The sun streamed in through the bus window, orange as it dropped toward the horizon. Amanda sat with her elbow on the window ledge, one of half a dozen or so passengers in various states of boredom, reading, staring at the scenery or dozing the journey away.
Listen to that quiet voice...
Sister Assumpta had confirmed what the voice had whispered to Amanda as her hand had traced the tiny bulge in her stomach in the shower that morning, and a pang of regret passed through her as she realised that she'd never appreciated the friendship she and Sister Assumpta could have had. One day, perhaps she mused, aching to know what the nun had written in the note, but certain that she wasn't going to break her promise.
By the time she got home the day was fading to a warm Summer's evening and crickets were chirping in the front lawn. The path to the door which had seemed so alien just a few days ago felt less intimidating now - now that everything was out in the open. All the choices had all been made for her. All the choices except the one that she reserved for herself.
She ate without pleasure, told her parents that she'd collected everything she needed from school (which was the truth) and excused herself, saying that she wanted an early night and had to pack (which was also the truth). Trying to foresee what she'd need in unfamiliar situations she chose carefully, looking around the room in case anything stood out as indespensable, like Mister Foo, the faded and chewed knitted woollen rabbit who'd been her constant companion when she'd been a solitary little girl. She showered, set the alarm and buried the clock under a pillow to mute it, then went to bed. Sleep was frustratingly elusive but eventually it came, bringing strange dreams that were shattered by the alarm before she was ready. She reached under the pillow and shut it off, blearily staring at the ceiling and wondering for a moment why it was so dark. Dressing quietly, still half asleep, Amanda found herself staring at her nightdress, wondering whether to pack it or leave it and eventually stuffing it into her backpack. It was going to be hard enough for her mother, there was no point in making it any harder.
She silently slid the window open, lowered her backpack onto the ground and started to climb out as she'd done those few months before on the night when everything had changed, but one last look back made her stop and turn back to her bed, smoothing the covers as she knew her mother would have done. Then, though earlier last night she'd decided against it she knew that she couldn't leave without one final act of love, and she tore a page of a notepad and wrote, placing the paper gently on the pillow.
I'm sorry. Please forgive me and don't worry about me. I'll let you know when your grandchild's born.
Shouldering the backpack Amanda climbed out the window and made her way through the darkened streets, self-conscious as she passed under streetlights and trying to walk quietly, imagining accusatory eyes staring at her from darkened windows, fearful of each car that drove past and battling a panic that threatened to overwhelm her. But every time she felt fear gripping her she thought about the consequences of turning back and fought it down, walking on towards the Interstate that skirted the southern edge of town. Guessing which side of the road headed west, she stuck out her thumb and strode resolutely in what she hoped was the direction of California.
There was less traffic than she'd expected at...she looked at her watch...three o'clock. Her parents wouldn't wake up for another four hours and by then she hoped to have put a couple of hundred miles between herself and home.
A blue Buick convertible, its top up, slowed and pulled off the road in front of her. Amanda's heart raced as she opened the door, slipped off the backpack and slid onto the bench seat.
"Mornin' little lady!"
"Good morning. Thanks," she said nervously. He was about her father's age and his plaid sport coat and gold-rimmed glasses made her think of horses for some reason. He checked the rear-view mirror and pulled back out onto the road.
"It's early. Where are you headed?"
"Uh, I'm going to visit my Aunt in California and I wanted to get an early start."
He glanced across at her. "You don't look like the kind of kid who hitchhikes. They're usually a little, well, you know - a little more down on their luck."
Oh God - don't let it fall apart - not now! "I...uh..."
"Hey - I'm sorry. It's none o' my business. Relax. How about some music?" He flicked radio dial and music filled the car.
All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day...
"Thanks," Amanda breathed, relaxing and settling into the seat, genuinely grateful for the way he'd defused a potentially embarrassing situation.
"No problem little lady. I can take you as far as the state line. I'm heading up north from there."
"That'd be great. Thanks."
"It's good to have some company anyway. Been drivin' since midnight. I like to drive at night, there's less traffic and it's cooler in summer anyway. I do a lot o' travelling in my line o' work."
"Oh?" she said non-comittally, not really wanting to make conversation but not wanting to be rude.
"Oh yeah. I'm in injection moulded plastics. It's..." he glanced across at her again and chuckled. "Heh - but young lady like you wouldn't be interested in what an old fogey like me does for a living."
