Bus Ride to Bucharest (Epilogue)

Epilogue: Better Man

Six years later…

It was a whisper of a thrill that first caught her attention.

Ginny sat on a tall stool at the kitchen counter, polishing the silver tea service. She glanced up absentmindedly, looking, with the ingrained habit of mothers always keeping tabs on their young, out the bright open window to see her daughter laughing and chasing butterflies in the garden. Her daughter glowed like sunshine, with golden-russet hair and wide green eyes like her own, and the full lips and indomitable heart of Eric. Every so often, she wondered about him: where he had gone, what he was doing, and whether he was happy. But her business and life as a mother kept her forever moving, and loving, and enjoying. Her heart was at peace. If she was sometimes lonely for adult conversation, her customers supplied wonderful diversions. If occasionally she longed for another warm body at night, she pulled her daughter in closer.

Until the girl turned sideways in the bed and thrashed her in the belly.

But in this moment, she sensed a presence before she heard a sound. Her heart palpitated slightly, nervously, like a wary jackrabbit, before her mind could even register why.

She turned in her stool, and found a man standing in her doorway.

“I apologize,” he said in Romanian. “I saw the door was open. I wasn’t sure if I should ring or just come in.”

She smiled warmly and got up, toweling off her hands as she did. “Come in! Of course!” she replied in kind. She had worked hard to acquire a proper Romanian accent. She fit in well enough most of the time, but a few sounds were still hard for her to get past her tongue. “How may I help you?”

She took in his tall, broad-shouldered build; he was tall for Eastern European. He had salt and pepper dark hair, the few grey hairs only making him look more distinguished. He wore a trim, tailored suit, warm blue eyes, and a confident smile.

“Yes, thank you. I am looking for accommodation. Your place comes highly recommended. I was hoping you might have room?”

“For how many nights?”

“Let’s say four to start.”

“And just yourself, or…?”

“Just me, yes, thank you.”

She flipped through her schedule books and told him about the rooms available and costs. He chose a room and she gave him the paperwork to fill out. She felt a strong tug as she watched the way he gripped his pen and scrawled his name. Andrei. It had a nice weight as she rolled it silently over her tongue. She tried not to notice that he wore no wedding ring.

“Are you here on business, or for pleasure?” she asked.

“Business.”

She didn’t want to pry, but he must have seen the interested look in her face. “I have a business in Bucharest,” he explained. She thrilled over the way he said Bucuresti, in rich accent. “But I hear Sibiu is growing and I am thinking to expand here.”

She nodded and smiled politely. “Yes, Sibiu is lovely, but it is true it is expanding quite quickly. Let me show you to your room.”

They chatted amiably as they walked up the stairs, but Ginny felt light-headed as her heart pounded with the deep thrum of a gong in her chest. Some years ago, she might have brushed it off as mere attraction. But she had learned to listen to herself. She had learned it the hard way. And in the years since, she had become well-practiced. Having a child was like a crash course in fine-tuning your attention to intuition.

They stood close as she gave her usual welcome spiel about the inn’s amenities and Sibiu’s attractions. She breathed in his deep masculine scent. She wanted to close her eyes and breathe him in forever.

He smiled warmly at her. “The delights of Sibiu, as you describe them, do indeed sound inviting. Perhaps I shall find reason to stay longer.”

She blushed under the intensity of his gaze. “Here is your key,” she said. They brushed hands as he took the key from her and lingered over the touch.

“Many thank yous, Rosu.” Red. He’d called her Red.

She gaped, wide-eyed at him.

He looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to be so forward! I must confess, I was distracted by your lovely hair. It is not often I see such a color. But that was wrong of me. Please forgive my indiscretion.”

“No,” she said. “It wasn’t wrong. The astonishing thing is that it is so right.”

And thus it began. She took a leap of faith with him. He loved her slowly, he loved her with heat, and he loved her with strength. He took her daughter in as his own, and when they made a second daughter together, he folded them equally into his arms. And there never was a day she ever regretted having made the jump.

Bus Ride to Bucharest (part XIV)

Chapter Fourteen: In the Deep

But it’s impossible! She couldn’t have kids…. That was the reason her marriage had started to fall apart in the first place!

She counted the days again. No mistaking it, she was late.

She chewed her lip and obsessively tugged at her hands all the way to the drugstore, where she grabbed a handful of pregnancy tests and tossed them on the counter, no doubt alarming the lady behind the register with her rabid expression. Half-formed thoughts and anxieties plagued her as she sat in the taxi to get back to the hotel. Traffic lurched along at mind-numbingly slow speeds. A Romanian version of “Hotel California” played on the radio, and the mish-mashed English grated in Ginny’s ears, as she was no Eagles fan even on a good day. She entertained thoughts of hopping out and running to the hotel instead.

When the taxi finally arrived at the hotel, she hopped out, throwing bills at the driver without a care for change. She had only thoughts of getting to the privacy of her hotel bathroom. She tore open the packages, which proved more difficult than usual, since she was in such a rush. Then she sat and waited for her body to get on board with the test requirements. Which it didn’t. She ran to the hotel room fridge and chugged a bottle of water. Then she went back to the bathroom and waited more. A minute. Two. Two and a half. Finally!

Then she waited for the test results. Her hands trembled under the sink faucet. She splashed her face with cool water and stared at herself counting the seconds in her head until she reached three minutes. She did it again to be sure. Then she dared to look.

There was no denying that bright pink plus sign.

Ginny blinked at it, sitting there in her hand. She was struck by the irony of the whole thing: years of trying with Michael, years of being blamed for her infertility, and all it took was one night with Eric.

She waited to feel dismay. She waited to feel angry. Sad, frightened, worried, upset, a sense that life was officially over, shame even.

What she wasn’t expecting was total, complete happiness. Ginny felt blessedly, unabashedly happy. Thrilled. As if, in this one little pink plus sign, her life was made complete. She imagined a baby, wondered what it would look like: this miniature blend of herself and Eric. She felt relief that the father was Eric, rather than Michael, and laughed at herself for it. It felt right, that this man whose spirit she admired should always be with her, in this little charm he’d left behind.

So it was, on the following day, with a smile on her face and with dreams of babies and bed & breakfasts that she crossed over into Bucharest. After a long trip full of breakdowns and wrong turns and wretched, luckless eventualities, Ginny finally arrived in Bucharest. The last jaunt of her trip was smooth and problem-free, save for the biggest eventuality of her life. It seemed the minute Ginny stopped fighting herself and chose to meet the world on her own terms, was the minute the world stopped fighting her.

She reached the end of her journey and felt nothing so surely as that this end was, in truth, the beginning. She wanted nothing more than to turn right back around to Sibiu to claim the house as her own.

And so she did.

