Flooded Out

Amateur

Dedicated to Chuck Tingle, whose light and charm and creativity and passion have helped me through difficult times.

Rain.

Rain, rain, rain.

I love the rain. And hail, and thunderstorms, ice and snow, cold and dark, anything you’ve heard anybody call ‘bad weather’, I love it. But when you’re taking a long-haul bus trip across the lowlands on the tail end of a drought, it’s hard not to be a little anxious.

The bus is crowded and I can just feel I’m not the only one who’s worried. A couple across the row is talking in low voices, shooting glances out the window. From the occasional word I can pick out, I think they’re going to a wedding.

The bus driver glances up into the mirror and says “don’t worry folks, we’re almost out of the danger zone. Just another hour or so and we’ll be heading back up into the Ranges. What timing though! Haven’t seen rain like this in a good while!”

There’s a kid in the seat in front of me who I’m almost certain is imagining somebody running alongside the bus, sprinting along power lines and leaping the occasional tree. I hope they’re not bored, there’s not a lot of obstacles out here.

“Think we’re going to make it?”

Jeremy’s been napping for most of today’s ride, alternating between that and checking and rechecking everything on his phone – bookings, itineraries, the gear checklist. He’s now squinting out into the dark and rain, deep, worried lines etched around his mouth.

“If we get flooded out here -“

“I’m sure emergency services are keeping an eye on it. They might send out helicopters and get us there faster!”

“We’re supposed to get there by bus! This bus. And even getting there early could throw off our entire schedule.”

“Yeah, but a ride in a helicopter though! Have you ever travelled by helicopter?”

“I have, actually. And once was enough to know that this isn’t great weather for it. See how fast the clouds are moving up there?” He reaches past me to point up out the window, like I don’t know where the clouds are.

“Yeah?”

“They’re moving really quickly. That means wind, which is not good for helicopters.”

I put a hand on his arm and gently push it back down to his armrest. “It’s fine Jeremy. Everything will work out, I promise.”

“But the plan -“

“Hey.” I squeeze his arm, making him look at me. His tired, brown eyes meet mine.

Not tired from lack of sleep – there’s no amount of napping to cure the tiredness back there. He’s tired from a lifetime of waiting, hanging on the edge. Barely scraping by, just holding things together, waiting for a breakthrough that never comes.

“It’s going to be fine. It doesn’t matter how we get there, only that we get there. Whatever happens, it’ll all work out.”

He sighs, but seems a little reassured. I think.

“That’s easy for you to say – your job isn’t riding on this.”

I raise my eyebrows at him.

“I mean, not that I don’t appreciate you coming! I’m glad you’re here, I just… I’m worried, that’s all.”

“I know you are, Jer.” In the 6 years I’ve known Jeremy, he’s never not been worried. That’s part of why I agreed to come. A long, work-related trip, all on his own? He’d worry himself inside out. I could’ve flown by myself but Jeremy needs to take all his gear, and he’d offered to cover tickets if I went with him. And I could sense how badly he wanted me to be there.

“Sorry, I know I’m being annoying. Let’s just talk about something else. Have you heard anything from your folks?”

I sigh and slump back into my seat. “Can we go back to talking about how worried you are?”

He smiles. “Sorry. I’m not trying to be a pain. I’m surprised you aren’t more worried, to be honest. ‘Bus stop tonight or don’t bother’ seems pretty… final. And you always had such a good relationship before, back when you were-“

“When I was younger, yeah. But, you know, shit happens. I’m trying to make things work, though.”

He nods. “Good, that’s good to hear. I’ve had my share of difficulties with my family too, but I always tried to make things work. None of them really approved of me getting into film, but they’re family. Sometimes you disagree, but you always make time.”

Like they’d always made time to criticise his passions and he’d always made time to look after his dad instead of working on his projects or spending time with his wife. “And you don’t, like… resent them?”

“No!” He lies. “No, not at all! I’m glad, really. I’m glad that I made them a priority over… Well, imagine how things would be if I’d just walked away? Focused on myself instead? What kind of person would that make me?”

“So you’d definitely say it was worth it? You don’t regret choosing them over yourself?”

He doesn’t meet my eyes. “No, of-of course not.”

“Hmmm.” I go back to looking out the window. What kind of person would that make me?

