Better Choices
Chapter 6 - On the Run

Shane Ellis just wanted to get ahead for once. And if that meant breaking the law for a cool ten g's, so be it. What he didn't expect was a job offer...

Shane Ellis.jpg

On the Run

 

The Greyhound bus roared down the dark highway and Shane was surprised at how crowded it had been. The only seats left were one next to a drunk who was currently snoring and smelled as if he had pissed himself, and a young woman with a tiny baby. He chose the young woman.

 

She eyed him apprehensively, relaxing a smidgen as he focused on the baby and smiled gently. 

 

“How old is your baby?”

“She’s six months, almost seven now.” She whispered.

He smiled, “She’s beautiful.” He whispered in return.

Her lips curved up, “Thank you.”

He settled back, reviewing the last week and the mammoth mistakes he had made. He had screwed around with the little sister of an incredibly dangerous gangbanger.

No, wait, go back to the beginning. Getting wasted with Eggers. That was my first fuck-up. And then going to the dojo the next day, hungover.

Right, and then screwing Dara.

 

And then, full of himself, having just gotten laid, having not fucked his life up enough, telling Eggers to count him in. Eggers. Burglary. 

What the fuck was I thinking?

 

His feelings must have showed on his face because the young woman looked nervous again.

“Sorry,” he said, his voice a calm whisper, “Do you ever feel like you’ve screwed up everything you’ve ever touched?”

A wry smile stole over her face. “Oh yeah. With this one, it feels like a daily occurrence.”

Shane laughed softly and shook his head. “Par for the course, I guess. Where are you heading?”

Her lips pinched together. “As far as I can go on…” she paused and counted, “seventy-nine dollars and eleven cents.”

Shane nodded. In other words, she was running. From the bruises that showed from under the makeup, he had to guess she was running from a boyfriend or husband.

“Did he hurt you?”

She stared at him for a moment, then pulled her hair away from her face and he could see the dark mottling, the outline of fingers clear on her neck. The baby in her arms whimpered and moved restlessly in her arms, disturbed from her deep slumber. She let her hair fall back into position and stroked the baby’s back. The baby’s breathing settled then, and she quieted, a tiny bubble of spit appearing between her cherubic pink rosebud-shaped lips.

“It wasn’t the first time, either.” She said it as if she felt the need to defend herself, to legitimize her actions. “And I wouldn’t leave Abby there with him. I had no idea what he would do to her.”

“Of course not. You did the right thing.” Shane paused, and then added, “You did what you had to for the two of you. He lost the right to be a dad when he laid his hands on you.”

The silence deepened then, and the bus roared on. In a few hours, the sun would be coming up and he was headed away, back south, and Shane wondered where in the hell he should go. He hadn’t even looked at the end destination, just bought a ticket and sat down on a bus. They were heading north. The signs came infrequently now that they were far from L.A. 

“Where are you running to?” Her voice was soft.

“How do you know I’m running?” he asked in return, unsure how to answer her.

“It takes one to know one, I guess.”

She had him with that. He shrugged. “Actually, I have no idea. Where is this bus going, anyway?”

She giggled, covering her mouth when she did it, as if smiling was a crime. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously. I bought a ticket, but I can’t remember where to, and then I just jumped on the first bus I saw and the driver didn’t bother checking, so…”

“So it’s an adventure.”

“Yeah, I guess. One born from sheer stupidity.”

She stared at him, her mouth twisting as she evaluated him. “You don’t look stupid. Not at all.”

“Uh… thanks?”

“It’s heading for Portland, and Spokane beyond that.” She laughed softly as she answered his question.

“So, are you getting off at Portland?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “Like I said, I’ve only got seventy-nine dollars.”

“And eleven cents,” he added.

She smiled, “Yeah, those eleven cents make all the difference in the world.”

He didn’t stop for long to think about it. If this woman stopped in one of the smaller towns, she could be remembered, recognized easily, especially with a tiny baby in tow. If she got off in Portland, she could quickly lose herself in the crowd. Portland was large, sprawling, and home to over half a million people. 

“Here,” he handed her two twenty-dollar bills, “now you can make it to Portland.”

She took the money, hesitating. “What do you want for it?”

“What do I…?” He paused then, looking at her, confused. “Nothing.”

“Where are you going to go?” She asked, slipping the bills away in a pocket quickly, as if afraid he would change his mind.

He pulled out his ticket and stared at it. He had bought a ticket to Scottsdale, Arizona. How long before the driver checked the ticket? “I’m uh, not sure.” 

Two hours later, he had his answer. In the small town of Ukiah, shortly before sunrise, a shift change took place. The new driver checked the passengers’ tickets and discovered the discrepancy. “Sorry, Buddy, but you’ll have to get your ticket changed when the office opens at eight a.m.”

Shane didn’t fight it. One place was as good as another, if it meant he was far away from the Prak brothers, Eggers, and the cops. At least two of the three would just as soon see him dead, after all.

He was, however, surprised to see the young woman and her baby getting off of the bus as well a minute later. 

“I’ve got a feeling about you,” she said in response to his raised eyebrows. She handed him the two $20 bills back. “Mind if we stick together for a while? I’m Anne, by the way.”

“Shane.” He took the money and then shook her hand gently, still talking softly. The baby remained fast asleep in her arms, a tiny bit of drool wetting a spot on the front of Anne’s dress. 

As they sat on a hard bench in front of the Greyhound station office, they swapped stories. Anne’s story had been close to what he expected. She had married early, which angered her dad, who had disowned her. Her husband, who was over ten years older than her, had made sure she was isolated from others, became increasingly controlling, and eventually turned to violence. She had made her escape one night after he passed out, knocked out by a double whammy of Flexeril and Dramamine that she had added to his beers. 

Shane hesitated to tell Anne his story. She had gotten off the bus, taken a chance and tossed her lot in with him, and she deserved better. After all, he was nothing but a fool. He had turned his back on his slow but steady progress and pushed the self-destruct button. He wasn’t any better than a common criminal.

He plowed through the story, leaving out nothing, and she stared at him. 

“And right now you probably wish you had taken that forty bucks and let the driver toss me off the bus rather than get tangled up in my mess.”

She gave a rueful half-laugh. “For all I know, I’ve killed my husband. He was sleeping really deep when I left. I was so scared, I didn’t even dare keep his car. I ditched it at the Greyhound station.”

“I was in pre-med before I had to drop out and take care of my mom. You just gave him one Flexeril and one Dramamine, right?” She nodded, and he continued, “He’ll wake up in a few hours feeling more relaxed than he ever has before. At least, until he realizes you are gone.” He patted her hand. “You don’t have anything to worry about.”

The relief showed on Anne’s face, “Thank God, he’s an abusive asshole, but I don’t want him dead.” She looked at her baby’s face, kissed her forehead gently. The baby stirred, opening one eye, before slipping back into dreamland. She stared into the distance, “I don’t know what to do next.”

“I know the feeling. Perhaps we can figure that out together,” Shane said. Across the street, a donut shop was showing signs of life. They had hours before the bus station office was open, and Shane’s growling stomach reminded him that the last time he had eaten was yesterday’s ham and cheese sandwich at lunchtime. “C’mon, let’s see if the bakery over there is open.”