She handled the practicalities of getting a visa to stay in the country, to purchase the property and to set up a new life with remarkable ease and aplomb. She sent an email to Michael, politely requesting the finalized divorce papers, taking care to make clear further communication between them would be unnecessary. She finally called Dee and, after many shrieks and exclamations of “No way!”, they  immediately made plans to fly Dee out for a visit. Then she began shopping for things to fill her home and turn it into a business.

She walked past a shop selling baby clothes, and when she spied tiny baby booties, her heart melted. She entered the store and came out an hour and a half later, toting three full bags.

Was her heart happy? Did she ever worry about the enormous task of raising a child on her own? The answer to both questions was yes. Yet she never questioned the rightness of her decision. As unorthodox as it might be, it was the first honest decision she had made in a really long time. It was the first decision that came from her heart and not from her fears. She wondered, if she had a way to reach Eric, would she tell him? A large part of her jealously guarded her new life, sensing this path was one to take on her own.

For the first time in her life, she felt strong and capable enough to do it.

When Dee came a few weeks later, she brought Ginny’s cello. Ginny pulled it out of its case, lovingly dusted it off and adjusted the strings. She sat back in her chair, closed her eyes, and began to play.

(Stay tuned! Next week is the finale!)

Bus Ride to Bucharest (Part XIII)

Chapter Thirteen: Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand

No matter how right the decision, parting ways turned out to be more difficult than Ginny had anticipated. As the hour of departure approached, they spent lengths of time together without speaking, just lingering over heavy thoughts and half-finished cups of coffee. When the time came, too quickly, as these things always do, they stood in the noisy, busy terminal, barely noticing the crush of passengers milling around them.

Ginny spoke first. “I want to thank you, Eric.” The words were heavy in her throat, and sounded more formal than she had intended.

“What for, darling?”

“I can’t tell you how important you’ve been. These past couple of weeks – I don’t know. I just know I’m different now. This time has changed me. You’ve changed me.” It had all sounded far more eloquent in her head, and now she tripped over her words. How could she explain to him that she loved him for teaching her how to really live? Even though she wasn’t in love with him?

Eric laughed. “Is that a good thing?”

Ginny grinned. “I don’t know yet. I think so.” She gave a half-shrug.

“Listen. You know that place we saw? That fabulous house? I think you should go for it.”

She scoffed. “You do realize it’s in Romania? I have a life in the States. A job, friends…family. What am I gonna’ do with a place in Romania?”

“Well, you could vacation there, for a start. But really, you kept going on about opening up a B&B. Why don’t you do that? Sounds like you’d like it far more than your current job.”

A blush rose to her cheeks. “I mentioned that, did I?”

“Oh, once or twice. Or maybe a dozen times. But seriously, what’s for you in the States? You’ve only complained about your life there. This is an opportunity some people only ever dream about. And here it’s at your fingertips.”

“But I have family in the States. Some. I see them occasionally.” Repeating it only made her claim sound weaker. She positively squirmed under his line of questions.

A voice called over the loud speaker, announcing the departure of Eric’s bus.

“Listen, Red. I gotta go. But just promise me you’ll think about it, okay?”

“But it’s such a ridic—“

“Just think about it. Promise me.”

She folded her arms across her chest, bit her lip and nodded. “All right. I’ll think about it.”

“Good.” Eric embraced her warmly. “Take care of yourself now, Red.”

She nodded into his shoulder, not trusting herself to speak. He pulled away, sliding his hand down to give hers a final squeeze. Then he turned and hopped on the bus as it was shutting its doors, and thus left without a backward glance.

But in her hand, he had left a note.

With trembling finders and piqued curiosity, Ginny unfolded the scrap of paper, wondering, half hoping – and feeling foolish for doing so – if it was his phone number or address, or a promise to meet.

When she opened it up, it said:

Go for it Red. You deserve a slice of happiness.

There was a name and phone number on it, but not his. It was the name and number of the realtor managing the property.

*            *            *            *            *

Ginny did think about it. Obsessively. Finally, sick of her own thoughts crowding her head, she decided she needed a distraction. It was the evening before she would leave for Bucharest, after all. After all the debacles, she would finally arrive in Bucharest! She would finally make it! She couldn’t wait.

It’s about time I checked my email, she thought, realizing it had been weeks since she was last online. She was amazed at how difficult it could be to mentally disconnect from the rest of world, but how easy it was to forget all about it once you did.

She dropped into an internet café and logged in. A hundred and fifty emails. She groaned. Filtering through spam, she found one from her mother and a couple from work colleagues. She laughed at the eight emails from Dee demanding to know what happened after their last phone call, and put them aside to respond to later. Explaining all that had happened over the past couple of weeks would take a lot of time!

And then her heart stopped.

There sat one seemingly innocent little email. From Michael. Their first piece of communication since the divorce proceedings began, she knew it would be anything but innocent. Her palms leaked sweat as she clicked over his name.

Dearest Virginia (God, he always insisted on being so uptight!),
I have missed you more than I could ever express. How did we let things go so wrong? (Probably it began when you let your trousers down, thought Ginny angrily.) The relationship with Trixie is over. It ended the minute I realized what it meant to lose you. (Ginny snorted.) I can’t think without you. I can’t focus. Work is a nightmare. Nights alone…they’re unbearable.
Obviously, we have some issues to work through. Maybe we can see a counselor, and she can help you work through your problems of jealousy and control. I need to have some personal space to enjoy life and I don’t think it’s fair, for example, that I should have to call you when I come home late. I’m a husband, not a child, after all. I think maybe it would help you to talk to someone about where your issues stem from. Perhaps you did not receive enough attention from your parents as a child? Maybe a counselor would also have some advice to spice things up in the bedroom a bit. But anyway. That’s all beside the point, and they are relatively small issues I think we can resolve easily.
The point is, I love you and miss you terribly. I’m sure you must feel the same. I wonder how you must be able to cope so far away from home, without me. We had a beautiful life together. Don’t throw it all away.
Love,


Michael

The email ended with his full name and title and work address. Ginny fumed. She was so livid, she didn’t even know where to begin spewing vitriol. Mostly, she was angry at herself. How could she not have seen what kind of person Michael was sooner? Had she really put up with this for this long? Well, it was about time she grew a spine. Plenty of choice phrases came to mind to describe the precise way in which she would like to dispatch him from her life. ‘Screw you’ should be succinct enough, but Michael seemed so clueless, he probably wouldn’t even get that much. How long ago had he sent the email?

She checked the date. Six days ago…she pulled out her organizer and looked at the calendar. Wow, so much has happened in just a few weeks, she thought. Wait a minute…weeks…

She flipped through the calendar, struggling to remember for sure. Yes, definitely, right, she was sure. A small P marked the beginning of the last one.

Oh Holy God. A flush filled her entire body, her mouth went dry, and her stomach dropped to her knees and splattered on the floor.

She was four days late. She was never late.

(to be continued…)

Bus Ride to Bucharest (part xii)

Chapter Twelve: Waiting for the End

“Whoa! Whoa, whoa!” Eric raised up his hands in surrender.