He wraps an arm around my shoulders and I slide up against him, slightly awkward over the armrest. He feels warm and solid and he smells like oral yapan gaziantep escort the remains of a cheap, smoky cologne that is now mostly overpowered by the smell of bus.

“I really do appreciate you coming with me. You’ve really changed a lot since you first took my 101 class.”

I laugh. “I sure hope so!”

“Hey, I liked how you were before. I know you feel like nobody even noticed you, but -“

“But they didn’t.” I shrug against his shoulder. “And that wasn’t the point, anyway.”

“I know,” he persists. “But I noticed you. You’re not the first shy, quiet kid to take film as an interest paper. And I liked you.”

“Do you like me more now? It’s hard to imagine that kid agreeing to keep you company on a cross-country bus ride.”

“True.” He gives me a squeeze. “And yeah, I do like you more now. Not that there’s anything wrong with being shy, but you’re much more… you now.”

“Thanks.” I smile and snuggle back against him. “I don’t think you’ve changed at all.”

He laughs. “Wow, tell me what you really think.”

“It’s a compliment! From me it is, anyway. I think I needed something stable. Kind of a shame it had to be this one lecturer I had for a couple of classes, but I’m glad it was you.”

I reach out and trace a black-painted fingernail in the fog on the window, admiring the lace arm warmers wrapped around my forearm. They’re new, and I love them. I can hardly imagine how I got by without them. A whole life, bereft, barely worth living.

I keep watching the rainy countryside slide by out the door, and Jeremy goes back to double checking things on his phone. It doesn’t take too long before my hip starts to hurt from being bent over the armrest so I give his arm a squeeze and then sit back upright in my chair.

“Alright everyone, we’re coming up on Rutledge, it’s going to be our last stop this side of the Ranges. We’d normally skip the stop, given the weather, but we need to refuel and I need to check the state of the roads ahead to make sure there’s no closures, so feel free to get out, stretch your legs, but don’t stray too far from the bus because we’ll be hitting the road again ASAP.”

Not too long after we pull into a very small town. The buildings down the main street are all closed, and more than a couple look abandoned. We hit the only place that seems active, a centre of sorts with a petrol station, a motel, and a tiny shopping centre.

The bus pulls into the petrol station with a rattle and a groan. The doors hiss open, letting in the smell of rain and gasoline, thick and oily.

Some people decide to stay on the bus – some are just reading or on their phones, some are asleep. Jeremy stays, but I squeeze past him and join the jostling crowd. I have a foreboding feeling in my gut which has nothing to do with the elbow sticking into my kidney, and I hope that some fresh air and feeling the rain on my skin will help me feel better.

There are isolated puddles but not much of the road seems to be underwater, which is reassuring. Cars swish past, painting the street with streaks of light and disappearing into the darkness. The nervous energy isn’t gone but it seems to have relaxed a bit, people standing around chatting or darting over to the shopping centre. Probably for snacks.

I find myself standing under the petrol station’s awning, watching people mill around, walk out cramps, and huddle together in small groups. It’s pretty cold, and I enjoy the chill crawling across my arms and up my legs, even through my tights.

The rain drums down harder. I don’t even bother checking my phone – I don’t have any data anyway, it wouldn’t do me much good. The people going to a wedding are still hanging around the bus, and they look annoyed.

I sigh and make my decision, stepping out into the rain.

Ten minutes pass. Then fifteen. Then twenty. The bus driver is on his phone too, alternately checking stuff on the screen and making phone calls. Some people come back from the shopping centre with drinks and snacks.

I wait until I can really feel the chill settling into my bones before I wander back. Jeremy has shifted into the window seat, so I flop down into the aisle.

“We need to get moving soon, if we’re going to get there on time. It’s going to take me almost an hour to get to my hotel for check-in, if I can get a taxi straight away, and maybe even longer if the traffic is bad.”

“Uh, excuse me? Hey, everybody!” The voice of the driver cuts across our conversation.

The couple of people sleeping have woken up at this point, and everybody still inside heads out to hear what he’s saying.

“So, we’ve got a… small issue with the engine. It’s fixable, but we’ll be at least half an hour so if anybody wants to grab something to eat I think there should be a few places open over at the shopping centre.”

Jeremy is staring blankly so I sigh, haul myself back upright, and gently steer him across the gaziantep oral yapan escort road and into the shopping centre.

