The bus station was more crowded and dirty than she remembered as Melissa waited in line to get her ticket home for the first time in three years. It was spring break and she avoided making this trip for as long as possible. “I don’t know what’s worse, being knee deep in lab assignments or dealing with mom.” Melissa thought. With her duffel bag slung uncomfortably over her right shoulder she approached the ticket counter.
“One adult to Middlebrook please.” Melissa said to the gruff looking older man in the booth.
“Identification and seventy-two dollars Missy.” he barked.
Melissa slid four twenties into the tray beneath the glass with her University I.D. and waited while the thin, gray haired man completed the transaction without so much as an upward glance.
“Eight dollars is your change and you have a nice trip Miss Hubbard.”
Melissa quickly scooped the contents from the tray and walked toward the blue bus parked along the curb. She was less than excited to be going home. Her mother Barbara, could be pretty belligerent these days, especially when she had been drinking. Melissa tolerated the verbal abuse and constantly see-sawed between pity and resentment for the woman. You see, Barbara Hubbard didn’t cope very well with the death of her husband and all but ignored Melissa as a child. Most of the time she used her state aid to crawl into a gin bottle and escape what she described as “the waking nightmare that is my life!”
For the moment home was far away and all that Melissa could do was fantasize about lacing up her pink shoes and hitting the pavement to calm her for the trying two weeks ahead. There was almost something spiritual for her when it came to running. It was as if she left all her fears and anxieties farther in the distance as each foot hit the ground. As a teenager she felt completely free from all sorrow while running in the old neighborhood but couldn’t help wondering if her route was the same one Bob had used. She fondly reminisced about racing with him as the bus cruised down the interstate and Melissa soon fell asleep curled into her khaki duffel bag.
“Young lady? Young lady!!??” called a voice and Melissa quickly jumped. She awoke to see an elderly woman with a very stern expression, staring her in the face. “Young lady, this is the end of the line. Time to get off.” This was not news Melissa wanted to hear after an all too brief, but pleasant escape in her dreams. Reluctantly, she thanked the old woman and gathered her belongings. Soon the bus came to an abrupt stop with brakes making the most horrible squeal and a tinny voice announcing over the speaker, “Middlebrook……Last stop, Middlebrook.” Melissa walked the aisle to the front and the doors flung open to reveal a very familiar landscape. It was a landscape filled with very painful memories. She made her way off the bus and up the concrete stairs to the lobby of her mother’s apartment. It had only been three years but Melissa was surprised at how everything looked exactly the same, the mailboxes on the wall, worn carpet and dingy paint remained as if time stopped when she left for school. Approaching her mother’s door she shuttered to think what awaited her inside, empty gin bottles and overflowing ashtrays went through her mind as she expected the worst. Melissa drew a deep breath and proceeded to knock three times very slowly, but before her knuckles could pull away the last time, the door whipped open and her mother stood before her in a dingy orange housecoat and a very wide smile that revealed years of poor hygiene. “Good God Melissa, I’ve missed you so much.” she gushed as she came forward to give Melissa a hug. Melissa was stunned to say the least and the expression on her face was clear. Feeling Melissa’s apprehension her mother spoke in a soft voice, “It’s okay sweetheart, I’m on the wagon now.” Melissa was speechless and stood in the doorway dumbfounded. “Come in, come in.” her mother insisted. “Your room is exactly the way you left it and I just changed the sheets again yesterday.” Melissa walked through the doorway and could smell the foul stench of stale cigarettes but also noticed how surprisingly neat the apartment was kept. “Wow mom, you really cleaned the place up.” Melissa stated in disbelief.
“I’m trying to clean up alot of my messes these days. It’s been two weeks without a drop. Aren’t you proud of me?”
“Um, yeah mom. Why the sudden change?”
“A few different reasons honey, but we don’t need to talk about that right now. Why don’t you go to your room and get cleaned up while I make you something to eat?”