The woman eyed them suspiciously, hoe still thrust towards them, though with somewhat less fervor. She said something they couldn’t comprehend. When they shook their heads, she repeated in English, “What you want?”

“We’re only looking!” cried Ginny. “It’s a beautiful place. We just wanted to see it up close.”

The woman lowered her hoe, but her look of skepticism was harder to shake.

“I love the windows and the garden and it seems like it could be such a happy place, but, you know, it’s just sitting kind of lonely. Does anybody live here or own it?” Ginny realized she was rambling, but couldn’t stop herself.

“Maybe yes, maybe no. You say you like?”

“Oh yes,” gushed Ginny. “It could be so wonderful! It…it speaks to me.”

At this, the old woman visibly relaxed and broke into a wide, toothless grin. “Oh-kay! Why you not say?” She laughed uproariously.

Ginny and Eric glanced at each other, unsure what was so funny. But the woman fumbled in her pocket and pulled out a large set of keys. “You like, I show.”

She waddled over to the front door, fussed at the lock, then pushed on the door. It stuck for a moment before giving way.

“You own this place?” asked Ginny.

“Not so much.”

Eric cocked an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”

“Eh, the woman who own, she is my friend. But she die and the family in Bucharest, they no take care.”

They walked into a wide, open foyer that lead to an airy sitting room. Past the sitting room sat a cozy, sunlit kitchen and another open space with double doors leading to another garden in the back. Ginny was transfixed. She ran her hands over the beautiful carved wood counters, envisioning the cinnamon and vanilla infused baked goods that would come from the antique oven. She could see hanging flowers along the bright windows and plush couches arranged in comfortable and conversational ways.

A chandelier hung over the staircase. With some work at dusting, that chandelier could gleam so prettily, thought Ginny as she climbed the stairs to see the four bedrooms above. Two had private bathrooms; the other two shared a third bath. That would make for a great family space, Ginny caught herself thinking as possibilities for a bed and breakfast danced before her eyes.

“Hey, Red, come check this out!”

Ginny danced her way downstairs. Eric was already in the backyard. She followed him outside. “What’s up?”

He pointed to a smaller cottage in the back. “Maid’s quarters?”

“No way,” breathed Ginny.

The old woman pulled out another key and opened up the cottage for them. It was a perfect little space with a bedroom, and a living room with a fireplace and romantic nook and window seat. Ginny twirled around on the hardwood floors. “Oh this place is delicious!”

The old woman grinned. “You like? You buy!”

Ginny laughed. “That would be amazing, but I’m sure I couldn’t afford something like this.” Not to mention it’s in friggin’ Romania, she thought to herself.

Eric sent her a scrutinizing look, then asked the woman, “How much?”

“One nigh-tee.”

“One ninety-five thousand? Lei?”

She nodded vigorously and grinned. “Yes. One nigh-tee towsand lei.”

Ginny looked at Eric. “What’s that in dollars?”

“Three to the dollar…you’re looking at sixty-three grand.”

It was a punch to her gut. “Sixty three thousand?”

“Give or take.”

Sixty-three thousand, give or take, was exactly what she had saved up as a nest egg. She’d have to cash in some investments, but yeah, she could swing it. And yet, a small part of her died a little at the thought. It had been money she’d saved for a child, imagining college, private music or horse-riding lessons…. It was secret money; she hadn’t even told Michael. It was going to be a surprise for him when they got pregnant. But then that had never happened. And then they had found out it couldn’t happen. Yet Ginny never stopped putting money away, for some part of her, beyond all reason, had never given up. She wasn’t sure she’d ever feel ready to give up.

They thanked the woman and headed back towards the road. Just as they reached the gate, the woman called out to them. They turned, and she waddled up to Ginny and took her hand into her own, soft, cool, wrinkled one. She said something in Romanian. At Ginny’s puzzled look, the woman squeezed her hand and repeated the words, then let go.

“Oh-kay! Bye-bye!” She waved, smiled her wide, toothless grin, and took her leave.

“What did she say?” wondered Ginny.

Eric shrugged. “No idea.”

They stayed together in Sibiu for several more days, but Ginny could not stop thinking about the place. Visions of a bed and breakfast kept dancing in her head. When she wasn’t thinking about the house, though, she thought about Eric. Their time together was quickly coming to an end. In two days he would catch a transfer to St. Petersburg and she would continue on to Bucharest. She couldn’t decipher her feelings. They hadn’t slept together since the incident, but instead fallen into a calm ease with each other. There was no more heady rush of lust, but when she looked at him, she felt a glowing warmth in her chest. Here was someone to love.

But if she was honest with herself, she wasn’t in love with him. And the thought of trying to fit in his lifestyle? Laughable. She was all cozy comforts and planning and predictability. He was off someplace new every other week. He was a man destined to roam. No, he needed someone more adventurous. Someone game for spontaneity. Someone like…

“I wish you could meet my friend, Dee.”

Eric lowered his newspaper. “Oh yeah? How so?”

Ginny smiled and shrugged “Nothing, it’s just…I think you two would get along really well.”

He went back to reading and Ginny marveled at her newfound understanding. After all she had been through with Michael, it was empowering to learn she could love so well. She had learned to love freely and openly. No strings, no limitations, no pressure for commitment and no drive to force a romance out of something that didn’t fit. She could see the beauty in a person and love them for who they were, simply and without complication. Loving someone does not always mean marrying him. There are all kinds of love and ways and reasons to love someone, and it takes something much bigger than “maybe I should” to truly commit.

It felt as if a burden had been lifted and it gave her hope that when the right one came along, she could see it for what it was, and not be distracted by all the wrong ones. After Michael, she learned the right one was worth waiting for. After Eric, she learned she was worth waiting for.

(to be continued…)

Bus Ride to Bucharest (Part XI)

Chapter Eleven: Prelude for Time Feelers

“Come with me.”

“What’s that?” Eric looked up from the newspaper he was reading. They were sitting in a café in Cologne two hours before his transfer to the line bound towards St. Petersburg.

“Come with me to Romania.” It was a little crazy to request, but Ginny wasn’t ready to say good-bye to him yet.

He folded his paper, and put it down thoughtfully, though truth was, his mind was made the minute she asked.

She saw the smile in his eyes though. “Yeah?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he grinned.

Switching his ticket was a simple matter and within hours they were on their way to Romania.

He looked at her then. Sunlight filtered through the side window, and lit the edges of her hair golden red, a bright warm contrast against her pale skin and cool green eyes. He noticed she had started wearing her hair down loose and shiny these days. It softened her a bit. With the flowing white skirt and sea-green cowl-necked blouse she wore, she somehow seemed even more feminine and relaxed. She carried a delicate floral scent with a hint of cinnamon. He found he liked the change.

When they crossed the Romanian border without incident, Ginny laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“I’ve been all prepared to go with the flow with whatever next incident hit. Just figures once I calm down about the whole thing, it all goes smoothly.”

