Shania was waiting in the parking lot for Lauren while she turned in their room key when a man began to head her way. She studied the tall, lanky man with distaste. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. His filthy, wrinkled clothes hung loosely from his bony body. He smiled a semi-toothless grin as he got closer to Shania. Her nose wrinkled, disgusted by the foul odor that emanated from the man.
“I do believe I know you,” he said to her once he was just a few feet away.
“That’s not possible. I’m not from here.” That was brilliant, Shania thought, realizing she shouldn’t have said that she wasn’t from the area.
“Oh, but I know all about you,” the man insisted, letting out a chilling, evil laugh that sent tendrils of ice up and down her spine.
It often pissed her off when something or someone scared her, and pissed off was just what she was becoming. She was about to tell the man where to go when he pulled a small pistol from the pocket of the soiled brown tweed jacket he wore and aimed it at her head.
Her mouth opened wide, but no screams came out of it. She was too stunned, too terrified to utter a sound as the man began to fire the gun. Loud pops activated her voice. She began to scream. “No, no, no!”
Someone was shaking her. Confusion overtook her senses as the sounds continued.
“Wake up, Shania. You’re having a nightmare.”
Her eyes snapped open. “Who the hell - what’s going on? He was shooting at me!”
“No, hon, you were dreaming,” Lauren said gently as she sat beside her on the bed.
“But I heard loud pops and bangs.”
“That was doors slamming downstairs that you heard. It’s a very noisy place here, but that’s ok, we’ll be on the road in just a few hours.”
“What time is it?” Shania asked.
“Coming up on eight.”
She sat up and rubbed the remaining sleep from her eyes as Lauren donned her wig.
Lauren nodded. “I’m going to go to the nearby convenience store and grab us some breakfast. Got any preferences?”
Shania shook her head. “No, you can just surprise me.”
“Ok. Lock the deadbolt behind me and don’t let anyone in while I’m gone.”
“Ok,” said Shania, getting out of bed.
Lauren kissed her and was off to the store.
Shania used the bathroom and watched a little TV while she was gone, then enjoyed a breakfast bar and a large cappuccino once Lauren returned. “This is so good,” she told her.
“Sure beats hospital food, doesn’t it?”
After they ate, they bleached and dyed Shania’s hair which they rinsed in the tub while she knelt, leaning on her good arm. Then Lauren took a shower and Shania took a bath to help keep her cast dry. She could only fill the tub halfway. When they were done, they took a taxi to the nearest bus station and got tickets bound for Sacramento.
Once in Sacramento, they checked into the High Chaparral Motel.
“Boy, it sure is quieter in this place,” said Shania.
“Yeah, too bad it’s such an old dump,” said Lauren, plopping herself down on the bed. “At least the bed’s softer.”
Shania set the carry-on down on a nearby chair and threw herself down next to Lauren.
“It’s good to be able to stretch out like this after being cramped in on a bus all day, isn’t it?”
Shania nodded her agreement.
“You look a bit down, hon. What is it?”
“I just hate to see you put out like this.”
“Oh, but you’re worth it,” Lauren said, gathering Shania in her arms. “Remember, I chose to do this. You didn’t make me do it. It’s something I wanted to do.”
Shania smiled before the two engaged in lovemaking that was both passionate and sensual. The only awkward moments were due to the cast Shania wore. Afterward, they laid side by side breathing heavily. Slowly, their breathing returned to normal and they fell asleep.
When Shania awoke, she was confused at first because it was dark. Then she remembered that they had fallen asleep early. The digital clock said it was just before five in the morning.
Careful not to rouse Lauren, she went to take a shower.
Lauren was awake, however, when she stepped out of the bathroom twenty minutes later. “How was it?” she asked her.
“Plenty of hot water, but the shower itself sucks. It comes out more like a steady stream than a spray.”
“That ought to have made it easier to keep your cast dry since there’s no tub in this place.”
“That it did.”
Because it would be hours before they were to hit the road, the two spent a leisurely morning watching TV and reading the paper. Sure enough, their pictures were plastered all over the news.
When the sun came up, Lauren put her wig on and went to get them some breakfast at the nearest convenience store. “One caramel cappuccino and one blueberry muffin coming right up,” she announced when she returned.
“Oh, thank you. I’m famished!”
Since the room had no table, they sat on the bed and ate their food.
“Is it good?” Lauren asked.
Shania nodded eagerly. “What did you get for yourself?”
“Hazelnut coffee and a chocolate chip muffin.”
“That sounds good, too. Anyone look at you funny?”
“No. I wouldn’t expect them to either. Fortunately, it’s easier for a woman to disguise her appearance than it is for a man.”
“I suppose that’s true. Even if they dyed their hair and stuck colored contact lenses in their eyes, that’s about all they can do.”
“We, on the other hand, can start getting in the habit of not only wigs and dyes, but wearing makeup we don’t normally wear. Our news photos show us without makeup. So, what do you say we start wearing makeup regularly once we get to Oregon?”
“Fine with me. I could use the help anyway.”
“Oh, no you couldn’t,” Lauren said in a shame-on-you tone of voice.
Shania studied Lauren’s dark, distinct features. “Dark,” she said.
She nodded, swallowing a bite of her muffin. “You’d look good in dark lipstick colors like red, plum or bronze. I’d look better with a light shade of pink.”
“Yeah, you definitely don’t want to overdo it with your fair complexion,” Lauren agreed.
A knock on the door sent a jolt throughout Shania, causing her to spill some hot coffee on herself. She squeezed back the urge to yell out in pain.
Lauren simply froze for a second, then looked from the door to Shania, then back again at the door.
“Would they do housekeeping this early?” Shania asked in a hushed whisper. “It’s barely 8:00.”
Putting a finger to her lips, Lauren rose and approached the door. “Yes?”
“Maintenance,” came the response.
Lauren glanced back at Shania who shook her head warily.
“Maintenance? So early?” Lauren asked through the door.
“Aren’t you the one who called about a clogged toilet?”
“No, not me.”
“Oh, ok. Sorry to have disturbed you, ma’am.”
Lauren stepped over to the window and parted the drapes ever so slightly. She saw no one. “Let’s go,” she said, turning back to Shania.
“What’s wrong?” Shania asked, trembling with nerves.
“I don’t know, but this just doesn’t seem right. It could be just some nut out to rob anyone who will open their door this early, but I’d rather not stick around and take any chances. Pack up and let’s get out of here.”
Quickly, they gathered up what little they had. When they were done, Lauren eyed Shania with sympathy. “Don’t worry,” she told her reassuringly. “It’s only for about a year. Not forever.”
Shania nodded and tried to smile, though it was still evident that she was filled with anxiety.
She remained close behind Lauren as she opened the door and peered out. A glance both ways showed that no one was in sight. “It’s all clear,” she said.
They called a cab from a payphone at a gas station and made their way to the bus station where they remained for the next few hours until their bus was scheduled to take off for Oregon. They sat in a corner of a large sitting area reading the paperbacks Courtney had packed for them. Yet Shania just couldn’t seem to get into the plot. Her mind wandered instead and she wondered just what was in store for her and Lauren. She watched the many people around her of all different ages and races. They seemed so normal, so ordinary. I used to be like them, she thought to herself. I used to have a secure, steady life. One I could trust and that was oh so comfortably familiar. Then she chided herself for feeling the way she did. After all, she was free of Lakeview, and she now had someone by her side who genuinely loved her and cared for her well-being. It wasn’t every day that people threw their lives away to save the lives of others.