The day she got out of prison, Aubrey realized she had gained more weight while serving time than she ever had when she was a free woman. She had unfortunate love handles now, and when she caught her reflection in a closed store window she noticed that her face seemed slightly pudgy and soft. The memory of her grandmother's jowls echoed in her own cheeks as they started to sag. She stood for probably fifteen minutes that day, in the abandoned store front, just looking at herself, wondering if she had ever been pretty at all.
She wandered around the nondescript town for awhile, admiring the people that chose to live in a community known for and sustained strictly by the federal penitentiary. Most of them were slightly fat, like her. In fact, most of them looked a good deal like her. They wore ill-fitting jeans, sandals or off-brand tennis shoes, and oversized t-shirts. Some of the t-shirts sported the names of ancient events, like bachelor parties, superbowls from years gone by, or the 20th anniversary of Disneyworld. The day was humid, as usual, so most of the citizens moved as slowly down the sidewalk as the droplets of sweat slid down their necks and backs. Somewhere a little girl played in a sprinkler. Everyone seemed to envy her, but should the passersby linger for very long they would become aware of a nearby watchful father in his rocking chair, abiding under the shade provided by his porch. The scene made Aubrey think of Maggie, and that reminded her that she didn't have much time if she wanted to catch the last bus out.
It was dusk by the time Aubrey got to the truckstop. It looked like the place to be on any kind of night, with a packed parking lot and a host of large trucks glowing with a sense of coziness as they lined up in their designated zones. Aubrey always liked the idea of being a truck driver, of having your home with you always, like a snail. You could see the world that way, Aubrey thought, and get paid to boot. As Aubrey admired the machines she decided that once she and Maggie were together again she would get her truck driver's license and they could go on all sorts of adventures together. Smiling at the thought, Aubrey went inside.
It was blissfully crowded and smoky inside, and Aubrey was thankful for it. She didn't feel as though she was any different from any of them in this truckstop or in this town. They were all trapped here, for some reason or another, even the innocents were chained to the business of chains. All that is except the truckdrivers-- they were magic. She squinted through the smoke shield assembled by cigarettes that seemed to have been burning since 9AM that morning-- and judging by the wear on some of the patron's faces and the sandpaper in their voices, that assessment was probably not far off. Beside the cashier's counter there was a series of small shelves, a tiny postcard kiosk, and a single rack with Texas pride t-shirts, some of them with mismarked sizes, all of them square and short in that way that only tourist apparel can be. Aubrey examined them and decided to get a pink one in a size M. She hoped Maggie had not gotten too big or too fat, and that she still liked pink.
Clutching her chosen prize, Aubrey looked at the collection of goofy, characteristic clocks hanging on the backwall. Most of them seemed to tell her that the bus was 45 minutes from arriving. She began to casually peruse the place for a seat, but neither the scouting nor the casual part proved to be all that easy. Oversized men with beer bellies seemed to be the key demographic, with one taking up an entire booth and the others scattered about at random. A group of teenagers made up another high percentage, seeming intent on causing the youngest in their hoard to get "shitfaced" while Aubrey overheard the word "chug!" slurred more than once in five minutes. In the corner there was a couple whispering dirty somethings into the ears of oneanother. Aubrey took a seat a good distance from them, but remained parelell so that their table might stay within her line of sight. She watched them from the corner of her eye as she ordered a drink from the overstressed waitress, and kept conscious of their chuckling while she lit the first of a fresh marlboro pack. She remembered what all that was like, kind of. It had been a real long time, but she could recall what it was to have a man around, even if he was the barfly type.
"Keepin' watch on the happy couple, I see?" The question startled Aubrey, and for a second she wondered if it had come from her own head. Looking up proved otherwise. Standing over her was a square, well-built man in a dark blue shirt. Aubrey averted her eyes, bringing them back to the cigarette in her hand and the way in which her fingers rested on the sticky table. The man laughed.