The Romanian countryside was like a fairytale. Ginny had thought Germany was impressive with all its castles and history. But Romania, with its impossibly lush and dark green landscape and towering, intricate spires, had to be the real-life inspiration for the myths and legends that had captured her imagination as a child. She couldn’t resist pressing her face to the window, and when she saw the signs for Sibiu, she became more excited than she had been at any point prior on the trip. Her heart pattered inside her; she had a good feeling about this place.

Ginny was enraptured the moment she stepped foot in Sibiu, with its tiny streets and centuries-old architecture, all set against a mountainous backdrop. This time, it was she who led Eric around, so excited was she to discover the hidden delights of Sibiu’s nooks and crannies.

She pulled up short in front of a tiny shop. “Oh, baklava! Let’s get some!” They entered the charming shop, and Ginny devoured everything with her eyes. As she bit into her second honeyed-buttery nut-filled baklava, the large man behind the counter grinned at her.

“You are visiting?” he asked in broken English.

When they nodded, mouths full of treats, he asked, “You have time, a little?”

They looked at each other and shrugged. “Yeah we have time.”

The man beamed. “Then you go to Sibiel. Come, I show.”

They assumed he meant he would point the direction to some shop or another, but to their surprise he shut off the lights, locked up his shop, flipped the closed sign and brought them around to an old beige Trabant that looked like it had died seven years ago.

Ginny laughed. She was game for anything. They squeezed into the tiny car, prayed and cajoled together until the engine turned and cheered when it did. The shopkeeper drove them through the town, talking to them the whole while, but in a mixture of Romanian and something that might have been English but that neither could understand. Ginny was in too good a mood to care. She smiled and nodded in all the right places and the shopkeeper drove on.

They took the highway a few kilometers out of town and when Ginny saw Sibiel, it took her breath away. It was a tiny traditional town. With hill bound streams and horses, it looked untouched by time.

“That’s Sibiel?” she pointed and the shopkeeper nodded excitedly.

“Sibiel, yes!”

He pulled up beside a tavern and showed them inside. He spoke a few words with the bartender, who promptly sat them down and began plying them with beer, minced meat rolls, stewed cabbage, baked eggplant with garlic, and an assortment of sausages and cheese.

Eric laughed, “I guess we’re eating, then.” The shopkeeper turned to go back to his shop and he smiled and waved as they thanked him profusely.

But soon there was a commotion in the bar. A large group of chattering people entered the tavern, some in plain clothes, some in brightly colored traditional costumes. The women in traditional wear were bedecked with long flowing multi-colored skirts and shirts with long flowing sleeves. Coins and beads adorned their heads and belts. Several men carried musical instruments.

“I think they’re Roma gypsies,” said Eric.

“Gypsies? Really? Wow,” breathed Ginny.

“Looks like a party.”

Indeed, there was a sense of festivity in the air. The gypsies filled up on food and beer, then they encouraged everyone to follow them outside.

The musicians set up in a semi-circle, tuning their bagpipes, horns, lutes, flutes, and violins, and within minutes, the air was filled with a fast-paced, sprightly song and men and women alike began dancing.

Ginny and Eric watched from a ways off, but slowly inched their way closer and closer, through all the different songs. When an older man stood up and began to sing a bluesy ballad to a woman who appeared to be his wife, Ginny was drawn in until she found herself standing amongst the gypsies, with tears in her eyes. The ballad was so moving, everyone stood totally silent until the song ended. There was a moment of complete silence, then everyone broke into a cheer. A lively tune picked up and soon everyone started to join in, linking arms in a circle, with hands on each other’s shoulder.

Ginny gasped when a lady beside her grabbed her arm and pulled her in. Bewildered and totally wrong-footed, Ginny had no idea how to join the dance, but she followed as best as she could. When she gained enough courage to look up from her feet, she found a circle of warm, welcoming faces smiling at her. She looked around for Eric, and when they caught each other’s eye, she beamed.

After the song ended, she popped down beside Eric, flushed and grinning. “I just danced with gypsies.”

He laughed a deep-throated laugh, “You sure did, Red.”

She shoulder bumped him, but was nothing but delighted watching the rest of the festivities before they turned to walk back to Sibiu. The walk took about three-quarters of an hour, and Ginny felt wonderfully refreshed when they got back to town.

“Let’s stay here forever,” she said, as they wandered back into Sibiu.

Eric laughed. “I can’t stay forever, but I can stay a week before I really do need to get over to St. Petersburg.”

“All right, a week then.” Ginny laughed, but she felt a twinge of sadness at the thought of leaving Romania. “Hey, wait a minute. Look at this place.”

She stopped in front of a short wrought-iron gate covered in vines of something that had withered. She pushed at the gate. It squeaked a little, then gave way. A small path lead up through a tiny, dilapidated garden with a little, empty bird bath, to a tall, two-storied cottage with a thatch-like roof. The walls were white, with ivy leaves painted along the side. The front door was rose colored over a mint-green stoop. A stained glass window marked the top of the entryway.

Ginny tried the door. “It’s locked,” she said, disappointed.

“Empty too,” said Eric, peering in through a side window.

She felt an unbearable sadness, though she couldn’t place why. Something drew her to this place. Seeing it so empty was tragic, like stumbling across an abandoned child. She felt helpless, and felt stupid for feeling so.

Then a voice startled them both. They turned around, completely unprepared for the sight before them.

The oldest woman Ginny had ever seen in her life stood four-foot-ten inches high with a rusty hoe raised above her head and gave a mighty, toothless yell.

(to be continued…)

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Bus Ride to Bucharest (Part X)

Chapter Ten: Little Lion Man

Ginny stepped out of the phone booth. Pedestrian conversations and happenings buzzed around them, but they were frozen in a moment of mutual contemplation. Ginny pressed her lips in a thin line.

Harassed and impatient, Eric finally broke the silence. “Let’s get out of here.”

In wordless acquiescence, Ginny followed him to a nearby café. He ordered two cappuccinos in flawless German. The cup trembled against its saucer in Ginny’s hand as she raised it to take a sip. She knew she owed him an apology – a profuse one. She believed him now. But she also didn’t believe him. It was only after the foam began to dissipate that she found something to say.

But just as she spoke, he interrupted.

“I suppose I owe…”

“Listen – “

Awkwardness pulled them both up short, but Eric plowed on. “Listen, before you say anything, I should apologize.”

“Apologize? But I am the one who should –“

He held up a hand for silence in a manner that commanded respect with such natural practiced ease, she could only raise an eyebrow.

“I should apologize for not being entirely forthcoming with you. I realize I have presented a certain…face to you that, while not wholly untrue, is not wholly true either.”

Ginny had trouble following. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I mean, I know what I look like. But it’s not entirely who I am. Knowing so little of each other, perhaps I was not required to divulge more, but then in such a circumstance, neither should I expect your full trust.”