Melissa gave a forced grin and walked down the hall toward her old bedroom. The door was already open and everything was exactly as she had left it, including a very old pair of running shoes carelessly thrown into a corner and dated posters of teen idols thumb tacked over the bed.
Twenty minutes passed and Melissa returned to the kitchen in her running clothes and Bob’s old running belt. Her mother was just finishing placing a sandwich and glass of water on the table.
“Aren’t you going to eat sweetheart?” her mother asked.
“Yeah mom, let me get my six miles done and I’ll be back.”
Her mother looked a little sad and smiled nervously as she picked up the plate. “Okay dear, it will be in the fridge when you get back. Be careful.” With that Melissa left the apartment and made her way into the street. As she started to run, she wondered what had made her mother want to change after all these years. “Could it be a boyfriend?” she thought. “Unlikely. Maybe she just had enough time to reflect on all the bad choices she made when I was growing up. Whatever it is, I just hope she’s sincere.” Melissa soon found herself nearly a mile from home and passing an outdoor cafe’. It seemed peculiar, but she felt as if the people sitting outside were staring as she passed, but the thought quickly vanished from her mind as she was distracted by the new store next door. “Grand Opening of Run-4-Less Sports” read the banner above the window. Melissa decided, “Mom won’t mind if I’m a few minutes late.” and walked inside. Three employees in their mid-twenties were standing behind the register talking and immediately stopped to look in Melissa’s direction upon her entrance. The tallest of the men smiled and swaggered over to greet her. It was then that she noticed he wore very bright, red running shoes, “Good afternoon and welcome to Run-4-Less Sports. How can I help you?” he said.
“I was just running by and saw your banner.” Melissa explained. “Do you have any of the new ultra-light shoes in pink?”
“Not today but we get a delivery tomorrow. You might want to check back then. Are you sure there’s nothing else I can get you? Like, maybe my phone number?”
Melissa was very familiar with this kind of creep trying to pick her up back at school. He was good looking but clearly not the type of man that could be trusted. “No, you have nothing I need here.” she sniped and headed for the door. Her comment drew snickers from the two men behind the counter but before she could leave the man shouted from across the store, “My name is Justin, come see us again.” Melissa did not acknowledge him and swiftly exited the store. Outside again, she started running a little faster than normal to make up for lost time. “Who acts like that? What a jerk.” she thought and headed home.
Early the next morning Melissa rushed to get ready for her run and pulled too tightly on the laces when one of them snapped. She sighed, quickly tied a knot in them, still hoping to complete her six miles for the day and strolled out of the building. Her legs felt strong this morning so she decided to sprint to the stoplight just before the cafe’. By the time she had slowed her pace her left shoe felt loose and she didn’t have to look down to know what had happened. The worn old shoelace had come apart again and Melissa found herself standing outside Run-4-Less Sports. “Great! Now this obnoxious jerk is going to think I’m back to see him.” she thought in disgust. Hesitantly she opened the door and stepped inside. There was Justin, helping a rather wealthy looking woman in her mid 40′s try on a pair of shoes. Glancing up at Melissa with a conceited smirk he asked, “Back so soon?”
“Look, my shoelace broke and I need a new pair, that’s all!” she clamored. Justin stood up and walked over to the rack of shoe accessories hanging on the wall as one of the other men continued to help the woman. He reached up and plucked down a pair of bright pink laces. “You know serious runners don’t wear pink don’t you?” Justin asked in a condescending tone.
“This is coming from a man with bright red shoes on his feet? Why don’t you just sell me my laces so I can get out of here and you can click your heels together and head back to Kansas, Dorothy?” The lone man behind the register started laughing out loud but quickly stopped when Justin glared in his direction. “Well you do make a pretty good wicked witch of the west.” he countered. Melissa scowled and snatched the laces from Justin’s hand then stomped over to one of the benches to put them on. By this time the affluent woman was paying for her new shoes at the register and as she pulled her wallet from her purse, what appeared to be a fifty dollar bill slipped out and fell gently upon the linoleum floor. This caught Justin’s eye and he strolled over casually to pick it up. Expecting him to inform the woman Melissa thought, “Maybe he has a good point or two after all.” But to her dismay Justin quickly slipped the fifty into his own pocket and kept walking. Shocked at what she had seen, Melissa stared daggers at Justin until the woman left and then she confronted him. “You stole money from her!” Melissa exclaimed.