In a pleasant contrast from the petrol station, the shopping centre smells like damp and dust. Plenty of the shops are closed, temporarily or otherwise. A small book shop that I would’ve loved to check out in other circumstances is sandwiched between the bare concrete of an empty store and a café that didn’t bother to properly clear out. The building is well-lit, with a radio playing some inoffensive rock station. Employees watch us with vague interest – I guess buses must stop here regularly.

We find our way to the food court (it’s not hard, there’s only one floor) with a Chinese place, and Indian place, and a donut place. I have no idea what Jeremy’s into but I feel like Indian, and he slowly – and damply – comes back to life over a naan bread and a chicken korma.

“Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like if you made it big?”

“Hmm?” He meets my eyes again.

“In film, Jeremy. The passion you’ve been chasing for the last 30 years?”

“Oh, right. Well…” He slowly picks at his curry. “I don’t know, I don’t think I ever would have. The guys making movies at the same time as I was, they were so much better. Have you seen the cinema that came out of my generation? I could’ve wasted my youth chasing after them, but there’s no way I could’ve kept up.”

“Your early stuff was really good, though.”

He blinks, surprised. “You’ve… seen my early projects?”

“Well, yeah. They weren’t easy to find, but yeah, I dug them up. I really liked them.”

“Oh, well… well, thanks. There’s a couple that I felt ridiculously proud of at the time, but in retrospect all I can see is the things I could’ve done differently. I don’t know that I ever would’ve made it. It wasn’t whether I succeeded or not, it was whether I threw away everything that… that mattered to me.”

“How does your wife feel about that?”

He sighs and shrugs. “Who knows? Honestly I sometimes feel like…” He seems like he’s about to say something difficult, but I watch him give up and swallow it. “Never mind. She’s fine. We’re fine. How about you, are you seeing anybody?”

“Nope, I am open and available.”

He chokes on the mouthful of coke he’d been drinking and I laugh.

“I mean, dating isn’t exactly easy for me. I’ve had too many other things to focus on, anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. It’s a shame, though.”

“Oh?”

“Well yeah, obviously. I mean…” He swallows, suddenly awkward. “I mean, it’s a shame to not have somebody. Somebody you can share your life with, somebody…”

I laugh. “You know, plenty of people don’t. Who just aren’t into that sort of thing. You’re not missing out on it unless it’s something you actually want.”

“Right, yeah, of course, I know. And, um… is it? Something you actually want?”

It’s my turn to play with my food. “Yeah. I mean… Yeah. I complain about it being hard, but really I’m just not in a place where I feel ready to look for something serious.”

“And what about something casual?”

I can tell he asked without really thinking, and it’s hilarious to watch his brain slam on the brakes, realise what he just said, and then desperately try to think of a way to make it sound like he wasn’t asking what it sounded like he was asking.

I wrap my lips around my straw and take a long, slow drink, keeping eye contact and letting him squirm.

“I mean… I mean, what I meant was… I meant that… that you can just be… I mean, I think it’s very mature to be…”

Eventually I can’t help myself and laugh out loud, drawing the attention of just about everybody else in the place. “It’s fine, I know what you meant.” I shake my head at him, still chuckling. He’s gone bright red. “Yeah, I’ve had a couple casual things. It’s been a while though, you know I was in hospital for a bit.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course. I did hear about that. I hope you’re alright?” He’s desperate for a change of topic.

I consider making him squirm some more, but decide to let him get away with it. “Yeah, I am. Better than ever, in fact. That’s actually why I wound up responding to my parents again, sort of. In a roundabout way. I’ve had to make some big decisions this year, and… well, I guess maybe it put some things in perspective?”

“I don’t really feel like I’ve ever been any good at making big decisions. I feel like… everything in my life I just let… happen to me. It was easier than putting myself on the line, or standing up for myself. I don’t think I could ever do what you’ve done. You seem so…”

“I swear if you’re about to call me brave, I am walking out that door,” I laugh.

“Oh, sorry. Is that bad?”

“I just… You get sick of hearing it, after a while.”

He gallantly pays for dinner, and I tuck myself under his arm as we leave the building and make our way back to the gaziantep oral yapan escort bayan bus stop.

The bus driver is standing out next to the bus, and he does not look confident. A couple more stragglers arrive back and he clears his throat. “So. Folks. We, uh… we’ve got some good news and some… less good news.”

I can already guess where this is going, and from the chorus of groans it sounds like I’m not the only one.