Why was he speaking so differently? His tone was so different from his usual, laid-back manner, his scruffy beard, his well-worn clothes. “So you’re not a backpacker?”

Eric sighed and settled more deeply into his chair. “I am a backpacker. But only because that’s how I like to travel. It gives me more freedom to meet people. Fewer expectations. Usually. But, well, most backpackers are not exactly from my background.”

Ginny began to grow impatient. “And what is your background, precisely?”

Eric sipped his cappuccino and looked out the window. “Have you heard of Panthera Studios?”

Ginny snorted. It was like asking if she’d ever heard of Google. Or the Catholic Church.

“It’s my father’s company,” Eric muttered.

Ginny laughed. Then sat up. “Wait. Are you serious?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I grew up in the business. Saw the back end from the time I was four. Worked the front end by the time I was fourteen. When I turned nineteen, my father got ill and I began to do things for him. Small things at first. He pretended to work from home to hide how ill he was. As it got worse, I began to do more and more. Pretty soon it was just me. But when Dad couldn’t even answer simple phone calls, upper management and some investors began to worry. I managed to stave them off for awhile out of respect for Dad. When he died, though, I sold it all.”

“How old were you?”

“It was the day before I turned twenty-one.”

“So your dad gave the company to you? Wouldn’t he have wanted you to keep it?”

Eric shrugged. “He left it to me, yes. But there was no other family. It had always been just the two of us. He taught me everything I know. But, in the end, it was his business, not mine. It was good for him, but not me.”

“So what did you do?”

“I took the money and used it to start a couple independent record labels and a small publishing house. There was a man from my dad’s company who had helped me a lot when I was younger. He’d always been loyal. He oversees most things for me now while I travel, and travel is my passion. I do it every chance I get.”

“As a backpacker.”

He smiled. “As a backpacker. You don’t see people and cultures from 5-star hotels. I travel to really see people.”

“Wow.” Ginny’s head reeled from all this information, but every word he spoke, as preposterous as it could seem, rang with truth. She looked in his wide, open face and knew he did not lie. She could see the pain of his father’s death still etched in the lines between his eyes. She could also see it was not a tale he told often.

“Why do you tell me all of this? You didn’t have to do that. You showed me the newspaper. I know you didn’t do it.”

He leaned forward in his chair. He almost took her hand, but then stopped just shy of it. “I told you because I wanted you to know me,” he said. “The truth. All of it. With every other woman I’ve met before, all I cared about was that moment, even if it was superficial. But with you, I wanted you to know more. I wanted you…to think well of me. To know I’m more than what I look like.”

“Well that you definitely are,” Ginny laughed kindly. “But that’s a little ironic, isn’t it? You travel to see people but then don’t let them see you.”

He grinned. “See? That’s why I like you so much. I knew you’d call me on my own bullshit.”

They fell into an easy grace with each other. They settled affairs in Aachen and cleared his name, and once the strike lifted, they caught the next bus. They began to talk as if they would never run out of things to say. Ginny noticed the sexual hum between them had begun to fade. But in its place was something deeper, safer, more comforting. She didn’t know what it was, but that was okay. She could wait to find out.

(to be continued…)

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Bus Ride to Bucharest (part ix)

Chapter 9: So, Uh, No Funny Business

This day felt like the day she had fallen off her horse. Ginny remembered, when she was twelve, she had ridden her horse too hard one day and, pushing him over a hurdle neither of them had been ready for, found herself flung headfirst into the mud. The horse had skidded to a halt, but she had not. When she came to, he eyed her with a look of pure nonchalance, but she was covered in mud and shame. Her new riding pants were ruined. Explaining that to her mother was the easy part. Explaining her failure to make the hurdle would be the part that hurt. She dreaded the look of disappointment on her mother’s face that she could already see in her mind’s eye.

Today, she dreaded the disappointment she would hear in Dee’s voice when she called her for help. Oh, of course, she knew Dee would jump to help; she was just that type of friend, and no questions asked. But Ginny had badly wanted to prove she could be just as adventurous and street-savvy as Dee, and here again she had failed – just like at everything else in her life. Dee would never say tell her so, but then Dee would never find herself in such a mess like Ginny had.

Ginny had canceled all her credit cards and reported the incident to the German authorities, all with ruthless efficiency. Even with the language barrier, she had given them every detail about Eric she knew, calmly and without emotion.

But now, picking up the phone to call Dee, her hand trembled.

It rang twice, and when she heard Dee’s voice, she could not stop the tears.

“Dee, it’s me.”

Dee’s voice was like an angel’s. “Oh honey, what’s happened?”

Just hearing the concern in her voice made all Ginny’s hurt and sadness melt away. She launched into her tale of woe, and left no detail out and no worry unsaid.

Dee listened to every word, and when Ginny ran out of words, she said, “Honey, you need to stop beating yourself up.”

“But I’ve just been so stupid! How did I not see any of it?”

“First of all, you’re not stupid. It sounds like this guy Eric is far smoother than any usual rat. Second, this stuff can happen, even to the most vigilant. And third, I love you and I know this sucks like mad, but it’s not the end of the world. You’ll get through this just fine. I’ll wire you the money, and you’ll get on to Bucharest and have a fabulous time, and one day we’re gonna’ be sitting in Chatchky’s having a fat laugh over the whole thing.”

Ginny gave a small laugh through her tears.

Dee’s tone softened. “You want me to come out? I could fly out there.”

Oh, this is why Ginny loved her. Why on earth did she worry so much about what Dee would think? Dee never judged her. She always just said exactly what Ginny needed to hear. “Thanks Dee, but you don’t need to do that. I’ll be all right out here. It’s not much longer to Romania. I think I can manage not to get robbed twice in one trip. I just wish I were more like you. You’d never get yourself in such a pickle.”

Dee laughed. “Are you kidding me? Don’t you remember ‘Frisco?”

Ginny paused. “Oh yeah…” In college, Dee had taken a weekend trip to San Francisco, and ended up in a bar where she’d been slipped a rufie, and had her bag stolen, with her wallet, keys, and camera all inside.

“And that was Stateside. I wasn’t even in a foreign country,” continued Dee. “Look, this stuff can happen anywhere. You just roll with it and don’t let it ruin the way you see things. You can’t hole up and hide from the world. Imagine all you’d have missed if you had been too afraid to try. And it’s not so bad, is it?”

Ginny had to admit, all things considered, things weren’t all that bad. “I suppose not.”

“I know he’s a douche, but hey, at least you got a good lay out of it, right?” Dee joked.

Ginny laughed. “There’s that.”

“Silver lining, love. Silver lining.”

“Anyway, enough about me. Tell me what’s going on at home. How’ve you been?”

Dee hesitated. “Well, I didn’t want to bring this up while you were in the throes of misery, but there has been something. That jackwad, Michael’s been –“

BAM BAM BAM.

A pounding on the glass of the telephone booth startled Ginny so bad she cried out and nearly dropped the phone. She turned towards the sound and saw Eric’s angry face peering in at her.