"No, it's...interesting," she lied. "But I'm a little tired. I'm not used to being up so early."
"Well, why don't you catch some shuteye then? I'll wake you in plenty of time."
"Thanks. I think I'll try." She leant over and rested her head against the window, far to wired to sleep but taking advantage of the chance to avoid difficult small talk, and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again the sun was up and the car was motionless. She sat up with a start and looked around to see that she was alone in the car, which was parked in the lot of a McDonalds along with a dozen others. Just then the door opened, and the driver who'd picked her up stood holding a tray full of cups and paper sacks.
"Well little lady - you certainly did need some sleep," he smiled. "Thought you might like some breakfast."
Amanda sat up and looked at him in surprise as her stomach growled in hunger.
"Thanks!" she stammered. "But you..."
He put his finger to his lips. "Shh now. I've got a daughter about your age at home and I was thinkin' that, well, if she was out hitchin' at three o'clock in the morning, she'd have a damn good reason for it - better than visitin' her Aunt. Like I said, it's none o' my business, but I bet a little food and a cup o' coffee wouldn't go astray."
Amanda smiled up at him and took the tray, then suddenly realised that there was a potential problem. "Um, there isn't any bacon in this is there?"
"Bacon? No." He grinned. "You don't look Jewish!"
"It's not that," she muttered, blushing. "Bacon just makes me...feel sick."
"Nope. No bacon." He closed the door and walked round to get in on the driver's side. Amanda put the tray down on the seat between them and picked up a coffee.
"Ahhh. That's so good!" she sighed as the hot coffee snaked its way down her throat.
"Louise - that's my wife - always said that the smell of bacon used to make her feel sick when she was carrying Sarah - that's our daughter. Cheeseburger okay?" He handed her a paper-wrapped package." I guess it's not exactly a healthy breakfast, but when you're on the road you have to make sacrifices eh?"
"This is really nice of you...sorry, I'm Amanda."
"Gerald Moreton. It's a pleasure, Amanda."
He dropped her off just over the border an hour later, with a little confidence that the trip may not be all bad if she met people as nice as Gerald Moreton. Was the remark about his wife as offhand as he'd made it seem? Was it obvious?
A truck driver took her another fifty miles west and left her off at a road junction in the mid-afternoon. She would have enjoyed that part of the trip if it hadn't been for the country and western music. It was another hour before she got her next ride and she was glad that she'd had the foresight to pack some fruit and made a mental note to buy some more when she had the chance - there was no telling how long she might be on the road between rides.
Just as she'd finished eating a banana a faded two-tone blue and grey De Soto at least twenty years old slammed on its brakes as it drew level with her and fishtailed to a stop thirty feet ahead. Amanda's mind raced, wondering whether to accept the offer but, realising she didn't really have any choice, trotted up and opened the door. Behind the wheel sat a tiny little old lady, barely tall enough to see over the wheel.
"Hello Dearie! Sorry about that crash stop - I didn't see you until I was right beside you. I didn't scare you did I?"
Amanda smiled and chuckled. "Well, I admit that..."
"I wasn't what you were expecting?" She grinned charmingly. "I never am," she giggled. "Well - come on Dearie - get in, get in."
"Thank you," Amanda replied, climing up into the faded red leather seat.
"This used to be my husband's car, rest his soul. I could never bear to sell it once he passed on." She pulled out into the traffic without a backward glance as a car coming up behind swerved violently onto the left side of the road to avoid rear-ending them. "It's much too big for me of course, but I've been driving it for more than twelve years now and I always feel that Chester's here with me when I drive. I guess it'll see me out. I like to pick up hitchhikers though. I do a lot of driving and it's always good to have some company." She turned to Amanda and smiled sweetly. "I'm Aggie. Aggie O'Laughlin."
"I'm Amanda. I'm pleased to meet you Mrs....LOOK OUT!"
Aggie jerked her head round to the front and swung the wheel hard just
in time to bring the car back onto the road, narrowly avoiding an unintended
excursion into the bushes.
"Oh, don't worry Dear," Aggie grinned. "I've been driving for nigh on fifty years and I've never had an accident. I'm sure that Chester's right here in the car looking after me."
I hope he's keeping an eye on me too Amanda thought, breathing deeply to calm herself.