“The good news is that the bus is all fixed, and ready to go. The less good news is… well… I know we’ve all been worried about the rain, and I’m sure some of you have been keeping an eye on the internet, and uh… unfortunately we’re stuck.”

And there it is.

“The road’s completely washed out, in both directions.” He has to raise his voice over the noises of complaint. “I know, I know, and I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but really this could’ve wound up much worse than it did. If we hadn’t been stuck here, we’d have been right in the middle of it. Rutledge is the only raised spot between here and the foothills, so it’ll need to be at least another couple of days of solid rain before we’re in danger here. If we had left sooner, we’d probably be underwater right now. If we hadn’t made such good time on the flat, we’d probably be underwater right now.

“I know you’re all frustrated, but given the circumstances – and with a good night’s rest – I’m sure you’ll be able to see that this is really the best we could’ve hoped for.”

Predictably this doesn’t comfort the crowd much, but surprisingly nobody moves.

“And, uh… on the subject of a good night’s rest, you’re welcome to sleep on the bus if you can’t afford anything else, but…”

There’s a pregnant pause and then an immediate rush for the motel.

Jeremy is, naturally, completely floored by this. I grab my bag and then take his arm again, holding it close against me as we slowly follow the crowd.

“I guess this is it for your parents, huh?”

I cock my head to one side. “How do you mean?”

“Well, they said the bus stop, now or never, right?”

“Oh, that. No, probably not. Honestly they’re really good at making ultimatums, but shit at follow-through. It’s ‘you better move back here, or don’t come back at all.’ Then it’s ‘you better come home over the winter break, or don’t come back at all.’ Then it’s ‘you better be at the bus stop, or don’t come back at all.’ You might think they’d realise that isn’t working, but…” I shrug.

By the time we arrive we’re wet through, and the people at the back of the crowd are angrily making their way back to the bus.

“Don’t bother,” an older guy snaps at us. “There’s no rooms left.”

I feel Jeremy’s arm tense up. “Thanks, but we’ll try anyway,” I tell the guy, and we make our slow way to reception.

“What’s the point?” Jeremy asks, but I hush him.

The motel clearly has aspirations, painted in ultra-modern neutral tones. The reception is all big windows and shades of grey, and there’s about 10 units clustered around a tight carpark further up the drive. Demand isn’t enough for them to keep on top of maintenance though, and the corners of the wooden framing and the signs out front – set into a faux rock wall – are showing signs of age.

The guy behind the desk sees me as we walk in. His eyes flick from me to the forty-something I’m pressed up against, but he doesn’t comment. “Good to see you again, miss! You really have good timing!”

He hands me a key and I smirk and lead Jeremy out to our room.

“You… already have a room?”

“Yup. Booked it when we first pulled up. I had a feeling this might happen, and I figured I’d beat the rush. I did just book us a double though, it didn’t feel fair to everybody else to take a room each.”

“Wow, I… Wow. I don’t even know what to say!”

“Thank you?” I suggest. “I did promise it’d be alright.”

The room is small, but nice. Cozy, and clean, and that’s about all you can ask for in the circumstances. A double-bed next to an armchair, a kitchenette, a tiny bathroom, and a TV high up on the wall.

“Wow, I just… oh, hey, do you mind if I bring the camera bag in? This place has to be better than the bus luggage trailer for keeping it dry.”

I shrug. “Go ahead. For tonight, this room is yours too. Do what you like, I’m gonna grab a shower.”

“Amazing, thanks!” He throws his arms around me in a big hug, squeezing me tight, and then quickly heading back out into the rain.

I take the opportunity to pull the curtains and quickly undress. There isn’t room for a pile of clothes in the bathroom, so I carefully drape my black dress and black tights over the armchair, vainly hoping they might dry out. I tuck my underwear away in my bag – along with the precious arm warmers, carefully folded – and grab my shower kit at the same time, leave my boots by the door, and then slip naked into the bathroom.

I’m prepared to use a cheap motel shampoo for one night, but I have a new body wash that’s making my skin so soft and there’s no way I’m skipping it.

The shower isn’t a whole lot to write home about. It’s an acceptable way of taking cold water, turning it into hot water, and pouring it over my head. I enjoy being wrapped up in warmth while the rain hammers down outside. The world outside of our little bubble is frigid and wet with pounding rain, but the shower is warm and wet and smells fruity and tropical.

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