“What’s going on?” came Dee’s voice through the phone.

BAM. Eric plastered a daily newspaper up against the glass.

Ginny gaped in shock for a moment before she could register the words on the page. It was in German, but she recognized the name Drehtermcafe, the tower with rotating views, where she and Eric had been the night before. Sure enough, there was a picture of the tower itself.

She looked up at Eric in confusion.

“It says, ‘Mass Robbery at Drehtermcafe’,” he yelled through the glass. “You were robbed, but not by me.”

“Dee,” Ginny croaked into the phone. “Dee, I gotta go.”

(to be continued…)

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Bus Ride to Bucharest (Part VIII)

Chapter Eight: I’m Clocking that Game

Sunlight filtered in through the windows and danced an outline over his body. The sight of him in her bed, tangled in her white sheets, was simply beautiful. Ginny could have stared at him all day.

“Morning gorgeous,” he grumbled, his voice deep and throaty with sleep. He opened an eye, smiled at her.

“Morning yourself,” she said. She had never felt so relaxed as she did in this moment.

He raised himself onto his elbow, resting his head in his palm. “Now you’re a sight I could get used to in the mornings.”

Ginny giggled and kissed him, and they lingered over the kiss.

Eric trickled kisses down her throat. “What do you say to some coffee and croissants?”

“Mmm. Sounds delicious.”

“All right then.” Eric pulled himself out of bed and tugged on khaki pants. Ginny couldn’t help watching as he pulled on a white shirt; his body was just so beautiful. For a dirty backpacker, he sure cleaned up nice. He pulled his hair back into a low ponytail, scratched his beard, and leaned over to kiss her.  She giggled and pulled him back for another before letting him go.

Eric shut the door softly behind him and Ginny squealed into her pillow with delight. I can’t believe this is happening. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt so good.

Wondering what more they might do for the day, if we even leave the hotel, she thought with a wry grin, Ginny reached into her purse for the city map. She pulled it out to look at the sights, when she felt a vague tug – her purse had seemed a little empty.

She reached back into her bag and felt around: keys, lipstick, sunglasses, some coins…where was her wallet?

Foreboding filled her as she pulled the purse onto her lap and rooted around. No wallet. Where was it? Think, Ginny, think.

She had definitely had it to check into the hotel, and she hadn’t pulled it out again since. Had she? No, definitely not. She’d paid dinner with cash from her pocket. She was always conscientious about keeping money in different places – a trick from living in New York she carried with her when she traveled.

“Oh God.” What was she missing? Passport was there, thanks to being in a separate compartment. But her traveler’s cheques, credit cards? All gone. All she had left for money was the twenty euro note she stored in her shoe. Fat load of good that’ll do. That’ll barely cover a meal here.

Where could her wallet possibly have gone? She honestly had not done a thing with it. Where could it be?

Then, suddenly, Ginny began to think of all the odd moments where Eric had not been quite straightforward. He’d never answered her plainly when she asked about his job. She remembered he’d been evasive when she asked about how he could afford to travel so much. Then when he’d been so short about paying for the hotel on short notice….

“Oh God.” Panic clutched at Ginny’s chest and she found it hard to breathe. “Oh God, oh God, oh God. How could you be so stupid?” She was beside herself with worry. What on earth was she going to do? How was she going to get money? How would she make it through the rest of her trip? Would she even be able to go on the rest of her trip? Would she have to go home right away? What about her flight? Worse yet, she felt sick to her stomach at the thought of having slept with such a shyster.

“Oh God.” The repercussions and anxieties filled her until she wanted to cry in rage and fear. “This trip is such a nightmare!”

There was a knock at the door.

“Coffee and croissants,” Eric called out to her. He had a small, white paper bag in his mouth as he bumped open the door, his hands full of hot coffee.

Ginny jumped out of bed, clutching the sheet around to cover herself. “Where is my wallet, asshole?” She felt vulnerable getting into a fight with nothing but the sheet for defense, but she had pure fury on her side.

Eric frowned. “What?”

“I said, where is my wallet?”

“What are you talking about?” He set the coffee and bag down on the desk, cursing a little as he spilled some of the hot coffee on his hands.

“My wallet. It was here yesterday and now it is gone. Where is it?”

He brushed his hands off on his pants, looking confused. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You lost your wallet?”

“I didn’t lose anything. Someone stole it.”

Eric stopped in his tracks. “Oh, and you think I stole it?” His temper heated his face.

“The evidence seems to be pointing that way.”

Eric scoffed, which only made her angrier. “What evidence?”

“The fact that I had it yesterday, but now it is gone. The fact that everything else is there except my wallet. The fact that I am super conscientious about where I keep things and would never lose my wallet, and the fact that you are…you.”

Eric’s voice turned low and dangerous. “And just what am I, in your estimation?”

“A dirty, fucking hippie backpacker who lures women in and steals their money, that’s what, you first class jackwad!”

Eric was silent for half a moment before he exploded.

“That’s just…This is just bullshit! Fuck this, I am out of here.” Eric grabbed his coat and stalked out the door, slamming it behind him.

It was only after he left that the tears came. Ginny cried into her pillow, in total disbelief of the mess she found herself in. What a nightmare – except that it was real, and she really had to find a way out of it. She wanted to stay in her room and cry all day, but after a few minutes of that, she knew she’d have to rally. She’d have to figure something out.

She dragged herself to take a shower and to try to take stock of what she had to do next. She figured the first thing she’d have to do is call Dee. Dee could get her the numbers she needed to call the bank. Maybe even float her some money through a wire transfer or something until she got herself sorted out.

She looked at herself in the mirror, her eyes red and tinged with dark circles, hair damp and limp around her face.

“Fragile little bird,” she murmured. “Why do you eat so many self-made lies?” She thought she was done with all that. Done with falling for illusions, and yet here she was again. Chump for the second oldest trick in the book. She couldn’t even play the victim card anymore. With every bite of those lies, another slice of the pity cake went away. She was done with that. This time she was mad and she would not be anyone’s fool ever again.

“All right, ol’ girl. Time to pull yourself together.” Ginny pulled on her smartest clothes, did her make up and hair until she looked primed to enter war in the toughest corporate negotiation of her life. She gathered her things and plotted her route. She was ready for business. God pity the fool who got in her way today.

(to be continued…)

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part I here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part II here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part III here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part IV here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part V here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part VI here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part VII here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part IX here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest (part vii)

Chapter Seven: Paper Planes

Ginny had to laugh. Was there anything else that could go wrong on this ill-fated trip?

“A strike. Are you kidding me?”

“Dang socialist countries. Workers get all uppity.” Eric joked to ease the tension, but she could see the concern on his face. “Looks like our driver’s going to have another word with the border patrol. Let me see about this.”

Ginny gaped after him. “What? What are you doing?” she cried, but Eric was already out of earshot.