“That’s Mrs Ratner. Her husband has more money than God, she won’t miss it.”
“It doesn’t matter! That money isn’t yours!”
“It is now and what I do with it is my business, not yours! Some people need it far more than she does!” Justin said angrily. Staring him in the eye, Melissa pulled two dollars from her belt and threw them at him. “That should cover the laces! I’m never setting foot in this store again!” She made her way toward the door once more when Justin sarcastically blurted out, “Wait, I never got your name.” and laughed.
A week passed and Melissa avoided running near Run-4-Less Sports. It was not an easy thing to make Melissa angry but Justin had managed to send her through the roof with rage that day. With six days left before returning to school Melissa was out on her scheduled morning six mile run. “I’m not going to let that lowlife change my routine anymore.” she thought and turned the corner toward the cafe’. This time as she passed she was sure people were staring at her. Most notably an elderly man in a blue baseball cap and jeans appeared almost elated as she passed. “I can’t wait to get back to school.” she thought “This town is filled with jerks and perverts.” Run-4-Less was now immediately on her right and she purposely stared straight ahead as she ran by the store window. “I hope he saw me.” she thought, feeling empowered by her action and with a spring in her stride sped home.
It was unseasonably warm that morning and Melissa wiped the sweat from her eyes as she made her way to the apartment door. She was definitely not prepared for what she was about to see. As she drew closer she could see a pair of bright red shoes sitting outside the door. “No way! It can’t be.” Her heart started to beat faster as if she were still running and she could feel her chest tighten as she walked ever closer. “What the hell is HE doing here??!!” Melissa burst through the door expecting to surprise whoever was on the other side but the apartment was empty. She looked around and nothing was out of place, with the exception of a drug store prescription bag placed upon the end table. Melissa walked over and picked it up. Barbara L. Hubbard - Chlorothiazide -Take 1 tablet in the morning and 1 at noon with food. Melissa was confused, dropped the bag and proceeded to head for her bedroom. She could faintly hear her mothers voice coming from the back bedroom.
“I wish I could pay you for all your help.”
“Don’t worry about it Mrs. Hubbard. Mom and I are just glad we can do this.”
“You’re an angel Justin and thank your mother for me.”
“It’s really no problem Mrs. Hubbard. I have to get going. I’m late for work.”
Melissa couldn’t believe what she was hearing and barged through the bedroom door. “What is going on?!” she shouted. Justin and Barbara nearly jumped out of their skin as Melissa burst in. “Oh honey, this is someone I want you to meet. This is Justin.”
“Yeah I know, what is he DOING here!?”
“Justin and his mother have been kind enough to help me with my medication. I can’t afford it and my blood pressure is not so good according to the doctors.”
Justin’s cocky demeanor vanished as he spoke, “Hey, I had no idea she was your moth……”
Melissa cut him off, “Get out of here Justin. Get out now!” she screamed.
“You will not talk to him that way in my house! Barbara yelled. “Justin helps me since you aren’t here to do it and if you don’t like it, you can get on the next bus back to school.”
“But mom, he steals money from people!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about I don’t want to know! You will either accept Justin’s kindness or go home!”
“I’m sorry mom.” Melissa mumbled.
“Well I should get going Mrs. Hubbard.” Justin said as he hurried out of the room.
Melissa followed him to the front door and as he turned the knob she spoke, “Wait………… it’s Melissa.” she said.
Justin looked puzzled, “What?”
“My name? You said you never got it.”
Justin gave Melissa a warm smile and said, “Nice to meet you Melissa. I’m Dorothy.” and closed the door behind him.
2012 Dave Schlagman© Copyright 2012 The Hornet, All rights Reserved. Written For: Adventures In Running