"Ah now, didn't mean to bother you, I was just making a joke," he said, then tapped the ring on his finger against the back of a spare chair. "Mind if I sit with you?" Aubrey looked up through her frizzed, untreated hair, her long-faded dye job that had been attempted by a fellow inmate, her raging split ends that took on new visibility in the strange truckstop light.
"No," she said. "Yes, I mean you can. If you want." The man did. He was younger than Aubrey, by about five years, she guessed. Maybe more. Aubrey took a drag and an excuse to look at his face. She reckoned that she now looked alot older than she really was, and that her new friend probably thought she was old enough to be his mother.
While her body rejoiced in gratitude for nicotine replenishment, the man put on the cowboy hat he had been holding. The hat looked relatively new and its cleanliness made it look awkward on his head. "Are you a cowboy?" Aubrey asked.
"Only in my mind," he said. "I drive a truck." Aubrey brightened.
"One of those out there?" She asked.
He nodded. "Yep. I'm coming from Amarillo, headed to Oklahoma."
Aubrey gave him her attempt at a smile. She hadn't smiled for a very long time, and the act felt unnatural. Now she grinned with her lips covering her teeth, some of which she had lost, the rest which had yellowed over the past few years. Regardless, the cowboy seemed charmed.
"You have a nice smile, miss." Aubrey laughed, flattered, until her eyes caught up with the cowboy's grin. Her smile remained unchanged, but her earnestness faded at the assessment of her companion's face.
"I'm old enough to be your grandma," she fibbed.
The cowboy wasn't shaken. "I like my grandma."
He looked at the neatly folded pink shirt at Aubrey's elbow. "You have a kid?" Aubrey pulled the shirt closer towards her chest but her face softened.
"Yes. Her name's Maggie."
"How old is she?" The cowboy asked.
Aubrey opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out. She closed up and tried to think quickly, to give a number, any number, but the cowboy already saw that she had lost count. "Five," she muttered, looking away. The cowboy looked at the size printed on the shirt.
"I don't think this is gonna fit her, then," he said smartly, but there was a hint of pity in his voice.
The two sat quietly for the next few minutes, listening to songs on the modern jukebox that Aubrey had never heard but which the cowboy seemed to know. Aubrey's head began to swim in the sea of cigarette smoke and dreams, and her eyelids sank a little bit. Finally, the cowboy, who had been watching her weariness increase, smiled warmly and touched her shoulder, and this time there was nothing wolfish in his demeanor. "Where you goin' now, lady?" Aubrey's eyes flew to the clocks. An hour had passed.
"The bus!" She yelped, but she knew it was gone. There was no good in running outside and peering through the dusk. Her back tightened and then gave way, and she crumpled around the tiny t-shirt. After what seemed like hours, the cowboy touched at her shoulder again.
"Lady, I'll give you a ride. If you're goin' my way, I'll give you a lift." Aubrey's eyes fluttered open.
"Really?" The cowboy nodded, his smile spreading across his handsome face. "In your truck?" Aubrey asked, only realizing how stupid a question was once it had escaped. The cowboy nodded good-naturedly, and something about the gesture made Aubrey think of Harold. She had loved Harold. Her hands sprang to grasp his wrists in gratitude. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!" The cowboy looked down at his hands, and Aubrey drew back. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm just so surprised!" Flustered, she gathered her ragged beaded purse and the treasured t-shirt. "Can I use the little girl's room real quick?" She asked, with all the emphasis of a child. The cowboy couldn't help but laugh.
"Yeah, of course, of course."
Filled with hope once again, Aubrey clutched her inventory and flew through the crowd towards the marked "lady's room" in the back corner. The cowboy watched her go, and only then did he notice the lights from the police cars outside. Shaking, his hands reached for the keys in his pocket and he began to examine them as casually as he could, making sure each was free of blood, wondering which one belonged to the truck, wondering how they had found out so quickly. But the lights had not come for him.