Everyone waited on edge as Eric and the bus driver negotiated with the patrol. Though who knows what he could possibly say to get us out of this mess at this point, wondered Ginny. After nearly twenty minutes of haggling, Eric and the driver jogged back, their expressions inscrutable. The driver got back on the loud speaker, and after a few long minutes of rapid German, all the passengers cheered.

“What’s going on? What did he say?” Ginny asked as Eric sat back down beside her. She was quickly getting annoyed about always being the last to know.

Eric grinned, trying to catch his breath. “He says he can get us as far as Aachen. We’ll have to wait until the day after tomorrow for the next bus driver to come on and continue our trip, but at least he can get us into the country.”

“How did you do that?” Ginny demanded.

Eric shrugged. “I don’t know. I just talked to the guy. He was quite reasonable. Very German.”

“I don’t know how you just get people to do what you want like that,” Ginny muttered. “Well anyway, thank you. And thank goodness I have enough cash in reserve for hotels, then.”

“Yeah, no kidding. This has got to be rough on the people who didn’t plan funds for all these extra stops.”

Ginny looked at Eric. Backpackers were notorious for having only a shoe-string budget, but he seemed unconcerned. “What about you? You good for a hotel?”

He smiled, but there was a strange look in his eyes, like he was holding back a joke. “Yeah, I’m good”.

Ginny didn’t want to pry, and the bus was getting ready to get back on the road so she settled back in her seat.

The drive to Aachen was fairly short, and Aachen itself was enchanting. Ginny pressed up against the window to get a better look at the quaint, medieval city. Gothic cathedrals interspersed with greenery made the city feel a bit like a historic fairytale land to her, like she had just walked into a tale by the Brothers Grimm.

It took no time at all to find a hotel, which was a relief after the escapades in Liege. The hotel was sleek and very Euro-chic, with lots of art on the walls. Getting a room was quick and easy, and Ginny couldn’t quite suppress the small girlish thrill when Eric booked a room down the hall from hers. No sex, she reminded herself, but she couldn’t help imagining him knocking on her door late at night.

“What’s that smile for?” he asked, as they carried their bags up to their rooms.

“Oh nothing,” she demurred. “Hey look, they have a roof top garden. We should go check it out.”

After getting settled, they wandered the city together. Towards the city center they found the Drehturmcafe, and old water tower, with a lift all the way up to the top. It offered a stunning 360-degree view of the city. Ginny let her purse fall to the ground by her feet. She felt like a kid again as she pressed her face against the glass and watched the city pass below them. She locked the memory of that moment into her heart, even after they left. They returned to the hotel to change for dinner and shared a drink up in the rooftop garden, enjoying the view at sunset. Then they found their way to a traditional inn, where they shared a generously portioned German meal, full of sausages and potatoes and gravy that melted Ginny all the way down to her toes.

They walked the long way back to the hotel, her fingers lightly interwoven into his. Ginny felt drunk on happiness, giddy with the newfound sense of freedom this trip brought. She had always plotted everything out with ruthless efficiency, but this trip seemed determined to break her of that habit. When nothing went as planned, she had to learn to go with the flow. The surprise was discovering she wasn’t so bad at that as she thought.

Ginny chuckled. “It’s funny. A month ago, if you had asked me what I’d be doing right now, I’d probably say I’d be finishing off the next big presentation for my company, getting into my empty marriage bed – though I would have thought it was empty only because Michael had to work, not because he was diddling the secretary, and trying not to feel sad about the fact I can’t have kids. Now, I’m suddenly a carefree traveler, bumping her way through Europe. Amazing how quickly a life can change, isn’t it?

Eric smirked. “You know, normally I find women are all-too eager to peg me right off the bat, shove me under a category and presume that’s who I am. And then they get all frustrated when I don’t comply. But I’ve never met someone so hell bent on doing that to herself.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it just seems you’re trying too hard to label yourself and then make yourself fit that label. How about you just let yourself be, and let the categories figure themselves out?”

Ginny pondered his words for a long moment. The city was quiet except for their footsteps and she listened to the click of her heels across the stones as they fell in rhythm with her breaths. “How is it you can read me so well?” she wondered, as they turned onto their street, the hotel just a few paces away.

Eric laughed. “I can’t. But the beauty of it is in watching you unfold and seeing all the parts of you come to light. That’s why I think you should do the same. Just sit back and watch. You might just surprise yourself.”

“You’re wise for your twenty-four years, you know.”

Eric laughed and swung her around. He brushed his hand against her cheek and trailed his fingers down the length of her neck. He moved in closer, watching her eyes go liquid and dark. His lips were just a breath away from hers. “You’re never going to let me live that one down, are you?” he teased.

“Never,” she breathed across his neck. He crushed his lips over hers, and she was lost to him. He ran his hands through her thick russet hair. He ran them down over her shoulders, pausing over the curve along the sides of her breasts, with his thumbs just barely touching the tops of her nipples, before his broad hands swept down, taking in the swell of her hips. Even through her clothes, her skin burned under his touch. With every inch of skin and every caress, he pushed out every inhibition, every worry, every limitation, until all she knew or cared about was him.

She ran her hands over his broad shoulders and dragged her fingers up through his hair, sending tingles down his spine. Her fingertips trailed over his chest down towards his belt, teasing him with a little tug. She could feel the heat of him hard against her hips.

“If you want this to stop, you’d better stop me now,” he growled into her mouth.

“Don’t stop,” she whispered back. “Don’t stop.”

He grunted, then grabbed her hand and nearly dragged her up to her room. They fumbled with the keys. Kissing hungrily, they practically fell through the door and into bed. Clothes melted away, and Ginny melted under him, as Eric ran his hands and mouth over every swell and every curve. He felt the wetness between her thighs and nearly lost control. He pulled back, drawing out the pleasure, trying to make it last. He tasted and teased until she couldn’t bear it. When he finally entered her, it felt like the joy she’d been waiting for her entire life, and she thought, Yes this is how it is supposed to be. And when she came, it was pure delight. It was glorious. It was quick, but when it was done, Ginny had never felt so satisfied. Not, at least, until they did it again that night.

to be continued…

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part I here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part II here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part III here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part IV here.

Bush Ride to Bucharest, Part V here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part VI here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part VIII here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest (Part VI)

Chapter Six: Manic Monday

Has it really only been two days? Ginny sat down at the bus stop, waiting for everyone else to arrive and she found herself musing about how much had happened since the bus had gotten the flat tire. It seemed impossible that all that could have happened in just two days. What came before the tire fiasco seemed a lifetime ago. Another life, really.

But here she was, a bright Tuesday morning, the air was already getting warm and shop owners were beginning to set out their wares. The time she’d spent in this city seemed important, for reasons she wasn’t quite clear on, but she felt ready to leave Liege.