The next few hours were, like war, periods of interminable boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror. Aggie was sweet, funny, talkative, and as blind as a bat. That she had never had an accident was undoubtedly due to a guiding providence - battled by throngs of restless spirits of the motorists and pedestrians who'd died in the accidents she'd caused. Finally Amanda decided that she couldn't take any more and a town gave her the excuse she needed.
"Ah - Springfield! This is my stop!" she breathed with relief.
"Are you sure, Dear? You said you were going to California!"
"Oh - yes - I am, but my...cousin...Jake...lives in Springfield and I promised I'd drop in on the way."
Aggie slid to a stop as they entered the town centre, narrowly missing a mother pushing a baby carriage across a zebra crossing. "Well, I'm sorry to see you go, Dear. You were such good company! Good luck. It's so nice of you to visit your old grandmother in California."
"Thank you, Mrs O'Loughlin. Drive safely."
"I always do, Dear, I always do!"
Amanda watched as the big old car drove off down the street, narrowly missing an old dog who had shown the potentailly fatal judgement to cross the road at the same time as Aggie O'Laughlin was passing through town.
Suddenly Amanda was seized by an urgent need to run after Aggie, to catch up to her, and she caught herself unconsciously raising her arm as if to beckon her back. She felt as if her last tenuous contact with the life she'd known all her seventeen years was disappearing forever.
She stared down the street. A few cars drove lazily by, seemingly unconcerned about where they might be going and in no particular hurry to get there. The sky was turning pale blue as the sun sank toward a cloudless horizon. The street was familiar but unfamiliar, like any other main street in a thousand other towns, and the reality of the situation struck her as violently and as unexpectedly as her father's hand. She was alone, with no idea of where she was or where she was going except for a vague desire to get to California, though she had no idea why California should be any better than anywhere else. She had a few dollars - hardly enough for a night's lodging, she knew no-one, she had no friends and no earthly reason, it seemed momentarily, to go on living.
But inside her a tiny heart was beginning to beat - too small yet for her to feel, much too small for anyone to notice, but a life that, she knew with absolute certainty, she'd instantly give her own for.
The reality of her situation was overwhelming. She sat down on the edge of a planter box and wondered how in the name of God she was going to keep her baby and its life support system, herself, alive and safe, and she cried, alone in the deserted street.
Then, without any effort or desire on her part, Sister Assumpta's words came back to her ...when things seem darkest, at their most hopeless... She lifted her backpack into her lap, unbuckled and opened the flap across the top and reached inside, her fingers groping for the crumpled envelope. She took it out, buckled the flap and put the backpack back down at her feet. She had no idea what Sister Assumpta had written on the note. Words of comfort and wisdom, no doubt. They'd have to be powerful words indeed to comfort her now. She carefully ran a finger under the seal of the envelope and, taking out the note that her friend had written, dried her eyes on her sleeve and read...
My dear Amanda,
I don't know what you're expecting to find in here but if you're reading this things must feel dark indeed my young friend. Words can be wondrous and profound, but sometimes practical help is better than the advice of friends. Use what's in the envelope wisely - you don't know how long it might have to last.
God bless you both,
She looked down into the envelope. Inside were ten twenty dollar bills.
How's it going?
It's been over two weeks now and I haven't heard from Amanda. I can't work out why she hasn't written. I've been keeping up the "letter a week" routine.
Mom caught me writing to her so I told her a little about Amanda. She's been great. She said that any girl would be flattered to have someone writing to her so "nicely".
I used to spend a lot of time making model planes. It was a way to keep myself occupied because I put a lot of work into the details - you know, painting them and making them as neat as I could. Old MD never let me have a train set when I was a kid but I could buy the models out of my allowance. I don't know whether it'd work now, but I need something to take my mind off things. MD's being his usual self but like I said, it doesn't get to me so much. I thought I might see if I could get a summer job, maybe working in a store or something like that. I'd like to buy a present for Amanda but I sure couldn't get her anything nice with my allowance.
Oh, hey, I had this great idea! I bought a book of poetry and I thought I'd use it to press flowers for Amanda. Once they're dry I can put some in with my letters. I can't send her real flowers but I thought that she'd like some pressed flowers. I go for a lot of walks and I usually find some wildflowers to bring back with me. I hope she likes them anyway.
So what's happening with you? I hope your Mom's well and that you're having a good vacation.
Amanda was stunned. With the thirty dollars she'd brought she had enough, if she was careful, to get to California and find a job washing dishes or something - anything - and somewhere to stay. Thoughts about what happened after that could wait.
