Her reflection in the stained mirror looked back at her with disappointment: envisioning her own disheveled face was one thing, but seeing it was another. Blinking away the tears, she set down her boulder of a backpack and collapsed. It was the third night she’d been using her hiking backpack as a pillow, and it would be the third night she’d find no comfort.
At once, the door swung open, and she woke to find a pair of enormous hands wielding a metal baseball bat. She gasped and brought her hands up to protect herself. Through the cracks of her fingers she saw what seemed to be a giant glaring down at her. She shielded herself with her backpack and quickly swatted away her tears. When the towering man saw her curled up on the floor, he set the bat down and kneeled.
“I’m sorry to scare you. I thought you were just another druggie degenerate.”
“I was hoping to find a place to spend the night. Don’t mean any trouble.”
He nodded his head. Looking down at her as a child would a hurt dog, he extended his hand. She stared at it, wondering where it would take her before deciding to follow it.
Together they left the rancid bathroom, and she crept silently beside him. Her gaze followed his feet, never rising to his eyes. He swung open the door and confidently entered his gas station oasis. As Ava’s eyes skimmed the shelves, Jim asked, “Are you alright? I didn’t mean to frighten you back there.”
“No, it’s ok, it’s just me.” Pausing for a breath, she asked, “Is this your place?”
“Hopefully one day,” he answered. “For now I just take the night shifts for the extra cash.”
As she meandered through the aisles decorated with multicolored semi-fake foods, he took his throne behind the register. He hollered across the store, “I’m Jim. You know where you are? What’s your name by the way?”
“I’m Ava. Are we still in Maine?”
“Maine? No, New Hampshire.”
“New Hampshire?” she thought to herself. “How’d I even get this far?“
Her confusion must have been more apparent than she expected because Jim asked her if everything was alright.
“I’m alright,” she grunted under her breath.
In reality, she was hardly alright. Her head felt like it was about to splinter into a thousand pieces, just like the first window. She could never forget how the glass fell. She could never forget how the rain of a million pointed shards covered the passengers waiting for the six train. She could never forget Logan’s apathetic eyes as he ran, the person she loved most in the world leaving her behind. Before she’d arrived on the platform that day, it had held people eagerly awaiting to embark on their journeys. When she left it held the fragments of lives that would never see the end of their journeys.
Jim could see that something was wrong and sat beside her. He stared at her, not condescending or intrusive but sympathetic. Ava was overwhelmed: it had been days since she had food or shelter, much less a friend. Feeling safe for the first time, she slept on the cool linoleum, the best sleep she’d had in days.
When she woke, she swiftly began to gather her things. “Where do you think you’re going? We still haven’t had breakfast yet, and you look like you could use some,” Jim said.
She shyly smiled and glanced up from her shoes. The longer she stayed, the more danger they were both in, but she didn’t leave. Instead, the feeling of belonging, of care, of kindness was so overwhelming that she eagerly succumbed to it.
Jim dragged a few boxes up to the counter as a makeshift stool for Ava and turned on the coffee machine. “Grab whatever you like,” he grinned. “It’s on the house.” She perused the aisles and settled on Poptarts. She handed him his pack. “They’re my favorite! How’d you know?” She smiled, proud of herself.
“So, I still don’t know why you’re here,” Jim inquired.
“Neither do I,” she quickly replied.
He stared at her; and as he did, the pit in her stomach returned and grew. It spread through her back and into her throat and finally into yet another pounding headache. As much as she wanted to stay, she knew the headache wouldn’t go away until she left .
She clenched her forehead and said, “This was a mistake. I’ve stayed too long already. I should go.”
Jim looked up, guilty, “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry, please stay. As you can see it can get lonely here sometimes.”
“It’s not your fault. I just need to get going.”
She put her hand through the straps and lifted the bag onto her back, folding slightly under the immense weight.
She began to walk towards the blinding yellow “S” sign outside; she stopped and looked back to give a slight wave goodbye, Jim couldn’t meet her eye. Instead, he had turned the television to distract himself from Ava’s departure. Looking over her shoulder for the final time she saw a familiar shape on the television. At first she thought it was just the weather woman, but at a second glance she saw it was her own senior picture staring down at her. Normally this picture was paired with kind words and warm wishes for the future, but this time it was coupled with, “WANTED! 10,000 REWARD.” She turned once more to Jim and found him staring at her, eyes wide and stare blank. He opened his mouth as if to yell, but there was only silence. The silence consumed them and filled the entirety of the room until she felt she couldn’t breathe anymore.
At the sound of footsteps, they both turned to find a mother and child staring at them from the door frame.
“Excuse me, can I get 30 on pump two?”