoughts and tried to concentrate on Cindy, who was answering me.

"Oh, Harvey County? Let's see…yes, if I swing north, I could drop you off there, a bit north of Wichita. Would that work?"

I got the distinct feeling that she was going to be altering her course. "I don't want you to change where you're going, just for me, Cindy—"

"Don't worry about it," she said firmly.

"Are you sure?"

Her tone became faintly annoyed. "Yes, I'm sure!" she said emphatically.

When I cringed at her sharp reply, she smiled a bit. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you, but if I wasn't sure, I would tell you. If I didn't really want to it, I wouldn't, trust me."

She drank again from her Diet Coke, now dewy and noticeably emptier, and seeing it made me think of Andy: hooked-fish smile, planes, and…

"Cindy," I said suddenly. "Do you call Coke pop or soda?"

She didn't even bat an eyelash. "Pop," she replied.

I smiled a little, and grabbed another French fry. Suddenly it didn't seem like I was two thousand miles away from home anymore.

"Why?"

"Oh, no reason…" I answered carefully, trying for a tone of casual innocence. I didn't quite pull it off—Cindy gave me a suspicious look—but she questioned the subject no further, so I decided I was safe.

A while later, while I was staring out the window, marveling at how easily I could see places miles away, I realized that Cindy talking again. I turned my head when I heard my name, and found she was staring directly at me. She gave me a small smile, returned her gaze forward, and asked, " So, Maria…have you ever been to Kansas before?"

I felt the first small stirrings of unease. She wanted to know more.

"No, it's my first time here," I replied, looking away and out of the window again, hoping this would signal the end of the conversation.

Cindy wasn't easily shaken off, however.

"Never been here before? You don't travel much, then, with your parents?" she asked, voice casual, as if she were discussing the sunny, hot weather.

'No' probably won't deter her much. How unfortunate.

I continued staring out the window; it would be obvious I was hiding something, but I knew my face would give me away.

"Not really…"

"No? Not big travelers? They don't travel for their jobs or anything?" The questions were fired rapidly, as if Cindy was Jesse James, quick-shooting his revolver

I gave up my stand in one fluid motion, turning abruptly to face Cindy and attempting a blank expression.

"No." I said softly, with as much dignity as I could summon.

My voice squeaked a little, which sort of ruined the effect, but Cindy got the message.

We traveled in silence—when Cindy wasn't talking on the phone, anyway—until we stopped at a Sheetz to get gas. Cindy hopped out of the van and into the smell of gas, after telling me I could go inside and use the bathroom if I needed to. She then worked her way over to the pump, expertly slinging the nozzle into the gas tank and waiting, arms crossed, for it to fill. Hoping she wasn't going to leave without me, since we hadn't spoken after the confrontation earlier, I walked quickly into the Sheetz. Not only was I afraid Cindy would leave, but it was hot. I could practically feel the moisture being dredged from my body as I stood out in the intense sun. It was about two o'clock, according the Cindy's van. There was definitely sufficient heat for it to be labeled "hottest part of the day."

After using the scummy restroom and trying to erase out of my mind the image of the scented condoms sold in a dirty wall dispenser, I wandered out into the store. It was relatively small compared to the Sheetz in Pennsylvania. There, where Turkey Hill's and Wawa's were top-flight competitors who fought to the bitter end for any advantage, Sheetz maximized profits through large stores and the cheapest gas you could sell without losing irreparable amounts of money.

Three small aisles filled the majority of the store; one wall was armed with cold drinks and ice cream, while the other three contained, respectively, magazines, drink and food machines, and a register. After slipping my hand into my pocket and making sure Andy's money was still safely hidden within linty depths, I marched over to the magazine rack and picked up a People. I hated the star magazines—Hollywood was a big soap opera, and People and Us Weekly didn't help the fact that movie stars thought they were better then most other people—but my mother and Cindy were similar enough that I knew she would appreciate it. Despite our tense talk earlier, I still wanted to thank Cindy somehow for taking me in, of sorts. And what better way to thank someone than with a magazine filled with rumors, boobs, and scandals, right?