She was about to add the two hundred to her purse when she stopped, and took five of the twenties for her purse but left the other five in the envelope, which she stuffed back into the backpack. No point putting all these eggs into one basket, she thought and, shouldering the backpack, she set off down the street feeling a little comforted by the fact that she didn't have to worry about money for the time being. In ten minutes she was back on the outskirts of town, walking towards a sign announcing Springfield Motel, Color TV, $11, VACANCY in red neon.
Room 16 was small and sparse, its floor covered in brown and yellow diamond-pattern linoleum and the walls bare orange brick. A double bed with a pale blue chenille bedspread and a table fixed to the wall with a pitcher and two glasses completed the picture. She opened the door to the bathroom that took up the back quarter of the room. Until she spotted the toilet, with its paper banner announcing that it had been "Sanitised for your protection", she hadn't realised how welcome it the sight would be.
She washed her hands, picked up the backpack and sat down on the bed.
Confusing emotions swept over her. My young friend... The strongest was the regret that, in all those years, she'd never even asked her friend what her name was. Carolyne. And the money. Did nuns get paid? Maybe they got some kind of allowance, like she did. Like I used to. If that was it, then two hundred dollars must have been a lot of money for her. Heck - two hundred dollars was a lot of money for anyone - more than she'd ever had before. God bless you both... How did... God bless you both... How did she know...? Did Sister Assum...Carolyne... know what choice she was going to make, and what it would mean? Was there something in the nun's past that made her understand just what Amanda would need? Would she ever get the chance to thank her?
And Jake. Would she ever see Jake again? If she did, what would it be like? What was the truth? Not that letter, she was sure of that.
She sighed, realising that she didn't have the luxury of self-pity any more and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her, down the road to a hamburger place she'd seen on the way to the motel where she bought a burger, fries and a Coke for $1.25. The fries were half gone by the time she got back to her room and, as she sat at the table, listlessly chewing the burger, realising with a wry smile that she missed the bland but comforting meals at Saint Agnes's. Tossing the wrappers into the trash basket she reached up and turned on the TV perched on a shelf opposite the bed. Here's Lucy and Rowan and Martin's Laugh In were just distracting enough to block her thoughts for an hour and a half, long enough for sleep to creep up on her gently once she'd turned the TV off, changed, and brushed her teeth. If she dreamt she was unaware of it.
Damn, man, I'm sorry to hear that you havent heard from Amanda. Shes a cathlic though and I reckon her parents might not take real kindly to her having a boyfriend. I bet shes having a hard time writing to you. Shell probably have to sneak out some time to write. I dont know much Jakey but I know that that pretty lady feels real strong for you.
Hildas been writing to me and you were right Jakey, its real nice. I write back to her and tell her what Ive been doing.
Mas kind of sad but she dont say nothing about it. I figure shes worried that Im gonna up and leave her. Now that Pas gone Im the last one of us whos sort of at home now even though Im at Buxton Ridge all the time. I guess Ma still thinks of me as the baby of the family.
Hey man, thats a real good idea you got to take a job and earn some money. You could buy Amanda something real nice. Shes a class act Jake, you dont want to go getting her some crap now. I bet youll find something just right.
Its been great being home with Ma and shes real happy to have me here. It must get real lonely here for her now. We walk into town just about every day and we talk about the things that we used to do when Pa was alive and Paul and Susie and me were just kids. My Jake those were good times. We laugh a lot at all of the stupid things we used to do.
Paul wrote to say that he can come to visit in a week or so. Itll be real good to see him.
Mas cooking aint getting any better.
Write and tell me what kind of job you get.
Jake felt stupid. How could have have failed to realise that Amanda wouldn't be able to write to him so easily now that she was home? Willy was absolutely right, though a tingle of worry ran up his spine. What if her parents were intercepting his letters? How much trouble would it get her into if they found out what he'd writing? Should he stop writing, just in case? No, that was silly. Amanda was smart - she wouldn't let that happen. She'd find some way to make sure that things were okay.
He folded the letter and put it in the drawer of his desk.
The TV was on in the lounge room as he walked past, studiously ignoring, and being ignored by, Mad Dog. President Kennedy's promise of landing a man on the moon was looking as if it might just come off and he stood for a few minutes watching the report of preparations, the statistics about the huge Saturn V booster rocket too awe-inspiring to comprehend in any practical sense. Monumentous things were happening and Jake vaguely wondered what kind of future was in store for him. Whatever it was, Amanda was going to be there. Whatever happened, that was one absolute certainty.