She saw Eric in the distance. He was walking toward the bus stop. He smiled and stopped to exchange greetings with the other passengers waiting for the bus. Ginny couldn’t help laughing. He made friends so easily. She supposed it was because he so casually asked others questions about themselves, that soon they’d be so busy talking about their own lives, they were sure he had been friends with them for years. Come to think of it, what did she really know about him? Not much. He had done the same with her and, she realized, he knew far more about her than she did of him.

He looked her way and gave her a smile so intimate it seemed they were the only two people on the whole busy street. A bolt of sheer lust hit her so hard she felt blindsided. But it was more than lust. Lust came first and then just a plain warm lovely feeling followed on lust’s heels. She was falling in love with him.

Instead of happiness, what Ginny felt was panic. She barely knew anything about this man. What was she doing, feeling such strong emotions for him? All these feelings, are they just a distraction from Michael, so that my heart doesn’t have to tumble so far?

At her wedding reception, she remembered there had been some drama with Jenny, a friend from college. She was the kind of person who always apologized for herself so much you just wanted to slap her for it. And she had been trying so hard to hook up with James, one of Michael’s groomsmen. She followed him everywhere, and in her desperation, tried to make friends with every other woman he knew to get close to him. It was sad, really, how she quietly became the butt of others’ jokes. Ginny should have said something to her, but in the midst of all the wedding details, she had gotten too distracted and, to soothe her conscience, figured Jenny would give up soon enough. But no, at the reception, Jenny hung on him like a barnacle, even following him into the men’s room at one point, so busy talking to him she hadn’t noticed where he had been trying to go. The real irony was that James was the type of man to bang anything female who had the misfortune to cross his path. But, Ginny supposed, the level of Jenny’s desperation managed to be a turn-off, even for him.

Word of the bathroom incident spread through the reception like wildfire, and Liz, one of Ginny’s bridesmaids, post seven shots of tequila and four glasses of wine, found her way to the microphone. She got up on stage, stumbled a bit, grabbed the microphone, and called out to Jenny, who was at that moment, trying to give James a massage while he shifted seats to get away from her.

“Jenny!” called Liz. The microphone squawked and the whole room turned silent. “Jenny, dude. I dunno how you’re doing it girl. But dude. I just gotta’ say. Just gotta’ say…you know? He…he…James’s has been with every girl in this room. Every girl. He’s slept with every girl in this room, but you. So, you know. Get over it, already. Dude.” And with that, Liz hurled into the wine bucket at the nearest table.

It wasn’t strictly true of course, and everyone might have almost laughed, except the look on Jenny’s face at that moment was so damn tragic, everyone felt like schmucks just for being present in her humiliation.

Jenny ran from the room and James, in a moment of true decency, ran after her, and the reception resumed itself.

But Ginny sat there, staring at Eric, and couldn’t help but wonder: Am I having a Jenny moment? The particulars were different, of course, but was she basically deluding herself, thinking this relationship was something real? Had any potential of being anything other than one massive distraction from the failure that was her marriage, from the failure that was her life? For, if she knew so little about this man, how could she possibly have such feelings for him?

The bus pulled up and opened its doors and everyone boarded, excited for the next stop. Ginny went up to her old seat on the second level and Eric sat next to her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, seeing the worried look on her face.

She looked at him. His face was so easy, and so open. Here is what she loved about him, she realized. His ease and openness. Here was a man who was everything Michael was not. Of course she knew little about him. They’d only known each other for two days. But maybe there was something to be trusted about her instincts and intuition. The rest could come later, in its own time.

She relaxed and smiled. “Nothing,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting into Germany. Have you been there before?”

He smiled back and relaxed next to her. The bus tires squealed with the release of air, and slowly the bus pulled out from the station. Eric had to raise his voice a bit to be heard over the din. “Only to Munich once, and Berlin. Both great cities, but totally different. I’ve never been to Cologne before, but I hear it’s great.”

“How do you get to travel so much?”

“I don’t know. I just do it, I guess. It’s like anything important to you really. If it matters enough to you, you just make the time, find the money and do it. It’s all a matter of where you set your priorities. If you plan travel around your life, you’ll never get to it. If you plan your life around travel, then you get to see a lot of pretty amazing places.”

“What about family? Don’t you miss them?”

“Every single day. But traveling won’t change that.” There was such sadness in his voice, Ginny felt the punch of it in her own stomach.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Eric grimaced. He took a swig from a water bottle, and swallowed slowly before answering. “My mother and father both passed away four years ago. In a car crash. They were my only family.”

“Oh Eric.” Ginny felt like a giant loser for all her misgivings just a few moments before. “I’m so sorry.”

Eric shrugged. “It’s all right. It is what it is and you learn to deal with it. I love my life and seeing the world was important to them too. Every trip feels like a little tribute to them. Every time I step on a train or board a plane, it feels like I’m remembering them, even though it’s a new destination.”

He laughed. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’ve never told anyone that.”

Ginny put her hand up to his face. She loved the feel of his scratchy beard scraping against the delicate inside of her hand. He leaned towards her, and they kissed, and Ginny felt all her worries melt away. Sometimes the heart knows better than the mind, and sometimes you just have to leap after it.

They moved to easier subjects, and it was hard not to feel totally happy and at peace looking out at the European countryside unfolding before them. All the lush greens and golds of summer came out to play. The air turned warm quickly, and soon everyone was lowering their windows to let in the breeze. Ginny pulled out some cheese and crackers and shared them with Eric, savoring the warm Brie.

“Hey, look! Looks like we’re coming up on the German border!” Eric pointed to the signs along the road.

“God, I love traveling in Europe,” said Ginny. “It’s so easy to go from country to country. Just a few hours and suddenly you’re in a whole new place, with entirely different customs and language. And with the EU, you don’t even have to show your passport.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty great. Although, I do miss getting my passport filled with all the different stamps and visas.”

The bus pulled up behind a long line of cars waiting to go through the border. The passengers waited, it seemed a long time, before it became clear to everyone that no one was moving.

The bus driver suddenly turned off the bus.

“What’s going on?” asked Ginny. Eric merely shrugged and strained to see over the heads of the other passengers, who were all muttering in confusion.

“He’s got off the bus,” said Eric, uncertainty clear in his voice.

The bus driver walked from the bus to the border patrol. He stood talking with the guards for quite some time. Several passengers got up and shoved towards the front to get a better look. The driver seemed to be gesticulating in frustration. He made a rude gesture at the guards and stomped back towards the bus.

The driver got back on the bus, and turned on the loud speaker to address everyone. He was speaking in German again.

“What’s he saying?”

Eric held up a hand as he listened. Ginny tapped her hand on her knee impatiently. Finally, after the bus driver finished talking and the other passengers erupted in angry mutters, Eric turned to her. “Apparently, they’re on strike.”

“What?” cried Ginny.

“The German transportation officials are all on strike.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we can’t go through. Not today anyway.”

(to be continued…)

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part I here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part II here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part III here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part IV here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part V here.

Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part VII here.

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