After buying the magazine—the cashier boy's eyes nearly bugged out of his head when he saw the twenty I used to pay—I half-ran outside, purchase tucked away under my shirt, for lack of better place to hide it. I couldn't shake the small voice that told me, rather nastily, that Cindy would probably take off without me when she had the chance, now that she knew I was keeping something from her.

It was a very nice thing, then, to tell the voice Ha when I saw the van still parked and Cindy welcoming me back with a smile. Evidently she wasn't too bothered by what had happened earlier.

Which was good, because being stranded at a gas station was only second to my plane giving up about a state away from where I wanted to be.

Cindy promptly opened her door when I reached the van, and said quickly, "Bathroom! I'll be right back," before hurrying into the Sheetz. I got the feeling that she had been doing a jig while she was waiting for the gas tank to fill: she gave off an impression of a woman with a bladder slow to be filled and quickly needing to be released.

Smiling a little, I climbed into the van and put the People magazine into my book bag. While I waited for Cindy to return, I checked out my surroundings through the window, something I had been doing for the last thirty miles.

Since I had left Andy and the plane, the scenery hadn't changed much. Flat was apparently the name of the game out here in the west. Coming from Pennsylvania, with its fair share of miles of flat farmlands, I decided that the immense, crop-filled fields that I had thought were annoyingly level paled in comparison to Kansas. The fields I had grown up with were a cheap imitation of the absolute plains of this state.

I bet if you stood on top of the roof of your house, you could your entire county, I thought, imagining the concept. Heck, I could probably see Tyrone from here, if I went high enough.

My thoughts were interrupted by Cindy returning to the van. I gave her a hesitant smile as she climbed into the driver's seat, which she returned as soon as she was settled.

"You know, Maria—" she began. I stiffened, fearing another inquisition. "If you wanted to read, there are some books in the back. You could dig through them, if you'd like."

Relieved, I relaxed into my seat. "Thanks, Cindy, but…" I started to answer, wanting to explain about my inability to read anything in the car, due to incredible motion sickness. Before the words had left my mouth, I caught sight of one of the books lying on the ground, and hastily changed my reply. "…but, um, I'd have to sit in the back. Motion sickness…"

My answer made absolutely no sense—being carsick gets worse in the backseat, you dummy! I scolded myself—but luckily Cindy was preoccupied with getting back onto the highway, and didn't seem to notice the stupidity of my answer. "That's fine, dear," she said absently, slamming the van forward onto the road, which caused both of us to jerk back in our seats. "Go right ahead."

Well, there was another similarity between my mother and Cindy, anyway. I grinned as I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed into the middle seats. Being a fast, crazy driver must be a universal real estate agent thing.

Once I was settled and re-buckled, I picked up the book that had caught my eye.

Holy Bible, NRSV, decorated the front of the small black bible, the gold lettering a stark contrast to the dark hue of the front cover and the red tint of the pages.

Knowing I would only get a few minutes before carsickness set it, I quickly flipped the bible open to a random chapter and started reading.

And continued reading, working through several books of the New Testament. I spot-read, catching a few phrases here and there: some of the stuff was too boring to attempt to cover it all. But despite having to skim over several genealogies, I found myself unusually intrigued by some of the stories that were being told. I had never quite thought of the bible as a collection of stories, but it sure seemed that way to me.

It was about a half-hour later that I realized I had been reading for more than five minutes without getting carsick

I put down the bible, frowning. Glancing around on the floor, I picked up a random book –Money and How You Can Make It—and started into it, taking care to spot-read as I had with the bible. After only a few minutes, I felt the nausea creeping in—feeling sick, as I always did when I read in the car, I put Money down and sat, head on my knees, for a few moments.

After I had recovered slightly, I retrieved the bible and started reading it again.

Not a hint of carsickness.