"Austin," the man says, turning his gaze back out the window.

"Oh yea?" she says vapidly, fighting back a yawn.  Interlacing her fingers, she reaches high over her head, arching her back.  He can hear each vertebrae in her neck crack above the hum of the bus tires as she stretches.  She continues the  conversation politely, but without much attention or interest.  "Business or pleasure?"  For a split second he fantisizes about telling her the truth; a truth that involves the simple math of one rock, one hard place, and one crooked bus line between the two.  But after a pause, her turns, flashes a wry smile and gives her an old cowboy line.  "Gotta see a man about a  horse." He said with a wink.  She was quick to smile.  He liked that.  But then he had never had much trouble getting girls to smile. 

    After that, she seemed to open up.  She told him about returning to school in Austin, and her parents in Encinitas.  As she talked, the sun continued its slow inevitable slide towards the horizon.  Soon it would cast a long cool shadow on the road ahead.  Dispite the pleasant distraction of the conversation, his mind uncontrolably drifted back to that math; to that rock and that hard place.  Was there anything he had missed?  Any way he could have changed things? Made things different?  No, he thought.  It had to be done.  "Damn it all." he said too loud, in the middle of Angela's story about a boyfriend she had to break it off with.  He returned her confused look with a solemn stare, and then that same wry smile.  "Don't waste your time thinking about the past sweetheart." 

    As the driver pulled off the road for the scheduled stop in El Paso, she looked him over more carefully.  He had the lean  look of someone who spent their life working outside.  "Come on," she said "let's stretch our legs.  I'll buy  you a beer."  "That's the best offer I've had all day.  Give me just a second" he said, bending down to the duffle bag between his feet. 

The End

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