It was raining when Amanda woke up.
She trudged sleepily over to the window and parted the curtains. The sky was mottled blue-grey and light rain was falling steadily though there was a pale patch low in the sky above the warehouse across the road from the motel. She turned back to the room and looked at the clock. Eight-fifteen. Nearly two hours before she had to check out. Perhaps it would clear up before she had to go. Rain. I didn't think about that.
She showered, pausing to feel the tiny bulge just below her navel. Was it bigger today? No, of course not. One day wouldn't make any difference. She rested her hand over it as the warm water splashed across her back, imagining that she could feel the beating heart inside.
By the time she was dressed it was quarter to nine; the rain was easing and the clouds were a little thinner but there was no sense in setting out until she had to, though her stomach was letting her know that it was ready for breakfast. She carefully packed everything back in her backpack and spotted the complimentary pen and notepaper on the table next to the pitcher of water. One last time, she thought, and wrote slowly and thoughtfully...
I don't think this will get to you. I don't know what's gone wrong but I know that the things in the note to my parents weren't true. In case this does ever get to you, I want you to know that our baby will be safe.
Dad was going to send me away to have the baby and then have it adopted, but I can't do that. I'm hitch hiking to San Francisco. I don't know why, but it just seems to be a good place to be and they have a great art community that Sister Assumpta usedto talk about. I guess I'll find out when I get there. Maybe I can get a job in an art gallery or something like that. Sister Assumpta gave me some money - it's a long story and I wish that more than anything in the world I could tell you about it. I should be fine now until I can get a job.
I suppose we won't see each other again so there are two things I want you to know. I love you, and I'll look after our child.
All my love. Always.
Sniffing back a tear, she folded the note carefully and put it in the envelope with Carolyne's letter and the remaining money. Nine-fifty. The rain had tailled off to sporadic showers and, running her eyes over the room for a final check, she shouldered the backpack and walked off into town to find some breakfast and post the letter.
One hour later, a Danish and a coffee in her stomach and some fresh fruit and a bottle of Coke in her backpack, Amanda was on her way out of town. The rain had cleared and the weather was cool, the road a mosaic of puddles and the still, moist air amplified the mid-mornining smells. She allowed herself the bittersweet luxury of letting her thoughts fade into the background, closing her eyes as she walked and letting her senses drink in the familiar scents of rain and wet farmland.
If she hadn't been in exactly the wrong spot at that moment, if the truck that drove by had been just a few seconds earlier or later, if the road surface hadn't subsided a few inches...but she was, and it wasn't, and it had, and since her eyes were closed she heard the splash before the water hit her.
Too stunned to yell, she stood there, eyes open wide, watching the truck grow smaller as the little water it had left in the puddle regained its composure and settled down to resume its existance as still, muddy pool. She raised her elbows and looked down at the drenched clothes that clung to her, reminding her once more of that night but without any of either the pain or pleasure of remeniscence. Disgust and frustration fought in her mind and an involuntary wail of sheer animal fury escaped as she stomped back off the roadway to assess the situation. As she shrugged off the backpack the clatter of a Volkswagen engine caught her attention and she turned to see a battered red Kombi van slowly pull up behind her. The door opened and a woman, not much older than herself, jumped out.
"Aw Babe - that was a major bummer!" the woman said, sympathetically looking Amanda up and down. "That piggy did that on purpose - you can see those puddles coming for half a mile." She looked down the road as the truck disappeared over the brow of a hill. She tutted and shook her head, muttering almost to herself "Come the revolution...". Then, turning her attention back to Amanda, "Come on. Get in. Let's see whether he managed to soak your stuff too." She turned and walked back to the Kombi and opened the sliding door before turning back to Amanda and waiting for her to get in.
Amanda was so taken aback with the simple confidence that this woman exuded that she obeyed wordlessly, as if this was what had been meant to happen, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
The driver was a young man with shoulder-length brown hair, a shaggy moustache and a string of blue lapis-lazuli beads around his neck. He watched Amanda get in with a sympathetic look. "Bad scene man," he said sympathetically.
