Chapter One: One the Road Again
Divorce. The word stuck and burned in her craw like a bad shot of whiskey. Ginny sat on the hard bench of the bus stop, and with a snap of the rubber band, she brushed up her russet red hair into a severe knot. Two weeks ago to the day, Michael had come to her asking for a divorce. Blaming her for their inability to conceive children, he explained ever so matter-of-factly that he had found his true soulmate in Trixie. Trixie, the blond tart, who was barely old enough to buy her own alcohol. My husband left me for a younger woman. Oh, it was so cliché. It was so cliché she could make a t-shirt out of it.
The worst part was she wasn’t even heart-broken. She was mad, oh hell yes, she was infuriated. Mostly, she was infuriated with herself for failing at her marriage. All her life, she had done everything right. She got the right grades, she got the right degree, she got the right job and the right husband, and they shared a perfect little home on the upper West Side. But the more she examined her life, the more she saw nothing was right. Their perfect little home looked exactly like a Crate & Barrel catalogue: modern, chic, well-matched – and completely devoid of people. It ached to know she could never bear children; that she would never hear the little pitter-pat of tiny feet padding down their wood hallway. She was a rising star at Madden & Sloan Investments, but rather than feeling inspired to go to work in the mornings, she felt beleaguered by suicidal tendencies that lasted until her second cup of coffee. The perfect marriage, between two well-moneyed families, was dissolving before her very eyes, and what burned her more than anything was that when she looked on her life all she felt was boredom. She was dull. That’s right, Virginia McCleary, who aced every little thing, had failed at the biggest thing of all: her life.
So, with that realization, Ginny had set off for a month’s vacation through Europe. She left everything to be dealt with later, as she took the time and space she needed to get some fresh perspective. Her initial plan had been to just visit London, Paris, and Rome and see the usual sights. But at the urging of her best friend, Dee, she opted at the last minute for a bus tour from London to Bucharest. She traveled light, and moved with efficiency, so she imagined a bus ride would be a charming way to see the countryside and not much less convenient than a train.
She had taken a weekend side-trip from Brussels to Paris, because, after all, one cannot miss Paris. But then getting back to Brussels had been a nightmare. Her schoolgirl’s French had failed her and she had accidentally gotten on the wrong bus. Instead of the bus towards Lille, she found herself on the one to Toulouse, and with much flurry and rapid, indignant French, she had to backtrack and renegotiate a ticket as best she could. She had barely made it to Brussels in time for her 6 a.m. ride onward to Bucharest. Her bus would arrive in twenty minutes, and absolutely nothing would stop her from getting on the correct bus this time.
She checked her bags for the umpteenth time and reread her tickets, practicing French words like votre billet and s’il vous plaît in her head, when she saw two large men’s boots in the corner of her vision.
She looked up and gaped at the tall man standing before her. He was a vision, with blond, wavy, shoulder-length hair, a full brown beard, and an easy smile. With clothes wrinkled and dirty, he looked like he’d been traveling for years. So not her type – and yet somehow so masculine and delicious. His blue eyes twinkled at her expression, as he gestured towards the empty spot on the bench. In a deep baritone, he said, “Excuse-moi, est-ce que cette place est libre?”
She blinked at him and nodded. “Of course. Yes. Oui, bien sûr.”
He smiled broadly. “Ah. You’re American,” he said with some relief, in an accent that marked him as a Californian.
Ginny felt offended, though she realized how obvious it was. She watched surreptitiously as he heaved off his heavy backpack, plunked down on the bench, and spread himself out wide across the bench. She sat primly on her edge as he rested his long, golden bronze arm across the back of the bench and sighed loudly and contentedly. He looked bemused as he studied her. She avoided his gaze.
“So where are you headed?”
In a tone that indicated very clearly she did not want a conversation, she said, “I’m taking the bus to Liege, and heading on towards Romania.” She briefly considered pulling out a book, but then thought maybe that would be a shade too rude. She hoped he would get the message without her having to resort to such measures.
Apparently not. “Hey, that’s great!” he exclaimed. “I’m taking that bus too. Although, I’m not going all the way to Bucharest; I’m gonna’ switch lines in Germany and head up to St. Petersburg from there.”
Well, that’s a relief, she thought. She said, “That should be a good trip.”
“Yeah, I think it should be,” he said, settling down more comfortably on the steel bench. “Though frankly, I think I might prefer to spend a little more time in Europe before heading over to Russia so soon.”
“Mm-hmm,” she said primly, keeping her eyes focused on the buses pulling in and out of the station.
He jabbed her lightly on the shoulder, “You never know. Maybe I could go to Bucharest with you.” When she gaped at him, he burst into a loud, deep laugh. “Oh, we’re gonna’ be great friends, I can tell. You’re so easy to mess with.”
Several responses flew through her head, but as none of them were very polite, she settled on, “Hmm.”
Thankfully, her bus rolled into the station. With a small sigh of relief, she wished him a good trip, gathered up her suitcase and purse, and trotted over to the two-story bus. She ensured the driver double-checked her ticket for her. Then she climbed up to the top level and ambled over to a window seat in the middle of the bus. She organized her things and settled into her seat. Other passengers began to file in around her, and the air filled with a pastiche of Dutch, French, and German phrases.
Looking up, she realized the bus was nearly full, and two remaining passengers searched for seats: an elderly gentleman, who looked like he belonged on a rustic vineyard, and behind him, the rude blonde man from the station. She gestured quickly towards the gentleman, attracting his attention to the empty seat beside her. “Vous pouvez s’asseoir ici, si vous voulez,” she said, smiling sweetly. The gentleman smiled, and looking relieved, sat down beside her. Ginny could feel the backpacker’s eyes boring into her as he walked past, but she kept her focus on helping the elderly man beside her get comfortable.
With a loud rush of air, and the jerk of shifting gears, the bus roared to life, shut its doors, and rolled out of the station.(to be continued…)
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part II here.