Amanda dropped her backpack onto the floor and climbed in. The Kombi was set up for camping, the middle seats taken out and a table, hinged to the side, taking up some of the space that was left. It had been lovingly decorated with painted flowers and little round pieces of mirror glued to the sides, but what she noticed most was the sweet smell of what she would later come to recognise as a mingling of sandlewood incence and other herbal odours.
The woman climbed in, slid the door closed, started rummaging round in a suitcase that she retrieved from the space behind the back seat. As she searched she turned to look at Amanda. "Where you headed, babe?"
"Er, California...San Francisco I think..." she said uncertainly.
The woman beamed. "Ah - the city of love! Cool!" Turning to the driver she said cheerily "Drive on my man, we've got a passenger for the day." then, turning to Amanda, "That okay with you, babe? We're turning south at the border but we can get you a little closer."
"That'd be fine, thanks, um..."
The woman turned and laughed. "Sorry babe! I'm Willow and this," nodding toward the driver, "is Coyote, my main squeeze and soulmate."
Coyote raised his left arm in a close-fisted salute.
Amanda smiled. "I'm..."
"No! Let me guess!" Willow interrupted, peering intensely at Amanda. "Aquarius!"
Amanda looked puzzled. "No - Amanda," she smiled, amused by Willow's strange guess.
Willow laughed again, not in a derisory way but with such good humour that Amanda couldn't help grinning. "When's your birthday ba...Amanda? Hey - cool name by the way!"
"Cool," chimed Coyote from the driver's seat as he steered the Kombi back onto the road and picked up speed.
"Thanks," Amanda grinned. "January 23rd, but..."
Willow grinned with delight. "I knew it! I can always tell an Aquarius! Your age is coming, babe - the Age of Enlightenment!"
Amanda just looked puzzled.
"Hey, man," intoned Coyote from the front. "I think Amanda's probably more interested in getting dry than getting her horoscope read."
Willow looked abashed. "Oh - yeah - damn, sorry babe." She pulled a towel out of the suitcase and handed it to her. "I don't like your chances of finding much dry in there," she said, indicating the soaked backpack.
Amanda took the towel gratefully and dryed her face and hair. She reached over and lifted the backpack onto the seat beside her, but she knew before she opened it that anything touching the sides was going to be wet. "I guess I'll dry out. At least it's looking like a warm day."
"It's cool. We're about the same size - I've got something that'll fit." Willow dug into a cardboard box and brought out a red crushed velvet dress. "This'll do," she smiled, handing it to Amanda.
"Wow - it's beautiful!" Amanda breathed, running her hand back and forth over the soft plush fabric. She glanced nervously at the rear-view mirror.
Willow grinned and walked up to the front of the van, pulling two curtains across behind the front seat. "That's a bod not to be ashamed of, babe, but I guess you're a little shy."
Amanda blushed as she dragged the wet top over her head and tugged the sodden jeans off. She towelled herself dry and pulled the dress over her head, enjoying the feeling of being at least partially dry - her underwear would dry out soon enough.
"Oh yeah! That really suits you! Stand up." Willow smiled.
Amanda stood, crouched over in the low-roofed van as Willow ran an eye over the fit. "It's a little loose," she muttered, then caught Amanda's eye and her expression changed. "You're going to need some looser clothes soon. You won't be able to wear jeans much longer. What are you - nearly four months?"
Amanda staggered back into the seat, feeling intense heat flush across her face.
"I'm sorry. Most people wouldn't notice," Willow said gently and swung round to sit next to Amanda.
"I guess I'll have to get used to it," she sighed. "You're the first person to notice."
"Amanda, it's none of my business, but you're - what - seventeen, eighteen?"
"Yeah. Well, seventeen, pregnant, hitching...it's my guess that things aren't working out exactly the way you might have planned them, huh?"
Though Willow was probably only a year or two older than Amanda it seemed as if she had the weight of many more years on her shoulders, and it was easy to talk to her. Amanda didn't tell the whole story, but gave her the outline while Willow listened with motherly concern.
"Man," Willow said admiringly, "that took a lot of courage."
"Shit yeah! Boarding school girl, easy life. Just getting up and leaving it like that - not knowing where you were going or what you were going to do! That's amazing. You've got the makings of an Earth Mother, child."
Amanda hadn't thought of it like that. She'd just done what had to be done, but she was flattered to have someone like Willow say it. She wasn't sure what an Earth Mother was, but she liked the sound of it.
Willow drew the curtains back and explained that she and Coyote had set out on their voyage of discovery six months ago, camping and taking odd jobs here and there to support themselves while they travelled around the country "looking for America", as she put it. The phrase sounded romantic and wonderful to Amanda, who understood that she'd led a reletively sheltered life, and her admiration for Willow grew as she listened to tales of their travels. Around noon they stopped to make some jasmine tea and eat some herb bread that Willow had made the day before in a camp oven. Coyote talked about "the struggle", which Amanda came to understand was a rebellion against materialism, the "war" (which Coyote explained wasn't a war under the terms of the Geneva Convention) in Viet Nam, and the movement for peace that had started in California and was spreading across the world.
In the late afternoon they pulled into a little town, much the same as the one in which Amanda had spent the previous night.
"Well, babe, this is it. Coyote and I are heading south to meet up with a friend who's in college there. We thought we might hang out with her for a while, but we'll probably make it up to San Francisco sooner or later."
Amanda looked at her new friends with a mixture of admiration and sadness that they had to part so soon. "I'll just get back into my jeans," she said, turning to take them down from over the seat where they'd been drying.
Willow looked shocked. "No way! That dress is yours, Ba...Amanda. Like I said, you're going to need it. Shop in second hand places - particulary the ones in the good parts of town. You'd be amazed what you can pick up cheap."
"Really? I can have it?"
"Property's theft, man," chimed in Coyote, grinning. "Besides, you look really cool in it."
"Man's right," added Willow. "And like I said, you're going to need more of that sort of stuff."
Coyote clambered over the seat into the back of the Kombi and helped Amanda gather her dry clothes. He and Willow stood on the sidewalk, their arms around each other, and held their free arms out to Amanda. They were so different to anyone she'd met before, and she hugged them both as she'd wanted to hug her mother and father. Coyote untied the leather thong that held the pale blue beads around his kneck and placed it around Amanda's, tying the thong in the back.
Amanda held the beads up, not understanding. "But, " she stammered, "but I don't have anything..."
"I think they were meant for you, not me. I got them from an Indian shaman who told me I had to have them because they'd bring good luck. Indians are wise, man. He didn't say who they'd bring good luck to!" Coyote smiled.
"Hold your head up, daughter of Aquarius," Willow said, in that way she had. "Your child's going to be born at the dawn of a new age. Everything's gonna work out for you. I know it." At that moment, Amanda felt as if it might be true, as if things just might turn out alright after all.
As she watched the Kombi drive away Amanda unconsciously fingered the string of beads around her neck, feeling that her world had grown a little larger for their meeting. Then hitching the backpack up on her shoulders she crossed the road to check into another nameless motel.
The door to Dave's Bar and Steakhouse stood open as she neared it and half a dozen ruacous young men tumbled out onto the sidewalk. Their loud conversation hushed as she approached and Amanda felt rather than saw their eyes following her. She concentrated on looking straight ahead and picked up her pace.
"Hey, it's one o' them hippies!"
"I know all about hippies - make love not war!"
"Hows about makin' a little love to me, sweety?"
Amanda did her best to ignore them, but just as she thought she'd passed them she felt a strong hand grab her shoulder, spinning her round to face one of the group. His hair was close-cropped and dirty, his breath reeking of beer and tobacco smoke, and she struggled to free her arm from his grasp.
"Let me go - please!" she pleaded.
"Aw - we're just tryin' to be friendly, sugar," he grinned. "You ain't from 'round here and I just bet you'd like to meet some friendly fellas."
She noticed the others circling her. "Yeah - we could show you a good time, honey!" another said and she felt a hand on her backside.
"Please..." she moaned, feeling a surge of panic as she pushed the hand away with her free arm.
The first man's expression changed to a scowl. "Now you shouldn't o' done that," he growled menacingly. "We was just tryin' to be nice and friendly, but if you don't wanna be nice then maybe we..."
In her terror she didn't register the presence coming up behind her, but they all froze as the strong voice rang out, "What the HELL are you doing with MY WIFE?"
Amanda felt a strong hand grasp her arm and drag her away. "Get in the car Susan," the voice commanded as she was swept towards the open door of a strangely old-fashioned looking but gleaming red car.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of All My Children.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.
Special thanks: to all our beta readers:
Quirks: Deref, who typed the words, is an Australian, so he's used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. He may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though he's tried to keep in culture.
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